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June 3, 2015

What You Need to Know

June 3, 2015

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
Chris Archer is no stranger to walk-free outings with double-digit strikeouts. He authored one just a week ago, on May 27th. But one such masterpiece is merely a line in the game log, an outstanding effort, to be sure, but one that had been matched more than 1,000 times in the past century, according to the Baseball-Reference Play Index.

To truly turn heads, Archer would need to back up his dazzling display against the Mariners with another at Angel Stadium. Only one pitcher in the last 100 yearsDwight Gooden in 1984—had delivered consecutive no-walk, 10-plus-strikeout starts. Until last night.

After striking out a dozen Mariners in his previous assignment, Archer turned things up a notch Tuesday, sending 15 Halos back to the bench shaking their heads. He maintained his mid-90s velocity through eight innings, flirting with 98 mph when necessary, and wasn't afraid to challenge the Angels in the middle of the plate:

Time after time, Archer said, "Here, hit this," and time after time, the Angels couldn't. When he got bored of filling up the zone, he twirled sliders below it, and the Halos obliged by fishing. The electric breaking ball, which averaged nearly 90 mph on the gun, racked up 13 whiffs in 37 tries.

But the strikeout of which Archer might be proudest—the one that earned him a tie atop the Rays single-game leaderboard, the one that came against the reigning American League MVP—was the product of old-fashioned outside-corner cheese:

The next batter, Albert Pujols, flied out, and Archer's historic night was finished.

While the 26-year-old's efforts went unrewarded in Seattle, where the Rays went on to lose 3–0 despite his eight scoreless innings, he got a well-deserved taste of victory in Anaheim, even though Pujols spoiled his shutout with a solo home run.

Archer took the hill with a lead thanks to this first-inning big fly by Logan Forsythe,

and he didn't dare squander it. Pujols got the Angels halfway, but the Rays scored three more in the sixth and tacked on another in the ninth.

Archer and Xavier Cedeno did the rest in the 6–1 win.

Quick Hits from Tuesday
For six innings, it appeared the Tigers' fourth-inning three-spot would be enough to earn a victory over the Athletics behind Alfredo Simon. Then came the seventh.

Brett Lawrie kicked it off with a single and moved to second on a one-out wild pitch. An infield hit by Marcus Semien put runners at the corners, and when the Tigers failed to record an out on Eric Sogard's fielder's choice, an odd play that saw Ian Kinsler throw home even though Lawrie had not made a break for the plate, the bags were juiced for Billy Burns. The rookie outfielder kept the line moving with an RBI single that made it 3–1 and chased Simon from the game.

Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus called for Angel Nesbitt to face Ben Zobrist, who hadn't homered since Opening Day. Two pitches later, Zobrist snapped that schneid in grand fashion:

Zobrist turned Nesbitt's elevated 0–1 changeup into a sinking liner that leaked oil but had just enough behind it to reach the right-field stands. A wall-scraper and a moonshot count all the same, and in this case, 361 feet was enough to give the A's a 5–3 lead.

Evan Scribner and Tyler Clippard retired the last nine Tigers in order to protect it.

***

Not many players can brag about hitting two homers in the same game against Max Scherzer. Before Tuesday, that club had only admitted five members.

There was a time when only some of the league's most prodigious hitters could gain entry. Adam Dunn, David Ortiz, Jorge Posada, and Justin Morneau had it to themselves until 2014, when Scherzer allowed Chris Dickerson in. Now, Dickerson and his predecessors will have to make room for one more.

After watching from the pine as Jordan Zimmermann stymied the Blue Jays in the first game of yesterday's doubleheader, Kevin Pillar got the nod in center field, batting eighth in game two. He stepped to the plate for the first time with two down and the bases empty in the second inning of a scoreless tie. And, thanks to Pillar, it wasn't scoreless for long:

But that one-run lead wouldn't hold. By the time Pillar's turn came in the top of the sixth, the Nationals were ahead 3–1. When it ended, they were behind:

Pillar's second blast of the night and fourth of the season made it 4–3 Jays, and the visitors didn't look back. They scored thrice more in the seventh, the last of them on a delayed steal of home by Russell Martin

enabled by Jose Lobaton's throw down when Chris Colabello took off for second. Martin's run extended Toronto's lead to 7–3, the final score of game two, which gave the Jays a twinbill split.

