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July 30, 2014

What You Need to Know

July 30, 2014

by Chris Mosch

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The Tuesday Takeaway
On Monday, the Rays took the series opener from the Brewers behind seven strong innings from Jake Odorizzi, who complemented his fastball with both his slider and split-changeup, the latter of which he learned from teammate Alex Cobb this spring. The splitter was Odorizzi’s secondary offering of choice against Milwaukee and he threw 21 of 27 for strikes, including five of the swing-and-miss variety.

Cobb’s protégé stifled Milwaukee on Monday, but the Brew Crew had even more trouble on Tuesday night with the mentor, who rode his own splitter to a season-high 12 punchouts.

The Tampa Bay right-hander set the tone by sending the Brewers down in order in the first inning, with his at-bat against leadoff man Carlos Gomez exemplifying the rest of the night. The first pitch of the night was a splitter low-and-away, which fooled Gomez and left him adjusting his helmet. Gomez bunted through Cobb’s second pitch—a splitter just below the knees—to dig himself into a 0-2 hole. The third pitch from Cobb was a heater that just missed off the plate for ball one. The Tampa Bay right-hander came back with his third splitter of the at-bat on the next pitch, which Gomez nearly fell over swinging at for strike three.

Cobb got Jonathan Lucroy to ground out to shortstop for the second out and followed by striking out Ryan Braun on five pitches for the final out of the inning. The Milwaukee right fielder swung through a pair of splitters that ended up in the mitt of catcher Curt Casali just inches above the dirt.

Getting the free-swinging Brewers to chase splitters out of the zone proved to be Cobb’s modus operandi, as he generated swings on 32 of his 44 splitters despite throwing just seven in the strike zone. The majority of those swings were of the same nature as Gomez’s and Braun’s hacks.

Out of the 44 splitters that Cobb threw last night, 32 of them were strikes, 15 of those strikes swing-and-misses. Five of the whiffs were by Gomez, who struck out two more times against Cobb before going down against Grant Balfour in the ninth inning to complete the golden sombrero.

The Brewers did manage to scratch across a run in the fifth inning to take a 1-0 lead, but Ben Zobrist went deep off Matt Garza in the sixth to even the score. Garza tossed seven outstanding frames of one-run ball himself, but the Rays broke the game open in the eighth, using three hits and three walks off Will Smith and Marco Estrada to build a 5-1 advantage. Cobb finished the night needing just 101 pitches to get through eight innings, allowing just three hits and two walks.

Balfour pitched a clean ninth inning to secure the Rays’ 12th win in their last 13 games. Assuming he’s still donning a Tampa Bay uniform as of tomorrow afternoon, David Price will take the hill in the series finale with the opportunity to pitch the team back to the .500 mark.

Quick Hits from Tuesday
A pair of defensive miscues nearly cost the Orioles last night’s back-and-forth contest, but Baltimore used a standout performance by their bullpen to outlast the visiting Angels in walk-off fashion.

The Angels got on board on a a Mike Trout walk and an Albert Pujols ground rule double in the top of the first, but Adam Jones evened up the score in the bottom of the frame. Hank Conger wanted Jered Weaver to have Jones chase at an 0-2 fastball up and out of the zone, but Weaver left the offering at the letters and the Baltimore outfielder cranked it.

The Orioles tacked on another run in the inning to take a 2-1 lead, but Chris Tillman served up a pair of doubles and committed a throwing error the next inning, leading to two Los Angeles runs. With one out and a runner at third, David Freese hit a comebacker that ricocheted off Tillman, but fortunately landed right in front of him. Instead of taking the easy out at first, Tillman tried to cut down Howie Kendrick at the plate, but the Baltimore hurler spiked the throw in front of Nick Hundley, which allowed Freese to advance to second. After Hank Conger flied out for what could have been the third out of the inning, Kole Calhoun doubled home Freese to give the Angels a 3-2 lead.

The two clubs proceeded to exchange runs before Nick Markakis roped a three-run jack off the right field foul pole to give the Orioles a 6-4 advantage in the fourth inning.

The six runs were the second most that Weaver has allowed in a start this season, and Mike Scioscia yanked the right-hander after just five frames. Tillman also lasted just five innings for Baltimore, and served up a solo shot to Josh Hamilton before hitting the showers. In relief for Tillman was 28-year-old right-hander Brad Brach, who sent the Halos down in order in the sixth and retired his first two batters in the seventh. But Brach plunked Trout with an 0-1 fastball and gave up a single to Pujols that set the Angels up with runners at the corners.

