When you’ve just become a notch in the belt of the league’s best current ace, it would be understandable to be feeling a bit down on yourself as an offense. In times like these, what you really need is a former ace to help pick up your spirits. That’s who Dan Haren is these days, and in that role he performed brilliantly.
I actually thought that Haren’s stuff looked pretty good, and I was about to tweet as much in the second inning. He was hitting the corners, his fastball, splitter, and cutter were all diving in different directions as they are wont to do, and the Rays hitters couldn’t square anything up. And then he hung one. It was a 90 mph fastball up and in but over the plate. It didn’t sink, it didn’t run, it didn’t cut. It was like B.J. Upton or Carlos Pena’s relationship to tobacco products. Zorilla clobbered the pitch out to left center, and after a brief pause for video replay confirmation, the Rays had the lead.
That pitch was just a preview of what was to come. Haren got things back under control again until the fourth inning when he threw a strikingly similar, but perhaps even worse, pitch to B.J. Upton. All of Haren’s pitches in the at bat had been up, but this pitch was up and dead center on the plate, not to mention slow (88 mph) and straight. Upton cranked it out to left, apparently smacking the ball hard enough to also break open The Floodgates.
After Matt Joyce popped out to shortstop, Evan Longoria hit a liner the other way for a single (it would have been a double for anyone with real legs). Zobrist followed it with a sharply hit groundball past Pujols and into right field. Longoria measured his steps gingerly as he rounded second but did in fact go first to third (Zobrist made it to second, so no, this was not THAT impressive on Longo’s part). Keppinger brought Longoria home easily by hitting a hard grounder that bounced off the mitt of the Angels third baseman before heading into left, and Zobrist made it home as well with a bit of aggressive heads up baserunning that really was impressive. Pena hit a single into the corner in right that might have been extra bases had not Torii Hunter played it well, and Ryan Roberts sent Mike Trout back to the warning track for an RBI sacrifice fly, chasing Haren from the game.
David Price and other notes below the jump.
Early on in the broadcast, Brian Anderson summed up Price's current pitching approach perfectly as "flexible." He starts off every game pumping in fastballs, and then once he figures out which of his secondary pitches are working best, he leans on them as the game wears on.
Early, it seemed like tonight would be another curveball game. In the first two innings, the Angels couldn't catch up to his fastball, and Price made both Torii Hunter and Howie Kendrick look silly on curves down below the zone. In the third inning, though, Price lost a little bit of his fastball command, and had to fight back into counts. Against Chris Iannetta, Price used his cutter to even things up before inducing a weak groundball to third with the curve. From that point on, it was all cutter.
The second time through the lineup, the Los Angelas hitters seemed to be getting on Price's normal fastball, but they did so to the exclusion of his 6-10 mph slower cut option. He back-doored the cutter, he threw it for whiffs at the bottom of the zone. He even threw it past good Angels hitters right over the plate. One of Price's favorite sequences today was to show the cutter on the outside half of the plate to a righty, and then once he got to two strikes, come back with a 98 mph fastball down and in, going for the strikeout.
Price's final line on the day was seven innings, no runs, three hits, two walks, and eight strikeouts. He threw 103 pitches with 53% fastballs, 25% cutters, 13% curves, and 8% changeups. His cutter resulted in a strike 80% of the time he threw it, including four whiffs. The changeup was the spottiest of his pitches, as he yanked two of them badly, and I have to wonder if Price has lost some of his feel for the pitch while having such success with his other options.
- In the fifth inning, Longoria leaned out over the plate and reached for a pitch. It didn't look very good as he swung, but the ball carried easily out to left center. Shots like that are a reminder of just how special a bat Longo is.
- The first inning ended when Albert Pujols flew out harmlessly to short center on a fastball up and in (but only slightly in). Price kicked the dirt in frustration as the pitch was hit, and walked off the mound shaking his head. Most pitchers are happy to get Pujols out, but it was a mistake Prince Albert might have crushed, and Price knew it. I love the process-oriented attitude.
- Price's cutter is showing a greater range of speed than it used to. Previously, it was always 87-89 mph. Now it's not uncommon to see one up around 91 mph. No thoughts on what that means, just an observation.
- Zobrist once again did a good job at shortstop today, finishing a quick double play and taking good angles to the ball so that he could field it while moving towards first base. If he continues to do good work at short, perhaps the "I don't believe Zorilla is an MVP caliber player because I don't believe UZR when it tells me that he's a far above average fielding second baseman" crowd will change their tune. You know who you are. Will you be convinced?
- The unsung hero of the game was LA's Jerome Williams. Although he gave up two runs, his 4.1 innings of work were exactly what the Angels needed, as the Rays were threatening to jump Scioscia's bullpen early in the four game series. In the final accounting, both LA and TB used two relief arms.
The Rays Tank:
- Grantland's Bill Barnwell compares mortality rates in football and baseball players. It's a scary study.
- What's the proper punishment for a PED suspension? Is 50 games enough? Alex Remington takes a look.
- Was Joe Maddon's ejection in Wednesday's perfect game Bush League? Well, no.
Pitch data from Brooks Baseball.