With four fifths of their preferred rotation now injured, the Rays have had to be creative to piece together quality innings. Their willingness to break from tradition and adapt to their situation is one of the reason's they're alone in first place in the American League East, and tonight's game, starting reliever Steve Geltz and ending with a four-pitcher two-hit shutout, was a great example.
Innings One and Two: Sometimes you Geltz what you need
Jordan Zimmerman set the tone early by sitting the Rays down with two strikeouts and a weak comebacker to the mound. He looked sharp, and that made this an intimidating matchup. In the home corner you had one of the better starters in baseball. In the away corner you had perhaps the fourth-best reliever on the Rays.
That sounds like a tough draw for the Rays, but it illustrates the point of these bullpen games: A decent reliever who's only trying to go one or two innings is as good or better than a starter trying to pitch deep into a game. Geltz got flyball outs from the first two batters he faced, and that brought up Bryce Harper. Against the most dangerous hitter in baseball, Geltz shone.
- He started him off with a slider down and in for a ball.
- His next pitch was another slider, but this time he placed it right at the bottom of the zone, and got it taken for a strike.
- Now consider Harper's position. He's up against a pitcher who has thrown him two straight breaking balls, one below the zone and one at the bottom edge. You can bet that Harper was looking for something low at this point, so Geltz gave it to him. Except that what he gave him was a splitter that started at the bottom of the zone and then dropped well below it. Harper's eyes got big, and he swung wildly at a pitch that was nearly in the dirt.
- A swing like that will force a hitter to concentrate on reestablishing the strike zone, and once more Geltz was aware of the situation and preyed on the batter's state of mind. Pitch four was a frontdoor fastball with good tailing action back into the zone. It looked at first like it was in on Harper's hands, but by the time it arrived it was really quite solidly over the plate. Harper took it for strike three.
Geltz, with the help of a great sliding catch in foul territory from Steven Souza Jr., didn't allow any baserunners in the second inning either. His spot in the lineup was set to come up in the top of the third, so he got to head for the showers early after a successful two-inning start.
Innings Three Through Six: Does a starter by any other name pitch as sweetly?
Curt Casali singled up the middle to lead off the third inning, and Brandon Guyer pinch hit for Geltz. Guyer immediately grounded into a double play. Isn't it great the advantage the Rays get by starting a reliever and pinch hitting early?
Andriese, for his part, pitched very effectively and without incident for his first two innings of work. He did give up a hit to Bryce Harper, but that was really just a matter of Harper being beastly strong and muscling a ball that caught him in on his hands over the infield. Things got more interesting in the fifth, though, starting in the Rays half.
Jordan Zimmerman's slider was mostly filthy today. It's a hard slider, ranging from 87 mph to 89 mph, and while it's not quite in Chris Archer territory, it has decent break to go with all that speed. He spotted it on the edges and on the bottom of the strike zone all day, and it gave the Rays hitters serious problems. But in the fifth inning, against Steven Souza Jr., he did not spot his slider on the edge. He hung it right over the heart of the plate. Out of the hand you could tell it was a mistake and that it wasn't going to break. Souza crushed it to the deep part of right-center field.
Someday, Souza will not be best-known for saving Zimmerman's no-hitter. That will be a footnote, and Souza will be known for hitting home runs like that.
Two batters later, Curt Casali was given a mistake fastball that tailed back over the heart of the plate, and he too jolted it over the right-field wall.
Strategy Interlude (skip if you don't care)
After Casali, the pitchers' spot in the lineup was due up, and now, ahead by two runs, manager Kevin Cash elected to let Andriese hit. Therein lies the key to why it makes sense to start Geltz when Cash plans on a bullpen day, rather than to start Andriese and bring in Geltz afterward. In a 0-0 game, there's value to be gained by bringing in a legitimate bat, because the win probability to be gained from that first run that puts a team ahead is relatively high. Also, because Geltz shouldn't pitch any more than two innings, the point at which Cash would want to remove him for run-scoring reasons will usually match up with the point at which Cash would want to remove him for run-prevention reasons.
But Andriese is a starter, and as such he's able to pitch effectively longer into a game than two innings. That means that the choice of whether or not to pinch hit for his spot the first time it comes up, were he to start the game, is likely to have the expected-run-scoring-based decision making and the expected-run-prevention-based decision making at odds. But if that situation comes up in the top of the fifth inning instead, there's a greater chance that one team will have already scored, and depending on which team that is, the decision making would tilt one way or the other.
In this case, because the Rays were already up by two runs, the marginal value of a third Rays run was lower than the marginal value of a first Nationals run, so Cash went with the option he thought allowed him to best prevent runs over the course of the rest of the game, and left Andriese in to hit.
Back to the Action
With one out in the bottom of the fifth inning, Ian Desmond sent a grounder up the middle. Logan Forsythe ranged to his right and was able to stop it from getting into the outfield, but he had no chance to catch the runner. Jim Hickey came out to conference on the mound and Brandon Gomes started to warm in the bullpen.
