The Weekend Takeaway
Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers was chided for his acquisition of Mark Trumbo in a three-team deal last December. Our own R.J. Anderson and most others who summed up the trade with the Angels and White Sox saw the addition of Trumbo at the expense of Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs as another example of Towers getting “$0.75 on the dollar.”
Eaton showed off his defensive acumen in center field with this play on Thursday and is batting atop the White Sox order. Skaggs held the Astros to an unearned run over eight innings on Friday. But one week in, Towers’ end of the barter is looking pretty darn good.
Trumbo cemented his spot in every 2014 blooper reel with this outfield adventure in the opener in Australia, but he homered in game two, went 3-for-5 in the Diamondbacks’ first stateside contest, and—after a two-game rut—is flexing his muscles on a daily basis. The left fielder went yard on Thursday in Arizona’s series finale against the Giants and then took full advantage of Coors Field over the weekend, clubbing one ball over the fence in each of the three games.
That makes four straight games with a long ball for Trumbo, who leads the league with five (keeping in mind that he had a two-game head start). His homer on Sunday, which helped the D-Backs avoid a sweep at the hands of the Rockies, was the 100th of Trumbo’s career, and it earned him a spot alongside Troy Glaus, Mark Reynolds, and Reggie Sanders—the only other players to find the seats in four consecutive games in the organization’s relatively brief history.
What’s most noteworthy about Trumbo’s power surge over the past few days, though, is the pitches on which he has unloaded. Prior to 2014, 53 (56 percent) of Trumbo’s 95 career home runs had come on fastballs, sinkers, and cutters. In the 2014 annual, we wrote:
He is a true fastball hitter … Typical for players of his ilk, he swings and misses, with off-speed and breaking balls giving him the most trouble.
It seems Trumbo wasn’t particularly fond of that scouting report. Here are the four home runs that comprise his active streak:
1. Thursday: center field, on a Tim Lincecum slider
2. Friday: left-center field, on a Juan Nicasio slider
3. Saturday: opposite field, on a Jorge De La Rosa splitter
4. Sunday: left field, on a Brett Anderson slider
All four came on pitches that fit into either the breaking or off-speed category. It’s also worth noting that two of the four landed to the right of dead-center field. Only 13 of the 95 homers that Trumbo carried into this season went that way.
Four swings of the bat, all of which connected with offerings that might be described as location mistakes, are hardly enough to draw any conclusions about what Trumbo’s future holds. That’s also true of his 15.8 percent strikeout rate through 38 plate appearances, even though that would represent a steep decline from the 27.1 percent clip at which the 28-year-old K’d last year.
But the early returns are promising. And if they continue, the Diamondbacks’ end of the Trumbo trade could end up looking better than most of us thought.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
Left-handed batters spelled big trouble for Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi during his first two tastes of big-league action. Through the first nine appearances (seven starts) of his career, they teed off to the tune of a .320 TAv, which drove the 24-year-old to spend his spring soliciting advice from teammate Alex Cobb on developing a better changeup.
On Friday, Odorizzi deployed the pitch—which both he and PITCHf/x categorize as a splitter—against a Rangers lineup teeming with glove-side threats, most notably newcomers Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder. And the early returns were quite positive.
Odorizzi threw 31 splitters (32.6 percent of his 95 offerings), and 22 of them went for strikes. Seven of the 31 (22.6 percent) resulted in whiffs; the Rangers swung at the pitch 17 times and came up empty on 41.1 percent of those efforts. When used as the terminal pitch in a plate appearance, “The Thing” held the Rangers to two hits in 10 at-bats and produced three strikeouts.
In tandem with a slew of miscues (four errors and a base-running blunder) by the Rangers, the new splitter helped Odorizzi collect his first major-league win. His next chance to show it off comes on Wednesday, when the Rays take on his former team, the Royals, at Kauffman Stadium.
