The day Jeff Niemann has possibly his best control and command of the season, he only gets to throw 50 pitches because of an extended rain delay. Go figure. 64% strikes and fastballs today. Everything else thrown was a curve. Doing some hand-counting on Niemann's movement chart, it looks like he threw ~60% four-seamers out of the fastballs he did throw. I don't know if the radar gun at The Jake is juiced or what - Sonnanstine hitting 91, Howell hitting 89, etc. - but Niemann sat 92-93 with his fastball and topped out just shy of 95.
Niemann also threw a few curves with more break than any other breaking pitch tossed on the day. Nearing the -15 inch mark in vertical drop. That's terrifying for batters of either hand. The three pitches Niemann tossed below -10 inches of break were called for two strikes, a ball, and a base hit on a bunt. Pretty effective.
Throwing only two (three if you count the fastball variance) only gives you so much room to mix or match. It's basically fastball-fastball, fastball-curve, curve-fastball, or curve-curve. Curve-curve is the one combination that seems like Niemann's death blow to opposing batters. He went to it five times today, including a stretch where he threw five consecutive curves; his next pitch would be a fastball and his last of the day. The results on these combinations?
1: Foul, swinging strike (strikeout)
2: Swinging strike, swinging strike (strikeout)
3: Foul, foul
4: Called strike, swinging strike
5: Called strike, ball
Three fouls, two called strikes, four swinging strikes, and a ball. That combination works, and Niemann seems to be figuring it out. Major league hitters aren't used to seeing back-to-back breaking pitches. Throw them an average fastball then an average change and they'll probably be sitting on it, throw them average sliders or curves back-to-back and you have a much better chance at succeeding.
12% swinging strikes today, the second straight time Niemann has broken the 10% mark. These last two times out have been encouraging. His command looks far better, his pitch selection, or at least variation, has been improved, and the results themselves are pretty good. I'm not ready to appoint him as a savior or anything more than he is right now, but for a rotation in dire need of better performance, [non-shortened] starts like these by Jeff Niemann would go a long way towards answering the call.
Now, let's just hope his next start like this isn't played outdoors.