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July 25, 2014

What You Need to Know

July 25, 2014

by Chris Mosch

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The Thursday Takeaway

For the second night in a row, Blue Jays fans watched one of their talented young arms baffle Red Sox hitters. Wednesday night, it was Aaron Sanchez making an impact with two perfect innings out of the bullpen in his major-league debut. Last night, Marcus Stroman continued to work his newest weapon into his arsenal as he flirted with a no-hitter and dominated Boston in his best start to date.

The no-hit drama was nearly squashed before it even started, as Stroman faced off against David Ortiz in the first inning after striking out Brock Holt and issuing a free pass to Shane Victorino. Ortiz worked the count full before scorching a hot shot down the first base line that found the glove of Juan Francisco, who easily doubled Victorino off to end the top half of the first.

The snag at first was one of several highlights on the day for Francisco, who went 3-for-4 at the plate for the Jays and finished a double shy of the cycle. He jump-started the second inning with a triple that glanced off the glove of Jackie Bradley Jr. up against the center-field wall, and he then came home to score one of Toronto’s two runs in the frame. Toronto’s lead stood at 3-0 when Francisco came to bat the next inning with a runner at first. Rubby De La Rosa kept his 2-2 changeup low, but the offering caught too much of the plate and Francisco took it deep for his 15th home run of the season.

Francisco added a two-run single his next at-bat against Burke Badenhop, and the Jays tallied an eighth run later against the Boston staff when the game was all but over.

One of the knocks on Stroman has been his 5-foot-9 frame, and when he was called up in early May, Nick J. Faleris wrote that “the lack of downhill plane on his offerings leaves him susceptible to the long ball, and prone to fly balls in general.” Perhaps in an effort to offset that vulnerability, Stroman started to work a sinker into his pitch selection during his outing last week against the Rangers, relying on the offering six times. As of this writing, Stroman’s pitches have yet to be classified by Pitch Info, and the MLB Advanced Media Gameday classification grouped all of Stroman’s fastballs as four-seamers. But it’s clear that the Duke University product ramped up the use of his sinker during yesterday’s start against Boston.

Below are Stroman’s pitches from his last two starts, with each pitch’s horizontal movement plotted against its vertical movement. The grey cluster at the left of the Texas start represents his six sinkers. Notice the large cluster of black dots in the same area from yesterday’s outing.

The chart suggests that Stroman used his sinker 17 times yesterday, and the 23-year-old induced four of his 10 groundball outs with the offering. One of those groundouts was a weak chopper by Christian Vazquez in the sixth inning, which at the time was Stroman’s 17th out recorded without allowing a hit. Here’s a look at Stroman’s 1-0 four-seam fastball for a called strike against Vazquez, followed by a sinker in practically the same spot on the next pitch.

Stroman struck out Holt moments later to complete six innings of no-hit ball, and dug Shane Victorino into a 0-2 hole to begin the seventh. But the Wailuku, Hawaii native blooped Stroman’s next offering—a hanging curveball—into shallow center for Boston’s lone hit of the day. Victorino was erased from the bases later in the frame when Stroman coaxed a 6-4-3 inning-ending twin killing from Mike Napoli on—you guessed it—a sinker.

Stroman’s outing came to an end after the seventh inning, as he finished the day with seven strikeouts and two walks on 97 pitches. The former first round pick of the 2012 draft threw 66 of those pitches for strikes and allowed only three fly balls compared to the 10 worm-killers he was able to generate. After the game, Stroman noted that his new pitch was one of the things that helped him get on a roll, and credited his batterymate, Dioner Navarro, saying that he didn’t shake him off once during the entire outing.

The young Toronto hurler has shown flashes of brilliance since moving to the starting rotation, but yesterday’s start topped them all. Now armed with an extra trick up his sleeve, Stroman’s future appears to be as promising as ever.

Quick Hits from Thursday
As good as Stroman was against the Red Sox, an even more impressive no-hit bid took place last night in Kansas City.

Through six innings, Corey Kluber had not only held the Royals hitless, but he had yet to allow a baserunner in his quest for a perfect game. He started the seventh inning having thrown 70 pitches while allowing just two balls to leave the infield. Kluber got Jarrod Dyson to ground out to shortstop to start the seventh, but he grooved a 1-1 sinker to Omar Infante moments later, and the Kansas City second baseman lined it back up the middle to break up the perfecto.

While Kluber was busy handcuffing the Royals, Danny Duffy did all he could to keep his club in the ballgame. The 25-year-old southpaw tossed seven innings of two-hit ball, fanning seven and keeping the Indians off the board before turning the ball over to Wade Davis after 108 pitches. The Kansas City setup man got himself into trouble in the eighth inning by loading the bases with one out for Michael Brantley. However, Brantley grounded into a 6-3 double play to keep the game scoreless. Davis was in line for the win heading into the ninth inning after one of the most bizarre plays of the season led to the first run of the game.

