The Wednesday Takeaway
Fans who bought tickets to last night’s scheduled battle between Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber were greeted by a Progressive Field setting that should have been considered a pitching aficionado’s paradise. King Felix entered the night on a stretch so dominant that he was on the verge of setting a modern MLB record. Armed with an arsenal of nasty secondary pitches, Kluber has broken through this season as a bona fide ace and was a start removed from the most impressive outing of his career.
The stage for pitching mastery was perfect and the duel proved to live up to expectations.
Kluber flirted with perfection last week, but last night it was Hernandez who cruised through the first four innings without allowing a runner to reach base. Hernandez has increased the use of his changeup this season, but he opted for his devastating off-speed pitch at even greater extremes last night. He went to the changeup 42 percent of the time—his second-highest usage in a start this season—and was able to generate a half dozen swing-and-misses with the offering.
The perfect game didn’t make it out of the fifth inning, as Hernandez ran into his lone hiccup of the evening. Carlos Santana worked a six-pitch walk to lead off the inning. Hernandez dug Lonnie Chisenhall to a 2-2 count, but his fifth pitch of the at-bat caught too much of the plate and the Cleveland third baseman ripped a double into the right-center field gap to break up the no-no and advance Santana to third. Nick Swisher was next to take his hacks, and the veteran slugger chopped a ball to the right side of the infield. Logan Morrison failed in his attempt to make the play, but Robinson Cano made a nice snag to his left. The only problem was that Hernandez had barely budged from the mound, allowing Swisher to slide in headfirst with an unexpected infield single.
Hernandez minimized the damage from that point forward, striking out five and allowing only two more Indians to reach base before departing after seven innings. With yet another superb start under his belt, the King’s recent stretch of brilliance has now reached historic heights.
While Hernandez has risen to the status of best starting pitcher this side of Clayton Kershaw, this night belonged to Kluber, who matched last week’s gem against the Royals with an outing that was arguably just as impressive.
The Stetson University product had excellent command of the strike zone and was able to miss Seattle bats with his cutter and slider. Kluber allowed just three hits and faced just one more than the minimum with help from a pair of slick twin killings behind him. Kluber needed only 85 pitches to go the distance—the fewest pitches in a nine-inning complete game this season—and 69 of them were strikes (81 percent). Efficiency was the name of the game, as Kluber required three or fewer pitches in 17 of the 28 at bats and didn’t reach a three-ball count.
Kluber upped his performance over the second half of the game, retiring the final 13 batters he faced while needing just 40 pitches to complete his final five frames. Still feeling fresh as he entered the ninth inning at 77 pitches, Kluber reared back to throw his fastest offering of the night—a 96 mph sinker—on his second-to-last pitch of the game. While Felix’s record demonstrates an insanely high level of consistency over nearly a three-month stretch, Kluber set a record of his own Wendesday night that exemplifies just how dominant he’s been in his past two starts.
Corey Kluber 1st pitcher in MLB history to face 28 batters or fewer in back-to-back starts of at least 9 IP.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) July 31, 2014
Quick Hits from Wednesday
After being swept by the division-rival Dodgers and dropping the first two games of their series against the Pirates, the Giants entered yesterday’s matinee in danger of coming away with zero wins in a homestand of at least six games for the first time since the organization moved to San Francisco. Luckily for them, the Pirates squandered a major scoring opportunity with a leading candidate for baserunning blunder of the year, and were unable to finish off the series sweep in San Francisco.
The Giants spotted Tim Lincecum a 3-0 lead in the first inning, but he lasted just 3 and 1/3 innings—his shortest outing of the season. He allowed Pittsburgh to score on a wild pitch in the second inning and then walked his counterpart, Charlie Morton, to start the third inning. Up next was Josh Harrison, who took advantage of a hanging slider from Lincecum, depositing it in the left-center bleachers to even the score.
The Giants reclaimed the lead with a run in the bottom of the frame, but Pittsburgh pushed ahead when Jordy Mercer knocked Lincecum out of the game with a two-run blast that was a direct hit to a fan’s full cup of beer.
Charlie Morton preserved Pittsburgh’s one-run lead with five innings of work and the Pirates had the opportunity to break the game open in the top of the sixth inning. Gaby Sanchez drew a leadoff walk and Travis Snider attempted to move him into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. Catcher Andrew Susac—who collected his first major-league hit in the game—pounced on the ball and fired it to second base to try and cut down Sanchez, but Brandon Crawford dropped the throw, resulting in everybody being safe. Mercer then laid down a successful sacrifice bunt to move Sanchez and Snider up 90 feet.
