Happy Holidays! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume Monday, December 29
September 11, 2013
What You Need to Know
Boston Gets Buchholz Back
The Tuesday Takeaway
That was the assessment of a scout who attended last night’s game at Tropicana Field, in which Clay Buchholz came off the disabled list and appeared in a big-league game for the first time since June 8. The 29-year-old Buchholz picked up right where he left off three months ago, blanking the Rays for five innings to trim his ERA down from 1.71 to 1.61.
Thanks to the emergence of Felix Doubront, the resurgence of Jon Lester, and the acquisition of Jake Peavy, John Farrell’s club scarcely missed Buchholz during his stint on the shelf. Boston went 49-33 (.598 winning percentage) over the half-season’s worth of games that the right-hander spent recovering from bursitis in his throwing shoulder. But a contender can always use another arm, particularly one with the upside Buchholz brings, and with Doubront suddenly looking shaky, the return of the unbeaten Texan might prove critical to the Red Sox as they attempt to lock up the American League East and peek ahead into October.
As the aforementioned evaluator told the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, Buchholz, who needed 74 pitches to record 15 outs, was sharp. So sharp, in fact, that even Farrell was pleasantly surprised.
Although Buchholz’s curveball command was spotty—only three of the nine benders he threw went for strikes—his fastball and cutter were spot on. He induced two whiffs apiece with the hardest offerings in his arsenal, with the four-seamer sitting around 91 mph and touching 93. Nineteen of the 26 cutters that Buchholz employed went for strikes, and 17 of those 19 strikes were called, fouled off, or swung at and missed. He struggled at times to keep the ball down, but had little trouble hitting the rightmost (from the catcher’s perspective) quarter of the zone, a location that has generally served him well against arm- and glove-side hitters alike.
Buchholz’s opposite number, David Price, stifled the Red Sox during the first four innings, but Farrell’s lineup finally pushed through in the top of the fifth, which Mike Napoli kicked off with a double. Jonny Gomes followed with an RBI single, the lone hit with a runner in scoring position for either club, and after Daniel Nava moved him over with a sacrifice bunt, Gomes touched the plate on a sacrifice fly by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Koji Uehara finished off the 2-0 victory for the Red Sox, recording the final four outs with just 13 pitches, 12 of them strikes. The 38-year-old closer has now retired 31 consecutive batters, the longest such string by a Red Sox pitcher since fellow Japanese import Hideo Nomo set down precisely that many in 2001.
Quick Hits from Tuesday
Fortunately for the Yankees, Alfonso Soriano took matters into his own powerful hands an inning later. Soriano and Mark Reynolds, still relative newcomers to a Yankees team that has used 53 different players to this point in the season, delivered two home runs in a span of three batters in the top of the sixth, bringing the team to within a run.
The score stayed 4-3 until the top of the eighth inning, when Soriano dug in against rookie Kevin Gausman and turned in part two of his seventh multi-homer game of the season, a three-run blast that put the Yankees on top 7-4. Shawn Kelley stumbled in the last of the eighth, but Mariano Rivera picked him up with a four-out save, his 42nd of the season.
At the cost of bullpen prospect Corey Black and some salary relief, Soriano has now produced 15 homers in 183 plate appearances with the Yankees. Through 43 games with the club that first brought him up to the majors in 1999, Soriano has been worth a win and a half. And since the Rays, Rangers, Indians, and Orioles all suffered setbacks on Tuesday, the Yankees gained a game on everybody, moving to within two of Tampa Bay, which holds the second wild card spot. Baltimore and Cleveland remain a half-game ahead of New York, which is a game in front of Kansas City, the only other contender that came out on top on Tuesday.
We’ve already run through four of the five teams in the AL East, so we might as well touch on the fifth—the Blue Jays, who were grounded and pounded in a 12-6 loss to the Angels. Mark Trumbo did the bulk of the work for the visiting Halos, collecting five hits—including a homer and three doubles—and crossing the plate five times. No Angel, not even Mike Trout, had ever collected five hits and scored five runs in the same contest. Trumbo, a .244 hitter whose on-base percentage sits south of .300 even after yesterday’s outburst, beat his more highly acclaimed teammate to the punch.
In the home dugout, long after Mark Buehrle hit the showers with eight runs and 12 hits on his four-inning line, there were pats on the back for Ricky Romero, who survived a long bout with control issues, mental and mechanical, to make his way back to the majors. Romero pitched the seventh and eighth innings for the Blue Jays, permitting a run on two hits and a walk, but just stepping on a big-league mound was progress for the left-hander, whose mid-2012 meltdown carried over into 2013 and left him with early-season numbers best left unmentioned.
Romero, whose previous major-league appearance came on May 8, is still light-years removed from his peak form, and he labored in many of his outings with Triple-A Buffalo before the Blue Jays called him back up on September 3. Still only 28 years old, he’ll hope to finish this year on a high note and try to work his way back toward a stable big-league role next spring.
Athletics setup man Ryan Cook is typically poisonous to right-handed hitters. He had faced 317 of them in his brief big-league career prior to yesterday’s outing at Target Field and limited them to a collective .181/.247/.236 triple-slash line. Only one—I’ll let you ruminate on that one for a bit—had ever taken him deep.
Well, now two have—and the second, Josh Willingham, did so with one aboard and the Twins down by one in the bottom of the eighth inning last night. The former Athletic, who also went yard off of Jarrod Parker in the last of the second, found a 2-0 fastball to his liking and deposited it over the left-field fence, sending the home team to a 4-3 upset in the first game of the series.
Defensive Play(s) of the Day
What to Watch for on Wednesday