It sure looks like the Jays are out of their temporary funk. Of course it always seems like it happens whenever Roy Halladay dominates a start like he did on Tuesday. By the way, I’m really looking forward to live-blogging off the Thursday matinee vs. the Angels from the Rogers Centre. Did it once before on May 5 for Brett Cecil’s big league debut vs. the Indians and especially enjoyed the give-and-take with Jays’ fans. Join me at 12:30 p.m. Thursday for the starting lineups and then stay with me online throughout the game.
It seemed amazing to me when they announced that Halladay’s strikeout high prior to Monday’s great 14-K performance vs. the Angels had been just 11. The answer lies in the fact that Halladay, despite his ability to strike people out in certain situations that call for a strikeout, prefers to pitch to contact and conserve his pitch count, looking for ground balls early in at-bats. Why then did he miss so many Angel bats? He insisted following the game that his philosophy didn’t change, but that he was getting ahead of hitters all night - and once he gets ahead with two strikes, he always goes for the jugular and tries to put them away. He also admitted with a big smile that he may have benefited from a sometimes-generous strike zone, but give him full credit, the guy’s a beast of burden. A lot of pitchers are done after 88 pitches. Halladay threw 88 strikes.
We’ll see you again tomorrow afternoon for the live blog, now onto the mail bag.
Q: Richard, I don't feel the last two weeks of poor play tell the tale of the 2009 Blue Jays just yet. It is far too early to call it a season. With tons of ball left, I'm thrilled that even when we lost so many in a row we are right in the thick of things in the east. However, whenever a skid lasts as long as it has, something can be said for the character and maybe lack of leadership on a team? With Gaston being more of a hands-off manager, do they have someone in the clubhouse that is vocal with the boys to help lift their spirits? It doesn't appear to be the loose team we saw coming away from Toronto after sweeping (the White Sox). And am I the only one that found getting swept by Atlanta somewhat embarrassing? Not just that it happened but the way it happened was simply depressing.
Mike Harper, Fort St. John, B.C.
A: I agree with you about the nine days of bad results on the winless road trip not being an indicator of a lost season. What’s amazing is that every contender in the American League seems to have glaring weaknesses. There is no one team that can be pointed to as a clear favourite that can be expected to run away with it in the second half. Start with the Yankees and their middle relief. Move on to the Red Sox at shortstop and DH and the Rays’ year two letdown with young hitting and starters. It may come down to who makes the best additions at the trade deadline and beyond. Can you spell Yanks and Sox?
As for clubhouse leadership, most of that, from a team standpoint, tends to take place between the white lines. For instance, if the same player can come through at the plate and deliver the big RBI with the result of the game on the line twice in one week, that’s leadership. If a starting pitcher can go out three times in a row and work 7-9 innings, allowing just a couple of runs, giving his team a chance to win, that’s leadership. As for guys when they’re in the clubhouse, consider there are 25 players of different ages, with different personalities, backgrounds and personal values. It’s hard for one voice to be a leader, especially when there are still 108 games to go. Nobody has panicked. Baseball is not a rah-rah sport anyway. More likely, there may be many leaders in the clubhouse with small groups of their own followers. It’s whatever works. When things are going well, it always looks like the leadership is there. When a team is on a losing streak, you feel like you could fire a cannon through the clubhouse and not hit a leader. Gaston has not had a general team meeting all season to lead the charge and he likely will not.
Q: Hello Richard,
Having hit absolute bottom in Baltimore perhaps you would comment on the general drift of these questions. Do teams actually have a collective character, team pride, and sense of history that the players appreciate? It certainly seems like some teams do. Where does it come from? Can it help when you are at ten and counting? Do the Jays have it?
Phoenix Rhys, Ottawa
A: What you are describing is a lack of panic that permeates from veteran players and is sensed, if a team is lucky, by the younger players. The younger players at some point become veterans and pass that calm on to the next generation, etc. In baseball, the feeling in the clubhouse is always that momentum is as good as the next starting pitcher, so there is always the feeling that today is another day and that there is no losing streak that can’t be stopped that day. Unfortunately, there are weeks where the bullpen fails for a stretch, or an error always seems to come at the wrong moment, or someone on the other side of the field comes up with a huge hit or defensive play, or Doc gets a no-decision and they go on to lose and a losing streak bubbles to the surface. The belief in history is that the whims of the “baseball gods” are like a strained hamstring – day-to-day.
