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April 23, 2015

What You Need to Know

Baseball on Ice!

by Chris Mosch

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The Wednesday Takeaway
A wild and lengthy first inning in Detroit claimed David Price as its victim, with the Tigers ace enduring wacky weather and a barrage of Yankees hits on his way to a discouraging loss.


Jacoby Ellsbury started the game off by working a full count and Price proceeded to plunk him in the chest. Chris Young singled, Alex Rodriguez struck out and Mark Teixeira drew a five-pitch walk to load the bases for Brian McCann. Price missed badly over the heart of the plate with a 0-1 fastball and McCann failed to drive the pitch, but the resulting pop-up fell in just inside the left field line for an RBI single.

Price fanned Carlos Beltran for the second out of the inning, which brought up Chase Headley. That’s when things started to get weird.

The clip above showed the snowfall at its peak but it continued to fall throughout the inning, which couldn’t have done any favors for Price. Headley kept the line moving with a single through the left side and came around to score shortly after on a bases-clearing double by Gregorio Petit.

That brought things back to the top of the order and Jacoby Ellsbury kept the onslaught going with a base knock to left. Petit boldly decided to challenge Yoenis Cespedes’ arm and can now lay claim to a story most mortal men aren’t able to tell, sliding in safe after Alex Avila was unable to corral the one-hopper from Cespedes.


Price finally got Young—the 11th batter of the inning—to fly out to center and put a stop to the bleeding. After his first inning of work, Price’s pitch count was already at 51.

But Adam Warren had his own problems to deal with in the first inning. The Yankees right-hander ran into control issues out of the gate, walking four of the first five batters of the inning. The Tigers now had a run in and the bases loaded for Yoenis Cespedes. What followed was a pair of mental lapses by Didi Gregorious that prolonged the inning.

The first miscue actually occurred after a stellar diving stop made by Gregorious to keep Cespedes’ groundball in the infield. However, instead of taking the easy force out in front of him at third base, Gregorious went to second base and his poor throw pulled Petit off the bag. Everybody was safe.

Not many shortstops make that stop in the first place, so it’s tough to put too much blame on Gregorious for this one. But a little more field awareness makes this subsequent underhand toss 30 feet away from the bag on a potential double play ball less costly.

Alex Avila made sure to make the Yankees pay for Gregorious’ miscues with a base knock the other way to make it a 6-4 game. Adam Warren then got Jose Iglesias to pop out, which finally brought an end to the first inning. It lasted 51 minutes and took a combined 87 pitches between Price and Warren to complete.

Warren proceeded to settle down and kept the Tigers off the board before being pulled in the sixth inning. Price’s struggles, however, followed him into the second inning, with the Yankees tacking on two more runs before sending him to the showers in the third inning. By the time Price departed, he had gained entry to a club to which he surely won’t be a proud member.

It was the second start in a row against the Yankees that Price was tagged for eight runs. During his start on August 27th of last season, Price got through two scoreless innings before the Yankees strung together nine consecutive hits to chase Price from the game. The left-hander is probably glad he’s no longer in the AL East.

As for Wednesday’s game, Detroit’s offense never got back into it and the bullpen didn’t fair all that much better than the Tigers' ace. Mark Teixeira added a three-run shot off Al Alburquerque in the seventh inning to run the score to an eventual final of 13-4 and give Detroit back-to-back losses for the first time this season.

Quick Hits from Wednesday
Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh…

Squaring up high-90s cheese is difficult enough. Add in a passing blizzard and Jorge Soler never had a chance.

By that point the Pirates had built a 4-1 lead, highlighted by a two-run double by Francisco Cervelli and a laser shot off the bat off Gregory Polanco.

A night after blowing a two-run ninth inning lead, Pittsburgh’s bullpen nearly coughed up another win. Jared Hughes let all four batters he faced in the eighth inning reach base, with two of them coming around to score. But Tony Watson put the brakes on Chicago’s rally, retiring all three batters he faced in the eighth while stranding the tying run on third base. The southpaw promptly shut down the Cubs in the ninth, blowing a 3-2 fastball by Kris Bryant for the final out of the game.

***

There was just one matinee contest on the Wednesday docket, and fans tuning in would have pleased to find an enticing pitching matchup scheduled between Corey Kluber and Jeff Samardzija. Kluber had been outstanding in each of his first three starts of the season while Samardzija’s season had featured a mixed bag of results. Unfortunately for Indians fans, their side of the match up didn’t quite live up to expectations.

