The Monday Takeaway
The last time Corey Kluber took the hill he nearly made history. The Indians ace had 18 strikeouts heading into the ninth inning of last Wednesday’s game against the Cardinals but was pulled after 113 pitches without getting the chance to break the single-game strikeout record. So naturally, Kluber struck out the first five White Sox who took their hacks on Monday.
Going back to the third inning of his start against St. Louis gave Kluber 20 strikeouts over a span of 24 batters (and 23 outs). Kluber wasn’t quite as dominant as he was against the Cardinals but he still turned in a spectacular outing, getting ahead early in the count (22-of-31 first-pitch strikes) and missing plenty of bats. We all know about Kluber’s assortment of dominant breaking pitches but it all starts with the fastball command, which the right-hander had working for him on Monday. Case in point, this front-door two-seamer to freeze Carlos Sanchez for his seventh strikeout of the game.
Kluber had a particularly excellent feel for his cutter, throwing 24 of the 28 offerings for strikes, with nine of them of the swing-and-miss variety. The curveball was also working well, as you saw earlier with the two ridiculous pitches that finished off Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia. Tyler Flowers was also the victim of the dominant offering, whiffing on a pair of curves before freezing on strike three to end the fifth inning.
The starting pitcher opposite Kluber wasn’t too shabby either, as Chris Sale scattered four hits and struck out seven across eight innings of work. However, with the way that Kluber was pitching, when Cleveland pushed across a run in the third inning it felt like it might be enough to secure the win. However, with one out in the sixth inning, Kluber missed his spot on a cutter to Adam Eaton, who used his speed to leg out a triple.
Kluber proceeded to strike out Melky Cabrera and Jose Abreu to end the inning but not before Eaton scampered home on a curve in the dirt that bounced but actually elicited a swing and miss from Abreu. The ball barely got away from Perez and he had Eaton out at home
if not for the dropped ball. Alas, the game was tied at 1-1.
Kluber may not have been as dominant as he was in his last outing, but he was more efficient, needing just 108 pitches to get through nine innings. He finished with 12 strikeouts, one walk, five hits allowed and threw 80 of those 108 pitches for strikes. But the Indians were unable to manage any offense off Sale after their run in the third and David Robertson tossed a clean ninth inning, meaning Kluber would hit the showers with a no-decision as the game went to extra innings.
Zach McAllister entered in relief for Kluber and promptly walked Avisail Garcia on four straight balls. Conor Gillaspie followed with a single before the hard-throwing reliever retired the next two batters. McAllister dug Sanchez into a 0-2 hole and executed the pitch that he wanted—a fastball at the knees and on the outside corner—but the scrappy second baseman punched the ball the other way, just beyond the reach of a diving Zach Walters for the walk-off win.
Quick Hits from Monday
The theme of starting pitchers tossing gems but coming away with a no-decision continued in Flushing, where Matt Harvey and John Lackey squared off in a pitchers’ duel. Lackey had little trouble with the Mets lineup the first time through the order, and got some help behind him when Randal Grichuk made a diving catch to rob Lucas Duda of a hit in the first inning.
That was the lone highlight of the game for Grichuk, who became the owner of a platinum sombrero by the end of the night, earning him a spot in the Cardinal record books.
— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) May 19, 2015
The first of those five strikeouts came on this vicious 0-2 curveball from Harvey.
As for the Mets ace, he struggled with his fastball command in the early going but settled into a groove from about the third inning onward and carved through the Cardinals lineup. Harvey also got some help behind him, with this double play courtesy of unlikely defensive hero Wilmer Flores.
Curtis Granderson led off the fourth inning with the first hit of the night for the home squad—a double down the right field line. He would move up 90 feet on a groundout to the right side of the infield. That brought up Lucas Duda and resulted in some unique defensive positioning by the Cardinals. Mike Matheny’s club has a precedent for putting extreme shifts on against Duda, shifting all four infielders to the right side of second base during an at-bat last year against the first baseman.
But with a runner at third base and one out, the Cardinals were forced to keep a fielder at the hot corner with the sole purpose of keeping Granderson from straying too far from the bag. In fact, throughout the at bat, Matt Carpenter held Granderson on just as a first baseman normally would hold a runner on. Coupled with the infield playing in, the entire left side of the infield was open, which allowed Duda to poke a single up the middle for the game’s first run.
The Mets managed just one more hit against Lackey, who needed just 74 pitches to cruise through seven innings. However, with the Cardinals still trailing 1-0 and Lackey’s spot due up to lead off against Harvey in the eighth, Matheny was forced to pinch-hit for his pitcher and bring a premature end to his outing.
