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August 22, 2014

What You Need to Know

August 22, 2014

by Chris Mosch

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The Thursday Takeaway
When David Price takes the mound, the Rays know better than any team the dominance of which the hard-throwing left-hander is capable. Price turned in countless such outings over his six-plus seasons in Tampa Bay, but on Thursday his former teammates were on the other end of one of his best starts. Fortunately for the Rays, they caught an early break and got a stellar outing from their new ace to ruin Price’s homecoming at Tropicana Field.

After receiving a standing ovation prior to his first pitch at the Trop, Price started the game by getting Desmond Jennings to pop out to second base. His first pitch to the next batter, Ben Zobrist, was hit for a routine grounder to the shortstop Eugenio Suarez, who proceeded to airmail the throw over the head of first baseman Victor Martinez for a one-base error. Next up was Brandon Guyer, who laced a 1-2 cutter that had been left over the heart of the plate into the right-center gap for an RBI triple. The southpaw buckled down and fanned Evan Longoria and Wil Myers to end the inning down by just a run.

Guyer’s triple turned out to be the last time that a Tampa Bay batter would reach base, as Price proceeded to retire the final 23 Rays he faced. The Vanderbilt product pounded the outer third of the zone with his live, mid-90’s fastball and kept his former teammates off balance with his changeup. Since being shipped to Detroit, Price has leaned more on his changeup, a trend that continued against an all righty/switch-hitting Tampa Bay lineup. Price went to the changeup on 29 of his 100 offerings and garnered 22 strikes, including five of the swing-and-miss variety.

Price didn’t miss his target often and, in addition to minimizing hard contact, he didn’t issue a single free pass during the outing. Not only did he not allow a walk, but he didn’t reach a single three-ball count, joining Corey Kluber and Josh Collmenter as the only pitchers to boast that accomplishment during a complete game this season. The closest the Rays got to a second hit was in the fifth inning, when Torii Hunter robbed Sean Rodriguez of extra bases with this terrific leaping catch at the wall:

However, Price’s complete-game one-hitter didn’t require a trip to the mound in the ninth inning because his former rotationmate Alex Cobb twirled a gem of his own, shutting out the Tigers over seven innings before the bullpen closed out a 1-0 win.

A walk to Alex Avila and a single to Suarez were the only blemishes on Cobb’s line through the first six innings, as the right-hander headed into the seventh with 84 pitches and a one-run lead. Hunter led off the seventh with an opposite-field double just beyond the reach of a diving Ben Zobrist and then advanced to third moments later on a Miguel Cabrera groundout. Joe Maddon decided to intentionally walk Victor Martinez—who had put the nail in his club’s coffin the previous day with a grand slam—to bring up J.D. Martinez, who had been spending his 27th birthday trying to figure out how to connect with Cobb’s split-changeup.

In their first matchup of the day, Cobb started Martinez off with a low curveball, but got him to swing and miss at a split-change on his hands for strike one. After a fastball that appeared to catch the outside black was called for ball two, Cobb attacked Martinez with two more inside split-changes that the Detroit right-hander whiffed at for his first strikeout. The next time up was more of the same for Martinez, who took a split-change away for strike one, but fanned at two more split-changes on his hands later in the at-bat before his long walk back to the dugout.

With one out and the tying run 90 feet away, Cobb got Martinez to chase at a first-pitch split-change low and in. Martinez came up empty on a second one two pitches later. When Cobb tried to tempt Martinez with two more in the dirt, the outfielder didn’t bite. However, he couldn’t lay off the fifth split-change of the at-bat and went down swinging for the second out of the inning. Here’s the pitch sequence courtesy of Fox Sports Florida…

…and here’s Martinez, not too pleased about his eighth swing-and-miss in three at bats against Cobb’s nasty offering.

Cobb would get Nick Castellanos to fly out shortly after to avert the scoring threat and bring an end to his day at 101 pitches. In addition to Martinez’ eight whiffs on the split-change, Cobb generated an additional six swing and misses with the pitch and three more with his fastball. His final line over seven innings included two hits, a pair of walks (one intentional) and six punchouts.

