The Weekend Takeaway
It only took 659 days, but Yu Darvish is back where he belongs: striking out the league’s best hitters and taking names. The 29-year-old returned to the major-league stage on Saturday afternoon, where he pitched for the first time since August 9, 2014, in front of a sellout crowd in Arlington, Texas.
Whenever a pitcher returns from Tommy John surgery, his performance is measured against a certain checklist as his team, competitors, and fanbase try to verify the caliber of pitching they’re getting after a long hiatus.
They wonder if Darvish can still hit 96 on the radar gun.
They wonder if Darvish can still execute a wide range of pitches, from an electric four-seam fastball to his elusive sinker.
They wonder if Darvish can still catch a good hitter swinging.
When it comes to pitchers of Darvish’s expertise, there is little guesswork involved, even following a grueling 21-month rehab. Fifty-one of his pitches landed for strikes, including a seven-pitch second inning that saw every ball hit the strike zone. His slider proved the most effective tool against the Pirates, landing for strikes in 13 of 14 situations and inducing 11 swings, while his fastball touched a cool 99. By the end of five innings, Darvish had three hits, a run, a walk, and seven strikeouts under his belt.
Although the right-hander made his season opener look effortless, he isn’t out of the woods just yet. Darvish operated on a strict pitch limit, exiting after five innings and 81 pitches in order to preserve his arm as he eases into a full workload. Should he work his way back to seven- or eight-inning outings, however, it’s difficult to imagine an AL West that didn’t just become a lot more competitive.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
There comes a point in most baseball games where you can kick back, crack open a beer, and rest assured knowing that your team has this one in the bag. Perhaps they’re up by 10 runs, or perhaps they’re just playing the Braves. That tight feeling in your chest subsides, if only for a few innings, and you feel pretty confident that you’ll be hearing Kool & the Gang belt the sweet refrains of “Celebration” when you leave the park.
Beware that feeling—or, at least, listen to this cautionary tale played out by the White Sox and the Royals on Saturday evening.
The White Sox spent eight innings crafting a six-run lead against Kansas City starter Yordano Ventura and righty reliever Chien-Ming Wang. In the second inning, Avisail Garcia singled Brett Lawrie home for the first run of the game. Tyler Saladino then belted his second home run of the season, a two-run shot that scored Garcia, who later homered to score Alex Avila in the fourth. Melky Cabrera reached on a throwing error that drove in Austin Jackson. Carlos Rodon worked through five innings of one-run ball and exited with his 4.00 DRA still intact. Things were looking up.
With Rodon out in the sixth inning, Sox manager Robin Ventura gave the bullpen a chance to atone for their Friday night debacle, when they eradicated a four-run lead and took the loss in the series opener. Through three innings, the plan appeared to go off without a hitch. Zach Putnam delivered back-to-back scoreless frames in the sixth and seventh innings, striking out Cheslor Cuthbert and Alcides Escobar on a cushion of run support. In the eighth, Zach Duke arrived to cap another scoreless inning with a strikeout and a pop fly. When David Robertson relieved Duke in the bottom of the ninth, he caught Paulo Orlando looking on the Sox’ seventh strikeout of the night.
Then, as fate would have it, the Royals stopped making outs. Robertson lost sight of the strike zone,
and his replacement, right-hander Tommy Kahnle, did little better, getting only one called strike in 15 pitches.
On the field, it looked something like this:
In case you lost count, that was a single, a double, a walk, an RBI walk, an RBI single, an RBI force out, an RBI double, another RBI double, an intentional walk, another intentional walk, and a walk-off single.
Don’t get too comfortable, kids. With the Royals around (or, more likely, the White Sox’ bullpen), no lead is safe.
With one out and the Rays up 1-0 in the seventh inning, Yankees’ left fielder Brett Gardner drew a seven-pitch walk, the first base allowed by Odorizzi since a throwing error put Dustin Ackley on first in the fifth inning. Castro worked a 1-0 count in his favor and swung hard at a four-seamer lobbed right through the heart of the strike zone.
As soon as ball touched bat, Odorizzi knew he had made a mistake. He doubled over as the ball bounced over the center-field fence, taking the no-hitter and the lead with it. Castro’s two-run blast—and the win that followed—marked the 70th one-hit win in the major leagues since 1913.
Before Castro disrupted an otherwise seamless outing, Odorizzi utilized a fastball-splitter approach that generated six strikeouts and an overall strike rate of 67 percent. Since the beginning of the season, the right-hander appears to have strayed from big breaking balls, lowering his rate from 18 percent in April to 13 percent through the end of May. His curveball, a tertiary offering that has often taken a backseat to a more potent heater, was scarcely seen on Sunday, comprising only five of 108 total pitches. Odorizzi was tinkering with his curve in two-strike counts back in March, but hasn’t thrown more than 10 in a start since his season debut.
Still, with 6 â…” frames of no-hit baseball in his back pocket, there’s little to kvetch about.
There are routine double plays, backhanded double plays, too-close-for-comfort double plays, and then there are the kind of double plays that the Mariners ran into on Saturday night. This is the double play that haunts you.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, with one out and runners at the corners, the Mariners were a flyball short of a tie game. Franklin Gutierrez stepped up to bat against Minnesota closer Kevin Jepsen, who had just pitched a curveball in the dirt when Kyle Seager took off for second base. Halfway there, Twins catcher Juan Centeno gunned the ball to second base, where Brian Dozier chased Seager back to first base before firing to third base. Shawn O’Malley, who was inching down the line toward home, was tagged out on his way back to the bag. Third baseman Eduardo Nunez then tossed the ball to shortstop Eduardo Escobar, who was covering second and tagged Seager to end the game.
In short, it was the TOOTBLAN (thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop) to end all TOOTBLANs.
While the last-minute blunder handed the Twins their fourth series win of 2016, there were a couple of bright spots for the Mariners. Center fielder Nori Aoki slammed his first home run of the year off of Phil Hughes on a letters-high fastball that stretched over the right field fence, marking his first long ball in a Seattle uniform. Despite Wade Miley’s horrific pitching line—six hits, five runs, four walks, and three home runs given up in four innings pitched—the Mariners’ bullpen combined for five innings of one-run ball, cementing a second-best 3.58 DRA among major-league relief corps.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
We could talk about the #shadows in this game, or we could talk about Billy Burns chasing down a would-be triple at 18.6 mph.
What to Watch on Monday
Monday is a holiday, which means that between thankful reflection for those who have given their lives in service of the United States and family barbecues, you have more time to watch more baseball games.
First on the docket is a double helping of baseball names with complicated spellings, as the Giants’ Jeff Samardzija and Mike Foltynewicz face off in Atlanta at 1:10 ET. Over in Citi Field, the Mets host the White Sox for their third interleague match-up of the season, also at 1:10 ET. They’ll pit Matt Harvey and his 5.53 DRA against Jose Quintana and his 2.62 DRA and hope that either Harvey or the league’s fifth-worst offense will be able to pull ahead of the Nationals for the division lead. The White Sox, meanwhile, will need both the Indians and Royals to fold if they want to vault from third to first by the end of May.
Closing out the holiday weekend are the Angels and Tigers at 9:05 ET. While both clubs are out of range for an easy division grab, Justin Verlander turned in a gem for Detroit during his last start, pitching an eight-inning shutout and notching 10 strikeouts for his second consecutive outing. Jhoulys Chacin, meanwhile, has yet to log his first win in an Angels uniform and was served a loss in his last five-hit, three-run, four-strikeout performance against the Rangers. If there’s any caveat to made for the Angels, however, it’s this guy: