The Tuesday Takeaway
What was once a minor miracle is now something of a trope: The broken pitcher comes to Pittsburgh for one more chance and he is saved, his career revived. But strong as the narrative may seem, the reality is far from a guarantee—as Juan Nicasio reminded everyone Tuesday afternoon.
After a strong spring and an impressive first outing, Nicasio looked more like his old self yesterday. It started with a Justin Upton solo shot in the first (his debut home run as a Tiger, and a 451-foot one at that), and it didn’t get any better from there. Nicasio took 94 pitches to make it through an ugly three innings, giving up four runs and setting the Pirates up for an 8-2 loss to Detroit.
Though the outing was an abrupt about-face from Nicasio’s sharp six innings of two-hit ball last week, the factors behind the breakdown were not particularly surprising given his history. While his velocity stayed consistent with what he’s shown earlier this year—hovering around 95 mph and topping out at 97—everything else was a bit of a mess. His arsenal’s lack of depth was clear, as he turned to his changeup just four times in the game even as it became apparent that his slider wasn’t working especially well. The latter pitch was all over the place, and the Tigers quickly showed they weren’t interested in chasing it. The control Nicasio had shown earlier this year more or less disappeared. After walking a total of five batters through the spring and his first start collectively, he walked five men in Tuesday’s three innings alone.
Unseemly as Nicasio’s performance was, the Pirates bullpen didn’t do much better. Kyle Lobstein followed up Nicasio’s six hits in three innings with six hits in three innings of his own (though he managed to give up three runs instead of four), and Cory Luebke finished up by allowing an Ian Kinsler solo home run.
A week ago, Noah Syndergaard debuted a 95 mph slider as he struck out nine in six innings of shutout work. Tuesday, he offered more of the same—but somehow even better. He came up just one short of his career strikeout high, with 12. His fastball repeatedly breezed past the 100 mph mark and the slider proved its last appearance was no fluke, registering just a hair south of 95 mph once again. In seven innings, Syndergaard trapped the Marlins in 26 swinging strings, the most by a Mets pitcher in at least 15 seasons. The only thing he couldn’t get Tuesday? The win, with Dee Gordon and the Mets bullpen combining to ensure that victory was not in the cards.
Early Tuesday, David Ortiz gave Clay Buchholz a two-run lead to work with, and it looked as if Boston might stop their losing skid at two. But Buchholz promptly unraveled—in what’s becoming a somewhat familiar phenomenon for the Red Sox rotation this season—and the Orioles were able to stretch their unbeaten streak to seven. Buchholz’s downfall began with an opposite-field two-run homer to J.J. Hardy in the fourth, and though Mookie Betts did his part in the next inning to cut the Orioles’ lead in half, it was for naught. Loading the bases after giving up a two-run shot to Mark Trumbo meant the end of Buchholz’s night. Things weren’t too much better for the bullpen, as Hardy gave an encore of his oppo two-run homer for Robbie Ross, Jr. for good measure.
Early in the season, slides have already spent plenty of time under a microscope, largely courtesy of the Utley rule. Though this Yasiel Puig move didn’t require invoking the new standards, it stands out as one of 2016’s more memorable slides so far—almost certainly the weirdest. It offers something of a strange little self-contained narrative: initial poor judgment (miscalculating the location of the bag by a considerable margin), redeemed by some difficult to explain motion (the pivot back around) and quick improvisation (the scrambling of the hands), followed by suspense (nearly four minutes under review) and finally a temporary happy ending (called safe).
For the first week of the season, the Phillies bullpen operated mostly as an experiment in the limits of incompetence or a particularly depressing running gag (or, if you were an opposing team, a fun opportunity to pad the score). But starting with last weekend’s series against the Mets, the Philadelphia pen has not only been not bad, it’s been something that sort of resembles good. They’ve been handed three leads in the past four games, and all have been preserved—with Jeanmar Gomez closing out the ninth each time, though manager Pete Mackanin has said he’s not ready to grant Gomez or anyone else sole authority of the closer’s spot just yet. Gomez entered the season with just two saves in his years of work as an innings-eater, and now he has three in this season alone. His stuff is still a far cry from that of a stand-out reliever (this is still the Phillies bullpen), but after sealing the deal against the Padres Tuesday, Gomez still has yet to walk a batter in his three outings and has looked more consistent than he’s ever been. To be fair, that’s not a particularly high bar, but for a 'pen that looked near historically bad less than a week ago, it’s something.
Defensive Play of the Day
Steven Souza, Jr. showed off a backwards diving catch in foul territory, en route to a 5-1 Rays win over Cleveland.
What to Watch on Wednesday
John Lackey’s first moments in a Cubs uniform were memorable, if not for the reason he would have preferred—giving up a home run to Jean Segura is likely not how he wanted to make his debut, though he was able to calm down after a rocky entrance and Chicago walked away with a win. Wednesday, he’ll get a chance at another first impression, making his first start at Wrigley Field as a Cub. Sitting at 6-1 after turning a no-hit bid into a victory Monday night, the Cubs will look to extend their winning streak to four against Alfredo Simon and the Reds.
Both the Braves and the Twins are still trying to collect their first win of the season, and Wednesday looks like it might be a bit of an uphill battle for both teams, each facing off against a divisional foe with a strong starting pitcher. Atlanta will start Matt Wisler against Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals, a day after the team had its closest brush with victory so far—a 2-1 loss to the Nats that stayed a scoreless tie until Bryce Harper engaged in some Bryce Harper behavior in the eighth inning. Meanwhile, Minnesota has Phil Hughes against Carlos Rodon and the White Sox. The Braves’ 0-7 start is their worst since 1988, while the Twins’ matching record is a bit historically worse for the franchise—the worst since the 0-13 start put together in 1904, when they were the Washington Senators.