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June 13, 2014

What You Need to Know

Scherzer's First Gem

by Chris Mosch

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The Thursday Takeaway
Thursday night’s clash between Chris Sale and Max Scherzer was so enticing that it inspired MLB.com to bring back #AceOff.

On a per-game basis, Sale has arguably been the best starting pitcher in baseball this season, but it was Scherzer who stole the show with a complete-game shutout to bust himself out of a string of shaky starts. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner had been knocked around in his previous four outings, serving up at least eights hits, a home run, and four runs in each of them.

But Scherzer established his fastball and was able to get ahead early in the count against the White Sox, notching first-pitch strikes against 21 of the 34 batters he faced, and then handcuffed opposing hitters with either one of his secondary offerings. Against left-handers, Scherzer worked his changeup low and off the plate, throwing 11 of his 15 offspeed pitches against lefties for strikes—five of the swing-and-miss variety.

To same-sided hitters, Scherzer relied on his slider to compliment his heater, as he got the White Sox to swing at 15 of those 21 offerings, and come up empty five times. The 29-year-old sat around 93-94 MPH with his fastball for most of the game, but regularly dialed it up to 95 MPH during his final two innings of work. He reared back for his fastest pitch of the night against Dayan Viciedo—a 96.3 MPH fastball—on his final pitch to notch his eighth strikeout and put the finishing touch on the shutout. It took 179 career starts, but Scherzer can finally say he’s thrown a complete game, which ESPN Stats & Info put into perspective just before his final inning.

Sale had quite the night himself, as he fanned 10 Tigers over seven innings and didn’t hand out any free passes. The lanky southpaw generated 22 swings-and-misses—nine with his fastball and 13 with his changeup—and allowed just five hits during the game. He was also aided by some nifty defensive play behind him. His middle infielders had his back on groundballs in the second inning that seemed to be good bets to get through the infield.

First, Alexei Ramirez on a hard-hit ball in the hole by Victor Martinez:

Two batters later, Gordon Beckham made a sweet snag to rob J.D. Martinez of a base knock up the middle:

Viciedo also made a nice sliding catch on a foul ball in Sale’s final inning of work. But with Scherzer dealing as well as he was, one mistake from Sale was all Detroit needed to take the lead for good.

Martinez made Sale pay for a hanging slider and deposited it into the left field bleachers for the solo shot in the sixth inning. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s now 16 round-trippers compared to 16 strikeouts this season for Martinez.

The Tigers used a trio of singles to put a two-spot up in the eighth inning off Jake Petricka and tacked on another insurance run in the top of the ninth to run the score to 4-0. It was a much needed pitching performance for Scherzer and the Detroit pitching staff, which had been torched during the latest 22-game stretch, in which the Tigers had been outscored 141-83.

Quick Hits from Thursday
Rockies manager Walt Weiss was fired up in the eighth inning of Thursday’s contest, but it wasn’t because his club was on its way to blowing out the Braves for the second straight game, or because Jhoulys Chacin had turned in his best outing of the season. The second-year skipper stormed out of the mound, furious, after Atlanta reliever David Carpenter plunked his left fielder, Corey Dickerson, in what appeared to be retaliation for an accidental backswing.

Three pitches earlier, Dickerson fouled off a pitch that caught Braves catcher Gerald Laird square in the mask, which knocked him backwards and required home plate umpire Jordan Baker to catch Laird and keep him from falling over. Dickerson fouled the next pitch off, before taking a hack and fouling off Carpenter’s fourth offering of the at bat. However, Dickerson’s backswing caught Laird, knocking his mask off and dropping the Atlanta backstop face down onto the ground. He would leave the game immediately and passed all preliminary concussion tests.

With Evan Gattis now behind the dish for the Braves, Carpenter fired his next pitch into the front hip of Dickerson. Baker immediately ejected Carpenter from the game, and was forced to toss Weiss soon after, as the Rockies manager rushed out of the dugout, screaming at Carpenter, and had to be restrained.

After the game, Weiss was asked why he thought Carpenter would throw at Dickerson and replied, “I have no idea. If you think a guy can foul a ball off and then at the same time hit a catcher on the backswing, on purpose, then you've got no clue. They made their decision and they made a bad choice.”

The Rockies were obviously not pleased; especially considering Josh Rutledge had been plunked the previous day by a Julio Teheran fastball that had knocked off his batting helmet. Nick Masset predictably hit Gattis with a pitch in the top of the ninth, and was immediately tossed from the game, along with bench coach Tom Runnells.

