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August 7, 2014

What You Need to Know

August 7, 2014

by Chris Mosch

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The Wednesday Takeaway
Major League Baseball’s first season of expanded replay has had its growing pains, with controversy stemming from the transfer rule early in the season and, more recently, catchers being required to allow baserunners a clear lane to home plate. It’s natural for the system to be imperfect in the first year of implementation, but all in all, it’s fair to say that the first year of expanded replay has been a success.

With nearly every close play drawing a manager out to the field to make small talk with umpires while awaiting confirmation from a bench coach about whether to challenge, a time without instant replay may seem somewhat foreign over four months into the season. However, having instant replay at a team’s disposal is something the Padres can appreciate even more after Wednesday’s game against the Twins.

With one out in the bottom of the first, Brian Dozier collected Minnesota’s first hit of the game with a single to right off Odrisamer Despaigne. Next up was Trevor Plouffe, and on Despaigne’s second pitch, Dozier took off for second base. Yasmani Grandal fired down and base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt ruled Dozier safe on a bang-bang play.

San Diego second baseman Jedd Gyorko immediately looked in to his dugout and Bud Black came jogging out to talk to the umpires and stall enough for bench coach Dave Roberts to get word from the video personnel in the clubhouse. Roberts never got that word, however, because—according to Minnesota’s broadcast booth the next inning—the equipment in San Diego’s clubhouse wasn’t working. If their replay system had been functional, they would have seen that Dozier was clearly out at second base.

Another angle:

The message the Padres broadcast team got from New York was that San Diego’s malfunctioning equipment would not prohibit the Twins from using their own video in case of a potential challenge. In fact, Ron Gardenhire used the video at his disposal to his full advantage an inning later, when it was determined by instant replay that a pitch inside to Danny Santana had actually hit him.

However, the lack of video at Black’s disposal in the first inning came back to haunt the Padres moments later, as Plouffe went deep on a hanging curveball from Despaigne to put the Twins up 2-0.

The Padres used a Gyorko RBI double to cut the lead in half in the fourth inning against Kevin Correia, but the Twins got that run back in the fifth. Everth Cabrera and Yangervis Solarte each reached base to lead off the sixth inning for San Diego, which brought Seth Smith to the plate. The University of Mississippi product ripped a double off Correia that one-hopped the right-center wall and allowed Cabrera to come around to score. Solarte would touch the plate on a groundout by Tommy Medica to even things up.

The Twins reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the sixth, but were unable to finish off the Friars. Yonder Alonso hit a leadoff double in the ninth off Glen Perkins and came around to score later in the frame, advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt by Alexi Amarista and then crossing home after a sacrifice fly by Cabrera.

Kevin Quackenbush walked Plouffe to lead off the bottom of the ninth and then allowed pinch-runner Eduardo Nunez to move into scoring position by swiping second base. With two outs, Nunez at first and Oswaldo Arcia at first, San Diego’s outfield played extremely shallow against Eduardo Escobar. What transpired next was a tremendous sliding over-the-shoulder catch by Amarista in center. Before watching the play, take a moment to recognize exactly how far he had to go on this hard-hit fly ball/line drive. Where Amarista ends up making the catch is marked in red.

Without further ado ...

The Defensive Play of the Day

Smith made sure that Amarista’s game-saving catch wouldn’t go to waste, as he blasted a fastball middle-in from Anthony Swarzak out to right field to give the Padres the 5-4 lead. The Twins got a man into scoring position in the bottom of the inning against Joaquin Benoit, but the Padres' closer was able to work out of the jam and lock down the save.

Quick Hits from Wednesday
It was unusual enough that Joe Kelly’s first start as a member of the Red Sox would be against the team that had shipped him to Beantown a week ago, the Cardinals. The extra wrinkle to add into the mix was that Kelly would be taking the mound opposite his best friend, Shelby Miller. The two made a friendly $100 wager on who would be able to get a hit against the other.

Kelly got a standing ovation from the St. Louis crowd when he took the mound for the first time and got another round of applause when he came to bat against Miller in the third inning. The UC Riverside product is regarded as one of the quickest and most athletic pitchers in the league, and he showed why when he beat out a chopper to short for an infield single. The original call on the field ruled Kelly out, but replay review showed that his hustle had paid off and won him his bet with Miller. The St. Louis crowd actually cheered when it was announced that the call had been overturned.

The two compadres kept each other’s squads at bay, with both hurlers throwing seven innings of one-run ball. Miller needed just 88 pitches to complete his four-hit outing, while Kelly was able to limit his former teammates despite issuing four free passes. The focal point of Kelly’s strategy was to pound the lower part of the zone with two-seam fastballs, which resulted in a 15:4 ground-to-fly ratio.

