The Monday Takeaway
The Red Sox lost 10 in a row. Then they won seven straight. On Monday, they had a chance to make it eight—but an old friend stood in the way. And Justin Masterson had no intention of letting his first professional employer earn its longest winning streak in two years.
A second-round pick by the Red Sox in 2006, Masterson served primarily in relief while in Boston before moving to the rotation when the Indians acquired him in 2009. The right-hander quickly morphed into a reliable starter, and he posted a 3.45 ERA and 3.38 FIP in 193 innings last year. But at age 29, Masterson has seen his velocity erode and his control elude him—to the tune of a career-worst 10.8 percent walk rate—in an ongoing contract year.
Masterson struggled to find the strike zone early in last night’s ballgame, too, issuing four walks in the first three innings and needing 49 pitches to record his first six outs. But the Kingston, Jamaica native worked his way out of those jams by striking out Jonny Gomes with the bases loaded in the opening frame and coaxing a double-play ball from A.J. Pierzynski to end the top of the third.
Pierzynski’s twin killing was the result of a first-pitch fastball, well placed at the knees and just off the outside black. The pitch that preceded it was ball four of a four-pitch walk handed to David Ortiz. Before the heater to Pierzynski, Masterson had thrown 61 pitches, and only 31 of them had gone for strikes.
Between the last pitch to Ortiz and the first to Pierzynski, something—whether it was a mechanical adjustment, the gardening he did on the mound, or another unexplainable factor—transformed Masterson from an erratic hurler into a pinpoint sniper. Each of his next 25 pitches either found the strike zone or was close enough to convince the Red Sox to swing.
Pitches two through 10 of those 25 were nothing short of immaculate:
Justin Masterson struck out Gomes, Sizemore and Drew in order in the 4th inning. On nine pitches. Yep.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 3, 2014
And so, what began as a shaky night turned into a potential turning point for Masterson, who logged seven shutout innings and struck out 10. No Indians pitcher had done that to the Red Sox since Sam McDowell mowed down Carl Yastrzemski and Co. in 1968. He also joined Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan as the only three pitchers to toss an immaculate inning versus Boston since at least 1964.
Masterson’s early labor forced him out of the game after seven, but even that was a significant milestone, because the righty hadn’t finished the seventh in any of his previous five starts.
Bryan Shaw provided some unwanted drama by serving up a two-run blast to Xander Bogaerts—the rookie’s fourth of the season and first on the road since April 17. But Mark Rzepczyski and Cody Allen picked up the slack. The latter’s fourth save ensured that the insurance tally plated on Asdrubal Cabrera’s RBI knock in the last of the third—just before Masterson’s immaculate inning—would hold up in the 3-2 win.
Quick Hits from Monday
By the end of the fourth inning of last night’s series opener between the Mariners and Yankees, Kyle Seager had already done more than his fair share. The third baseman led off the top of the second with a triple…
…and scored on a single by Mike Zunino.
He kicked off the top of the fourth with another three-bagger—this one notched in much wackier fashion…
…and touched the plate on a ground ball by Dustin Ackley.
The score was 2-0 Mariners, and Seager had done just about all of the heavy lifting.
Along the way, the 26-year-old became just the second Mariner to collect a pair of triples in a game since Carlos Guillen did it on May 9, 2003; the other was Brad Miller on July 5 of last year. He also became only the second player with two three-baggers in the same contest at the new Yankee Stadium. Which raises this trivia question: Can you name the other? (Answer at the bottom of this Quick Hit.)
While you ruminate on that, let’s look at what else Seager had in store for the Bronx crowd.
The Yankees erased their 2-0 deficit on a two-run infield single by Ichiro Suzuki in the last of the fourth. Neither team pushed ahead until the seventh, when eight Mariners—everyone in the lineup besides Seager—batted and four scored. The Yankees wouldn’t score again, so the 6-2 lead was more than adequate on a night when Felix Hernandez chucked seven innings of two-run ball and fanned eight without squandering a walk.
But Seager wasn’t content.
He doubled to begin the eighth inning but was stranded at the keystone; in the ninth, Seager decided to score himself. That three-run bomb made it 10-2 Mariners and left the University of North Carolina product with a 4-for-5 line in which all four knocks went for extra bases.
According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, only six other major leaguers have racked up at least one double, at least two triples, and at least one long ball in the same game during the last century. The most recent was Hal Breeden on September 2, 1973. None of the six did it while sporting a Mariners jersey, and none of them did it while playing the Yankees.
Seager is now 21-for-52 (.404 average) since May 20, when his OPS stood at .732, It’s at .858 now—one point better than the franchise record for a full-time third baseman over a full season, presently held by Edgar Martinez, who came in at .857 in 1991.
Jose Abreu to Major League Baseball: Did you miss me?
The rookie first baseman returned from the disabled list with a bang, taking Clayton Kershaw deep to left field to give the White Sox a 2-0 advantage in the fourth inning. It was Abreu’s 16th homer of the season, and with the Orioles and Blue Jays off on Monday, it brought him one tater closer to Nelson Cruz (20) and Edwin Encarnacion (19), who pulled away on the leaderboard during Abreu’s stint on the disabled list with ankle tendinitis.
That two-run edge held until the sixth, when the White Sox defense unraveled. Kershaw led off what would become a five-run frame with a single—the hardest contact the Dodgers would make in the inning. The visitors did a good deal of the work for them.
