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April 16, 2014

What You Need to Know

Please Send Starters

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers spent the offseason looking for a frontline starter. The man upstairs, CEO Derrick Hall, was on board with the plan. “We feel like we need that horse,” Hall told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick in advance of the Winter Meetings, and Towers felt he had “the players to get any available pitcher out there on the market.”

But the Diamondbacks didn’t trade for an ace. In fact, their only significant deal involving a starting pitcher sent Tyler Skaggs back to the Angels. And their marquee free-agent addition was Bronson Arroyo—a “horse” only in the sense that he could chew innings like real horses chomp grass.

Then, the Diamondbacks lost Patrick Corbin, who was their ace for most of 2013. Trevor Cahill and Randall Delgado were so ineffective in the early going that they couldn’t hold onto their jobs even in the wake of Corbin’s Tommy John surgery. Kirk Gibson’s fifth starter is now Michael Bolsinger, a 26-year-old rookie whom Jason Parks deemed unworthy of a mention as a Factor on the Farm, and who wasn’t listed on Baseball America’s 30-deep list of the organization’s top prospects.

That had to be rock bottom, right? Not quite.

Last night, the Mets sent Arroyo to the showers after just 3 1/3 innings. They pounded the right-hander for nine runs on 10 hits, including a fourth-inning homer by Kirk Nieuwenhuis, fresh up from Triple-A Las Vegas. When Arroyo last failed to record a sixth-inning out in three straight starts, he was a 30-year-old in his second year with the Reds. He turned 37 in February—and what then proved to be a blip might now be a cause for concern.

If Arroyo’s short outing were the only problem, the Diamondbacks could still tread water. But failing to work deep into games has been a rotation-wide flaw. Seventeen games into the season, Gibson’s starters have combined for only six outings of 5 1/3 or more innings, two fewer than the eight occasions on which they’ve departed without completing the fifth.

The Diamondbacks’ rotation ERA now stands at a league-high 7.82, more than two runs worse than the 29th-place Twins’ 5.52. The agent for top prospect Archie Bradley is clamoring for a promotion, but Towers said before Tuesday’s 9-0 drubbing that the time is not yet right.

Unfortunately for the D-Backs, with 13 losses on their ledger—10 of them as the home team, and eight of them at Chase Field—the time to emerge as a contender will soon begin to run out.

Quick Hits from Tuesday
Something about facing the Marlins brings out the worst in Stephen Strasburg.

The right-hander’s Tuesday night began with two singles, followed by a 457-foot three-run blast by Giancarlo Stanton. His second frame started with a triple off the bat of Adeiny Hechavarria and ended with three more tallies on the board for the Fish.

That was all the damage that Mike Redmond’s club would do to Strasburg, who tossed two goose eggs onto the scoreboard before giving way to an ineffective Craig Stammen. But it was plenty for the Marlins, who cruised to an 11-2 rout.

Strasburg allowed eight hits in total, issued two unintentional walks, and uncorked a wild pitch. Fifty-four of his 81 pitches went for strikes, but too many of those weren’t of the sort that he wanted:

When Strasburg missed, he missed badly—as indicated by the plethora of green dots more than a foot outside the zone. When he came in, he made location mistakes—the most costly of which was the hanging off-speed offering that Stanton clobbered deep to dead-center field in the first inning.

As odd as it may seem, though, trouble against the Marlins is nothing new for the 25-year-old Strasburg. Including Tuesday’s drubbing, four of the seven big-league starts in which he’s surrendered six or more runs have been meetings with Miami.

***

If you had Kevin Kouzmanoff as the first American League player to log three extra-base hits in a game this year…you’re right!

Kouzmanoff’s defense was the butt of a Quick Hit in yesterday’s WYNTK, so it’s only fair that today we recognize his work at the plate.

The third baseman—who is filling in for the injured Adrian Beltre—did his best Beltre impression in the middle match between the Mariners and Rangers, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and a home run. It was the first time that Kouzmanoff had collected three extra-base hits in a major-league contest since June 13, 2008, when he hit sixth for the Padres, between current MLBPA executive director Tony Clark and Khalil Greene.

