Photo: ROOT Sports screenshot
JP Crawford dives after a base hit during the Red Sox's 8-run third inning Saturday in Boston
May 11, 2019
A few thoughts on the first two games of the Boston series . . .
- Erik Swanson (losing pitcher on Friday, 7 ER in 42⁄3 IP) is not a starting pitcher. At least, not with his current repertoire; he throws hard, he throws strikes, and he fools no one. He would likely be an effective short reliever, though—his stuff gets him by for the first couple of innings, batters have hit .250 against him through the 2nd inning in his five starts, ERA of 3.60—but by the third he's effectively throwing high-speed batting practice. True, it's not always the case (he does have a pair of quality starts so far), but overall he's faced 24 batters in third innings and eight of them have scored, nine have reached on hits, and three have gone deep. He might be able to improve on this if he added another pitch or two to his arsenal, but as it is, once they time it, Major League hitters can bash his fastball, which he throws the vast majority of the time. His changeup gets almost no swings-and-misses and his slider has very little break to it; if re refined one of those or learned a curveball, he might have some staying power, but as is he's a liability in the starting rotation.
- Is Domingo Santana coming out of his slump? For a span of 15 games after Jackie Robinson Day, Santana was terrible, putting up a .159/.217/.302 line, including 23 Ks. Since May 5th, though, he's hit .409/.480/.909. He still looks like he's swinging for the fences every time up, but lately it's been working for him.
- Felix Hernández is slipping into old habits. In Saturday's start—which followed his losing effort in New York last Monday—he seemed to abandon his new approach, throwing few curveballs and getting hammered once again on his fastball. (ESPN's game log labeled several pitches as curves that did not appear that way on TV. By my count he threw just ten.) One theory is that he knew he was approaching a strikeout milestone for his career and was looking for Ks above all (and he did get enough to surpass the 2,500 mark) and thought he could get them on fastballs. For strikeout number 2,500 he put more zip on the pitch that froze Michael Chavis, hitting 92 on the radar gun. But he has to reach back for 92 these days, and that was tops for him on the game; it's not like the old days when he could reach back for 97 or 98. Of the six hits the Sox got off of Felix, four were on fastballs, including Mitch Moreland's home run and Moreland's single that Felix is really lucky wasn't another home run it was such a meatball. The other two hits came on changeups. If Felix is to succeed in reinventing himself, he's got to limit those fastballs to show-me timing disruptors that are out of the strike zone and really work the breaking stuff.
- JP Crawford needs to stay with the big club. He's shown he can hit to all fields and run the bases well and, though he did commit an error on Friday on a tough play, is obviously a better shortstop than Tim Beckham is. Let JP play!
- I like Omar Narváez more and more every time I see him play. He's still not exactly Johnny Bench behind the plate, but he's not Miguel Olivo, either, and I really expected him to be much worse. He's been reasonably OK receiving the ball and it looks from the nosebleed seats/TV cameras like he calls a good game. On Saturday he seemed to try to convince Felix to stay away from that fastball, particularly against Moreland, based on Felix's repeatedly shaking off signs before throwing the fat ones over the plate. Where he still makes me nervous is on throws to second—I am surprised more opposing teams haven't tried to steal bases on him a lot more often. And Narváez really has been the anti-Mike Zunino at bat, batting nearly .300 with an on-base mark of nearly .400. If I was making out the lineups, I'd move him up to fifth or maybe even second in the order, depending on who's batting leadoff.
- Speaking of leadoff, Mitch Haniger doesn't belong there right now. Not only is he scuffling with a barely-over-.300 OBP, Mitch has racked up a team-leading 52 strikeouts, trailing only Jorge Soler and Joey Gallo for most Ks in the Majors (they each have 53). Now, Mitch is better than his current stat line would suggest and you know he's going to come out of this funk at some point, but let's let him work it out elsewhere in the order. With Dee Gordon out for a spell, there's no obvious replacement at leadoff, which is a problem, but for now, why not put JP there for a few games and see what happens? Dee will be back soon.
The M's are under .500 now. They've been passed by the Angels and are a mere half-game up on the A's. It's still not time to despair, but . . . we're kind of getting there.