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July 1, 2014

What You Need to Know

Davis Downs the A's

by Daniel Rathman

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The Monday Takeaway
When the Tigers paid a visit to Oakland in late May, Rajai Davis sparked the road team to a one-run victory by manufacturing a run with his legs. He came on as a pinch-runner for J.D. Martinez, moved to second on a passed ball, stole third on a throw back from the catcher to the pitcher, and scored on a grounder.

On Monday, Davis downed his former employer again—this time in grand fashion:

With a 4-1 lead in the ninth and Sean Doolittle on the hill, the A’s seemed poised to sail smoothly to a series-opening victory. It was the Tigers, after all, who’d been felled by late-inning bullpen woes over the season’s first three months.

Conversely, since taking over the closing duties for Oakland, Doolittle had been nearly automatic. His K:BB ratio entering yesterday’s assignment was 56-to-1. His blown save on Saturday in Miami was just his second of the season. And he’d allowed only one earned run—the one the Marlins hung on his line two days earlier—since April 26.

Thus, the A’s had every reason to be confident, even after Nick Castellanos led off the last of the ninth with an infield single. Alex Avila followed with a single that moved Castellanos to third and brought the tying run to the plate. Doolittle appeared to recover his mojo when he struck out Eugenio Suarez, but his typically sharp command wasn’t there on Monday night.

Austin Jackson’s ensuing plate appearance was proof of that. Before we get to it, a trivia question: Who drew the only walk that Doolittle had issued in 2014 before Jackson stepped into the box? (Answer at the end of the Takeaway.)

Back to Jackson.


Doolittle threw 17 pitches in the appearance, 13 of which were fastballs. Jackson saw nine of the offerings, and all of them were heaters.

The first one was an easy take, way inside to the right-handed hitter. Doolittle got the 1-0 pitch over to even the count, and you might argue that he deserved to get ahead, because the 1-1 four-seamer crossed the outside black. Trouble is, Mike DiMuro wasn’t fond of anything in that part of the strike zone all night:

The A’s hurled three pitches more deserving of DiMuro’s consideration than the 1-1 to Jackson, and DiMuro didn’t like any of them. For his part, Doolittle didn’t gripe about the call; instead, he praised Jackson for his approach when the count drew even at 2-2.

Jackson fouled off pitches five, six, and seven, and Doolittle could pound the strike zone no longer. The lefty missed outside twice to hand out his second base on balls of the season.

Two pitches later, Davis got the hanging breaking ball that became the second walkoff grand slam in Tigers history authored with the team trailing by three. Alan Trammel slugged the other in 1988.

The 5-4 win improved Brad Ausmus’ club to 20-19 at Comerica Park. The Tigers remained 3 ½ games up on the Royals, while the A’s—who lead the junior circuit with 27 road wins—saw their West division lead over the idle Angels fall to five.

Trivia answer: Ryan Hanigan

Quick Hits from Monday
Last night, the Red Sox extended a run-prevention streak that was already the longest they’d attained at Fenway Park in nearly a century:

Unfortunately, it didn’t help the home nine to top the Cubs in the series opener, because Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon were even better than Jake Peavy and the Red Sox bullpen.

With four straight outings of six-plus innings and no more than two runs allowed, Arrieta was already on a roll when the Cubs landed in Boston. He’d punched out at least nine and walked no more than one in each of his last three starts. The control issues that once plagued him were gone, his ERA was down to 2.05 as a result, and the Cubs had won four of five behind him.

On Monday, the 28-year-old turned in his best outing of a tremendous month.

Arrieta held the Red Sox to a Mike Napoli walk and a Stephen Drew single over 7 2/3 innings. He whiffed 10 along the way, and when Nate Schierholtz handed the right-hander a two-run lead with a homer in the top of the fourth, John Farrell’s squad was toast.

Before Monday, Arrieta had five starts against the Red Sox on his résumé, but he’d permitted at least three runs in each of them. That wouldn’t have sufficed last night. But the 2014 version of Arrieta isn’t the one Boston grew accustomed to seeing during his days with the Orioles.

Arrieta wasn’t efficient on Monday—in fact, according to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, he became the first starter in the pitch-count era to throw 120 offerings in an outing that included no more than one hit and no more than one walk. He also wasn’t as effective as the only other Cub to kick and deal that many times in a one-or-fewer hit, one-or-fewer walk outing of any length; that would be Kerry Wood in his 20-strikeout gem in 1998. But Arrieta showed good control and kept the ball down…

…and when you can reach the mid-90s while spinning a sharp slider, that’s all you need to dominate the opposition.

For more on Arrieta’s breakout, be sure to read J.P. Breen’s in-depth fantasy outlook published today.

