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July 2, 2014

What You Need to Know

The A's Get Rick-Rolled

by Chris Mosch

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The Tuesday Takeaway
After walking off against Sean Doolittle and the Athletics in dramatic fashion on Monday night, the Tigers quickly disposed of the American League West leaders on Tuesday to clinch a series win. The game breezed by in just two hours and 13 minutes, as Rick Porcello tossed his second consecutive shutout and needed just 95 pitches to complete it.

Porcello was excellent during his last start against Cleveland, but the Detroit right-hander exhibited impeccable command of the strike zone on Tuesday and got the A’s to beat the ball into the ground all night long. He often found himself ahead early in the count, tallying first-pitch strikes against 24 of the 31 batters he faced, and threw 68 of his 95 pitches for strikes.

Porcello didn’t miss many bats; he generated just two swings-and-misses and failed to record a strikeout. However, he didn’t issue any walks and coaxed 18 ground balls, 17 of which the Detroit infield was able to turn into outs. The zero-strikeout, zero-walk shutout is one of the more unique gems to toss, and Porcello became the first pitcher to join the club since Jeff Ballard did it against the Brewers in 1989. The last pitcher to do it before that? Roger Clemens in 1987.

Brad Mills was solid for the A’s in his third start since being acquired from the Brewers for just $1, but it wasn’t nearly enough to keep pace with Porcello. J.D. Martinez continued his tear at the plate for the Tigers, driving a key two-bagger down the left-field line that led to the first run of the game later in the fourth inning. In his next at-bat, he crushed a first-pitch mistake from Mills for a two-run bomb that gave Detroit a 3-0 advantage.

That was all the Tigers would need with Porcello on the bump. The former first-round pick induced weak contact all night and cruised through the final four frames, needing just 35 pitches while Oakland failed to work a two-ball count after the fifth inning. Porcello became the first Detroit pitcher to toss back-to-back shutouts since Jack Morris in 1986 (who threw three straight), and the first to require fewer than 100 pitches to record a shutout since Armando Galarraga’s near-perfecto in 2010.

Quick Hits from Tuesday

The Brewers and Blue Jays kicked off Tuesday’s action with a matinee at the Rogers Centre, with the home squad sporting red uniforms in honor of Canada Day. Edwin Encarnacion set the tone for the Jays with a fantastic diving grab on the first play of the day.

That was one of the hardest-hit balls that Toronto starter Drew Hutchison would give up during his seven innings of work, as the 23-year-old hurler was perfect until Khris Davis reached on an infield single with the two outs in the fifth and finished the day allowing just two more hits. Supplying Hutchison with an early lead was Jose Bautista, who hadn’t appeared in the Blue Jays lineup since June 22 because of a left hamstring strain. The leading American League All-Star vote-getter tattooed a 3-2 changeup from Marco Estrada in his first at bat back.

Colby Rasmus added another solo blast off Estrada in the fifth inning, which upped the Milwaukee right-hander’s dinger total this season to 26. Estrada’s counterpart, Hutchison, needed just 61 pitches to navigate the first five innings while fanning eight Brewers. Hutchison walked the tightrope during the next two innings, as Ryan Braun cut the lead in half with an RBI double in the sixth, and the Brew Crew loaded the bases in the seventh before Hutchison retired his final batter of the day, Jean Segura, on a lineout to right field.

Hutchison’s plan against the Brewers was clear: Challenge hitters up in the zone with his fastball and then try to get them to chase his slider low and off the plate.

The strategy worked especially well on Tuesday, as the free-swinging Brewers expanded the zone up for the Toronto right-hander. Milwaukee came up empty on 13 fastballs from Hutchison, including seven heaters above the letters. Four of Hutchison’s career-high 10 strikeouts finished with fastballs up in the eyes and over half a foot out of the strike zone: Ryan Braun in the first innings, Carlos Gomez and Khris Davis in the second inning, and Mark Reynolds in the sixth inning. A look at each of the four punchouts:


After Hutchison departed, Toronto tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the eighth inning, and Casey Janssen preserved the 4-1 lead with a scoreless ninth to record his 13th save of the season. The two division-leading clubs will tussle for another weekday matinee tomorrow to close out their two-game series.


