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April 18, 2014

What You Need to Know

Meltdown in Minnesota

by Daniel Rathman

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The Thursday Takeaway
A week replete with bullpen meltdowns continued on Thursday with what might be the most embarrassing of them all.

It came in the bottom of the eighth inning of the second game of a doubleheader between the Blue Jays and Twins at Target Field. The home team won the twin bill opener 7-0 but was trailing 5-3 in game two. Steve Delabar trotted out to the mound for the visitors. And so it began.

Delabar walked Josmil Pinto. Then he walked Chris Herrmann. Despite Delabar’s control woes, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire instructed Eduardo Nunez to bunt the runners over, which Nunez did on his third try.

That was all for Delabar, as John Gibbons turned to his current closer, Sergio Santos, when Gardenhire went with Trevor Plouffe as a pinch-hitter.

Santos walked Plouffe. Then, he uncorked a wild pitch—which, if nothing else, opened up a base for him to walk Kurt Suzuki. He did that, too—and ball four was another wild pitch. When pinch-runner Darin Mastroianni stole second, he opened up a base for Santos to walk Brian Dozier. Santos obliged—and ball four to Dozier was another wild one, plating the go-ahead run.

Gibbons had seen enough from Santos, so he called for left-hander J.A. Happ. Dozier stole second, opening up first base again. Can you guess what happened?

Happ walked Joe Mauer. Then, he walked Chris Colabello, which pushed across another run. Then he gave up a single to Jason Kubel, the ninth Twins player to bat in the inning, to put Minnesota ahead 9-5.

To recap, the first eight hitters in the frame either walked or sacrifice bunted. Which means the Twins came within one hitter of batting around without logging an at-bat.

Happ wasn’t done issuing bases on balls, either. He had one more left for Pinto, before striking out Herrmann and coaxing a grounder from Nunez to end the six-run implosion.

Pinto’s second walk of the inning was the eighth issued by the three Blue Jays relievers—a number the team reached in only four games last year. Amid the mess, Santos—who threw only four strikes—became the first Live Ball Era hurler to walk three batters and toss three wild pitches without recording an out.

Gibbons summed the evening up best with five simple words: “We just couldn’t throw strikes.”

Quick Hits from Thursday
At the start of play on Thursday, Citizens Bank Park—which opened in 2004—had seen 13 1-0 games in its history. The most recent was Wednesday’s duel between Julio Teheran and Cliff Lee, in which the Braves prevailed, 1-0. On Thursday, behind A.J. Burnett, the Phillies gave their visitors a taste of their own medicine.

The 37-year-old Burnett had issued six walks in each of his last two starts when he took the bump for the series finale. His control was much better in the matinee, as he doled out only two free passes while limiting the Braves to three hits (all singles) and striking out five.

Burnett, who typically throws his curveball about one-third of the time, leaned more heavily on his hard stuff in the victory. He used a four-seamer or sinker on 72 of his 101 deliveries and turned to his hook only 16 times.

The Phillies scored the game’s lone run after Burnett departed on an eighth-inning single by Ben Revere. Antonio Bastardo vultured the win. Jonathan Papelbon struck out two in a clean ninth to earn the save. And that’s the story of how a ballpark that hadn’t seen a 1-0 decision in almost three years played host to two of them in less than 24 hours.

***

Wei-Chung Wang, the seventh pick in the 2013 Rule 5 draft, might have been its biggest surprise. A 21-year-old from Taiwan with just one year of stateside experience, all of it in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Wang was likely a stash pick for the Brewers, who were hoping to hide him on their major-league roster as the last man out of the bullpen before continuing his development in 2015 and beyond.

That manager Ron Roenicke used the left-hander only once in the Brewers’ first 15 games seemed to confirm that assessment of the selection. On Thursday, Roenicke decided to give Wang another try—against the Pirates, the organization that made him eligible for the draft by voiding the contract he signed as an international free agent when they discovered that he needed Tommy John surgery.

Gaby Sanchez greeted Wang with a homer. Four more hits, including a Jose Tabata double, plated two more runs. And then Pedro Alvarez delivered the big blow: a 411-foot three-run blast that saddled Wang with six total runs in his second inning of big-league work.

