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The Tuesday Takeaway
The Washington Nationals’ hero on Tuesday wasn’t Bryce Harper or Jayson Werth. It wasn’t Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann. Nor was it Ian Desmond or Denard Span, though the latter went 5-for-6 with three doubles and a big fly in a tremendous evening atop the order.

On a night when a novice starter got shelled and partook in the club’s error-prone ways, when the bullpen helped their foes post a dozen runs, and when the Nats faced deficits of 9-1 and 10-2, their hero was the eighth-place-hitting second baseman who’s cashing bigger checks from the team he beat than the one he saved.

Dan Uggla stepped to the plate with two on and one down in the top of the ninth, his team two outs shy of dropping to 7-14, and quickly fell behind in the count, 0-2. Confident that Uggla’s bat speed is long gone, Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski signaled for a fastball, not one of closer Jason Grilli’s patented sliders, a more likely chase pitch given the count. He’d soon regret that choice:

Uggla tattooed the 0-2 mistake 436 feet, way back into the left-field stands, to put the visitors ahead, 13-12. Closer Drew Storen, shaky at times in the early going, worked around a Pierzynski walk to slam the door.

But getting to that point was no picnic. After Harper gifted A.J. Cole a 1-0 edge in the first inning of his major-league debut, the 23-year-old gave it back and then some. Three hits, a sac fly, and a wild pitch amounted to a 2-1 Braves lead after one.

And that’s when the wheels threatened to come off for Washington, as they have so often during the season’s first month. First, the offense squandered two singles at the outset of the second, when Uggla popped out and Cole hit into a double play.

No worries, rook, just go out and pitch.

And Cole did. It’s just that his second big-league inning began with two singles and no such luck in stranding them. Julio Teheran sac bunted the runners to second and third, after which Matt Williams elected to use the open base and walk Nick Markakis. But then Andrelton Simmons singled home a pair, and after Freddie Freeman lined out, a Pierzynski hit loaded the bases. Not exactly an opportune time for Cole to commit the team’s 23rd error of the season:

Two runs scored on that play, two more scored on Kelly Johnson’s ensuing double, another crossed the plate on Jace Peterson’s single, and before Cole could catch his breath, it was 9-1 Atlanta.

The Nats got one back in the top of the third, but long man Tanner Roark gave it right back in the last of the fourth, on an RBI single by Pierzynski, one of the catcher’s four hits on the night. Roark, who was squeezed out of the rotation by the Max Scherzer signing this offseason, would go on to scatter six hits and a walk across three innings, limiting the damage to two Braves runs. What he did not do, though, is strike anyone out, which means that the right-hander now has zero punchouts to his name through 12 1/3 innings.

In the meantime, the Nats had better things to worry about, like piecing together their largest comeback since the move south from Montreal. The fifth inning would play a key role in their rally.

Span got it started with a double, and an error by Alberto Callaspo put runners at the corners with nobody out. Werth drove in Span with a sacrifice fly, but that barely made a dent. Unlike, say, this:

Jose Lobaton’s three-run oppo taco narrowed the deficit to 10-6. A Span homer in the sixth made it 10-7. And while Pierzynski doubled home a run in the bottom of the sixth, the Nats had a counterpunch ready.

Left-hander Luis Avilan handed out two walks but balanced them with two groundouts, putting himself on the verge of protecting the four-run advantage into the seventh-inning stretch. Uggla wasn’t having it:

That two-run triple served notice of Uggla’s late-inning intentions and marked the first time that the second sacker has collected a three-bagger and a round-tripper in the same game since 2007. It was also the 35-year-old’s second triple in as many nights, and it came ahead of pinch-hitter Reed Johnson’s ground-rule double, which cut the Braves' lead to one.

Pierzynski again did his part to thwart the comeback, collecting an RBI single that made it 12-10 Atlanta. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, that hit gave Pierzynski his first four-hit game since August 19th, 2013, when he was a Ranger. But that was the last of the Braves’ tallies for the evening, and it wasn’t enough to overcome Pierzynski’s pitch selection and Grilli’s execution in the top of the ninth.

Lobaton walked, Danny Espinosa singled, and Uggla supplied the big blow that dealt the Braves their first loss amid a 12-run outburst in almost two decades:

Quick Hits From Tuesday

***

Think back to last year’s American League wild card playoff game, the 9-8 classic that sprung the Royals on their run to the pennant. Specifically, to the top of the sixth inning, when the A’s trailed 3-2, with Brandon Moss at the plate with two runners on. Moss did this

but his three-run homer, the second of two Moss long balls in the game, was a footnote by night’s end.

Now, fast forward a bit less than seven months, to last night’s game between the Royals and Indians, to whom Moss was traded during the offseason. Sixth inning, 3-2 Royals, Moss up, two men on—and Moss did this:

But maybe he shouldn’t have, because something about Moss hitting three-run, sixth-inning homers with his club trailing 3-2 gets the Royals going like a quadruple espresso.

