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The Thursday Takeaway
When Jacob deGrom served up three home runs to the Yankees on April 24th, then gave up five runs in 5 1/3 innings to the Mets six days later, some wondered if regression or an injury was afoot. A rollercoaster first month isn’t what prognosticators expected from deGrom after his outstanding rookie campaign, but it’s what they got. And so, the cries of “The Yankees broke deGrom!” rang out and wouldn’t die, not even after he struck out nine Orioles in seven innings on May 6th.

In fact, they only grew louder when the Cubs milked deGrom for four runs on four walks and two homers on May 11th. And when the right-hander bounced back to hold the Brewers to one run in six frames on May 16th, the opposition offered cynics a caveat—it was the lowly Brewers, after all, not an imposing lineup and certainly not a contender.

To shut them up, the late-blooming deGrom, who turns 27 on June 19th, would need to thwart the Cardinals on Thursday afternoon. Challenge accepted.

DeGrom struck out the side around a Matt Carpenter single in the first, then retired the Redbirds in order from the second through the eighth. He set down 23 straight, eight of them via the strikeout, and might’ve been in line for a complete-game one-hitter if his pitch count (104 through eight) hadn’t gotten in the way.

The righty had outstanding command of every pitch in his arsenal, including a 91-mph slider that notched 14 strikes in 15 tries. He attacked the zone fearlessly, regardless of pitch selection, and at 96-98 mph, his fastball was too hot for the Cardinals to handle. Mike Matheny’s batters whiffed 12 times in total, between the four- and two-seamers, and they went 0-for-7 when putting the hard stuff in play. Add five whiffs in 12 swings at the curveball, and it’s fair to say everything was working for deGrom on Thursday afternoon.

DeGrom and his closer, Jeurys Familia, could’ve made do with just one run of support. They got that in the fourth inning, when Lucas Duda drew a one-out walk—one of five issued by Jaime Garcia in his return from the disabled list—and scored on the last of back-to-back-to-back singles. Only four double plays, including The Defensive Play of the Day,

and a caught stealing spared Garcia further grief in a 2015 debut that was equal parts exciting and erratic.

This one was all set to end 1-0, until Lucas Duda interjected in the middle and late innings. Fantasy staff newcomer Greg Wellemeyer examined “The Evolution of Lucas Duda” earlier this week, and among his findings was a vast improvement against left-handed pitchers, sparked in part by a more aggressive approach.

True to that new form, Duda slapped a second run onto Garcia’s line with this sixth-inning blast on an elevated 0-0 fastball

and then showed lefty specialist Randy Choate the door with a second straight first-pitch bomb:

You might have noticed that Garcia and Choate are both southpaws, the species of pitcher from which Duda was shielded earlier in his career, but to which he’s now increasingly being exposed. Specialist schmecialist, he thought of Choate, as he rounded the bags while the scoreboard was updated to read 5-0.

Both of Duda’s homers yesterday went to the pull side of the field, perhaps suggesting that he’s found a way to mesh the oppo-oriented approach Wellemeyer observed with his old ability to turn on mistakes. The 2-for-3 afternoon boosted the first baseman’s average to .302 while bumping his homer total to five. If he can keep padding the latter without sacrificing the former, all while doing to lefties what he’s long done to righties, the Mets will boast a well-rounded, middle-of-the-order threat.

That’ll come in handy on days when their starter isn’t as dominant as deGrom Thursday. But in the series finale in Queens, the main event was the resurgent right-hander, whose 91 Game Score was the best by a Met since Matt Harvey’s one-hitter on May 7th, 2013. After an up-and-down month, deGrom is flying high, determined to reassert himself as one of the best in the National League.

Quick Hits from Thursday
Like deGrom, David Price also reached double-digit strikeouts in his team’s matinee, leading the Tigers to a 5-0 lead over the Astros at the end of six innings. Unlike deGrom, however, Price did not hold the opposition scoreless or complete the seventh inning.

The left-hander departed with a dozen Ks to his name after 6 2/3, but he let the Astros back into the contest before getting the hook from manager Brad Ausmus. George Springer led off the top of the seventh with a single, then scored on Evan Gattis’ second career triple, which is one of those things you have to see to believe:

As the ball stopped dead when it caromed off the right-center-field wall, Springer jogged home and Gattis motored 270 feet to third. He was still stuck there with two outs, when Jonathan Villar hit a well-placed groundball, setting off this mess:

Credit Villar with an infield single and an RBI for plating Gattis, if you’re scoring at home, and charge an E6 to Andrew Romine for throwing the ball into the camera well. That came in handy for the Astros, because it put Villar in scoring position for Hank Conger, whose ensuing RBI single chased Price from the game.