Ultimately, the late-inning antics between the two squads took away from an outstanding start by Chacin, who logged seven scoreless frames and allowed just two hits and a pair of walks. Chacin entered the game with an ugly 4.66 FIP and 1.26 strikeout-to-walk rate, but fired first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 24 batters he faced on Thursday, and coaxed a season-high 11 ground balls versus just five fly balls.

Chacin held his velocity well through his seventh inning of work, but the right-hander was lifted after 85 pitches when he was spotted an 8-0 lead. The Braves cut into the lead with a three-run eighth inning, but the Rox cemented the 10-3 win with a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame. Charlie Blackmon came into the game mired in an 0-for-14 skid, but had a big day at the plate for Colorado, blasting a two-run shot off Ervin Santana in the third inning and adding a pair of doubles. Santana was tagged for six runs on seven hits—six of which were of the extra base variety—and was lifted in the midst of what turned out to be a decisive five-run seventh inning by the Rockies.

***

The Mets have been no strangers to bonus baseball, as they went to extra inning on Thursday night for the 11th time this season. Unfortunately for the Amazins, they were unable to take advantage of a several opportunities to walk-off and watched Carlos Torres unravel in the 13th.

The visiting Brewers struck first, when Aramis Ramirez belted a 1-0 Jon Niese offering into the left-center field bleachers in the second inning. The Mets evened things up at 1-1 in the fourth inning when Carlos Gomez misplayed a Daniel Murphy single, which allowed the Mets second sacker to reach third base and come around to score on a Bobby Abreu sacrifice fly.

Niese and Kyle Lohse were both superb on the mound, as the Milwaukee hurler allowed just four singles over eight frames, while Niese struck out a season-high eight batters in 7 2/3 innings of work.

The Mets bullpen retired 11 straight batters after taking over for Niese, but the offense left a runner on second base in the ninth inning, and again in the 10th. But their most obvious shortcoming at the plate came in the 11th inning, when they were unable to capitalize on a one-out, bases loaded opportunity.

Milwaukee reliever Brandon Kintzler walked David Wright and Chris Young before intentionally walking pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson—who was left out of the starting lineup due to a calf injury—with runners at the corners and one out. With five infielders playing behind him on the grass, Kintzler got Wilmer Flores to ground into a 3-2 fielder’s choice before ringing up Anthony Recker with a backwards K. The Mets catcher was unhappy with the call (the pitch appeared to miss low) and proceeded to scream at home plate umpire Angel Hernandez, who promptly tossed Recker from the game.

With Carlos Torres back out in the 13th inning for his second inning of work, Jonathan Lucroy broke the suspense by sitting back and belting a hanging curveball inside the left field foul pole.

The Brewers continued to pummel Torres, stringing together two singles, a double, and a walk before Terry Collins finally gave the 31-year-old right-hander the hook. Milwaukee extended its lead to 5-1, and Francisco Rodriguez shut the door in the bottom of the inning to send his former team to their eighth loss in nine games.

***

Jon Lester had a rough outing against the Tigers in his last start, as he was tagged for four runs on 12 hits and failed to make it through five innings while not recording a strikeout for the first time in his career. However, the Red Sox ace bounced back against the Indians on Thursday with 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball, limiting the Tribe to just one extra-base hit and a single walk.

Grady Sizemore roped a ground rule double to plate Mike Napoli and get Boston on the board in the second inning, and David Ortiz cranked a two-run shot off Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin in the fifth. The Indians closed the deficit to 3-2 with a two-spot of their own in the sixth, but Brock Holt added two insurance runs with a double in the home half of the frame.

Cleveland looked poised for another rally in the seventh inning, when Michael Bourn hit an opposite-field drive with a runner on first and one out. However, Jackie Bradley Jr. made a fantastic running catch up against the Green Monster before doing his own Yoenis Cespedes impression to double off Mike Aviles at first. Koji Uehara sent Cleveland down 1-2-3 in the ninth to record his 14th save of the season.

***

The Giants caught Washington’s pitching staff on an off day, as San Francisco avoided a four-game sweep at the hands of the hottest squad in the senior circuit. The home team got on the board in the bottom of the second, when Tyler Colvin launched a fly ball off Blake Treinen into triple’s alley to plate Michael Morse. The former Cubs first-round pick would score on a groundout by the next batter, Brandon Crawford.

