May 30, 2014
What You Need to Know
Reversals of Fortune
The Thursday Takeaway
Johnson cut down 13 Braves on that magical night at Turner Field. Collmenter struck out five Reds, including the first two batters he faced, but inducing harmless contact was the name of his game.
The tomahawk-throwing righty retired the side in order in the top of the first, and before he knew it, he had all the run support he’d need. A.J. Pollock—red hot throughout the series—got the D-Backs going with a double. He completed the one-man rally by stealing third and crossing the plate on a throwing error by catcher Devin Mesoraco.
Collmenter went 1-2-3 again in the second inning, but trouble was afoot at the outset of the third. Brayan Pena led off the frame with a double, ending Collmenter’s bid for a perfect game long before the thought would’ve entered anyone’s mind. He also gave the Reds their first baserunner—and runner in scoring position—of the evening.
But A.J. Pollock had his pitcher’s back on the defensive side of the ball, too. The next batter, Zack Cozart, popped a can of corn just to the right of dead-center field. Pena, typically a catcher but playing first base in the absence of Joey Votto, decided to test Pollock’s arm. That proved unwise.
One runner on, one runner gone.
Two runners on, two runners gone.
The fifth was uneventful, but the sixth piqued Reds fans’ interest when Pena got aboard again, this time with a leadoff single of his own. But Cozart dashed his dreams of getting to third base—or second, for that matter—with a 5-4-3 twin killing.
Three runners on, three runners gone.
And those were all the runners the visitors would get. Collmenter cruised the rest of the way, needing only 94 pitches to finish off the 4-0 win by coaxing three grounders in the top of the ninth.
Now, the burning question: When is the last time a major-league pitcher faced the minimum in a nine-inning shutout despite permitting at least three runners to reach base?
Firing up the Baseball-Reference Play Index tells us the answer: less than six years ago, on September 11, 2008, when Roy Oswalt did it against the Pirates. Collmenter is the 17th pitcher to accomplish the feat since 1914.
In doing so, Collmenter earned the first shutout by a Diamondbacks starter this season and only the second complete game. He led Kirk Gibson’s club to its fifth win in seven contests. Arizona is now only one win behind the Padres in its bid to climb out of the National League West cellar.
Quick Hits from Thursday
The 31-year-old supplied the biggest blow in his club’s victory over the Twins—a three-run double to the opposite field in the top of the second inning:
That gave Rangers starter Nick Martinez an early cushion, and while the rookie right-hander couldn’t hold it, Choo’s early work kept the visitors in range when the Twins surged ahead on a mammoth two-run blast by Josh Willingham in the last of the fifth:
Choo wound up 2-for-4, tacking a single and his eighth hit-by-pitch of the season onto the early double. By reaching three times in five plate appearances, he upped his on-base percentage to .423, good for fifth in the majors and second in the American League.
To make good on the Rangers’ seven-year, $130 million investment, Choo must provide surplus value in the early part of the deal to compensate for inevitable decline as he reaches his mid and late 30s. A 1.5 WARP effort over his first 49 games is a fine start toward that end.
Choo’s first two months in north Texas haven’t come without warning signs. His ankle has been barking since late April, when he sat out a few games with a sprain, and it forced manager Ron Washington to deploy the Korean as his designated hitter on Thursday. Choo is also just 3-for-6 on steal attempts to date.
On the other hand, the lefty swinger is squaring up the ball as well as ever, and his .361 BABIP is more than a fluke. He carried a 22.4 percent line-drive rate into Thursday’s contest and, after popping up just once during all of 2013, has yet to hit an infield fly this year. Choo might not sustain that lofty pace on balls in play, but he’s a good bet to reach base at a .400 clip—a healthy improvement over the .336 OBP the Rangers posted out of that spot in 2013.
The Blue Jays saw their winning streak halted at nine games last night, when the Royals exposed their Achilles heel—the bullpen—in an 8-6 defeat that required 10 innings. But the home nine didn’t go down without a fight in the series finale at the Rogers Centre.
Then he went yard again in the sixth, punishing Shields for a big-time location mistake on a 1-0 fastball to tie the game at 5-5. Encarnacion’s second homer of the night was his 16th of the month, which broke the franchise record for home runs in one month and tied an American League record for homers in May, previously held by Mickey Mantle alone.
Nearly as notable as the power display was Encarnacion’s ability to swing for the fences while rarely whiffing. He entered play on Thursday with eight homers and four strikeouts over his previous 10 games. Those totals are now 10 and five, as the 31-year-old took a called third strike in his first at-bat versus Shields. Still, Encarnacion has gone down swinging or looking only 14 times this month, a remarkable way to break into the history books.
