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July 3, 2013
What You Need to Know
Bailed Out By a Homer-iffic Performance
The Tuesday Takeaway
The aforementioned sextet and quintet both welcomed a new member on Tuesday night: Homer Bailey, who no-hit the Giants in a 3-0 Reds win at Great American Ball Park, 277 days after holding the Pirates without a knock in a 1-0 squeaker at PNC Park.
Bailey’s masterpiece marked the first no-hitter in the history of Cincinnati’s decade-old yard and the first thrown within the city limits since Tom Browning’s perfect game on September 16, 1988 at Riverfront Stadium. He became the first pitcher to no-hit the Giants since Kevin Millwood did it for the Phillies on April 27, 2003. And, over the course of the 109-pitch gem, he displayed the maturation that has turned him into one of the National League’s top-tier starters.
Of course, having electric stuff didn’t hurt:
Bailey’s four-seam and two-seam fastballs, which averaged 94 and 93 mph this year, respectively, in the outings preceding yesterday’s start, came in a tick higher than they usually do, increasing as the 27th out neared, and bouncing with adrenaline into the 97-mph range in the ninth. His slider sat in its usual high-80s home, touching 90-91 mph on occasion, and Bailey’s command of the breaking pitch—evidenced by the 19 strikes that he earned in 22 tries—was outstanding. Those two offerings, three if you separate the fastballs, stymied the Giants from beginning to end. Bailey, who generally employs a more balanced off-speed-pitch mix, threw only two changeups and one curveball. He simply did not need them.
In the last three innings, Bailey hardly even needed the slider. Thirty-four of his last 40 pitches were fastballs, and though he walked Gregor Blanco to begin the top of the seventh, the only frame in which he exceeded 15 pitches, the middle of the Giants order could not handle the heat. “He just overpowered us,” manager Bruce Bochy told reporters after the game, summing it all up with four precise words.
The Reds sprung Bailey out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, when Shin-Soo Choo—whose leadoff home run was changed to a double after review—advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Zack Cozart and scored on a sacrifice fly by Joey Votto. Brandon Phillips accounted for the rest of the night’s scoring with a two-run shot in the last of the sixth, two batters before Todd Frazier chased Giants starter Tim Lincecum with a one-out single. Lincecum, who collected eight strikeouts in his 5 1/3 innings of work, flashed signs of a looming renaissance in the early innings, the only silver lining on the defending champions’ 10th loss in 12 games.
On a night that saw John Lackey continue his resurgence with eight innings of one-run work at Fenway Park and Clayton Kershaw pitch a four-hit shutout at Coors Field, Bailey, whose nine strikeouts were one short of his season high, stole the show. The 27-year-old now ranks fifth in the senior circuit with a 2.72 FIP, trailing only Matt Harvey, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee, and Kershaw, despite calling a bandbox home.
Bailey, a late-blooming top prospect who was selected seventh overall in the 2004 draft, has followed up a career-best 3.0 WARP campaign in 2012 by contributing 2.4 WARP to the Reds’ cause in the first half. With Johnny Cueto requiring three separate disabled-list stints to nurse a nagging lat strain, the most recent of which began four days ago, Bailey and Mat Latos have jockeyed for position as Dusty Baker’s de facto ace. If the former comes back healthy and the latter two sustain their excellent first halves through the summer, the Reds—currently in third place, but still very likely to reach the playoffs—could be the post-season club that no one wants to face.
Matchup of the Day
The Blue Jays’ right fielder is 6-for-11 in 14 career plate appearances versus Scherzer with three doubles, a home run, three walks, and only one strikeout. Bautista’s 1734 head-to-head OPS is far and away the best mark among right-handed hitters who have stepped into the box against Scherzer at least 14 times, more than 450 points better than the 1278 OPS authored by the runner-up, Adam Jones. And while none of the qualifying batters have emerged from their encounters with Scherzer without a strikeout, Bautista, Elvis Andrus, and Ryan Doumit comprise the trio that has gone down looking or swinging only once.
Scherzer has been outstanding overall this season, but he has been otherworldly against like-handed batters, holding them to a .176/.220/.310 triple-slash line while striking out 51 of the 150 that he has faced and walking only seven. That comes out to a .181 opponents’ TAv—which is about halfway between the 2013 performances of Adeiny Hechavarria (.186), who is on the Marlins’ big-league roster mainly for his defensive skills at shortstop, and Danny Espinosa (.175), who lost his job with the scuffling Nationals and was demoted to Triple-A.
So, why has Bautista proved to be a tough nut for the University of Missouri product to crack?
One of the main reasons is plate discipline—specifically the discipline to watch sliders darting away without lifting the bat off his shoulder, as illustrated by the plot above. Many of the American League’s top righty sluggers, from Miguel Cabrera to Mike Trout, are inclined to go fishing. Bautista, whose power is almost exclusively to the pull side, thrives on pitches over the inner half and knows the zone well enough to avoid expanding it on offerings that he cannot yank. That’s bad news for Scherzer, because the slider is his primary weapon, and because he excels specifically at getting hitters to flail at it low and away.
With that weapon neutralized, this becomes a battle of power versus power, and that, too, is not a battle that Scherzer can easily win. The last time they matched wits, he tried to paint the inside corner with a 94-mph heater, only to see Bautista turn on it for a double. And even setting up the mid-90s gas with sliders has not previously done the trick. Bautista’s only fastball weakness lies on the outer third; he seldom swings and misses on pitches down and in, and he is most dangerous over the heart of the plate.
If Scherzer, who has not pitched to Bautista since June 27, 2011, is to subject Toronto’s number-two hitter to the same treatment he has given other fellow righties, he’ll need to establish the fastball away, and then use it early and often. Bautista, meanwhile, will look to sustain his .336/.457/.574 triple-slash line at the Rogers Centre this year in order to help Josh Johnson deal the undefeated Tiger his first setback of 2013 (7:07 p.m. ET).
What to Watch for on Wednesday…
… and on Independence Day Thursday