Five of the next six Royals to bat reached base at the expense of relievers Scott Atchison and Marc Rzepczynski. The fifth of the six, Mike Moustakas, put Kansas City back on top with one of the highest one-hoppers you’ll ever see:

The safe call at first base was upheld on review, and Alcides Escobar kicked the ball out of catcher Brett Hayes’ glove on the throw home, after which Moustakas advanced to second. That opened the door for Rzepczynski to intentionally walk Lorenzo Cain, which seemed prudent for a moment, when Eric Hosmer, a lefty-on-lefty matchup, hit into a fielder’s choice. Except, the next batter was Kendrys Morales, and he made that free pass hurt:

The latest in a mounting series of Indians bullpen meltdowns didn’t end with that three-run dinger, which made it 9-5 Kansas City. It was 11-5 before the Royals were through, and by then, all four Indians relievers who appeared Wednesday had been charged with at least one run. Among those spared was embattled closer Cody Allen, whose 13.50 ERA needed no further inflation.

You might say Cleveland has a bullpen problem—

—a problem severe enough to make Moss’ clutch yardwork an afterthought again.

***

While the Indians deal with their relief issues, the Red Sox are mired in a bigger mess: Their pitching woes run staff-wide.

Clay Buchholz’ fastball eluded him on Wednesday, right after Boston granted him four second-inning runs of support. The right-hander took the hill in the top of the third, threw 28 pitches, and departed without finishing the frame.

Buchholz recorded strikes with just nine of his 19 heaters, none of them of the swing-and-miss variety, and four of them hits. Add a handful of hanging curveballs, and you’re well on your way to the 2 2/3-inning, six-hit, five-run (four earned) effort Buchholz turned in last night to bloat the Red Sox’ rotation ERA for the year to 6.03.

While Buchholz struggled with his command, Edward Mujica—demoted to long relief and called upon when the Jays took a 5-4 lead—struggled with the rules.

Mujica was taking quite well to his new job in the top of the fourth, when he allowed a single but promptly erased it with a double-play ball. But then he walked Devon Travis, and then

he failed to come to a complete stop in the set position, drawing a balk call from plate umpire Doug Eddings. Mujica wound up walking Donaldson, which filled the open base, before Jose Bautista singled to drive in Travis and advance Donaldson to third. The next batter was Edwin Encarnacion, but before delivering the first pitch, Mujica balked again

enabling Donaldson to trot home, before Encarnacion singled in Bautista.

That would do it for Mujica, who departed with this line: 1 1/3 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 2 balks. Per the Play Index, he became the first pitcher to balk twice in the same inning since Rex Brothers did it on August 20th, 2013, and the first pitcher to commit two balks and allow at least three runs while recording no more than four outs since Rich Monteleone on July 17th, 1992.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, while Mujica when his night came to an end, neither was Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchison, who worked four innings without booking a K. Hutchison coughed up six runs on nine hits, three of them doubles, and walked five batters, joining Kyle Gibson as the only pitchers who’ve issued at least that many free passes without getting a strikeout this season.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, while Mujica gave up three runs, Toronto long reliever Marco Estrada logged three scoreless frames. Late-inning blasts by Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson countered one by Hanley Ramirez, and Brett Cecil made a successful return to the closer role, earning his first save of 2015 in the 11-8 Jays win.

***

Round one of the ongoing National League West rivalry between World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner and Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw ended in a draw on April 22nd, when each southpaw permitted two runs without finishing the seventh inning in a game the home Giants went on to win, 3-2.

A weekend reshuffling of each club’s rotations set up a rematch at Dodger Stadium Tuesday night. And this time, the starters would settle the score themselves.

Both aces were solid in the series opener. Kershaw went seven innings and fanned eight without handing out a walk. Bumgarner lasted eight and picked up nine strikeouts compared to one free pass. The difference? Two swings of the bat by Bumgarner’s battery-mate, Buster Posey.

The Giants catcher had a simple approach for Kershaw last night: Don’t wait around.

With Angel Pagan on second base and two away in the opening frame, Posey got a first-pitch fastball and muscled it into right-center field to bring home the game’s first run:

Posey’s next at-bat came in the top of the fourth. Another lazy fastball, another run

this time via the long ball, as Posey’s solo shot gave Bumgarner a two-run cushion.

That proved critical, because got on the board in the last of the fourth. A single by Jimmy Rollins and a double by Enrique Hernandez, fresh up from Triple-A, put men at second and third with nobody out. Bumgarner recovered to whiff Justin Turner, but Howie Kendrick plated Rollins on a fielder’s choice, before Scott Van Slyke flied out to end the threat.

While Kershaw and the Dodgers bullpen bore down and kept the Giants at bay the rest of the evening, so did Bumgarner, who had four more frames in the tank. Bumgarner punctuated his last two innings with strikeouts, blowing 94-mph gas by Yasmani Grandal to end the seventh

and painting the lower-outside corner of home-plate ump Gary Cederstrom’s zone with his 110th pitch of the night to catch Justin Turner looking and cap the eighth.

Bumgarner and Kershaw went to bed last night with identical 3.73 ERAs to date. The latter has not pitched the Dodgers to victory over the former since 2011:

The Defensive Play of the Day

What’s it take for a fan to earn recognition in this space? Sacrificing personal property in pursuit of a souvenir:

Bonus: The Defensive Non-Play of the Day

Whoops.

