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Pitchers in spotlight as Phillies take on Cardinals

4/29/2015

Aaron Harang, a pitcher making a late-career resurgence, and Carlos Martinez, one still early in his playing days, will take the mound Wednesday night when the Philadelphia Phillies play the St. Louis Cardinals.

Here are some of the statistical storylines the broadcast crew of Jon Sciambi, Doug Glanville and Rick Sutcliffe will likely be talking about starting at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and WatchESPN.

Getting better with age

Last year, the Phillies’ Harang (2-1 this year) had probably his best season since his 2007 campaign, and he has continued that through four starts in 2015.

He was a sub-.500 pitcher (110-116, .487) with a 4.28 ERA before going to Atlanta at the start of last season.

Since the start of 2014, Harang, 36, has a 3.32 ERA. This season, he has allowed a .458 OPS, second to Max Scherzer (.453) in the National League.

Harang stays away from hitters. In the last two seasons, he has thrown 58.9 percent of his pitches in the outer third of the strike zone or farther away, second to Kyle Lohse.

When he’s stayed outside, Harang has caused batters to miss. He has induced the third-most swings at outside pitches out of the strike zone (352) and the seventh-most swings and misses (211) on outside pitches in the NL in the last two seasons.

Harang has been using his fastball more often this season. He has allowed a .172 average in at-bats ending in that pitch, fifth-best in the NL (minimum 200 fastballs).

Offensive stalwarts struggling

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have been among the Phillies’ offensive leaders that last decade, but both have had slow starts this season.

Utley has two home runs in his first 20 games, his fewest since his rookie season in 2003, when he had one in his first 20 career games.

Utley played in 155 games last season, his most since 2009. But he slugged .407, his worst since his rookie season.

Howard’s .621 OPS this season is on pace to be a career worst. He posted his best OPS, 1.084, in his MVP season of 2006.

In the last two seasons, Howard has the fourth-highest miss rate (34.6 percent) in baseball. He’s missed on at least 33 percent of his swings in each of the past seven seasons.

Strong beginning for Cardinals’ starter

Carlos Martínez has a 1.35 ERA, tied with Zack Greinke for third-best in the NL. Harang (1.37) is fifth.

Martínez averages 94 mph with his fastball, among the fastest in the National League. He throws his changeup 22 percent of the time, and it’s been effective for him. His opponents’ batting average, slugging percentage and strikeouts statistics are all among the best five in baseball.

Left-handers had handled Martínez heading into this season, posting an .829 OPS. This year, that number is down to .683, and left-handers’ strikeout percentage has more than doubled, to 24 percent.

It’s even better against changeups. Left-handers are 0-for-12 with eight strikeouts (67 percent strikeout rate) against that pitch this season.