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July 25, 2012

What You Need to Know

Wednesday, July 25

by Daniel Rathman

The Tuesday Takeaway
All eyes, from fans’ to scouts’, were on Zack Greinke when the Brewers ace took the mound last night at Citizens Bank Park. His team had lost four straight and was seven games under .500 coming into the second game of the series in Philadelphia, but Greinke was pitching less for the Brewers of today and more for the Brewers of tomorrow. Apparently felled by the team’s decision to start him on back-to-back days before the All-Star break, the 28-year-old righty had only two chances to rebuild his trade value before the July 31 deadline.

Two hours and 51 minutes later, the Brewers’ losing streak had reached five and their record had dropped to 44-52. But if there are such things as moral victories for organizations, Tuesday’s 7-6 defeat certainly was one for Milwaukee.

Fresh off of an 11-day rest, Greinke tossed seven innings of one-run ball, needing only 87 pitches to record those 21 outs. His fastball was back up to the mid-90s, and his curveball was inducing plenty of flails from Phillies batters, as Greinke fanned five without walking a batter. Not counting the four-pitch fiasco in Houston earlier this month, it was Greinke’s first walk-less start since June 12 at Kauffman Stadium.

And, as if he felt the need to further dazzle the scouts in attendance, Greinke smacked a Cliff Lee heater 392 feet in the top of the seventh inning, before retiring Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, and Hunter Pence in order in the bottom half of his final frame. That blast was the third home run hit by a pitcher on this Phillies homestand, after Matt Cain and Cole Hamels both went deep in the third inning on Saturday.

Jose Veras, Manny Parra, and Kameron Loe combined to squander a 4-1 Brewers lead by giving up six runs in the bottom of the eighth, but as owner Mark Attanasio and the front office decide whether to pursue a long-term extension with Greinke or to trade him to a contender during the next week, it’s not hard to see the forest for the trees.

If last night’s start is any indication, Greinke’s batteries are sufficiently recharged. General manager Doug Melvin ought to make sure his cell phone’s is, too.

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • Marco Estrada can keep the ball in the strike zone, but he can’t keep it in the ballpark. The 29-year-old right-hander has logged a 71-to-11 K/BB over 63 2/3 innings this year, but he has not earned a win in 16 appearances (10 starts), largely because he has coughed up 15 home runs. In two starts since the All-Star break, Estrada has been taken deep four times in 12 2/3 innings, including three big flies in his most recent outing against the Reds last Friday. So, perhaps this isn’t the greatest time for Estrada to take his act to Citizens Bank Park and tackle a Phillies lineup that now features Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. He’ll try to dodge the gopher balls in a matchup with Vance Worley, a fellow Long Beach State Dirtbag, this afternoon (1:05 p.m. ET).
  • Speaking of Long Beach State alumni, Jered Weaver is also set to toe the rubber today, and while he might be beatable on the road, he has been nearly flawless at Angel Stadium. Weaver is 7-0 with a league-best 0.67 ERA at home this season; Oakland’s Tommy Milone (0.91) is the only other major-league starter with a sub-1.00 ERA in his team’s yard. The righty faced the Royals in his first start of 2012, shutting them out for eight innings and striking out 10 in a 5-0 victory. He will look for similar results against Luke Hochevar in today’s matinee (3:35 p.m. ET).
  • Less than a year removed from leading all catchers with 64 extra-base hits during the 2011 season, Carlos Santana entered the month of July with only 11 doubles and five home runs in 2012. His most recent homer had come on May 15, and through three months, Santana had the inglorious distinction of carrying a higher on-base percentage than slugging percentage. Now, the 26-year-old backstop appears to have settled back into a groove, collecting seven extra-base knocks in 52 at-bats while maintaining his terrific walk rate with 16 free passes this month. Santana has gone 9-for-20 with four doubles, two homers, and six walks over his last seven games, but he is just 1-for-15 lifetime against tonight’s Tigers starter Max Scherzer (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • The Cardinals saw plenty of Aaron Harang during his seven-plus seasons with the Reds, and many of them were not intimidated by the 6-foot-7, 260-pound righty. Lance Berkman, who is still working to regain his bat speed after spending much of the season’s first half on the disabled list, is 15-for-58 with seven home runs versus Harang, his highest total against any pitcher besides his teammate Chris Carpenter (also seven). Meanwhile, Carlos Beltran is 10-for-29 and David Freese is 4-for-6 with a home run. Harang, who takes on Kyle Lohse tonight, is 7-13 with a 4.47 ERA in 24 career starts against St. Louis (8:15 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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