***

The Dodgers and Rockies split their doubleheader, too, thanks chiefly to this ninth-inning swing by Alex Guerrero in the nightcap:

Credit Guerrero with a grand slam and charge Rafael Betancourt with a blown save and a loss in a 9–8 Coors Field special.

There was plenty of yard work before the grand salami, much of it done by Joc Pederson, who spent the day taking full advantage of the thin air to soar up the National League leaderboard. He launched a 477-foot monster shot in game one

and delivered this 480-foot encore in game two,

bumping his season tater total to 16, good for a second-place tie with Todd Frazier and Giancarlo Stanton, two shy of Bryce Harper's 18. Pederson has now homered in four straight contests, and, as if there were any doubt left about the extent of his power, he's shipped three of those baseballs 450 or more feet.

Enrique Hernandez and Adrian Gonzalez also went deep for the Dodgers in the second tilt of the day, but Pederson was on his own in game one, a 6–3 defeat. Michael McKenry and Ben Paulsen did the honors for the Rox to lead them to victory in that one.

***

Joey Gallo's first career hit was a two-run single, albeit a dubious one, granted by a friendly official scorer in Arlington:

There was no such doubt about the integrity of Gallo's second big-league knock:

The powerful third baseman, called up to temporarily supplant the injured Adrian Beltre, began his career 2-for-2, the latter of the pair that 430-foot upper-decker that gave the Rangers a 6–2 lead on Jeff Samardzija and the White Sox.

A 437-footer by Shin-Soo Choo made it 7–2 before Gallo doubled to maintain his 1.000 average through three at-bats. He struck out in his fourth trip, ending the dream of a perfect debut, but by then it was 9–2, and the Rangers were still far from through.

Carlos Corporan, who wasn't even supposed to play on Tuesday, made the most of an opportunity presented after starting catcher Robinson Chirinos was hit in the hand by a Samardzija pitch. The backup's biggest blow came in the eighth, on an 0–2 pitch from Hector Noesi:

If the fat lady wasn't already singing with the score at 12–2, she was belting out the high notes after that three-run job. Corporan drove home one-third of the Rangers' 15 runs, good for a place in the franchise record books:

***

Strikeouts haven't been hard for Clay Buchholz to come by this season. He had 62 of them in 60 1/3 innings when he climbed the Fenway Park mound Tuesday, which amounted to a 24 percent K rate, the highest of his career.

Wins were another story. The Red Sox entered 2–8 behind the right-hander, in part because there were as many Hs as Ks in his bowl of alphabet soup, but also because of meager support from the offense:

In those two respects, last night's date with the Twins was a microcosm of Buchholz' season to date. He punched out eight in as many frames, but the Red Sox only gave him one run to work with, going 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position even though Mike Pelfrey K'd only one.

The difference Tuesday was the Buchholz blanked the opposition, limiting Minnesota to three hits—all of them singles—while walking two and inducing a double play. He threw 92 pitches, 64 of them strikes.

Eleven of those strikes, all swinging, came on the changeup, even though only four of the 19 Buchholz used crossed the plate within the boundaries. The Twins' willingness to chase when Buchholz pulled the string enabled him to rack up six whiffs on the pitch, which put him well on his way to the aforementioned eight Ks.

***

It's tough to stuff 10-plus hits and 10-plus strikeouts into fewer than five innings. That's no surprise: When you're getting shelled, you're usually not getting whiffs, and when you're missing bats, you're typically not finding barrels. So, when the Baseball-Reference Play Index informs you that no pitcher in at least a century had pulled off the H-and-K double-double while recording fewer than 15 outs, well, you should believe it.

What's unbelievable is that two pitchers have now accomplished that previously impossible feat. On consecutive days. In the same series.

Chris Mosch told you all about Andrew Cashner's bizarre plight in yesterday's WYNTK. And if the Padres' righty sought a companion with whom to drown his sorrows, he got one Tuesday in Mets rookie Noah Syndergaard.

All was well in Thor's world for one inning, when the Mets handed him a 1–0 edge and he struck out a pair in a scoreless bottom half. But the Padres scored four times on five hits in the second, including this two-run triple by Will Venable:

Two strikeouts stranded Venable at third, but the damage was done, and there was more to come. Another triple, this one by Cory Spangenberg, pushed the Friars' lead to 5–1, even though Syndergaard struck out the side in the third. He punched out three more in the fourth, but he didn't strike out Derek Norris, who parked a solo shot for San Diego's 10th hit of the night.

