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June 5, 2014

What You Need to Know

The Rays Sink to the Bottom

by Chris Mosch

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The Wednesday Takeaway
On the eve of the 2014 MLB amateur draft, two former no. 1 overall picks took the hill, with Stephen Strasburg facing the scuffling Phillies and David Price seeking to end the Rays’ eight-game losing streak.

Out at Tropicana Field, the home team jumped to an early 3-1 lead in the first inning after back-to-back jacks by Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria, marking the first time in seven games that the Rays scored more than two runs.

Price struck out 11 and didn’t issue a walk in 7 1/3 innings of work, but he ran into trouble in the fourth inning after Longoria squandered a chance to record the third out. A pair of singles allowed by Price led to runners at second and third with two outs, and the Vanderbilt product got Jeff Baker to hit a chopper to his third baseman:

The play at first would have been close, so Longoria elected to go for the tag at third. After applying the tag, the ball squirted out of Longoria’s glove, allowing a run to score and the inning to continue. But on the very next pitch from Price…

Donovan Solano yanked a three-run shot into the left-field bleachers. Jeff Mathis followed Solano with a single, but Price went on to retire the next 14 Marlins in a row before allowing an infield single to Marcell Ozuna—his final batter of the night—with one away in the eighth inning.

Down 5-3 heading into the ninth, the Rays had an opportunity to get their ace off the hook for the loss after Steve Cishek loaded the bases with no outs to start the frame. After David DeJesus grounded out to move everybody up 90 feet and cut the lead to 5-4, Ben Zobrist hit a high chopper to first. However, the man on third base, Kevin Kiermaier didn’t break home on contact and stayed put despite having a reasonable chance to score the tying run. Cishek intentionally walked Longoria to load the bases, and then got James Loney to pop out to close the door on the shaky save. The Rays are now 0-for-their-last-31 with runners in scoring position.

With the win, the Marlins advanced to 31-28 and sit just a half-game back of the Braves atop the NL East. On the other side, the Rays dropped their ninth straight contest, which, coupled with the Cubs’ 5-4 win over the Mets, saddles Tampa Bay with the worst record in the majors. It’s only a matter of time until the Price trade talk starts heating up.

Quick Hits from Wednesday
Strasburg also punched out 11 batters without issuing a walk and finished with a relatively similar line to Price’s.

After being spotted a 4-0 lead, Strasburg surrendered a pair of unearned runs to the Phillies in the fifth inning after both he and first baseman Adam LaRoche committed fielding errors. Adding to the damage was a catchable double hit to the warning track by Reid Brignac, which sliced away just beyond the reach of Ryan Zimmerman, who got a bad read on the ball and broke in at the crack of the bat.

With the rain starting to fall in the seventh inning, John Mayberry Jr. stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter and deposited a 2-2 fastball that Strasburg left over the heart of the plate into the left-center field stands. Strasburg would get through the rest of the inning, but left after 109 pitches and a one-hour-and-47-minute rain delay.

Luckily for Strasburg, the Nationals rocked A.J. Burnett for eight runs over six innings, highlighted by Anthony Rendon’s 3-for-5 day at the plate that featured a solo home run in the fifth inning. After the delay, Aaron Barrett and Jerry Blevins each tossed a scoreless inning to preserve the 8-4 victory and send the Phillies to their fifth straight loss.

***

Another former first-round pick was dealing on Wednesday, as Adam Wainwright took the hill to start the ninth against the Royals in search of his third shutout of the season. The 29th-overall pick of the 2000 draft had rendered the Royals hitless through the first five innings before Alcides Escobar laced a hanging curveball the opposite way for a single to open the bottom of the sixth.

With a 2-0 cushion, Wainwright started the ninth off by striking out Eric Hosmer, but Hosmer was able to reach base after swinging at an 0-2 curveball that bounced in the dirt and got away from Yadier Molina. The next batter, Billy Butler, grounded a ball up the middle for a single, which prompted Mike Matheny to make the call to Trevor Rosenthal. A walk and a fielder’s choice cut the lead in half, and set the stage for Lorenzo Cain, who came to the plate with runners at the corners.

Cain singled to center to even the score at 2-2, and the game remained knotted until the 11th, when Matt Carpenter drove in Peter Bourjos with an RBI double off Kelvin Herrera. The base knock was Carpenter’s fifth of the game and capped a performance that saw him reach base a career-high six times. The Cardinals tacked on two more runs in the frame, and Pat Neshek pitched a clean 11th to pick up his first career save.

***

The last time Garrett Richards took the mound, the A’s chased him before the end of the first inning in a clunker in Oakland. On Wednesday in Houston, Richards righted the ship and continued his breakout campaign with an absolute gem against the Astros.

After retiring the side in the 1st inning, Richards needed just nine pitches to strike out Jonathan Singleton, Matt Dominguez and Chris Carter in the second. If you recall, Justin Masterson did the same just two days ago, and Richards followed suit with the fourth immaculate inning of the season and 75th such performance in MLB history.

Richards continued to mow down the Astros over the course of eight innings, striking out nine and allowing just four singles and a pair of hit batsmen. The hard-throwing 26-year-old didn’t allow a runner to reach second base en route to a 4-0 win.

The key to Richards’ success against the Astros was his slider, which he utilized a season-high 43 percent of the time. Not only did Richards throw his slider often, but he threw them for strikes; of the 46 sliders he broke off, 40 of them went for strikes, with 13 of them being of the swing-and-miss variety. Overall, Richards got 23 swings-and-misses, besting his previous single-start career-best of 18.

