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May 14, 2014

What You Need to Know

Tuesday's Late Lead Changes

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
Between the opening of Great American Ball Park in 2003 and the first pitch of Tuesday’s contest with the Padres in town, only twice had a team won a game at the bandbox despite logging three or fewer hits. Both times, that team was the host Reds—once in 2004 and once in 2005.

Through eight innings of the series opener, the only Padre with a knock was Seth Smith, who had two, including a double. The outfielder went 2-for-4 on Tuesday, sustaining one of the most torrid stretches enjoyed this season by any player not named Troy Tulowitzki. Smith is now 19-for-36 (.527 average) with 12 extra-base hits over his last nine games.

But the outfielder’s efforts only kept the Padres even with the Reds in the 1-1 duel between Andrew Cashner and Mike Leake. Billy Hamilton tripled and scored on a single by Brandon Phillips in the opening frame, but Cashner and Joaquin Benoit held them at bay from that point on.

Aroldis Chapman—making his second major-league appearance after beginning the year on the disabled list with a facial fracture suffered during spring training—fanned Smith with his patented triple-digit gas. Chapman then caught Carlos Quentin, fresh off his own rehab assignment, staring at a 101-mph heater for strike three.

Unlike the two batters who preceded him, however, Chase Headley was not impressed.

That solo shot was the visitors’ third hit of the night, and it brought home their second run. Chapman walked Jedd Gyorko, but the second baseman was caught stealing to end the top half of the inning. The Reds went down without a whimper with Huston Street on the hill in the bottom half.

And that’s how the Padres became the first visiting club to win a game at Great American Ball Park while collecting no more than three hits.

Quick Hits from Tuesday
The Orioles went 0-5 in April with Ubaldo Jimenez as their starter, and most of those defeats were the newcomer’s own doing. He completed the sixth inning only twice and allowed at least three runs in every outing. Jimenez’s ERA when the calendar flipped to May stood at 6.59.

But the new month brought with it a new beginning for the $50 million free-agent pickup, who blanked the Twins for 7 1/3 innings on May 2 and held the Rays to one earned run in 5 1/3 innings in his subsequent start. Jimenez kept on rolling last night with the Tigers at Camden Yards, tacking seven more scoreless innings onto his May line to lower his ERA for the month to 0.46.

The right-hander allowed only three hits—all of them singles—and struck out a season-high seven, shoving low-90s fastballs by the Tigers. He threw 47 four-seamers, 33 of them for strikes, only six of which were hit fair. Jimenez had poorer command of his secondary pitches, but even though eight of his 14 splitters were balls, the Tigers whiffed all four times they swung at the off-speed offering.

To make matters even tougher for the visitors, Jimenez’s batterymate, rookie Caleb Joseph, was on top of his game, too. Joseph nabbed Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez at second on strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double plays and later gunned down Torii Hunter attempting to take third when a pitch got away. If it were up to second-base umpire Paul Nauert, Joseph might’ve notched his fourth assist on a steal attempt by Rajai Davis in the top of the ninth:

But the Tigers challenged that call, and replay showed that Davis was safe. Unfortunately for the Orioles, that was the opening the Tigers needed to mount a four-run rally off of Tommy Hunter to earn a 4-1 win. Cabrera and Martinez went yard off of the first-year closer, proving that they can still bop even if their legs aren’t what they once were.

The blown save was Hunter’s second in four days, and it ballooned his ERA to 6.60, an inning after setup man Darren O’Day trimmed his to 0.60. Will that six-run gap compel manager Buck Showalter to make a change at the back end of his bullpen? Check out tomorrow’s edition of Mauricio Rubio’s Closer to Me to find out.


During the prime of Jose Reyes’s tenure with the Mets, triples were commonplace. He averaged more than one every 10 games and routinely led the league. When Reyes left Queens for Miami after the 2011 season, he took his three-bagging talents to South Beach and racked up a dozen in 2012.

Then the Marlins shipped Reyes north to Toronto, a much less friendly environment in that regard. Suddenly, Jose Reyes triples became as rare as Ben Revere home runs.

In 419 plate appearances last year, Reyes didn’t author any triples, a drought that marked the first triple-free season of his career. He went without a 270-footer in the first 22 games of this year as well, adding another 100 plate trips to the lull. Reyes struck out in his first at-bat versus Justin Masterson on Tuesday night, extending the rut to 524 plate appearances, including four in his last game with the Marlins.