In relief of Cobb was Brad Boxberger, who allowed a one-out double to Suarez in the eighth. Up next was Rajai Davis, who hit a bloop into shallow right center. Kevin Kiermaier, who had just entered the game as a defensive replacement, came charging in from right field to make…

The Defensive Play of the Day

Kinsler would strike out to end the inning and Jake McGee dodged a one-out single by Miguel Cabrera in the ninth to earn the save. It was the first time that the Rays have ever won a game with only one hit and just the third time since 1914 that a team has won a game with one hit and zero walks.

While there are tough-luck losses, the loss that Price endured yesterday reached a historic level of bad fortune; per the Baseball Reference Play Index, Price became the first pitcher in the last century to toss a complete-game of at least eight innings, allow only one baserunner, and still take the loss.

Quick Hits from Thursday

Dallas Keuchel didn’t pitch nearly as well as David Price, nor did he run into such poor luck, but Houston’s ace was saddled with a loss yesterday despite firing his fifth complete game of the season. Keuchel’s downfall during the Yankee Stadium matinee was a three-spot that the Bronx Bombers posted in the second inning, keyed by back-to-back doubles by Martin Prado and Chase Headley.

That three-run advantage would be more than enough wiggle room for Brandon McCarthy, whose resurrection in New York continued Thursday with his best start in pinstripes. Since being traded for Vidal Nuno on July 6, McCarthy’s changed approach on the mound has been evident, as he has incorporated his cutter and four-seamer more than he did in Arizona and has relied less heavily on his trademark sinker.

That trend continued against the Astros, as McCarthy made use of his entire repertoire, spreading the usage among his three fastball variations and throwing them for a strike more than 75 percent of the time. The right-hander threw first-pitch strikes to 24 of the 31 batters he faced over his nine shutout innings of work and didn’t issue any free passes. In addition to pounding the strike zone, he was able to miss his share of bats, striking out eight and generating 13 total swinging strikes: four with both his four-seamer and sinker, three with his curveball and two with his cutter.

Between McCarthy’s four-hit shutout and Keuchel’s efficient 96-pitch outing, the series finale between the two clubs flew by in two hours and seven minutes, making it the quickest nine-inning game at Yankee Stadium since 1996. With the win, the Yankees were able to avoid the series sweep and now sit four games behind Detroit for the second wild card spot.


Another day featured another walk-off win for the Washington Nationals, who extended their winning to streak to 10 games with Thursday’s victory against the Diamondbacks. Gio Gonzalez tossed seven scoreless frames for the Nationals, who time and time again were unable to capitalize on Wade Miley’s ineffectiveness on the mound. The Arizona southpaw issued six free passes and eight base knocks during six and 2/3 innings of work, yet Washington stranded a man in scoring position in six of the first seven innings.

The game remained scoreless heading into the last of the ninth with Oliver Perez on the hill for the Snakes. Denard Span collected a one-out hit to center and with Anthony Rendon due up, Kirk Gibson brought in Evan Marshall. Span swiped second on a 1-1 pitch from Marshall to move himself into scoring position, which proved to be crucial moments later. Rendon chopped Marhall’s 2-2 offering to Arizona third baseman Jordan Pacheco, who skipped his throw into the camera well, allowing Span to score the winning run as the Nationals walked off for their fifth time in six games—the seventh such stretch in baseball history and first since the Astros did it in 1986.


The old adage from Ernie Banks was, “It’s a great day for a ball game; let’s play two!”

Thursday featured the competition of two games between the Cubs and Giants, but in this case, the saying comes with a couple of caveats. First, it was actually more like, “Let’s play one and a half,” as the two clubs resumed Tuesday’s suspended game after Major League Baseball upheld the Giants’ protest of tarp-gate. Second, it wasn’t the greatest of days for a ball game, as more rain poured down in Chicago and delayed the start of the (resumed) game by nearly two more hours.

