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September 12, 2013

What You Need to Know

Jose Fernandez's Closing Argument

by Andrew Koo and Chris Mosch

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The Wednesday Takeaway
One of the questions Sam Miller proposed earlier this week was whether backstop Jeff Mathis has had any effect on Jose Fernandez’ increased curveball usage since the start of June. With the Marlins absent Mathis behind the plate on Wednesday due to a bruised thumb, the proposition was put to the test. Being paired with backstop Koyie Hill for the first time all season, Fernandez didn’t shy away from his curveball, relying on the offering for 36 of his 100 pitches. For the young Marlins hurler, it was his highest curveball rate in a start without Mathis behind the dish and just a tad less than his average with his veteran battery mate.

Fernandez decided that his final outing of the season was a good time to start relying on essentially a two-pitch combination, as he failed to mix in his changeup for the first time with the Marlins. The young fireballer had to work out of a few jams early on, such as in the first inning, when Jordan Schafer led off the game with a double to the left-center gap. Justin Upton moved Schafer over to third with a fly ball to right, and Fernandez proceeded to make Freddie Freeman look silly on a 1-2 fastball.

Fernandez managed to work around an Andrelton Simmons two-out double in the second inning and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning by inducing a weak two-out pop up from Elliot Johnson. With a four-run lead in the sixth inning, he challenged Evan Gattis with a first-pitch fastball up in the zone, but the Atlanta outfielder took Fernandez’ heater 421 feet out to the left-field bleachers.

In his age-20 season, Fernandez eclipsed even the most optimistic projections on the mound, so it was only fitting that he added one more feat to his list of accomplishments. In the bottom of the 6th inning, Fernandez took a 1-0 changeup from Mike Minor deep for his first career home run. While beat writers from the west coast were busy declaring their affection for Fernandez, the Braves took offense to the rookie admiring his first career long ball.

Fernandez’ age showed and Brian McCann let the rookie know it, confronting him at home plate. Chris Johnson, who had been jawing with Fernandez following his previous at-bat, came running in from third base, the benches cleared, and Twitter erupted, but Fernandez quickly made it back to the Marlins dugout and the issue subsided—at least for one night.

After inducing a whiff from Upton on one of his nastier curveballs of the night, Fernandez walked off the mound for the final time of the 2013 season to a standing ovation from the 25,111 fans at Marlins Park.

With seven innings of one-run ball against the Braves, the 21-year-old closed his rookie campaign with a 2.19 ERA—putting him behind only Clayton Kershaw among starting pitchers. Since the pitching mound was lowered in 1969, Fernandez’s ERA is the second lowest by a rookie pitcher, trailing only Dave Righetti’s 2.05 mark in 1981. Fernandez’ 0.97 WHIP easily bests Fernando Valenzuela’s 1.04 WHIP from that same 1981 season.

Yasiel Puig built his legend taking the Dodgers from worst-to-first earlier this summer, but Fernandez has made a strong case for the NL Rookie of the Year and has arguably pulled in front of the Cuban sensation with his strong finish. Despite Puig’s gaudy numbers, the fact remains that the Dodgers outfielder was in the minor leagues for the first two months of the season while Fernandez boasts ratios that will likely land him in the top three of the NL Cy Young voting. On Wednesday, Fernandez turned in an impressive final start and even managed to close the gap on the criterion in which Puig previously had him beat handily—his bat flip. —Chris Mosch

Quick Hits from Wednesday
The Rays dropped their second straight game to the division-rival Red Sox, as Joe Maddon made a few questionable decisions that came back to haunt his club.

With one out in the third inning and runners at second and third, Maddon elected to intentionally walk David Ortiz and have Alex Cobb square off against the red-hot Mike Napoli. Boston’s first baseman was 11-for-his-previous-22 and drove home Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino with a double to right field. Ortiz came home to score on a Daniel Nava groundout, giving Boston an early three-run advantage.

Tampa Bay worked back a run in the bottom of the frame and got another in the seventh inning before James Loney delivered a solo home run off Brandon Workman in the eighth inning to knot up the game at three apiece. Fernando Rodney made quick work of the Sox in the ninth inning and Maddon made the switch to Joel Peralta at the start of the 10th.