Jose Lobaton grounded to first base, but the Nationals had put Desmond in motion so the Rays didn't have time to start a double play. Jake Elmore took the out at first. That brought Michael Taylor and an interesting decision to the plate. The first two pitches from Andriese were near the strike zone, but they were balls. But with the count at 2-0, Cash called for an intentional walk. I suspect that the first two pitches of the at bat were to see if Taylor would chase, and that the Rays were always happy to walk him and face Zimmerman in that situation.
I don't really know what Matt Williams has to work with in his bullpen, and how much they've had to pitch so far, but in his place -- two runs down with two men on base, two outs, and my pitcher due up in the fifth -- I would think very hard about calling for a pinch hitter. He seemingly considered five innings too early of a hook for a pitcher of Zimmerman's caliber, and perhaps he was right. I'm not sure. What I do know is that Zimmerman grounded softly to third base to end the inning (although it did require some good concentration from Longoria to make the play while avoiding a collision with a Washington baserunner).
In the sixth inning, the Nationals gifted the Rays another run when, with runners on the corners and one out, Logan Forsythe sent what should have been a double play grounder just to the left of shortstop, but Desmond bobbled his pickup and runners were safe at first, second, and home.
Andriese cruised through the sixth inning to end his night having allowed only two hits and one intentional walk.
Inning Seven: The Regular Bullpen
As the seventh inning began, the sky opened up in Washington and it began to rain; hard. After the Rays went quietly in the top, Kevin Jepsen was called in for the bottom. This marked the "Mission Accomplished" moment for the Rays bullpen day. Steve Geltz and Matt Andriese had done their jobs (with Andriese perhaps pitching a little bit more than he would have had the Rays scored fewer runs), and had delivered the game to a regular situation: Rays up by three runs with their seventh, eighth, and ninth inning relievers ready to go.
It seemed simple, but it nearly wasn't. Perhaps bothered by the rain, Jepsen slipped and fell as he threw his first pitch. Thankfully he was unhurt, and although he was taken into deep counts by every batter, he was able to work a 1-2-3 inning.
In the top of the eighth inning, Blake Treinen was called on to finally replace Zimmerman. He struck out both Longoria and Forsythe, but sandwiched in between those two Ks was a groundball single from DeJesus that would turn out to cost him.
With the rain coming down hard, Souza decided to lay a bunt down the third base line. The 6’5" Treinen got off the mound to field it but then tried to hurry his throw and air-mailed the ball to first. This all happened too quickly for anyone to be backing up the play, and that gave DeJesus enough time to attempt to score all the way from first. The throw home was up the line and Lobaton wasn’t able to snag it, so it rolled into the dugout. Souza had been running hard all the way, and he was already arriving at third base, meaning that he was able to trot home with the two-error-assisted bunt home run.
Perhaps due to the sloppiness of that play, or maybe simply because of the deteriorating conditions on the field, the decision was made to throw a tarp over the infield before the bottom of the eighth inning began.
Innings Eight and Nine: The New Mop-Up Reliever
Originally, Cash had intended have Brandon Gomes pitch the eighth once the Rays went up by five. Gomes actually started to throw warmup pitches from the mound before the decision was made to delay the game. That ended his night, but got him a place in the box score despite not throwing any pitches. Instead, the newly arrived Ronald Belisario came in for the seventh and the eighth, and he performed exactly as advertised.
He threw 28 sinkers and three sliders, only producing two whiffs (both on sinkers). He struck no one out, but he produced ground balls. Of the seven batters he faced, one walked, one hit a line drive (that was caught), and the other five all grounded out. Moreover, these weren't your normal grounders. Just about every single one was pounded into the dirt. The only complicating factor for the defenders was whether the grounders would be too poorly hit to give them time to charge and throw to first.
It's just a start, but it's a promising start to Belisario's time with the Rays.
Some other notes:
- Right before the game we got a shot of the booth, and Brian Anderson's beard looks damn good. It's fuller and darker than I remembered. For a very bald guy, that's a very full, very dark beard. It might be too dark. I'm not sure I buy it, BA.
- Kenny L. identified the beard as a "small animal" as part of the "Web Wednesday" festivities.
- When Steven Souza stepped up to the plate for the first time against Jordan Zimmerman, the man who's no-hitter he preserved, the Washington's fans gave him a standing ovation. Kind of cool.
- I much prefer straight-back cameras for watching baseball games, but if I have to watch on an offset camera, the one in National's park isn't bad. It's just slightly offset, so it doesn't much distort the movement and location. Good viewing experience.
- In the fifth inning, Danny Espinosa sent a line drive into left-center. David DeJesus got there and made the catch, but that wasn't the noteworthy part of the play. What made it interesting was that Kevin Kiermaier, running to back up DeJesus, laid out a good 10 yards behind the play (okay, maybe he just got his balance forward and decided to slide rather than fall, but it was still pretty funny).
- Man does Blake Treinen have a wicked fastball-slider combo. The fastball is in the high 90s, and the slider in the high 80's and even up above 90 mph at times, with decent break. He's Chris Archer, if Chris Archer only could only do his thing for one inning (once more, that's sort of the point of these bullpen days).
- There was a very cool man in the stands with a rainbow-lettered Devil Rays jersey and a leopard-print umbrella. Well done, very cool man.
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