So, the Tigers bullpen sprung into action, and it did just fine with Angel Nesbitt running the show. He got two grounders, ending the sixth and starting the seventh, before giving way to Blaine Hardy. And that’s when the wheels came off.

Hardy flubbed his one-man assignment by allowing a single to Luis Valbuena, and when Ausmus called on Joba Chamberlain to face George Springer, Joba responded by serving up a run-scoring double, compounded by Rajai Davis’ misadventure retrieving the ball:

To Chamberlain’s credit, he regained his composure and left the tying run 90 feet away, preserving the 5-4 edge into the ninth.

The rest of the game was a story of first career home runs, and the first of those firsts belonged to Preston Tucker:

Tucker’s solo shot tied the game at 5-5 and dealt Tigers closer Joakim Soria a blown save. It treated those in attendance at Comerica Park two innings of bonus baseball, which came to an end on this big fly by James McCann:

That wasn’t technically McCann’s first career homer, because he accomplished that in inside-the-park fashion on April 29th. It was, however, the first time that the 24-year-old had slugged a big-league offering over a fence.

So as he sent the crowd home happy with a 6-5 victory, McCann also put himself into what we can only assume is exclusive company. Not many can claim to have checked off “inside-the-parker” and “walkoff” on their home-run bucket lists with the first two round-trippers of their careers.

***

The Dodgers entered play Thursday scoreless in their last 22 offensive innings, and to make matters worse, they’d have to beat Madison Bumgarner to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Giants.

It was up to Clayton Kershaw, winless in four head-to-head meetings with Bumgarner, to keep the Giants off the board until the Dodgers lineup got off the schneid. And that, as it turned out, would be an impossible task, because Los Angeles failed to score for the third straight day.

Bumgarner extended L.A.’s run of goose eggs to 28 1/3 innings, before giving way to George Kontos, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, and Santiago Casilla, who combined to stretch it to 31. Equally disconcerting to the impotent Dodgers, though, was that Bumgarner helped himself at the plate:

Kershaw left a first-pitch fastball out over the dish, and Bumgarner clubbed it into the left-field seats, providing himself with all the support that he and the bullpen would need.

The Giants would score again in the fourth inning, on a double by Angel Pagan and an RBI single by Hunter Pence. They tacked on two superfluous insurance runs in the eighth with four straight singles off three different pitchers. Bruce Bochy’s lineup thwarted Don Mattingly’s platoon-oriented bullpen usage, when the right-handed Chris Hatcher allowed a run-scoring infield hit to Pence, and then the left-handed Paco Rodriguez surrendered an RBI single to Brandon Crawford.

None of that mattered, because the Dodgers went quietly in the ninth, cementing their first scoreless visit to San Francisco since June 2012.

***

Thursday’s series opener between the Brewers and Braves was a tidy, 1-1 affair through the seventh-inning stretch. Then “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” played at Turner Field, and those root, root, rooting for the home team had a whole lot to cheer for.

The Braves opened the last of the seventh with back-to-back singles, and while Andrelton Simmons’ subsequent bunt attempt turned into a fielder’s choice out at second, Christian Bethancourt singled home a run to break the tie. That would do it for Garza, as Craig Counsell came out and brought in Will Smith to face pinch-hitter Todd Cunningham, hoping to stem the tide.

Instead, all hell broke loose on Smith’s watch.

Fredi Gonzalez burned Cunningham and sent up Pedro Ciriaco in his place, and Smith plunked the new pinch-hitter to load the bases. Soon after, Gonzalez noticed an odd, shiny, blotch near Smith’s right wrist:

Crew chief Jim Joyce came over, dabbed his fingers in it, and told Smith to take a hike. Here’s what Smith had to say for himself after the game:

Returning to that eventful seventh inning, Neal Cotts relieved Smith and promptly surrendered an RBI single to Jace Peterson, before getting the hook from Counsell. The new skipper signaled for Michael Blazek, who did little to stop the Braves’ rally. His first three foes went single, single, double, each plating a run, and then Jonny Gomes reached on a run-scoring error.

