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The Wednesday Takeaway

Justin Turner claimed Jordan Zimmermann’s pitch had hit him.

Maybe Zimmermann’s 1-2 fastball grazed Turner’s forearm. Maybe Turner is a liar. In any case, there was not enough video evidence to support his claim.

That turned out to be the best-case scenario for the Dodgers, however, as the utilityman crushed Zimmermann’s pipe shot two pitches later to break a scoreless tie in the seventh inning. Naturally, bubbles and selfies ensued in the Dodgers' dugout.

That was Zimmermann’s 94th and final pitch of the day, but it was just the beginning of a seesaw contest between the Nationals and Dodgers that looked to be over on several occasions, only for the attending beat writers to be forced to rewrite their scripts time and time again.

Carlos Frias pitched better than the Dodgers could have hoped for in his first career start, scattering three singles over six scoreless innings while striking out four. The 24-year-old was lifted after 77 pitches and in line for his first major league “W” with Kenley Jansen in for the ninth and the Dodgers still up 2-0.

Bryce Harper led off with a single to left field. Up next was pinch-hitter Adam LaRoche, who hadn’t been in the starting lineup due to an ailing back. The Nationals' slugging first baseman appeared to be just fine, driving Jansen’s 2-1 fastball the opposite way for a game-tying blast.

Jose Lobaton singled off Jansen two batters later and pinch-runner Danny Espinosa swiped second and advanced to third later in the inning. With two outs, Denard Span hit a hard grounder that ate up Adrian Gonzalez and trickled into right field for a go-ahead RBI single.

Rafael Soriano looked like he had the game all wrapped up in the ninth for the Nationals, but it suddenly got away from him, through little fault of his own. The Nationals' closer allowed Andre Ethier to reach on a one-out walk, but subsequently won an eight-pitch battle with Carl Crawford that ended in a punchout. Up next was Turner, who lifted Soriano’s second pitch to right field. Jayson Werth got under the fly ball for the final out of the game but …

… the ball bounced off Werth’s glove and Ethier raced around to score the tying run. It wasn’t the most routine of plays, and it looked like Werth may have had some trouble with the sun, but “E-9” was one of easiest decisions the official scorer had all day. Joc Pederson would strike out moments later to send the game to extra innings.

Despite being given extra life, the Dodgers were unable to capitalize. The Boys in Blue loaded the bases with one out in both the 10th and 11th, but failed to push across the winning run both times. Gonzalez and Juan Uribe each fanned with the bases juiced in the 10th and Drew Butera popped out to third for the second out in the 11th. Dee Gordon actually looked like he’d send the Dodgers to a walk-off win shortly after when he was plunked by a Jamey Wright fastball, but it was ruled that Gordon had offered at the pitch. The second baseman struck out two pitches later.

In the 12th, it was the Nationals who loaded the bases, this time against Brandon League. For the second time in the game, LaRoche delivered for Washington, lacing a single to left field that brought two runs home. Tyler Clippard quickly retired the first two Dodgers hitters in the bottom of the inning, but Uribe kept the game alive with a single to right. Up next was Carl Crawford …

Clippard reaction

… and Clippard’s reaction to the ball in play should make it fairly easy to guess what happens next:

Crawford’s home run to left-center barely cleared the wall, but was enough to even the score at 5-5 and lead to even more bonus baseball.

The clubs exchanged zeroes in the 13th, and Kevin Correia appeared to be on his way to a second quick inning of relief in the 14th for Los Angeles. Correia struck out Werth for the first out of the inning and induced an easy grounder by Ian Desmond to Turner, who had moved over to shortstop after Miguel Rojas was removed for a pinch-hitter earlier in the game. However, Turner’s throw pulled Gonzalez off the first-base bag, an error that proved costly for the Dodgers.

Harper walked on six pitches and Desmond advanced to third on a wild pitch in the dirt that Drew Butera kept in front of him. With the double play still in order, LaRoche hit a slow chopper to Turner. Despite the best efforts of Turner and Gordon, the duo was unable to turn the double play and Desmond came home to score the go-ahead run. LaRoche’s go-ahead RBI made him just the second player in the expansion era to drive in five or more runs during a game in which he entered in the ninth inning or later.

