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Rays 4, Marlins 2: Jake Odorizzi is back

And his fastball is live.

Tampa Bay Rays v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Oh boy is it good to have this Jake Odorizzi back.

Sometimes the knock people put on Odorizzi is that he doesn’t have a strikeout pitch. That’s not quite right. No, neither his curve, nor his slider, nor his cutter are elite swing-and-miss offerings. No, his splitter—“Thing #2”—isn’t the type of pitch (like Thing #1 was) that can stand on its own. But what this criticism misses is the rises on Odorizzi’s four-seam fastball, and the fact that when he can set it up, climbing the ladder with his four-seamer misses bats like very few other fastballs in the league can.

And today, Odorizzi, fresh back from the disabled list and on a short leash, was able to set that high fastball up like nobody’s business. I can make the point by saying that out of 32 four-seamers Odorizzi got 17 swings and seven strikes. That 22% whiff rate is a good day for any pitch.

I can also make the point by showing the first sequence to Giancarlo Stanton, one of the most fearsome sluggers in baseball.

All pitches are fastballs.

“Here, try and hit it.”

“Oh look, you can’t.”

“Want to try again?”

“Huh. Still can’t.”

“Okay, one more chance.”

“Oops, that one was a little higher. Sorry.”

That ended the first inning, and just to prove he has a sense of humor, Jake Odorizzi started the second by striking out Marcel Ozuna with an all-splitter sequence.

All pitches are splitters.

Marlins Score First

For as good as Odorizzi’s night ended up being, it really didn’t start out very well. Odor walked leadoff hitter, Dee Gordon, on five pitches, and the speedy Gordon promptly stole second going to third when Derek Norris’s throw squeaked into center field. Odorizzi popped up Martin Prado, but Christian Yelich was able to muscle a fly ball into the outfield to bring home the run.

Rays Offense Has Life

As we noted before the game, this wasn’t a very intimidating lineup that Kevin Cash trotted out. But after staying quiet through three innings, the Rays got to Wei-Yin Chen in the fourth.

With one out, Corey Dickerson reached for a pitch down and away and flipped it into left field for a single, and Rickie Weeks followed that up with a walk. They both advanced on a Brad Miller groundout, bringing the hot-hitting Tim Beckham to the plate with two outs. Bex continued to state his case for playing time, taking a pitch on the outer third and driving it hard the other way and over the head of the right fielder for a two-RBI double.

Major League Hitters are Scary Beasts

So you know how Jake Odorizzi embarrassed Marcel Ozuna in their first meeting with an all-splitter strikeout? Their second meeting, in the bottom of the fourth inning went differently.

Why is Ozuna swinging?

That’s a frontdoor curve. Odorizzi only threw four curves all day. To this point, I think he had only thrown one. Yes it’s in the zone, but it’s in the bottom-inside corner of the zone. This is a pitch that’s supposed to freeze a batter, but Ozuna was all over it.

I mean, he wasn’t looking for it. He can’t have been looking for it. But it sure looked like he was looking for it.

If you’re ever trying to figure out for yourself whether there really is such a thing as a Quad-A pitcher, this is an argument that there is. In Triple-A, if you throw quality strikes and mix your pitches, you’ll be fine, even if all your pitches aren’t above average. In the majors there are hitters like Marcel Ozuna who hit homers into the Clevelander like this one.

Sliding Fairly (Phew!) For the Lead

In the top of the seventh inning, the Rays faced Brad Ziegler. Norris knocked a fastball at the bottom of the zone into the left-center alley for a double, and Daniel Robertson showed bunt, did not bunt, and then worked a walk.

Logan Morrison pinch hit, but could not get his fly ball far enough for the runners to advance. Kevin Kiermaier pinch hit as well, and he was able to advance the runners with a walk.

That brought up Steven Souza Jr., who grounded to the shortstop. The go-ahead run was always going to score. Souza was fast enough that the chances of doubling him up on that hit were small. All of the drama on the play came from Kevin Kiermaier’s slide, and it was close.

Kiemaier, as always, ran hard. His slide into second was perhaps slightly late, and his lead leg actually went to the right of the bag rather than to the front of it, with his trail leg making the initial contact. Then he popped up out of the slide (while keeping his hand on the bag for at first), preventing Dee Gordon from having any chance of making the throw and uprooting Gordon in the process. Kiermaier finished by giving Gordon a bear hug to prevent him from falling.

Honestly it was a bit awkward. The Marlins challenged on the slide rule, and if replay had overturned the run, I’d have said it was KK’s fault. But the replay ruling was that all the contact occurred after the slide and on the popup, and therefore was not covered by the slide rule. I do think that if Gordon’s turn had taken him off the bag and into Kiermaier’s lead leg, the call might have been different.

In the eighth inning, Brad Miller tagged on another run by walking, stealing two bases, and then coming home on a Daniel Robertson line-drive single, and the Rays bullpen—Danny Farquhar, Jumbo Diaz, Chase Whitley, and Alex Colome—deserve credit for a scoreless four innings.

Some other notes:

  • The Marlins announcers called Corey Dickerson “Alex Dickerson.” I started out the night ready to dislike them, but they grew on me as it wore on, so I’m not going to be too hard on them. It’s not that they didn’t do their research, either. They knew where every Rays player went to high school, which isn’t something I find especially interesting to hear, but it does show that they prepared.
  • There was an interesting positioning sequence in the first. With Yelich batting with one out and Gordon on third, the Rays infield played at normal depth until the count reached two stikes (it was 2-2). Then the infield pulled in. Is the thinking here that with Odorizzi going for the strikeout and throwing high fastballs or low splitters, the result would either be a strikeout, a flyball (in which case the infield positioning doesn’t matter), or a groundball?
  • In the top of the eighth, the broadcast pointed out that the Marlins are the first team the Rays have faced this year that didn’t have a winning record in 2016.
  • Corey Dickerson made a pair of fantastic defensive plays in left field today, crashing into the wall but holding a flyball in the fifth, and charging to make a sliding catch on a sinking liner in the ninth.
  • Daniel Robertson made a fantastic defensive play as well, charging a Gordon grounder on the third base line, and positioning his feet terrifically to make a strong through coming to third. He also nearly misplayed a popup though, ending up on his butt (but with the ball in his mitt). Oh well. Can’t always look good.