It's a proven fact that familiarity favors the hitters in baseball, while an unfamiliar matchup tends to help the pitcher. And with two lineups facing pitchers from the other league that they've rarely encountered, the pitchers' advantage was on display tonight. Kyle Lohse was impressive, working quickly and varying his four-pitch repertoire well. He struck out six Rays in the six innings he completed, although he did walk three batters. He repeatedly tied up Rays batters with sinkers in on the hands of righties and sliders in on the hands of lefties, and he showcased occasionally ridiculous movement on each pitch. It's easy to see how the thirty-five year old has enjoyed a late-career renaissance, using his veteran wiles to become one of the more successful pitchers in the National League over the past few seasons.
Young Jake Odorizzi was better, though. Where once he struggled with pitch efficiency, it took Odorizzi just 91 pitches to work through seven innings. He struck out five batters and walked none, giving up only three hits. Interestingly, he threw only two curve balls the entire night, instead relying on his slider -- normally his fourth pitch -- and throwing it 20 times to go with 25 splitters and 44 fastballs (data from Brooks Baseball). I imagine he was feeling good about his slider tonight, and I did think it occasionally flashed better-than-normal movement. I also saw him use it backdoor successfully twice, which is something of a new trick for Odor.
The lone blemish on Jake Odorizzi's night came with one out in the third inning when he left an 89 mph fastball over the heart of the plate to Mark Reynolds. The result was predictable.
None of this is to say there were not some close calls for Odorizzi. The Brewers swing hard, and they hit a lot of fly balls. Mark Reynolds sent Kevin Kiermaier to the back of the track in right, and Khris Davis seems very much like a National League version of our friend Chris Davis. He clobbered two towering fly balls that on a warmer day, perhaps if the A/C had malfunctioned, could easily have left the yard.
The Rays offense made their breakthrough in the bottom of the sixth inning. Perhaps he was tiring, or maybe it was just an off moment that he could have recovered from, but Kyle Lohse appeared to lose some command of his breaking ball, missing down and glove-side with it several times. With two outs, Ben Zobrist was able to capitalize, drawing a five-pitch walk. Next up, Matt Joyce lined an outside fastball the other way up the third base line for a single, which allowed Zobrist to advance to third.
Evan Longoria, who had looked bad in his first two plate appearances, came up to the plate clearly pumped to win the game. He took a big, long swing on an inside fastball. He had no chance, missing by perhaps four inches. That got Longo's head right and he settled down to a disciplined at bat, accepting his walk and loading the bases for James Loney.
Lohse threw an inside fastball to Loney that actually jammed him slightly, sapping some of the power from his swing. The result was a perfectly placed soft liner over the infield and into right-center. Two runs scored, and that was all the Rays would need.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, something horrible happened. Yunel Escobar lined a high fastball from Jared Jeffress the other way for a single. That was good. Then Jose Molina tried to bunt and did so badly, fouling it backwards. On the next pitch, he tried to bunt again, doing so back to the pitcher. Jeffress picked it up, turned, and threw to second base in time to get Escobar. With Molina running, it was a sure double play.
Here's why the Rays should never have Jose Molina bunt in that situation again. It's a true sacrifice with no upside and extra downside. When most players bunt, there is a chance that they might beat the throw out, or that they force a fielder to rush and he makes a mistake. There is, at least, very little chance of a double play. If the opposing team tries for the lead runner, they risk not getting any outs. But with Molina running, it's essentially a free pass to try for that lead runner. If you get him, double play. If you don't oh well, go get the out at first.
Some other notes:
- In his first plate appearance, former MVP and known steroid Ryan Braun user received a hearty round of boos from the Tropicana faithful. I wasn't expecting that, but I assume he gets that in most parks these days?
- In the second inning, James Loney grounded sharply back to the mound, and Lohse made a good play on it. Loney shook his head in frustration but it was interesting that the Brewers had their shortstop playing directly over second base, so if Lohse had missed it would have been an easy out anyway. We think of Loney as a guy who sprays the ball around, but the Brewers sure played him to pull.
- In the fifth inning, Odorizzi started walking toward the dugout after striking out Scooter Gennett for the second out of the inning. He didn't realize his counting error until the fourth step or so, but had a good cheerful recovery afterwards.
- Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee blew the Breweres away over the last two innings. They've become a dominant late-inning duo. McGee has been used in high-leverage situations all season, but one does perhaps wish that Boxberger was given more of these chances early on this year.