What to Watch on Wednesday

If someone does something in a baseball game, but no one is there to see it, did it really happen? We’ll find out today

when the Orioles host the White Sox. Ubaldo Jimenez and Co. will lock horns at Camden Yards with nobody in attendance, as the city of Baltimore and the club contend with riots. The team announced Tuesday that the matinee will be “closed to the public” as a security measure, but you can still catch it on TV or MLB.TV and witness what might be the eeriest setting for baseball of the year (2:05 p.m. ET).

***

When Dallas Keuchel has command of his sinker in the lower third of the strike zone, it’s a tough pitch to lift:

That’s been bad news for batters to this point in this season, because the Astros infield has vacuumed up just about every worm killer hit its way. Keuchel’s opponents are just 5-for-54 when they hit the ball on the dirt, good for a .093 average, and two of those 54 grounders have yielded double plays. That, more than anything, explains the left-hander’s sterling 0.62 ERA.

Of course, nobody could keep those numbers up, not even with Andrelton Simmons and three clones around the horn behind him, but Keuchel simply hasn’t made many belt-high mistakes to date. His walk rate is up considerably, his strikeout rate is down from its already-pedestrian 18.1 percent pace last year, and yet, because opponents haven’t found anything to drive out of the park, and haven’t had much luck slipping grounders past the Astros infield, he’s gotten away with all that peripheral erosion.

And lest you hurry to point out that regression is around the corner, next on the docket for the 27-year-old southpaw is a visit to San Diego, home to the league’s best-manicured infield, as good a venue as any for Keuchel to continue to defy the BABIP overlords on the ground. He’ll take on Andrew Cashner—who’s calling BS on that friendly Petco dirt with a .324 BABIP given up on rollers and bouncers to date—in the getaway matinee (3:40 p.m. ET).

***

When Aaron Harang climbs the hill at Busch Stadium this evening, he’ll bring a tidy 1.37 ERA through four starts into the game. That surprisingly strong start is brought to you by a .203 BABIP and 86.7 percent strand rate, though Harang’s 8.3 percent swinging-strike rate induced is his highest since 2011.

One of the batters who’ll dig in to face the 6-foot-7, 260-pound behemoth is Matt Carpenter, against whom swinging strikes can be hard to come by.

That’s Carpenter’s whiff-rate chart on breaking balls from right-handers entering play on Tuesday. You might have noticed that it’s all blue, and that’s not because the PITCHf/x system is asleep at the wheel. Righties have spun 55 curves and sliders at Carpenter in this young season, and he’s either taken or gotten a piece of every one of them.

Harang is a poor bet to become the first opposite-handed pitcher to slip one by the Redbirds third baseman, and there’s a chance he won’t even try:

The two locked horns seven times in 2014, with Carpenter going 2-for-5 with a walk and hit by pitch, and nearly one-third of Harang’s offerings were breaking balls. But that was in the first meeting, on May 5th, when Carpenter went 2-for-2 with a single and a double, the latter of which came on the fourth of four straight sliders. Since that at-bat, Carpenter has seen 16 pitches across four plate appearances from Harang, and the lone breaker was a first-pitch, get-me-over curve that preceded the fastball that drilled him.

Carpenter is off to an outstanding start to 2015, batting .380 with a league-high 12 doubles, so Harang’s ability to retire him could go a long way toward helping the Phillies to spring a road upset. The left-handed-hitting TCU product will go to bat in support of Carlos Martinez in game three of four (8:15 p.m. ET).

***

Count Rockies pitcher Jordan Lyles among those who want the American League to keep the designated hitter to itself. The 24-year-old is no Babe Ruth at the plate, but he’s no automatic out, either, having authored four extra-base hits in 52 plate appearances last year. Tonight, Lyles returns to the scene of one of his two major-league home runs

and it’s fitting that he’ll take on Josh Collmenter in the series finale in the desert. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, Lyles and Collmenter are two of only four pitchers (min. 50 plate appearances) who had more extra-base hits than sacrifice bunts in 2014. Trivia time: Without looking down on your screen, can you name the other two?

One of them is scheduled to pitch today, and the other was, before a schedule change pushed him back to tomorrow. Like Lyles and Collmenter, they’re both right-handers, and both are still in the senior circuit, so they’ll have a chance to take their hacks, too.

Trivia answer: Mike Leake—who will now go on Thursday, with Michael Lorenzen making his major-league debut this afternoon (12:35 p.m. ET)—and Zack Greinke, who’ll host the Giants at Dodger Stadium tonight (10:10 p.m. ET).

Thank you for reading

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jaireland
4/29
Good Morning Daniel, In the following excerpt below from your article, "Aaron Cecil made a successful return to the closer role, earning his first save of 2015 in the 11-8 Jays win." I believe you meant to refer to Blue Jay left-hander, Brett Cecil. Thanks for the article. I enjoy reading daily recaps and previews.
statsrath
4/29
Fixed, thanks!
GBSimons
4/29
FYI, Cards-Phillies game tonight is the third game of a four-game set, not "the middle match of the three-game set."
statsrath
4/29
Fixed, thanks!