June 5, 2013
What You Need to Know
Hollywood's New Hero
The Tuesday Takeaway
Up 7-6 in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Dodgers needed insurance. They got it from Yasiel Puig—in the form of a two-run blast that rendered irrelevant the solo shot that the embattled Carlos Quentin would hit moments later.
Puig, a Cuban import who inked a seven-year, $42 million contract on June 27, 2012, ranked as the Dodgers’ top prospect on Jason Parks’ list heading into the season. With “lumberjack” strength, a “linebacker” build, and the arm to profile well in right field, the 22-year-old wasn’t expected to need much time in the minors before he would be ready to flash his tools at the highest level.
A .313/.383/.599 showing at Double-A Chattanooga, combined with injuries to Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, accelerated further the already speedy timetable. But if the first two days of Puig’s major-league career are any indication, he is undoubtedly ready to roll.
The two-homer outing on Tuesday night came on the heels of a 2-for-4 series opener, which ended on a fly-ball, 9-3 double play. A play made possible by Puig’s impressive arm, which unfurled the throw that nabbed Chris Denorfia for advancing a smidge too far away from first base.
In the history of an organization that has developed and promoted a league-record 16 Rookies of the Year, including the likes of Jackie Robinson and Frank Howard, no newcomer had gone deep twice in either of his first two games. That is, until Puig did on Tuesday night, when he also became the first player to produce a two-homer, five-RBI showing that quickly since Dino Restelli did it for the Pirates in 1949.
The Dodgers’ 9-7 victory, which bumped their record to 25-32 and moved them to within half a game of the fourth-place Padres, came in a game in which Hanley Ramirez—after his second stint on the disabled list this season—joined Puig in the lineup. Crawford and Kemp are absent, but especially in light of the latter’s slump, manager Don Mattingly’s offense may look no less imposing than it did a couple of days ago, with Puig at the top and Ramirez hitting cleanup. That’s big news for a club that won consecutive games for just the second time since May 14-15—and one that can’t afford to sink much further in the standings if it is going to mount a comeback when the disabled list finally thins.
Puig was charged with a throwing error and committed a base-running blunder, failing to score on a ground ball with the Padres’ infield playing back, but he did more than enough to compensate. The homers came off of Clayton Richard and Tyson Ross, but he will soon have opportunities to prove his readiness against superior competition. Crawford and Kemp will eventually return, creating a glut with at least four outfielders for no more than three spots, but Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti will cross that bridge when they come to it.
On Tuesday, the only words that mattered in Los Angeles were “Viva Puig!” And the show will go on in Wednesday’s series finale, in which Puig is likely to be the first Dodgers batter to dig in against Padres starter Jason Marquis (10:10 p.m. ET).
Matchup of the Day
In 20 head-to-head plate appearances, Garza has limited Hamilton to a pair of singles in 18 at-bats, issuing a couple of walks and recording eight strikeouts along the way. The 29-year-old right-hander will be making his fourth start since coming off the disabled list on May 21, and he has fanned a batter per inning through 16 frames, posting a 3.38 ERA in dates with the Pirates, Reds, and Diamondbacks.
The 311 OPS to which Garza has held Hamilton represents the 32-year-old slugger’s third-worst mark among all pitchers he has faced at least 15 times. Only Zack Greinke (132) and Clay Buchholz (200) have fared better in that department than Garza, whose pitch selection against Hamilton seems well honed to take advantage of the former first-overall pick’s aggressive and indiscriminate approach.
As you can see from the plot above, Garza has employed a four-pitch mix versus Hamilton, relying most heavily on his fastball, sinker, and curveball. But while most of the curves have found the strike zone, most of the fastballs and sinkers have not. Hamilton has been willing, over the years, to expand the strike zone high and wide, and Garza has capitalized on his free-swinging tendencies by getting him to chase. Case in point: this strikeout on September 26, 2009, in which none of the four fastballs and sinkers were remotely close to the strike zone, yet nonetheless induced three swings.
The second plot on the matchup page reveals another element of Garza’s strategy when Hamilton is in the box. Hamilton, whose 56.2 percent swing rate is the second-highest in the American League in 2013 (trailing only Adam Jones), seldom sees a breaking ball he doesn’t like. Garza has tried to exploit that aggressiveness by starting nearly 40 percent of Hamilton’s plate appearances against him with the bender, a far greater clip than his typical first-pitch-curveball usage. And although both of Hamilton’s hits off of Garza came on the curve, it has also enabled Garza to pitch backward effectively, as he did to elicit this popup on a high fastball.
The lopsided results in their past meetings put the onus on Hamilton to adjust, and Garza is likely to test his discipline again this evening. If he doesn’t, it might be another long night at the office for a hitter that has endured plenty of them this season (7:05 p.m. ET).
What to Watch for on Wednesday