What occurred subsequently was one of the strangest plays you’ll see this season.
Chris Stewart walked on five pitches to load the bases. Except that Snider—who had been on second base—thought that the bases were already loaded and started trotting to third base. San Francisco reliever Jean Machi had received the ball back from Susac and threw to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who ran down Snider. In the midst of the confusion, Sanchez took off for home from third base, and was easily erased for the third out after being caught in the second rundown of the play.
Just like that, the Pirates had gone from having the bases loaded with one out to the inning being over. It was a gift that San Francisco capitalized on in the seventh inning when Gregor Blanco drove home the tying run with a soft grounder that squeaked through the right side of the infield and set up runners at the corners. Pittsburgh coughed up the go-ahead run moments later. Justin Wilson delivered a 1-2 fastball that squirted away from Stewart, allowing Joe Panik to break for home. Stewart quickly scrambled to recover the ball and would have had Panik dead at the plate with a good throw, but he threw behind Wilson to allow San Francisco to take the 6-5 lead.
The Giants tacked on an insurance run the next inning and got scoreless frames from Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla to snap their six-game losing streak. Clinging to a half-game lead over the Cardinals and Pirates for the second wild card spot, they’ll head into Queens for a four-game set with the Mets starting Friday.
On Tuesday night, Chad Qualls relinquished Houston’s 4-1 lead in stunning fashion, as the Athletics stormed back to deliver a six-run knockout punch in the ninth inning. Less than 24 hours later, the Astros dusted themselves off and jumped all over the struggling Jason Hammel out of the gate with a six-run frame of their own.
After retiring Jose Altuve to start the game, Hammel ceded singles to Enrique Hernandez and Jason Castro to put runners at the corners with one out. Houston’s cleanup hitter, Marc Krauss, pulled a grounder to second base, which required Nick Punto to range to his left. Despite a valiant attempt by Punto and Jed Lowrie, Krauss beat out the double play attempt by half a step to score the first run of the game and keep the inning alive.
Houston would take full advantage, as Jon Singleton drew a five-pitch walk and Matt Dominguez followed with an RBI single to center. Billy Burns—making his first career start—booted the base hit, which allowed Singleton to score all the way from first with help from an excellent read by third base coach Pat Listach.
Houston’s six-run opening inning provided more than enough wiggle room for Dallas Keuchel to work with, and the left-handed sinkerballer made sure that the bullpen didn’t have the chance to blow the series rubber match. Keuchel used 111 pitches to go the distance for an MLB-best fourth time this season, inducing 13 groundballs and allowing just four hits. The one blemish on his line was a no-doubt home run that Josh Donaldson crushed when Keuchel left his first pitch of the second inning over the heart of the plate.
On the other hand, Hammel’s struggles since coming to Oakland continued. He failed to make it out of the fifth inning, as Bob Melvin decided he had seen enough when Singleton delivered an opposite-field two-run dinger to extend Houston’s lead to 8-1. In four starts since being shipped out of Chicago, the 31-year-old right-hander has given up 18 runs in 17 innings alongside a dreadful 12:11 strikeout-to-walk rate.
When the Yankees locked up Brett Gardner to a four-year extension during the offseason, they did so expecting to get an exceptional defender in the outfield and a contact hitter who could provide value on the basepaths. They certainly didn’t anticipate that at the end of July, their leadoff hitter would rank third on the team with a .177 ISO. That also speaks to the Yankees struggling to get much offensive production from their infield and Brian McCann having a disappointing year at the plate, but nonetheless, the Yankees will take the pop that Gardner has shown this season.
Wednesday featured more of the same, as Gardner yanked his 14th tater of the season off Colby Lewis to lead off the game.
Gardner punished Rangers pitching during the three-game set, as he finished 8-for-14 with four homers during his visit to Arlington. However, the Yankees were unable to take advantage of the early lead on Wednesday, as the Rangers got all the offense they needed with a three-spot against Hiroki Kuroda in the bottom of the first. Lewis surrendered another solo home run, this one to Jacoby Ellsbury in the third inning, but he finished the night with seven innings of four-hit ball. Neal Cotts and Neftali Feliz each pitched a clean inning of relief to secure the series win for the Rangers.
Washington was able to cool off the National League East’s hottest team and avoid a three-game sweep yesterday, but it didn’t come without a bit of drama.
