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July 24, 2015

What You Need to Know

July 24th, 2015

by Daniel Rathman

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The Thursday Takeaway

If Thursday marked the final start as a Tiger for David Price and as a Mariner for Hisashi Iwakuma, they’ll depart having battled to a hard-earned draw.

Unconcerned with the prospect of wearing out their pitchers to the dismay of their future employers, Brad Ausmus and Lloyd McClendon let their starters hit 100 pitches and keep on going, and going, and going. Iwakuma tossed 112 in seven innings; Price was at 114 when he returned to face Kyle Seager, who homered in the first inning, to start the ninth. The lefty finished with 116 after Seager doubled but was stranded by Joakim Soria.

Price, the league leader in pitches thrown to date, is no stranger to hefty workloads. He’s now kicked and dealt 113 or more times in four straight outings, after doing the same back-to-back-to-back-to-back before the Rays shipped him up to Detroit last year. It should come as no surprise, then, that Price paced himself throughout the afternoon, peaking in terms of fastball velocity in the late innings and hitting 94 with his final pitch of the day:


Iwakuma, though, is less accustomed to shouldering that sort of burden—in fact, yesterday’s 112 pitches represent his new stateside career high. It’s noteworthy that the 34-year-old’s velocity did not wane as the game wore on,

particularly since he’s less than a month removed from a prolonged DL stint with a strained lat.

Hence, the scouts who came out to watch Price—whose near future remains undecided, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale—might find themselves lauding Iwakuma as a reasonable alternative if the deadline’s top prize stays put or is snatched by a fellow contender.

The evaluators who stuck around when the starters were through could also have nice things to say about each side’s first reliever, both impending free agents, as well. Soria is the bigger name, and he bailed Price out of the ninth-inning jam by stranding Seager. But Mark Lowe, who struck out four in two scoreless frames, could be a nice grab in his own right for teams seeking setup help and confident that his 43-to-10 K:BB ratio in 32 innings is more than a small-sample mirage.

Lowe and Soria teamed up to treat the 40,225 in attendance at Comerica Park to bonus baseball—three innings of it, before all was said and done. The Tigers bullpen wilted first, with Ian Krol on the top of the hill in the top of the 12th, when a single by Chris Taylor and a double by Mike Zunino dug Detroit a 3-2 hole. Former closer Tom Wilhelmsen slammed the door in the home half, securing his first save of the year along with the victory for Seattle.

But the win only brought the Mariners to 44-52, still squarely among the likely sellers and just a half-game up on the A’s, who kicked off the deadline dealing yesterday. The Tigers, meanwhile, fell to 47-48, below .500 yet still within four games of the second wild-card berth.

If that’s close enough for 86-year-old owner Mike Ilitch to encourage GM Dave Dombrowski to go for it, pitching-needy teams could be forced to seek other options. And if Thursday’s game is any indication, they might soon be checking the prices at Jack Zduriencik’s store instead.

Quick Hits From Thursday

The Orioles slugged three homers off of Masahiro Tanaka on Thursday. Sounds promising, right?

Unfortunately for Buck Showalter’s squad, all three of those bombs were of the solo variety, with no one but the on-deck batters there to high-five Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, and Manny Machado when they crossed home plate.

And those big flies were just about all the O’s had going for them against Tanaka, who’d allowed just Davis’ long ball through seven innings before Hardy and Machado got to him in the eighth. The right-hander was aggressive in the zone, notching first-pitch strikes to 22 of 28 batters, and strikes with 77 of his 101 deliveries overall. Since walks were out of the question, the O’s needed to hit, but their only other knock was Davis’ fourth-inning automatic double.

If the ball wasn’t clearing the fence Thursday, the visitors weren’t scoring, and that proved troublesome because Ubaldo Jimenez ran into baseball’s foremost first-inning juggernaut. The Yankees were already atop the major-league leaderboard in that department, with 81 tallies in the opening frame, 15 better than the second-place Rockies’ 65. And, with the Rox idle yesterday, that lead ballooned to 19.

The home team went single, walk, walk, to begin the bottom of the first, before Jimenez threatened to wriggle free. He struck out Mark Teixeira and got Carlos Beltran to fly harmlessly to left, leaving three on with two away. But the righty’s dream of a scoreless first ended with a bases-clearing Chase Headley double, followed by a Didi Gregorius single that scored the third baseman.

It was 4-0 Yankees when Stephen Drew struck out looking to end the inning, and after Davis led off the second with a homer, Ellsbury did the same in the home half. 5-1 was as close as the Orioles got the rest of the way, as a Drew RBI double sent Jimenez packing four batters and one out into the third.

Thursday’s dud was the second in as many outings for Jimenez, whose ERA was 2.81 heading into the All-Star break and has since shot up a full run. Giving up seven runs in back-to-back games will do that, and the O’s can scarcely afford Jimenez turning back into a pumpkin after a surprisingly strong first half.

That’s particularly true if the Yankees keep piling up wins as they have to this point in July. Joe Girardi’s team has won four straight, nine of its last 11, and 12 of 16 since the calendar flipped.

