The Weekend Takeaway
Kyle Freeland didn’t look like a no-hitter pitcher last Tuesday. After a shallow third-inning single vaulted the Reds to a 4-1 lead over the Rockies, manager Bud Black visited his rookie starter on the mound.
It was a long chat, one that neither Freeland’s teammates nor home plate umpire Bill Miller was privy to, but appeared to reap immediate benefits once Black returned to the dugout. The left-hander settled down to retire eight consecutive batters before Jose Peraza’s sixth-inning home run and Tucker Barnhart’s seven-pitch walk signaled the end of his outing.
On Sunday, still lugging a 5.71 DRA and 107 cFIP through the first 17 starts of his rookie season, Freeland showed up to Coors Field looking like a changed man. Against the visiting White Sox, his fastball touched 96 mp.h and his secondary slider/cutter befuddled right- and left-handed batters alike. He caught the majority of hitters swinging within the strike zone, and generated just three swings and misses outside of it.
When Freeland wasn’t stifling the White Sox at the plate, the Rockies’ defense executed a number of sharp plays to preserve the no-hit bid, culminating with an incredible diving snare by Gerardo Parra in the eighth inning.
By the ninth, Freeland had retired 27 batters on eight strikeouts, allowing just four to reach base after plunking Jose Abreu to end his perfect game in the fourth inning and issuing three walks to Abreu, Omar Narvaez, and Todd Frazier. With three outs remaining, Freeland caught Adam Engel chasing a fastball on the inside corner and collected his ninth and final strikeout of the night.
Melky Cabrera, meanwhile, had other ideas, plucking another fastball from the inside corner and returning it to left field to break up Freeland’s bid with one out in the ninth.
Black pulled Freeland for Jordan Lyles, who made quick work of the heart of the order to secure his teammate’s two-hit shutout. Had Freeland bested Cabrera and secured the no-no, he would have been the 23rd rookie in major-league history to record a no-hitter and the first Rockies pitcher to do so.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
Like any pitcher, Jon Lester has weathered his fair share of bad days—even those that didn’t involve throwing to first base. Sunday’s 14-3 loss took the cake, however, when the Pirates forced the left-hander out of the first inning after taking a 10-run lead.
Josh Harrison got things rolling for the Pirates with a leadoff single and Lester chased it with a routine ground out. Things were fine. Then, almost as quickly, things were Not Fine. Andrew McCutchen hit a double to the left field ivy, which was promptly challenged and ruled foul by the umps.
He eventually settled for a free pass, shifting to second base when Kris Bryant bobbled a ball at third for his 10th fielding error of the season.
Josh Bell drove in a run, then Jose Osuna doubled in two runs, then Jordy Mercer singled in another two.
Still, Lester couldn’t find the strike zone, and Max Moroff fouled off just one ball before taking a walk. Opposing pitcher Chad Kuhl laid down a sac bunt for the second out of the inning, but Lester’s command hadn’t gotten any sharper by the time Harrison came to the plate for a second go-around. He walked on five pitches, loading the bases for Francisco Cervelli’s first grand slam of the season:
McCutchen followed that with a first-pitch solo shot, his 17th homer of the year, and effectively sent Lester packing. The Cubs’ southpaw finished the afternoon after logging just two-thirds of an inning, resting his new 4.47 ERA on six hits, three walks, and 10 runs, and coming one run shy of the 11 he surrendered to the Blue Jays back in 2012.
Marcus Stroman weaved in and out of jams on Saturday, inducing rally-killing double plays, dodging runners in scoring position, and effectively limiting the league-leading Astros to just one run over eight solid innings. The climax of his performance arrived in the sixth inning, on a slider so perfect it could only be immortalized in the infinite loop of the Graphic Interchange Format:
There was no arguing against Stroman’s mastery of the strike zone that day, but Carlos Correa found a way to redeem himself during the series finale, going 4-for-5 with a pair of home runs in the Astros’ 19-1 win on Sunday.
It’s a refrain that bears repeating for however long it continues to be true: Aaron Judge is good at hitting home runs. At this particular moment in time, especially given the dearth of players named Mike Trout, he may even be the best at hitting home runs.
That was made all too apparent on Friday night, when the unstoppable rookie slugger became the first player to 30 home runs in 2017. Judge deposited an 0-1 changeup from Josh Hader into the center field netting, boosting the Yankees to a two-run lead in the fifth inning:
His 432-foot blast wasn’t enough to net a win, but it still earned him a special distinction in franchise history. He’s now the Yankees’ all-time rookie leader in home runs, eclipsing the 29-homer mark Joe DiMaggio set during his first big-league campaign in 1936.
While Freeland fought for his first career no-hitter, Jon Lester tried to corral his pitches, Marcus Stroman devastated hitters, and Aaron Judge devastated pitchers, Carlos Carrasco did something … immaculate.
The Indians right-hander became the fifth major-league hurler this season to set down three batters on nine pitches, following the efforts of Drew Storen, Craig Kimbrel, Max Scherzer, and Kenley Jansen. His "immaculate inning" arrived in the fifth, inducing back-to-back-to-back strikeouts from Nicholas Castellanos, Mikie Mahtook, and Jose Iglesias with pinpoint command and three whiff-inducing sliders.
It was a feat the Indians hadn’t seen replicated in three years, when Justin Masterson felled the Red Sox’s Jonny Gomes, Grady Sizemore, and Stephen Drew in the club’s first-ever immaculate inning.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
Good defense requires a fair amount of flexibility, which the Yankees’ Ji-Man Choi appeared to have in spades this weekend:
The same could not be said for the Padres-affiliated El Paso Chihuahuas, whose lack of precision and coordination allowed the visiting Salt Lake Bees to score on what should have been a routine pop-up.
You don’t see this often.#SCNotTop10 pic.twitter.com/NhwIMHnPEr
— El Paso Chihuahuas (@epchihuahuas) July 8, 2017
What to Watch on Monday
If you had your heart set on watching baseball today, there’s only one can’t-miss headliner: the Home Run Derby. Giancarlo Stanton will attempt to defend his title against the likes of Cody Bellinger, Charlie Blackmon, Justin Bour, Mike Moustakas, Gary Sanchez, and Miguel Sano, none of whom have totaled more dingers than rookie contender Aaron Judge (8:00 ET).
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Pardon my ignorance, but can someone please be kind enough to explain it to me? Thanks much!