Possibly lost in the general dissatisfaction with an opening day loss was the fact that Steve Geltz came on in relief and was excellent. He faced four batters and struck each of them out—the first swinging and the next three looking. Let's break down his performance.
First off, here are the pitches he threw. Data and graphs are from Brooks Baseball.
Geltz threw mostly fastballs, with four splitters and four sliders. His fastball averaged 94.4 mph, his splitter came in at 84.1 mph, and his sliders at 83.4 mph. None of those secondary pitches are that interesting. The odd thing about Geltz is the rise on his fastball. It averaged 13.5 inches, which is usual for him, but makes it just about the most extreme rising fastball in the entire game (he loses out to Orioles starter Chris Tillman for that title).
That rise does mean that while his secondary pitches don't drop a ton, they do appear to drop in relation to his fastball. He's a guy, like Drew Smyly and Jake Odorizzi, who can play very effective games with verticality and the hitter's eye level, by varying the location and movement of his pitches in the zone top to bottom.
Lets step through the at bats.
- Geltz starts him off with a fastball waist-high, near over the outer third of the plate. It's a dangerous location—the batter can get his hands extended, and maybe he would think twice about doing this to Steve Pearce on the first pitch—but he trusts the movement on his fastball and Flaherty is not Pearce. Geltz is right. Flaherty swings under it.
- Next is a splitter, further outside and a bit low, taken for a ball.
- This pitch is just a mistake. A splitter in the dirt (you can't see it here).
- Now behind in the count, Geltz comes back with a low fastball and is rewarded with a foul. This is part of why it's easier to be a reliever than a starter. Hitters will only see Geltz once per game, and it usually takes them longer than that to adjust to his weird movement. The fastball in the zone is a well he can go to with confidence.
- With pitch five he tries to dot the inside corner, but he misses. It wasn't really a competitive pitch and it brought the count full.
- Flaherty isn't a very dangerous hitter, so in the full count, Geltz just said, "Here's my fastball. See if you can hit it." It's basically right down the middle, but Flaherty could not, in fact, hit it.
Schoop is a righty, so all of those pitches on the bottom right corner are down and away:
- Slider down and away, moving down and away from the batter. Maybe Geltz's slider isn't the greatest, but this location is very good. A right-handed slider here might be the toughest thing for a righty to handle. Schoop whiffs.
- After beating Schoop with a slider in the zone, Geltz comes back with a slider below it. Schoop has no chance to hit this, but maybe he recognizes the pitch he's just seen (without recognizing the location), so he's too quick on the trigger. He swings once more and misses once more.
- After getting the batter looking down, Geltz comes back with his rising fastball right over the heart of the zone. It looks like a grooved pitch here, and I think Geltz probably wanted it a little higher, but it does change the batter' s eye level, and Schoop hasn't yet seen Geltz's fastball, so he can't square it up. Foul ball.
- This pitch was a splitter that once more got away from Geltz (he didn't have great command on the pitch yesterday). It's up, and easily taken for a ball.
- Finally, after two straight pitches up, Geltz comes back to his slider on the outside corner. It's a perfectly placed pitch, and if Schoop was looking further up in the zone, I doubt he could have made contact on a swing. He takes it for strike three.
- Fastball outside, taken for a ball.
- Now Geltz brings that fastball back over the outside part of the plate, and gets himself a called strike.
- In a 1-1 count, Geltz tries to throw his best slider and to dot that bottom-away corner like he had against Schoop. He fails, and spins it too far down and away for an easy take.
- Having moved the hitter's eyes down and away, Geltz comes back with a fastball up and in. It's a good idea, but once more he misses his spot to put himself in the hole 3-1.
- Behind in the count against a below-average hitter? Trust your stuff. Geltz challenges him with a fastball in towards the hands, and as per normal with Geltz, the hitter cannot square it up. Foul.
- In a full count, Geltz uncorked a fastball at the knees and over the outside edge of the plate. This pitch is very well located. An inch or so lower and it would be a walk, so you can't really blame Joseph for taking it, but that extreme rise on Geltz's fastball keeps it from falling out of the zone like a normal fastball would, and the soft hands of Rene Rivera do the rest for called strike three.
Alejandro De Aza
The last hitter that Geltz faced was the best, and was also a lefty:
- Pitch one was a backdoor slider that did in fact slide it's way back into the strike zone. Good location for a called strike.
- Pitch two was a rising fastball at the top of the zone. I would expect this pitch from Geltz, when thrown as the second pitch of an at bat after a taken slider, to result in a swinging strike nearly every time.
- Up 0-2, Geltz tries to entice De Aza to follow that fastball he just missed further up out of the zone. This is a very similar sequence to the one he tried on Schoop, where he dropped the second slider after a whiff further below the zone. The more disciplined De Aza held up though, and took the ball.
- Even if pitch three didn't get De Aza to chase, it does seem to have messed with his eyes, since pitch four wasn't particularly low (like the payoff pitch to Joseph) or particularly inside. Still though, De Aza took it and seemed surprised when it was called a strike.