***

July has also been kind to the Angels, winners of seven straight after a five-game run earlier in the month, good for a total ledger of 13-3. Their surge into first place might’ve heightened the Astros’ urgency to acquire a starting pitcher, which Houston did by nabbing Scott Kazmir from the A’s, hours before the Halos put their streak on the line against the Twins.

Both now-Angel Garrett Richards and ex-Angel Ervin Santana pitched eight innings in the afternoon date in Anaheim, and both allowed four hits. But the similarities ended there.

Santana fanned seven and did not issue a walk or serve up a homer. Richards walked three, punched out only five, and hung a 1-2 breaking ball to Trevor Plouffe with two men aboard:

That swing of the bat by Minnesota’s third baseman accounted for all of the scoring in the series finale. The Twins upped their wild-card lead to three games over the Blue Jays, who lucked into missing Kazmir and defeated the A’s, 5-2.

***

Elevating the ball was no easy task for the Nationals on Thursday, as Francisco Liriano mowed ‘em down every which way but up. He got 18 outs, 11 of them via “K” and seven on the ground. No fly outs, line outs, or pop outs to see here.

That’s less surprising when you consider how easily Liriano got the Nats to expand the zone downward:


The southpaw drew 11 whiffs with his slider and five more with his changeup, a handful of those on pitches that barely reached the plate. The secondary offerings compensated for Liriano’s wildness with the fastball. He only threw 24 of 44 heaters for strikes last night and too frequently missed the hitting area by a foot.

While Liriano was effectively wild, his counterpart, Doug Fister, was neither wild nor effective. Fister only walked one and logged strikes with 65 of 99 deliveries, but that didn’t help him dodge barrels. The Pirates shelled him for four runs on nine hits in five innings, including three doubles, a triple, and a Pedro Alvarez home run.

Fister’s four strikeouts actually matched his season high, which he’s now accomplished four times without exceeding that pedestrian total. Conversely, this marked the sixth time in 13 starts that the 31-year-old has permitted nine or more hits, and he now has a 6.19 ERA in seven starts since May 14th. The Nationals are 1-6 behind Fister over that span, and given how well rookie right-hander Joe Ross has pitched in Stephen Strasburg’s stead, the veteran could be in danger of losing his rotation spot if the rest of the rotation is at full strength when Strasburg returns.

Despite the extra-base-hit barrage, Fister limited the damage to a manageable four runs. Trouble is, the Nats only scored three, and both of their relievers, Tanner Roark and Abel De Los Santos, coughed up a big fly.

In the end, that amounted to a 7-3 win for the Bucs, who stayed six games back of the Cardinals, who topped the Royals, 4-3.

***

No ground was gained or lost by the Nationals, either, in part because of the lineup the Mets sent out to face Clayton Kershaw.

Wilmer Flores, John Mayberry Jr., and Eric Campbell comprised the heart of Terry Collins’ order. Their True Averages entering play Thursday: .254, .205, and .221, respectively.

So, Kershaw licked his chops, and countless Tweeters issued perfect-game alerts before first pitch, and for six innings it appeared that history just might be in the making at Citi Field. In the meantime, Jimmy Rollins launched a third-inning home run:

That was an awful occurrence for the Mets, because it meant they’d have to score off of Kershaw without first hitting into 27 outs. Squandering two-thirds of that allotment before Curtis Granderson gave them their first baserunner was a bold but imprudent strategy. And when Flores’ subsequent single gave New York a runner in scoring position, it up was up to the cleanup man, Mayberry, and the fifth-place hitter, Campbell, to tie the game. Mayberry whiffed, Campbell grounded to short, and—even though his perfecto and no-no were gone—Kershaw was back on his way to a shutout.

Amid all of this, Bartolo Colon was pitching a terrific game, too. Holding the Dodgers to a run on five hits and no walks in eight innings is a nice feather in the quadragenarian’s cap—a souvenir by which to remember the ineptitude of the lineup backing him.

The Mets got their second straight leadoff baserunner in the eighth, but Lucas Duda didn’t just fail to get to second. He also failed to get back to first:

It turns out, wasting hits is no way to go through life against Kershaw, who rolled to a three-hitter, striking out 11 without walking a batter in the 1-0 victory.

The southpaw booked his the third straight scoreless, walk-less start with double-digit strikeouts, and he now has 184 Ks in 140 innings, including 45 since his most recent walk.

According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, Kershaw is the first pitcher since at least 1914 to keep his opponent without a run or a walk while striking out 10 or more in back-to-back outings. And, just to reiterate: He’s now done it three times in a row.

***

Up in Cleveland, Melky Cabrera fashioned himself an equal-opportunity home-run hitter.

He got Trevor Bauer from the left

and Kyle Crockett from the right

and in so doing became the first South Sider to go yard each side of the plate since 2008.

Melky accounted for half of Chicago’s dinger output on the night, noteworthy because the White Sox had just 66 big flies as a team coming into Thursday’s contest, despite calling the hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field home. Last night, they made themselves comfortable at Progressive Field, much to the chagrin of Bauer and the Tribe.

