Games like this make me feel bipolar. I was disgusted by the Rays through the first seven innings, impressed in the eighth when our offense finally arrived, thoroughly disheartened when Choate let up the game-tying two-run home run, and then elated when Pena hit his three-run homer to seal the game. It's a tough job being a Rays fan, although to be fair, right now it must be even tougher being an Orioles fan. At least when our bullpen blows the game, we still find a way to win sometimes.
As exciting the game was during the final three innings, it was boring as potatoes* for the first seven full innings. Jeff "The Big Nyquil" Niemann was in classic form: no tricks, no flashy pitches, no eye-opening stats - just a yawn-inspiring above-average performance. His arm appeared to be fully recovered from getting hit with a line drive in his last start, allowing him be effective and efficient. His final line: 7 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 1 IBB, 3 K. Like I said, nothing to write home about, but it was a great effort for Niemann's first full start of the season. I could really get used to our starters going 7+ innings consistently.
* Probably a poor choice of vegetable since potatoes can be made into all sorts of treats. Potato skins, french fries, hash browns, mashed potatoes - tasty, every single one. And that's not even mentioning spud guns.
Below the jump, I'll take a look at three things: Niemann's performance, a look at what's wrong with Choate, and some offensive highlights.
If you were to ask me for a brief summation of Niemann, it'd probably say something along these lines: fastball pitcher that also mixes in curve and slider. Occasionally tosses a splitter and change-up as well (very rarely). Average fastball velocity (~91 MPH). Doesn't strike out many hitters (~6 K/9) or generate many swinging strikes (~8%), but also doesn't walk many hitters (~3 BB/9). Similar ground ball and fly ball rates (~40%).
Or instead of reading all of that, you could just watch a replay of last night's game. He only struck out a couple batters and only had 4.8% Swinging Strike Percentage, but he didn't unintentionally walk a player. Batters weren't pounding the ground against him or hitting everything in the air; his GB/FB ratio was around even by the time the night ended. His fastball averaged 89.9 MPH, a little slower than he averaged last year but he still could dial it up to 91-92 when needed. He also mixes his pitches close to how he did last season: 63% fastball, 8.7 % slider, 10.6% curveball, and a handful of splitters and change-ups. It was a ho-hum Niemann performance: nothing new and special, but also nothing worrisome. I'll take another 30 starts like this one, please.
The next big story of the game, in my mind at least, was Randy Choate's clutch let's-let-a-lefty-hit-a-game-tying-home-run-off-of-me moment. Seriously, a lefty? There's no way I can second-guess Joe Maddon for this because it was a very unlikely outcome. Against lefties, Choate has a career Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 2.52 and a career .25 HR/9. Choate is an extreme ground ball pitcher and so he shouldn't be letting up many home runs, nonetheless two of them in his last three batters faced. As Jeeves would say, "It boggles the mind, sir."
Choate has been on record recently saying that his sinker "ain't sinkin'", so I naturally assumed that this home run came off of Choate's fastball. In actuality, it was. Choate left a fastball middle-in, right in Scott's powerhouse, and Scott made him pay for it. The Rays had been pitching Scott away all series, and it seems like Choate would have been better served following that same plan. Choate needs to get that fastball fixed.
appears the home run came off of Choate's slider. It wasn't hung up in the zone or left over the plate either; in fact, the pitch was belt high and just on the outside corner of the plate. The Rays have been pitching Scott outside this entire series (and according to Batting Goggles , that is the area of the zone he has the least power), so I can't fault Choate on his pitch location or execution. Choate's slider is normally an effective pitch and this pitch had a similar velocity, spin, and movement to past sliders he's thrown, so it appears that the batter just did a heck of a job. Tip your cap and move on.
And now for the offense. Let's do this bullet point style:
- A great game for Carlos Pena. 3-5 with 4 RBIs and the game-winning hit. Don't expect Los to keep hitting .308, but it's nice to see him get off to a fast start.
- Sean Rodriguez collected his first RBI with the Rays. He's started off slow after his hot spring, so hopefully his clutch eighth inning single helps him build some confidence.
- Pat Burrell didn't start today, even with a lefty on the mound. I'm going to try not to read into that decision since there are many variables that could have affected it, but Pat's supposed to be a lefty-masher, right? If I were him, I might be getting a bit concerned.
- B.J. Upton was 2-4 with an opposite-field double and a walk. When he hit that double, Upton had such an easy, smooth swing that I didn't think it'd carry far, but then it ended up bouncing off the wall. Finally one of his hard-hit balls found a gap.