***

The Indians’ fourth-ever game at Dodger Stadium—and their first visit to Chavez Ravine since 2008—was a tidy, two-hour-and-37-minute affair. Corey Kluber and Dan Haren were on cruise control through the seventh-inning stretch.

That’s when Andre Ethier launched an 0-1 fastball off the wall in left-center:

The deep fly was just beyond the reach of Michael Brantley, and the left fielder crashed into the wall and needed a few moments to recover from the impact. By the time Michael Bourn could get over to pick up the ball, Ethier was on his way to an easy triple.

But getting him home would prove anything but easy. Kluber coaxed a harmless ground out from Juan Uribe and punched out A.J. Ellis looking, leaving Ethier 90 feet away with two down in the inning. The Indians walked pinch-hitter Hanley Ramirez to get to the pitcher’s spot, putting the ball in Don Mattingly’s court.

To give the Dodgers a realistic shot to take the lead, Mattingly would need to yank his starter, Dan Haren, out of a game in which he’d limited the Tribe to a hit and a walk in seven scoreless innings. On the other hand, Haren was up to 103 pitches, which made the decision to go for the jugular a little easier for the skipper.

Mattingly’s choice? Clint Robinson, the owner of exactly zero major league hits through his first eight career plate appearances. The 29-year-old picked a fine time for knock no. 1:

The single gave the Dodgers a 1-0 edge that Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen teamed up to protect without allowing a hit. And with the Giants off on Monday before welcoming the Cardinals to AT&T Park on Tuesday, the Dodgers—who were percentage points off the West division lead when they took the field—moved into first place for the first time since April 24.

Meanwhile, the Indians were held to just one hit for the second straight day, after Felix Hernandez flummoxed them for the Mariners on Sunday afternoon. It’s just the third time in the last century that a junior-circuit offense has been so impotent in consecutive contests:

***

Fresh off a four-hit shutout for Triple-A Tacoma, Taijuan Walker earned his way back to the majors after an early-season injury. He was unbeaten in three starts at the end of 2013, and the right-hander picked up where he left off in that regard on Monday night at Minute Maid Park.

However, he learned quickly that 2-0 fastballs down the pipe, even at 94 mph, don't work well in The Show:

George Springer served Walker that rude welcome in the first inning, putting the Astros up 2-0. Fortunately, Walker’s battery-mate, Mike Zunino, was there to even the score minutes later:

Marwin Gonzalez added on by clanking a solo shot off the right-field foul pole an inning later, but the 21-year-old shook off the early adversity to hang four zeroes on the Minute Maid scoreboard and keep the Mariners in the game.

Come the last of the fourth, thanks largely to this two-run bomb by Michael Saunders

…Walker was pitching with a lead. He handed it over to Tom Wilhelmsen after the seventh-inning stretch, and the veteran righty finished off the Astros while the M’s tacked on five more to win 10-4.

The Defensive Play of the Day
Bryce Harper is back in the majors—he went 1-for-3 with a walk in Monday’s 7-3 Nats win—and that means Ryan Zimmerman is back at third base. Based on this twin killing, Zimmerman seems thrilled with that development:

What to Watch on Tuesday

  • After rolling through a 10-start run in which he didn’t permit more than three earned runs in any outing, Stephen Strasburg has fallen on rough times. The Braves dinged the hard-throwing righty for four runs in six innings on June 20, and in Strasburg’s bid to bounce back, the Brewers pounded him to the tune of seven runs in 4 2/3 frames on the bump. Strasburg’s next chance to right the ship comes with the Rockies visiting the nation’s capital. He’s scheduled to take on Christian Friedrich in game two of three (7:05 p.m. ET).

  • With Prince Fielder done for the year, the rapidly sinking Rangers could use some pop from their other middle-of-the-order bats. They haven’t been getting it from fifth-place hitter Alex Rios, who took a hat trick to the team’s hotel in Monday’s 7-1 loss to the Orioles. Rios is mired in a 2-for-26 slump, over which he’s fanned 10 times, and he hasn’t homered since May 14, a span of 40 games. The outfielder will try to get going in support of Nick Martinez this evening, as he digs in against left-hander T.J. McFarland (7:05 p.m. ET).

  • Clayton Kershaw chucked eight scoreless innings in his attempt to join Johnny Vander Meer in the back-to-back no-nos club, but he gave up six hits along the way. Tonight, Tim Lincecum gets his chance in a matchup with the Cardinals and rookie southpaw Marco Gonzales. The right-hander has fared well in 10 starts at AT&T Park this season, logging a 3.19 ERA and 57-to-24 K:BB ratio in 59 1/3 innings. Game two of three in the series will mark Lincecum’s first regular-season start against the Redbirds since June 1, 2011 (10:15 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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