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April 12, 2013

What You Need to Know

Thursday Night Fight

by Daniel Rathman

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The Thursday Takeaway

Carlos Quentin called it “unfortunate.” Don Mattingly called it “ridiculous.” It was the result of the 88th pitch of Zack Greinke’s start, a 3-2 offering in a 2-1 game, which tailed inside into Quentin’s upper arm, stirring the season’s first benches-clearing brawl.

For Quentin, Thursday’s hit-by-pitch was “the final straw” in a series of high-and-tight deliveries, two of which had previously plunked him. Quentin—at least in the moments immediately following the pitch, and while defending his actions to the media after the game—perceived the latest up-and-in offering as intentional. Greinke, for his part, denied any intent to hit Quentin—who has been beaned 115 times in his career and led the league in that category in 2011 and 2012—in this game or in any previous one.

The count and the situation offered evidence in Greinke’s defense, in Mattingly’s mind and, for the most part, in the Twitter court of opinion:

A PITCHf/x look at Greinke’s pitch locations in the outing supplements his case:

The “6” up and to the left of the strike zone represents the pitch that hit Quentin. If you’re searching for reason to believe that the pitch may simply have gotten away from Greinke and tailed more inside than he intended, then the two pitches even further to the left of the zone than that one would seem to provide it.

Were the consequences of the brawl merely a one-game suspension here, a four-gamer there, the debate would have long ago flamed out. It would not have stolen the Thursday night spotlight from the Athletics, who swept the Angels to run their league-high winning streak to eight, or from the Rangers, who beat Felix Hernandez for the first time since September 24, 2011, or from Juan Uribe, whose pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning led the Dodgers to a 3-2 win. The biggest story coming out of the incident might have been Vin Scully’s use of the word “fertilizer.” But all of that changed soon after the conclusion of the game, when Scully relayed the news that Greinke had sustained a fractured left collarbone, which will sideline him for weeks—far longer than the days for which the commissioner’s office might suspend the other parties involved.

Whether you side with Quentin, who snapped after enduring Greinke’s fastball for the third time, or with Greinke, and—consequently—all of the other pitchers who throw high and inside to Quentin in search of one of his few cold zones, the impact of the injury is undeniable. When the Dodgers host the Padres for a three-game series next Monday through Wednesday, they will need a replacement starter for Tuesday’s middle match, by which point Quentin may be finished with or nearing the end of his associated suspension. And if Greinke’s absence drags into June, the gap between him and Mattingly’s chosen sixth starter could whittle down the odds of the Dodgers prevailing in a competitive National League West race.

We will soon learn about Greinke’s recovery timeline, the league’s suspension decisions, and any other fallout stemming from the sixth-inning brawl. If Quentin is active for Monday’s series opener in Chavez Ravine, it will bear watching whether Chad Billingsley, who projects to start for the Dodgers, chooses to retaliate.

Matchup of the Day

With B.J. Upton (3-for-29) and Jason Heyward (2-for-28) scuffling, the Braves have relied heavily on Justin Upton in the early going, and the right fielder has delivered to the tune of a .353/.395/.971 triple-slash line and a league-high six home runs. The task of limiting the damage from Upton—who went 4-for-4 in the Braves’ series opener in Miami but just 1-for-8 in the ensuing two games—now falls on the left shoulder of Ross Detwiler, who takes the bump for the Nationals in game one of the first showdown between the National League East favorites.

Detwiler pitched well in his first start of the regular season, scattering six hits and a walk to hold the Reds to only one run in six innings, and he logged a 3.38 ERA over five starts against Atlanta last year. He has also gained the upper hand in his past meetings with Upton, holding the ex-Diamondback to a 2-for-11 line and zero extra-base hits, though the only strikeout in the batch came way back on August 5, 2010.

Although Detwiler typically employs a four-pitch mix—fastball, sinker, curveball, changeup—he has essentially been a three-offering pitcher versus Upton, using the curve only twice in 41 deliveries. Upton has, over the course of his career, been susceptible to left-handed changeups in the lower third of the zone, so if Detwiler has good command of the pitch, expect him to try to pound the knees with it tonight. Finding holes in Upton’s swing against southpaws’ fastballs, though, could be a much more challenging task (7:05 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for This Weekend

  • Jeff Samardzija carved up the Pirates and Braves in his first two starts of the season, collecting 22 strikeouts over 13 2/3 innings of work. The 28-year-old right-hander will look to improve his control this time out, after issuing four free passes in his 5 2/3-inning outing against Atlanta, his highest walk total since July 28 of last year. The visiting Giants will counter with Madison Bumgarner in game three at Wrigley Field (Saturday, 1:05 p.m. ET).
     
  • Garrett Jones was a thorn in Johnny Cueto’s side last year, going 5-for-12 with a double, a triple, and a home run in their meetings. Cueto did notch four strikeouts in those dozen at-bats, though, and he’ll try to keep Jones at bay in Saturday’s middle match at PNC Park. The home team is still dead-last in the majors in all three slash categories, taking a .153/.230/.218 line into the series (Saturday, 7:05 p.m. ET).
     
  • Talk about setting a high bar: Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez, who got his first taste of the big-league stage last week, became the first 20-year-old ever to strike out at least eight batters and walk none in his major-league debut. He’ll get a tougher challenge, both offensively—from the Phillies lineup—and from his opposite number, Cole Hamels, in game two of the three-game set in Miami (Saturday, 7:10 p.m. ET).
     
  • Jarrod Parker has pitched poorly in first two regular-season outings, and, in fact, the right-hander’s struggles date back to the beginning of Cactus League play, during which he surrendered 18 runs (16 earned) on 25 hits over 19 1/3 innings. That means the last time Parker pitched well was during the 2012 American League Division Series, when he held his own in a pair of showdowns with Justin Verlander, compiling an 11-to-2 K:BB in 12 combined frames. On Sunday, Parker—who has doled out three walks and notched only one strikeout in each of his first two 2013 starts—will get a chance to right his ship against the Tigers, in a matchup with Anibal Sanchez. The A’s have won eight in a row heading into the series, and are returning home after a 6-0 road trip to Houston and Anaheim (Sunday, 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

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