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April 9, 2013

What You Need to Know

Cuckoo for Coco (Crisp)

by Daniel Rathman

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The Monday Takeaway
For the first six innings, Monday’s series opener between the Reds and Cardinals was a tightly contested, 4-2 affair, in which the difference was a pair of fly-ball fielding errors by Cincinnati’s right fielder-turned-center fielder Shin-Soo Choo. The 30-year-old Choo “almost died” of embarrassment from the misplays that put the home team on top two-thirds of the way through the contest. Then, the Reds’ bats awakened, and a meltdown from the Cardinals bullpen helped them to bring their leadoff man back to life.

The Reds got one run back off of St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia in the top of the seventh inning, during which Choo chipped in a one-out single that advanced Ryan Hanigan into scoring position. A double by Chris Heisey plated Hanigan to narrow the margin to 4-3, and while lefty specialist Randy Choate finished off the frame for the Cardinals without allowing any further damage, his bullpen mates weren’t so fortunate.

Trevor Rosenthal, who moved back to relief duty midway through spring training, in favor of Shelby Miller, was entrusted with a late-inning lead for the second time this season, after failing to convert his first opportunity in the 16-inning loss to the Diamondbacks on April 3. And, despite taking the mound with his patented high-90s gas, he fell victim to pinch-hitter Xavier Paul, who drew the Reds even in the top of the eighth.

MLB.com beat writer Jenifer Langosch wrote before Opening Day that manager Mike Matheny’s typically ordered bullpen was “in flux” with Jason Motte on the disabled list nursing a partially torn flexor tendon in his throwing elbow. Only Mitchell Boggs, who called upon to fill Motte’s shoes, had a defined role. And Boggs—who also was charged with a blown save in the April 3 defeat, but notched his first save of the season on Saturday—did little more on Monday than enable Choo to forget the blunders that could have cost his new team the game.

Choo led off the ninth inning against Boggs and drew a walk, before advancing to second on a wild pitch and scoring the go-ahead run on a Brandon Phillips double. In between, Boggs intentionally walked Joey Votto. Immediately after, he gave the same four-ball treatment to Jay Bruce. And, right after that, he issued a bases-loaded free pass to Todd Frazier, leaving the Cardinals down by two and opening the door for the mayhem to come.

Three batters—all of which reached, on two singles and an error—later, Choo came to bat again, this time with Marc Rzepczynski on the mound and the Reds already ahead 9-4. He completed his late-inning redemption with a three-run double, and then scored on a Votto single, turning the dagger supplied by his teammates earlier in the inning.

When the dust finally settled on the 13-4 rout, the Reds had sent 15 batters to the plate in the top of the ninth inning, Choo’s errors had become an afterthought, and the Motte-less Cardinals bullpen had taken their place under the microscope. Matheny emphasized after the loss that he would not juggle his relief assignments based on “knee-jerk reactions” from one game, just as Dusty Baker and Walt Jocketty would not have rearranged their outfield had the number in the Reds’ runs column stayed at three.

Nonetheless, each team’s most glaring early-season flaw was exposed on Monday, when Cincinnati improved to 5-2 while St. Louis fell to 3-4. And, though the Cardinals were bitten this time, the Reds’ quandary may ultimately prove more difficult to resolve.

Matchup of the Game
Coco Crisp has broken out his power stroke in the early going, starting the 2013 campaign 10-for-30 with eight extra-base hits through seven games. The Athletics’ center fielder has collected multiple knocks in each of Oakland’s last four contests and gone deep in each of its past three. The latter feat matches Crisp’s career-high home-run streak, which he first set in June 2008, while the former is still two games shy of his personal best, accomplished during a remarkable 15-for-22 stretch in September 2008.

When Crisp started the year in an 0-for-8 skid, the A’s dropped to 0-2 and scored only one combined run over the two games. Since then, the leadoff man is 10-for-23, and Oakland is 5-0, having plated at least six runs in each of those wins.

After beginning the year against the Mariners and Astros, the two teams projected to finish behind them in the American League West standings, the Athletics will now face a stiffer test from the Angels, who are currently forecast to end up in second place. The Halos, who welcome the A’s with a 2-4 ledger, will send C.J. Wilson to the mound in the opener and hope that the lefty can build on his strong résumé against the visitors’ center fielder. Crisp is just 3-for-21 lifetime versus Wilson with two doubles, four walks, and four strikeouts, though he has reached base in three of their past six showdowns after snapping an 0-for-7 slump.

There aren’t many secrets left unshared between Wilson and Crisp, not only because they have seen each other 26 times, but also because many of those plate appearances have been protracted battles. Crisp’s most recent trip to the box against Wilson resulted in a 10-pitch walk, and 10 of their 26 encounters have lasted at least five pitches, forcing the 32-year-old southpaw to dig deep into his arsenal to keep Crisp guessing.

Each time Crisp has hit in the leadoff spot of a game started by Wilson, the lefty has predictably opened his first plate appearance with a fastball or sinker. The first offering of Crisp’s second trip, however, has almost always been an off-speed pitch, with a less-predictable sequence following in their ensuing meetings. Since that plan has mitigated Crisp’s bat to date, expect Wilson to employ a similar approach tonight—with an emphasis on pounding the outer edge, one of Crisp’s weakest spots against left-handers last year (10:05 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for on Tuesday

  • The new-look Blue Jays are just 2-4 and have been outscored 34-22 in their first six games, but don’t blame leadoff man Jose Reyes, who is off to a 10-for-23 (.435/.519/.652) start. Reyes will try to stay hot against his fellow former Marlin, Anibal Sanchez, in the series opener at Comerica Park, the lone matinee on today’s slate. Right-hander Brandon Morrow, who gets the ball for the Blue Jays, has fanned 27 batters in 19 1/3 career innings versus the Tigers (1:08 p.m. ET).
  • Andy Pettitte was on his way to a dominant effort against the Indians last June 27, but a fractured fibula suffered when he was struck by a line drive off the bat of Casey Kotchman cut it short. The Tribe went a dismal 18-35 in games in which their opponents started a southpaw last year, so Terry Francona’s squad will attempt to turn the corner in that department this evening. Pettitte, meanwhile, will try to pick up precisely where he left off. Carlos Carrasco, who missed his first turn in the rotation while serving a suspension for plunking Billy Butler back in 2011, returns to the majors to tackle the game two assignment for the home team (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • Although Tim Lincecum escaped his regular-season debut at Dodger Stadium with a spotless 0.00 ERA, the right-hander’s performance was anything but. Lincecum lasted only five innings, tied a career-worst mark by issuing seven walks, and failed to induce a single whiff on the 34 four-seam fastballs that he threw. The 28-year-old was able to reach back and hit 93 mph with his heater, which sat in the 90-91 mph range for most of the night, but his command of the pitch was erratic throughout the outing. He’ll look to improve in that regard in game two of the Giants’ home series with the Rockies, who will counter with Juan Nicasio (10:15 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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