The Marlins entered the day winners of six straight and nine of their last 10, but they were unable to solve Tanner Roark, who twirled seven innings of three-hit ball for Washington. The only run Miami was able to push across against Roark came on a solo blast by Jordany Valdespin in the fourth inning.
Brad Hand matched Roark through the first seven innings, as the score headed to the eighth knotted at 1-1. The Nationals sent Hand to the showers after the first two batters reached and proceeded to put a three-spot up in the inning against A.J. Ramos. Ian Desmond capped off the scoring for Washington with a two-run double down the left field line that plated Denard Span and Adam Laroche.
Miami pulled off the improbable comeback in the series opener, and were primed for déjà vu on Wednesday against Drew Storen in the ninth inning. Giancarlo greeted Storen with an opposite-field dinger to make it a two run game.
After Storen retired the next two Miami hitters, Marcell Ozuna reached on an infield single to bring the tying run to the plate. Adeiny Hechavarria followed by poking a double down the right field line to score Ozuna and cut the lead to one run. Jarrod Saltalamacchia drew a walk to bring up pinch-hitter Reed Johnson, but Storen got the veteran hitter to ground into a force out to lock down his first save of the season.
With speculation swirling as to whether or not Matt Kemp would be moved before today’s trade deadline, the Dodgers outfielder swatted a pair of home runs in a 3-for-4 outburst at the plate during Tuesday’s 8-4 win over the Braves. With the Dodgers in the midst of a playoff run and Kemp’s massive contract seriously hindering any possible swap, Ned Colletti made it clear that there is virtually no chance that Kemp will be donning anything other than Dodgers blue come Friday.
If there was any doubt, Ned Colletti said he will not be trading Matt Kemp before tomorrow's deadline
— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) July 31, 2014
With one fewer thing to worry about, Kemp came through with a pair of huge base knocks last night, including a walk-off hit to ensure that Zack Greinke’s eight astounding innings wouldn’t go to waste.
Kemp got the Dodgers on the board early, as he tattooed one of Alex Wood’s few mistakes of the night into the left-center field bleachers to even the score at 1-1 in the second inning. Wood and Greinke exchanged zeroes over the next five frames, with the Los Angeles hurler striking out a season-best 13 batters.
In the bottom of the eighth, Kemp started a two-out rally with a walk against Jordan Walden and came around to score the go-ahead run later in the inning on a single up the middle by Juan Uribe. With Kenley Jansen in to close out the ninth, it seemed like a sure thing that the Dodgers would lock up the series win right there and then. Justin Upton had other plans.
Upton’s moonshot set the stage for extra innings, but the Dodgers weren’t in the mood for more than an inning of bonus baseball. Justin Turner led off the bottom of the 10th with a single and moved up into scoring position on a wild pitch by David Hale. That set the stage for Kemp, who delivered with a single past a diving Ramiro Pena at third base to send the Dodgers home walk-off winners.
The Defensive Play of the Day
Holding on to a foul ball after violently crashing into a side wall earns Jim Adduci extra points.
What to Watch for on Thursday
The last two times that Odrisamer Despaigne has taken the hill for the Padres have yielded extremely different results. Two Sundays ago, Despaigne took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Mets, but the 27-year-old Cuban native struggled with his command in his following start, walking five and failing to make it out of the fourth against the Braves. Despaigne doesn’t miss a ton of bats, but he constantly keeps hitters guessing with his seven-pitch arsenal and will occasionally drop down to a sidearm motion. The Cardinals will counter with Shelby Miller, who will make his second start since returning from his short-lived bullpen hiatus (3:40 p.m. EST).
With the 4 p.m. EST trade deadline looming, the chances that Cliff Lee is dealt before the end of today appear to be slim. The Phillies have indicated they are willing to eat part of Lee’s contract if they can get the right prospects, but such a deal may be more likely to take place in August given Lee’s two run-of-the-mill outings since returning from an elbow injury and that the Phillies haven’t received any offers that they deem acceptable. Given Lee’s massive contract, he would stand a good chance at passing through waivers. In the meantime, Lee will try to get back on track against the Nationals, who will counter with Gio Gonzalez (7:05 p.m. EST).
Prior to this season, Josh Harrison had never hit more than three home runs in a single campaign. With a two-run blast in Pittsburgh’s win against the Giants, he has now hit home runs in four consecutive games, a streak he’ll look to extend on Thursday at Chase Field against Josh Collmenter. The Buccos will send Jeff Locke to the mound looking to bounce back from a six-run clunker in Colorado (9:40 p.m. EST).