While Cabrera, Alexei Ramirez, and Adam Eaton were homering, Jeff Samardzija was shoving. Eight innings, four hits, one run, no walks, and three strikeouts isn’t a bad way to end his time with the Pale Hose if general manager Rick Hahn finds a package he likes and unloads Samardzija, an impending free agent, ahead of the July 31st deadline.

The 8-1 rout bumped the White Sox to 43-50 and dropped the Indians to 45-49. Terry Francona’s team is now 2-14 in series openers at home, and at 43-35 otherwise, the Tribe might be deadline buyers if those were just for show.

Fortunately for Melky and the White Sox, they count.

The Defensive Play of the Day

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, whose merits at the six spot have sometimes been questioned, decided to test those of his counterpart and fellow wunderkind Carlos Correa, who was up to the task:

The Astros went on to edge the Red Sox, 5-4, on a walkoff homer by Jose Altuve. Boston is now 0-7 on its road trip.

What to Watch This Weekend

Friday

Rick Porcello has made 198 big-league starts, 180 of them wearing a Tigers uniform, before he was shipped to Boston for Yoenis Cespedes. Tonight, the right-hander will take on the club that drafted and developed him for the first time, as Brad Ausmus’ squad comes to Fenway Park.

The 26-year-old Porcello has yet to find a groove in his new digs, toting a 5.79 ERA and averaging a gopherball per start. He “leads” the American League in earned runs allowed with 68, and he’s been touched up for 123 hits in 105 2/3 innings. Porcello’s 5.08 DRA suggests poor luck is partly to blame for his rotten first half, but much of the blame falls on the 6-foot-5, 200-pounder’s own shoulders, and his 105 cFIP doesn’t bode well going forward. The Red Sox had better hope that prediction is off the mark, with $82.5 million owed to Porcello over four years beginning next year.

Meanwhile, the Tigers can only hope that Justin Verlander, who’ll duel Porcello in the opener, will soon figure out how to be effective with diminished stuff. They’re 0-6 behind their erstwhile ace, who’s looked like anything but a frontline starter since coming off the disabled list on June 13th. Verlander has been charged with seven runs twice in his last three starts, shooting his ERA up to 6.62, and he’s served up eight homers in 34 innings to date. Tonight’s game will mark Verlander’s first start at Fenway Park since July 31, 2012. When he last won a game in Boston, Victor Martinez was in the squat for the Sox (7:10 p.m. ET).

Saturday

Here’s a complete list of left-handed starters who’ve held the Royals scoreless and walk-less while striking out seven or more batters since the start of the 2014 season: Dallas Keuchel, Mike Montgomery.

Tomorrow, Keuchel will try to log his second straight such start versus Ned Yost’s club, less than a month after he baffled them in Houston. This time, he’ll have to shut them down in Kansas City, where—per the Play Index—no lefty has checked all those boxes since Cliff Lee did it in the second game of a doubleheader on April 24, 2008.

After relying chiefly on weak ground-ball contact in the early going, Keuchel has been on something of a strikeout binge during the past month. He’s racked up a 44-to-4 K:BB ratio in his last 37 innings, a five-start span that includes 12- and 13-K masterpieces. Keuchel hasn’t been taken deep since the Yankees slugged three over the wall on June 20th.

Danny Duffy draws the tall order of trading zeros with the Astros ace. He gave up four runs in 6 2/3 frames at Minute Maid Park in late June, and will aim to do better as the junior-circuit contenders reunite in friendlier confines (7:10 p.m. ET).

Sunday

Tim Hudson has earned a win against 29 of 30 major-league teams. The lone exception? The A’s, who drafted Hudson, brought him up to the big leagues, and watched him become part of their three-headed monster with Barry Zito and Mark Mulder before trading him to the Braves. Hudson has been a National Leaguer ever since, so he hasn’t had many opportunities to complete his “W” collection, and since he’s likely retiring after this year, he won’t have many more.

If the sinkerballer is going to go 30-for-30, he might have to lead the Giants to victory in the Bay Bridge Series finale at AT&T Park. Hudson is 0-2 lifetime against Oakland with a 9.58 ERA, and he squandered his chance in 2014, when the A’s plated a half-dozen in 5 1/3 innings. Fortunately for Hudson, all five of the Athletics who notched extra-base knocks that day—Brandon Moss, Jed Lowrie, Alberto Callaspo, John Jaso, and Josh Donaldson—are no longer donning green and gold.

Even with the new-look foe, Hudson will need to rediscover his ability to pound the lower parts of the zone with his sinker to be effective. A month off to nurse a shoulder strain did him little good in San Diego earlier this week, as the Padres chased a shaky Hudson after four innings of three-run, four-walk ball.


All those gray squares in the vertical middle of the hitting area are bad news for a ground-ball pitcher. Hudson will need to bring them down toward the bottom boundary to become the 14th pitcher in MLB history to defeat all 30 clubs (4:05 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

Related Content:  David Price,  Hisashi Iwakuma,  Trade Deadline

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