When the first game finally began, the Cubs held a 2-0 advantage. Yusmeiro Petit took the ball for San Francisco and struck out five batters over two flawless innings, while Jean Machi and Jeremy Affeldt followed with scoreless frames of their own. The Giants cut the lead in half in the sixth off Chicago’s Jacob Turner, as Joe Panik singled home Adam Duvall, who had doubled earlier in the inning. Hector Rondon ran into trouble in the ninth when he allowed a pair of one-out hits to Panik and Brandon Crawford, but the Cubs closer struck out Gregor Blanco and then got Angel Pagan to hit a groundball back to the mound to end the game nearly 48 hours after it had begun.

The nightcap pitted Madison Bumgarner against Travis Wood, with neither hurler getting a great start out of the gate. The Giants jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first, but the Cubs got that run back plus more against Bumgarner in the home half. With two outs and a runner at first, Justin Ruggiano drove a fastball off the plate from Bumgarner into the right field bleachers for an opposite-field dinger. Moments later, Wellington Castillo turned on a 0-1 fastball over the inside third of the plate and blasted it onto Waveland Avenue for back-to-back jacks.

The Giants cut the deficit to one with a run in the third and tied it up on an RBI single by Bumgarner in the fourth. Replays appeared to show that Joaquin Arias had been tagged out at home plate, but the Cubs were unable to challenge the play because they had unsuccessfully used their replay review earlier in the game.

Buster Posey broke the 3-3 tie the next inning with a solo home run and the Giants tacked on an insurance run in the seventh inning. Bumgarner settled down after serving up the two home runs in the first and finished the game with a season-high 12 strikeouts across 7 2/3 innings. Four of those punchouts were of Javier Baez, who fell victim to his third career golden sombrero in Chicago’s 5-3 loss.


On Thursday afternoon, the Angels took a major punch to the gut when it was announced that their staff ace Garrett Richards would miss six-to-nine months with a torn patellar tendon after being carted off the field during Wednesday’s start in Boston. With Richards out for the rest of this season and Tyler Skaggs recently going under the knife with a torn UCL, the Angels suddenly find themselves relying on a 27-year-old rookie as their no. 3 starter as they try to hold off the Athletics.

Granted, that 27-year-old rookie—Matt Shoemaker—has certainly defied expectations to this point this season. The former undrafted free agent has been about a league-average pitcher in terms of both run prevention and Fielding Independent Pitching, and entered Thursday’s start against the Red Sox with the 15th best strikeout-to-walk rate among starting pitchers. His standing in all those categories only improved after flirting with a no-hitter last night and stifling the Red Sox before being lifted in the eighth inning.

Shoemaker would have been going for a perfect game had he not plunked Brock Holt with his third pitch of the game; he went on to retire the next 20 batters the home nine sent to the plate. The right-hander was rolling in Beantown with help from his mid-80s changeup, which he threw for a strike 20 of the 24 times he threw it, including nine swinging strikes. However, one of Shoemaker’s few mistakes on the night was this 2-2 changeup to Will Middlebrooks with two outs in the seventh, which spelled the end of the no-hit bid.


Middlebrooks ripped the pitch for a double down the left field line, but Shoemaker would retire Allen Craig—making his return from the disabled list—to end the inning. He would open the eighth inning by fanning Kelly Johnson and Xander Bogaerts for his eighth and ninth strikeouts of the night, but Mike Scioscia gave him the hook after Mookie Betts worked a nine-pitch walk.

By that point, the Angels had spotted Shoemaker a 2-0 lead. Josh Hamilton tallied an RBI double off Rubby De La Rosa in the first inning that plated Kole Calhoun, but the veteran outfielder was gunned out at home later in the inning by Yoenis Cespedes for the third out. New uniform, same results for Cespedes, who recorded his first outfield assist as a member of his new squad.

The Angels added another run in the seventh, which was enough of a cushion for Mike Morrin and Jason Grilli, who combined to retire the final four batters after Shoemaker departed.


While it didn’t end up having a major impact on the outcome of last night’s Boston-Anaheim game, Christian Vazquez showed off one of the quickest pop times you’ll see in the majors this season when he gunned out Mike Trout in the top of the ninth inning. In addition to being an elite receiver during his limited time in the big leagues, Vazquez boasts one of the league’s deadliest arms behind the dish. Our own Al Skorupa christened Vazquez the best throwing catcher in all of professional baseball at the beginning of the season, a title that was on full display when the 24-year-old backstop gunned out Trout on what was the outfielder’s second caught stealing of the season.