Charlie Blackmon wasn’t satisfied with having the 11th four-hit game of 2014. Nor was he content with sharing the five-hit perch with Emilio Bonifacio. So, the Rockies center fielder added a sixth knock to his punishment of Diamondbacks pitching on Friday, contributing three doubles and a home run out of the leadoff spot to the home team’s 12-2 rout.
By doing so, Blackmon tied a franchise record that belonged solely to Andres Galarraga, who notched a half-dozen hits on July 3, 1995. He became the first big leaguer with a six-hit outing since Alex Rios did it on July 9, 2013. And he bumped Ian Kinsler (April 15, 2009) from the top spot in the history books for batters who mixed in four extra-base knocks among their six, a feat that—according to the Baseball-Reference play index—has been accomplished only 10 times since 1914.
After a relatively quiet spring, during which he went 13-for-55, the 27-year-old Blackmon was facing an uphill battle for playing time amid manager Walt Weiss’s crowded center-field depth chart. Offseason acquisition Drew Stubbs and fellow left-handed hitter Corey Dickerson were in the mix, too, and Blackmon’s primary edge over Dickerson was defense. Hence, a little more production at the plate could go a long way toward securing more starts.
Weiss told reporters that gluts like the Rockies outfield situation “tend to play out,” so Blackmon, a 1.2-win player in 82 games last year, will have to wait and see how the 6-for-6 night affects his spot in the pecking order. He threw in a 3-for-4 effort in Saturday’s game, just for good measure, before cooling off to 1-for-4 in Sunday’s loss.
The Mets opted last week to give Lucas Duda the first crack at securing their regular first-base job. Duda responded by slugging two home runs to help Terry Collins’ squad down the Reds in its home opener, seemingly distancing himself from Ike Davis, who had been relegated to the bench.
Davis wasn’t having it.
With the Reds up 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Davis dug in as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded and nobody out. On the second pitch he saw from J.J. Hoover, Davis unloaded them by crushing a hanging curveball into the right-field seats for a walk-off grand slam. It was the first game-ending four-run dinger slugged by a pinch-hitter since Brian Bogusevic did it for the Astros on August 16, 2011, and the first by a Met since Tim Teufel sent them to victory over the Phillies on June 10, 1986.
The game-winner should help Davis avoid being forgotten by Collins even if Duda, who went 0-for-4 with a hat trick, performs well in the early going. Meanwhile, in the Reds clubhouse, it might be back to the drawing board for first-year manager Bryan Price, who is struggling to find an anchor for his bullpen with Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Broxton, and Sean Marshall on the disabled list.
Assuming all goes well in their recoveries, that issue should soon take care of itself. Broxton is close to returning from August surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his right forearm. Marshall is due back in the second half of this month. And Chapman—who was struck in the face by a line drive during spring training—should be back sometime in May.
All of which is bad news for Hoover and fantasy owners who hoped that he might lock down the ninth-inning job until Chapman is ready to resume it. The right-hander served up a league-high three grand slams in 66 innings in 2013, and his first save opportunity of the new year brought that small-sample flaw to the fore. Left-hander Manny Parra, the lone southpaw on Price’s relief staff, got the call in a 2-1 game on Sunday and protected that narrow margin by pounding the strike zone; he struck out two and did not permit a baserunner.
Saturday’s 7-3 Twins victory over the Indians marked a rare milestone for their manager, Ron Gardenhire. With it, he became just the 10th skipper in major-league history to win 1,000 games at the helm of the same club.
Gardenhire’s club had all the runs it would need by the end of the third inning, after a rocky start from Tribe right-hander Carlos Carrasco. Brian Dozier led off the game with a long ball, and a double and two singles later, the Twins were up 3-0. They tacked on two more runs in the third, and those were plenty for Kyle Gibson and the bullpen despite Glen Perkins’ hiccup in the ninth.
