The Tuesday Takeaway
After 41 days on the disabled list with a left teres major muscle strain, Clayton Kershaw was activated to face the Nationals last night. He needed only 12 pitches, 11 of them strikes, to navigate his first inning and just three to record his first strikeout:
Kershaw’s slider and curveball were his bread-and-butter throughout the 8-3 win, accounting for 13 of the 14 whiffs he induced. Twenty-two of his 26 breaking-ball strikes were of the swinging variety, and only three of them were balls in play.
The left-hander zoomed through seven innings of one-run work. He gave up nine hits, but all of them were singles. On the two occasions when the Nationals strung together two or more knocks in an inning, Kershaw fanned a pair to retire the side.
Rookie Blake Treinen, who was making his first major-league start after three relief appearances, turned in a valiant effort, matching Kershaw step-for-step through five innings. He even picked up his first career hit: a single to center with two away in the fifth. But Treinen unraveled when he took the mound for the top of the sixth, allowing Kershaw to take first on an error. Adam LaRoche followed by kicking the next play, and then Carl Crawford reached on a hit to the catcher, loading the bases for the Dodgers without the ball ever leaving the infield. The visitors wound up with a three-spot, which was ample support for their ace.
Anthony Rendon singled to lead off the home half of the sixth, but Kershaw picked him off. Danny Espinosa reached on a Hanley Ramirez error leading off the seventh, but Kershaw picked up his shortstop by coaxing a 6-4-3 double-play ball from Jose Lobaton. Ramirez atoned for the error with a long ball in the top of the seventh before Kershaw was lifted for a pinch-hitter, and the scoreboard read 8-0 when Chris Perez took over.
Kershaw used just 89 pitches to record 21 outs. He did not exceed 17 in any inning, and he tossed a dozen or fewer in five of his seven frames, erasing any concerns about rust—except when he forgot that hitting requires a bat.
The 26-year-old has some catching up to do to hold off Jose Fernandez, Johnny Cueto, and—among others—teammate Zack Greinke to earn his second straight Cy Young Award. If Tuesday’s outing is any indication, though, it won’t be long before Kershaw’s fellow senior-circuit studs are looking over their shoulders.
Quick Hits from Tuesday
Kershaw wasn’t the only starter to pitch well last night after time away from the majors. Tuesday was a day of many happy returns—and debuts, too.
Up in Cleveland, Josh Tomlin—whose 2012 campaign was cut short by Tommy John surgery on August 22, and who spent almost all of 2013 on the shelf—finished his journey back to the Indians rotation with 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball versus the White Sox. That “special” effort earned the right-hander his first major-league win in 670 days.
Along the way, Tomlin did two things that Carlos Carrasco, whose spot he usurped, never accomplished in four April starts: He recorded an out in the seventh inning, and he made it that deep into the night without permitting at least four runs. That should buy the 29-year-old some leash from manager Terry Francona, who also has Trevor Bauer waiting in the wings at Triple-A Columbus.
John Axford, who’d suffered consecutive defeats on Sunday and Monday, was unavailable to pitch in Tuesday’s game, so Francona went to Bryan Shaw in the ninth inning. The righty coughed up an unearned run but converted the save chance to cap the 4-2 victory.
Meanwhile, on the Twins side, Eduardo Escobar did something he’d never done before—though it’s possible that he was jinxed by his club’s communications director:
Eduardo Escobar has 380 career plate appearances & never hit into a double play…not many guys can say that! #MNTwins
— Dustin Morse (@Twins_morsecode) May 6, 2014
Was talking about GIDP…the streak continues…
— Dustin Morse (@Twins_morsecode) May 7, 2014
A technicality saved Dustin Morse from a night of endless Twitter grief. And it means that Escobar, who still hasn’t grounded into a twin killing in 383 major-league plate appearances, will take the field on Wednesday on the doorstep of post-World War II history:
— Kris Atteberry (@tteberry) May 5, 2014
Back to the happy returns, this time down south in Atlanta. The Braves had dropped seven straight, and they needed Gavin Floyd—who, like Tomlin, was coming off of elbow surgery—to play stopper. Job done.
Floyd battled Tyler Lyons to a draw through six innings, benefiting from a Justin Upton homer in the fourth, then giving that run back on an RBI single by Matt Holliday in the sixth. He’d last one more frame, finishing with seven innings of six-hit, two-walk, one-run work, over which he threw 104 pitches and struck out five. The Braves scored the deciding run in the eighth on a single by Chris Johnson.
Most importantly for the home nine, Floyd’s stuff looked no worse for the wear of the operation to repair his ulnar collateral ligament and flexor tendon, which took place almost exactly a year ago (May 8, 2013). He averaged 92 mph with his fastball and scraped 95 with his four-seamer, right in line with his pre-surgery velocities.
The 31-year-old Floyd could become a key factor for the Braves, whose early-season rotation dominance might prove ephemeral if Aaron Harang returns to his 2013 form. One start in, the one-year, $4 million contract Floyd signed on December 16 looks like the latest in a host of offseason bargains uncovered by general manager Frank Wren.
