Lots of storylines around the majors on Friday night, as you would expect. With all due respect to Starling Marte (walk-off homer against Toronto) and rookie Jose Abreu (11th homer of the season equals the total of the Kansas City Royals), however, the five most noteworthy performances of the evening occurred on the pitching mound.
1. Ubaldo Jimenez was nothing short of brutal in five April starts, but the big right-hander finally picked up his first win with the Orioles. He did so in dominating fashion, twirling 7 1/3 scoreless innings, while allowing just three hits and one walk in a 3-0 shutout of Minnesota.
More encouraging for Baltimore fans: Jimenez struck out 10 Twins. Before Friday night, he had been walking too many batters (17 in 27 1/3 innings), and the drop in fastball velocity (1.6 mph below last year’s fastball) continues to be worrisome, but the Orioles need an effective Jimenez if they want to stay atop the American League East.
2. Wily Peralta did it all himself in Cincinnati. Not only did the Brewers' right-hander pitch eight shutout innings, but Peralta also doubled in both of Milwaukee’s runs in a 2-0 win. Those RBIs were the first of Peralta’s career.
Milwaukee boasts the best record in baseball at 21-9; its 12-3 mark away from Miller Park is also the best in the league. We are just two days into May, and the Brew Crew has already opened up a six-game lead in the NL Central (9.5 over the last-place Cubs and Pirates).
3. Much ink has been spilled about the early brilliance of Atlanta’s pitching, but you have to think that Mike Minor’s return to the Braves couldn’t have come at a better time. Minor was effective over six innings, permitting two runs on seven hits while striking out four (both San Francisco runs scored on solo homers). Of course, that performance wasn’t enough to out-duel Tim Lincecum, as the Giants won 2-1.
Minor has been Atlanta’s best pitcher since the 2012 All-Star break (87 1/3 IP, 2.16 ERA in the second half of 2012; 13-9, 3.21 ERA in 200+ innings last year). With the clock (possibly) striking midnight on Aaron Harang, and the club now mired in a four-game losing skid, Minor’s return to the top of the Atlanta rotation is welcome indeed.
4. Tom Koehler entered the season as Miami’s fifth starter after going 5-10 with a 4.41 ERA as a rookie last year. On Friday, Koehler pitched seven scoreless innings, holding the Dodgers to three hits in a 6-3 Marlins victory. The win was Miami’s seventh in a row at home; its 13-4 home record is the best in baseball. Also, don’t look now, but the win permitted the Marlins to climb above .500 for the first time since April 9.
Koehler is 3-2 with a 2.41 ERA on the season, but he seems like a good bet to return to Earth any time now. He has issued free passes to almost four batters per nine innings, and that 24/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio does not inspire confidence that he can continue to outperform his peripherals (4.41 FIP, for example).
5. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the best pitching matchup of the night: Cliff Lee vs. Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg pitched six strong innings, giving up three unearned runs in the first before settling down; he was lifted by manager Matt Williams after only 83 pitches. Lee had a typical Cliff Lee performance, allowing one earned run over seven innings. Things got a little testy in the fifth, when Lee got into a bit of a shouting match with Washington’s Denard Span, after which each player’s posse emerged from his respective dugout to mill around on the field before order was restored.
Finally, we didn’t really need more proof that you can’t predict baseball, but Lee and Strasburg provided it. Lee had issued four walks in his first six starts. He hadn’t walked a pitcher in three years. So what happened tonight? Yep, Lee walked Strasburg on four straight pitches.
You gotta love baseball.