June 2, 2013
The baseball sometimes knows you are getting too smug, and proceeds to administer a rather thorough beating on your favorite club just to keep you honest. That beating was today's 11-3 loss. Zach McAllister, whose games had never been worse than decent, threw up a bad one today, and the Rays kept their foot on the gas pedal the rest of the way.
To say Bill Welke had a tight strike zone would be an understatement. Here is McAllister's strike zone plot courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
There was just one pitch clearly outside the zone called a strike, and the vast majority of borderline pitches were called balls. After four innings of watching this, Terry Francona had had enough and said the magic umpire words. Welke tossed Francona, and after a lengthy and at times animated harrangue Francona retired to the clubhouse to watch the rest of the game in between games of solitaire.
But I'm not pinning McAllister's outing on the strike zone. Zach would have had trouble regardless of how large the strike zone was, because as you see in the above graphic, there were a lot of pitches right down the middle of the plate in hitters' counts. His defense also didn't help him, as in the first inning Mark Reynolds bobbled what could have been a double play ball, but instead, he only got the out at first. The next batter (James Loney) hit a rocket to center that Michael Bourn had tick off the end of his glove. That scored two runs, and gave the Rays a lead that they wouldn't relinquish.
The Indians briefly made a game of it when they scored three runs to make the game 4-3. And, characteristic of how things have gone this season, all base runners reached in that inning after there were two outs. Mark Reynolds and Carlos Santana each singled, then Yan Gomes hit a ball to the wall in right for a run-scoring double. On that play, Matt Joyce or Sam Fuld each could have caught the ball, though because was in the tracks of both, neither caught it. Mike Aviles capped the inning with a two-run single up the middle. But that would be all the runs the Indians would score.
McAllister left the game in the fifth inning having given up five runs on seven hits and four walks, his first clunker of the season. The relief pitching wasn't any better. Nick Hagadone started the fifth inning with a four-pitch walk, then grooved a pitch Yunel Escobar, who smacked the ball over the center field fence. That made the score 7-3, and put the game away. Rich Hill continued the recent ineptness by left-handed pitchers by allowing three runs in his 0.2 innings, and Matt Langwell was welcomed warmly to the big leagues by Evan Longoria's two-run homer in the eighth.
Good middle relief is usually difficult to maintain, for a couple reasons. One, in order to have good middle relief, you either need have to good late-inning relief or an incredibly deep and talented bullpen. And two, middle relievers generally get sporadic work, or are kids just called up from the minors. With Chris Perez's injury, that moved guys like Bryan Shawn and Cody Allen into late-relief, and taking their places are guys like Nick Hagadone and Rich Hill, who are only here because there aren't any other good left-handed options available. The moral of the story is that the less you use your middle relief the better, especially if that middle relief includes Hagadone and Hill.
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