***

On the heels of a game in which Erasmo Ramirez was pulled after three innings of ineffectiveness and Gavin Floyd got knocked around for five inning to the tune of five runs on 10 hits, the Mariners and Braves faced off for a Wednesday matinee that proved to be a pitching aficionado’s delight.

Hisashi Iwakuma toed the rubber for the Mariners, coming off a pair of below-average starts at home against the Tigers and Astros. However, he was on point Wednesday, allowing six hits and zero walks while striking out seven during seven scoreless innings of work.

The Japanese right-hander threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 26 batters he faced, with 71 of his 96 offerings overall going for strikes. Iwakuma went to his splitter one-third of the time—his most frequent usage of the pitch in a start the past two seasons—and did an excellent job at keeping the offering at or below the knees of opposing batters. He generated a season-high nine swings-and-misses with his splitter and got three more on his fastball, plus another with his slider.


Getting batters to come up empty on their swings is the most desirable outcome for a pitcher, but coaxing a ground ball is the next best thing. When Iwakuma wasn’t getting batters to swing-and-miss, he got the Braves—who rank fifth-lowest in baseball in ground ball rate—to hit an abundance of worm-killers. The Braves hit 12 ground balls off Iwakuma compared to just two fly balls, including a 4-6-3 twin killing by Chris Johnson, which erased a leadoff single by Evan Gattis in the Seattle right-hander’s last inning of work.

On the mound for the Braves was Mike Minor, who wasn’t nearly as dominant as his counterpart, but still turned in a quality performance. Minor struck out a season-best 10 batters while limiting the M’s to five singles and three walks. However, three of those hits came in the fourth inning, when he surrendered back-to-back singles to Robinson Cano and Stefen Romero to lead off the frame. Cole Gillespie drove Cano in with a two-out single to give Seattle a 1-0 lead, which they extended to a two-run advantage against Luis Avilan in the 8th inning.

Yoervis Medina and Fernando Rodney each turned in a perfect inning of relief to complete the shutout and two-game sweep of the Braves. The Mariners have quietly climbed up the standings with five straight wins, and now own the American League’s fifth best record. They sit just a half game behind the second-place Angels in the AL West and will travel to Tampa Bay to take on the reeling Rays in a four-game set over the weekend.

***

While there were several excellent pitching performances that highlighted Wednesday’s slate of games, the matchup between the Diamondbacks and Rockies was not one of them.

Josh Collmenter cruised along for the first four innings, coming off a three-hit shutout of the Reds in his last start. However, the Rockies pushed across four runs in the fifth inning to even the score at four apiece, highlighted by Troy Tulowitzki’s two-ribbie double with the bases loaded.

Jordan Lyles and three relievers combined to give up five runs through seven frames, which was enough to sport a three-run lead heading into the top of the 8th. But that was when the Colorado bullpen unraveled.

Up first on the chopping block was Rex Brothers, who allowed the Snakes to string together four consecutive singles before walking a batter. Nick Masset came on in relief of Brothers, but immediately served up a bases-clearing double to Paul Goldschmidt that put Arizona up 10-8. All five runs to that point were charged to Brothers. Masset allowed just one more run to score in the frame, but was lifted in favor of Matt Belisle to start the ninth. Belisle actually retired the first two batters of the inning, but proceeded to surrender five more hits, the longest of which was Miguel Montero’s opposite-field three-run bomb.

Two innings. Eleven runs.

And just like that, a three-run lead for the Rockies evaporated into a 16-8 beating at the hands of the Diamondbacks. Each of the first five hitters in Arizona’s lineup tallied three hits, with Montero knocking in a career-high six runs and Gerardo Parra crossing the plate a team-best four times out of the two-hole.

The Defensive Play of the Day
Brett Gardner led off the bottom of the first inning with what looked like a sure extra-base hit off Jesse Chavez. Craig Gentry had other plans.

What to Watch for on Thursday

  • Fresh off being named the National League Pitcher of the Month for May, Madison Bumgarner will get the start for the Giants looking to continue his torrid run. Over a span of six starts in May, Bumgarner boasted a 2.07 ERA and 0.84 WHIP to go with a 48-to-5 K:BB ratio. On the season, only Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright have accumulated more PVORP than Bumgarner in the senior circuit. Reds manager Bryan Price will counter with Mike Leake in hopes of securing consecutive series wins for the first time since mid April (12:35 p.m. ET).
  • Thursday afternoon in the Bronx, one of the American League’s premier arms is set to square off against the league’s best hitting squad, as Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to get the ball for the series finale against the Athletics. On Tuesday night, Brandon Moss went deep twice for Oakland, and Yoenis Cespedes followed on Wednesday with two long balls of his own. Tanaka will look to quell Oakland’s power bats and snap the Bombers six-game losing streak against the reigning AL West champs (1:05 p.m. ET).
  • After Yordano Ventura experienced a velocity dip during the tail end of his outing last Monday, many people assumed the worst. The diagnosis wasn’t as ominous as expected, but Kansas City fans will be closely monitoring the young flamethrower’s velocity and performance during his start against the Cardinals on Thursday. Opposite Ventura will be St. Louis’ promising young hurler, Michael Wacha, who has allowed four or fewer hits in each of his last three starts (8:10 p.m. ET).

Chris Mosch is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Chris's other articles. You can contact Chris by clicking here

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