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The Wednesday Takeaway

Only three players had a hit for the Giants in last night’s battle with Brett Anderson and the Dodgers. But that turned out just fine for the home team in game two of three between the NL West rivals.

It turned out fine because Tim Lincecum bounced back from a rough outing in Cincinnati to stymie the Dodgers, who pounded him for four runs in as many innings on April 27th, over seven scoreless frames.

Ill-located splitters undid the right-hander in his previous meeting with Don Mattingly’s squad,

so on Wednesday, Lincecum and catcher Andrew Susac devised a new plan of attack:

Instead of focusing on the lower part of the zone, they worked up, establishing fastballs for strikes before persuading the Dodgers to expand the hitting area past the letters. By night’s end, Lincecum had elicited seven whiffs on 51 total four- and two-seam fastballs, despite barely scraping 90 mph with both.

When the 30-year-old is able to miss so many bats with his heaters—something he’d done only twice since 2013—the rest of his arsenal plays up. His previous outing with seven-plus fastball whiffs came on May 12th, 2014 in Atlanta, when he also got the Braves to flail at 14 sliders and exited with 11 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings, the most recent time he’s reached double digits in Ks. The one before that was his 13-strikeout no-hitter against the Padres on July 13th, 2013. Last night was his third such performance in two-plus seasons.

And it flummoxed a power-packed Dodgers lineup, which managed only three hits, two singles and a double, while Lincecum walked two and punched out four. The two-bagger was turned in by Yasmani Grandal at the outset of the fifth inning, when the game was still scoreless, and Lincecum further imperiled the tie by uncorking a wild pitch. But the visitors’ frustrations only mounted from there, as Andre Ethier grounded out unproductively, Juan Uribe fouled out, and—after pitcher Brett Anderson drew a walk—Joc Pederson grounded out to allow Lincecum to end the inning unscathed.

A frame-and-a-half later, the Dodgers would regret their failure to cash in. The only Giants with multiple hits Wednesday were Buster Posey, who doubled leading off the sixth, and Brandon Crawford, who brought him around with a two-out RBI single. Thus, the home team drew first blood.

Things would only get worse for Anderson in the seventh, when he gift-wrapped a rally to the Giants by walking pinch-hitter Casey McGehee to begin the inning. Angel Pagan advanced McGehee to second on a groundball, Anderson granted him third on a wild pitch, and Joe Panik—the third and final Giant in the hit column—drove him in with a single. That would do it for Anderson, but it wouldn’t do it for the Giants’ scoring.

In came Yimi Garcia to learn a valuable lesson. Fastball location mistakes are never a good idea, and particularly not when Posey is at the dish:

Garcia fired well up and to the pitcher’s right of Grandal’s intended 0-1 target, and Posey crushed a 417-foot, two-run shot through the mist that shrouded AT&T Park throughout the night.

Posey’s third and loudest hit of the evening had the Giants sitting pretty with a 4-0 lead, though the Dodgers threatened in the eighth. Justin Turner led off with a single off reliever Jean Machi, who proceeded to get two outs before serving up a double to Howie Kendrick. Fortunately for the Giants, Bruce Bochy’s LOOGY, Javier Lopez, was up to the task of retiring Adrian Gonzalez, who grounded out to strand the runners at second and third.

Jeremy Affeldt wrapped up the 4-0 victory, clinching a series win for the Giants, who improved to 6-2 against the Dodgers on the year. Without spoiling the details in the What to Watch section, suffice it to say that you won’t want to miss this afternoon’s series finale.

Quick Hits From Wednesday

Home plate umpire Marvin Hudson’s strike zone yesterday was tight on the corners but a bit loose vertically. One of his few false strikes came on the first pitch from Adam Warren to Bryce Harper in the latter’s third-inning at-bat:

That little triangle a hair below the bottom of the zone sparked this big mess,

which culminated with Harper and manager Matt Williams getting the thumb from Hudson.

If you listen to the audio in the clip embedded above, you’ll hear the Nats broadcasters reading Williams’ lips to parse out the reason Harper was ejected. Their conclusion: Hudson demanded that he reenter the batter’s box, and when Harper refused to do so, the arbiter sent him on his way. By the climax of Williams’ face-to-face encounter with Hudson, that, more than the called strike one, was the main point of contention.

