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Friday, April 16, 2010
Ben Sheets & Francisco Liriano: back to good?

By ESPN Stats & Info

Plenty of number 42s in action Thursday as we celebrate Jackie Robinson Day. Meanwhile, a couple of injury-plagued pitchers flash back to their former selves. We tell you how they did it in this edition of The Closer.


Why Twins starter Francisco Liriano won:

- Seven of eight strikeouts were on sliders, and five of those seven were swinging.

- Held Red Sox to .083 (1-for-12) against non-fastballs overall.

- Nibbled at the corners; only three pitches were right over the heart of the plate both horizontally and vertically. Of his 96 total offerings, 79 were on either the inside edge or the outside edge, and 41 were out of the strike zone.

- Went to a 2-0 count only twice, and battled back nicely. Boston hitters were 1-for-9 when Liriano was even or BEHIND in the count.

- Sox took 81 percent of first pitches, 10 points higher than Liriano's opponents in 2009. Recorded 63 percent first-pitch strikes, not overwhelming, but better than his 55 percent rate last season.


Why Athletics starter Ben Sheets won:

- Threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters (73.1 percent), highest among all starters on Thursday and much higher than the 57 percent from his first two starts.

- Of the seven batters who got first-pitch balls, Sheets came back with a second-pitch strike to all seven. He had no 2-0 counts at any time in the game.

- Threw 45 percent of his pitches out of the strike zone, but did not give up a hit on any of those balls. In fact, Sheets has not allowed a hit all season on a pitch out of the zone (opponents hit .322 on pitches IN the zone).

- Allowed four doubles, but the Orioles could not piece hits together; they were 0-for-7 against Sheets with runners in scoring position.


Why Marlins starter Josh Johnson won:

- Kept the ball down; 38 percent of pitches were in the lower third or below the zone on Thursday, compared with 31 percent in his first two starts. Reds hitters swung at 47 percent of such offerings.

- Cincinnati went 0-for-8 on pitches out of the strike zone, with seven of those being strikeouts.

- Used slider as his out pitch, throwing it 40 percent of the time when he was ahead in counts (27.6 percent in first two starts). Four of the six swinging strikeouts he recorded came against it.

- Increased use of slider meant hitters could not just sit on fastballs. Cincinnati managed only two hits against Johnson's heat, and an OPS of .481, while missing on 38 percent of their swings. That's well down from the 10 hits, and .954 OPS, that Johnson allowed in his other two starts.


Now pitching... Number 42...

- Mariano Rivera came in with two outs in the 9th and two runners on base to record the game's final out.

- This is the fifth straight Jackie Robinson Day on which Rivera (the only active player to regularly wear jersey number 42) has pitched, and the third straight on which he's recorded a save.