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June 5, 2017

What You Need to Know

(Everything I Do) I Do It for You

by Ashley Varela


The Weekend Takeaway

Pitching a no-hitter wasn’t the first thing on Edinson Volquez’s mind when he prepared for his start on Saturday.

Several hours before he took the mound against the Diamondbacks, the right-hander posted a photo of late pitcher Yordano Ventura to his Instagram feed. Ventura, an outstanding pitcher in his own right and one of Volquez’s former teammates, was tragically killed in a car accident in January.

“Miss you broth HBD to Ace Ventura one love,” Volquez’s caption read, a poignant tribute on the day that Ventura would have turned 26 years old.

The somber feeling carried over to Volquez’s performance, where he began his outing in tumultuous fashion, colliding with Rey Fuentes on a routine ground ball for the first out of the game. Neither player was injured on the play, though Volquez later told reporters he thought he broke his ankle after hitting the ground.

Had Volquez sustained any kind of injury on the basepaths, the evening would have taken a dramatically different turn. Instead, he kept the Diamondbacks flummoxed through the next three innings, though the idea of pitching a no-hitter had yet to sink in. In the fourth inning, Dee Gordon smothered a hard-hit line drive to preserve the bid ...

... which was nearly spoiled two batters later when Paul Goldschmidt bounced a ball to second base, narrowly missing the tag at first base for Arizona’s first hit of the game. Upon further review, however, the call was overturned in the Marlins’ favor.

Jake Lamb led off the fifth inning with the first walk of the game, but Volquez had already found his groove. A double play ended the threat, and after two 1-2-3 innings in the sixth and seventh, the righty was cruising. It quickly became evident that something special was happening.

Chris Herrmann tried his luck in the eighth, drawing the second and final walk of the evening, but was erased from the basepaths when Brandon Drury hit into a second double play. It took Volquez just 12 pitches to get through the last frame, setting down Nick Ahmed, Daniel Descalso, and Chris Owings on back-to-back-to-back strikeouts for the first time that night.

With his 10th and final strikeout, the 33-year-old hurler inked his name on multiple pages of the history books, becoming the first Marlin since Henderson Alvarez to toss a no-hitter, earning a “Maddux” (nine-inning shutout on 100 or fewer pitches) and giving the Marlins their sixth no-no in franchise history. Following the game, he dedicated his performance to both Ventura and former Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, who was killed during an unrelated incident last December.

“They're watching right now, what happened today,” Volquez said. “And they must feel really happy right now.”

Quick Hits from the Weekend

Hours after Volquez tossed the first no-hitter of the season, Albert Pujols stepped into the limelight with his 600th career home run. And, as befits a player of Pujols’ longevity and renown, he entered the exclusive hitters’ club with flair, knocking in a two-out, bases-loaded grand slam during the fourth inning of the Angels’ 7-2 win:

Of the nine major leaguers in the 600-home run club—Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa, and Jim Thome—Pujols was the first to reach the milestone via grand slam. He’s also the first addition to the club in six years, following Thome’s three-run blast against the Tigers back in 2011.

***

You know it’s been an eventful weekend in baseball when Clayton Kershaw’s 2,000th career strikeout is this far down on the list. The Dodgers’ southpaw hasn’t looked quite his usual self this season, which feels like a ridiculous thing to say in light of his current 2.85 DRA, 84 cFIP, and 2.4 WARP. While he doesn’t lead the league in any of the aforementioned categories, he pitched like a first-place ace during Friday’s series opener against the Brewers, striking out 14 batters en route to the Dodgers’ 34th win of the season.

In the second inning, Kershaw caught Jonathan Villar swinging on an 0-2 fastball for his fourth whiff of the night. It was as good a strikeout as he recorded all night—a beautiful, three-pitch swing-and-miss—and more importantly, it also represented the left-hander’s 2,000th career strikeout.

Even Kershaw was impressed by the feat. “Strikeouts were a little contagious today,” he told MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick. “The swings and misses were amazing.”

***

By most metrics, Mike Zunino isn’t a great hitter. If we’re being honest, he isn’t a decent hitter, either. He appeared in just 55 games during the 2016 season, posting a promising .289 TAv and taking a more selective approach at the plate for a career-high 21 walks. And, while he’s improved both his exit velocity and launch angles in 2017, he crested the Mendoza line for the first time last week, batting a paltry .206/.271/.346 with a slightly more palatable .211 TAv through his first 118 plate appearances.

None of that mattered on Saturday, however. Zunino punished a 1-2 pitch from the Rays’ Alex Cobb in the fifth inning, skying it 441 feet into the left field bleachers for his first career grand slam.

The 26-year-old’s mammoth homer topped off a career-best seven-RBI performance, as he came a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. It was also the seventh grand slam hit across the majors on Saturday, setting a new all-time record for most grand slams in a single day.

Defensive Play of the Weekend

Jon Lester doesn’t throw to first base. Lester knows this. The Cubs’ catchers know this. Every baserunner who’s managed to solve Lester’s impressive pitch repertoire knows this, whether or not they take full advantage of it.

Imagine Tommy Pham’s surprise, then, when the impossible happened during the Cubs’ 5-3 win on Saturday:

Perhaps the silliest part of the play, impressive and long-awaited though it was, is the effect it’s bound to have on other runners. While it proved that, yes, Lester can still technically throw to first base, it tell us nothing about the likelihood of the left-hander pulling off another such pickoff attempt in the near future. Most runners, however, appear to inherit a second-hand case of the yips against Lester, teasing the Cubs’ veteran with wide leads without the satisfactory follow-through of a stolen base. Pham’s blunder might end up reinforcing those doubts the next time a batter reaches first, effectively keeping Lester’s SRAA out of the red.

***

Honorable mention for a defensive play goes to Adrian Beltre and Carlos Beltran, who solved an inning-ending tag at third base with a friendly hug:

What to Watch on Monday

Carlos Martinez (2.03 DRA, 2.8 WARP) is on the bump for the Cardinals on Monday, looking to build on his eight-inning, one-run performance against the Dodgers last Wednesday. The Cardinals could use a break after getting swept by the Cubs over the weekend, and should have a decent chance of unseating the last-place Reds as they enter the final series of their road trip (7:10 ET).

The Dodgers are still neck-and-neck with the Rockies. One more win would cement their spot atop the NL West, and they’ll try for first place on Monday with left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu (5.92 DRA, -0.1 WARP). Ryu was bounced to the bullpen in May, but returned to the rotation after fellow left-hander Alex Wood landed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. His last start was one of the better outings of his 2017 season so far, distributing three hits, one run and four strikeouts over six innings. The Nationals, meanwhile, are coming off of a 5-2 stretch and should prove a formidable opponent for the 35-23 Dodgers (10:10 ET).

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

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