Following LaRoche’s at bat, Asdrubal Cabrera gave the Nationals some wiggle room with a two-run bomb to right. Blake Treinen completed his second scoreless inning in the bottom of the 14th to shut the door on the marathon win. Wednesday’s series finale lasted five hours and 34 minutes and featured 51 total players, just three fewer than the major league record, which occurred in a 16-inning affair between the Mariners and Rangers on September 25, 1992.

Quick Hits from Wednesday

At first glance, the following plot doesn’t look like it should belong to a guy who pitched a shutout while issuing zero free passes.

Salazar zone

The missing piece of information missing is that the Tigers swung at 34 of the 68 pitches that Danny Salazar threw out of the strike zone en route to his first career shutout. To put that in perspective, the free-swinging Pablo Sandoval owns a career chase rate of 44 percent (and has a league-worst 45.5 percent rate this season).

With the Tigers willing to expand the zone, Salazar played right into their aggressive approach, elevating mid-to-high-90s fastballs in their eyes and using off-speed pitches below the knees to rack up nine strikeouts. The right-hander generated eight swing-and-misses with fastballs above the letters and five with changeups and a slider below the knees. In total, the Salazar got the Tigers to come up empty 20 different times and threw 83 of his 118 total pitches for strikes.

Things didn’t go nearly as smoothly for Justin Verlander, who fell behind early after serving up a two-run blast to Carlos Santana in the first inning. Verlander went on to surrender seven runs (six earned) on eight hits, including four of the extra-base variety. The former AL Cy Young Award winner watched his ERA balloon to 4.80 after his latest clunker of an outing.

***

Andrew McCutchen has to be getting fed up.

On Wednesday, the Pirates' superstar was yet again the target of retaliation that stemmed from an opposing team taking issue with Pittsburgh’s propensity to establish the inner third of the plate. McCutchen was plunked square in the back by Randall Delgado last month as revenge for Ernesto Frieri breaking Paul Goldscmidt’s hand with a pitch the previous night. The Cardinals took similar offense on Wednesday when Edinson Volquez hit Matt Holliday on the arm with a 2-2 fastball in the fourth inning of a scoreless game.

When McCutchen came to bat in the sixth inning, Shelby Miller’s first pitch whizzed behind the back of the Pittsburgh outfielder. Home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa immediately warned both benches.

The next inning, Russell Martin and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny engaged in a screaming match from 50 feet away, with both parties clearly still upset. The two clubs aren’t scheduled to face each other again this season, so if this is still an issue that either team feels the need to resolve, they’ll have to wait until spring training.

The two squads exchanged goose eggs through eight innings, with Clint Hurdle bringing in his closer, Mark Melancon, in the eighth inning of a road game to face the top of the Cardinals lineup. Sabermetrically inclined Pittsburgh fans surely approved of this decision.

Melancon retired the Cardinals in order on just eight pitches, so Hurdle brought him out to start the ninth with the score still tied 0-0. Melancon struck out the first two batters of the inning, but let Yadier Molina get away with a walk after getting to a 1-2 count. Next up was Jon Jay, who advanced Molina into scoring position with a single to left. That set the stage for Peter Bourjos, who walked the Cardinals off to send them to the series sweep and their fifth straight win.

***

Those in need of their front-of-the-line pitching fix got just what they bargained for in yesterday’s matinee showdown between Felix Hernandez and Jon Lester. The two American League West aces worked efficiently in the early going, as Lester needed just 74 pitches to glide through the first six innings while Hernandez used 84.

The only scoring to that point was a solo moonshot that Adam Dunn smashed down the right field line in the fourth inning. Hernandez was otherwise flawless, allowing just a pair of singles over eight innings of work. All the Seattle workhorse needed to earn the “W” was a pair of runs, which is just what Corey Hart and Kyle Seager provided in the top of the seventh.

The two fastballs Lester delivered to Hart and Seager were two of his few mistakes on the day, as the Oakland southpaw didn’t allow any other runs while striking out five and walking zero in eight innings. After nearly botching Tuesday’s win, Fernando Rodney bounced back yesterday with a perfect ninth to tally his 41st save of the year. Meanwhile, the A’s have dropped six of their last seven games, including back-to-back series against their division foes.

***

Another starting pitcher who notched his first career shutout yesterday was Baltimore’s Miguel Gonzalez. The 30-year-old has quietly posted a 2.33 ERA and .669 opponents’ OPS over his last eight starts, but he did one better against the Reds in the best outing of his career. Gonzalez held Cincinnati hitless until the fifth inning and threw 83 of his career-high 117 pitches for strikes, finishing with just four singles and a walk allowed while striking out a season-best eight.