Jose Abreu was the lone White Sox hitter able to mount any offense against the Carlos Carrasco on Tuesday and the first baseman went yard for a second straight day on Wednesday, tattooing a Corey Kluber cutter that didn’t do much cutting.


Chicago tacked on a run in the third inning and another in the sixth to give Jeff Samardzija a 3-0 cushion but the South Siders went on to chase Kluber from the game in the seventh. Micah Johnson starting things off with a bloop single to left field and then moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch in the dirt that Roberto Perez couldn’t smother. Back-to-back singles through the left side of the infield tacked on a fourth run and put runners at first and second with no outs for Abreu. For the second time during the game, the Cuban slugger put a charge into a breaking ball from Kluber.

Abreu’s two-run double was the 13th hit of the day off Kluber, which was the most hits the reigning AL Cy Young award winner has ever allowed in a single start. There were a handful of cheap hits sprinkled in throughout the outing, but all in all Kluber wasn’t nearly as sharp as we’ve been accustomed to over the last year. Just one of those days. We’ve all had them.

On the other hand, Samardzija entered the game with the second-longest active streak of batters faced without issuing a free pass. That streak ended at 65 in the second inning when Brandon Moss drew a one-out walk but the right-hander was able to minimize damage throughout the day. He didn’t miss many bats, with just three strikeouts and five swing-and-misses over the course of the start. However, he served up just one extra-base hit—a double by Moss in the sixth inning—and managed to keep the Tribe off the board in six innings of work.

Cleveland’s best chance to put some runs on the board came in the third inning when a walk and a pair of singles loaded the bases loaded for Moss with two outs. However, the Indians right fielder was unable to take advantage of a hanging breaking ball by Samardzija and ended the rally with harmless fly ball to left field.

Dan Jennings, Zack Duke and Jake Petricka each hurled a scoreless inning of relief after Samardzija departed to secure the series win for the White Sox.

***

Armed with a fastball that rarely touches 90 mph, Doug Fister’s success is contingent on his impeccable control and pounding batters low in the zone with his sinker. When he starts leaving fastballs up in the zone, the ball gets out in a hurry.


Home runs by Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong gave the Cardinals the early lead, which they extended to 5-0 with a pair of runs in the third inning.

But that lead quickly evaporated with some assistance from a pivotal mental error by John Lackey. With one out in the inning the Nationals went single, single, single, sacrifice fly, walk to bring Ryan Zimmerman to the plate with the bases loaded. Matt Adams was playing far off the first base line and when he knocked down Zimmerman’s groundball, he looked up to toss the ball over to Lackey. Except the veteran pitcher was nowhere to be found.



That momentary lapse immediately came back to haunt Lackey, as Yunel Escobar cleared the bases moments later to even the score.


Wong already had a long ball under his belt but his night was far from over. The Hilo, Hawaii native made a pair of outstanding (and nearly identical) jump and throw plays on grounders up the middle to help keep the Nationals off the board.



He then proceeded to break the tie with an opposite-field double off Blake Treinan to bring home Jon Jay and give the Cardinals a 6-5 lead. The visitors tacked on an insurance run in the ninth before Trevor Rosenthal locked down the save and the St. Louis win.


***


Billy Hamilton is really fast. You already knew that. But just in case you needed a reminder, the Reds center fielder manufactured both of Cincinnati’s runs with his legs on Wednesday to reward Johnny Cueto for his sterling pitching performance and give the Reds their third straight win.

The first run of the game was pretty standard Hamilton shenanigans. He led off the game against Jimmy Nelson with a single and promptly swiped second base to improve to 9-for-9 in steal attempts this season. The Reds as a team are 17-for-17. Joey Votto promptly drove Hamilton in with a single to draw first blood.

Fast-forward to the ninth inning with the game tied at 1-1. Hamilton drew a one-out walk against Francisco Rodriguez and then went first-to-third on a hard-hit single to center by Votto. Todd Frazier popped out for the second out of the inning. Brandon Phillips flew out for the third out. But not before Hamilton scampered home to score the go-ahead run on a ball in the dirt that bounced off Martin Maldonado’s chest and about 15 feet away.


As for Cueto, he threw a career-high 125 pitches over eight innings, striking out eight and limiting the Brewers to just one run. As C. Trent Rosencrans pointed out, what was arguably most impressive about Cueto on Wednesday was not just how he maintained his velocity throughout the game but how he reached back for even more when he exceeded the 110-pitch mark.


