The Thursday Takeaway
Searching for a boost to their starting rotation, the Red Sox phoned down to Pawtucket for top prospect Eduardo Rodriguez, who was toting a 2.98 ERA through eight starts for the club's Triple-A affiliate. A 44-to-7 K:BB ratio and just two homers allowed were signs that the southpaw was ready to pass the big-league test.
He did last night, with flying colors.
Mark Anderson touted Rodriguez's fastball as a “dominating pitch' in The Call-Up article posted Thursday, and the 22-year-old arrived pumping 96-98 mph heaters at the Rangers in his major-league debut.
Seventy-six of Rodriguez's 105 pitches were of the four-seam variety yesterday, and he showed precocious command of the high-velocity offering by pounding the lower half of the strike zone and seldom missing upstairs. The gas only drew three whiffs on 31 swings, but the Rangers were uncomfortable against the left-hander from the get-go, something that's not often said of pitchers just eight starts removed from Double-A.
Rodriguez departed with two away in the eighth inning, having held Texas off the board on three hits and two walks while punching out seven. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, he's the first Red Sox starter to debut with 7 2/3 or more scoreless innings since Billy Rohr chucked a one-hit shutout over the Yankees on April 14, 1967.
By the time Rodriguez enjoyed handshakes and hugs in the visitors' dugout, the Red Sox were up 5–0, buoyed by a resurgent Hanley Ramirez. The shortstop had been in a slumber for much of May, going homerless with a .511 OPS in 87 plate appearances after slugging 10 long balls in April. His spray chart told the story,
and the crux of the plot was a sudden inability to pull the ball with authority. Contrast that with Ramirez' April spray chart
and it's not hard to see why the round-trippers evaporated.
Then, in the fourth inning of last night's battle with Rangers right-hander Nick Martinez, Ramirez drilled a double to left-center. The Red Sox stranded their cleanup hitter at third, but the two-bagger served notice that the shortstop's pull power had returned.
The Red Sox would score thrice more in the eighth inning, overcoming a double-play ball from Ramirez along the way. Those insurance runs seemed important for a moment, when Rodriguez followed back-to-back strikeouts with a walk and single that sent skipper John Farrell scurrying to summon reliever Tommy Layne. Everyone in the road dugout exhaled when Layne caught Shin-Soo Choo looking to end the inning.
The 5–0 victory lifted the Red Sox out of the American League East cellar, now occupied exclusively by the 22–27 Blue Jays, who were idle Thursday. It was just one win in Texas against a club that entered 6–13 at home, but it gave Boston reason to believe that Rodriguez might save the rotation and that Ramirez's bat might sizzle again before long.
Quick Hits from Thursday
Up in Seattle, Cody Allen elicited one of the ugliest swings you'll see all season:
Good job, good effort pic.twitter.com/TbLZtKfKio
— August Fagerstrom (@AugustF_MLB) May 29, 2015
That's the baseball equivalent of getting posterized by a thunderous slam dunk. So, congrats Mike Zunino: You got GIF'd.
In Zunino's defense, he also went yard against Corey Kluber,
which is no small feat these days, considering the righty just became the first pitcher since Randy Johnson to rack up 50 strikeouts over a four-game span. Outside of two mistakes clubbed out of the yard by Zunino and Dustin Ackley, Kluber was excellent again Thursday, collecting 13 Ks over seven innings of three-run work.
Brandon Moss' eighth big fly of the year, a 426-footer to center, put the Tribe on the board in the second inning. When Zunino countered with his solo shot, the Indians plated three in the fourth, capitalizing on a Chris Taylor error. Jose Ramirez's leadoff double helped push the lead to 5–1 in the sixth inning, and Ackley's two-run blast wasn't enough for the M's to claw back.
Cody Allen notched his 10th save of the year in an uneventful ninth, adding two Ks to the Indians' total of 16 while tossing nine of 12 pitches for strikes. The dominant outing should briefly comfort fans and fantasy owners fretting over a closer who'd walked six in his previous 9 1/3 frames on the bump.
