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May 22, 2014

What You Need to Know

Worst Sweeps First

by Chris Mosch

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The Wednesday Takeaway
Wednesday’s action kicked off with a matinee at Progressive Field between the Indians and Tigers, with the visitors looking to avoid a three-game sweep. Cleveland fans certainly got their money’s worth, as the contest featured an abundance of offense, ejections, outfield assists and the home team walking off in bizarre fashion over five hours after the first pitch.

On the mound for the Indians was Zach McAllister, who failed to make it through five innings for the fourth time in five starts. The Tigers pushed across four runs in the top of the first inning, highlighted by a two-run home run by J.D. Martinez, who made McAllister pay for a 1-0 fastball he fired down the pipe. The Cleveland right-hander served up a solo blast to Victor Martinez to lead off the third inning and followed with a seven-pitch walk to J.D. Martinez, which was all Terry Francona needed to see to send McAllister to the showers.

However, the Indians were able to keep pace with the reigning AL Central champions by battering Max Scherzer to the tune of seven runs on 12 hits. It was the first time that Scherzer had surrendered seven runs since June 6, 2012, when he failed to make it out of the fifth inning at the hands of the Tribe. The bulk of the damage on Wednesday came during a five-run second inning, in which the Indians batted around and strung together a trio of two-baggers, three singles and a walk. Scherzer settled down after the five-spot, and lasted seven innings, needing just 57 pitches to get through the final five frames.

The Tigers took a 9-7 lead to the bottom of the ninth inning and turned to Joe Nathan to record his 12th save of the season. Nathan retired Asdrubal Cabrera via fly out to start the inning, but Michael Brantley laced a line drive to right field for a single—his third of four hits on the day—bringing David Murphy to the plate representing the tying run:


Murphy belted Nathan’s knee-high curveball over the right-center field wall to send the game to extras. The Indians nearly walked off on a sacrifice fly the next inning, but Rajai Davis gunned down Lonnie Chisenhall—who unwisely looked back over his shoulder a few steps after tagging—at the plate to ensure more free baseball.

With McAllister failing to make it out of the third inning, Cleveland’s bullpen was quickly depleted. With the only remaining reliever, Cody Allen, unavailable after pitching three days in a row, Francona was forced to turn to Thursday’s scheduled starter, Josh Tomlin, to begin the 11th inning. Tomlin struck out the side in the 11th and turned in a clean 12th inning, but with two outs in the 13th, he left a pitch intended to be at the knees to Alex Avila up at the letters, and the Detroit catcher jumped all over the offering for a solo shot to gave his club a 10-9 lead.

However, Phil Coke—pitching his second inning of relief—was unable to lock down the win for Detroit. With runners at first and second, and one out, Michael Brantley took advantage of a hanging slider from Coke and drove in the tying run with a single through the left side of the infield. After retiring Murphy on a groundout, Coke was pulled in favor of Al Alburquerque, who intentionally walked Yan Gomes to load the bases. Following a first-pitch ball to Ryan Raburn, Alburquerque made a fateful flinch prior to coming set, which clinched the win and series sweep for the Tribe.

Quick Hits from Wednesday
Miguel Cabrera and Brad Ausmus were forced to watch the second half of Wednesday’s marathon from the clubhouse, as Detroit’s slugger and manager were both tossed by home plate umpire Tim Timmons for arguing a check-swing called strike in the top of the sixth inning. The spat was prompted by the previous at bat, when Timmons ruled Ian Kinsler out on a check-swing call rather than appealing to the first base umpire. The result was strike three to Kinsler.

Ausmus started barking at Timmons from the dugout, pointing to the first base umpire, angry that Kinsler had not gotten as much as an appeal. The very next pitch—a check swing by Cabrera—was called a swinging strike by Timmons, again without an appeal.

Cabrera turned around and had some words for Timmons, who tossed him from the game, which brought out Ausmus. To Timmons’ credit, replays showed that Cabrera’s check swing was a clear swing, but just seconds after being up in arms about the call against Kinsler, Ausmus was already livid and was willing to get his money’s worth before heading back to the clubhouse with Cabrera.