After scattering six hits and striking out nine over eight innings of shutout ball, Harvey turned it over to Jeurys Familia to close the door on the win. But the Mets closer got into trouble, with Matt Adams getting the rally started with a one-out single. Pete Kozma replaced Adams at first and immediately went first-to-third on a first-pitch hit-and-run single to right field by Yadier Molina. Up next was Jason Heyward, who worked a full count before lifting a slider into shallow right field. Curtis Granderson is notorious for having a weak arm—particularly for a right fielder—and it showed on Heyward’s sacrifice fly, allowing Kozma to score easily and tie the game.
From there it was a battle of the bullpens, with each club exchanging zeroes until the 14th inning. Right-hander Sam Tuivailala entered in relief of Seth Maness, who had tossed a pair of scoreless frames, and promptly walked the first two batters to come to bat. That was it for Tuivailala, as Matheny brought in his stopper, Trevor Rosenthal, to get out of the jam. Rosenthal got Michael Cuddyer to ground into a force-out and then intentionally walked Daniel Murphy to get to the pitcher’s spot in the order. Terry Collins called upon John Mayberry Jr. to try and play hero and the outfielder’s infield single brought an end to the marathon contest.
Sunday afternoon in Flushing was the setting of a horrific scene when a 97 mph fastball from Noah Syndergaard struck Carlos Gomez in the helmet and dropped the Brewers outfielder to the ground. Gomez remained down for several minutes but ultimately dodged a bullet as tests revealed no concussion symptoms and merely a facial contusion.
Gomez and Syndergaard had a classy exchange over Twitter after the game and the Brewers outfielder was amazingly in the starting lineup of Monday’s game against the Tigers. If there was any lingering effect of the incident on Gomez, it didn’t show, as he smacked a 0-2 offering from Kyle Lobstein out of the park to lead off the game.
The Tigers responded with a run of their own in the home half of the inning, with Anthony Gose circling the bases on the good ol’ single, stolen base, wild pitch, RBI groundout sequence. The score was tied at 2-2 in the seventh inning when Gomez came to bat again with runners at first and second with two outs. This time, he knocked Lobstein out of the game.
The Defensive Play of the Day
The Athletics entered Monday’s game against the Astros with a 1-13 record in one-run games this season. Sam Fuld played a major role in them securing just their second such win of the season, with this incredible running catch up Tal’s Hill preventing a possible leadoff triple in the eighth inning by George Springer.
The Athletics got 4 2/3 scoreless innings from their bullpen and spoiled Lance McCullers’ major-league debut with a 2-1 win.
What to Watch on Tuesday
—Through his first seven starts of the season, Gio Gonzalez appears to have made a slight tweak in his approach on the mound. The left-hander’s usage of his curveball and changeup have been largely unchanged from what it was last season but he’s effectively flipped the usage of his four-seam fastball versus that of his two-seamer, throwing the latter pitch approximately 40 percent of the time this season. The result has been a 59.2 percent groundball rate, a career-high mark that ranks him eighth in baseball among starting pitchers who have thrown at least 20 innings. Along with the increased use of his two-seamer, Gonzalez has pitched lower in the zone with all of his pitches this season, indicating that there is a conscious effort to get opposing hitters to pound the ball into the ground more often.
Run prevention has been an issue in the early going for Gonzalez but it has been through no fault of the additional grounders he has generated; his .239 BABIP on grounders is just under league average this season. However, despite a 4.69 DRA that puts him in the bottom half of the league, Gonzalez is the owner of a 91 cFIP, suggesting that better days should be on the horizon for the veteran. On Tuesday, he’ll take the hill at home against the Yankees, who will counter with Nathan Eovaldi (7:05 p.m. EST).
—Through the first month of his major-league career, Kris Bryant has lived up to the hype. The 22-year-old has assaulted National League pitching to the tune of a .350 True Average through his first 129 trips to the plate. Pitchers have been unwilling to throw Bryant a ton of strikes during his first trip around the league and the third baseman has responded with a mature and disciplined approach, resulting in an 18.6 percent walk rate. Bryant has had his share of strikeouts and won’t continue at this pace forever but he has nonetheless been impressive to this point.
However, as you may recall, things didn’t sail quite as smoothly for Bryant in his major-league debut. His first crack at major-league pitching was against James Shields, who got him to swing and miss at the first three pitches he saw and then struck him out during their two other head-to-head matchups during the day. Bryant will get the opportunity to redeem himself against the veteran starting pitcher on Tuesday, when the Cubs and Padres square off in the first of a three-game set at Petco Park. As was the case on the day of Bryant’s debut at Wrigley Field, Jason Hammel will get the ball for the Cubs (10:10 p.m. EST).