Finally, leading off the fourth inning, he snapped the schneid:

Reyes lined a knee-high, 1-2 sinker into the left-center field gap, and the fast turf at the Rogers Centre helped it race to the base of the wall. By the time Michael Bourn grabbed it, Reyes had made up his mind: He was going for three and sliding headfirst into the bag.

The 30-year-old Reyes scampered home on a sacrifice fly by Melky Cabrera to tie the game at 1-1. A three-run sixth, in which Juan Francisco slugged his sixth homer of the year, helped the Jays edge the Indians, 5-4.


The Mets scored 11 times in the first five innings of the second game of the home-and-home Subway Series. All that their starter, Zack Wheeler, needed to do to secure a win was to throw enough strikes to complete five innings without an exorbitant pitch count.

He couldn’t do it.

Wheeler gave back all but one run of the four-spot his offense put up in the opening frame, and while he kept the Yankees off the board in the second and third, he walked a batter in each of those innings, too. Then he walked the first two batters in the fourth, gift-wrapping a run for the home nine, and issued another free pass to the leadoff man in the fifth, Jacoby Ellsbury, who came around to score on a single by Alfonso Soriano, the last batter that Wheeler would face.

In the end, Wheeler ended up retiring only two more batters than long reliever Daisuke Matsuzaka did, even though he threw 62 more pitches. Inefficiency was once Matsuzaka’s forte, but even he never wasted as many deliveries as the 23-year-old did on Tuesday night.

Wheeler kicked and dealt 118 times in the Bronx finale, and all of that work got him through only 4 1/3 innings. As a result, he became the fifth starter in the pitch-count era (post-1988) to use at least 118 pitches without recording at least 14 outs, and only the second to do it in a game that his club eventually won. The other: Darren Oliver, who did it for the Cardinals against the Mets on June 19, 1999.

Despite Wheeler’s best efforts to let the Yankees back into the game—which totaled six walks and a wild pitch—the Mets extended their winning streak against their crosstown rivals to six. Curtis Granderson slugged his second short-porch homer in as many days to get the visitors going in the top of the first, and they never looked back in the 12-7 romp.


Astros fans haven’t seen many complete-game shutouts since Roy Oswalt left Houston for Philadelphia. They’ve averaged one a year over the past four seasons, and they didn’t log one in 2013 until Brett Oberholtzer four-hit the Mariners on September 1.

It’s only May 13, but thanks to Dallas Keuchel, the Astros have already met their annual allotment.

The southpaw rolled over the Rangers into 15 ground-ball outs on Tuesday, scattering seven hits, only one of which—an Adrian Beltre double—went for extra bases. Keuchel struck out seven without walking a batter (though he did hit one), and he navigated Ron Washington’s power-packed lineup unscathed despite throwing first-pitch strikes to only 14 of the 31 hitters he faced.

Twelve of the 16 swings-and-misses that Keuchel induced came on his slider, and almost all of them were pitches that darted down and away from left-handed batters and toward righties’ back feet. The same location worked wonders for Keuchel with or without the platoon advantage.

Though most starters who employ a slider as their primary breaking ball use it mainly versus arm-side hitters, Keuchel relies on it as his top put-away pitch versus glove-siders, too. It helped him strike out the side in the second inning, in which the second and third batters for the Rangers—Alex Rios and Michael Choice—both stepped in from the right side. Opposite-handed opponents have now struck out 15 times without drawing a walk in plate appearances culminating with the pitch.

The nine goose eggs lowered Keuchel’s ERA for the year to 3.06. Meanwhile, the Astros teed off on Matt Harrison in the second inning, taking advantage of the left-hander’s slipping velocity to get ahead early in the 8-0 rout.

There’s a reason why Harrison’s fastball was registering only 86 mph on the Minute Maid Park radar gun: back stiffness. That’s better news than elbow or shoulder trouble would have brought, but worrisome nonetheless, because the southpaw missed the first month of the season with inflammation in his back. Harrison is expected to miss at least one start, though we won’t know the extent of the ailment until he sees a specialist today.


