W: Slowey (2-1) L: Masterson (0-2)
Perhaps Masterson was trying to be too “fine” with his control. Or “adequate.” Perhaps “tolerable.”
1) Credit Where Credit is Due
I’m supposed to participate in this ESPN Thing called “BBTN Live”. It’s kind of like a game chat, where ESPN guys can talk about anything, but the bloggers from the SweetSpot Network are supposed to talk only about the game in which their team is playing. I have already gotten in trouble for using the terms “blows” and “goddam.” These, to me, are not swear words. On the other hand, if you check the archives from 2006, you will note that … yeah, I swear a lot in real life. If Nick is reading this, I will be more careful. Hopefully “fungus” and “egregious” are still in play.
Anyway, I can’t find the archive right now, so I might actually misquote myself, but in the first inning I wrote something like, “Kevin Slowey’s command tonight is remarkable.”
Why would I have written this? Well, consider that he retired the first two hitters on five pitches, all strikes. Asdrubal Cabrera was in an 0-2 hole when he grounded out to first, and Grady Sizemore was down 0-1 when he grounded out to third.
Shin-Soo Choo made Slowey work: he took an 0-2 ball, fouled off a couple, took another ball, and was called out on a superb inside-corner knee-high pitch with movement. Should he have swung? Sure, it was strike three. But it was right in the corner of the strike zone, and … well, shoot, it was a good pitch.
Yes, Slowey’s very next pitch was driven over the wall for Cleveland’s only run, but after that, he never allowed more than one baserunner in an inning … one extra-base hit … and he struck out eight more guys for 9 in all. The last SIX strikeouts were all swinging.
Now, not all the strikeouts are considered equal. He got Luis Valbuena to swing at a pitch approximately one hectare out of the strike zone. He got Austin Kearns to swing at a pitch that nearly hit him, which is at least partially excusable because the first pitch was FURTHER inside and was CALLED a strike. Slowey got a couple calls.
But why did he get a couple calls? Because he threw 70 strikes in 98 pitches. Do you know why Greg Maddux got a few extra calls? Because he threw so many pitches that WERE in the strike zone. Once you establish that you are going to be around the strike zone on nearly EVERY PITCH, everyone … EVERYONE … is expecting your next pitch to be a strike.
This has a couple of effects: one, it induces hitters to be more likely to swing. You aren’t going to walk them (Slowey finished with zero walks), so they better hit the ball. And if they’re more likely to swing, they’re more likely to swing at YOUR pitch. This is essentially what happened to the Indians: they kept trying to hit Slowey’s Pitch, and by golly, they could not hit it with authority (or, in nine cases, at all). Second, the umpire is probably going to give you a call or two. And this acts as a feedback loop, inducing more swings at borderline pitches.
I certainly don’t want this to come across as suggesting that the umpire played a significant role in Slowey’s success: I just wanted to talk a bit about the consequences of pitching with outstanding command and control. This is what Slowey had, and his game was a gem.
2) In direct contrast
Justin Masterson’s was not.
Listen, there will be days like this. I was cringing over the prospect of Masterson facing Minnesota’s high-quality high-density left-leaning lineup anyway. And to Masterson’s credit, with two men on in the first, he struck out Joe Mauer (and, to a lesser extent, Jason Kubel: not that it was less of a strikeout, but rather less of a Mauer). In the second, he got Mauer to ground out to end the inning with the bases loaded. And in the ill-fated 3rd, he struck out Kiubel with two on and Denard Span to end the inning. In the 4th, he even coaxed a double play from Mauer.
You may notice something here, though: facing the opponent’s #3 hitter in the second inning or the leadoff hitter for the third time in the 3rd inning does not speak well for your efficiency. And, in fact, Masterson threw 96 pitches to get through FOUR innings … and this is because he “only” needed 16 in the 4th. His most-efficient inning yields a pace that would saw through 96 pitches to get through six innings.
Look, the man coughed up 7 Witt Points in 4 IP (5 BB, 1 WP, 1 HBP). And the wild pitch ought to count for multiple Witt Points because … boy, howdy, that was some Significant Badness. Patrick Roy in his prime would not have reached that with a kick save. And then what followed … oh, my goodness. I need to sit down, I feel dizzy and nauseated. Wait a minute, I AM sitting down. This is not good.
Instead of dwelling on a lot of minutia about why a start in which you allow 12 baserunners in 4 innings is bad, let’s consider whether there’s anything we can really take from the start.
a) He retired Joe Mauer three times, twice with runners in scoring position.
