Alex Cobb has no intention of ceded his spot in the starting rotation to the looming figure of the rehabbing Jeff Niemann. Five days after being unable to make it out of the third inning against the Angels, Cobb pitched his first major league complete game against their AL West brethren, shutting out the Oakland As on four hits and two walks, while striking out eight. Cobb was back to his usual, attacking ways, pounding the zone with all three of his pitches, but favoring his curveball over his changeup. According to Brooks Baseball, of his 113 pitches, 62% were fastballs, 25% were curves, and only 13% were his excellent split-change. And like I’ve noticed in his previous two stellar outings (the bad one, as well, but in that one his fastball was rarely going where he meant it to), Cobb threw both of his secondary pitches for strikes at a higher rate than he threw his fastball for a strike. I am officially intrigued. Is this a roadmap to success for pitchers with good offspeed and breaking balls, but pedestrian fastballs? Are there other pitchers like this?
Offense below the jump.
One of the arguments the "Fire Shelton" crowd sometimes voices is that Rays hitters never make adjustments. "They just go out there with the same approach all game and get dominated by bad pitchers." I for one have no idea if this is true, although I suspect that it’s not actually something we fans are very good at evaluating visually. It takes a ton of concentration for me to start to understand in-game what an opposing pitcher is doing, and how the Rays’ batters are reacting to it. I would say that I only pay enough attention to claim any level of understanding about half the time. And I know that I don’t watch enough of any other team’s games, or pay close enough attention when I do, to have a general sense for how well other teams adjust to what opposing pitchers are throwing them.
I suppose one might investigate the matter by comparing percentages of wOBA increase each time through the lineup across the league. In this case, the researcher would want to know, before he began, something about the rates at which hitters of different qualities "adjust," so as to avoid simply ranking offenses by their overall skill in a roundabout manner. It's an interesting question and one I'd love to see someone dig into. I'd also like to hear thoughts from people who really do closely follow more than one team (I know Mr. Negative does) on the differences between how their two teams make adjustments within a game.
This is a fairly long tangent I've gone off on, but I've done so for a reason. Consider Tyson Ross, the Oakland starter:
Brian Anderson talked about this during the broadcast, and he's right. Ross is not a very tricky fellow. His slider and his changeup are essentially the same speed, and while Ross can get his fastball up around 95 mph, it doesn't sit there. His slower fastballs have frighteningly (for him) little velocity separation from his faster sliders or changeups. Add in the the fact that he features a breaking ball without much drop working off a fastball without much rise, and you have a pitcher that opposing lineups should be able to adjust to.
Ross blanked the Rays one and a half times through the lineup, but he would have no such luck thereafter.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Jeff Keppinger pulled a fastball deep into the hole between third and short. Stephen Drew made a fantastic diving stop to keep it on the infield, but his throw had no chance of getting Keppinger at first. In the next at bat, Luke Scott sent a high fly ball bouncing off the top of the wall in right field for a double, missing a home run by a foot or two, and advancing Keppinger to third with no outs. Ryan Roberts hit a deep fly ball of his own, this one back into center field. The fly ball was no trouble for Crisp, but it was deep enough to both score Keppinger and allow Scott to advance to third himself. Jose Molina, batting ninth, walked on five pitches, one of them a pitchout. This is the point in the recap where I stop what I’m doing to tell opposing managers that THE RAYS DO NOT RUN A SUICIDE SQUEEZE.
What the bottom of the lineup started the second time they saw Ross, the top of the lineup finished in their third opportunity. Sam Fuld singled in a run with a well hit line drive off a fastball. Ross just wasn’t able to fool anyone anymore. Anyone, that is, except for B.J. Upton, who struck out swinging at a high, 95 mph fastball in a 3-2 count. Matt Joyce picked him up with a double (Fuld just barely made it home from first before the tag), though, and Longoria sent Joyce home with single lined into center. Although Zobrist flew out to end the inning, he too hit the ball hard. Ross, with the help of a Keppinger double play, would last one more inning, but the damage was done.
- Longoria played the field today, and he looked fantastic. In the top of the fifth, Derek Norris hit a grounder up the line that Longoria fielded going backwards and deep. His off-balance throw to second got the runner by a step to end the inning and the A's biggest threat.
- Later on in the seventh, Cespedes hit an "80 power grounder" right at Longoria, who somehow managed to get his glove in the way. I had almost forgotten what a natural fielder Longoria is. He's fun to watch.
- Jerry Blevins came into the game in the seventh, and among other things, struck out Upton on a 3-2 slider. Blevins is a bit of a lefty-specialist, and that slider really wasn't very good. Upton swung under it as if he was expecting it to drop more than it did. Not a great day for the Beej, but I'm pretty sure that if he had another at bat against Blevins and he got that same slider again, the result would be very different (not that any manager in his right mind would let that happen).
- Pat Neshek, the 31 year old Oakland reliever, is fun to watch. He throws from a low arm angle, but his submariner deliver is not even the most interesting thing about him. He's perfectly able bodied, but in his windup, he drags his front leg around as if it's a peg. Once a dominant reliever (though not a groundball guy, despite the delivery), Neshek has been working his way slowly back to effectiveness from Tommy John surgery. I'm not a Twins or an Oakland fan, but I hope this guy has a small cult following. Dude deserves one.
- Alex Cobb walked the first batter to start the ninth, and immediately started looking into the Rays dugout, assuming he would be pulled. Molina trotted to the mound and apparently told him to quit looking at Maddon and make some pitches. He did, getting a ground ball for a 3-6-1 double play, and then striking out Cespedes to end the game.
- In the postgame celebration, while players were jumping with Cobb in celebration of his milestone, Matt Moore came in late and blindsided him, knocking him head over heals on the mound. Cobb was okay, but he did vow in the postgame interview with Todd Kalas to get Moore back for ruining the best moment of his career to date.