SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 15: A view of the hand-operated scoreboard after starting pitcher Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners threw a perfect game to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 at Safeco Field on August 15, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
As FreeZorilla pointed out on Twitter last night, the Rays have now had a former pitcher throw a no-hitter against them and a former catcher receive a perfect game. It feels like the Rays are involved in these types of games more than just the annual event it has become over each of the past four seasons, but this one feels a bit different. As Jaso was quoted as saying after the game, "You could throw out any lineup out there today...and it is close to the same result."
Maddon certainly threw a type of lineup out there yesterday, one that included the team's hottest hitter and best contact hitter on the bench as well as both Sean Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson in the same lineup, but Jaso is 100 percent correct. Felix Hernandez was in complete command of his pitches yesterday and made very few mistakes in the game. Sam Fuld was the only hitter who put together plate appearances that resembled someone that was not completely overmatched and dominated but throughout the day, the Rays hitters look bewildered and overmatched.
All the while, Jaso squatted behind home plate trying to contain his laughter as he was calling the game of his life knowing damn well he had one of baseball's most deadliest weapons at his disposal on the mound with the enemy's battle plan in his back pocket.
If you want to write off the perfect game yesterday to the lineup Joe Maddon utilized, that is your right, but it was nowhere near the worst lineup involved in a perfect game. It just did not help that Jaso was quite familiar with how the Rays like to attack Hernandez and used that to his advantage in calling pitches yesterday. This was no more evident than in the final at bat of the game against Sean Rodriguez. As Hernandez told Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times:
"I took a little walk, you know, to catch my breath," Hernandez said. "He (Jaso) called a slider and I'd been following him all day. I threw a slider and he (Rodriguez) swung and missed."
Rodriguez took a hack as if he was expecting the same kind of mid-90's fastball Jeff Keppinger had seen in his previous at bat but instead swung and missed badly at a breaking ball. The Rays swung and missed at 26 of the 113 pitches that Hernandez threw yesterday, but did so just twice on fastballs. This is where the insider trading comes into play.
Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times had some interesting quotes in his post-game story yesterday. He stated the Rays expected 60 percent fastballs from Hernandez and they wanted to find fastballs early in the count and swing away to avoid the secondary pitches that have historically given them, and every other hitter in baseball, fits. Then, Brewer included these gems:
Catcher John Jaso, formerly with the Rays, knew Tampa Bay's strategy, and he wanted Hernandez to throw the hitters off. And did he ever, with an array of curveballs, sliders and wicked change-ups, all as sharp as they've been all season.
"I've been on the Rays before," Jaso said. "I know their approach against Felix. It's to hit that fastball and hit it early. You don't want to go to the secondary stuff because that's what gets you out."
Coming into yesterday's game, Hernandez had quite a bit of career success against the Rays. In his ten previous starts, he had limited Tampa Bay hitters to just 56 hits in 75 innings of work, allowing 26 hits, four home runs, while striking out 76 batters. Despite the career 2.28 ERA against the Rays in those starts, Hernandez had won just three of those ten starts. Simply put, Hernandez had enjoyed his fair share of success against the Rays put took that success to the next level with the help of Jaso.
In past games, Hernandez had utilized a lot of fastballs against the Rays but had recently changed patterns a bit as he incorporated more breaking balls as he did once again yesterday. The Rays now have just a 2.04 ERA against Hernandez in his career, and one-third of those runs came in a 2006 start that should be rather easy to spot on the following chart:
Fangraphs shows the Rays have negative weighted run values against off-speed pitches as well as breaking ball pitches in 2012:
No team in baseball has a worse score against the changeup and the Rays are in the bottom ten cutters, sliders, and curveballs. Advanced scouting would tell the Mariners what the Rays struggle with but it should not go unnoticed that Hernandez threw more changeups and breaking balls yesterday than he has in any previous start against the Rays.
The mix left the Rays even worse off. "It just seemed like every pitch you thought he was going to throw at a certain point, it was the other pitch," Longoria said.
The lineup yesterday was less than optimal with Desmond Jennings and Jeff Keppinger both limited to pinch-hitting duties in the 9th inning and home plate umpire Rob Drake's strike zone was rather large. The fact of the matter was that Mr. Hernandez was in complete command of his stuff from the first pitch to the 113th pitch of the contest and entered the trading floor with a plan that his partner Mr. Jaso helped him execute to perfection while bankrupting the hearts and minds of the Rays hitters with the frustration of staring at a long line of zeroes for the fourth time in four seasons while cries of, "Hit, Rays, Hit," fell on deaf ears.