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April 24, 2014

What You Need to Know

Pineda and Pine Tar, Part Two

by Daniel Rathman

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The Wednesday Takeaway
Not-pro tip: If you get caught using pine tar once, then insult everyone’s eyesight by telling them it was dirt, you probably shouldn’t get caught using pine tar again.

Michael Pineda didn’t get that memo:

The right-hander worked an inning without any foreign substance on his neck, based on the screenshots in the above tweet, and then applied pine tar between innings. That raises a couple of worrisome questions: 1) Was he trying to hide the pine tar from manager Joe Girardi, his teammates, or the Yankees’ other coaches? 2) Did he think the Red Sox would stop looking for evidence if he looked clean in the first inning?

Pineda, who gave up two runs on four hits in the opening frame and struggled to command his pitches, admitted to using pine tar this time and offered a more benevolent explanation:

Whether or not you believe that was his motivation, Pineda uncorked several pitches that would have buzzed or beaned most right-handed hitters. At the very least, it’s a plausible excuse.

Red Sox manager John Farrell made his move with a 1-2 count on Grady Sizemore and two away in the last of the second, asking home-plate umpire and crew chief Gerry Davis to check Pineda for a foreign substance:

After frisking the back and front of his jersey, as well as his arms, Davis found what he was looking for on Pineda’s neck and gave him the hook. Pineda must now wait to learn what further punishment he will face from the Commissioner’s office. Unlike the minor leagues, where the use of a foreign substance carries an automatic 10-game ban, the major-league penalty is in the league’s hands.

As Joel Sherman of the New York Post pointed out, there is some recent precedent when it comes to determining the appropriate length of a likely suspension:

The Yankees, who lost Ivan Nova to a partially torn UCL that will require Tommy John surgery, now face the prospect of at least one and quite possibly two rotation turns without Pineda. It’ll be interesting to see whether the right-hander’s apparent, but unpunished, transgression in his previous start against the Red Sox factors into his penalty for this one. (For more on Pineda and pine tar, listen to Ben Lindbergh's and Russell Carleton's discussion with Dirk Hayhurst last week.)

Quick Hits from Wednesday
The Marlins, behind Jose Fernandez, got the best of Alex Wood and the Braves in Tuesday night’s duel at Turner Field. On Wednesday, on the back of Aaron Harang, the home team returned the favor.

Harang continued what has been a remarkable first month in Atlanta by baffling the Marlins over six innings of one-run work. He scattered six hits—only one of which went for extra bases—walked one, and struck out 11. It was the fourth double-digit-strikeout effort of the 35-year-old’s career, and his first since he whiffed 13 Padres as a member of the Dodgers on April 13, 2012. The no-decision actually raised his ERA by 15 points, from a league-best 0.70 to 0.85.

Jordan Walden struck out the side in the seventh and Craig Kimbrel shook off a rough patch with two strikeouts in the ninth, giving the Braves staff 16 in the 3-1 win. But Harang did all the heavy lifting necessary to extend the club’s streak to four straight games with 11 or more Ks, a franchise first, according to the Baseball-Reference Play Index.

On the downside, the Braves have done more than their share of whiffing at the plate, too—and not just with Fernandez on the bump. Nate Eovaldi collected seven strikeouts in six frames and then gave way to Carlos Marmol (one), Mike Dunn (three), and A.J. Ramos (one), for a total of 12. It was the Braves’ 10th consecutive contest with eight or more batter strikeouts—also a franchise record.


Day games at Coors Field—or any games at Coors Field, really—are liable to become wild affairs. Wednesday’s series finale with the Giants in town was no exception.

The visitors, despite homers in the second and third innings by Michael Morse, didn’t lead until the seventh. The host Rockies didn’t lead thereafter. But they kept up with the Giants until the 11th, when Justin Morneau’s two-run blast couldn't match Hector Sanchez’s grand slam.

In a game with numerous turning points, three were especially notable. Two came in at-bats with Brandon Belt at the plate. The third immediately preceded Sanchez’s game-winning bomb.

Belt’s power surge has helped the Giants to overcome early slumps from Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval en route to a 12-10 start. It has come largely on the strength of the first baseman’s ability to drop the barrel on pitches in the lower-inside quadrant of the hitting area:

The University of Texas product has a history of cashing in on middle-of-the-zone mistakes, but his home-run distribution entering the season was much more balanced. Unfortunately for pitchers, Belt’s power alley is now concentrated in an area immediately adjacent to his coldest cold spot:

When Belt is at the plate, a few inches—off the inside edge or over the inner third of the dish—can make all the difference. In a game with no shortage of pivotal moments, this 3-2 fastball from Rex Brothers to Belt with one on and one away in the top of the seventh turned a 6-5 Rockies lead into a 7-6 deficit.

Wilin Rosario set up away, but Brothers’ pitch found Belt’s happy zone: knee-high and middle-in.

The Rockies got that run back on an RBI double by Nolan Arenado, and the teams plated one apiece in the eighth. Hunter Pence led off the top of the ninth with a two-bagger, and in stepped Belt against LaTroy Hawkins.

After splitting the first two pitches, both fastballs, for a 1-1 count, Hawkins had a slider sail into the aforementioned hot spot but got away with it when Belt fouled it off. His next four pitches were all sliders, too, and three of them were aimed at the blue zone in the chart above this one. The seventh pitch of the at-bat yielded the result Hawkins wanted: a strikeout that kept Pence at second, where he was stranded two batters later.

Belt was done doing damage, but Sanchez—whose eighth-inning solo shot briefly gave the Giants an 8-7 edge—wasn’t. Which brings us to last turning point in the 12-10 Giants win.