The Twins’ end-of-2013 lull, during which Minnesota dropped 10 of its last 11 games, left Gardenhire at 998 wins and forced him to wait six extra months for Saturday’s beer shower. Gardenhire’s overall record stands at 1,000-950 through 12 seasons and five games.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly went with the following lineup for Saturday’s middle match against the Giants and Madison Bumgarner:
1. Yasiel Puig, RF
2. Justin Turner, 2B
3. Hanley Ramirez, SS
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
5. Matt Kemp, CF
6. Scott Van Slyke, LF
7. Juan Uribe, 3B
8. A.J. Ellis, C
9. Paul Maholm, SP
Just a day after getting benched for tardiness, Puig was back in the lineup. Second basemen must bat second, so Justin Turner—who is splitting keystone duties with Dee Gordon—found his name near the top of the order even though his career True Average versus southpaws is just .242. But neither of those is the most intriguing takeaway from this lineup card.
More eye-catching was the presence of Scott Van Slyke in the no. 6 hole, because it meant that both Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier were on the pine. Sitting one of the two left-handed-hitting outfielders might suggest a day off. Sitting both suggested a platoon arrangement—and one of the most expensive ones in history, at that.
Van Slyke previously got the nod in left field on March 22, in the Dodgers’ opener against the Diamondbacks in Australia. But the situation was different then. Kemp was on the disabled list to wrap up his recovery from October ankle surgery, and Crawford stayed behind on paternity leave, with fiancé Evelyn Lozada due to deliver his third child.
When the Giants came to visit on Friday, Crawford, Ethier, Kemp, and Puig were all healthy. In fact, it was the first time that each member of that group was available to start and finish the same game, an 8-4 loss in which the Dodgers were done in by a rough outing from Hyun-jin Ryu.
The Dodgers lost again in the nationally televised Saturday afternoon game, as Paul Maholm and long reliever Jose Dominguez failed to keep the Giants in the yard, burying the Dodgers too deep for a comeback against Madison Bumgarner. But Van Slyke did his part at the plate in the 7-2 defeat, walking and scoring a run in the second inning and rounding the bases after a single in the seventh.
Moreover, by keeping Ethier on the bench for the first six-plus frames, Mattingly was able to pinch-hit him at a pivotal moment in the seventh, when the Dodgers had the bases loaded with two away, down by six and with a chance to climb back into the game against right-hander Santiago Casilla. It was Ethier who singled home Van Slyke, and were A.J. Ellis not gunned down at the plate by Hunter Pence, the Dodgers would have had Hanley Ramirez coming up with the bases still loaded and Casilla on the ropes.
Notable internet writers, like Mike Petriello of Dodgers Digest, were enthused by the development, as Mattingly showed a bit of managerial #rig by sitting two players with combined salaries totaling $35.75 million in favor of a 27-year-old with less than a year of major-league service time and a paycheck worth a hair more than the minimum. Assuming the current probables hold, the Dodgers will next see a southpaw starter on Saturday—when Miley is scheduled to toe the rubber for Arizona—so we’ll have a wait a while to see if Mattingly sticks with the platoon plan, especially with Puig needing an MRI to check on his ailing thumb.
When the Yankees last went homer-less in their first five games of a regular season, the year was 1990, and the club was on its way to a 67-95 finish, good for a spot in the then-seven-team American League East cellar. This year’s team had spent its first week of the season visiting the Astros and Blue Jays, who play in two of the circuit’s friendliest home-run parks. Nonetheless, at the start of the fourth inning of Sunday’s series finale, no Yankee had yet cleared a fence.
By then, Melky Cabrera had already gone yard twice leading off the bookend contests of the three-game set against Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. Every other team in baseball besides the Royals had at least one home run to its credit. Twenty-five teams, including the Marlins, who sat in the caboose with just 95 long balls all of last year, had slugged three entering play on Sunday. The Yankees still had none.
Brett Gardner finally took care of that with one on and one away, shooting a full-count slider from Drew Hutchison on a line over the right-field fence. That blast gave the Yankees a 6-1 lead that they would not relinquish. And it came on the heels of a walk and a stolen base for Gardner in the visitors’ three-run opening frame, marking the first time since September 6, 2011, that the speedy outfielder had collected a big fly and a steal in the same game.