With Hamilton due up, Buck Showalter lifted Brach in favor of southpaw Brian Matusz, who appeared to escape the jam by inducing a routine grounder to shortstop. Second baseman Ryan Flaherty assumed that Hardy would go to first base for the final out and casually jogged over to cover second base. The only problem was that Hardy came up expecting his double-play-partner to be at the bag for the easy force out. He wasn’t. The miscommunication allowed Hamilton just enough time to beat out the grounder for a game-tying infield single.

From that point on, it was a battle of the bullpens. Jason Grilli and Kevin Jepsen each threw perfect innings of relief, while Tommy Hunter and Zach Britton kept the Angels off the board in the eighth and ninth innings to send the game to extras. Joe Smith followed with two scoreless innings and Darren O’Day countered with two of his own.

Nick Markakis had a chance to end the game for Baltimore in the bottom of the 11th with runners at the corners and two outs, but Cory Rasmus got him to roll over to first base to end the inning. Los Angeles’ best scoring opportunity came in the top of the 12th, when Josh Hamilton doubled into the right field gap with Pujols on first and two outs. However, Pujols—not the fleetest of foot—had to be held at third base and watched Erick Aybar subsequently line out to quash the scoring threat.

That brought up Manny Machado to lead off the bottom of the 12th against Rasmus. The 26-year-old reliever started Machado off with a trio of sliders, with the first pitch ending up low for ball one and the other two passing by for called strikes. The 1-2 offering from Rasmus was a 76 mph curve left over the middle of the plate that Machado waited back on and deposited into the left-field bleachers, sending the Camden Yards crowd home ecstatic.

* * *

After taking Yu Darvish yard twice on Monday night, Brett Gardner led off Tuesday’s affair by depositing a 1-0 meatball from Nick Martinez over the right-center wall to give the Yankees an early lead. Gardner’s home run was the only run New York would push across until the sixth inning, but it was just a preview of the offensive outburst to come in the game’s final innings.

The Rangers mounted a two-out rally in the third against Brandon McCarthy, as Alex Rios, Adrian Beltre, and Jim Adduci collaborated on a trio of singles to knot the game up at one apiece. Next up was J.P. Arencibia, who ripped a two-strike curveball from McCarthy all the way to the wall in left field for a two-run double that gave Texas a 3-1 advantage. Arencibia added a solo blast off McCarthy in the fifth inning to extend the lead to 4-1, but that lead quickly evaporated in a disastrous sixth inning for the Rangers.

Gardner led off with a double to right field and moved up to third base on an infield single by Derek Jeter. Two batters later, Carlos Beltran ripped a hard grounder off the glove of the diving Arencibia at first base to cut the lead to one. Brian McCann brought home the tying run with a sacrifice fly before Martinez walked his final batter of the night, Chase Headley. Zoilo Almonte and Brendan Ryan collected back-to-back base knocks off reliever Shawn Tolleson to give New York a 7-4 lead.

Just when it seemed that the inning couldn’t get any worse for Texas, the Yankees tacked on their seventh run of the frame when a fly ball to right-center bounced off Leonys Martin's glove then glanced off his face before falling in for a three-base error.

The Yankees added two more runs in the top of the seventh to improve the lead to 10-4. If any Rangers fans decided to call it a night at that point, they missed out on an eventful final few innings.

Adam Warren came in to relieve McCarthy in the seventh and promptly allowed the first two runners to reach base. After getting Beltre to ground into a force out, Warren walked Adduci to load the bases. That was all Joe Girardi wanted to see from Warren, as he brought Dellin Betances out to face Arencibia. The count went full on Arencibia and Betances brought 97 mph heat with the payoff pitch. Unfortunately for him, the pitch was over the plate and at the letters, and Arencibia crushed it for a grand slam that brought the Rangers to within two runs.

Mark Teixeira answered Arencibia’s second dinger of the night with a two-run blast of his own in the eighth inning to extend the margin back to four runs. Texas added another run in the home half of the eighth to create a save situation for Girardi, who brought in David Robertston to pitch the ninth. The Yankees' stopper started the frame by fanning Arencibia (the only time he was retired), but allowed a pair of singles and walked three batters to load the bases for Beltre with two outs and the tying run 90 feet away. However, Texas’ storming comeback fell just short, as Beltre lifted Robertston’s payoff pitch in front of the warning track in left field for the final out of the 12-11 contest.

