I’ve never seen Miguel Gonzalez pitch before, so before tonight’s game, I popped over to his pages on Fangraphs, Texas Leaguers, and Brooks Baseball to get a feel for who he is and what he throws. He’s an interesting guy, who sort of reminds me of a right handed Cesar Ramos. He’s both started games and come out of the pen in the minors. When you look at his arsenal in a vacuum, it screams starter, but the numbers are underwhelming, suggesting that his future lies in the bullpen. Gonzalez throws five distinct pitches – four-seam and two-seam fastballs, changeup with split action, slider, and curve – all with pretty decent movement. Against righties, he leans fastball/slider, against lefties, he spreads out his pitches more evenly. When I see a pitcher like this, my question is always, "Why isn’t he better?" Gonzalez answered almost immediately. Lapses of command.
After allowing a leadoff home run to Desmond Jennings (more on that later) and an infield hit to B.J. Upton, Gonzalez got Ben Zobrist to sky out to left field, bringing up Matt Joyce. He got ahead 0-2, before sending a fastball absolutely straight at Joyce’s head. Joyce turned, and dropped just as fast as gravity would take him, and the ball whipped through the space his head had been, missing by perhaps an inch. An understandably rattled Joyce struck out on the next pitch, but Gonzalez wasn’t done.
He walked Keppinger on 5 pitches, and then Carlos Pena sent a hard hit ground ball into the shift. It looked like the ball struck the lip of the grass at the back of the infield, which caused it to take an unexpected high hop that bounced off Quintanilla’s shoulder and to a charging Markakis in left field. Upton, hustling all the way, made it home without a throw.
Against the newest Ray, Ryan Roberts, Gonzalez tried to come inside, but the pitch, a changeup, got away from him and hit Roberts. Undeterred, Gonzalez tried to come inside against Jose Lobaton, but the result was the same – another hit batsman, loading the bases for Elliot Johnson. EJ didn’t take one in the ribs, but he did put a fantastic opposite field swing on a pitch down and away, lining it into left to score two and put the Rays up by five. He rounded first a bit too far and got caught off the bag to end the inning, but the damage was done.
The other side of the Rays’ dominant performance against their division and wild card rival was of course David Price. He pitched seven innings of seven hit, one run ball, striking out ten and walking none. The most impressive part was that I don’t think he had a great feel for his fastball today. Throughout the whole game, his fastball kept sailing on him, flying arm-side, up and away from right handed batters. And yet, that didn’t seem to matter. With the game already mostly in the bag and his best pitch inconsistent, Price simply blew the Orioles away with his secondary offerings, because that’s what Cy Young would have done.
Price’s curve was especially nasty. He threw it fourteen times, nine times for strikes, including five whiffs. It seemed like every one of those whiffs was strike three. He really had success burying his curve on the back foot of right handed batters and getting them to swing over it, without any shot of making contact. He rarely used his changeup (only six times, but two whiffs), but he did lean heavily on his cutter (19 pitches, 12 strikes, 3 whiffs) to great effect. We used to talk about how Price’s fastball was very good, but he needed to develop a legitimate second pitch. It’s fair to say that he’s developed three.
- As I mentioned before, Desmond Jennings lead off the game with a home run to left field. Jennings is having a disappointing sophomore season, but this was a swing that's easy to dream on. It was the kind of swing that can be nothing other than a home run; a graceful ballet of early pitch recognition and raw bat speed. Watch this swing enough times and you'll be certain you're looking at a 25+ home run hitter (you'll be wrong, but it still feels good).
- Ryan Roberts continued the tradition of memorable Rays debuts, being hit by a pitch, taking a walk, striking out, and hitting a home run. For someone who doesn't strike out a bunch and makes contact at an above average clip, he sure has a long, hard, aggressive swing. Seeing him, I would have expected a stat profile more in line with Brooks Conrad than with Jeff Keppinger. My guess, based on very limited viewing, is that he makes up for his swing with good pitch recognition and plate coverage (he was able to lay off of all the pitches this game that he really couldn't have reached, even if he did swing at some pitches out of the zone). If green is envious, and yellow cowardly, what color is intrigued? Color me that.
- Lobaton hit his first major league home run, to really ice the game in the fifth. Good for him. Luke Scott thought so, apparently, and gave him a cup of ice cream.
- Keppinger had a bit of a rough game, grounding into two double plays. He also hit a grounder that would have been a double play, except that Joyce was running on the pitch, and a grounder that would have been a double play, except that there were already two outs. This is why strikeouts aren't much worse than other types of outs. High contact guys like Kepp are going to have days like today every now and again (if someone's getting on in front of them, that is).
- I think that Elliot Johnson has a weakness against breaking balls from opposite handed pitchers down and in. He swung through a couple today that he really had no chance on, and it's an image that seemed familiar. No research to back this up, just an off the cuff observation.
- Tonight was a perfect game to set Baltimore up for the sweep. Gonzalez only lasted 2.2 innings (hitting yet another batter before being pulled), and the Orioles were forced to use five bullpen pitchers. They won't have much time to recover as James Shields will face Chris Tillman tomorrow at 12:35.