Treinen lasted just five innings before handing the ball off to Craig Stammen, who promptly served up back-to-back-to-back base knocks. The Giants battered Stammen and reliever Aaron Barrett for five runs and nine hits in three innings, which was more than enough run support for Tim Hudson.

The two-year, $23 million deal to which San Francisco signed Hudson looks better and better every time the 38-year-old toes the rubber. Against the Nationals, Hudson tossed seven innings and gave up just one run (zero earned) while striking out five. Once again, Hudson was able to command the zone, throwing 68 of his 104 pitches for strikes and got ahead with a first-pitch strike against 18 of the 28 batters he faced. With another fine start, Hudson lowered his ERA to 1.81, reclaiming the National League lead from Johnny Cueto.

The Defensive Plays of the Day
It’s hard to not be enamored of George Springer’s highlight-reel catches, and the rookie phenom added two more to his collection on Thursday against Arizona. The first play was a great backhanded, tumbling catch that robbed Aaron Hill of a leadoff single in the fifth inning.

Springer’s first catch was outstanding by itself, but the Houston right fielder outdid himself in the eighth inning with an even better catch to preserve a 4-3 lead and double off the potential tying run.

The game went to extra innings after Miguel Montero tagged Chad Qualls for a solo shot in the ninth inning. It was the first run that the Houston closer had given up since April 19. However, Chris Carter got Qualls off the hook an inning later by delivering his third dinger in the past two days to send the Astros home walk-off winners.

What to Watch for This Weekend

Friday:

  • With the streaking Nationals coming to town for a three-game set, the Cardinals are expected to activate Mat Adams on Friday after a minimum 15-day stay on the disabled list. The return of Adams will move Allen Craig back to right field, meaning the Cardinals will either send Oscar Taveras back to Triple-A, or have a logjam in the outfield, with three spots to share between Craig, Taveras, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos. Taveras figures to stick as a corner outfielder, so it will be interesting to see how the Cardinals split the playing time—particularly in center field—over the weekend. Adams will make his return against Jordan Zimmermann, who is fresh off a complete-game shutout of the Padres. Lance Lynn will get the ball for St. Louis (8:15 p.m. ET).

  • The last time Clayton Kershaw took the hill against the Diamondbacks, he was thrashed for seven runs on six hits and two walks, and was chased from the game in the second inning in one of the roughest outings of his career. On Friday night, Kershaw will get a second crack at the Snakes, who will counter with Chase Anderson—the winning pitcher in that 18-7 laugher. Aside from that blip, Kershaw has been magnificent this season, and his peripherals suggest even more domination on the horizon. The 26-year-old’s ground-ball rate has increased from 49 percent in 2013 to 57 percent this season, while his contact rate is over four percentage points lower than it has ever been in a single season. Armed with career highs in strikeout rate and walk rate, Kershaw’s next step in his chase for a third Cy Young Award will be rectifying that fateful night in Arizona (10:10 p.m. ET).

Saturday:

  • After spending the first 2 1/2 months of the season on the shelf with elbow and knee issues, Mat Latos will make his long-awaited season debut for the Reds on Saturday opposite Yovani Gallardo and the Brewers. Cincinnati has dealt with a multitude of injuries this year, with Latos, Aroldis Chapman, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Devin Mesoraco all spending substantial time on the disabled list. With Latos back, the Reds are as healthy as they’ve been all season, which should provide optimism for Cincinnati fans hoping to see their club climb back into the thick of the National League wild card race (7:15 p.m. ET).

Sunday:

  • Henderson Alvarez was in the midst of another excellent outing last Sunday against the Cubs, but a high toss from Garrett Jones leading Alvarez to first base caused the Miami hurler to land awkwardly and exit the start in the sixth inning with a left hip strain. Luckily for Alvarez, the injury doesn’t appear to be serious and he will look to get back on track against the Pirates this Sunday. After leaving his last start, the bullpen allowed the two runners inherited from Alvarez to score, marking the first time in four starts that Alvarez had given up a run. The 24-year-old relies on a power sinker and utilizes a slider, along with a changeup that averages just a tick under 90 MPH. If that wasn’t enough, Alvarez has been mixing in one or two eephus-like slow curveballs around 60 MPH a game. Luis Valbuena can testify that those aren’t any fun to try to hit (1:10 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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