* * *

Francisco Lirano’s calling card has always been his devastating slider. The offering was on point last night against the Giants, as the southpaw went to it 29 times and generated nine swing-and-misses with it. However, Liriano’s weapon of choice last night against a right-handed heavy San Francisco lineup ended up being his changeup. Of the Giants' starting position players, six of them batted from the right side last night, and Liriano kept them off balance by utilizing the change 44 percent of the time against right-handers. The Giants whiffed on 11 different changeups.

At times, Liriano’s command was spotty, but he was armed with two secondary pitches that missed bats on Tuesday night and was able to rack up a season-high 11 punchouts over seven innings. The one blemish on Liriano’s night was a solo blast that Michael Morse hit in the third inning, but the Pirates came out on top by a final of 3-1 with a pair of early home runs off Tim Hudson by Josh Harrison and Travis Snider.


When Jeff Samardzija took the hill last week against the Astros, he tossed eight dominant innings in a 13-1 drubbing. Last night, the Astros were able to tally four runs against Samardzija before chasing him in the seventh inning, giving them a 4-1 lead and a chance to clinch a series win against Oakland heading into the ninth inning.

However, Chad Qualls was at the forefront of an epic meltdown by Houston, as the Athletics were able to storm back. Derrick Norris started the rally with a one-out infield single. Josh Reddick followed with a double to right field. Next up was Alberto Callaspo, who laced a single to center field to cut the deficit to one run. A fielder’s choice and a walk later, Yoenis Cespedes stepped to the plate with two outs and the tying run in scoring position. The Cuban slugger delivered with a flare to shallow right field to even the score and knock Qualls out of the game.

In came Tony Sipp, and the Houston left-hander worked Brandon Moss to a 3-2 count before Moss lined a single past the diving Jose Altuve, positioned in short right field, to give Oakland a 5-4 lead. Moments later, Josh Donaldson put an exclamation mark on the six-run inning with a two-run double over the head of center fielder Enrique Hernandez that rolled all the way up Tal's Hill to the 436-mark in straightaway center.

Sean Doolittle shut the door with a perfect ninth inning to complete the unlikely 7-4 come-from-behind win.

The Defensive Play of the Day
Charlie Blackmon made a fantastic game-saving catch with a runner on second base in the bottom of the 10th inning to keep the game alive. Unfortunately for the Rockies, it only delayed the inevitable: They went on to drop the marathon contest to the Cubs in 16 innings.

What to Watch on Wednesday
A lack of run support and Ryan Raburn’s defensive gaffe kept Corey Kluber from collecting the “W” his last time out despite turning in his most impressive start to date. Kluber took a perfect game into the seventh inning and needed just 107 pitches to complete his two-hit, 10-strikeout gem last Thursday against the Royals, but his nine innings of work went to waste as Kansas City outlasted Cleveland by a final of 2-1 in 14 innings. Kluber will need more backing from his teammates this time around when the Tribe takes on Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, who hasn’t surrendered more than two runs in a start since May 12 (7:05 p.m. EST).

Jesse Hahn has been outstanding in limited action this season for the Padres, riding his fastball-curveball combo to over a strikeout per inning and a 2.86 FIP through his first eight big league starts. However, Hahn totaled just 69 innings in the Rays system last year and San Diego manager Bud Black recently stated that the club plans on limiting the 24-year-old to just five to 10 more starts this season. Hahn occasionally reels off a slider or changeup, but his secondary offering of choice is the curveball, which ranks ninth in baseball with a .154 True Average (among curves thrown at least 200 times this season). It should come as no surprise that Hahn elects to use his curve nearly 30 percent of the time; the pitch has averaged over eight inches of break both vertically and horizontally, and has generated a swing-and-miss over 21 percent of the time. Even when hitters aren’t swinging through the pitch, Hahn’s curve can still leave batters looking foolish. Case in point: Ruben Tejada.

Next on the docket for Hahn is St. Louis, who will counter with Joe Kelly while their hitters attempt to solve the San Diego rookie (10:10 p.m. EST).

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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