Gonzalez pounded the strike zone with his fastball to help him get ahead early (22 of 33 first-pitch strikes), and used his slider/changeup combo to keep hitters off-balance later in the count.

The Orioles backed Gonzalez with home runs from Jonathan Schoop, David Lough, and Chris Davis to take the 6-0 win. Baltimore’s three long balls boosted their league-leading home run total to 182, over 20 more than the second-place Rockies.

***

Nothing like the routine 2-6-3-4-5-3 double play to get out of the first inning.

Despite TOOTBLANs by both Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner, the Yankees went on to take the middle match of their series with the Red Sox by a 5-1 final. Brian McCann launched a two-run blast off Anthony Ranaudo in the second, part of a four-hit day for the Yankees catcher, while Hiroki Kuroda twirled seven innings of one-run ball, striking out eight and not allowing a walk.

***

Your obligatory Giancarlo Stanton home run video:

Stanton’s screaming line drive off Carlos Torres got out in a hurry for his 36th home run of the season, tying him with Nelson Cruz for the major league lead. Unfortunately for Stanton, his ninth-inning tater wasn’t enough to close the gap the Mets had built behind Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ two-run homer and six innings of one-run ball from Jacob deGrom.

Stanton’s home run cut New York’s lead to one run, but Jenrry Mejia slammed the door (or rather stomped it down?) on the 4-3 win.

***

Despite going deep for the second straight day, Stanton couldn’t claim Wednesday’s longest home run. Neither could Chris Carter, who slugged a pair of long balls in Houston’s 4-1 win over the Angels to raise his season total to 35. That honor belonged to Corey Dickerson, who crushed this 451-foot shot off Ryan Vogelsong into the second deck at Coors Field.

Dickerson went deep a second time in the fifth inning, the second of back-to-back jacks with Nolan Arenado that put the Rockies up for good. Colorado chased Vogelsong from the game the next inning and and cruised to a 9-2 win in the rubber match of the series.

***

The last time Daniel Hudson threw off a major league mound was June 26, 2012, when he exited his start against the Braves with what would later be diagnosed as a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Hudson has spent over two years rehabbing from not just one, but two Tommy John surgeries, as the 27-year-old re-tore his ulnar collateral ligament in his first rehab outing following his initial surgery.

Hudson made his long-awaited return to a major-league mound Wednesday night and pitched a perfect inning of relief during Arizona’s 6-1 win over San Diego. The right-hander threw nine of his 13 pitches for strikes, utilizing nine fastballs, three changeups and a slider. He consistently hit 95 mph with his heater and topped out at 96. Congratulations are in order for Hudson, who persevered through and overcame an unimaginably long road in order for last night to become a reality.

The Defensive Play of the Day

Back in the starting lineup for the first time since sustaining a head injury over the weekend, Kolten Wong wasted little time adding another stellar defensive play to his portfolio.

What to Watch on Thursday

Coupled with Kansas City’s 4-1 win over the Rangers yesterday, Detroit’s loss caused them to fall one and a half games behind the Royals in the race for the American League Central crown. The Tigers will send Max Scherzer to the hill to try to take Thursday’s rubber match against the Indians; Terry Francona will counter with Trevor Bauer. The UCLA product is fresh off back-to-back scoreless outings against the Royals and Astros, but has gotten away with so-so command and inefficient pitch counts, walking eight batters and averaging 110 pitches over the two outings. Sitting four games back of Detroit and five-and-a-half behind Kansas City, every divisional matchup is key for Cleveland if they want to hang around in the AL Central picture (7:05 p.m. EST).

After getting tagged by the Orioles with a quartet of long balls and eight runs two starts ago, Jake Odorizzi bounced back with a dazzling one-hit performance against the Red Sox over the weekend. The 24-year-old will seek to build on that outing with another American League East matchup tonight against the Blue Jays. Odorizzi has enjoyed a solid rookie season, striking out over a batter per inning while posting a respectable 3.56 FIP in just under 150 innings. Toronto will turn to Mark Buehrle in search of their fifth straight win (7:10 p.m. EST).

