Andy Sonnanstine & Joe Nelson Pitch Well In Loss To Yankees

For the second straight night there was some really good pitching from the Rays starter. For the second straight night the offense failed to do much damage and a "trusted" "veteran" "proven" reliever flushed that good pitching down the drain. While Andy Sonnanstine wasn't as good as Matt Garza yesterday, he was good enough. And if you combine his effort with Joe Nelson's you can't really ask for more than what they gave you tonight.  

Sonnanstine, like Shields before him, rebounded in his second start from just an awful 2009 debut. While Sonny was "hittable" in his first appearance (4.2 IP, 8 H, 5 ER), the biggest concern for me was his control. He walked four batters in his first start in Baltimore which is the most we've seen from Sonny since...ever. Tonight, we saw a much different pitcher from the start. Sonny retired the first inning side on 15 pitches (10 strikes) and had a much more Sonny like three strikeouts to one walk in five innings of work.

Unlike his first start which featured three main pitches: cutter, curveball, slider, Sonny used all five of his pitches this evening. While most of his work came off of the cutter, he used his secondary pitches in unison. Here is the breakdown with usage percentage and average velocity:

Pitch

%

MPH

Cutter

42

86

Curveball

19

73

Slider

14

82

FourSeam

14

86.5

Changeup

10

83.6

Those five pitches landed for a strike 51 of the 78 times Sonnantine threw a pitch or 65%. So why was Sonnanstine lifted after five innings with a 3-2 lead and just 78 pitches? At first, I didn't see why and even now while I understand the reasoning behind it, I'm still not sure it was the right move. However, we didn't know Troy Percival was going to suck either back in the fifth inning when the move was made (Ok, maybe we all did).

In a one run game, the Yankees were set to send three straight switch hitters to the plate in the sixth inning: Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada. Rather than putting Sonny out there against the three batting left handed, Maddon played the odds and summoned right hander Joe Nelson from the pen. Before we get into the results, I just want to talk about Nelson for a minute.

When the Rays signed Nelson this off-season, I was excited about adding a quality arm for below market value. Even while Nelson struggled during Spring Training and people were calling for his head, I still felt good about the signing and even had to defend Nelson in a few articles. Now we are two weeks into the season, and it's hard for me to name another Rays reliever I have more confidence in. Seriously, if you gave me a choice of one Rays reliever vs. the opposing team's three best hitters, I would probably pick Nelson over Balfour or Howell right now. But back to today's game.

Maddon knew that bringing in the right Nelson would keep all three hitters on the left side of the plate. Maddon also knows that while Nelson throws with his right hand, he is also a very effective loogy. Here are his career splits coming into today.

Career

VSRHB

VS LHB

PA

271

199

BA

0.246

0.211

OBP

0.341

0.310

SLG

0.440

0.304

OPS

0.780

0.614

The Skipper rolled with these odds and it worked out very well. Nelson retired the side on 17 pitches without giving up a hit or a walk. In each of the three at-bats, Nelson got the out using his Vulcan change-up. He would retire the first two batters of the seven innings before walking Hideki Matsui and handing the ball off to Grant Balfour. Small sample size alert, but Nelson has more strikeouts (7) than baserunners(6)in five innings of work.

While the last two days have been disappointing, the Rays at 4-5 are right on pace with the 2008 team that also started out 4-5. So far the Rays have dealt with a lot of inconsistencies that should iron themselves out. However, when you get a combined 12 innings and 4 ER given up by your starters over two nights and lost both games because your "most proven" relievers cough it up, maybe you should start trusting someone else and soon.

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