Kelly did get some help behind him to limit the Cardinals to just the one run. In the second inning, Xander Bogaerts ranged to his left to make a sweet diving stop and turn a potential RBI single up the middle into an inning-ending force out.

Then in the sixth inning, fellow Boston newcomer Yoenis Cespedes tracked down a deep fly ball off the bat of Jhonny Peralta to rob the St. Louis shortstop of a go-ahead extra-base hit.

Against Trevor Rosenthal in the ninth inning, Cespedes initiated Boston’s rally by lacing a single over the infield on a pitch that ended up here:

That’s serious man strength.

Mike Napoli followed with an opposite-field double that advanced Cespedes to third. With first base open, the Cardinals elected to put pinch-hitter David Ortiz on and take their chances against Bogaerts. The Boston rookie did just enough to give his club the lead, lifting a sacrifice fly to center to bring home Cespedes. Koji Uehara made things interesting in the home half, but he got Jon Jay to ground into a force out with runners at first and second to secure the 2-1 win.

***

While Kelly was rewarded for his hustle with his infield single in St. Louis, Ryan Vogelsong’s inattentiveness on the basepaths led to a premature end to the first inning for San Francisco. Yovani Gallardo surrendered four singles, issued a walk and uncorked a wild pitch in the first inning against the Giants last night, which put the Brewers at an early 3-0 disadvantage. Gallardo intentionally walked the no. 8 hitter, Brandon Crawford, to load the bases and pitch to Vogelsong.

Vogelsong hit a jam shot to the left of second base, which was fielded on a hop by Jean Segura. The Brewers shortstop sprinted to try for the inning-ending force out at second base, but Crawford outraced him to the bag and was ruled safe. Segura, disappointed in his failure to come away with the out, took a few moments before realizing that Vogelsong had stopped in his tracks down the first base line because he thought Crawford had been forced out at second base. Segura quickly whipped the throw over to first to get Vogelsong, who started sprinting to first only after realizing his mistake.

Luckily for Vogelsong, his baserunning blunder didn’t come back to bite the Giants. He held the Brewers to just one run over six innings while Pablo Sandoval and Co. tallied seven runs off the Milwaukee staff. Sandoval continued his recent hot streak with a three-hit day that included his second home run in as many days, this one a two-run blast in the eighth inning off Tom Gorzelanny.

***

With one out in the top of the second inning of last night’s game at the Rogers Centre, Toronto’s Drew Hutchison left a 2-2 two-seamer up and over the outside third of the plate to Chris Davis, who took the pitch the other way for a solo blast, his 19th dinger of the year. Take a good long look at it, because it’s the only hit the Orioles recorded in the game.

Hutchison had retired the previous four Orioles and proceeded to mow down the next 22. The 23-year-old exhibited impeccable fastball command, throwing 47 of his 66 heaters for strikes (71.2 percent) and was able to keep hitters off balance with his secondary offerings. Against lefties, Hutchison went to his changeup off the black, while he got righties to chase sliders low and away. He finished the night with eight strikeouts and generated 13 swings-and-misses, five with his fastball, five with his slider, and three with his changeup.

The Jays gave Hutchison a comfortable lead early, as they scored twice in the first inning and then did so again the next against Wei-Yin Chen when Jose Bautista clobbered an inside fastball to the second deck. Bautista added another ribbie in the sixth inning when he hit a sharp grounder down the left field line for a double to extend the lead to 5-1.

Hutchison’s pitch count was at the century mark as he took his four-run cushion into the ninth inning. He struck out Ryan Flaherty and Steve Pearce to start the frame, but walked Nick Markakis and, in the process, ran his count to 115. That was high enough for John Gibbons, who pulled Hutchison from the game just one out shy of his second career complete game. After the Rogers Centre crowd gave Hutchison a standing ovation for his performance, Casey Janssen induced a weak popup from Manny Machado to secure the middle match of the series for Toronto.

***

Since the calendar flipped to July, Dan Haren has been bad for the Dodgers. Over his last five starts, opposing hitters have hit line drives on a third of all balls put in play, which would explain the .340/.393/.623 line against the veteran right-hander during that span. Last night, however, the 33-year-old partied like it was 2009, taking a perfect game into the sixth inning and clinching at least a split for the Dodgers in their Freeway series against the Angels.

Haren needed just 73 pitches to retire the first 15 batters he faced, relying on his defense for the majority of his outs. He fanned just three Angels through his five perfect innings, with Dee Gordon’s sliding stop in the third inning standing out as the most notable defensive play behind him.

Haren struck out Efren Navaro to start the sixth inning. Next up was Hank Conger. A.J. Ellis wanted Haren’s first-pitch splitter low and away, but the pitch was left up and Conger laced it the opposite way to end Haren’s bid at perfection.