Rangers fans had to wait a few extra days to get their first taste of Yu Darvish’s #honey this year, but the right-hander rewarded their patience by matching Alex Cobb step-for-step over seven scoreless innings and etching his name into the record books in the process.
Darvish needed just 89 pitches (65 of which went for strikes) to record 21 outs versus Joe Maddon’s offense, scattering seven hits and a walk while fanning six. His first two punchouts came at the outset of the first inning, when he caught David DeJesus looking and fanned Wil Myers on what, according to PITCHf/x, was a very badly thrown splitter.
It may not have been pretty, but it was the 500th strikeout of Darvish’s young career, which at that point was just 401 2/3 innings old. That’s a record for the fastest-ever ascent to 500 by a starting pitcher, outpacing Kerry Wood by three innings, Mark Prior by 20, and Stephen Strasburg by 24 2/3, as MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan noted here.
The Defensive Play of the Weekend
How many White Sox rookies does it take to catch a popup in style? Two, apparently, as catcher Adrian Nieto and first baseman Jose Abreu showed us on Saturday.
Honorable mention: This base-aided effort by Sonny Gray might be the weirdest pitcher-unassisted play you’ll see this year.
What to Watch for on Monday
- Jarred Cosart managed to post a 1.95 ERA over 10 starts last year despite walking more batters than he struck out. The keys to Cosart’s success were a .246 BABIP and an 85.9 percent strand rate, neither of which was likely to prove sustainable. So, the 23-year-old set out to throw more strikes—and it worked, as he blanked the Yankees for five innings in his 2014 debut while walking none and fanning three. Cosart found the zone with 53.1 percent of his pitches last Wednesday, a 7.9 percentage point hike from his zone rate in 2013. He’ll try to keep it going in today’s getaway matinee versus C.J. Wilson and the Angels (2:10 p.m. ET).
- We’ve already seen one duel between Tony Cingrani and Michael Wacha—and it was one of the best of the year to date. Cingrani baffled the Cardinals for seven innings with his fastball-heavy approach while Wacha induced six whiffs, four of them for strikeouts, with his changeup to match the Reds lefty for 6 2/3. The Reds finally won that game at Great American Ball Park with a ninth-inning rally at the expense of Carlos Martinez. Cingrani and Wacha meet again this afternoon in the Cardinals home opener at Busch Stadium, where Mike Matheny’s squad went 54-27 last year (4:10 p.m. ET).
- The Royals were silenced by Chris Sale for eight innings on Sunday before scraping across a run off of Matt Lindstrom in the ninth, which—as mentioned in the Quick Hits section—leaves Ned Yost’s bunch with the only goose egg on the home-run leaderboard. Kansas City’s next chance to get off the schneid comes in tonight’s battle with Rays lefty Matt Moore, who surrendered 14 dingers in 150 1/3 innings of work last year. Jason Vargas gets the ball for the home team at Kauffman Stadium (8:10 p.m. ET).
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It looks like the command issues returned today for Cosart, and it's hard to say if he'll ever get over them to the point at which he'd be able to maximize his fastball-curveball tandem and become a top-notch starter. For what it's worth, before 2013, Jason Parks projected him as a late-inning reliever because he thought Cosart's mechanics would always impede his command: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=18831.
What You Need to Know, normally a worthwhile addition to the site, has become inundated with this type of fluff. Are some writers here being paid by Twitter to include pound signs on a regular basis? A few can't seem to file a column without it, which raises the question.
If I want to read Twitter, I'll sign up for it. I don't want to read about it on Baseball Prospectus. Sorry to Daniel Rathman, who I enjoy aside from this issue, but I'm giving this column until the end of April in the hopes I will see it jump off the trend bandwagon. Otherwise, I'm going to stop clicking it on each day as I did long ago for the byline of the person who started this on BP.