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April 4, 2013

What You Need to Know

#Weird Returns

by Daniel Rathman

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The Wednesday Takeaway
The fourth day of regular-season play brought the year’s first edition of #weirdbaseball, courtesy of the Cardinals and Diamondbacks, who endured 16 innings over five hours and 32 minutes, the longest game in the history of Chase Field.

The scoring began with a first-inning solo home run by Gerardo Parra and ended with a walk-off single by Cliff Pennington. The Cardinals led on three occasions, including a 4-1 advantage in the third, a 7-5 edge in the sixth, an 8-7 margin in the eighth, and a 9-8 lead in the 12th. Each time, the Diamondbacks—who countered with a four-spot in the fifth, two runs in the sixth, and one each in the eighth and 12th—crawled back, forcing both managers to empty their bullpens, until only Heath Bell remained in Arizona’s. Along the way, the staffs combined to throw 513 pitches, of which relievers delivered 346.

For the first dozen innings, Parra—who finished 3-for-7 and a double shy of the year’s first cycle—seemed destined to be the hero if the Diamondbacks were to prevail. In addition to going deep in the opening frame, the center fielder sparked Arizona’s fifth-inning comeback with a leadoff triple and catalyzed its eighth-inning rally with an infield single. In the 12th inning, Parra’s sacrifice bunt advanced Pennington, who began that frame with a single, and Eric Chavez, who was hit by a Mitchell Boggs pitch and later left the game, to second and third, before Martin Prado’s sacrifice fly squared the run totals at nine apiece.

Parra’s contributions in the rubber match came on the heels of his 5-for-9 effort in the first two games of the series, putting his batting average through the opening set at an even .500. And although he failed to produce a double in extra innings to complete the cycle, he already had three two-baggers to his credit entering Wednesday’s game, so five of his eight hits to date have gone for extra bases. Not bad for a player whose role, only weeks ago, was uncertain and diminishing.

A 3.4 WARP player in 2011, thanks in large part to his defensive acumen, Parra was less valuable in 2012, but he still compiled a .276/.345/.430 triple-slash line during the first half, before sliding into a .269/.323/.345 slump after the All-Star break. The 25-year-old, who was ranked by Kevin Goldstein as the third-best prospect in Arizona’s farm system ahead of his 2009 debut, was mentioned in trade rumors at the outset of the offseason, before general manager Kevin Towers exported Chris Young and Justin Upton. Unfortunately, the emergence of Adam Eaton and Towers’ decision to add free agent Cody Ross while retaining Jason Kubel threatened Parra’s opportunity to regain the starting role he ceded last year.

Then, a spate of spring injuries revived it. Ross went down with a calf strain. Eaton suffered a more serious elbow ailment. And utility man Willie Bloomquist was placed on the disabled list with a strained oblique.

As those players make their way back in the coming days, weeks, and—in Eaton’s case—potentially months, manager Kirk Gibson will have a plethora of pieces to arrange. If Parra continues to pave the way for the Diamondbacks’ offense, this time, he won’t be the one pushed aside.

Matchup of the Day
When you’re facing Giancarlo Stanton, it’s generally not a good idea to put sliders here or curveballs here, or to miss the glove by 18 inches on a 1-2 fastball, lest the pitches wind up right in Stanton’s  hot zone and get taken for a 400-foot ride. Tonight’s Nationals starter, Jordan Zimmermann, learned those three lessons the hard way, coughing up three home runs in his first 13 showdowns with Stanton, the only hits that the Marlins right fielder has collected against him.

When Zimmermann has hit his spots, Stanton has seemed helpless. In their meeting on May 6, 2011, Zimmermann used the same sequence—slider away, slider away, fastball in—to coax a three-pitch strikeout and a double-play ball out of the 23-year-old slugger, whose discipline remains a work in progress. Since Stanton is one of the few legitimate threats (if not the only legitimate threat) in manager Mike Redmond’s order, Zimmermann would do well to test his patience and minimize the risk of making another costly location mistake.

The Nationals blanked the Marlins in each of the first two games of the three-game set, winning 2-0 behind Stephen Strasburg and 3-0 behind Gio Gonzalez. If Zimmermann is to maintain the shutout streak, now at 18 innings and counting, he’ll need to keep Stanton—who has gone 1-for-7 with a double and three strikeouts—at bay.

What to Watch for on Thursday
The first week of the season annually brings a deep slate of debuts. Many hitters and pitchers have already gotten their first at-bats and innings for their new (or first) major-league teams out of the way. Here are three more that will kick off their 2013 campaigns this afternoon and evening…

  • Brandon Maurer is the only rookie in the trio, and he will make his big-league debut in Oakland, as the Mariners attempt to take three of four from the Athletics. The 22-year-old righty was the sixth-best prospect in the Mariners’ system coming into camp, according to Jason Parks’ rankings, and although Parks wrote that Maurer’s secondary offerings could use refinement, a strong spring persuaded general manager Jack Zduriencik to give him a big-league look. The A’s will counter with A.J. Griffin in their bid to bounce back from an 0-2 start to secure a split (3:35 p.m. ET).
  • Twelve years separated Ryan Dempster’s two most recent forays into the Bronx, and while the former Cub lasted six innings in both of them, neither went as planned. On July 14, 2000, Dempster visited the Yankees as a member of the Marlins and served up back-to-back, first-inning homers to Bernie Williams and David Justice. A dozen years and a month later, following a midseason trade to the Rangers, Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez took him deep, with the former authoring a grand slam that accounted for half of the eight runs Dempster allowed. The 35-year-old will try to collect his first Bronx victory in his first start as a member of the Red Sox—and to do it, he’ll need to outduel Andy Pettitte (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • After dropping the first two games of their series against the Indians, the Blue Jays will turn to newcomer Mark Buehrle to help them avoid a sweep. The 34-year-old southpaw saw plenty of the Tribe during his 12 years with the White Sox, though his overall numbers in those 47 games—which include a 4.77 ERA and 44 homers allowed in 277 1/3 innings—are less than stellar. First-year Indian Nick Swisher fits in well in that regard, as he has gone 10-for-25 with seven walks in his previous encounters with Buehrle, logging the second-highest (Melky Cabrera, .567) on-base percentage (.531) among all hitters that have faced the lefty more than 25 times. Terry Francona will send Brett Myers, who joined the Indians on a one-year deal this offseason, to the bump to oppose Buehrle (7:07 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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