The Wednesday Takeaway
All good things must end someday. For Aaron Harang, a storybook first month, most of which he spent at or near the top of the ERA leaderboard for major-league starters, closed with a thud in Miami on Wednesday night.
Harang took the mound in the bottom of the first with a 0.85 ERA. The big right-hander retired the first three Marlins batters he faced on ground balls. Seven pitches, five strikes, and the Braves were back to hitting. But when Harang returned to the hill for the last of the second, the wheels finally came off.
The oppo taco gave the home team a 4-0 lead. But the Marlins weren’t finished battering Harang. In fact, they weren’t even halfway there.
Giancarlo Stanton began the home half of the third by nearly taking Chris Johnson’s head off with a heat-seeking missile down the left-field line for a double. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Saltalamacchia, accounting for the only Marlins run in the frame.
But things turned south again in the fourth, an inning in which Harang actually struck out the side. Adeiny Hechavarria cranked a triple into the left-center field gap:
Two batters later, Christian Yelich joined Ozuna in the long-ball club:
That would have sufficed, in what ultimately was a 9-3 decision, but the Marlins weren’t through. McGehee turned in their seventh extra-base hit against Harang with one out in the fifth, matching the right-hander’s career high for two-plus-baggers served up in a game.
Harang had allowed that many extra-base hits in a start three times before, including once last year, but that’s precisely what was so intriguing about his first five starts: He had looked nothing like the pitcher who hung 26 gopher balls in 143 1/3 innings in 2013. On Wednesday, he very much resembled that shell of his mid-2000s self. When David Hale inherited a runner in scoring position from Harang and permitted him to score on a double by Hechavarria, the book closed with a career-worst nine earned runs on the 35-year-old’s line. He was so good for most of April that even one of the worst outings of his career left his ERA at a respectable 2.97.
With an ERA under 3.00 and 37 strikeouts to 13 walks, Harang can still claim to be a quality starter. His one-year, $1 million contract may still prove to be one of the offseason’s best bargains. And that could be the case even if he contributes little after the calendar flips to May.
But the 2014 version of Harang is not a Cy Young Award contender. And now that he’s not pitching like one, the Braves should eagerly await the Friday return of Mike Minor and the impending debut of Gavin Floyd.
Quick Hits from Wednesday
Over the last two-plus years, Max Scherzer has racked up strikeouts better than just about any American League pitcher. Now, he has a basis on which to claim that he’s the best in that department in Detroit Tigers history.
Until Thursday, no Tiger in the last century had begun a season with six straight outings with seven or more punchouts. Scherzer, who’d done it in each of his first five, was tied with Mickey Lolich, who logged a complete game five consecutive times to begin his 1970 campaign and struck out seven or more each time along the way.
The 29-year-old Scherzer—like most strikeout pitchers in this era—was going about his business differently. He worked eight innings on April 2, in his first start of the year, but hadn’t exceeded seven since then. And in Thursday’s 5-1 victory over the White Sox, he pitched only six.
But Scherzer found a way to fan seven South Siders anyway and set a record first, which was pointed out on Twitter by the official Baseball-Reference account. He scattered four hits and walked three without allowing a run, missing bats or inducing harmless contact to escape each time the White Sox put him in a jam.
Here are Chicago’s plate appearances against Scherzer with runners in scoring position on Thursday:
- Runner at second, two out in the first: walk
- Runners at first and second, two out in the first: strikeout
- Runners at first and second, one out in the second: fielder’s choice
- Runners at the corners, two out in the second: strikeout
- Runners at first and second, one out in the fourth: strikeout
- Runners at first and second, two out in the fourth: strikeout
- Runner at second, one out in the sixth: fly out
- Runner at second, two out in the sixth: ground out
In eight chances to push across a run, the White Sox fanned four times and (in seven tries) only once managed to so much as advance the runner from second to third. Opponents were 2-for-23 with nine strikeouts versus Scherzer with runners in scoring position coming into game; now, they’re 2-for-30 with 13 Ks in 35 total trips to the box.
