- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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Tuesday was a great night of baseball. At various times, I watched parts of Reds-Red Sox, Mets-Marlins, Astros-Tigers, Dodgers-Nationals, Blue Jays-Phillies, Yankees-Angels and Mariners-A’s, making it through to the final out on the West Coast.
Thoughts on those games and others ...
Checked in on Robbie Ray's major league debut for the Tigers. Ray was the centerpiece of the controversial Doug Fister trade with the Nationals, with most analysts believing the Tigers should have done better. Ray, making a spot start in place of Anibal Sanchez, had a 1.53 ERA at Triple-A Toledo, with 21 strikeouts and five walks in 29.1 innings. Against the Astros -- admittedly, not the toughest test -- he looked pretty good, pitching with poise and confidence and showing the good fastball command that Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones talked about before the game. He's not overpowering -- he averaged 90.8 mph on his fastball -- but moved his fastball around the zone. He gave up five hits in 5.1 innings and two of those were infield singles and a third was a bloop double. His changeup is his best offspeed pitch (he threw it 29 times) while his curveball, which he threw just nine times, remains a work in progress according to Jones.
"You hear them talking -- not to your face, but you hear them talking," Ray told MLB.com about critics of the Fister trade. "You just have to push it aside, and they have to wait and see. With runners at the corners and no outs in the first, Ray worked out of the jam, getting two strikeouts and a groundout and cruised from there into the sixth, retiring 10 in a row at one point.
Sanchez, out with a lacerated right middle finger, threw a bullpen session on Tuesday. Ray may make another start on Sunday before Sanchez is ready. The other good news for the Tigers, now winners of seven in a row, was the four-hit game and 419-foot home run from Miguel Cabrera. The home run, his third, came off a meaty 80-mph changeup from Brett Oberholtzer but he also doubled deep to left-center. He’'s still not driving the ball to the opposite field like he does when he's locked, but he's up to .293/.339/.466 after his slow start.
Homer Bailey scuffled through six innings for the Reds, walking five and allowing three runs as he battled his fastball command. "I just didn't have the right feel tonight," Bailey said. "It was one of those games that I had to grind out." Bailey has a 5.36 ERA and has allowed 52 hits and 14 walks in 40.1 innings, a sharp decline from his production the past two seasons that garnered him that $105 million extension. His velocity is fine, but he's allowed a .372 BABIP. That could be some bad luck, but could also be a location issue. In checking his heat maps, he's leaving a lot more pitches to right-handers inside and over the plate and righties are hitting .260 against him, after hitting .205 last year. Lefties, meanwhile, are tagging him for a .403 average, including .465 against his fastball. Again, a lot of red right in the middle of the plate. You wonder how much he misses Ryan Hanigan (not that Hanigan caught all his games last year).
The Red Sox ended up with a 4-3 win in 12 innings as Grady Sizemore -- who nearly signed with the Reds in the offseason before going to Boston -- delivered the game-winning hit. With Jay Bruce out a month or so after knee surgery, this is an important stretch for the Reds, now 15-17. Joey Votto is getting on base, but is slugging well below .500. Brandon Phillips has a .308 OBP. Tuesday's lineup featured Skip Schumaker hitting sixth and Zack Cozart seventh. The Reds are fortunate the Cardinals have also gotten off to a lackluster start, but they have just one division series (against St. Louis) until June 13 so it may be hard to make up much ground on the Brewers before then.
The Rockies continue to pound the ball at home, smashing the Rangers 12-1. The unstoppable Troy Tulowitzki went 3-for-4 and was hit by a pitch to raise his season line to .421/.522/.794. Carlos Gonzalez went 5-for-5. Nolan Arenado doubled in his final at-bat -- the ball landing right on the left-field foul line -- to extend his hitting streak to 26 games. When things are going good, they're going good. It's a fun team and their +48 run differential is now best in the majors. They're 13-5 at home and 8-9 on the road, so like many Rockies teams of the past, the test will be to play better away from Coors Field. Even last year's team went 45-36 at home while stumbling to a 29-52 mark on the road.
The Marlins are another fun team to watch. Henderson Alvarez spun his second shutout of the season and third in eight starts going back to his no-hitter last September. A 1-2-3 of Jose Fernandez, Nate Eovaldi and Alvarez is looking pretty solid, but the big reason for the Marlins' 18-15 start and +28 run differential has been an improved offense -- they were last (and historically bad) in runs scored last year, but rank second to the Rockies in the NL this year. Yes, it probably isn't sustainable -- they're riding a .334 BABIP, second to the Rockies in the majors -- but they're not doing anything special with runners in scoring position (.267 versus .271 overall) and Giancarlo Stanton gives them a monster in the middle.
Nice win for the Mariners in that Roenis Elias had another solid outing and the Mariners put the game away with four runs in the ninth off Jim Johnson. The key play in that rally was Corey Hart beating out a double-play ball with the bases loaded to score the first run -- helped out by Robinson Cano hustling into second with a hard slide. In light of Mariano Rivera's comments that he'd take Dustin Pedroia over Cano, it's easy to pick on those times when Cano doesn't run out a groundball. But in watching the Mariners a lot this year I haven't seen many instances (if any) of Cano not hustling or taking a play off. Maybe his uniform doesn't get as dirty as Pedroia's, but there are many ways to play the game.
Despite all their pitching injuries, the Mariners are fourth in the AL in ERA. Elias has been a big part of that with a 3.27 mark and he's been much better his past three outings with a combined 22-8 strikeout/walk ratio. Hisashi Iwakuma returned over the weekend as well. The Mariners can't really hit, but they're 16-15 and in the AL it looks like anything is possible.
The power went out in Tampa so the Rays outfielders watched cartoons.
OK, maybe I was wrong in dissing instant replay over the overturned call that gave the Pirates the win over the Giants. If there's any reason for instant replay, it's for a game-deciding play like that one. My larger point: One good (and important) call doesn't take away from my replay likeability, and my gut feeling right now is it hasn't won me over.