***

After dominating Pittsburgh Pirates for eight innings on Tuesday, Wade Miley took the hill in the ninth armed with a 2-0 lead and in search of his first career complete game.

The 27-year-old southpaw had fanned 10 Pirates through eight innings and had allowed just two batters to reach base, but Neil Walker laced a 1-1 slider from Miley up the middle for a leadoff single. Rookie phenom Gregory Polanco had gotten the day off, but came to the plate as a pinch-hitter and knocked Miley out of the game with a single to left, putting the tying run on base.

Kirk Gibson lifted Miley after 117 pitches and brought in his closer, Addison Reed, who promptly retired Josh Harrison on a fly ball to center field. Up next was Starling Marte, who whiffed at consecutive sliders below the knees from Reed. The Arizona stopgap tried to get Marte to chase at a third breaking pitch, but left the offering over the plate and Marte capitalized:


Ender Inciarte nearly made an outstanding leaping grab at the wall, but the Arizona center fielder came up just short, and Polanco came around from first base to score the tying run. He advanced 90 feet after the throw home skipped past Miguel Montero. That set the stage for Ike Davis, who laced a broken-bat single down the right field line for his fourth career walk-off hit.

***

Bonus baseball hasn’t been too kind to the Marlins in recent weeks, as the Fish went 1-5 in extra inning games in June with all five losses coming in games that lasted at least 13 innings. Their two most recent extra-inning heartbreaks came in the last week, as they dropped a 14-inning contest to the Phillies last Thursday and then fell to the A’s in 14 on Saturday.

Miami’s luck turned around on Tuesday.

Taking the bump for the Marlins was Henderson Alvarez, who furthered his breakout 2014 campaign by twirling his eighth consecutive start of two runs or less. The 26-year-old Venezuelan scattered seven hits and a walk over seven innings and departed with a 4-2 lead, but Kevin Gregg promptly blew the lead by surrendering back-to-back jacks to Marlon Byrd and Cody Asche.

Aside from Gregg, the Miami bullpen was superb, as Mike Dunn, Steve Cishek and Bryan Morris combined to retired the next 10 Phillies. Pinch-hitting for Morris to start the bottom of the 11th was Jeff Baker, who singled to right field off Justin De Fratus and was sacrificed over to second base by Christian Yelich. De Fratus hadn’t given up a run since being called back up to the big leagues at the end of May, but his scoreless innings streak ended at 17 after Ed Lucas poked a 2-2 offering into right field to send the Fish home walk-off winners.

***

David Price’s streak of double-digit strikeout starts came to a close against the Yankees, but the Tampa Bay trade chip still fired seven innings of one-run ball in a stellar pitching duel against Hiroki Kuroda.

The Rays used a trio of singles in the top of the fourth from Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria and Logan Forsythe to jump out to a 1-0 lead. The Bombers evened it up in the home half after the Rays botched a rundown with runners at the corners and one out. The Rays had Jacoby Ellsbury hung up between first and second after Price appeared to have him picked off, but a throw by Ben Zobrist hit Ellsbury, and Derek Jeter came sprinting home from third to score.

Kuroda will mix in a handful of curveballs every game to left-handed batters, and he went to his hook just three times against Tampa Bay. Unfortunately for him, James Loney got under a first-pitch curve to lead off the sixth inning and deposited it into the right-center field bullpen. Price was able to hand the 2-1 lead over to his bullpen after finishing with nine strikeouts and four hits. He actually walked three batters, which tied a season high and reduced his previously insane 10.3 K:BB ratio to merely a fantastic nine-to-one.

Jake McGee spun a scoreless inning of relief for the Rays in the eighth, and Joe Maddon turned to Grant Balfour to close out the game. The Aussie reliever was removed from the closer role last month, but Maddon decided to give him another crack on Tuesday for being a model citizen.

Balfour walked a pair of batters in the ninth but retired Yangervis Solarte via the ground out to send the resurgent Tampa Bay club to its sixth win in its last seven games.

***

Since Josh Hamilton joined the Angels prior to the 2013 season, the trio of Hamilton, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols had gone deep in the same contest just once before Tuesday. The three sluggers each went yard on May 14 last year in a win against the Royals that saw Jason Vargas surrender a fourth tater to Howie Kendrick.