When the Tigers shipped Doug Fister to the Nationals for three players in December, just about everyone found the deal “puzzling.” But Ben Lindbergh cautioned in the afore-linked Transaction Analysis post that it’s possible “none of us on the internet knows anything.”
Robbie Ray, the centerpiece of general manager Dave Dombrowski’s return, offered some evidence to support that theory in his first major-league impression.
Taking on the Astros at Comerica Park, Ray delivered 5 1/3 innings, holding the visitors to one run on five hits and a walk. He struck out five and induced 10 whiffs on 86 pitches, 55 of which were strikes.
The 22-year-old Ray lived up to Mark Anderson’s scouting report, pounding the zone with his 92-94-mph fastball and changeup. Together, those two offerings comprised 80 percent of his arsenal and elicited all of the swings-and-misses that he induced.
Our month-and-a-week-long wait for the first instant walkoff is over.
With nobody on and two away in the last of the ninth at PNC Park, Starling Marte launched a deep drive off the top of the right-field wall. Ehire Adrianza’s relay from Hunter Pence got past Pablo Sandoval, but the third baseman recovered it in time to gun down Marte at the plate and send the game to extra innings.
Or so home-plate umpire Quinn Wolcott thought…
After further review, Marte was deemed to have touched the plate before Buster Posey applied the tag, and the ruling was overturned to give the Pirates a walkoff, 2-1 win.
Except that the Pirates had already walked off the field. Some two minutes after Marte’s 360-foot sprint, they poured out of the dugout and gave Marte the props he was due. No chase or dogpile on the infield, but a worthy celebration in spite of the delay.
Which leaves us with a question: What should we call this new baseball phenomenon? An instant walkoff, as the official MLB Twitter account suggested? A walkoff challenge, or walkoff replay, or walkoff review? Or something else entirely? Leave your suggestions in the comments.
Pablo Sandoval is off to a rough start in his bid to secure a long-term contract. He’s hitting .167 through 31 games, leaving both the local media and his manager wondering if he’s trying too hard. Exhibit A:
That might be the most desperate emergency hack you’ll ever see.
The Rangers put the shift on for Carlos Gonzalez with runners at the corners, a reasonable decision given how infrequently he hits sharp ground balls up the third-base line. It didn’t work this time…
…much to the chagrin of Adrian Beltre, who left Little League coaches everywhere cringing when he threw his glove.
What to Watch for on Wednesday
- Enjoy a sampling of Stephen Strasburg during your lunch hour (or mid-morning coffee break, if you’re out west) today, as the right-hander duels Dan Haren and the Dodgers. The San Diego State product has held the opposition without an earned run in both of his last two assignments, lowering his ERA to 3.60 while hiking his K:BB ratio to 58-to-13. Strasburg’s heater averages over 95 mph, but it’s his secondary stuff that has perplexed opponents most to date. He’s recorded 41 strikeouts in the 68 at-bats that have terminated with a changeup, curveball, or slider (1:05 p.m. ET).
- Padres manager Bud Black has resisted the urge to move Everth Cabrera—who has hit leadoff 30 times and, more recently, second thrice—down in the order, even though the switch-hitter has been ice cold since April 21. The shortstop is 11-for-65 (.169 average) with three walks and 16 strikeouts over that span and is sporting a 4-to-36 BB:K ratio for the year. The contrast with the 41-to-69 BB:K mark he posted in 435 plate appearances last year couldn’t be starker.
On the heels of a breakout year cut short by a suspension for his connection to Biogenesis, Cabrera has seen his approach go off the rails. He’s seeing fewer pitches in the zone and swinging more often. To make matters worse, when he’s swinging at pitches in the zone, he’s finding it more difficult to touch them.
Cabrera did the bulk of his damage versus left-handers last year—amassing a .334 True Average compared to a .255 clip versus righties—but his discipline yielded a .328 on-base percentage from the left-side batter’s box, even though he hit only .248.
Now, that discipline is gone, and it has taken Cabrera’s walk rate along with it. He’s drawn three bases on balls in 117 plate appearances versus right-handers so far this year. James Shields, whose 5.2 percent walks allowed clip ranks 20th among qualifying starters, won’t make things any easier on Cabrera this afternoon (3:40 p.m. ET).
- No active left-handed starters with more than 400 big-league innings can boast better walk rates than those owned by Cliff Lee (5.2 percent) and Mark Buehrle (5.5 percent). Tonight, the 35-year-olds will showcase their elite command in game three of four between the Phillies and Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. Buehrle has, uncharacteristically, issued eight bases on balls in his last 19 innings on the mound. Lee has walked only six in 45 innings through seven starts, but he’s also coughed up a league-high 56 hits. The Jays are 5-1 behind Buehrle this year and 11-16 when anyone else toes the rubber (7:07 p.m. ET).
- Michael Cuddyer holds the record for the longest hitting streak in Colorado Rockies franchise history at 27 games (May 28-June 30, 2013). Nolan Arenado, who has helped to cover for Cuddyer’s absence over the past couple of weeks, is threatening to shatter that mark. He’s at 26 heading into game three of the home-and-home series versus the Rangers, in which he’ll stare down right-hander Colby Lewis at Globe Life Park (8:05 p.m. ET).
Thanks to Nick Wheatley-Schaller for making the embedded GIFs.