This suggests that Masterson does at least have something to get good-hitting lefties out with. It’s not like Mauer is off to a poor start: AFTER taking an 0-for-4 collar, Mauer is hitting .347/.441/.510. He’s still Joe Mauer.
b) He could not have retired Justin Morneau with a handgun and a bottle of ether.
Hey, Morneau is hitting .340/.484/.540. I don’t think he was the MVP that one year, but the man can hit. And he can certainly hit three-quarters righties with no command.
c) He was inefficient, especially with men on base.
You think? You don’t think walking J.J. Hardy (.236/.288/.364) on four pitches with the bases loaded is “efficient?” That’s tremendous efficiency: it only took him four pitches.
d) He still has strikeout stuff.
6 Ks in 4 IP, including 10 swings-and-misses. Only one ball was truly hit with authority as well: Morneau’s RBI double in the first.
With the Joe Mauer PAs (and Kubel, and one Span PA), I have more optimism that Masterson can pitch through a lineup, even one with quality left-handers in it. New York will kill him, but … they seem to give other teams a hard time, too. Anyway, he’s got quality stuff and did not seem to wear down appreciably: he hit the ground running with a leadoff walk and maintained that complete absence of control throughout the game. More seriously, he didn’t seem to lose velocity or movement, so he’s probably Really, Truly a Starter After All.
3) Not Quite the Worst Play in the World
Look, we’ve already seen The Worst Play in the World. You can stop looking. We saw it. It ain’t coming back.
But let me say this: it is one thing to throw a run-scoring wild pitch with the bases loaded.
It is quite another to bollix the throw to the plate to such an extent that the ball careens off to allow a SECOND run to score.
In hindsight, just hold the damn ball. Also, take off the size thirty-eight dress shoes. “March of the Gladiators” indeed.
4) The bright spot in the void
Jamey Wright faced six hitters. He threw 18 pitches, 12 of which were strikes, and recorded 6 ground ball outs. (Maybe the Rangers radio guys were onto something after all)
Raffy Perez faced three hitters. Although he got no swings-and-misses, which is a little discouraging (when he’s at his best, people miss that slider a LOT), but 7 of his 10 pitches were strikes and all three men popped or flew out.
Jensen Lewis faced three hitters. Although he gave up a single, he induced a double play to the next batter after striking out the first on four pitches (all strikes). 9 of his 13 pitches were for strikes, and he now sports a 1.35 ERA.
That, my friends, will do nicely from your bullpen. Huzzah!
5) Ducks in the Desert!
The Indians went 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position, which means Austin Kearns’ double came with one out. We left four men on base … because we had four baserunners and a homer.
The pond was empty. Or the ducks were all watching “Glee.” You can never tell what ducks are going to imprint on.
6) Welcome back!
Russ Branyan got his first hit as an Indian since May 31, 2002!
He got his first K since … every other game he’s ever played.
He now leads the Cleveland Indians in Batting Average.
7) Pronk smash!
First home run hit in the new park. Well-struck ball. Still slugging .395.
8) Flashing the leather
In one case, you have Russ Branyan of all people, snaring a hard grounder to first, stepping on the bag, then throwing to second for an unorthodox double play. Could he have simply gone 3-6-3 with that one? I guess. But this had fewer moving parts, and the tag wasn’t that onerous. It was a nice play.
And then you have “flashing” meaning “exposing your naked body,” because the ground ball that should have ended the 3rd inning with zero runs scoring went RIGHT THROUGH ASDRUBAL CABRERA’S LEGS. I mean, this wasn’t booted or a bad hop: this simply nutmegged him.
And, of course, Tofu Lou Marson and Justin Masterson appeared on Baseball Tonight’s Web Germs. Very, very, very, very bad play.
9) A game of inches
Austin Kearns hit a “double” off the wall that looked like a homer to me. Whatever.
10) Looking ahead
Lefty Francisco Liriano makes his eighty-third “This time he’s back for sure, you betcha” comeback start for the Twins tonight. Left-handers have not reached base against Liriano in 9 tries (with 3 punchouts) this season; from 2007-2009, lefties hit .243/.316/.316 off him while righties posted a more-palatable .279/.357/.484 line.
Modest suggestion: move Kearns up to cleanup. Let LaPorta play first. Put Grudzielanek at second. Drop Hafner to 5th. Drop Peralta to six-hundred-thirty-eighth. (Okay, 7th.) If you have to play Branyan, let LaPorta DH and sit Hafner.
Kearns is hitting as well as anyone on this team not born in South Korea. He’s a vet. Move him up. And although I don’t really want Kearns to get playing time at LaPorta’s expense … well, it doesn’t HAVE to come at LaPorta’s expense, if you see what I mean.