Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hey A-Rod: Bannister sorta owned you today

Three strikeouts is a silver sombrero. Four is gold. Five -- platinum. Now, a corollary:

Three caught-looking strikeouts is you having no idea what the pitcher's throwing.

That was Alex Rodriguez today against Brian Bannister.
Sequence 1, 2nd inning:
  • Fastball outside corner, looking; 0-1
  • Sinker low, 1-1
  • Fastball inside, 1-2
  • Fastball high and inside, 2-2
  • Perhaps thinking he wouldn't possibly come back with another inside fastball, A-Rod watched as Bannister came back with an inside fastball for strike three.
Sequence 2, 3rd inning:
  • 80 mph fastball inside (missed location -- Buck was set up outside), 1-0
  • Inside fastball (again), 2-0
  • Challenging fastball, fouled back; 2-1
  • Breaking ball at 77 mph gets A-Rod to swing and miss, 2-2
  • 2-seamer on lower-outside corner of plate freezes A-Rod; it was apparent he thought the pitch would break out of the strike zone, kind of like the breaking ball that got him to swing and miss, but this pitch hugged the outer edges for strike three.
Sequence 3, 5th inning:
  • Bannister's pitches have all been down until now, but suddenly he changes things up and gets A-Rod to swing through a high fastball; 0-1
  • Breaking ball, swing and miss; 0-2
  • Comes inside again, catching A-Rod looking at a fastball on the lower edge of the plate.
So if you're keeping track at home, the strikeout pitches were located IN, OUT and IN. Even when he wasn't at his best -- he almost got knocked out in the 2nd inning, when he walked three (four total on the day) -- don't ever say Bannister doesn't know how to mix things up and keep hitters frustrated. (People say Bannister's not a strikeout pitcher, but we think he can be -- the sacrifice, of course, is his control. When he doesn't pitch to contact like today, he walks four but still limits his damage with six strikeouts. When he does pitch to contact, he walks none and goes seven scoreless, as in his first start. Which would you prefer? Does it matter if he still gets a win and is now 2-0?)

A-Rod's reaction:

"He made some great pitches. There’s not much you can do. I can’t really look back and say that there were pitches I could hit or crush. Perhaps I could have fouled them off. Today he was much better than I was. Give him a lot of credit."

Rodriguez's bad day wasn't done. Hillman brought in Ramon Ramirez -- who looks destined to become another one of Dayton Moore's executive successes -- to face A-Rod in the 7th, which almost didn't seem fair because Ramirez might have the second or third best "stuff" in the Royals' pen, behind Joakim Soria and Leo Nunez. A-Rod fouled off the first two pitches, laid off two power change-ups low and away, barely got a piece of pitch 5, fought off pitch 6, then flailed at a pitch tailing low and away. Your golden sombrero, sir -- and this from a guy who hit career HRs 499 and 500 against the Royals last year, and also season HR No. 50. [Picture via the Yankees blog Was Watching.]

Three more observations:
Joey Gathright stole three bases today, two of them on pitch-outs. He's now 6 for 6 on the year. This speaks for itself.
For the third straight game, Alex Gordon batted sixth, behind Billy Butler, instead of third, where he started the season.

The sample size on this is much too small to deduce importance, but from the 3-hole, Gordon was 3-for-18 with two home runs and five strikeouts, which suggests he might have been trying to do too much -- swinging for the fence, that sort of thing. Batting sixth, on the other hand, Gordon's had three straight two-hit games, with two doubles and just one strikeout.

When the spotlight's not on him, Gordon just seems more at ease at the plate and willing to let the game come to him. That's a phrase that doesn't have much concrete meaning -- let the game come to him -- but it's not a throwaway line. When one goes with the flow, he doesn't care whether he hits a home run, as long as he executes his swing -- for Gordon, it's a very pretty swing. That's the right way to approach batting, of course.

Now if we can only get the man a helmet that doesn't fall off every time he slides...

(Note: Credit Trey Hillman's flexibility -- oft-cited as one of his best strengths -- in dropping Gordon to No. 6 in the order, which is really where he should be at this stage in his career.)
The Royals improved to 5-2, which is, as the Yahoo game story notes, "the best start for Kansas City since opening 2003 with nine straight wins." Meanwhile -- how crazy is this -- the Tigers are 0-7 "for the first time since dropping its first nine games in 2003 en route to an AL record 119 losses." What's the theme here? Something about 2003?

POSTSCRIPT: A nice moment out of Boston: Bill Bucker returns. Amalie Benjamin's story here, video here.

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