This isn’t the first time Vazquez has nabbed prospective basestealers with his cannon of an arm, but last night’s throw might have topped them all.

With the honorable mention among last night’s catcher throws, Renee Rivera had himself a fine night erasing the Dodgers’ running game. First, he threw out Carl Crawford in the second inning despite having to pick Tyson Ross’ slider out of the dirt:

Ross gave Rivera a better pitch to work with the next inning and Rivera rewarded his batterymate with a perfect throw to erase the speedy Dee Gordon.


In addition to his stellar play behind the plate, Rivera delivered an RBI single off Clayton Kershaw in the seventh inning to break a scoreless pitching showdown between the reigning National League Cy Young award winner and Padres ace Tyson Ross. A one-out walk by Rivera in the second inning was the only batter that Kershaw had allowed to reach base through five innings, and a second no-hitter this season for the Dodgers lefty seemed like a definite possibility.

After the first two Padres went down in order to start the sixth, Ross stepped to the plate and ripped a 1-1 fastball from his counterpart into left-center for San Diego’s first hit of the game. Meanwhile, Ross was dealing on the mound himself, scattering just a pair of singles and one walk over his first seven scoreless innings of work. The 6-foot-5 righty went to his filthy slider time and time again, throwing the pitch for a strike 73 percent of the time and recording double-digit swing-and-misses with it for the 15th time in 27 starts this season.

Carl Crawford led off the eighth inning by scratching out an infield single, which brought up Justin Turner. Ross made very few mistakes during the outing—especially with his breaking pitch—but this was one of them. Rivera wanted his 1-0 slider low and away to Turner…


…but Ross hung it over the heart of the plate…


…and Turner deposited it into the left-field bleachers.

Kenley Jansen slammed the door on the 2-1 win as Ross became the third starter to be dealt a loss on Thursday despite tossing a complete game, a single-day feat that hasn’t occurred in over a decade.

What to Watch this Weekend


After pushing their winning streak to double digits with last night’s walk-off win against the Diamondbacks, the Nationals will look to do what no Washington D.C. club has done since 1933: win 11 straight games. A win against Tim Hudson and the Giants would match the longest winning streak by a D.C. team since the Senators won 13 games en route to the American League pennant. Fortunately for the Nationals, they’ll turn to Doug Fister—who has been pitching his best baseball as of late—to try and secure that win. The veteran right-hander has gone at least seven innings in seven of his last eight starts, dating back to the start of July, over which he’s held opposing batters to a .577 OPS and posted a 1.47 ERA (7:05 p.m. EST).


Saturday’s middle match of a crucial weekend series between the Angels and Athletics appears to be the best matchup on paper between the two squads, as the visitors will send C.J. Wilson to the hill to take on Oakland’s Jon Lester. The A’s have been on their worst run of the season having won just two of their last ten games. On the other hand, the Angels come into the series against their division rivals 19-12 since the All-Star break despite Mike Trout hitting just .227/.303/.422 during that span (9:05 p.m. EST).

After missing a few turns in the rotation with rotator cuff tendinitis, Jacob deGrom is penciled in to make his return from the disabled list over the weekend when the Mets travel out west to take on the Dodgers. The 26-year-old right-hander posted a 3.06 FIP in just over 100 innings before his injury and has emerged as a pleasant surprise for a Mets rotation that figures to be loaded next season with young talent after the return of Matt Harvey and the eventual promotion of Noah Syndergaard. Saturday night’s game will pit deGrom against Zack Greinke in what should be a stellar pitching matchup (9:10 p.m. EST).


Drew Hutchison has watched his ERA climb approximately 65 points over his last seven starts, culminating with a seven-run clunker his last time out against the White Sox. In total, the 24-year-old has gone through a quartet of starts during that span in which he’s surrendered at least six runs, including a start on July 12 when he failed to make it out of the sixth inning against the Rays. With Toronto’s chances at a wild card spot slipping as of late, Hutchison will try to turn around his own season as well as give the Jays a boost in their series finale against Tampa Bay, who will counter with Chris Archer (1:07 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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