After inducing an infield pop up by Salvador Perez to lead off the bottom of the eighth, Corey Kluber fell behind 2-0 against Mike Moustakas. Kluber left the next pitch over the middle of the plate, but Moustakas got under it, resulting in a fly ball down the left field line. Ryan Raburn had a long way to go, but ended up slightly oversliding the ball, and it bounced off his wrist as Moustakas had himself a double. After retrieving the ball in foul territory, Raburn came up to throw the ball back into the infield, but he spiked it into the ground and the ball ended up in no man’s land in shallow left field. Moustakas ended up coming around to score in what was probably the wackiest touch-'em-all you’ve seen since your little league days.

Moustakas’ double and Infante’s single were the only two hits that Kluber surrendered, and he ended up striking out 10 batters with no walks over nine innings of work. It was the third time that Kluber has fanned double-digit Royals, which becomes even more impressive when you consider that Kansas City boasts the lowest strikeout rate in baseball—more than two percentage points lower than the next best team. Not surprisingly, the list of pitchers to strike out double-digit Royals isn’t very long. In fact…

…Kluber is the only member!

Cleveland made sure that Kluber wouldn’t be saddled with the tough-luck loss, as Yan Gomes evened the score against Greg Holland in the ninth inning with a two-out RBI single. The two bullpens exchanged four scoreless frames, with Aaron Crow striking out the side for the Royals in the top of the 14th. Leading off the home half of the inning was Lorenzo Cain, who reached on a chopper to shortstop that ate up Jose Ramirez on the in-between hop. Two pitches later, Cain took off for second base and was called safe on a play that was later upheld by instant replay. Cain absolutely swiped this one on Cleveland pitcher John Axford, as Yan Gomes came up firing with what I can only imagine was a ridiculous pop time, but to no avail.

Axford proceeded to strike out Danny Valencia, but the next batter, Norichika Aoki, laced an opposite-field single down the left field line to score Cain easily from second base and give Kansas City the walk-off win.


With a pair of no-hit bids and the juicy pitching duel on tap between Scherzer and Richards, lost in the day’s collection of pitching performances was the matinee duel between Tim Hudson and Cole Hamels.

Looking to avoid a four-game sweep in their own backyard, the Phillies quickly got on the board in the first inning when Marlon Byrd singled home Jimmy Rollins. It was one of two unearned runs that Hudson allowed over his six innings of work, as Rollins advanced to third on a passed ball by Buster Posey after collecting a double earlier in the frame.

The Giants evened the score in the fifth on an RBI single by Ehire Adrianza, but gave the run right back in the bottom of the frame. Most at fault for Philadelphia’s second run was Michael Morse, who made an inexplicable error on an easy pop up. Ben Revere led off the inning for the Phillies, but got jammed on a 0-2 pitch and hit a soft fly to shallow left field. Morse came running in to make the catch, but the ball bounced off his glove for a two-base error. Hudson’s reaction to the play said it all.

Two batters later, Chase Utley singled to center to plate Revere and give Philadelphia the 2-1 lead. With Hamels and Hudson pitching, runs were at a premium, and the run that scored as a result of Morse’s error proved to be the difference in the game.

Hamels pounded the strike zone throughout the game, firing 90 of his 116 pitches for strikes, while getting the Giants to chase his signature changeup. The veteran southpaw went to his changeup 28 times, with 16 of those pitches ending up outside of the strike zone. However, the Giants offered at 14 of those 16 changeups, coming up empty seven times, fouling off four others, and putting the remaining three in play (two of which were converted into outs). To add insult to injury, one of those two changeups that the Giants didn’t swing at was called a strike.

At the end of the night, Hamels finished with 10 strikeouts and one walk over eight innings with help from 23 swing-and-misses—11 via his changeup and another 10 of which were on his four-seamer. The 11 whiffs with the changeup tied a season-best mark for Hamels, and the 10 swing-and-misses with the fastball were a season-best.

On to close out the game was Jonathan Papelbon, who was greeted by the Philadelphia fans with a chorus of boos after blowing a save on Monday and taking the loss on Tuesday. Papelbon pitched a clean inning to pick up the save and proceeded to play the heel persona during his postgame interview.

“I enjoy it,” Papelbon said about the boos. “I just think that it's fun. It just brings a little bit of energy and life to the park and gives me a little bit of something to look forward to do every day … I heard some of them. But that's it? Maybe we can get the whole park going here soon."


