The Monday Takeaway
When Travis Wood stepped to the plate in the bottom of the second inning of yesterday’s Diamondbacks-Cubs series opener, he had six career home runs and a chance to do what few major-league pitchers even dream of. The left-hander slugged half of those half-dozen big flies last year—including one each of the solo, two-run, and grand slam varieties. He needed a three-run blast to complete the home-run cycle.
A hanging curveball with two runners on was just what the doctor ordered:
Wood cranked the 73-mph bender 399 feet, to the top of the left-field stands at Wrigley Field, for his first long ball of the season and the seventh of his career. As if that weren’t enough, two innings later, he smacked another elevated hook for an RBI double to center. In doing so, he became the only active pitcher who can claim to have driven in four-plus runs twice.
Oh, and he matched a career high with nine strikeouts while keeping the Diamondbacks to one run in seven innings on the evening, too.
On a night when the top four hitters in manager Rick Renteria’s lineup went 1-for-14, the Wood-led bottom five picked up the slack to the tune of eight hits in 17 at-bats. All eight of them came at the expense of Diamondbacks starter Bronson Arroyo, who tied a far-more-ominous personal record in the 5-1 defeat.
Arroyo lasted only 5 1/3 innings on Monday night, surrendering five runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out two. He needed 99 pitches to record 16 outs. And when Kirk Gibson took the ball from him in the sixth, he cemented the 37-year-old’s sixth consecutive start of fewer than six innings of work—a run that dates back to last September and equals a career-worst stretch first set by Arroyo between April 28 and June 20, 2001, when Wood’s former teammate with the Reds was a 24-year-old swingman in his second big-league year with the Pirates.
The first-year Diamondback, who inked a two-year deal in February, has logged just 18 innings over his first four starts. While Arroyo’s fastball velocity continues to recede into the Reagan era, his curveball has given him the most trouble to date. On Monday, it gave Wood a night to remember—and left Arroyo and the 5-16 D-Backs with another one to forget.
Quick Hits from Monday
Hitting one grand slam is difficult—only 84 big leaguers did it last year. Hitting two in the same year is even tougher—only 10 pulled it off in 2013. Hitting two in the first month while donning two different uniforms? That had never been done before.
Until Ike Davis did it yesterday, that is:
Fifteen days after walking the Mets off with a grand slam, the first baseman—who was traded over the weekend—gave Pirates fans a taste of his power by driving in four with one fourth-inning swing. Those are his only dingers of the season to date, but Davis has made the most of them.
Monday’s slam gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead in a game the home team eventually won in walk-off fashion, 6-5.
The development of advanced fielding metrics and the widely anticipated arrival of Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s new field-tracking technology have turned us away from errors and fielding percentage as ways of measuring defensive performance. But when a player racks up Es faster than an overzealous Wheel of Fortune contestant, it’s hard not to pay attention.
Ian Desmond had an eventful last two innings during yesterday’s Nationals loss to the Angels. He made two errors in the eighth, and his towering long ball in the ninth wasn’t enough to atone for them.
Those miscues alone might not raise a red flag, but Desmond hasn’t looked comfortable at shortstop for much of the young season, with nine errors already on his line. The 28-year-old amassed 5.0 FRAA last year, his first time in the black according to the metric, and he did so despite making 20 errors in 158 games. A 54-error pace, though, is more difficult to overcome.
To make matters worse for the Nationals, Desmond’s blunders came behind a scuffling Tyler Clippard, who needed a pick-me-up from his defense and instead got a letdown. Desmond began the top of the eighth inning by booting a grounder up the middle from Albert Pujols—a tough play, but one Desmond felt that he should have made—and for Clippard and the Nats, it was all downhill from there.
Clippard sandwiched two outs around an infield single, then gave up a game-tying RBI single to Erick Aybar. A walk by Chris Iannetta loaded the bases. And then, Raul Ibanez delivered the deathblow: a three-run double, on which an errant throw by Desmond enabled the 41-year-old to advance to third.
The 29-year-old Clippard has now been charged with at least one run in five of his first 11 appearances of the year, although Monday’s clunker was the first in which he permitted more than one run, and all four of the Angels’ tallies were unearned. That’s little consolation for a Nationals club that wasted 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball from Tanner Roark and has dropped seven of its past 11 games.
