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April 22, 2013

What You Need to Know

Same Old Song

by Daniel Rathman

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The Weekend Takeaway
Remember when, as Opening Day approached, the Dodgers’ roster was teeming with surplus rotation options—when beat writers were wondering which of the extra starters would be traded, when one of those spare arms was anxiously awaiting his assignment, and when manager Don Mattingly was intrigued by the length and versatility that converted starters could offer in relief?

The most salient stories out of Camelback Ranch at the time surrounded Clayton Kershaw’s extension talks, Aaron Harang’s possible ticket out of town, and Chris Capuano’s potential conversion into a swingman. Weeks earlier, some questioned whether Hyun-jin Ryu, in whom general manager Ned Colletti had invested $36 million over six years, was in good enough shape to merit a spot in the crowded starting five.

Kershaw’s long-term contract situation went unresolved, but Harang was exported to Colorado (and then to Seattle), Capuano made his first two appearances out of the bullpen, and Ryu not only secured a rotation slot but made his major-league debut in Zack Greinke’s stead as Mattingly’s number-two starter.

Then, Carlos Quentin knocked Greinke out of commission for six to eight weeks. Enter Capuano.

Then, Capuano left his first start of the year with a calf injury one batter into the third inning. Enter Ted Lilly, who will get the ball on Wednesday.

Then, early on Sunday morning, Chad Billingsley was scratched from Sunday’s lineup with pain in his right elbow—an especially worrisome development because the 28-year-old needed two separate disabled-list stints in 2012 to nurse inflammation in his flexor tendon and a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament.

Suddenly, the team that three weeks ago had three starters too many only had three—Kershaw, Ryu, and Josh Beckett—healthy ones left. Enter Stephen Fife, who made five starts for the Dodgers last summer, but had been buried on the depth chart by their off-season splurge.

On Sunday, Fife—who gave up four runs on seven hits and a walk in 4 2/3 innings—became the seventh starting pitcher that Mattingly has written into his lineup card through 18 games. On Wednesday, in the 20th contest on the Dodgers’ regular-season schedule, Lilly, who is coming off of surgery to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, will become the eighth.

Yesterday’s 7-4 victory at Camden Yards, in which Jake Arrieta’s wildness helped the Dodgers to overcome Fife’s shaky effort, snapped a six-game losing streak that began three days after Greinke suffered a broken collarbone. Despite their 8-10 start, the Dodgers remain the National League West favorites and have a two-in-three chance of reaching the postseason.

Moreover, for all of the injuries and the resulting revolving door in the back three spots of Mattingly’s starting staff, the Dodgers’ 3.56 rotation ERA is, to this point in the season, the best in the West. It now appears that the newest team to lend credence to the adage “you can never have too much pitching” may have assembled just enough of it to withstand the early-season storm.

Matchup of the Day
Only two qualifying pitchers served up more home runs per nine innings last year than the Rangers’ Derek Holland (1.64), whose gopher-ball tendencies led to a bloated 4.67 ERA. So far in 2013, though, the 26-year-old has largely kept the ball in the yard, permitting only one big fly in his first three starts: a solo shot by Chris Iannetta back on April 3.

Holland has seldom been able to go three consecutive starts without surrendering a homer, and his most recent such streak came nearly a year ago, between April 29 and May 10, 2012. To extend it tonight, he’ll need to buck a poor track record against the Halos, who have touched ‘em all 16 times over the 14 games in which Holland has faced them.

And in order to do that, Holland must prepare to slow down a red-hot Mike Trout. The runner-up in the 2012 American League Most Valuable Player race, Trout started slowly this year, sporting a .227/.277/.341 triple-slash line through April 12. Since then, however, Trout has rediscovered his swing, collecting two hits in six of the Angels’ last seven games. That stretch includes four doubles and a home run, and it has helped Mike Scioscia’s squad to win five of seven after a dismal 2-8 start.

Holland and Trout have locked horns on 21 occasions in the latter’s young career, and the 21-year-old outfielder has done ample damage, going 6-for-17 with a double, two homers, four walks, and three strikeouts. Both big flies came on location mistakes by the Rangers southpaw—a poorly placed fastball and an even-more-poorly-placed changeup—and in their most recent meeting, Holland learned that his plus slider isn’t a safe bet, either.

When Trout, who grounded out in his first at-bat against Holland on April 5, dug in for his second turn, he saw a mix of high fastballs and back-foot sliders, as well as one changeup, which, like the aforementioned gopher ball, stayed up in the zone. Down and in is Holland’s preferred breaking-ball target against opposite-handed hitters, but after whiffing Trout with that approach, he paid the price with a two-bagger in their very next encounter.  

Now the ball is back in Holland’s court, with the onus on the lefty to figure out a way to cool Trout’s bat. He has thrown a first-pitch fastball or sinker in 16 of their 21 head-to-head showdowns, a 76.2 percent clip that modestly exceeds Holland’s 70 percent overall fastball-first rate versus right-handed hitters, and since none of those 21 trips were resolved on the opening offering, he figures to stick with it. Where Holland turns in deeper counts could determine the fate of his home-run streak and the Rangers’ ability to prevail in the opener (10:05 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for on Monday

  • Mike Napoli began his Red Sox career in a 6-for-34 rut, striking out 12 times while earning only one walk in his first 12 games. Since then, though, the former Rangers has gotten his swing back in order, amassing a 14-for-41 line with six doubles, a triple, and two home runs. Napoli has collected at least two hits in five of Boston’s last 10 games, including a 3-for-5 outing in Sunday’s series finale, which the Red Sox dropped in extra innings to fall to 12-6. Tonight, John Farrell’s team continues its homestand with a three-game set against the Athletics, who will send A.J. Griffin to the mound in the opener to tangle with Felix Doubront (6:35 p.m. ET).
  • Ranked by Jason Parks as the eighth-best prospect in the Phillies’ system heading into the year, Jonathan Pettibone got off to a poor start for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, coughing up 12 runs (10 earned) in 9 1/3 innings over his first two starts. Nonetheless, with John Lannan unavailable tonight, general manager Ruben Amaro and skipper Charlie Manuel have tabbed the 22-year-old to take his place in game one of four against the Pirates. Pettibone’s first major-league duel will come against A.J. Burnett, who carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning and recorded his 2,000th career strikeout in his most recent outing, a win over the Cardinals on April 17 (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • Only one pitcher (the Angels’ Jason Vargas) allowed more hits in his first three starts than the Nationals’ Dan Haren, who has been knocked around for 26 of them, including five home runs, in just 13 1/3 innings of work. The 32-year-old righty hasn’t had any trouble finding the strike zone, recording 12 strikeouts versus only one walk, but quality strikes have been hard to come by. He’ll try to right his ship in tonight’s matchup against Shelby Miller and the Cardinals—Haren’s first professional organization, which drafted him out of Pepperdine in the second round in 2001 and retained him through the end of the 2004 season (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • Heading into Sunday’s series finale against the Diamondbacks, the Rockies enjoyed the league’s longest active winning streak (eight games) and were undefeated (8-0) at Coors Field. Walt Weiss’ team was three outs away from both of those streaks when Didi Gregorius and A.J. Pollock sparked a two-run, ninth-inning rally versus Wilton Lopez to give the visitors a 5-4 win. The Rockies will try to get back into the win column in tonight’s series opener against the Braves, who come to Denver with an identical 13-5 record but have lost their last three. Left-handers Mike Minor and Jeff Francis will go head-to-head in the opener (8:40 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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