At best, Thursday’s beating will serve as a learning experience for Wang, who earned his roster spot with an outstanding spring. But his presence on the 25-man squad complicated matters for Roenicke in a tight game with a division rival, a concern that could linger throughout the season, especially if the Brewers remain in contention.

Milwaukee was tied with Pittsburgh, 2-2, when Logan Schafer pinch-hit for Yovani Gallardo, who had thrown 114 pitches, in the top of the seventh. As MLB.com beat writer Adam McCalvy wrote in his recap, sorting out the rest of the game was a challenge for Roenicke, who is low on trustworthy bullpen arms—and even lower on reliable ones who throw from the right side.

Francisco Rodriguez is the closer, so he wasn’t considered an option to enter a tie game in the seventh, and Jim Henderson, whom K-Rod supplanted in the ninth inning, has yet to settle into a groove. The Brewers have three lefties in their bullpen, in part because they are stashing Wang; Will Smith and Zach Duke, both former starters, are now being deployed for matchup work in the late innings. And Tyler Thornburg, another convert to relief duty, had been called upon in eight of Milwaukee’s first 15 contests, including each of the previous two, so Roenicke understandably preferred to look elsewhere first.

That led to Rob Wooten, up from the minors in place of the injured Brandon Kintzler, getting a relatively high-leverage assignment in just his second appearance of the season. His night didn’t go much better than Wang’s, as he was charged with three runs on three hits (one of them a Josh Harrison dinger) and a walk while recording only one out. Duke came to Wooten’s rescue, but by then, the damage had been done—and the runs with which Wang was later tagged were merely unneeded insurance.

Even after Thursday’s 11-2 loss, the Brewers still have the best record in the National League at 11-5. They were a popular darkhorse choice to battle for a wild card berth and have thus far exceeded expectations.

Still, the rout at PNC Park appears to have exposed a flaw. Wang may yet bounce back, Kintzler will recover from the rotator-cuff strain that shelved him, and Henderson should eventually shake off the rust. But until that happens, the construction of Roenicke’s bullpen could hinder the Brewers—and force inexperienced relievers into situations for which they are ill prepared.

***

There’s a first time for everything. For David Price, Thursday’s loss to the Yankees marked the first time he’d ever given up six extra-base hits in a major-league game.

With a 22-to-2 K:BB ratio and a 2.91 ERA through three starts, Price was well on his way to avoiding the early-season slump he endured in 2013. The Rays can hardly afford a similarly poor start to this year from their ace, with Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson on the disabled list and Matt Moore out for the year.

But the Price who took the mound in the 10-2 defeat was not the same pitcher who carved up the Blue Jays on Opening Day and nearly logged a complete game at Great American Ball Park last week. The left-hander’s cutter and changeup weren’t sharp, too often staying elevated in the middle of the strike zone, and the Yankees took full advantage of his mistakes.

Price flashed ominous signs in the first inning, when he walked Derek Jeter after a leadoff infield single, and then unraveled during a three-run third. The Yankees smacked three extra-base knocks—a Scott Sizemore double and triples by Brian Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury—in a four-batter span before Carlos Beltran hit into a double play.

Three innings later, Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann slugged back-to-back home runs and Yangervis Solarte followed with a double, the sixth two-plus-bag hit of the evening, which set Price’s personal worst in that department.

The 28-year-old told reporters, “Everybody’s going to have their bad days. I had mine.” It happens. The Rays just can’t have it happen too often while their offense is slumping and three of their starters are on the shelf.

The Defensive Play of the Day
White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton gets the nod for the second time this year for this grab, which robbed David Ortiz of a home run:

Honorable mention: Yangervis Solarte to Brian Roberts to Scott Sizemore: It’s the first big-league triple play of 2014:

And it came in Sizemore’s first career appearance at first base.


What to Watch for This Weekend

Friday

  • Now that Matt Moore has joined Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson on the shelf, the Rays have no choice but to insert Erik Bedard into their rotation, and to task him with shutting down the Yankees in game two of four at Tropicana Field. Bedard was quietly a reliable back-end starter for the Astros in 2013, amassing 1.4 WARP over 151 innings, 134 of which came out of the rotation. He whiffed nine Yankees over seven scoreless innings on September 29, but before you take that as a good omen, remember: With the possible exception of John Ryan Murphy, not a single member of Joe Girardi’s lineup that day will don pinstripes tonight (7:10 p.m. ET).