Syndergaard's outing ended with a backward K of Alexi Amarista, which put him in Cashner's exclusive company. That's hardly adequate consolation for Thor and the Mets, who fell 7–2. But since they witnessed a never-before-seen double-double on Monday, it's only fair that the Friars faithful got to enjoy one of their own the very next night.

The Defensive Play of the Day
Middle infield at double-play depth. Ball hit into the 5.5 hole. That's no problem for Erick Aybar, who made getting the lead runner at second look easy:

What to Watch on Wednesday
Masahiro Tanaka returns to the Yankees' rotation this afternoon for a getaway matinee at Safeco Field. The right-hander, who's been shelved since April 23rd with a forearm strain and wrist tendinitis, will look to pick up where he left off, that being consecutive strong outings in Tampa Bay and Detroit, both of which led to Yankees wins.

To help the Yankees make it three straight behind him, Tanaka will have to outduel Taijuan Walker, who'll aim to build on his best effort of the year to date. Walker blanked the Indians over eight innings on May 29th, recording eight strikeouts in his first walk-free start of 2015. The 22-year-old's ERA is still an unsightly 6.18, but it was 7.33 before he dazzled the Tribe, and there's a lotta season left for him to right the ship.

He might have to, if Tanaka performs as well tonight as he did in his first career meeting with the M's. They were on the wrong end of his second stateside complete game, a two-run, 11-strikeout victory last June 11th (3:40 p.m. ET).

***

In case Tanaka and Walker don't satisfy your pitching appetite, the early-evening slate is a veritable who's who of American League Cy Young Award hopefuls. There's Sonny Gray, the owner of a shiny 1.82 ERA, taking on Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers (7:08 p.m. ET), and Corey Kluber, the author of 50 strikeouts over his last four starts, visiting Jason Vargas and the Royals (8:10 p.m. ET).

Should both of those somehow fizzle, switch your MLB.tv account over to the White Sox–Rangers tilt, where Chris Sale gets the ball for the visitors at Globe Life Park, looking for a recipe to retire utility man Adam Rosales. No hitter with 13 or more plate appearances against Sale has fared better than the 32-year-old journeyman, who's collected 11 percent of his big-league home runs at the expense of the White Sox's ace.

Rosales is 6-for-11 lifetime versus Sale with a walk and three strikeouts, good for a tiny-sample 1.902 OPS, some 450 points higher than that of second-ranked Nelson Cruz (1.456).

As the chart above shows, if you avoid the middle of the plate and refuse to pitch up-and-in, Rosales probably won't hurt you. Sale's done half of that,

leaving the top-left corner (catcher's perspective) be, but then there's that part about avoiding center-cut mistakes, which, well,

nope.

Rosales notched the first multi-homer game of his career the last time Sale faced the Rangers, going yard off reliever Daniel Webb several innings later. Together, those blasts accounted for half his homer output in 181 plate appearances last year. Assuming he's learned his lesson, expect Sale, who's punched out 10 or more in three of his last four starts, to aim knee-high and at the corners when Rosales digs in tonight (8:05 p.m. ET).

***

Finally, Dillon Gee comes off the disabled list today for a date with James Shields and the Padres in the series finale at Petco Park. The right-hander's been on the DL with a minor groin strain since May 8th, and he watched top prospect Noah Syndergaard state a strong case for a permanent rotation job in his absence. Manager Terry Collins will go with a six-man rotation for now, a plan that enables the Mets to limit the innings of their young horses while biding their time in trade talks involving Gee and Jon Niese.

Gee had limited foes to two or fewer runs in three straight starts before the leg injury cost him a month, and many teams could do far worse than the 29-year-old to fill out the back ends of their rotations. He'll have to prove himself healthy, though, for the phone in GM Sandy Alderson's office to start ringing again, and that mission begins this evening.

Meanwhile, Shields will tackle a different mission: keeping the ball in the yard, something he utterly failed to do in May, when 11 sailed over fences in 37 1/3 innings. The first-year Friar did just about everything else right last month, racking up a 47-to-10 K:BB ratio in six starts, all of them San Diego victories. He tossed seven innings of one-run ball in his lone career game against the Mets—a long, long time ago, when Alex Cora and Luis Castillo formed the middle infield, Johan Santana was the starting pitcher, and Gary Sheffield came off the bench (9:10 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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