***

The only man to challenge Ausmus for the most expletives directed at an umpire on Wednesday was Anthony Rizzo, who was rung up by the Yankees’ Dellin Betances in the fifth inning on a questionable call on the check-swing appeal. The call understandably led to Rizzo’s frustration, but the Chicago first-sacker was probably also frustrated at himself, because it was the third time in 24 hours that he swung at a pitch that ended up hitting him.

The previous offering from Betances was an 0-1 curveball that struck Rizzo’s back knee after he had swung through the pitch. Rizzo did the exact same thing during the fifth inning on Tuesday, when he struck out swinging on a sinker from Masahiro Tanaka that hit him in the thigh. That makes three opportunities during the last two games that Rizzo could have reached by way of a hit-by-pitch but instead resulted in a swinging strike. To be fair, the third one was a questionable call, but the entire sequence summed up Rizzo’s two-game series against the Yankees, in which he went 0-for-6 with four strikeouts.

***

Rizzo’s teammate, Jeff Samardzija, was dealing on Wednesday, limiting the Bronx Bombers to just four hits and a pair of walks over seven innings of scoreless ball. With his performance, Samardzija lowered his ERA to a league-leading 1.46. Unfortunately, baseball’s ERA leader is still in search of his first win of the season.

A clean 8th inning from Brian Schlitter bridged the gap between Samardzija and Hector Rondon, but the Cubs’ closer was unable to preserve the 2-0 lead. The Yankees quickly loaded the bases with no outs against Rondon, before Ichiro grounded into a forceout, which resulted in Darwin Barney skipping the attempted double play turn past Rizzo at first base, which allowed the tying run to score and evaporated hope of a win for Samardzija.

Not only have the Cubs been unable to reward Samardzija with a “W” next to his name in the box score this season, but they’ve somehow struggled to come away with an actual team win during his starts—including Wednesday’s start, which they dropped 4-2 in 13 innings.

Despite giving up two runs or less in seven of Samardzija’s 10 starts, the Cubs have managed only one win when their ace has taken the hill. During those starts, the Cubs have scored a grand total of 20 runs, which makes it difficult to expect too many wins from during that time regardless of who is on the mound.

Dating back to last season, Samardzija has now gone 13 straight starts allowing three earned runs or less without coming away with a win. Since 1914, only Ray Washburn has tossed more such starts without recording a win (his 15 starts were spread out between two seasons and two different teams). Samardzjia’s quest for his first win of the season will come next week in San Francisco.

***

If you look at the major-league leaders in walk percentage, the trio of hurlers atop the leaderboard won’t shock you. Tim Hudson has always had pretty good command, while David Price and Bartolo Colon both ranked in the top five among qualified starting pitchers last season.

Coming into the season, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that Phil Hughes would chime in at number four. The Minnesota hurler has walked just six batters this season and after tossing seven scoreless (and walk-less) innings against the Padres on Wednesday, he upped his streak to 37 innings and 147 batters since he last issued a walk.

Hughes scrapped his slider in favor of a cutter this season, and the result has been more pitches in the zone. Last season, Hughes threw his slider for a ball 36.2 percent of the time, while only 25.8 percent of his cutters have resulted in a ball. It’s not a coincidence that prior to last night’s start, Hughes’ zone percentage was a career-high 60.9 percent, over five percentage points higher than it was last season.

On Wednesday, Hughes relied heavily on his threw 72 of his 94 pitches for strikes against the Padres, and coaxed seven strikeouts. He relied heavily on his four-seam fastball and cutter, utilizing the two-pitch combination over 86 percent of the time. Hughes scattered seven hits, but they were all singles, and the Friars managed to get a runner into scoring position just twice.

The Twins pushed across a run against Tyson Ross in the sixth inning and added a second run by way of a Trevor Plouffe home run in the eighth inning. Glen Perkins sent the Padres down 1-2-3 in the ninth inning to record his 14th save of the season.