Unfortunately, the first baseman’s work at the plate was rendered moot when R.A. Dickey lasted only five innings. The bullpen, a sore spot on an otherwise impressive club, almost protected the Jays’ 6-5 lead after six innings, but a throwing error by Jose Reyes with a runner on second and two out in the ninth sent the game to extras. Todd Redmond unraveled in the 10th, and the two tallies he coughed up were plenty for Greg Holland to slam the door on Toronto’s nine-game run.
Encarnacion isn’t the only slugger stating his case for a “Did _____ hit a home run?” Twitter account. He’s got some company—from a rookie, no less.
The Orioles and Astros were knotted at one apiece with one on and one away in the bottom of the seventh. Enter George Springer:
With the count full, Springer roped the payoff pitch into the Crawford Boxes for his seventh dinger in as many games. He’s the first rookie to pull that off since Rudy York did it way back in the summer of 1937.
Thanks to Springer’s yardwork, the Astros—yes, the Astros—have won six in a row, the longest active streak in the majors. They’re 11-3 in the last 14 games the University of Connecticut product has started and 11-5 in their last 16 overall.
Remember when the Red Sox lost 10 games in a row? That skid ended only four days ago. But if it seems like an eternity, it’s because they bounced back to sweep the Braves into a first-place tie.
Fredi Gonzalez’s club was 28-21 coming into the four-game set. It’s now 28-25 and even with the Marlins after feeling Boston’s broom bristles on Thursday night. Things looked good for the Braves in the early innings, when Jason Heyward put them up 1-0 with a solo shot with two away in the third:
The yanked blast to right field on an elevated Jake Peavy changeup was Heyward’s second tater in the series, a positive sign for Atlanta, which hasn't gotten much production from its right fielder to date. Thursday’s bomb was Heyward’s first away from Turner Field since April 1, and it pushed his slugging percentage past .350 for the first time since April 9.
Insurance runs in the fourth and eighth had the Braves sitting pretty when “Sweet Caroline” played at Fenway Park, even though Jake Peavy had turned in one of his finest efforts of the season. But good times started seeming good for the Red Sox shortly thereafter, as the visitors came unglued.
Brock Holt started the home half of the eighth with a single that turned into a two-base play when Justin Upton booted it. That enabled Holt to score on a single by Xander Bogaerts, bringing the Red Sox to within a run at 3-2. Dustin Pedroia kept the rally going with an infield single, and A.J. Pierzynski did his part with a base hit to center. B.J. Upton denied fans the drama of a possible play at the plate by taking his eye off the bounding ball, which nicked off his glove and allowed Bogaerts to score easily. Pedroia advanced to third on the play, and only nifty pitching by David Carpenter, Luis Avilan, and Craig Kimbrel prevented the Red Sox from taking the lead.
Not for long, though, because the Braves had another error in them.
Kimbrel’s control escaped him in the last of the ninth, which began with walks by Jackie Bradley Jr. and Holt. Bogaerts followed with an infield single, and while the bases would’ve been loaded with nobody out, Kimbrel is perhaps better equipped to wriggle out of that mess than any reliever in baseball. Except rookie second baseman Tommy La Stella didn't give him a chance:
Bradley sprinted across the plate, putting the 4-3 contest and the four-game sweep in the books.
Zack Wheeler boasts top-shelf stuff, but command woes have prevented him from dominating big-league lineups. When he ascended the bump at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday, he had only one outing of five-plus strikeouts and zero walks under his belt.
The 23-year-old wasted no time in his bid to make it two: He struck out the side in each of the first two innings and then added one each in the third and fourth. Wheeler’s control wasn’t spotless—he gave the Phillies plenty of easy takes, which drove his pitch count above 20 in innings one and two—but he saved his best pitches for the deepest counts and never caved.
Wheeler held the Phillies scoreless into the seventh inning and dealt Ryan Howard a hat trick before serving up a solo shot to Marlon Byrd on pitch no. 108. That brought a sour end to a sweet night, as Terry Collins came out to fetch Wheeler in favor of Scott Rice. But in doing so, the skipper cemented his starter’s output at zero walks and nine strikeouts.
The Georgia native sat in the mid-90s with his fastball and scraped 98 mph, blowing his two- and four-seamers past the Phillies a total of eight times in 68 tries. He also threw 15 of 24 curveballs for strikes, five of those of the swing-and-miss variety, a significant improvement over his earlier work with the bender, which was yielding balls 46 percent of the time he spun it coming into the game.
The Defensive Play of the Day
What to Watch for This Weekend
Given his success immediately preceding the clunker, the 23-year-old gets a pass for now, but Jays fans might want to keep an eye on the radar gun when Hutchison takes the mound in game three of four against the Royals. The velocity on each of his pitches has dropped about a mile-per-hour over the last three starts, and Hutchison already has a Tommy John surgery on his medical chart; he sat out the 2013 season while rehabbing from it (1:07 p.m ET).