David Freese followed with a single to center and Conger dug for third to try to put the Angels in better position to cut into the Dodgers’ 2-0 lead. Conger must have forgotten that Yasiel Puig patrols center for the Dodgers these days, as he was gunned out on a one-hop strike.

Haren kept the Angels off the board through seven, but was relieved by J.P. Howell with a left-hander coming to the plate with one out and a runner on first. Brandon League would allow that run to score later in the frame, which was the only blemish on Haren’s final line.

With a 2-1 lead heading into the ninth, Don Mattingly called upon Kenley Jansen to close out the game. The fireballing closer allowed a leadoff single to Kole Calhoun and was faced with a daunting task with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton due up.

Jansen fell behind Trout 3-0 before getting a called strike at the letters. Calhoun swiped second base on the next pitch, which was a fastball up and out of the zone that Trout whiffed on. Jansen then challenged Trout just hours before his 23rd birthday with a 96 mph fastball up in the zone and the Angels superstar swung through the pitch for strike three.

Jansen got Pujols to fly out to center for the second out and fanned Josh Hamilton to slam the door on Haren’s dominant performance.

***

With Tampa Bay looking to avoid getting swept in Oakland, Desmond Jennings set the tone for the visitors in the first inning with an outstanding diving catch in shallow center to rob John Jaso of a base hit.

Jaso’s liner was one of the few hard-hit balls that Jeremy Hellickson gave up against the A’s yesterday. The 27-year-old spun seven innings of two-hit ball with the lone run allowed coming on a home run by Eric Sogard. Hellickson failed to make it through the fifth inning in any of his three previous starts since returning from elbow surgery in July, but he was efficient with his pitches against Oakland, needing just 99 to navigate his outing.

The Rays gave Hellickson an early cushion, grabbing a 1-0 lead in the second inning and then striking again against Sonny Gray in the fourth and fifth innings. Jose Molina jump-started the scoring in the fourth with something you don’t often see from him: an infield single.

On the very next pitch from Gray, Kevin Kiermaier went deep.

Tampa Bay would tack on another run in the inning and hang another three-spot on Gray the next inning to run the score to 7-0. The seven runs allowed were the most that the young Oakland right-hander has given up in a start in his career. Oakland would close the gap to 7-3 by the ninth inning, tallying two more runs off their former closer Grant Balfour, but the Rays were ultimately able to salvage the final game of the series. Tampa Bay’s 10-game road trip should only get easier after their flight out of Oakland, as they’ll play three at Wrigley over the weekend and a four-game set in Texas next week before returning home.

What to Watch For on Thursday
When the Giants and Mets squared off in Queens last Saturday, neither team tallied a hit the first two times through the order against Jacob deGrom and Jake Peavy. The run at history came to an end in the top of the seventh when Pablo Sandoval broke up deGrom’s no-no with a double to center, while Michael Morse’s poor read in left field resulted in New York’s first baserunner of the game—a Daniel Murphy double—in the bottom of the frame. The two right-handers will each toe the rubber Thursday afternoon in their encore performances.

Before stifling the Giants last week, deGrom rode a 1.39 ERA and .518 opponent’s OPS in July to National League Rookie of the Month honors. One of the keys to deGrom’s breakthrough has been a harder slider, which has been his secondary pitch of choice. During deGrom’s first handful of starts, his slider averaged approximately 85 mph and had a bit more hump on it than it has had during the past few months. Here’s a slider to Josh Harrison on May 26th, which was deGrom’s third start.

The velocity on deGrom’s slider spiked to 87 mph in June and all the way up to 88 mph in July, and his swing-and-miss rate on the offering has predictably climbed during that time. Now take a look at the noticeably tighter version of deGrom’s slider, which he used to punch out Khris Davis two starts ago.

The next assignment for deGrom is to silence the bats of the division-leading Nationals in Washington, D.C., where the Mets newcomer will square off against Jordan Zimmermann in what should be a stellar pitching matchup (12:35 p.m. EST).

Peavy will be making his third start for the Giants, who are expected to get offensive reinforcement with the return of Angel Pagan. The veteran outfielder has been on the shelf since mid-June with a back ailment, and will presumably reclaim his spot atop the San Francisco lineup as the Giants try to take two of three from the Brewers, who will turn to Wily Peralta (2:10 p.m. EST).

As the Tigers and Athletics each bolstered their rotations last week with a premier left-handed starting pitcher, the Angels hoped that getting C.J. Wilson back from injury would partially offset those moves. Wilson had been inconsistent on the mound before hitting the disabled list in early July and is not as coveted an arm as either Price or Lester, but his 1 and 1/3 inning, six-run clunker of an outing in his return last Saturday was far from what the Angels envisioned. The 33-year-old will try to rebound against the Dodgers in the Freeway Series finale, while Don Mattingly counters with Hyun-Jin Ryu (10:05 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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