Thursday, April 15, 2004
Posted 11:58 AM by Sean
Thanks to MLB's Extra Innings package and ReplayTV, I've been fortunate enough to see all nine of the Angels' games this year despite living just slightly out of market. So it's with a fair bit of certainty that I say that last night's 6-5 victory over Seattle was easily the tensest set-to of this young season. And it produced a lot of stuff to talk about, so you might want to get a sandwich and a beer before reading any further.
It seems appropriate to start with Ramon Ortiz, who made a noticable improvement - how could he not - over his last start, a Good Friday scourging the likes of which had Mel Gibson muttering about international gross and points off the back end. Ortiz's final line - 5.2 innings pitched, 4 ER, 8 H, 3 BB, 4 K - is nothing to holla back at, but, well...Ramon Ortiz went five and two-thirds! For a number four guy (well, number five, really), that's about what you shoot for - someone who will keep you in the game. Ortiz seemed a little bit calmer than he usually is, particularly in the first three or four innings, and was working noticably faster than usual. That's a good sign.
What Ortiz's start really exemplified, however, was the importance of the first-pitch strike. Let's talk some numbers for a minute: Ortiz faced 26 batters. Of those, he started 14 with a ball, and 12 with a strike.
Of the 14 batters he started with a ball: six made outs (43%). Three singled, three walked, and two doubled. That's a rate of 0.714 total bases per batter faced.
Of the 12 batters he started with a strike: nine made outs (75%). One singled, one doubled, and one homered. That's a rate of 0.583 total bases per batter faced.
One of the things Ortiz seems to need help with is the ability to recognize and adapt to an opposing lineup's approach to him. The Mariners brought their patience hats to the plate last night - of those 26 hitters, only three swung at the first pitch. Of the 14 who took a first-pitch ball, only three swung at the next pitch, while five looked at strike one. And yet Ortiz still threw more balls than strikes on the first pitch. If Bud Black can make him see the importance of that first-pitch strike, Ortiz may have a chance to contribute to this team. I am not, however, hopeful.
Bob Melvin shook up his lineup a little for the game - well, as much as you can shake up a lineup when you're using your sixth in eight games - putting John Olerud in the two-spot to take advantage of his lifetime .306 batting average against Ortiz, and flipping Boone and Martinez to maximize the chances of Boone hitting with men on. Boone did eventually homer with Martinez on, but otherwise Ortiz limited the damage done by Boone, getting him to line out to Kennedy in the first and fly out to Salmon in the fifth.
For Scioscia's part, he rested Glaus and Molina again, and again moved Guerrero to DH. Unfortunately, for the second straight night Guerrero had to run the bases on close plays, and his knee is clearly bothering him. The Times and the Register attribute, respectively, the following two bits of wisdom to Scioscia this morning:
Manager Mike Scioscia said Guerrero could heal more quickly if the Angels gave him several days off, but they consider his bat too valuable to take out of their lineup. Guerrero probably will continue to serve as the designated hitter for the next few games.* * *
But Scioscia didn't want to rush him. Scioscia said Molina could play back-to-back games this weekend in Oakland.
In any event, Chone Figgins ran for Guerrero in the bottom of the ninth, and more or less gave the finger to the "stolen bases are overrated" crowd by winning the game with his speed. That sixth run was scored on a walk, two stolen bases, and a sac fly, and, though I feel bad for Figgins, who would obviously like a start or two, that's a pretty sweet arrow to have in your quiver.
Generally speaking, the offense looked much better against Freddy Garcia, although I'm still debating whether that was an improvement in the offense or a worse outing by Garcia. I'm leaning towards the latter, to tell the truth - he seemed to be putting the ball across the plate a lot more tonight, rather than throwing those breaking pitches off the outside corner that flummoxed the Angels last week. This is a lineup that will kill you if you don't bring your good stuff, though, and the Angels did a great job of taking the advantage Garcia was offering them. It was nice to see Tim Salmon finally have his first good night of the year, hitting three balls with authority. After starting the season 1-for-20, he's gone 7 for his last 14, including three doubles and a home run in his last three games. Of course, he very nearly wasted that performance by popping up with the bases loaded and nobody out - on the first pitch, after Hasegawa had just thrown four straight balls to Guillen - but all's well that ends well. To be honest, I think we've barely scratched the surface of what this lineup can do - Scioscia still hasn't been able to put his "everyday" lineup in effect - and I don't think 900+ runs is out of the question this year, although it'll be a chore considering they'll be facing Oakland 19 times.
As for Percival's blown save...well, he'll do that sometimes. He's always had a tendency to put guys on base, but usually wriggles out of it with the save. To be honest, the Angels were pretty lucky to hold the Mariners to a tie in the top of the ninth, just as the Mariners were pretty lucky to stop that bases-loaded, no-out situation in the seventh. But the handwriting's on the wall for Percival, who's in his last year with the Angels, and I'm not going to sweat this one until I see a couple more like it.