Meanwhile, Mariners supporters and those who employ James Paxton in fantasy will have to hope that the middle-finger injury that ended his night isn't serious. We should learn more about the extent of the ailment sometime today.
The Braves and Giants were rolling right along Thursday, with Shelby Miller and Chris Heston trading zeros and quiet outs. An hour into the contest, they were halfway home. Except that, at some point, one side would need to score.
Enter Brandon Belt:
With the bases empty and one down in the last of the seventh, Miller left a 1–2 fastball over the plate, and Belt launched a high fly that just barely cleared the left-center field wall. That was all the support Heston would need.
The rookie right-hander earned one out in the seventh inning before departing in favor of Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo. He allowed four hits (all singles) and a walk while striking out six and cranking a double at the plate. Miller, whose night ended with the seventh, only struck out one but gave up little hard contact before Belt's wall-scraper drew first blood.
In addition to putting the Giants up 1–0, the homer put the wheels in motion in the Braves dugout, where manager Fredi Gonzalez felt compelled to pinch-hit for Miller—86 pitches into the starter's night—following a leadoff single by Andrelton Simmons. The substitute, Pedro Ciriaco, traded places with Simmons on a fielder's choice, but he didn't reach scoring position until a two-out stolen base. Cameron Maybin grounded out to leave Ciriaco on the keystone.
That pressed the Atlanta bullpen into duty, beginning with Brandon Cunniff, and with Miller out of the game, the Giants' offense sprung into overdrive. Matt Duffy drew a leadoff walk. Gregor Blanco picked up an infield single. Norichika Aoki loaded the bases with a beautifully executed base-hit bunt. And soon, the rout was on.
Back-to-back first-pitch extra-base knocks, a Joe Panik double
and a Hunter Pence triple,
sent home a pair apiece to make it 5–0 Giants. Cunniff's brutal evening was over one batter later, when Donnie Veal relieved him and promptly allowed Pence to sprint home on a wild pitch. Consecutive doubles by Belt and Brandon Crawford brought the game to its 7–0 final score.
Down the California coast, the Pirates—winners of six straight—launched a relentless attack against Padres starter Ian Kennedy. They scored at least once in each of the first four frames, disposing of the right-hander with seven runs and three gopher balls on his line after just 3 2/3 innings of work.
Undaunted by Petco Park, the Bucs spread the home run wealth over innings one through three, beginning with this opening salvo off the bat of Jung-Ho Kang:
The Padres wouldn't go down without a fight, scoring twice in the fourth and twice more in the fifth, the latter pair on this comedy of Pittsburgh errors:
File that one away for use in Neil Walker's Southwest Airlines “Wanna get away?' commercial, then score that E4 for allowing Yangervis Solarte to reach, E2 for permitting Abraham Almonte to score all the way from first. Back-to-back singles by Will Venable and Justin Upton cashed in Solarte to make it 7–4.
But the Bucs weren't spooked. Instead, they stepped on the Friars' throats with a four-run sixth, led by doubles from Josh Harrison and McCutchen, the latter's second RBI two-bagger of the night. They went on to win 11–5 to stretch their streak to seven.
Last but not least, the O's and White Sox played two on Thursday, which is always fun, particularly when three of the scheduled pitchers have a grand total of two major-league starts between them. To the young arms' credit, all of them kept it together enough to avert a bullpen disaster.
Game one was a tidy, 3–2 affair, and the star of the show was Chris Sale, the lone veteran to get the ball in the twinbill. Robin Ventura rode his ace hard, as the southpaw expended 120 pitches to get through 7 2/3 innings. His reward: four hits (all singles), no walks, and a dozen strikeouts.
And that was barely enough, because the White Sox nearly squandered a two-run lead in the ninth. Doubles by Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche put Chicago ahead two-zip in the top of the sixth. That score held until the ninth, when the White Sox added what proved to be a critical insurance run.
