May 10, 2013
What You Need to Know
Turn Back the Clock Night
The Thursday Takeaway
No, a quick check of the calendar confirms that it is, in fact, May 2013. And no, the radar gun at Progressive Field wasn't deceiving the fans in attendance or those watching the Indians’ 9-2 victory over the Athletics on television. Kazmir, two-year hiatus and all, really was touching 96 mph with his fastball on Thursday afternoon. And the visiting A’s, like many of the teams the 29-year-old lefty faced during his heyday in Tampa Bay, could do nothing with it.
Three weeks ago, the Astros shelled Kazmir to the tune of six runs in just 3 1/3 innings, an inauspicious beginning to his attempted renaissance. He allowed only two runs in each of his two subsequent starts, but those came against the Royals and Twins, middle-of-the-pack offenses that offered only a tempered harbinger of sustained effectiveness. On Thursday, though, Kazmir took on the league’s highest-scoring lineup, which, prior to yesterday afternoon, had compiled the top OPS in the majors against opposing lefties (836). The Athletics entered the series finale in Cleveland with a .386 team on-base percentage versus southpaws, 22 points better than that of the next-best American League team (the Tigers) in 2013 and better than all but 10 individual hitters fared last season.
And Kazmir, who essentially employed a three-pitch arsenal, permitted only five Oakland hitters to reach base over his six innings on the hill. A Josh Donaldson home run represented the only blemish on his overall line.
Along the way, Kazmir elicited 19 whiffs, 13 of them on the hard stuff, which he used early and often. Blessed for the second consecutive start with the sort of velocity he hadn’t enjoyed in years, Kazmir fired first-pitch strikes to 19 of the 23 batters he faced, jumping ahead time and time again. And with his changeup and slider both working well, too, Kazmir became the first Indians starter to record 10 strikeouts without issuing a walk since Cliff Lee did it on June 7, 2005.
Backed by homers from Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher, and the aforementioned Reynolds, Kazmir notched strikes with 72 of his 103 deliveries, accomplishing the 10-to-0 K:BB feat for the first time since May 26, 2008. It was also his first double-digit-strikeout effort since August 26, 2009, the last time he took the mound as a member of the Rays.
Kazmir has come a long way since April 3, 2011, when a 1 2/3-inning, five-run clunker marked the end of his disastrous stint with the Angels. He has even come a long way over the past 20 days, from that dud in Houston, where his fastball sat around 91 mph and never threatened 95.
First-year Indians manager Terry Francona, who was on the losing end of many of Kazmir’s best performances as a Ray, told reporters after the game, “I think he’s kind of at peace where he’s at and enjoying it.” The Tribe—which has looked far and wide for rotation help, from the Ubaldo Jimenez trade to Brett Myers’ return to starting, in recent years—appears to have found it in the least likely place. And with Kazmir capping a four-game sweep of the Athletics to extend Cleveland’s surge to 10 wins in 11 games, the Indians are most certainly enjoying it, too.
Matchup of the Day
Each of the first five meetings between Hudson and Sandoval resulted in a ground ball, and each of the most recent three have, too. The 37-year-old Hudson has limited the Giants to two or fewer earned runs over seven or more innings in each of his last six starts against them, and his success in neutralizing Sandoval is a big reason why. With a 52.8 percent ground-ball rate through seven starts, Hudson is using the same bag of tricks that has served him well since his debut for the Athletics in 1999. And if the Giants are to deal him a defeat for the first time since April 8, 2006, they’ll likely need the Panda to alter his approach.
A glance at the afore-linked matchup page reveals that Hudson hasn’t done anything fancy to roll Sandoval over—a steady diet of sinkers, cutters, and splitters, with a few curveballs sprinkled in for show, has kept the 26-year-old at bay. Sandoval’s free-swinging tendencies leave him vulnerable to off-speed offerings just off the outside edge, and pitchers like Hudson, who command their splitters (or changeups) well can exploit his willingness to chase. Sinkers and cutters have not generally flustered Sandoval, but Hudson’s ability to locate and mix his moving fastballs has enabled him to avoid the barrel of Sandoval’s bat.
If Sandoval is to turn his fortunes against Hudson, he’ll need to hope for early mistakes or become more selective. Only five of the 17 showdowns between them have lasted longer than three pitches, helping the veteran right-hander to contain his pitch count and last deep into his outings against the Giants. Sandoval will try to make the necessary adjustments in game two of four at AT&T Park, where the home team will go with Matt Cain (10:15 p.m. ET).
What to Watch for This Weekend