The Wednesday Takeaway
In yesterday’s WYNTK, I wrote that the red-hot Desmond Jennings—who had collected 12 hits in his last 14 at-bats—might hold the key to the Rays’ success against Felix Hernandez. Manager Joe Maddon held Jennings out of the starting lineup in Wednesday’s matinee, the 25-year-old outfielder struck out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth, and in the end, it probably would not have mattered. Hernandez, quite simply, was too good.
Ben Zobrist and B.J. Upton had worn the collar in many of their past meetings with King Felix, going a combined 6-for-50. On Wednesday, the rest of their teammates joined the club, as Hernandez sent all 27 batters he faced back to the dugout in the third perfect game thrown this season, the first of his career, and the first ever thrown for Seattle. It was the fourth no-hitter in Mariners history, and the first since Kevin Millwood and five relievers teamed up to blank the Dodgers on June 8.
Armed with a fastball that looked especially crisp from the get-go, and an array of breaking pitches he was confident enough to use in any count, Hernandez kept the Rays guessing from pitch one through pitch 113, which Sean Rodriguez stared at for the 77th and final strike of the afternoon. Felix struck out the side in the sixth and the eighth, and added two more punchouts in the ninth, giving him a total of 12, two shy of the perfect-game record previously held by Sandy Koufax and equaled by Matt Cain earlier this year.
The perfect game was Hernandez’s fourth complete-game shutout of the season, and only slightly more impressive than his previous two: a three-hitter with 12 strikeouts versus the Rangers on July 14, and a 1-0, two-hitter in the Bronx on August 4. Barring a change in manager Eric Wedge’s rotation plans, he will go for number five and try to match Johnny Vander Meer in next Tuesday’s matchup with the Indians at Safeco Field.
What to Watch for on Thursday
- Clay Buchholz has developed into the ace of the Red Sox’ rotation since his return from the disabled list, notching five consecutive quality starts and leading Boston to a 4-1 record in those games. The right-hander, who turned 28 on Tuesday, gets the ball in the series finale at Camden Yards, and he will be looking for better results at a venue that has proven unfriendly to him in the past. Buchholz has issued 19 walks and recorded only 16 strikeouts over 36 1/3 career innings in Baltimore. The home team will counter with Chris Tillman (7:05 p.m. ET).
- The Reds have hardly missed a beat with first baseman Joey Votto on the disabled list, and the performance of his replacement, Todd Frazier, has been crucial to their surge ahead of the Pirates in the National League Central. The 26-year-old Frazier has gone 13-for-23 with three doubles and two homers in his last six games, leading all major-league regulars with a .565 average over the past week. He’ll try to stay hot in the series finale, where rookie Matt Harvey is scheduled to pitch for the Mets (7:10 p.m. ET).
- Game one between the Phillies and the Brewers features a matchup of high-strikeout, low-walk, win-deprived starters, as Cliff Lee (2-7) tangles with Marco Estrada (0-5). The 29-year-old Estrada has logged a 52-to-4 K/BB in 46 innings at Miller Park this season, but 10 home runs have offset the benefit of his 0.93 WHIP to the tune of a 4.11 ERA. He’ll need to be extra careful against Chase Utley, who went 2-for-2 with two doubles in their most recent encounter at Citizens Bank Park on July 25, in tonight’s series opener (8:10 p.m. ET).