With David Robertson getting a breather after back-to-back blown saves on Tuesday and Wednesday, Ventura chose Zach Duke to protect the 3–0 lead. He did just fine two batters into the ninth, but with two Ks to his name, Duke gave up a Delmon Young single, and then served a cookie to Chris Davis:
And it's a good thing he did, because game two wasn't kind to Chris Beck. Making his big-league debut, Beck was touched up for five runs (four earned) on 10 hits and four walks in six innings of grueling work. Homers by Adam Eaton and LaRoche weren't enough to wipe away the right-hander's rough night.
That's not to say the South Siders didn't have their opportunities in the 6–3 loss. They did. Chief among them was a sixth inning that saw rookie Oliver Drake dole out three walks in four batters with a 4–3 lead. Trouble is, Conor Gillaspie's fly ball to right became a double play when Gordon Beckham, the back runner, was thrown out at second trying to tag behind the lead runner, LaRoche. Drake's third walk, to Geovany Soto, was rendered moot when J.B. Shuck lined out to end the threat.
Buoyed by that escape, the Orioles scored once each in the sixth and seventh to earn the split behind Mike Wright.
The Defensive Play of the Day
We're going down to the minors for this one. Take it away, Jacob Hannemann:
— Cut4 (@Cut4) May 28, 2015
What to Watch This Weekend
A battle of rookies kicks off the weekend series between the White Sox, who played two on Thursday, and the Astros, who took the day off. It's Carlos Rodon for the visitors and Lance McCullers for the hosts in the opener at Minute Maid.
Rodon enters tonight's contest with 21 Ks in 22 1/3 innings, but while the southpaw has only served up one homer, he's been tagged with 22 hits and 19 walks, the latter a particularly worrisome total when it comes to working deep into games. The North Carolina State University product has shown a tendency to overthrow his fastball in three-ball counts,
and all those heaters below the zone are partly to blame for his bloated walk rate.
The 21-year-old McCullers, meanwhile, has 11 punchouts to his name through 10 2/3 frames over two starts. Despite preseason doubts about his future as a starter, the prep-school sandwich rounder in 2012 has looked as polished as Rodon, the standout collegian billed as a near-surefire rotation stalwart.
It's extremely early yet for both the lefty and righty, though, and perhaps a head-to-head battle will bring out the best from each of them. The Astros have amassed an equal number of wins (15) at home and on the road, but the White Sox are just 9–15 away from U.S. Cellular Field (8:10 p.m. ET).
Daniel Murphy struck out in 13.5 percent of his plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers a year ago, a perfectly reasonable rate for a left-handed hitter with moderate pop. But to this point in 2015, Murphy's made a concerted effort to put the ball in play with the platoon advantage by his side.
The 30-year-old has K'd only nine times in 147 trips to the box against righties this year, the lowest total among hitters who had 125 or more plate appearances versus RHP entering play on Thursday. Murphy will see three right-handed starters—Dan Haren, Tom Koehler, and David Phelps—during this weekend's home set with the Marlins, none of whom has had much success punching him out. He's 6-for-24 with a homer and two Ks lifetime versus Koehler, the Fish he's caught most frequently in the majors and the scheduled Miami starter for Saturday's matchup with Jon Niese (4:10 p.m. ET).
Carlos Martinez emerged as an X factor out of the bullpen during the Cardinals' march to the 2013 National League pennant, a run that included 4 2/3 scoreless innings across four contests in the NLCS against the Dodgers. However, Martinez hasn't had much success when facing Don Mattingly's club as a starter, failing to complete the fifth inning in each of his three assignments.
Though he can still get a wild hair up his nose, the 23-year-old Martinez has made strides this year toward emerging as a reliable mid-rotation starter, and he enters the weekend on a little roll. Neither the Mets nor the Diamondbacks could hang a run on the Dominican's line in his last two starts, which came on the heels of a five-inning, two-run, eight-strikeout effort against the Tigers. That string has sent the righty's ERA tumbling from 4.89 to 3.54, a shot of confidence for Martinez as he takes the ball in Sunday's series finale between first-place clubs. Brett Anderson will be on the hill for the Dodgers to wrap up the Busch Stadium set (2:15 p.m. ET).