The Weekend Takeaway
It’s always nice when you can look back on a trade that erased Yoenis Cespedes from your lineup and smile. This was the general feeling on Sunday when right-hander Michael Fulmer dismantled the Yankees with another six scoreless frames, extending his streak to 23 â…“ innings without a run. It’s a streak worth preserving, and one that’s already made history, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 12, 2016
Despite pitching into and out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning, Fulmer was nearly unhittable against the 31-32 Yankees. He struck out three batters, a season low, while holding opponents to two hits and three walks.
Every pitch appeared to be working for him, even his changeup. Although he boasts a four-pitch repertoire, his changeup has elicited a less-than-enthusiastic reception since his major-league debut in April. He tossed it 29 times in a 6-5 win over the Orioles in May, and has been backing off the pitch ever since. On Sunday, Fulmer’s slider was the real money-maker, drawing 16 swings in 30 pitches, but he mixed in 16 changeups to varying degrees of success. Half landed inside the zone, where they fell for strikes and a first-inning groundout, while the other half contributed to a handful of walks.
While Fulmer busied himself by keeping the basepaths clear, the Tigers worked a three-run lead to couch their starter’s efforts with two productive outs and an Ian Kinsler home run. There may have been some doubts about slotting Fulmer into the rotation to start the season, but when your back-end starter is this good, things can only look up.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
After a quiet start to the 2016 season, Edwin Encarnacion is starting to swing again. Over the weekend, he started a three-game hitting streak with six hits, three home runs, two doubles, three walks, and seven RBI against the visiting Orioles. The creme de la creme of the series was delivered on Saturday, when Encarnacion lashed a pair of longballs off relievers T.J. McFarland and Brian Duensing in the Blue Jays’ 11-6 beatdown over Baltimore.
He tagged his first homer off of McFarland on a sinker that cleared the upper deck; the second ricocheted off the top of the wall on a changeup that just brushed the bottom of the strike zone.
Sure, Encarnacion’s .277 TAv is a little droopier than his usual .300+ mark, but PECOTA believes he’s still capable of performing at a .301 TAv, 3.0 WARP clip through the end of the season. If Saturday’s performance was any indication, he’ll have John Gibbons singing his praises in no time.
The last time Danny Duffy wormed his way into a WYNTK column, he was tattooing the strike zone with hittable pitches, some of which were lobbed over the center field wall in the Royals’ 4-1 loss. On Sunday, he exited his six-inning shutout with a little more dignity, holding the White Sox to three hits and three walks and reserving any potential dingers for his next meeting with the league leader in home runs.
Duffy’s first scoreless start of the year coincided with the first double-digit strikeout tally of his career. He whiffed 10 batters over six frames and wielded the three-pitch strikeout in the first and third innings to stymie runners in scoring position.
When Duffy was not showing flashes of dominance, he racked up three walks, the first to appear in one of his starts since September 16, 2015. Up until Sunday’s performance, he’s maintained an abnormally low BB/9 rate of 1.84, the lowest of his career. He’s matching that control with an equally healthy command, averaging 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings. If his 2.56 DRA is anything to go by, it looks like Duffy might finally merit a break from all the yo-yoing between the Royals’ rotation and bullpen.
Cole Hamels exercised his new secondary pitch against the Mariners on Sunday afternoon. Although he first introduced his cutter back in 2010, and has used it with increased regularity in subsequent seasons, he’s never appeared to rely on it quite this much.
Brooks Baseball says that Hamels has gone to his changeup in at least 22.5 percent of situations, peaking at 36.8 percent during his rookie season. Through 83 innings pitched in 2016, hitters are seeing Hamels’ change just 18.8 percent of the time. His cutter, by comparison, accounts for 22.9 percent of pitches thrown, the highest it’s been since Hamels introduced the pitch back in 2010.
Here’s how the Mariners handled the cutter:
Of the 20 cutters Hamels threw, nearly half landed outside the strike zone. The other 12 landed for strikes, some dangling as strikeout bait in the upper quadrants of the zone, while one was taken for an eight-pitch home run. His changeup, on the other hand, comprised only 11 of 104 pitches thrown. Although just two of the changeups touched the zone, he caught two batters swinging and induced five groundball outs.
The cherry on top of Hamels’ sixth win? His 2,000th career strikeout, landing him among the 77 major-league pitchers who have tallied over 2,000 whiffs and the seven active players who are still racking up more.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how you do the job, as long as you get it done. For instance, you could pull a Jacoby Ellsbury and run 98 feet from center field to catch a flyball at the wall, moving nearly as fast as a minivan in a school zone. You don’t have to, but you could.
What to Watch on Monday
Monday’s evening slate features two matchups of Jekyll and Hyde proportions. First, at 7:10 ET, the Braves and Reds lock arms with right-handers Aaron Blair and Daniel Wright. Both a product of the Braves’ abysmal run production and a standard case of rookie jitters, Blair is dragging a 6.95 DRA through his first eight starts, and has not lasted more than six innings in all but one of his outings. Excluding a disastrous three-homer performance against the Giants, he’s been able to keep the ball in the park, but even his longest appearance has been sabotaged by poor control.
Like Blair, Wright is also hunting for his first win of the season. He’s three games into his major-league career and lasted just 1 â…“ innings in his last start, a four-hit, three-run affair against the Nationals. What he lacks in command, as evidenced by a 5.00 DRA, he has tried to make up for with exceptional control, limiting opponents to a 0.9 BB/9 rate over 10 innings pitched. Still, there are few conclusions to be drawn from any three games pitched by a major leaguer, and the silver lining of Monday’s mayhem is that Major League Baseball rules dictate that one of these teams must win. Barring rain or meteors, a lot of runs will score on Monday, and at the end of it all, either Aaron Blair or Daniel Wright will have contributed to a win.
Over on the West Coast, Zack Greinke and his 3.31 DRA take on the Dodgers, who were smoked in the Giants’ 2-1 win on Sunday. Three months deep in the 2016 season, Greinke is finally starting to look like the 5.5 WARP wizard of yesteryear. He hasn’t taken a loss in a full month and hasn’t given up a run in 16 consecutive innings. His last start against the Rays went the distance for a complete game shutout, the first of its ilk since 2013. Although his strikeout rate is the lowest it’s been in several seasons, Greinke displayed remarkable control, limiting opponents to two walks and three hits, none of which stretched past first base (9:40 ET).
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