Playing the role of Vargas on Tuesday was Hector Noesi, who served up back-to-back blasts to Trout and Pujols in the fifth inning of the first game of a doubleheader between the Angels and White Sox. Noesi was extremely wild during his outing, walking a career-worst seven batters in five innings of work. But his biggest mistake came against Trout. There aren’t too many times that you’re going to get away with an 88-MPH changeup down the middle against the generation’s premier hitter.



Trout’s three-run shot knotted the game up and Pujols followed with a solo dinger to put the Halos up in front. Hamilton followed suit in the seventh inning with a towering shot off Ronald Belisario.

On the mound for the Angels was Garret Richards, who was locked in after a rough first inning. The hard-throwing right-hander served up a three-run blast to right field off the bat of Jose Abreu that wasn’t quite as mind-blowing as Giancarlo Stanton’s opposite-field laser a couple of weeks ago, but it was nonetheless a striking showcase of Abreu’s strength.

The Cuban rookie sensation entered the day tied with Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion atop the American League with 25 dingers, and for a few hours he held the league lead. However, Cruz kept pace later in the day with a tater off Nick Martinez to celebrate his 34th birthday.

After Abreu’s home run, Richards buckled down to retire the next 12 White Sox batters, and sent the home team down in order in six of the next seven innings. He finished the day allowing just the three runs on two hits while fanning nine and walking just two. The Angels piled on a run in the sixth, seventh, eighth and nine innings against the Chicago bullpen to take the first game of the doubleheader by a final of 8-4.

The Halos roughed up Scott Carroll in the nightcap, sending him to the showers after six innings with an ugly 10-hit, seven-run line. Kole Calhoun tagged Carroll for a two-run blast in the fifth inning, while every Angels starter except for Pujols picked up a hit against the Chicago right-hander.

Jered Weaver didn’t have his best stuff for the visitors, as he allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings. However, the Los Angels bullpen didn’t allow a hit after Weaver departed and Joe Smith shut the door on the 7-5 win for his second save of the day.

The Defensive Play of the Day
Triple plays are rare enough as it is, but the Indians squashed a Dodgers rally on Tuesday with a 7-2-4 triple killing that required two separate replay reviews. Yasiel Puig was initially called safe at second base after Dee Gordon was thrown out at home on a potential sacrifice fly, but the call was overturned and Puig was ruled out. Don Mattingly then requested a replay to see if Gordon had slid in under the tag of Yan Gomes, which the replay crew upheld.

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • After going through a seven-game stretch in which he’d been battered for five runs or more in six of them, Justin Verlander reeled off back-to-back solid outings on the road against Cleveland and Houston. The Old Dominion University product gave up two runs in seven innings against the Indians and three runs versus the Astros while fanning eight and walking just one batter in each start. Verlander will look to build on his pair of quality outings against the Athletics, who are facing off against Detroit’s hard-throwing right-hander for the first time since he bounced them from last year’s ALDS for the second year in a row. Oakland will counter with Jesse Chavez, who is coming off one of his weaker starts of the season—a five inning, four-run outing in Miami (1:08 p.m. ET).

  • Jose Altuve tallied two more hits last night to raise his American-League-leading batting average to .347, but his seven-game streak with a stolen base came to an end during the Astros’ 13-2 beating at the hands of the Mariners. The M’s have pushed across double-digit runs in each of their first two games against the Astros and will go for the sweep on Wednesday when they send Chris Young to the mound for a matinee matchup opposite Brad Peacock. Seattle has won nine of its last 11 games, and after last night’s laugher, they are eight games above .500 and just 5 1/2 games behind Oakland atop the American League West (2:10 p.m. ET).

  • Last time out, Cole Hamels’s average fastball velocity sat at nearly a full MPH higher than his season average, but three mistakes resulted in a trio of solo home runs by the Marlins. It was the first time since Opening Day 2013 that Hamels had served up three dingers in a single game, but he was otherwise flawless, allowing three singles and zero walks while striking out seven Fish. The veteran southpaw has been able to work deep into games this season, as his start against Miami was his 10th consecutive start of at least seven innings—the longest such streak of his career. He’ll look to extend that streak on Wednesday against Miami, who will send Tom Koehler to the hill in a rematch of last week’s 14-inning thriller (7:10 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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