***

We’re going to need to start reserving a section on WYNTK for Edwin Encarnacion’s multi-home run games. Wednesday was the fourth time this month that the Toronto first baseman has gone deep twice in a game and padded his May home run total with his 10th and 11th jacks of the month.

The first shot was a laser off the bat of Encarnacion that was the result of Clay Buchholz leaving a fastball down Main Street:

The next inning, Encarnacion sat back on a Buchholz curveball on the outer third of the plate and blasted it to the same section above the Green Monster, but a few rows back.

***

With two outs in the fourth inning between the A’s and Rays, Erik Bedard left an 0-2 curveball up and Brandon Moss tattooed the offering for a solo home run that gave his club a 3-0 lead:

The long ball was Moss’ 10 of the year and proved to be the deciding run as Oakland held off the home squad by a final score of 3-2.

It was also the only hit the A’s got the entire game.

Oakland worked seven walks against the Tampa Bay pitching staff during the game and scratched across two unearned runs in the second inning thanks to a pair of throwing errors by Yunel Escobar and Sean Rodriguez. Sean Doolittle locked down his fourth save of the season despite allowing a one-out single to Logan Forsythe on a towering pop up that hit the catwalk and landed in front of the mound.

Wednesday was the first time the Rays have ever lost a game while throwing a one-hitter, and just the second time the A’s have won a game on one hit or less. The other instance was Game Four of the 1974 ALCS against the Orioles.

***

Hyun-jin Ryu was impressive in his first start in nearly a month last night, striking out nine Mets in six innings and allowing just an Eric Campbell two-run dinger in the sixth inning en route to a 4-3 win. Ryu hadn’t pitched since April 27th due to shoulder inflammation, but threw 57 of 85 pitches for strikes, and coaxed nine swing-and-misses—via three fastballs, four sliders and a pair of changeups. The lone mistake Ryu made was a changeup that he hung over the heart of the plate to Eric Campbell, who belted his first career major league home run.

Behind the Korean southpaw, the Dodgers belted a trio of home runs off Jacob deGrom—one by Adrian Gonzalez in second inning and back-to-back jacks by Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez in the sixth.

The Defensive Play(s) of the Day
When he’s not hitting 450-plus foot moonshots, Giancarlo Stanton is laying out for bases-loaded gappers.

Jason Motte made his first major-league appearance since 2012 on Wednesday, and was bailed out by a sweet relay to nail the go-ahead run, Ender Inciarte, at the plate.

What to Watch for on Thursday

  • Prince Fielder has been dealing with with a herniated disc in his back and did not travel with the Rangers to his old stomping grounds in Detroit. However, Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler will face off against his former team on Thursday for the first time since this offseason’s mega-blockbuster trade between the two clubs. It’s a bit late for the Rangers to go 0-162 this season, but Kinsler’s squad will try to slow down Yu Darvish, while Robbie Ray will take the hill for the Tigers (1:08 p.m. ET).

  • The last time we saw Cobb was on April 1h, when he spun seven innings of scoreless ball against the Rangers, only to be placed on the disabled list the following day with a strained oblique. The right-hander threw 46 of 64 pitches for strikes and generated nine strikeouts in a rehab start for High-A Charlotte last Saturday, and will make his return to Tropicana Field opposite Oakland youngster Sonny Gray (4:10 p.m. ET).

  • A pair of top-of-the-rotation arms will toe the rubber for the first time in over a month on Thursday, as Chris Sale and Alex Cobb are each expected to be activated from the disabled list for today’s starts.

Sale hasn’t pitched since April 17, when he allowed just one hit—a Xander Bogaerts home run—over seven innings against the Red Sox. The crafty southpaw was placed on the disabled list prior to his next start due to a flexor muscle strain. The White Sox have managed to hover around .500 this season despite laying claim to the American League’s worst starting pitcher FRA, a shortcoming that can being to be rectified with Sale on the hill every fifth day in place of Hector Noesi. Fresh off a two-game split with the Cubs on Chicago’s north side, the Yankees will travel south to U.S. Cellular Field to greet Sale in his return to the mound (8:10 p.m. ET).

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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