Reporters questioned first-year manager Matt Williams’ bullpen management, asking why he decided to let Clippard face Ibanez instead of turning to one of three left-handers at his disposal when the pinch-hitter was announced. The skipper cited Clippard’s history of success against opposite-handed batters (.201 lifetime True Average against) as a key factor in the decision.
Last Thursday, Chris Sale threw 127 pitches in a seven-inning no-decision versus the Red Sox. On Monday afternoon, White Sox manager Robin Ventura announced that the southpaw would miss his scheduled start on Tuesday—or at least have it pushed back—because of “general soreness,” similar to what Sale has dealt with at times during the past couple of years. Correlation does not imply causation, but one could be forgiven for wondering if the two are connected, despite claims to the contrary.
The one-hit, one-run effort against Boston was the fourth major-league outing in which Sale had thrown at least 120 pitches. The other three all came last year, well after the 25-year-old spent two weeks on the shelf with shoulder tendinitis:
- On June 14, Sale threw 124 pitches in an eight-inning loss to the Astros. He was uncharacteristically erratic in a five-inning loss to the Twins his next time out, which came on the regular four days of rest.
- On June 30, Sale threw 123 pitches in an eight-inning loss to the Indians. He had an extra day to recover before facing the Rays on July 6.
- On July 11, Sale threw 124 pitches in a 6 2/3-inning win over the Tigers. That was his last start before the All-Star break, so his arm had 10 days to bounce back.
Three starts are hardly enough data on which to base a conclusion, but Sale struggled the one time he pitched on four days’ rest following a high-pitch-count outing, and on the other occasions, the White Sox were able to give their ace a little more time to nurse his arm from any soreness that might have arisen.
Sale’s mechanics, long a source of concern for his durability over a 200-inning workload, have thus far not prevented the left-hander from emerging as one of the top starters in the American League. Nonetheless, pictures like these ensure that those concerns will linger, at least for some, no matter how many years Sale logs with a relatively clean bill of health.
Neither the pitcher nor his manager mentioned Thursday’s hefty workload as a reason for the soreness, but it has come on earlier this year than it did in 2012 (late July) or 2013 (mid May). The team announced after Monday’s win over the Tigers that Sale is going on the disabled list for the second time in as many years; the official diagnosis is a strained flexor muscle. His recovery bears watching over the next two-plus weeks.
The Defensive Play of the Day
The Royals were shifting Jason Giambi to pull, but that didn’t stop Alcides Escobar from catching a popup near the third-base camera well:
What to Watch for on Tuesday
- Control in general, and particularly against left-handed batters, has been a concern for Edinson Volquez throughout his career, but it’s also an area in which he has steadily improved:
Walk Rate vs. LHH
So far in 2014, Volquez has faced 19 glove-side hitters without issuing a free pass. That’s an extremely small sample, and Joey Votto and Jay Bruce will put it to the test when they stare down their former teammate in game two of the series at PNC Park. Volquez may also need to contend with Devin Mesoraco, who is swinging a red-hot bat, with 20 hits, six of them for extra bases, in his first 37 at-bats of the year. If Mesoraco gets the start, he’ll be in the squat for Johnny Cueto, who tossed a three-hit shutout against the Pirates with Brayan Pena behind the dish last week (7:05 p.m. ET).
- Masahiro Tanaka gets his first true taste of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry this evening, as the Bombers travel to Fenway Park to begin a three-game set. If he sustains his whiffing ways, the 25-year-old import could join Stephen Strasburg as the only two pitchers since 1914 to strike out at least eight batters in each of their first four starts. Jon Lester, who opposes Tanaka tonight, is also off to a strong start, with 29 strikeouts in as many innings and two or fewer runs allowed in each of his first four assignments (7:10 p.m. ET).
- File this away in your likely-meaningless-statistical-oddities drawer: Ian Kennedy, who has hit 47 batters in 889 1/3 career innings, has plunked six in 19 innings over four starts at Miller Park. Three of those hit batsmen came in a wild outing on August 9, 2010, when Kennedy became one of five pitchers to endure for at least six innings while amassing three HBP, three walks, and two wild pitches. The 29-year-old is currently sporting a 4.12 ERA despite a 2.25 FIP, which portends good things in his near future. Bud Black and the Padres will hope they come tonight, when Kennedy toes the rubber against Yovani Gallardo (8:10 p.m. ET).
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