Smith, Grandal Propel Padres in Game One

Game stories are difficult to write, at least for this author. Instead, here are some assorted thoughts on Sunday night’s season opening 3-1 victory against the Dodgers.

Hyun-Jin Ryu was almost done in the first inning (then he dominated)

Ryu walked Everth Cabrera to lead things off then gave up a line-drive single to right by Chris Denorfia, which put runners on second and third after Yasiel Puig tried to throw out Cabrera at third. Ryu settled down enough to strikeout Chase Headley, but followed that by walking Jedd Gyorko on four pitches.

With Ryu on the ropes early, Yonder Alonso stepped in with the bases loaded and one out. First pitch swinging, Alonso grounded a 93 mile-per-hour two-seam fastball right back to Ryu, starting an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play. Swinging there wasn’t necessarily a bad decision by Alonso. Despite the early bout of wildness, Ryu has better than average control. Last year he walked just 6.3 percent and allowed one walk or fewer in nearly half of his starts.

Further, the pitch was right over the heart of the plate:

AlonsoDP

Rather than trying to get ahead in the count or work another walk, Alonso had the right idea to offer at the first pitch. The execution just wasn’t there and it allowed Ryu to get out of the first unscathed. Ryu went on to struggle in the second but again escaped trouble, then he proceeded to retire 16 straight before issuing a walk to Tommy Medica in the seventh.

Seth Smith!

It wasn’t surprising that Seth Smith didn’t start his first game as a Padre, as he’s hit just .201/.269/.313 against lefties in his career. Both those ugly splits and the fact that he’s been utilized sparingly against southpaws (406 PAs vs. lefties, 1895 PAs vs. righties) suggest that Smith is best used in a strict platoon, sitting against left handers.

On the other hand, Smith’s slashed .279/.358/.489 against righties and he’s hit even better – in an extremely limited sample, of course – as a pinch hitter (.320/.416/.574, seven home runs, 202 PAs). Those numbers made him a perfect candidate to pinch hit for Rene Rivera to lead off the eighth inning once Ryu was yanked (after just 88 pitches)  in favor of Brian Wilson.

Wilson served up an 87 mile-per-hour 2-0 slider that didn’t slide and Smith deposited it into the right field seats.

Grandal swipes third!

After Smith’s game-tying bomb, Yasmani Grandal drew a pinch-hit walk after falling down in the count 1-2, and advanced to second on an Everth Cabrera bunt that was mishandled by Wilson. The Padres had first and second and no outs, with Denorfia set to lay down a sacrifice bunt.

Denorfia missed the bunt and Grandal … stole third. Grandal, who hasn’t stolen a base since his junior year at the University of Miami and is coming off ACL surgery, is a catcher, and is slow (his words, not mine), caught everyone off guard. As Jeff Sullivan pointed out at FanGraphs, Grandal didn’t take off for third until he noticed third basemen Juan Uribe charge hard for the would-be bunt.

In fact, Grandal didn’t actually break for third until the catcher had the ball, and he still made it without a throw. Here’s the approximate moment Grandal took off for third:

GrandalSteal

Uribe’s momentum brought him even closer to home, leaving him little chance to get back in time to nab the aggressive Grandal. With a man at third, the Dodgers had to bring the infield in, allowing Cabrera to swipe second uncontested. Denorfia capped the rally with a line-drive up the middle, giving the Padres at 3-1 lead that would stand.

Lightning round

  • Andrew Cashner picked up where he left off last year, striking out five and walking two in six innings of work. According to Brooks Baseball/PITCHf/x, 75 of his 96 pitches were either two- or four-seam fastball, and his four-seam velocity averaged 94.8 mph and topped out at 97.8. His 17 sliders drew 12 swings and four misses.
  • Rene Rivera got the start in game one for Cashner, as he did in the ace’s last five starts of 2013. It’ll be interesting to see if Rivera remains Cashner’s personal backstop when Grandal resumes the everyday catching role, and which one of Rivera/Hundley is shipped out of town first. The Padres are clearly aware of Rivera’s pitch framing prowess and laud his defensive skills in general, and with Grandal as the go-to guy as long as the knee holds up, Hundley’s days in San Diego might be numbered.
  • While Yasiel Puig is nitpicked for every minor blunder these days, the Dodgers made a slew of non-Puig errors in the bottom of the eighth inning. Brian Wilson misplayed Everth Cabrera’s bunt, Uribe didn’t cover third on Grandal’s steal (or somebody else messed up), and, after the damage was done, Adrian Gonzalez kicked a routine ground ball. Puig’s style is grating at times, but it sure beats Bill Plaschke’s.

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  • Tim Stoops

    The Dodgers might need to add non-Puig errors to their line scores this season, just to save the guy some misdirected heat.

    R H E NPE LOB

    • Dustin

      Might have to break it down further — Physical Errors/Mental Errors, Non-Puig Physical Errors/Non-Puig Mental Errors.

  • GoldenBoy

    I thought Chase’s first AB was very ugly, swinging at a bunch of outside pitches. His patience at the plate has diminished a bit over the past year. The 1st half of 2012 (before his breakout), he was remarkably patient, taking a bunch of walks. I know he’s trying to be more aggressive, but he clearly hasn’t discovered the proper patient/aggressive balance as of late.

    • Dustin

      Yeah, that was an ugly AB — would be interesting to take a closer look at that decline in patience you mention.