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The Tuesday Takeaway
Jose Fernandez can do things on a baseball field that most pitchers can’t—or, in many cases, wouldn’t even dream of.

On the mound on Tuesday night, he fired eight scoreless innings against the Braves for the second consecutive start. It was the fifth 24-out effort of the right-hander’s young career, and the first in which he struck out fewer than 10 batters. For Fernandez—whose breaking ball has its own nickname—the nine-whiff, eight-punchout night ranks as unspectacular.

But the 21-year-old’s contributions in Tuesday’s 9-0 rout went far beyond the hill.

The Braves put Fernandez into a rare jam in the third inning, when Tyler Pastornicky walked and advanced to third on a double by Jason Heyward. With two away, Ramiro Pena tapped a slow dribbler up the third-base line. Fernandez had no play on Pena, who runs fairly well, and no obvious option except to eat the ball and grant Pena an infield single. Not content with the prospect of facing Freddie Freeman with the bases loaded, however, the righty decided to create his own play and turn the knock into a fielder’s choice:

Even though Pena was about two steps from first base when Fernandez threatened to throw the ball, his pump-fake was convincing enough to fool Pastornicky into believing he had a clear path to the plate. Not so. A flip to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia nabbed Pastornicky mid-slide to preserve the shutout.

Fernandez wasn’t done.

In the sixth inning, Fernandez—a 12-for-59 (.203) hitter coming into the game—bumped his lifetime average up to .210 by fisting a 92-mph fastball into right field for an RBI single.

Most pitchers would have been thrilled with that outcome, gotten some dap from the first-base coach, and put on a jacket. Fernandez watched Heyward miss the cutoff man and took off for second base. He advanced to third on a run-scoring groundout by Christian Yelich, which might otherwise have become a 4-6-3 double play. Yelich has his fellow under-23 stud to thank for the RBI.

Mound? Check. Field? Check. Batter’s box? Check. Basepaths? Check.

When Jose Fernandez is playing baseball, no matter where he is or what he’s doing, he demands more attention than any other active pitcher in the league.

Quick Hits From Tuesday
With top organizational prospect Marcus Stroman breathing down his neck…

…Dustin McGowan took the ball last night needing a strong effort to save his job. Stroman stated his case for promotion earlier in the evening with a dominant outing about which you can read more in Jeff Moore’s Minor League Update. But McGowan won’t go down without a fight.

With his back against the wall, the right-hander shook off a pair of four-inning clunkers to hold the Royals to three hits and three walks in six frames of three-run (two earned) work. McGowan departed with the Blue Jays ahead, one batter into the seventh inning, only to watch the relief corps cough up the lead and, eventually, the game.

Toronto’s bullpen ERA spiked from 4.48 to 5.08 with the meltdown—which featured seven runs over the two innings the relievers were asked to eat—and the loss was their sixth against only six saves. Unless Stroman, who has not recorded a seventh-inning out in any of his five minor-league assignments to date, can offer the Blue Jays more length, replacing McGowan with the Duke product might not make any difference.

***

The strike zone is supposed to range vertically from the bottom of a player’s knees to the midpoint between his belt and shoulders. Rookie umpire Marcus Pattillo’s might have, had he been calling balls and strikes for Little Leaguers.

That should have afforded pitchers Scott Kazmir and Martin Perez, who both ranked in the top five in ERA among American League starters, an advantage in the bandbox that is Globe Life Park. But neither had much command in the lower half of the strike zone, and while Kazmir battled through five innings of three-run ball, Perez unraveled early and never settled in.

The 23-year-old found the dirt almost as often as he found the hitting area, and when he did throw strikes, they got hammered to the tune of five extra-base hits, doubling the total that Perez had allowed through his first five games of 2014.

Outfielder Michael Choice, a former Athletics prospect and a key contributor to the Rangers’ sweep of the A’s in Oakland last week, compounded Perez’s command woes by earning an “F” in geometry for his work in left.

Choice played a Craig Gentry gapper into a triple in the second inning, turned a Derek Norris liner into a double in the third, and had a drive by Josh Donaldson clank off his glove on the warning track for a double in the fifth. Prince Fielder did his part, too, giving up on a Josh Reddick ground ball that turned into a two-run single later in the frame. Perez was responsible for both runners who scored, and he wound up being charged with a career-high eight runs.

The southpaw’s ERA shot up from 1.42 to 2.95. He plunged from the top of the American League leaderboard to 18th in the junior circuit. And the Rangers now need a stronger showing from Robbie Ross to avoid handing back all three of the games they picked up on the road last week (8:05 p.m. ET).

***

Yes, it really happened: Billy Hamilton hit a real, legitimate, over-the-fence home run:

That solo shot in the fifth inning, the first of Hamilton’s big-league career, drew the Reds even with the Cubs at 2-2. The home team ultimately prevailed, 3-2, with more help from Hamilton, who stopped a potential Chicago rally with this diving catch on a Mike Olt flare in the seventh.

Earlier in the game, Hamilton led off the bottom of the first with a walk, stole second, moved to third on a wild pitch, and crossed the plate on a sacrifice fly. Three hits in four at-bats, a manufactured run, a homer, and a Web Gem. The Reds could hardly have asked for a better night from their leadoff man.

Well, except for one thing.

Hamilton erased his infield single in the bottom of the third inning by getting caught stealing second. The stolen base in the first was his 10th of the season. The failed attempt two innings later was his fifth this month. That’s a two-in-three success rate, which is at or below the breakeven clip for big leaguers.

With the 3-for-4 outing, Hamilton improved to 16-for-47 (.340) over his last 13 games. His on-base percentage has soared from .178 to .280 during the surge.

After a rough start to the year, Hamilton is gradually blossoming into an adequate leadoff man. But in addition to sustaining the hot streak, he’ll need to get better jumps on the basepaths if he’s to develop into the elite catalyst the Reds hope he could be.

The Defensive Play of the Day
This was going to go to Fernandez, but he got the Takeaway. Which grants all of us another dose of Darwin Barney.

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • After beginning the year with nine appearances out of manager Joe Girardi’s bullpen, David Phelps moves to the rotation in place of the suspended (and injured) Michael Pineda. The 27-year-old right-hander has 16 strikeouts to his name in 11 2/3 innings of work to date. Phelps last started a game on July 4, 2013, when he tossed 6 1/3 innings of four-run ball before succumbing to a forearm strain that shelved him until mid-September. He’ll have the honor of taking the bump on what, as Mariners beat writer Bob Dutton pointed out, is the 75th anniversary of the 2,130th and final game of Lou Gehrig’s streak (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • On its face, there was nothing unusual about Tony Cingrani’s win over the Pirates on April 24. The left-hander logged six innings, allowed a run on six hits and two walks, and struck out seven. That line had been compiled on 12 prior occasions since 1914, according to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, most recently by Mike Minor on September 3, 2011.

    But it was a uniquely ineffective outing for Cingrani. In 22 career starts before that 2-1 Reds victory at PNC Park, the 24-year-old had never allowed more than five hits. Tonight, Cingrani squares off with Edwin Jackson, who has permitted five or more knocks in each of his last four starts and in 14 of his last 15 dating back to July 31 of last year (7:10 p.m. ET).

  • Tim Hudson issued two walks in his most recent outing—his first two walks of the season. Five starts into his two-year, $23 million contract with the Giants, the 38-year-old is sporting a 25-to-2 K:BB ratio over 37 innings. Both the base-on-balls total and the 12.5 ratio lead the league as April draws to a close. Hudson will try to close out the month on a strong note when he gets the ball in the series final versus the Padres, who are set to counter with Robbie Erlin (10:15 p.m. ET).