After Chone Figgins struck out looking, a Gordon Beckham error put Matt Kemp aboard. Yasiel Puig struck out looking, too, but a throwing error by Conor Gillaspie prolonged the inning, allowing Kershaw to score and Hanley Ramirez to reach. An infield hit by Adrian Gonzalez plated Kemp. A walk and two more hits later, the Dodgers had surged ahead 5-2.
Kershaw permitted only one baserunner in the seventh and eighth, Kenley Jansen struck out the side in the ninth after an infield knock by Beckham, and that was it for the opener at Chavez Ravine.
Pitchers don’t often have to labor when the other team can’t hit the ball out of the infield:
#Pirates Morton has faced 17 batters — only 5 balls put in play, none beyond infield, only 3 beyond pitcher's mound.
— Rob Biertempfel (@BiertempfelTrib) June 3, 2014
But Charlie Morton challenged himself with jam after jam on Monday night, before finally succumbing to one in the fifth, after which he was pulled with 98 pitches on his arm.
The Pirates went down in order in the first inning, and Morton quickly got himself into trouble with a throwing error that allowed Everth Cabrera to get to first. Morton proceeded to walk Seth Smith before wriggling away unscathed with a pair of strikeouts and a ground out.
Neither team scored in the second, and Morton racked up two more Ks. He was then handed a 2-0 lead in the top of the third on a solo homer by Jordy Mercer and a sacrifice fly by Ike Davis. The right-hander did his best to hand back the two runs by walking Cabrera and hitting Carlos Quentin, but the other three Padres who batted in the frame all struck out. Mercer tacked on an RBI single in the top of the fourth to make it 3-0 Pittsburgh.
Morton tried to help the Padres out again in the home half of that frame by plunking Jedd Gyorko with one away. But the Friars couldn't take advantage of that baserunner either, as Will Venable fanned and Yonder Alonso grounded out to the catcher. They finally got to Morton for two runs in the fifth, which began with three consecutive hits. With those two tallies already on the board, Morton reloaded the bases with another hit batsman and a walk before striking out pinch-hitter Tommy Medica to end his night.
Add it all up, and you get a total of three hit batsmen and three walks in five innings of three-hit work, the first four of which never saw the ball leave the infield. The Padres had as many hits off of Morton as Morton had hit-by-pitches of them. The last pitcher to squeezes three BBs and three HBPs into five or fewer innings without allowing more than two runs was Kerry Wood, nearly a decade ago.
Morton, who paced the National League with 16 hit batsmen in 2013, already has 13 to his name this year in just 73 1/3 innings on the mound. According to the Play Index, only 32 Modern Era pitchers have plunked 20 or more batters in a season; the most recent hurlers to reach that plateau were Bronson Arroyo and Carlos Zambrano in 2004.
While Morton is unlikely to threaten Joe McGinnity’s National League record of 41 HBP set in 1900, he’s easily on pace to shatter the post-World War II mark of 21 held by Tom Murphy (1969) and Wood (2003).
Only time will tell if Morton can rein in his command on pitches to the inner part of the hitting area. In the meantime, the Pirates went on to win Monday’s game at Petco Park, 10-3…
…but not before Donn Roach hit Neil Walker in the top of the eighth to set a Padres game record with six total HBP by the two teams. And not before the Padres threw a combined 249 pitches to get through nine innings. And not before the clock passed 3:52 to make it the longest nine-inning home contest in franchise history.
The Defensive Plays of the Day
The Mets didn’t need much defensive help on Monday, considering that they scored 11 runs, capped by a ninth-inning Wilmer Flores grand slam. But just in case, Matt den Dekker had Bartolo Colon’s back with his glove…
…and his arm:
What to Watch for on Tuesday
- Jake Peavy snapped a rough string of three starts in which he allowed at least five runs by holding the Braves to three runs over eight innings on May 29. The right-hander has seen his strikeout rate drop from 20.5 percent in 2013 to 17.6 percent so far this year, and Peavy has struggled to compensate for his eroding ability to miss bats by sharpening his command. Next on his docket are the Indians, a team he hasn’t seen in more than a year, but one that he dominated in an 11-strikeout outing last April 14. Peavy is scheduled to face T.J. House in the middle match at Progressive Field (7:05 p.m. ET).
- When he last toed the rubber, Zack Wheeler took advantage of a scuffling Phillies lineup to strike out more than five batters without issuing a walk for the first time in his major-league career. Wheeler fanned nine in 6 1/3 innings, to be exact, bringing his K:BB ratio over his past two assignments to 16-to-1. He’ll try to sustain that improved command in this evening’s date with the Cubs, in which he’ll duel Jake Arrieta. Tonight marks Arrieta’s first start at Wrigley Field since May 3 after four consecutive games on the road (8:05 p.m. ET).
- With his velocity down from its 93-mph peak and his strikeout rate following suit, Yovani Gallardo has morphed himself into a ground-ball pitcher to mitigate the damage. He’s induced grounders on 53.7 percent of the balls put in play against him to date, up from 49.2 percent last year and 43 percent in 2010, the best statistical season of his career. Most of those worm-killers have come at the expense of opponents’ line drives, as they’re hitting those only 17.2 percent of the time, down from 23.2 percent in 2013. That’s helped Gallardo to overcome a 4.59 FIP and post a 3.56 ERA, because his BABIP has come down from .299 to .253, though it remains to be seen whether the new batted-ball profile will prove sustainable over a full season. The 28-year-old’s next test in his battle to stave off regression comes with the Twins in town this evening. Visiting manager Ron Gardenhire will counter with Samuel Deduno (8:10 p.m. ET).
Thanks to Nick Wheatley-Schaller for making the embedded graphic and GIFs.