Topping out at 96 mph with your 115th pitch of the night is pretty incredible. Things didn’t get any easier for the Brewers when Cueto handed the ball off to Aroldis Chapman, who sent them down in order to clinch the series win.

***


The Rockies are often credited with having the best defensive infield in baseball, with D.J. LeMehieu and Justin Morneau manning the right side of the infield and Nolan Arenado and Troy Tulowitzki covering the remaining real estate. Their defensive prowess was on display Wednesday, with Tulowitzki and Arenado flashing the leather on numerous occasions.

The defensive duo kept the game close enough for Corey Dickerson to knot up the score in the eighth inning off Joaquin Benoit with his second home run of the day. Daniel Descalso walked it off for the Rockies in the ninth.

***

The late-night duel between Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner was easily the most hyped matchup of the season to date given the West Coast rivalry and that it was the first time the reigning regular season and World Series MVPs had ever squared off against each other. No, Kershaw and Bumgarner didn’t end up with dueling no-hitters, but they each turned in superb performances. Both southpaws attacked the opposing team with fastballs up in the zone and breaking balls down at the knees but Kershaw boasted the better command of the strike zone.



The Giants scored both of their runs off Kershaw in the third inning on a pair of singles and the ace’s lone walk of the evening. Kershaw finished with nine strikeouts and was forced to make an early exit after six innings and 93 pitches because his turn in the lineup came up with a runner on and the Dodgers down 2-0. Kershaw probably didn’t mind being taken out too much, seeing that the man who pinch-hit for him did this:

With that home run, Alex Guerrero is now 3-for-6 this season in pinch-hit plate appearances with a pair of home runs and a double. Not bad.


With Bumgarner pulled from the game in the seventh, it became a battle of the bullpens in San Francisco. Chris Hatcher took the mound in the bottom of the ninth for the Dodgers with the score still tied at 2-2. Buster Posey kicked off a one-out rally with a single up the middle and then moved up 90 feet when Justin Maxwell wore a 96 mph fastball on the arm. In came J.P. Howell, who promptly allowed a Brandon Belt single to load the bases. That brought up Joe Panik and brought in a five-man infield for Los Angeles. However, that proved to be unnecessary, as Panik lifted the first pitch to right center field and sent the AT&T Park crowd home happy.

The Defensive Play of the Day

Juan Lagares has made some pretty incredible plays during his brief career. So when the Mets center fielder says that his over-the-shoulder grab on Wednesday was the “hardest catch he’s ever made,” you know you’re in for a treat.


Lagares’ catch was the cherry on top for the Mets, who used a Wilmer Flores home run and a Lucas Duda go-ahead base knock to come from behind and top the Braves by a 3-2 final. It was the 10th straight win for Amazins—their longest winning streak since 2008—and gave them sole possession of the best record in baseball.

What to Watch for on Thursday

Mark Melancon has gotten off to a rocky start this season, nearly letting a four-run lead slip away against the Tigers last week and then serving up three runs in the ninth inning to take the loss against the Cubs on Tuesday. After an ugly 2012 in Boston, the University of Arizona product has emerged as one of the top bullpen arms in the game, permanently taking over as the Pittsburgh closer in early May last year. During that time, Melancon dominated with a 94 mph cutter and a big bat-missing knuckle curve. But take a look at what Melancon has come armed with this year and it’s clear why opposing hitters have been teeing off on him.

That’s a full 3 mph lost across the board. That’s a lot! Granted, it’s a sample of about 100 pitches but velocity stabilizes rather quickly and such a steep plummet certainly raises some red flags. It’s not even a matter of Melancon consciously taking his foot off the pedal, as he admitted to reporters that he hadn’t even been aware of the decline in his velocity. Manager Clint Hurdle insists that an injury isn’t behind the precipitous drop and is optimistic that Melancon’s velocity will improve but it’s fair to wonder there’s more here than the club is letting on. Melancon remains Pittsburgh’s closer for the time being and his velocity readings should be closely monitored if he’s called upon to protect a lead in the series finale against the Cubs (12:35 p.m. EST).

Yordano Ventura has yet to get through a start without making an early exit. His first two starts ended prematurely due to a thumb cramp and a calf cramp and then he was tossed from his latest start for drilling Brett Lawrie. The 23-year-old will need to fire some quality innings for the Royals to take the series opener against the White Sox, as he will be opposite Chris Sale, who has hit the ground running after missing the start of the season with a fractured in his right foot (8:10 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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