No scheduled column today, so I'll be throwing a Barry Zito changeup. Luckily for us, Dave might also post later, so he'll bring the vintage Pedro change of pace. Here's what I got from yesterday's slate of games.
Kyle Davies threw seven scoreless innings yesterday. He got some buzz in the preseason as a potential breakout pitcher, as Joe Posnanski and scouts alike noted his September surge and excellent spring training. Last year, he posted a 4.06 ERA in spite of a mediocre 1.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, in September, he improved those marks to a 2.27 ERA and 3.43 K/BB. Last afternoon, he was lights out as he struck out eight in seven innings.
Davies is a standard four-pitch righty. He’s been making steady improvement since a disastrous second year in the Majors. Per fangraphs, his fastball velocity since 2006 has risen from 90.6 to 91.3 to 91.5, and yesterday it was clocked at 91.7. Meanwhile, He’s improved his rate of drawing swinging strikes from 17.5% to 18% to 18.3%. Yesterday, he managed to induce 14 swing and misses on 52 swings.
Davies throws a rising fastball which made him vulnerable to homers two years ago. Last year, his HR/FB dipped to 7%, which will probably regress to the mean this year. Even so, his peripherals are improving, so while he might continue to improve his GB/FB rate, he'll almost certainly allow more homers. Davies snaps off a curve with above average velocity, vertical, and horizontal movement, which I would say makes it a plus pitch. However, he shows a noticeably higher release point for his curve than other pitches, which can only serve to tip pitches. Nevertheless, his curve was awesome yesterday. He threw only three of his 13 curves for balls, as he was able to draw a groundout, three swinging strikes, a foul ball, and five called strikes from the yakker. Davies’ changeup had some serious tail yesterday, and he threw it for strikes three quarters of the time yesterday which is excellent. He began using the changeup more often in September of last year in favor of his fastball, as he threw the change 16% of the time as compared to 10% earlier in the season. His changeup and curve are both strong pitches, which makes him formidable against both right-handed and left-handed batters.
Davies' slider and fastball have minimal differential in terms of velocity, but sometimes with sliders, not mixing speeds helps to conceal the pitch. Sinkerballers will often complement their two-seemer with a strong sweeping slider, so they stay on the same plane and have similar velocity, and therefore are unrecognizable until about 30 feet from the plate. Davies, on the other hand, works up and down, complementing his rising fastball with a slider that has little horizontal movement but dives down. I would think his slider is his worst pitch, but he might just use it as a show-me pitch against righties. I could see Davies showing a reverse platoon split, since his slider seems to be substantially worse than his curve and change. I could buy him as a league average pitcher this year too.
Other thoughts: We saw a rather telling difference in managing philosophies in the Mariners’ and Cardinals’ games. Young flamethrowers Brandon Morrow and Jason Motte both got their first save opportunities of the year earlier this week, and they imploded, forfeiting ninth inning two-run leads. Up 2-0 yesterday , Don Wakamatsu decided to give Brandon Morrow another chance, and Morrow promptly came in and walked the first batter on four fastballs out of the zone. But Wakamatsu’s confidence in the youngster paid off, and so did Morrow’s confidence in his heater, as Morrow threw nothing but fastballs all inning, resulting in two strikeouts and a can of corn to center to end the game. Tony LaRussa, however, was in the precarious position of trying to preserve a one-hitter. Did this game have any added significance as it was Chris Carpenter's first healthy start in three years? I don’t know, but LaRussa must have somehow considered it a must-win, as he abandoned his bullpen strategy, leaving Jason Motte on the bench and trotting out Dennys Reyes. Reyes got the job done, but I still prefer Wakamatsu’s approach to bullpen usage thus far. Don't panic after one game.
My favorite moment of the day was in the Dodgers Padres game. Vin Scully was calling the game, so you know it’s good. Heath Bell came on to pitch the ninth, and he had the luck of facing the heart of the Dodgers’ imposing lineup. Things looked bleak for the new Padres’ new closer when Orlando Hudson led off with a triple, sending one Manny B. Ramirez to the plate with the tying run on third and no outs. But with the infield in, Bell got Manny to ground out to short, halting Hudson at third. Following an Andre Ethier walk, Russell Martin bounced into a double play, and thus the Padres were tied for third place with the Dodgers. We might have our first divisional race of the year on our hands.