Q: Well, Richard, I have just finished picking myself up after the extra-inning debacle in Baltimore. First time in club history to be swept in three consecutive series, as I recall Jamie Campbell saying during the broadcast. Let's hope this is rock bottom, and by the time the June 3 mailbag is posted, we will all be enjoying another winning streak.
My question is really a simple one. You've been around baseball for a number of years, and you've seen teams performing at both ends of the spectrum. How does a nightmare like May 27 in Baltimore impact the relationship between the starting pitching, and the bullpen? I mean, it's not like Doc is going to verbally bash anyone (sure doesn't seem like his style) but have you seen these things lead to problems? With contracts today being so incentive-laden, a few of these "drops" by the bullpen can be costly financially, as well as in the standings. I just wonder if they aren't costly in other, less tangible ways.
Thanks Richard! Here's hoping things have improved by the time we read this!
Jon Empringham, Woodstock, Ont.
A: Halladay’s response to the Jays’ bullpen letting him down in Baltimore was not personal. Instead, on Tuesday, coming off a pair of tough no decisions in which he had allowed just three combined runs in 14 innings in Atlanta and at Camden Yards, Roy took the ball and a two-run lead to the mound for the ninth inning and finished it off himself. Scott Downs threw a few pitches when Kendry Morales singled with two out, but that was it. Most pitchers can’t do what Doc does, but if you don’t want the bullpen to blow a lead for you, then don’t keep looking to the bullpen after six or seven with a lead like most of today’s young pitchers do.
As for incentive-laden contracts, most of the incentives in a pitcher’s contract are for appearances and innings pitched, a couple of statistics that don’t rely on the success or failures of teammates. However, that can affect your next contract. Consider that in games started by A.J. Burnett for the Jays last year, the bullpen allowed one run all season, total, for the year. They blew no saves and made all his game results look great. You have to believe that was worth a few million extra for A.J. in negotiations with the Yankees.
P.S. Things have improved by the time you read this.
Q: You didn't just choose Rex Hudler over Vin Scully as a broadcaster did you? I liked Rex as a ball player but Vin is king. I have MLB extra innings and I will listen to Vin Scully any chance I can get.
John Patten, Georgetown, Ont.
A: Sometimes, subtlety and humour are wasted on the overly intense. I received much e-mail in a similar vein of disbelief re the Tale of the Tape between the Angels and Dodgers. In the mailbag answer to which you refer, the one that I picked Rex Hudler over Vin Scully, recall that I also picked the Rally Monkey over Tommy Lasorda as the better mascot and I, tongue-in-cheek, preferred the fact of Dodger Stadium actually sitting on top of the San Andreas Fault over Angels Stadium being situated next to Disneyland. Actually, Hud is pretty damned entertaining and at some point, the octogenarian Hall-of-Famer, Scully must surely lose his fastball. It happens to everyone. But in answer to the original question, yes I did pick Rex and no, I wasn’t (completely) serious.
Q: Richard, after watching Alex Rios walk off second base in the Baltimore game when he was safe, I have totally had it with this clown. How can a renowned baseball man such as Cito Gaston even contemplate putting an idiot like this in his lineup? There's not a G.M. in all of baseball except for that goofball Riccardi who would put up with the defensive and offensive shortcomings of this guy.
To make my point, Baltimore thought they had a can't-miss in Corey Patterson but when it became obvious Patterson would amount to nothing more that a dud they dumped him and moved on. Obviously Riccardi's ego won't allow him to rectify huge mistakes like Alex Rios but what about the president of this organization? Where is Paul Beeston? He used to be a builder of great ball teams here in Toronto. Can you imagine Cito Gaston playing a numbskull like Alex Rios every day on the '92 and '93 Toronto Blue Jays? I can't! Rios is the proverbial "The lights are on, but nobody's home!" Get rid of him!
Rick Wyatt, Cardinal, Ont.