Lately, everything has been going right for the Cardinals, who won their fifth straight game yesterday and watched the free-falling Brewers drop their eighth straight to the Cubs. St. Louis has opened up a three-game gap on Milwaukee in the Central, and gets another point in their favor with the return of Michael Wacha in Thursday’s series opener between the two squads. Wacha posted a 3.04 FIP and held opposing hitters to a .603 OPS in 15 starts before hitting the disabled list in mid-June with a stress reaction in his pitching shoulder. He should be a significant upgrade over what the Cardinals have gotten from Justin Masterson and Carlos Martinez during the past two and a half months. The 23-year-old will face an approximate 60-pitch limit in his first big-league start in over 11 weeks, with Marco Gonzalez likely to get the first call out of the bullpen. Ron Roenicke will counter with Wily Peralta, who was chased by the Giants last time out after giving up six runs in three innings, and got rocked for eight runs in his previous start against the Pirates (8:10 p.m. EST).

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BillJohnson
9/04
The McCutchen story might have mentioned that it wasn't just Matt Holliday getting hit by a pitch before Cutch had to take evasive action; the next batter after Holliday, Matt Adams, was also plunked, although by a slow curve rather than the 95-mph heater that nailed Holliday. This pushed Pittsburgh's MLB-leading HBP total to 74 (MLB average is 47). Note that they also have their own hitters plunked at a high rate; what goes round comes round.
buckgunn
9/04
True, but to me neither the Holliday HBP nor the Adams HBP was intentional. I just don't believe in retaliation for a lack of execution. The same thing happened in July when Clayton Kershaw hit Holliday in retaliation for Carlos Martinez plunking Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez congratulated his pitcher in the dugout afterwards and a lot of old-school baseball types tweeted about Kershaw's honorableness, but I thought it was ridiculous then and I thought it was ridiculous yesterday when Shelby Miller threw at McCutchen. I mean, if Volquez wasn't trying to hit Holliday, what's he supposed to do? Not ever throw inside? Keep everything over the heart of the plate or outside, lest he maybe possibly hit a guy? It was a mistake. And no amount of retaliation is going to discourage that.
TGT969
9/04
Mr Gunn is correct. The Pirates are now taught from Rookie League to MLB to throw inside. Additionally, neither Holliday nor Adams were hit with intent. McCutchen has been intentionally thrown at for the last 3 years, starting with Dusty Baker at Cincy who got off scott-free every time. This year has been even worse for him. The fact that the league refuses to suspend anyone involved has caused this problem. Seilg et al are cowards-I hope this changes with Manfred in command.
BillJohnson
9/04
Pirates pitchers are "taught" to throw inside? Duck hunters are "taught" to lead their targets, which is precisely what Pirates pitchers are doing -- they are throwing to a place that is unoccupied when the ball leaves their hand, but will be full of batter's hands when the ball gets there. What they are doing amounts to reckless endangerment. The Adams HBP was clearly an accident. The Holliday HBP was in the reckless-endangerment category. I am not unsympathetic to Cutch as the chosen scapegoat for the response to that behavior, but let's call reckless endangerment what it is.
jsdspud
9/04
Does throwing behind a guy count as reckless endangerment? This stems from LaRussa days with the Cards. His pitchers were allowed to throw inside because they would never intentionally hit anyone. If another team hit a Cardinal hit was always intentional. Substitute Diamondback with Cardinal in the previous lines now that LaRussa is in Arizona Volquez isn't trying to put anyone on base in the 4th inning of a scoreless game. If Matheny and the Cards can't figure that out, they don't belong in a major league dugout.
BillJohnson
9/04
This "stems from LaRussa[sic] days with the Cards"? Nonsense. The practice of retaliating for a perceived intentional HBP is as old as baseball itself. Read Sam Miller's BP article from last year (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=20914) for perspective on that -- as he points out, this kind of thing has been happening for nearly a century and a half. what has changed is that one particular team has adopted a pitching philosophy that institutionalizes that kind of behavior. McCutchen is paying the price for that.
BillJohnson
9/04
Incidentally, I would also argue that Miller "hit his spot" with that pitch in a way that (1) kept McCutchen off base -- he too was pitching in a scoreless game -- and (2) is consistent with the way some other famous knockdowns (think Roger Clemens vs. Mike Piazza) have gone. The message got across without actually putting a potential run on base.
buckgunn
9/04
What's the message? "Don't do something you weren't trying to do"? (If you claim the message was "don't pitch inside," I can assure that message didn't get across. Or if it got across it was ignored. As it should have been.)