Making A Pitch

Three pitchers, one common theme.

Back in my youth, baseball was referred to as a game of inches.  You don’t hear that much anymore, but it’s still true.  On a pop up to second and a 415’ home run to LC the difference in where the ball strikes the bat is less than an inch top to bottom.  A double can be indistinguishable from a foul ball except for those same few inches relative to the foul line.

Pitchers also are subjected to the game of inches, but oftentimes their success or failure comes down to a single pitch.  Last night, Clayton Richard had a rough start.  He battled for 5 2/3 innings, eventually surrendering 5 earned runs, the last of which scored after Anthony Bass (who relieved Richard) allowed a triple to Darwin Barney, scoring recent Padre Cody Ransom.  Universally his effort was panned as a bad one, and perhaps deservedly so.  He threw 93 pitches to get 17 outs, allowed 5 ER, got the loss.  However, had he not surrendered the single to Ransom that gave Chicago back the lead, you know what his start would have been?

A Quality Start.

That’s right sports fans, had he retired Ransom he would have met the metric – 6 IP, 3 ER or less.  Whether that definition should really define a quality start is something worth arguing about at a later date.*  Richard makes a quality pitch there and we all look at his start differently,  even with the 2 home runs he allowed.  He kept his team in the game and gave them a chance to win.

On Sunday Jason Marquis experienced a similar one pitch moment.  Marquis struggled early against San Francisco, and was on the ropes in the third inning – based loaded, 2 out, 3-1 lead, Hunter Pence at the plate, the same Pence who’d ripped a line drive double in his first AB.  Marquis then pitched into a 3-1 count, and every SF fan in the building jumped to their feet.  Marquis made his next pitch, and Pence rolled into a 5-4-3 double play to kill the inning.  Five pitches later, with Brandon Belt on first and no one out in the fourth, Marquis got Gregor Blanco to hit into a 6-4-3 DP effectively killing that inning.  Jason pitched into the seventh and got the win.

If he doesn’t make that pitch to Pence he never gets to face Blanco, Robbie Erlin makes his major league debut, and the outcome may have been very different.  One pitch really turned the momentum of the game. Alexi Amarista’s #WhiskeyDeck shot in the bottom of the fourth didn’t hurt either.

For Edinson Volquez on Wednesday it was a series of pitches with a common theme – low enough to bounce in the dirt around Nick Hundley.  Volquez has top of the rotation stuff, and back of the rotation control, on most nights.  His walk rate is among the highest in the majors year after year.  On 24 April he pitched 7 innings and didn’t issue a free pass to anyone, only the fourth time in 157 career starts (H/T Corey Brock) he’s figured out a way to do that.  Interestingly, it’s the first time he’s done it in a game he won (here are the three losses suffered).

The difference seemed to be his willingness to bounce that slider (curveball?) in the dirt time after time.  It’s hard to reconstruct exactly how many pitches he bounced – Game Day only records a blocked ball in the dirt when someone’s on base, or it’s ball four/strike three.   That data lists 3 bounced pitches called balls, and one swinging strike that was blocked requiring a tag, however memory tells me there were at least 10 other pitches that fit this description.  It may be that Volquez changed his release point on that particular pitch for that particular game.  It’s unrealistic to expect Volquez won’t walk anyone else for several starts in a row; he’s not Adam Wainwright or Cliff Lee.  However, if he’s found a repeatable delivery that keeps the ball down and cuts down on his walks, we might finally have something here.

Volquez cooled off a hot lineup that had won 9 straight games.  Marquis survived into the seventh against San Francisco.  Richard almost spun a quality start.  All tried to make that one pitch.

*Personally I think 7 IP with 3 ER or less, or 6 IP allowing 2 ER or less, is better, even allowing that ER is no longer the best measure to evaluate pitching. 

Circumstances prevented a post last week but my ramblings will appear on Tuesdays; other days as the mood strikes.  Comments are always welcome.  You can follow me on twitter @Padres_Trail.

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