A: Clown…idiot…goofball…dud…numbskull. I thought for a second there I was reading my personal fan mail…that, or else a text-message from home. But in answer to your question, yeah, it was a stupid play by Rios, popping up from his slide and walking off the base. From an early age we teach our young players to stay on the base until an umpire tells you you’re out. Rios did not remember the basic rule. However over the course of a long season, the same brain farts happen to a lot of players, it’s just that when it happens in the middle of Loss No. 9 of a nine-game losing streak, it tends to stand out. On Tuesday night, in the sixth inning, for instance, Angels’ second baseman Howie Kendrick sprinted around second base on a line drive to left field thinking two were out. He was running on contact. Instead, there was one out and Jose Bautista flipped a throw across the diamond to Kevin Millar for an inning-ending double play…numbskull.
Q: Good Day,
Couple of quick questions. Rios overruns 2B after originally being called safe. Why isn't Wells awarded a hit?
Is it a DH or do pitchers hit in the minors?
And lastly, the Jays are now in the PCL a notorious hitting league correct? Should we not worry when ERAs are a tad higher than normal and not get excited when the batting numbers are up as well?
The Wells question is really bothering me.
Matthew Fox, Toronto
A: On the Wells is-it-a-hit question, the play was scored a fielder’s choice, with Rios beating the throw. The scorer’s feeling was that if he hadn’t gone for the out at second, the infielder would have had a play on Wells at first base. That being the case, there is no hit, but neither is there an error scored on a play like that. It’s considered just a poor decision, a mental blunder and a fielder’s choice, so when Rios then strayed off the bag, the putout went to the infielder with no assist on the play since he was already safe.
Question 2, in the minors they used to use the DH only in the park of AL affiliates and no DH in the park of NL affiliates but many years ago, I think it was in the ‘80s, in the minors they all became DH parks. Even the NL organizations thought it better to get at-bats for their position players rather than have their pitchers hit.
Finally, The Pacific Coast League has always been a hitter’s league and therefore, you are right. One must beware of any great batting averages and power numbers and on the other hand don’t fret if a pitcher is working on something and gets lit up in Vegas. For instance, Jays’ pitchers Brad Mills, Brett Cecil, Robert Ray, Ricky Romero, David Purcey, Bill Murphy and Brian Wolfe are a combined 0-13 in 42 games, 24 starts, with a combined ERA of 4.79.
Q: Richard, teach us. Throwing Inside: Penny brushed two Jays hitters back, near their faces, Friday at Rogers Dome. Pedroia was hit in the legs by Tallet an inning or two later. Was it retaliation? What codes now govern this ageless baseball dynamic in the American League with its DH? How would you describe the fine line that divides hitters who try to take away the outside part of the plate by standing close to the plate and those who "cross the line" by being too close? What triggers a pitcher to brush back a hitter?
Charles Novogrodsky, Toronto
A: I don’t think the Tallet plunk of the MVP Pedroia was retaliation. Penny was moving hitters off the plate by working inside with two strikes, an age-old pitching tradition that far too many young inexperienced pitchers have forgotten about. But for a veteran with diminishing skills like Penny, it is an important part of pitching. Tallet had already walked Pedroia twice in the game when he drilled him in the fifth inning. Even Tallet will admit that his biggest obstacle to establishing himself as a top-tier starter is his walk total and sometimes lack of command. He promptly picked off Pedroia.
It’s not the fact of standing too close to the plate that establishes the fine line for hitters, it’s “diving” across the plate to cheat and cover the outside half with power that annoys pitchers. Two of the biggest offenders over the years were both first basemen: Andres Galarraga and Mo Vaughan. These guys would cheat and look for that outside pitch and when a pitcher crossed them up and came slightly up and in, they would be forced to snap backwards landing on their butt, bat flying, making it look like a sniper had got them from the upper deck when in fact, the pitch was not even that close. Cheating and trying to own both sides of the plate is often what triggers a pitcher to brush him back.
Q: Good reporting on the "slump". A lot of pitchers have trouble in the first inning, seemingly too much adrenaline and they talk about "settling down" as the game goes on. Yanks had Joba throw simulated inning before a start. Wouldn't it be a good practice to use 12 extra pitches or so like that to settle down, so as not to throw those 12 extra pitches in the first inning, walking two and trying to be too fine etc. Kind of like spending to save; counter-intuitive, but, perhaps, effective.
David Burkholder, Tatamagouche, N.S.