Speaking of complete-game shutouts, Hisashi Iwakuma has never thrown one in the majors.

He had a chance to go for his first on May 8 but felt gassed after 93 pitches and forked over the ball to Fernando Rodney, who finished off a 1-0 win over the Royals. That time, Iwakuma’s decision to avoid risking the narrow margin with waning stuff worked out for the Mariners. Last night, with Iwakuma at 97 pitches through eight scoreless frames, it didn’t.

It’s worth noting that after leaking velocity in the late stages of the victory over the Royals, Iwakuma rationed his energy better on Tuesday and saw his velocity increase over the course of the evening. He peaked at 91 mph with his 94th pitch, his second-highest reading of the game.

Nonetheless, manager Lloyd McClendon turned to his closer, because his starter once again told him that he was finished.

Rodney took the hill against his former employer, the Rays, with a 1-0 lead, much like he’d done five days earlier. Except this time, David DeJesus greeted him with a game-tying home run. And things would go downhill from there.

Rodney retired Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist, but he coughed up a single to James Loney and another to Desmond Jennings. Matt Joyce followed with a single that scored Loney to put the visitors ahead, 2-1, and after Rodney walked Yunel Escobar, McClendon had seen enough. Danny Farquhar struck out Ryan Hanigan to clean up the mess without further damage.

Unfortunately for the Mariners, unlike Iwakuma, David Price still had plenty of gas left in his tank. The lefty fanned a pair in a scoreless ninth to earn the win and run his punchout total to 12, the most he’s ever compiled in a game in which he didn't walk a batter.

The Defensive Play of the Day
This slow chopper would be a tough play for a shortstop with just about anyone running; the runner being Billy Hamilton shoots the degree of difficulty through the roof:

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • Doug Fister’s Nationals debut didn’t quite go as planned, as the A’s lit up the right-hander for nine hits (three homers) and seven runs (five earned) in just 4 1/3 innings. The 30-year-old will try to bounce back this afternoon, when Matt Williams’ squad wraps up a three-game set with the Diamondbacks, the club for which Williams served as third-base coach before the Nats hired him away. Fister, who has never faced the D-Backs, is scheduled to take on Brandon McCarthy in the matinee (3:40 p.m. ET).

  • The Subway Series has caught the 7 train on its way to Queens, where Masahiro Tanaka—still unbeaten at 5-0, and behind whom the Yankees are 6-1—is ready to square off with a fellow rookie: Rafael Montero, fresh up from Triple-A Las Vegas. For a scouting and fantasy look at the 23-year-old right-hander, see the Call-Up post by Mark Anderson and Craig Goldstein. Montero held opponents to just three homers in 41 2/3 innings, 21 of them at the 51s’ launching-pad home, to earn the promotion (7:10 p.m. ET).

  • Tonight’s battle between Ian Kennedy and Johnny Cueto might not have leapt off the page on Opening Day, but based on the first month-and-a-half of results, it promises to be a great one. Each righty has fanned more than 28 percent of the batters he’s faced to date, and they’ll carry identical 2.67 FIPs into the duel at Great American Ball Park.

    Kennedy hit a solo homer, matched a career-high with 12 strikeouts, and tossed seven innings of one-run ball his last time out—and wound up with a no-decision, because his big fly was the only run the Padres pushed across in the 11-inning defeat. Cueto, meanwhile, has worked at least eight innings in each of his last five starts, the longest such streak in the majors since Cliff Lee went 10 straight in 2010, and the longest by a Reds starter since Tom Browning went six in a row in 1989, according to the Baseball-Reference Play Index (7:10 p.m. ET).

  • The Pirates are 4-0 in the last four games started by Francisco Liriano, but the southpaw hasn’t been credited with the win in any of them. He took losses in three straight before that, so while Clint Hurdle’s club is 4-3 behind Liriano, his ledger stands at 0-3. The 30-year-old has departed before the fifth inning in two of his last three assignments, including an outing cut short by flu-like symptoms on April 26. Conversely, Wily Peralta—Liriano’s counterpart this evening—has gone at least five frames in all seven of his starts this year and hasn’t been yanked without completing the sixth since April 5. As Liriano strives for greater efficiency, Peralta will simply try to keep doing what he’s done to post a 2.17 ERA to date (8:10 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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