The #umpshow in D.C. briefly upstaged the game itself, at that point led by the visting Yankees, 2-1. Washington, which earned a share of first place for the first time on Tuesday, would have to come back sans Harper to ensure that it would retain it.

Enter Tyler Moore:

That two-out, two-strike wall-scraper knotted the game at two runs apiece, where it remained through the seventh-inning stretch. In the last of the seventh, the Yankees defense and pitching came unglued.

Third baseman Chase Headley got tied up by a tough hop on a groundball off the bat of Wilson Ramos, and the official scorer opted to charge Headley with an error even though doing so put Ramos’ 19-game hitting streak in grave danger. That run did, in fact, come to an end Wednesday, but Ramos had better things to worry about—like, say, advancing to second on Moore’s ensuing walk, and moving to third on a free pass drawn by pinch-hitter Dan Uggla. The next batter, Denard Span, singled Ramos home to make it 3-2 Nats, the eventual final score.

***

The day would only get better from there for Williams’ club, which retreated to watch the Mets take on the Cardinals and got to see an uncharacteristically erratic Bartolo Colon:

Previously the owner of a 42-to-1 K:BB ratio, Colon issued two bases on balls Wednesday and struggled to find the lower half of the zone. He recorded 58 strikes in 86 tries, but too many of those came in belt-high, and the Redbirds were ready to feast.

A 2-0 contest through three frames quickly spiraled out of Colon’s control in the fourth, which began ominously with a Jason Heyward homer. As if that weren’t troublesome enough, Eric Campbell put Colon in a jam with a throwing error at the hot corner. That the opposing pitcher, Carlos Martinez, was on deck was only a small consolation, because after he sac bunted Randal Grichuk to second base, Kolten Wong promptly plated him with a single. Matt Carpenter then walked to move Wong into scoring position, allowing Matt Holliday to pick up an RBI single. And the third Matt was not Colon’s charm:

Colon missed upstairs of Kevin Plawecki’s target with his 3-1 offering to Matt Adams, and the big first baseman sent it on a long ride to right-center, burying the Mets in a 7-0 hole. In the fifth, Colon walked Heyward and gave up an RBI double to Grichuk before hitting the showers with 11 hits on his 4 1/3-inning line. It’s the first time he’s ever been tagged for that many knocks without completing the fifth, and when Jack Leathersich finally finished the frame, the Cardinals were up by nine.

Up nine they’d stay the rest of the way, behind Carlos Martinez, who preserved the shutout through 6 1/3, and relievers Randy Choate and Miguel Socolovich.

The Cardinals (12-8) and Nationals (12-11) are the only senior circuit clubs now over .500 on the road this year. St. Louis’ 9-0 rout put Washington alone atop the East and bumped the Redbirds’ Central lead to five games, the widest in the NL.

***

It was the retread against the rookie in the Indians-White Sox tilt last night, as Shaun Marcum took on Carlos Rodon in a game in which every pitcher involved seemed bent on disputing the virtue of first-pitch strikes.

Rodon, who went just 7-for-25 in that department, was the worst offender

but the Indians did their share, too. Marcum went 12-for-24 and Zach McAllister started all four hitters he faced with a 1-0 count. And none of them fared all that poorly.

Rodon worked around five walks in six innings by holding the Indians to four hits, all of them singles, and punching out four. Marcum avoided walks altogether and limited the South Siders to a pair of runs in 6 2/3, both of them on solo shots, one each by Adam Eaton and Conor Gillaspie. McAllister delivered 1 1/3 flawless innings out of the ‘pen.

Meanwhile, Dan Jennings—who notched three first-pitch strikes in five attempts—wound up the goat in a tightly contested, 4-3 decision. Rodon, 1-0 counts and walks notwithstanding, had pitched to a draw with Marcum, who’d ultimately allow one more run than the first-year. But before Gillaspie went yard, Jennings dug the White Sox a hole.

The lefty, who came over from the Marlins during the past offseason, kicked off the top of the seventh by walking Brett Hayes. Consecutive bunts, a no-outs-recorded fielder’s choice by Michael Bourn and a sacrifice by Jason Kipnis, advanced Hayes to third, wherefrom he scored on a single by Jose Ramirez. That left two men on for Michael Brantley, who sent them both home with a double that made it 4-1 Cleveland.

And that three-run margin proved insurmountable, even against a still-shaky Allen, who went 3-for-7 in the first-pitch-strikes category and handed out two walks in the ninth. Just 10 of Allen’s 21 pitches went for strikes, but that was enough to leave the tying run at third and the winning run at second, when pinch-hitter J.B. Shuck struck out to end it.