Of course, all the deep counts required to produce those strikeouts hinder Scherzer’s efficiency. It took him 105 pitches to get out of the sixth, even though the White Sox put only seven men on base. As a result, Scherzer tacked another game onto his major-league record of 171 starts without a complete one. When it comes to going the distance, Mickey Lolich he is not.
When the Rockies took an early lead over the Diamondbacks on Wednesday night, Kirk Gibson’s squad hit rock bottom. Even the owner’s son couldn’t take it anymore:
Son of Dbacks owner RT @CalKendrick95 We are the worst team in baseball, Trumbo is hurt, Eaton is a beast, Skaggs is wet and I am pissed off
— Nick Piecoro (@nickpiecoro) May 1, 2014
But then, in the sixth inning, the Rockies’ 4-0 advantage began to evaporate. Aaron Hill plated a run with a bases-loaded fielder’s choice, and the score was 4-1. Two innings later, Paul Goldschmidt went yard, and it was 4-2. Rex Brothers came on to close the game for the visitors, and he got two outs, but the D-Backs loaded the bases for pinch-hitter Martin Prado:
Prado’s two-run knock made it a new ballgame. And in the 10th, Miguel Montero sent the fans home happy for just the third time this year:
Only time will tell if the come-from-behind victory can get the injury-addled Diamondbacks on the right track. If nothing else, it supplied a shot of hope when even those closest to the organization were growing hopeless.
Here’s a velocity chart you never want to see:
It belongs to Reds lefty Tony Cingrani, who got yanked from his start versus the Cubs after just four innings, because manager Bryan Price felt he didn’t have it. Cingrani told reporters he was fatigued, not hurt.
Still, the southpaw gave up six hits for the second straight start, after holding opponents to five or fewer in each of his first 22. For a fastball-oriented pitcher like Cingrani, a tick or three on the radar gun can make all the difference.
Chalk this one up to fatigue. But if the readings are in the 80s the next time he takes the hill, it might be time to worry.
The latest edition of major-league baseball players forgetting how to play baseball features the Texas Rangers, who began to forget on Tuesday and suffered full-on amnesia on defense in last night’s series finale.
It started in the first inning, when—with two away—Elvis Andrus airmailed his throw on a ground ball by Josh Donaldson, putting the A’s third baseman on second. But Robbie Ross struck out Yoenis Cespedes to strand Donaldson. In the third inning, though, Ross and the Rangers weren’t so lucky.
Ross made his own mess, allowing four consecutive hits—two of them doubles—with one out, but instead of helping the left-hander navigate the jam, his teammates poured fuel on the fire. Derek Norris stepped to the plate with a man on second and one out, and the adventure began.
Norris chopped the payoff pitch to third, where Adrian Beltre—perhaps underestimating the speed of the A’s catcher, or perhaps still wary of aggravating the quad injury that shelved him earlier in the season—stayed back, waited for the ball, and then fired to first too late to retire Norris. Anthony Andro, who covers the Rangers for FOX Sports Southwest, was not impressed.
…Andrus let the ball go right through the wickets, as Yoenis Cespedes scored and Norris went to third. It was Andrus’ first two-error game since August 31, 2012. The Rangers were done making errors, at least for the inning, but the A’s would score three more times in a frame that might have ended had Andrus fielded Callaspo’s routine grounder cleanly. And the A’s might have scored only two additional runs, had Mitch Moreland come up with this single cleanly:
Much like the third, the fourth inning began with Ross finding his own way into trouble. He served up a single to Craig Gentry and a double to Yoenis Cespedes, sandwiching a line-drive out in between. Then Norris stepped into the box and hit another ground ball to third. This chopper, closer to the line, would have been a tougher play—and it was ruled an infield single. No harm done, though, right? Well…
… even though the official scorer thought Beltre had no chance to nab Norris, the four-time Gold Glover and Fielding Bible Award winner threw the ball anyway. It short-hopped Prince Fielder, who failed to pick it, caromed off the wall beyond first base, and wound up in the possession of Alex Rios. The right fielder unleashed a laser to the plate, but it short-hopped and got through J.P. Arencibia, ensuring that Cespedes would score and Norris would end up at second safely.