  • Zack Greinke, filling in as the Dodgers’ ace in the absence of Clayton Kershaw, has worked at least five innings and permitted no more than two runs in each of his last 15 starts, the longest such streak in the majors since Greg Maddux went 16 straight from July 31, 1993, through April 14, 1994. When asked about the run by Bill Plunkett, the Dodgers beat writer for the Orange County Register, Greinke replied, “I saw that on Twitter.” The 30-year-old could match Maddux with another such effort in tonight’s meeting with Wade Miley and the Diamondbacks (10:10 p.m. ET).

Saturday

  • Two starts into Ervin Santana’s Braves career, there’s no hint of buyer’s remorse in the front office, because the right-hander has been as effective as ever. Santana blanked the Mets for eight innings in his Turner Field debut and then fanned a career-high 11 in the Braves’ wild victory over the Phillies on Monday. Next on the docket: a rematch with the Mets, this time at Citi Field, where he’s set to square off with Bartolo Colon. The 40-year-old Colon was off to a solid start with the Mets, but he was thumped for nine runs on 11 hits, four of them homers, in his most recent outing. He’ll try to atone for that mess with another strong effort against Fredi Gonzalez’s club, which he shut down for seven frames on April 8 (7:10 p.m. ET).

  • After starting the year with one of the hottest bats in the league, Dexter Fowler has gone ice cold—and dragged the Astros’ offense along with him. An 0-for-4 with a hat trick in yesterday’s loss to the Royals left Fowler in a 1-for-27 slump dating back to April 11. The center fielder has notched just one extra-base hit since the second game of the year, by which point he already had at least one of each type. Fowler will try to jumpstart both his bat and Houston’s lineup when the Astros visit the Athletics, who won their first 10 meetings with Bo Porter’s club last year. Brett Oberholtzer is due to get the ball from Bo Porter in the middle match; Bob Melvin will counter with Scott Kazmir (4:05 p.m. ET).

Sunday

  • Speaking of free-agent pitchers off to ominous starts, Ubaldo Jimenez has looked far more like the erratic pitcher who maddened the Rockies and Indians on the heels of his breakout 2010 campaign than the one who enjoyed a renaissance during the second half of last year. Jimenez has issued 10 walks and served up four long balls in 16 innings on the mound, good for a 6.74 FIP that befits his 7.31 ERA. No team has given the 30-year-old as much trouble as the Red Sox, who have lit him up to the tune of a 10.27 ERA in five career starts, including a six-inning, four-run loss on April 2. Now, Jimenez must face those demons on Sunday Night Baseball at Fenway Park, where the home team will counter with Jake Peavy (7:05 p.m. ET—note the earlier-than-usual first pitch).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

7 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

gweedoh565

"...the first eight hitters in the frame either walked or sacrifice bunted. Which means the Twins came within one hitter of batting around without logging an at-bat."

So glad I'm not a Blue Jays fan so that I can thoroughly enjoy this amazing feat.

Apr 18, 2014 07:43 AM
rating: 0
 
ande4138

I was at the Twins game behind home plate. The Blue jays relievers couldn't hit the strike zone, but Navarro didn't do them any favors. He didn't even attempt to block any of the balls that would become wild pitches, and didn't flinch on any of the stolen base attempts

Apr 18, 2014 08:10 AM
rating: 1
 
timber

Tonight's Rays-Yankees game is the second of the series, not the first.

Apr 18, 2014 08:48 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Fixed.

Apr 18, 2014 09:23 AM
 
TwinsfanTravis

That inning could have been worse had Herrmann and Nunez not baled Happ out by being irrationally aggressive and chasing out of the zone early in their 2nd ABs

Apr 18, 2014 09:21 AM
rating: 1
 
jsdspud

Can't believe Roenicke let that kid absorb a pounding like that. I doubt they can keep him on the roster all year.

Apr 18, 2014 18:27 PM
rating: 0
 
mdupske

Shouldn't a big league manager have confidence in all his players? I can't believe the Brewers only trust Francisco Rodriguez out of all their bullpen. This is why the lefty-righty thing drives me insane. A big league pitcher who is horrible should get 70% of the batters out.

Apr 18, 2014 20:49 PM
rating: 0
 
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