***

Phil Klein had no such trouble throwing strikes in his big-league starting debut Wednesday, which is a bit odd, considering that pounding the zone has never really been his cup of tea. The right-hander made 17 relief appearances last year and issued 10 walks in 19 innings. He added two more in 4 2/3 innings over six bullpen assignments this year. Tack on 11 walks in 16 minor-league frames in 2015, and, well, the Red Sox might’ve expected a few free trips to first base last night.

Instead, they got just one from the 6-foot-7, 260-pounder, who cruised through 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball. The only blemish on Klein’s line was this Xander Bogaerts solo bomb. He struck out four and threw 56 of 81 pitches for strikes.

And so, it was hitting, not pitching, that felled the Red Sox on a night when Joe Kelly turned in seven innings of two-run ball. The right-hander pitched well, the bullpen held the line behind him, and still, the Red Sox dropped to 19-21 overall and 8-10 at Fenway Park.

Boston went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 on base. Mookie Betts doubled off Shawn Tolleson with one away in the ninth, but after David Ortiz was intentionally walked, Hanley Ramirez hit into a fielder’s choice that sealed the 2-1 victory for Texas.

The Defensive Play of the Day

Catchers don’t often get much love in this section, so it’s all yours today, James McCann:

What to Watch on Thursday

Our own Wilson Karaman wrote yesterday about the strides J.A. Happ has made to this point in the season by pounding the lower part of the strike zone and taking advantage of Mike Zunino’s excellent pitch framing. This afternoon, those improvements will be put to the test at Camden Yards, as Happ takes on an Orioles club that was actually quite impressed with him, even before he joined forces with Zunino and the Mariners. The 32-year-old Happ logged a 30-to-5 K:BB ratio and 3.10 ERA over 29 innings versus Baltimore last year, and he’ll look to sustain that success with a new uniform on his back. He’s held foes to exactly one run in three of his last four starts (12:35 p.m. ET).

***

Welcome back, Jaime Garcia. Up first on your 2015 docket: a battle with Jacob deGrom and the Mets in the last of a four-game set at Citi Field.

Garcia was limited to just seven starts last year by thoracic outlet syndrome, and when he was all set to resume his role in the Cardinals rotation this spring, inflammation in his troublesome left shoulder sent him to the shelf again. He’s healthy now, though, and the Redbirds will take as many outings as they can get from the fragile 28-year-old, beginning with this afternoon’s 2015 debut.

Meanwhile, deGrom will seek to build on a strong showing against the Brewers last week, in which he tossed six innings of one-run ball, walked one, and punched out six. The right-hander has been up and down over the past few weeks, alternating the outstanding outings that took the world by storm in his rookie year with five-inning duds in which he can’t keep the ball in the yard. Two of the last three have fit into the former category, so the Mets will hope that the May 11th clunker at Wrigley Field was the outlier. The Cardinals battered deGrom to the tune of 12 hits in four-plus innings on June 16th, 2014, his first and only meeting with Mike Matheny’s club and the worst game of his freshman year (1:10 p.m. ET).

***

And if watching the new-and-improved Happ ply his trade in Baltimore and keeping tabs on Garcia’s return isn’t enough to distract you from work, the series finale between the Dodgers and Giants ups the ante. Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner are set to lock horns for the third time this season, and the defending Cy Young Award winner will aim once more to turn the tide on their head-to-head history. The Dodgers haven’t topped the Giants in a Kershaw-Bumgarner matchup since their first meeting, back in 2011.

Though rotten luck is a key factor behind Kershaw’s pedestrian 4.24 ERA to date, he hasn’t displayed the sort of exquisite command that led to his historic 2014 campaign so far this year. Despite striking out 23 batters over his last three starts, Kershaw was charged with three or more runs in each of them, the first time he’s had such a three-start stretch since May 30th-June 15th, 2012. That’s partly a testament to how impeccable the left-hander was in the past two seasons, but it’s also an indication that the 2015 edition has some kinks to iron out. Kershaw’s 3.57 DRA and 74 cFIP portend better results, which he’ll hope come in the marquee matinee at AT&T Park (3:45 p.m. ET).

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flyingdutchman
5/21
More umpire ridiculousness for which there will be no accountability. Way to control the ballgame, Marvin Hudson.