The Weekend Takeaway
There isn’t anyone quite like Kenta Maeda. There have been similar pitchers in similar circumstances, and similar feats in similar sample sizes, but no one has done precisely what Maeda pulled off against the Rockies on Saturday evening.
- He became the first major-league pitcher since 1913 to craft four quality starts in his first four games while giving up only one earned run.
- He also joined Fernando Valenzuela and George McQuillan as the third rookie pitcher since 1900 to start a season with at least 25 consecutive innings and no more than one run (via Elias Sports Bureau).
On Saturday, at least, the story behind Maeda’s unexpected breakout was his laser-like command. During the postgame presser, Maeda credited catcher A.J. Ellis for calling the right pitches, but the truth was, Maeda could execute a pitch wherever it was requested.
Full count, eight-pitch at-bat against Trevor Story? Maeda had a cleat-high curveball for that.
Ryan Raburn in the second, fifth, seventh innings? How about a curveball at the edge of the zone, an 89 mph. fastball, a slider breaking outside the zone?
(There’s the pitch that crowned Raburn with the third golden sombrero of his career.)
Long line drive to left field to break up five innings of a no-hitter? Here’s an over-the-shoulder somersault on the warning track.
Through 6 â…“ innings, Maeda struck out eight and curtailed the Rangers’ efforts with three hits and a walk. The biggest threat came in the sixth inning, when Maeda served back-to-back-to-back singles to D.J. LeMahieu, Trevor Story, and Carlos Gonzalez. With the heart of the order looming, Maeda caught Nolan Arenado with his changeup for a run-saving pop fly.
The 28-year-old rookie tipped his cap after whiffing Raburn for a third and final time in the seventh, and the Rockies finally had time to catch their breath. Brandon Barnes cracked open the Dodgers’ shutout on a high fastball from reliever Joe Blanton, but couldn’t quite close the three-run gap to catch the lead. In the eighth and ninth, Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen tag-teamed to close out the game and return the narrative to its rightful owner: Maeda’s third consecutive win.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
Elsewhere in the National League, another back-end starter delivered another gem. On Saturday, Nationals’ right-hander Tanner Roark chased Max Scherzer’s 17-strikeout team record with a career-high 15-strikeout effort against the Twins.
He punched out seven batters with a sinker that, at times, was chased outside on full counts
and at other times hovered just along the top of the zone.
His precision and control faltered only five times in the first five innings with three walks and a pair of basehits. In the second inning, Max Kepler exploited a low-hanging cutter for a double, then found himself stranded after Roark retired Kurt Suzuki and opposing pitcher Phil Hughes on consecutive strikeouts.
Following the Nats’ 2-0 shutout, powered by a Ryan Zimmerman bases-clearing single, the biggest reward for Roark was not his career strikeout mark or career-high pitch count, but the feeling that he had cemented his place in the rotation for the first time since 2014. The 29-year-old was dropped into a swingman role in late 2014, a decision that carried over to 2015, when he split 111 innings between the rotation and bullpen with a cumulative 5.22 DRA and -0.4 WARP.
Coming into the 2016 season, there was talk of edging out either Roark or 22-year-old candidate Joe Ross for veteran right-hander Bronson Arroyo, who briefly pursued a second opportunity to work with Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker before getting sidelined with a torn rotator cuff. Although it’s still too early to tell if Roark’s projected 0.9 WARP and 4.47 DRA will come to fruition, a few more knockout performances like this one certainly can’t hurt.
On Friday night, the White Sox turned the first triple play of 2016 during the defining moment of their 5-0 shutout over the Rangers. In the seventh inning, Sox left-hander Jose Quintana served up a double to Prince Fielder, a single to Adrian Beltre, and walked Ian Desmond on four pitches to set the table for Mitch Moreland.
Moreland took the second curveball he saw from Quintana and flew out to right fielder Adam Eaton. Eaton tossed the ball to Jose Abreu to pick Ian Desmond off first base. With two outs, Abreu threw the ball down the line to catcher Dioner Navarro, who relayed it to shortstop Tyler Saladino. With Beltre heading for third base, and Prince Fielder taking off for home, Saladino chased Fielder halfway to home plate, then passed the ball to Navarro, who assisted third baseman Todd Frazier in a rundown for the third out. And there you have it: your run-of-the-mill 9-3-2-6-2-5 triple play.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the first recorded 9-3-2-6-2-5 triple play, and just the 127th bases-loaded triple play since 1876. The White Sox made their last triple play in 2006 on a 5-4-4 effort between Joe Crede and Tadahito Iguchi, while the Rangers have spent a blissful 25 seasons since they last hit into a triple play, in 1991 against Edgar Martinez and the 83-79 Seattle Mariners.