With runners at second and third and one away in the top of the 11th, Weiss elected to walk Joaquin Arias intentionally instead of pitching around or facing him. The move set up force plays at any base, but it also put a right-handed hitter aboard and brought a switch-hitter to the plate. And it left Chad Bettis, the pitcher, with no margin for error.

That took away Bettis’ greatest advantage: the likelihood that he could get the aggressive Sanchez to chase a pitcher’s pitch outside of the zone. Sanchez offered at a heater off the outside corner and later another below his knees, but with the count full, Bettis couldn’t afford to gamble again and risk walking in the go-ahead run. So, he threw a challenge fastball middle-away, and Sanchez parked it out to right-center for his first career grand slam and two-homer game:

Hindsight is 20-20, but one can’t help but wonder if—given another try at the situation—Weiss would elect to give Bettis a shot to retire Arias before putting the righty’s back against the wall.


As the fans in Chicago celebrated the 100th birthday of Wrigley Field, the Cubs spoiled their own party.

Rick Renteria’s squad carried a 5-2 lead into the ninth inning, when Pedro Strop came on to shut down the Diamondbacks, who were on the brink of their 11th loss in 12 games. The celebration was about to begin.

But Strop walked the leadoff man, Chris Owings, and then shortstop Starlin Castro booted a fielder’s choice off the bat of Tony Campana. Strop walked Eric Chavez, putting the tying run on base, and suddenly the party was on hold.

A two-run single by Martin Prado and an RBI hit by Miguel Montero tied the game at five. Then Aaron Hill blooped one down the right-field line, and all hell broke loose.

The ball dropped out of the reach of a sliding Justin Ruggiano. Ruggiano hurt himself on said slide. Hill wound up on third base with a two-run triple. And the Diamondbacks were up 7-5.

Addison Reed slammed the door, and finally, Kirk Gibson’s club had something to celebrate. Well… not quite.

Not long after Reed retired Luis Valbuena to end the game, word leaked that Mark Trumbo—the National League leader with seven home runs—had suffered a stress fracture in his foot. And so, Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday came and went, and just about nobody had any reason to smile.


The Athletics won four of their last five meetings with the Rangers in 2013, including a mid-September sweep in Arlington that put the American League West race away. Over the past three days, the Rangers exacted a bit of revenge.

Martin Perez brought the brooms to the Coliseum in the matinee, rolling the fly-ball-loving Athletics over into 17 ground-ball outs for his second consecutive three-hit shutout. He’s the first Ranger to deliver consecutive complete-game blankings since Derek Holland did it in 2011, and a scoreless inning on April 13 shy of the club record held by Charlie Hough.

The Rangers didn’t skip a beat in the outfield with Shin-Soo Choo nursing an ankle injury. Michael Choice, whom they acquired from the Athletics in the Craig Gentry trade this offseason, went 3-for-8 with three walks and a stolen base in the three-game set. He drove in a fifth-inning insurance run with a single in yesterday’s contest, less than 24 hours after turning in the go-ahead knock in the visitors’ ninth-inning rally on Tuesday night.

Following the sweep, the Rangers are 14-8 on the year, half a game up on the 13-8 A’s. It’s the first time this season that they’ve gone to bed in first place.

The Defensive Play(s) of the Day

Darwin Barney can go a pretty long way to his right…

...or to his left:

What to Watch for on Thursday

  • In the course of racking up 34 strikeouts through four starts, Max Scherzer has fanned at least seven batters in each of his trips to the mound and at least nine in the past two. He hasn’t punched out nine in three straight outings since August 26-September 7, 2012. The 29-year-old has a chance to notch the second such streak of his career when he takes on Jose Quintana and the White Sox in a matinee at Comerica Park. But Robin Ventura’s squad won’t make it easy on the right-hander; he wound up with six or fewer strikeouts in each of his four meetings with the South Siders last year (1:08 p.m. ET).

  • With a league-high four victories on his line to date, there’s no denying that Lance Lynn knows how to win. What he doesn’t yet know is how to retire left-handed batters. Glove-siders are faring better than ever against the righty, with five extra-base hits, five walks, and only five strikeouts through 42 plate appearances—good for a .333/.429/.611 triple-slash line, not far off from Miguel Cabrera’s .348/.442/.636 overall showing last year.

One issue for Lynn so far in 2014 is that his changeup hasn’t fooled anyone. Lefty swingers have offered at it only twice in 14 tries—fouling off both—and nine others have missed the zone for balls. That could spell trouble against Terry Collins’ lineup, which features a host of left-handed and switch-hitters, including Eric Young Jr., Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, and Daniel Murphy, who figure to comprise the top half of the order. Lynn will likely need to bring a sharper secondary arsenal to the mound to prevail in the matchup with Bartolo Colon (1:10 p.m. ET).

  • Before the start of play on Wednesday, Jose Bautista led the league with 25 walks (24 of them unintentional). No one else had more than 18. How has he done that? By being one of the, if not the, best in the league at laying off of the pitches that opposing hurlers want him to chase.

Pitchers want to work Bautista away, and especially down and away—which makes sense, because that’s where his power is least likely to hurt them. Bautista has been adept at choosing his pitches since his breakout in 2010, but his discipline in 2014 has been a cut above even that fine work:

Prior to 2014, Bautista excelled primarily at spitting on pitches off the outside edge and below his knees. He has given back a few percentage points on those to date—a change that might be nothing more than small-sample statistical noise—but in the meantime (with the same caveat in mind), he appears to have honed his ability to discern outside balls from strikes at or above his belt.

Bautista has offered at just four of 38 pitches in that part of the chart so far this year, a 10.5 percent clip. From 2010 through 2013, he chased them 28.1 percent of the time (365 times in 1,298 chances). Bud Norris will test that improved discipline tonight, when he gets the ball for the Orioles (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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