A: The problem is that like cockroaches becoming immune to bug-spray after a while, once pitchers realize they are throwing those 12 extra pitches before every start, they no longer become 12 extra pitches. They become part of the routine. Then, to be effective, they have to throw 12 more extra pitches and so on and so on. Pretty soon the guy’s got to begin his warmup at 4:30 p.m. for a 7:30 start. I like to think that first-inning woes are sometimes the result of the other team’s top of the order facing the starting pitcher after watching hours of recent video, being on top of a starter’s tendencies. The good starters make adjustments and settle in for a long day. Recall the way the White Sox jumped on Doc’s cutter in the first inning of that game in May. The next time around the order Halladay had made his changes and was dominant. There was no adrenaline, just smarts.
Q: Hi Richard, I love reading your blog. One thing that I've noticed about baseball in comparison to other pro sports is that baseballers rarely celebrate on the field during the game. If a shortstop pulls a miraculous double play, he barely cracks a smile. If a pitcher gets out of a jam by throwing three strikeouts in a row with loaded bases - the crowd goes wild but the pitcher marches off the mound like nothing happened! While I wouldn't like to see the kinds of ridiculous outbursts that occur in other sports, it does seem that baseball is oddly lacking in passion. What do you think is behind this?
Matthew Clark, Sydney, Australia
A: Baseball is definitely different in that regard, although there are pitchers that celebrate at the end of an inning like Hall-of-Fame reliever Dennis Eckesrsley and Yankee youngster Joba Chamberlain. When they do, it is not received well by the hitters, although I disagree. There’s nothing wrong with showing a little real emotion out there. But there is a reason for this seeming stoicism. Unlike many of the other mainstream sports – Australian rules football, rugby, footy, hurling – baseball players are taught that the game is best played while relaxed and focused. You watch the hands of a hitter in the batter’s box. As he stares out at the pitcher, his face is totally relaxed and his hands are playing the bat handle like a piccolo. Tension breeds failure. Tension also breeds bursts of emotional release upon completion of a task, which is why there are fewer such moments in baseball. That is true also for fielders and pitchers.
Q: Can you give me the status on Jesse Litsch. Any estimate on when he will be back.
Vito Maglliano, Martinez
A: Litsch’s recovery from a strained forearm-connected-to-the-elbow has been slow. He went to see Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama and returned to Florida where he resumed throwing from a mound. There is no timetable for his pitching in a game because reports are he continues to feel pain. It’s one of those perplexing injuries that will allow him to return when it allows him to return. Surgery has not been ruled out.
Q: In the last little bit I've been building a theory that a lot of Roy Halladay's earned runs come via the home run. Any idea whether that is true? I wonder how he stacks up in relation to other great pitchers that way.
David Smith, Ottawa
A: Doc has allowed six homers in 91 innings this season. He allowed 26 homers in his Cy Young season and has been between 11 and 19 per year since. Like all great pitchers, Halladay pitches to the game situation and in game where he has a comfortable lead, he challenges hitters and often gives up his homers in those situations. One great example of this was Ferguson Jenkins of Chatham, Ontario. Fergie led the league in homers allowed seven times, yielding 30 or more bombs seven times, capped by a 40-homer season in 1979 for the Rangers. The vast majority of them were with nobody on base.
Q: Hi Richard:
While Brian Wolfe did his best Joey McLaughlin impersonation last Wednesday afternoon in Baltimore (Chet Lemon's Grand Slam in '84), I'm left cliffhanging and perplexed why B.J. Ryan was removed after two batters in the bottom of the 12th inning. Wasn't this situation the opportunity to determine if Ryan has the "stuff" to shut down the opposition and save games? By taking him out, the message was sent loud and clear by Field Management to the contrary and one will never know the answer. It's a lot of money to pay for a situational lefty rather than a closer. No doubt Ryan's days in Toronto are numbered.
Hersh Brenman, Thornhill
A: I’m with you. I wrote a column on the subject last week and Cito thought I was saying that he didn’t like his pitchers and we had a long discussion. But I believed that Ryan over Wolfe in that situation was a no-brainer, no matter what you think of Ryan’s prospects in the future. Cito said his plan was always for Ryan to face two left-handers and then come out of the game. He got one of them out. Then Wolfe came on and couldn’t retire anyone, resulting in the ninth loss in a row. Yes, $10 million is too much to pay for a situational lefty. However, Scott Downs is a bargain as a closer.
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