Other things happened in this game, too, though of the less memorable variety. Quintana went seven innings without an earned run for the first time since September 5, 2015. Rangers’ starter Martin Perez turned out a season-worst five earned runs, amping up his ERA to 4.50 in four starts. Melky Cabrera went 3-for-4, but garnered his only RBI of the night via wild pitch. The White Sox have now clinched five of their last six games, and will take to the road on Monday for a seven-game road trip through the AL East.
Even when Bryce Harper has a day off, he still manages to be one of the best players in baseball. How does he manage that, one might ask? By doing this:
Just a pinch-hit, game-tying solo home run in the bottom of the ninth. No big deal.
Minnesota right-hander Kevin Jepsen, the poor soul who served up that fatal long ball, decided that the best plan of attack was a barrage of fastballs, about half of which landed inside the zone:
That was the first and last time Jepsen attempted an all-fastball approach, mixing in his cutter to get Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman, and Anthony Rendon on three straight outs to send the game to extras. Harper bowed out after rounding the bases, leaving the Nats to sweep the Twins on a Chris Heisey homer in the 16th inning, and making that projected .315 TAv look more and more like child’s play.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
The unsung hero of this play is Al “The Boss” Angel.
What to Watch on Monday
The winningest American League team is going toe-to-toe with the second-winningest American League pitcher on Monday, when Marcus Stroman will attempt to curb the White Sox’ hot streak in the first of a three-game set in Toronto. This should be a match-up of aces, but the Sox are cooling their heels in the middle of a 19-game stretch without an offday, and elected to rest Chris Sale and return him to the rotation on Tuesday. In his place, minor-league starter Miguel Gonzalez will slot in for a spot start.
Gonzalez was a late-spring addition to the White Sox’ reserves of minor leaguers, and came off a rough 2015 performance that cast some doubt on his ability to find a place in a major-league pitching staff. In 144 â…” innings with the 2015 Orioles, Gonzalez mustered a 4.80 DRA and 113 cFIP—a hair better than his 2014 pitching line, but nowhere near the 2.4-WARP levels he produced back in 2013. While he kept hitters guessing with a dynamic mix of fastballs and off-speed stuff, he also watched his HR/9 rate sink to 1.5, 11th-worst among major-league pitchers with at least 100 IP.
In Triple-A Charlotte, the 31-year-old is getting mixed results as well. Through his first 11 innings of 2016, Gonzalez gave up seven hits, two walks, and two home runs, maintaining that 1.6 HR/9 pace while striking out 10 batters in the International League. Whether the White Sox debut a skittish back-end performer or the Ghost of 2013 Gonzalez remains to be seen, but with their backs pressed against the wall, it’s a risk they’ll have to take (7:07 ET).
Randal Grichuk is walking more, and everyone is talking about it. In 2014, the Cardinals’ 24-year-old center fielder sustained a walk rate of 4.3 percent in 116 plate appearances; in 2015, he raised it to a still-underwhelming 6.3 percent in his first full season of work.
Through 61 plate appearances in 2016, Grichuk is walking at a clip of 14.8 percent, which is both indicative of some major changes to his hitting approach… and expected to regress to 5.5 percent by season’s end. As reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Grichuk has been spending his time off in front of a pitching machine, practicing pitch selectivity and making note of which balls fall inside and outside the zone.
During the Cardinals’ 8-5 rout of the Padres on Sunday, Grichuk demonstrated a fair amount of patience at the plate, averaging 4.4 pitches per plate appearance and capping his run with three hits and three RBI. He exhibited remarkable control on a seven-pitch count against San Diego starter Colin Rea, swinging out of the zone once and letting three pitches go for balls before unleashing a base hit.
Monday’s road opener will pit the slugger against Diamondbacks’ powerhouse Zack Greinke, whose 2015 cFIP of 81 is unlikely to afford Grichuk much leeway at the plate. While Greinke is averaging a little over two walks per outing so far in 2016, he’s also managed to rack up 22 strikeouts in 24 innings pitched (9:40 ET).