By the time Blazek wrapped up the frame, it was 8-1 Atlanta. The Braves added two more in the eighth to complete the 10-1 romp behind Julio Teheran’s seven innings of two-hit, one-run brilliance on the hill.

***

Padres starter Odrisamer Despaigne was fantastic after the first two batters of Thursday’s date with the Cubs. Unfortunately, the first two batters count.

Dexter Fowler drew a leadoff walk, Kris Bryant went yard

and before Despaigne knew it, the Cubs were up 2-0.

The 28-year-old Cuban was unblemished from that point on, recording 18 outs without permitting another run. Which is nice. Except his counterpart, Kyle Hendricks, was spotless from the get go.

Hendricks retired the Friars in order in the first and never looked back, tossing a five-hit shutout while striking out seven without issuing a walk. He threw 71 of 108 pitches for strikes and flummoxed the Padres as, essentially, a one-trick pony.

Sinkers over the outer half of the plate were the Cubs’ game plan against Bud Black’s powerful but righty-loaded lineup, and he used the pitch 78 times in 108 offerings. It worked like a charm: The Padres put it in play 20 times, but only four went for hits, and two of those were erased with twin killings.

Thus, Hendricks faced just three over the minimum en route to his first career complete-game shutout. Addison Russell cranked a solo shot in the seventh, finishing off the scoring in the 3-0 Cubs win.

What to Watch This Weekend

Friday

If you like high-velocity fastballs, don’t miss this evening’s series opener between the Mets and Pirates. It’s Noah Syndergaard, who tops the league with a 98.1-mph average fastball velocity, against Gerrit Cole, who’s seventh at 96.6 mph, in game one of three at PNC Park.

The Pirates ace has allowed just one home run in his last seven starts, a 43 2/3-inning stretch over which he’s also logged a 2.06 ERA and 47-to-11 K:BB ratio. Neither the Phillies nor the Cubs could muster an extra-base knock off of Cole in his last two assignments, so the right-hander has a chance to join teammate A.J. Burnett as the only pitchers to turn in three straight XBH-free starts this year (7:05 p.m. ET).

Saturday

Doubleheaders at Coors Field are a manager’s worst nightmare, but Bruce Bochy and Walt Weiss will see those fears realized tomorrow afternoon, when the Giants and Rockies are scheduled to play a pair.

Both teams will get to add a 26th man to their rosters for the makeup of an April 26th rainout, and the Giants infused some intrigue into their twinbill roster decision when they designated Erik Cordier for assignment last week. That move opened a 40-man roster spot the team has yet to fill, fueling speculation that an off-40 player, such as minor-league starter Kevin Correia, could join the team in Denver.

The pitching matchup for the regularly scheduled day game is set, with sinkerballers Chris Heston and Jordan Lyles on tap, but neither side has announced its starter for the nightcap. Both bullpens are sure to be tested in what could be a looooooooong night in the mile-high air (4:10 p.m. ET, 9:10 p.m. ET).

Sunday

Jason Kipnis won’t be happy to see May draw to a close next week, as the Indians second baseman has spent it enjoying the finest calendar month of his career. Kipnis was batting .459/.540/.743 in 74 at-bats coming into Thursday’s series finale versus the White Sox, with eight doubles, two triples, and three homers to his name. He’d matched nine walks with nine strikeouts in May, showcasing much-improved plate discipline to go along with the extra-base thump. Steal attempts, where he’s 3-for-5, are just about the only area in which Kipnis hasn’t excelled this month.

Pitchers have found slipping fastballs past the 28-year-old to be a nigh on impossible task since his hot streak began. He’d seen 144 four-seamers in May before yesterday’s contest, and in the 32 plate appearances that concluded with one of them, he was batting .630 with seven doubles, a triple, a homer, four walks, a hit-by-pitch, and only one strikeout. Think that’s impressive? Then try this on for size: 53.85 percent of the four-seam fastballs that Kipnis has put into play over the last three weeks have become line drives.

There’s no rhyme or reason to Kipnis’ preferred fastball locations at the moment,

a terrifying thought for pitchers who have few safe havens when he’s in the box.

Mike Leake (Friday), Anthony DeSclafani (Saturday), and Johnny Cueto (Sunday) will have the pleasure of witnessing Kipnis’ torrid bat firsthand in the battle of Ohio to be waged at Progressive Field. Cueto will take on Trevor Bauer in the series finale (1:10 p.m. ET).