Pedroia worked a walk and Victorino sacrificed Boston’s second sacker over, bringing up Ortiz once again. Maddon yanked Peralta, who trailed only Alex Torres in Tampa Bay’s bullpen in FRA in favor of Roberto Hernandez, who ranks last among Rays pitchers in FRA. The pitcher-formerly-known-as-Fausto intentionally walked Ortiz to once again bring up Napoli, but promptly walked him on four pitches.

That brought up Mike Carp, who deposited a first-pitch hanging slider from Hernandez over the center-field fence for a grand slam that put Boston on top 7-3. With a four-run cushion, John Farrell didn’t feel the need to bring out Koji Uehara for a second inning of work and Junichi Tazawa came in to finish off Tampa Bay.

Uehara etched his name into the record books the inning prior by retiring his franchise-record 34th straight batter, besting Ellis Kindler’s record of 32 consecutive batters in 1952.

With Tampa Bay’s loss, the fight for the American League’s second wild card spot got even more interesting. A mere two games separate the Rays, Yankees, Indians, Orioles, and Royals, with Tampa Bay left back peddling, having lost 13 of their last 17 games.

***

After having its lead in the NL Central dissolve over the weekend at the hands of St. Louis, Pittsburgh put the finishing touches on a three-game sweep of Texas, which sent each team in opposite directions in their chase for division crowns.

Leading the way on offense for Pittsburgh were their two August waiver-wire additions, as Justin Morneau went 4-for-5 after failing to record a hit in his previous 14 at-bats. Marlon Byrd added a single in the fifth inning and scored after notching a two-bagger in the seventh off reliever Neal Cotts. A.J. Burnett continued his string of shaky starts, allowing five runs to cross the plate over 6 1/3 innings, but fared better than counterpart Matt Garza, who hit the showers after giving up five hits and four walks in just four innings.

With both Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli unavailable, Clint Hurdle turned to Kyle Farnsworth in the ninth and the 37-year-old made quick work of Texas to record his first save of the season. Melancon had thrown 30 pitches while recording his second save in as many nights on Tuesday, while the Pirates have avoided using Grilli in back-to-back nights since his return.

Pittsburgh kept pace a game back of St. Louis, which won its fifth straight contest with help from a Matt Adams two-run homer and Lance Lynn’s first quality start in over a month. On the other hand, Texas has now dropped six of its last seven games to fall three games behind Oakland in the AL West. —Chris Mosch

Defensive Play(s) of the Day

With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the third, Stephen Drew made a slick play on Desmond Jennings’ grounder in the hole to save a pair of runs, which proved to be the difference in the game:

What to Watch for on Thursday
  • Today’s lunch will be served with your choice of side baseball. At 12:40 ET, the league’s hardest-throwing starter takes on possibly the softest. Their names are Nathan Eovaldi and Freddy Garcia, respectively. Eovaldi shut out the Braves in eight innings earlier this month. Garcia is stepping in for rookie Alex Wood, who is getting additional rest for the postseason.

If your ideal lunch features a large serving of home runs, Target Field might be a better option. Starters A.J. Griffin and Scott Diamond have allowed 49 homers between them this year. You might also enjoy Aaron Harang (21 homers allowed) making his Mets debut against the Nationals. (Both 1:10 p.m. ET.)

  • Speaking of home runs, Chris Davis’ second attempt at 50 comes against the Yankees’ David Huff. (7:05 p.m. ET.)

  • In a series without postseason stakes, the Angels and Blue Jays have rained the runs. Mark Trumbo’s six hits and two homers make up just a portion of the 27 runs scored through two games. Anthony Gose clubbed his first career grand slam. Moises Sierra, playing in place of Jose Bautista, has been a quiet imitation of Yasiel Puig in Toronto: overthrowing cutoff men, egregious baserunning errors, plus some fair hitting. It’s been a fun series that’s featured offense and plenty of the Blue Jays’ younger players. Garrett Richards and the Angels go for the sweep tonight. (7:07 p.m. ET.)

Andrew Koo is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Andrew's other articles. You can contact Andrew by clicking here
Chris Mosch is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Chris's other articles. You can contact Chris by clicking here

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