For a moment there, it seemed like the sun might come out today. Desomond Jennings turned on Jake Arrieta's very first pitch, a 94 mph a fastball right down the middle, and hit it for a home run over the left field wall. Jennings does that from time to time. He turns on a first pitch fastball and reminds all of us fans why he's special, and why we were excited when he was called up: that he's not just another speedy center fielder without a small zone and a weak bat, but rather a potential all-star, with power, speed, a strong approach, and a golden glove.
And when Kelly Jonson worked the next at bat to the 12th pitch, showing a good eye and impressive plate coverage, fouling off quality pitch after quality pitch, one could have been forgiven to for starting to feel good about his team. I'm sure no one here would made that silly mistake, though. Pitch number 13 was a called strike, and the game was mostly downhill from there.
Nate McLouth got things going the usual direction in the bottom of the first inning with a five pitch walk, and Manny Machado brought him home with a double into the gap. Nick Markakis followed with a hard grounder to Yunel Escobar at shortstop, that might have been hit sharply enough for Escobar to beat Machado to third with a good throw, but Escobar elected to take the sure out at first, and the Rays pulled their defense in. This set the table for maybe the finest defensive play of the night. Adam Jones hit a grounder to the glove side of the now-close Evan Longoria. The ball was hit just about as hard as a grounder can be, but Evan managed to get his glove down in time to scoop it cleanly and save the run.
The respite provided Roberto Herandez by Evan's good play would not last. In the next inning, Matt Wieters worked a 10 pitch at bat, punctuated by a lead-off home run of his own. The last pitch was a frontdoor sinker that looked to be on the edge of the plate. It was a pretty good pitch (there were for worse pitches in the at bat—sinkers up and over the middle of the plate that Wieters fouled off), but Wieters is a good player and that's baseball.
In the next half inning, with two outs, both Kelly Johnson and Ben Zobrist walked. Longoria saw four pitches away (two balls, a called strike, and a foul), and then a hanging slider right down the middle. He swung aggressively, but it hung just a bit too much, staying straight and in on his hands rather than breaking onto the sweet spot. Arrieta got away with one there. That's also baseball.
In the bottom of the third inning, Baltimore tacked on another run, and it was a perfect example of how details can matter. McLouth did a good job hitting a line drive into the gap off a very decent sinker, and hustling to second base. In the next at bat, one of Hernandez's running sinkers was thrown too far inside, and ran just an inch more than Jose Lobaton was expecting. It glanced off his glove for a passed ball and McLouth coasted into third. Hernandez finished off the batter with a sinker that ran inside at least two inches more than Machado was expecting, but the damage was done. The Rays infield needed to play in, and when Adam Jones hit a hard-ish ground ball to first base, Loney couldn't quite field it (it would have been a nice but expected play had he been positioned normally).
The last two Baltimore runs came in the sixth inning. As soon as Hernandez started the inning, Jim Hickey got on the bullpen phone, apparently seeing that his pitcher was tiring. He wasn't wrong. Hernadez was losing some control, leading to a walk for Machado and a double from Adam Jones on a pitch far too high up in the zone. The Rays elected to intentionally walk Chris Davis to set up the force at home plate, and Hernandez executed brilliantly. He bared down, struck out Wieters, and then induced a soft grounder to third base. Longoria charged the play and fielded cleanly, but then threw wide of the plate, pulling Lobaton off and allowing the run to score. It wasn't an easy play, but it's one that Evan expects to make, and he apologized to Hernandez when the latter was pulled (at 112 pitches) in favor of Jamey Wright. Wright also induced a poorly hit grounder, but this one was too weak to turn a double play on, and an inherited run would score.
The Rays threatened in the eighth inning with a walk from Zobrist and home runs from Kelly Johnson and Longoria, but it was not enough. Tomorrow. Tomorrow will be grand, I tell you. Bet your bottom dollar.
- Anyone who claims the Roberto Hernandez experiment should be terminated isn't watching closely enough. He's pitching well (seven strikeouts today in 5.1 innings), and he's on the brink of showing it in his ERA. Yes, the sinker is probably his best pitch in a vacuum, but I've been really surprised at how good his changeup has been, too. Tonight, he threw 29 changeups for 19 strikes (his best percentage of any pitch) and six whiffs. I think he should consider throwing it even more. Often, early on in an at bat, hitters know that a sinker is coming and they look for it, driving it with more authority than they should be able to do. Hernandez may not have the command to effectively vary his location without getting behind in the count, but it doesn't take great command to vary speed. Do so even more, and he'll see weaker ground balls and improved results from his best pitch. Hickey still has a job to do, and Hernandez needs to avoid getting discouraged at his unfairly poor results, but what I've seen from him so far in the season has made me more hopeful, not less.
- I know it can be annoying to hear BA talk about how good the opposing pitcher is. Arrieta really is, good though, and I wager he's about to turn in a breakout season that'll surprise some folks around the league. Booj it.
- It looks like no fun to be Chris Davis's bat. At one point, it slipped out of his hands and flew all the way out of the infield down the first base line. Later in that same sequence, after he struck out swinging, he broke his bat over his knee (to the applause of the Camden Yard crowd).
- Joe Maddon, please do not leave Joyce in to hit against Brian Matusz. It's not even about Joyce. Matusz is just too tough on lefties. You have three righties on your bench. There's no better matchup to save them for.