The A’s scored 10 runs between the third and fourth innings, six of them earned, all of them charged to Ross. Which left the Rangers’ three starters in the series (Yu Darvish on Monday, Martin Perez on Tuesday) with this aggregate line:
— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) May 1, 2014
“It all just got away from us,” manager Ron Washington said of his team, which also hasn’t hit a home run since its last series against the A’s, on April 23, and hasn’t hit one at Globe Life Park since April 19. The Rangers’ run differential in the four home games they’ve played over the past 11 days is a staggering -35:
Rangers have lost last four games at home. Have been outscored 41-6 in those games. #blamethename
— Anthony Andro (@aandro) May 1, 2014
What to Watch for on Thursday
- When setting your pitching probables for a doubleheader, it’s nice to have at least one innings chewer at your disposal. Unfortunately for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, his starters for today’s twin bill against the Dodgers are wild cards—at best.
Mike Pelfrey, who is on tap for the matinee, hasn’t recorded more than 16 outs in any of his four starts this year. To make matters worse, the right-hander is sporting a 7.32 ERA—and he’s been fortunate to do even that poorly, because 15 walks and five homers allowed in 19 2/3 innings have spiked his FIP to 8.20. Pelfrey’s K:BB ratio over his last two assignments: 2-to-8 (1:10 p.m. ET).
But at least Gardenhire has a more reliable pitcher in mind for the nightcap, right? Not quite. He’s rolling with Kris Johnson, a 29-year-old who has a grand total of one start on his major-league résumé. Johnson was enjoying a nice April with Triple-A Rochester, with a 2.86 ERA and a 20-to-8 K:BB ratio through 22 innings, when he got the call to pair with his former college teammate at Wichita State on what threatens to be a long day for their skipper (7:10 p.m. ET).
- Once a relative weak point in Milwaukee starter Marco Estrada’s arsenal, the right-hander’s changeup emerged as a dominant offering during the 2013 season. That improvement has thus far carried over into 2014, as opponents are just 6-for-34 versus the cambio with 13 strikeouts. Estrada will need to be sharp with the off-speed pitch to slow down the Reds’ top left-handed bats, who have given him trouble in the past. Jay Bruce and Joey Votto are a combined 10-for-30 with three doubles and five home runs in their careers versus the righty, who is scheduled to face Homer Bailey in the opener at Great American Ball Park (7:10 p.m. ET).
- After cruising through his first three outings with the Braves, Ervin Santana hit a bump in the road with the Reds in town last week, coughing up four runs on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings. But the 31-year-old still fanned seven while walking only one, and Fredi Gonzalez’s offense picked him up to help Atlanta improve to 4-0 behind its late-offseason signing. Next up for the former Royal: a date with the Marlins and Henderson Alvarez, who boasts a 2.73 ERA but has allowed five unearned runs, tied for the third-highest total in the majors to date (7:10 p.m. ET).
- Like most hitters, Bobby Abreu loves him some Coors Field. In 38 career games at the mile-high stadium, Abreu owns a .319/.431/.616 career slash line with eight doubles, three triples, and nine homers. But the 40-year-old has had just two chances to play in Denver since June of 2007, both of them during his brief stint with the Dodgers; he turned in a homer for Don Mattingly’s club on June 2, 2012. Tonight, Abreu returns to Coors as a member of the Mets. He’ll beg Terry Collins for as much playing time as he can get in the four-game series that begins with a duel between Zack Wheeler and Juan Nicasio (8:40 p.m. ET).