May 9, 2013
What You Need to Know
King of the Hill
The Wednesday Takeaway
In yesterday’s matinee at PNC Park, the 27-year-old Hernandez stymied the Pirates over eight innings of work, keeping pace with A.J. Burnett until Jesus Montero’s solo shot gave the Mariners a decisive 2-1 lead. Hernandez’s fastball only averaged a tick over 91 mph, but his secondary offerings baffled the Pirates from beginning to end, as 26 of his 33 changeups, curveballs, and sliders went for strikes. With virtually everything working, Hernandez needed only 97 pitches to record 24 outs, before Tom Wilhelmsen cleaned up the ninth inning to earn his ninth save.
And as impressive as Wednesday’s outing alone was, it has recently become the norm for Hernandez, who has now finished the eighth in four of his last five starts. Hernandez’s five strikeouts were his lowest single-game total during the recent stretch of dominance, in which he has pitched 38 innings and amassed a 40-to-2 K:BB while allowing only one home run. That’s good for a 1.60 FIP, which is fitting, since Hernandez’s ERA was 1.60 coming into yesterday’s series finale. It now sits at 1.53 and has dropped with each of his last five trips to the mound.
Next up for Hernandez is a visit to the Bronx, where he spun a two-hit shutout last August 4. No pitcher can boast a lower ERA at the new Yankee Stadium than King Felix’s 1.13 mark, which the righty will try to maintain on Wednesday, assuming the Mariners stick to their current rotation.
Matchup of the Day
The 29-year-old Hamels enters this evening’s assignment against the Diamondbacks with strong career numbers in the hitter-friendly Chase Field, where he has won four of five games and amassed a 3.38 ERA and 0.81 WHIP, both aided by a superb 33-to-5 K:BB. But manager Kirk Gibson’s roster saw significant turnover this offseason, and among the new hitters with whom Hamels will need to contend is Cody Ross. The 32-year-old Ross, who spent the 2012 season with the Red Sox, has been a pest to the southpaw dating back to his National League East days with the Marlins, and he pounded Phillies pitching in the 2010 NLCS, earning MVP honors in the process.
Ross comes into tonight’s showdown with a 12-for-40 lifetime line versus Hamels, including two doubles and five home runs, his highest long-ball tally off of any pitcher. Add three walks and five strikeouts in the lot of 43 plate appearances, and you’ve got a .300/.349/.725 triple-slash line that stands out even when compared to Ross’ overall excellence against left-handed pitching, which is evidenced by a .325 career TAv.
As the plot above, from Ross’ hitter profile, shows, the righty thrives on offerings over the inner third and those left down the middle of the plate. That’s true across all types—fastballs, off-speed pitches, and breaking stuff—so for opposing southpaws seeking to retire Ross, the key is command of pitches over and off of the outer portion of the plate.
Hamels learned that the hard way when the two last met on May 18, 2012. After issuing a four-pitch walk to Ross in his first trip to the box, Hamels tried to get into his kitchen with cutters, but he missed well off the plate twice and was forced to give in with a down-and-in four-seamer, which Ross clubbed for a double. The next time Ross came to bat, Hamels grooved a first-pitch fastball and paid an even steeper price.
Three of Ross’ five home runs against Hamels have come on the opening offering, a fastball each time: on the inner black on May 31, 2008, and belt-high over the inner third on August 8, 2009. He will need to be more careful in early counts this evening to get to the two-strike situations in which Ross’ tendency to chase soft stuff down and away makes him vulnerable. An approach similar to the one that yielded this strikeout on July 27, 2011 might prove effective again, with Hamels’ bread-and-butter changeup serving as the putaway pitch (9:40 p.m. ET).
What to Watch for on Thursday