Stellar pitching performances were certainly the theme on Thursday. In addition to the pair of near no-no’s and the pitching duel that took place in Philadelphia, Wei-Yin Chen tossed eight shutout innings in a win against Seattle, Tyson Ross fanned 11 in San Diego’s 13-3 romp of the Cubs, while Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza and Henderson Alvarez each tossed eight outstanding frames in winning efforts.

With that in mind, you would imagine that the matchup between Max Scherzer and Garrett Richards would top them all. It was the second straight start that pitted Richards against a bona fide ace, as last Saturday’s game between the Angels and Mariners required bonus baseball after dominant performances from Richards and Felix Hernandez left the squads knotted at a run apiece.

However, the Tigers and Angels also sport two of the top offenses in the league, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the matchup didn’t meet the high bar set by Kluber and Duffy earlier in the night. With the exception of a three-run fifth inning by the Angels, Scherzer actually pitched quite well, striking out 11 batters versus just one walk over seven innings. The reigning American League Cy Young award winner did get some help from his defense before departing though, as Austin Jackson robbed Kole Calhoun of extra-bases with an incredible leaping catch with two outs in the seventh inning.

However, Calhoun was on the other side of a spectacular defensive play earlier in the night, when he took a single away from Ian Kinsler back in the first inning.

Richards was cruising along for the Angels through five innings, allowing just one run on three hits and a pair of walks. He nursed a 3-1 lead as he came out for the sixth inning, but his night quickly unraveled. Miguel Cabrera led off with a single to center and advanced 90 feet after Victor Martinez followed with a single of his own to right field. Next up was Torii Hunter, who drilled a 1-0 slider into the left-center gap to cut the lead to one run. Moments later, Nick Castellanos gave the Tigers the lead with a double of his own, which capped off all the scoring against Richards.

Detroit tacked on a run in the seventh inning against Jason Grilli and another in the eighth off Fernando Salas, but Joba Chamberlain gave one back as the score was 6-4 heading into the ninth. After being given a vote of confidence in the closer’s role, Joe Nathan responded by striking out the side in a perfect ninth inning to secure the win for Detroit.

The Defensive Play of the Day

The outfield catches by Jackson and Calhoun were each more than worthy of the title of the best play of the night, but I wanted to take a moment to recognize how ridiculous of a play Rougned Odor made against the Yankees. With a runner at second and no outs, Brendan Ryan worked a 2-1 count against Colby Lewis before dropping a bunt to the third-base side of the mound.

The bunt appeared to catch the Rangers by surprise, as they didn’t have a wheel play or any type of bunt defense prepared prior to the pitch, so Odor had a looong way to go to cover first base after Jim Adduci broke in on the bunt. Adrian Beltre made a nice play to barehand the bunt, but he made a poor throw that Odor had to pick while sliding into first base, just a step ahead of Ryan.

What to Watch this Weekend

Jeff Samardzija dominated the Astros over eight innings of work during last night’s 13-1 blowout, and has been stellar for the Athletics since being traded by the Cubs earlier this month. The other hurler that Oakland acquired from Chicago in that blockbuster—Jason Hammel—hasn’t fared nearly as well since leaving the Senior Circuit. The 31-year-old veteran struggled in a five-inning outing against the Giants and then surrendered five runs in just two innings in his latest start against Baltimore. On Friday, Hammel draws a Texas squad that ranks second-to-last in baseball in True Average and has continued to struggle at the plate to kick off baseball’s unofficial second half of the season. It’s as favorable a matchup as any for Oakland’s right-hander to try and turn his fortunes around (8:05 p.m. EST).

Johnny Cueto’s 2014 game log has one especially noticeable blemish: an eight-run clunker on May 20 against the Nationals in the nation’s capital. Cueto didn’t pitch terribly that night, as he walked zero and gave up just six hits, but a handful of defensive miscues behind him turned the night into a forgettable one for the Reds. Cueto will seek to exact revenge against the Nationals on Saturday when he takes the hill at Great American Ballpark. Denard Span collected five hits on that May night against the Reds and is fresh off a four-hit game on Wednesday against the Rockies. He’s likely to see the game’s first pitch and will try to get the bats going for Washington’s starter, Gio Gonzalez (4:05 p.m. EST).

With a 3.10 FIP that trails only Jesse Han and Masahiro Tanaka among all rookie starters, Jacob deGrom has emerged as one of most pleasant surprises for the Mets this season, and the rookie hurler has been especially brilliant over the past month. The DeLand, Florida native has held opponents to a .552 OPS over his last six outings and has spun three consecutive starts of seven innings with at least seven strikeouts and one or fewer runs allowed. The New York hurler will take the mound on Sunday opposite Jimmy Nelson in the finale of a four-game set between the Amazin’s and the Brewers (2:10 p.m. EST).

Chris Mosch is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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