Ron Washington’s squad got more good news Tuesday, as Prince Fielder snapped his homer-less drought with a second-inning shot off of Blake Beavan. Kouzmanoff followed with his dinger to give the Rangers not only their first back-to-back set of the season, but their first game with two or more long balls at any point.

That was ample support for Robbie Ross, who generated 16 ground-ball outs en route to 7 2/3 scoreless innings in the 5-0 win. Ross used his fastball or sinker on 68 of his 90 offerings (75.6 percent), which actually brought his hard-stuff clip down from its pregame perch of 77 percent.

***

Another night, another bullpen meltdown at Angel Stadium, where Ernesto Frieri served up a game-winning two-run homer to John Jaso in Monday’s opener. Tuesday’s implosion came on Joe Smith’s watch in the eighth, as the sidewinding right-hander took on five Athletics batters and allowed all of them to reach. Jose Alvarez came in and allowed a single to pinch-hitter Derek Norris, saddling Smith with a fourth earned run.

That turned a 7-5 lead turned into a 9-7 hole, until Mike Trout put the first bullet point on his 2014 MVP candidacy with a two-run blast off of Bob Melvin’s closer-by-committee choice, Sean Doolittle.

Two innings later, Yoslan Herrera—in his second big-league appearance since 2008—joined the bLOLpen club. Herrera gave up a single to Jed Lowrie and an RBI double to Josh Donaldson, good for a 10-9 edge for Jim Johnson to protect.

Working a second frame for the second time in three assignments, Johnson did what Doolittle could not do: Keep Trout in the park. The center fielder managed only an infield single, and while he moved into scoring position with his second stolen base of the year, Johnson coaxed grounders from Raul Ibanez and Howie Kendrick to inch his way back into A’s fans’ good graces.

To add injury to insult, the Angels lost Kole Calhoun to an ankle injury when he twisted it on a groundout leading off the last of the 11th. With Josh Hamilton already on the shelf, general manager Jerry Dipoto will need to reach even further down the depth chart for early reinforcements.

The Defensive Play of the Day
Take it away, Starling Marte

…and by it, I mean a knock from Jay Bruce.

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • Mother Nature scrapped the Cubs-Yankees opener from Tuesday’s slate, so the teams will play two at Yankee Stadium today—the Cubs’ first visit to the Bronx since 2005. The postponement on Jackie Robinson Day threw each team’s clubhouse manager a bit of a wrench; unlike the case in most twin bills, all players will need two jerseys—one with the number 42, and one with their own—for the day-night affair. It’s Jason Hammel and Masahiro Tanaka in the matinee (1:05 p.m. ET) and Travis Wood versus Michael Pineda in the nightcap (7:05 p.m. ET).

  • If you have plans for this evening, now might be a good time to break them. Game three of four between the Mariners and Rangers features perhaps the best pitching matchup of the season to date: Felix Hernandez against Yu Darvish. The 28-year-old Mariner leads the league with 30 strikeouts, and he’s compiled them while issuing just two walks in 21 innings. The 27-year-old Ranger has fanned only a batter per inning through 15 frames, well off his 11.9 K/9 pace from last year, but he’s also sporting a flawless 0.00 ERA after two starts. Two Cy Young Award contenders at the tops of their games—what more could you want? (8:05 p.m. ET).

  • Left-handed pitchers were an Achilles heel for Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford entering this season. His True Average against southpaws last year was just .199. But entering play on Monday, Crawford was 7-for-14 with three doubles, a triple, and a walk-off home run when facing same-side hurlers, which is two fewer extra-base hits than he had sans the platoon advantage all of last year. Manager Bruce Bochy joked after Sunday’s win over the Rockies, “It’s against righties that I’ll give him a break when he needs a day.” That means Crawford can expect to be in the lineup for tonight’s meeting with Paul Maholm and tomorrow’s date with Hyun-jin Ryu. He’ll need to keep hitting to prove the hot start isn’t just a small-sample fluke (10:15 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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