Game 121, Mariners at Rangers
Mike Montgomery vs. Derek Holland, 11:05am
Early game today as the M’s will catch a flight home and await the arrival of the White Sox on Friday. Today’s game’s an interesting one, as it marks the 2nd start, and 2nd *inning* lefty Derek Holland will toss for Texas in 2015. The oft-injured lefty hurt his shoulder just one inning into his first start of the year – this after coming back from knee surgery that limited him to just five starts in 2014. When he was on, he used a plus fastball, a curve, and his excellent slider to get strikeouts. The K’s were important, as his swerving, rising FB leads to a lot of elevated contact, and that can often spell problems in a place like Arlington. His HR rate is fairly high for his career, a product of his home park and continued struggles with right-handed bats. Righties are slugging .450 against Holland in his career, and have a HR rate of 1.38/9 IP.
Part of Holland’s problems to righties was that his change-up was never a consistently effective pitch. In recent years, it had even more “rise” than his sinker and occasionally more than his four-seam fastball, which is rather remarkable for a pitch 8-10mph slower. Righties are slugging an even better .543 off the change-up for Holland’s career – and that’s over 1100 change-ups thrown. Thus, in recent years, Holland’s limited the change and started throwing a blizzard of sliders to righties as well as lefties – Eno Sarris has a great interview with Holland in which the lefty talks about how he moves the pitch around the zone to righties.
So: in the past, he was a 94-95mph four-seam fireballer with a solid breaking ball to back it up. He’s tossed all of 38 big league innings in the past two seasons, though, and hasn’t pitched more than 5 IP in the minors this year. I have no idea what Holland will look like today, and I doubt the M’s do either. In his single inning in April, his velo was down significantly, but then that’s often a precursor to injury. The M’s have seen a lot of Holland over the years; Mark Trumbo’s seen him the most, and I’m sure he’ll be in the starting line-up because of it.
For the M’s, Mike Montgomery heads to another difficult pitching environment and tries to stop his recent slide. As Tony Blengino’s article at Fangraphs talks about, Montgomery put up so-so K:BB numbers in his first 7 starts, but benefited from an absurdly low level of production on balls in play. Montgomery gave up a decent number of fly balls, but they all found gloves…as did the grounders he induced. Since then, it seems that every fly ball finds a gap and every grounder splits the defenders. In Blengino’s reckoning, it’s great that Montgomery’s GB% is trending up, but given that Montgomery doesn’t seem to be all that good at limiting hard-hit contact, he’s going to struggle to stick around even as a 4-5th starter.
Erasmo Ramirez, the guy Montgomery was swapped for just before the season started, has blossomed into a solid part of the Rays rotation, and his numbers are nearly dead-on where they were in his great 2012 campaign. If you’d looked at Ramirez’s batted-ball authority in 2013-14, you’d have seen a hopeless AAAA pitcher too, and one with much bigger control problems than even Montgomery’s recent skid have demonstrated. Given that, I’m not sure that the batted ball data over 7 starts are dispositive here. They certainly aren’t *encouraging*, but Ramirez’s resurgence demonstrates that a pitcher’s “true talent” is pretty malleable. Montgomery still struggles against same-handed hitters. The Red Sox seemed to know that, and thus left Travis Shaw and Brock Holt in the line-up around David Ortiz. Yes, yes, righties knocked him around too, but lefties get a very good look at Montgomery’s fastball, and it’s something he might want to think about changing. Keep the four-seamer for righties, and he’ll probably always see more righties than lefties, but use his sinker and even his change-up a bit more to lefties. Right now, he’s doing the exact opposite: it’s righties who are seeing more of the sinker.
Just like Erasmo, Montgomery’s running reverse splits, and that may always be a part of his profile. But he’s got to keep lefties from driving the ball, and it’s possible that his sinking change might help with that. Obviously, the pitch has been more effective to righties, and I understand that he doesn’t want to over-use it to lefties, lest it become less effective as a putaway pitch, but it’s time for Montgomery to make some adjustments. Oh, one more adjustment. Montgomery’s fastball location needs to be better. Here’s a heat map of Montgomery’s four-seam fastball, the pitch he’s thrown more than any other. There are a number of ways to use a fastball, and there’s no real right answer of where you want to throw it. But there IS a wrong answer:
Not there, Mike.
1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, RF
4: Cano, 2B
5: Gutierrez, LF
6: Jackson, CF
7: Trumbo, DH
8: Montero, 1B
9: Zunino, C
SP: Mike Montgomery
3 lefties in the line-up against Montgomery today: Shin-Soo Choo, Mitch Moreland and Rougned Odor.
Tacoma topped OKC last night 3-2, with Roenis Elias tossing 7 strong innings for the win. I should mention that Chin-hui Tsao pitched the final 2 innings for the Dodgers. As amazing as it is to see Chien-ming Wang still pitching in the minors, it’s even more remarkable – and cool – that Tsao’s still going. Once one of the most highly touted pitchers in the minors, and a future mainstay of the Rockies rotation, Tsao made his MLB debut back in 2003. Before that, he was the #15 overall prospect in baseball before 2001, thanks to a dominant season in the Sally league in 2000. Wang is actually slightly older, but they hit the affiliated minors around the same time, but Tsao was a step ahead – and much, much more successful in the early going. Wang didn’t debut with the Yankees until 2005, so Tsao was the big Taiwanese star for a few years. Working in relief in 2005, he touched 100mph with a fastball, a speed he reached again pitching in Taiwan several years later. Unfortunately, his shoulder never held up, and he returned to Taiwan in 2008. After a game-fixing scandal, he was kicked out of his domestic league, so he tried to come back to the US to play for independent league teams, but when that failed, he became a restauranteur in Taiwan. The Adelaide Bite of the ABL wouldn’t let him suit up, so I was surprised he was allowed in to the US affiliated minors, but he’s been pitching reasonably well this season (mostly in AA) after a layoff of an incredible 5 years, from 2010-2015. Anyway, Adrian Sampson starts today for the R’s as they head to Colorado Springs to face Harvard product Brent Suter, who put up some excellent RA numbers in AA Biloxi.
Speaking of Biloxi, the Shuckers beat Jackson 3-1 last night after reliever Trey Cochran-Gill gave up 3 runs in the 8th. Misael Siverio tossed 6 shutout innings, but opponent Jorge Lopez went 7 scoreless for the win. Dylan Unsworth takes the mound for the Generals as they face Biloxi righty Adrian Houser, who was a part of the recent Carlos Gomez trade.
Lake Elsinore beat Bakersfield, also by a score of 3-1. Dan Altavilla struck out 7 in 5 IP and Justin Seager got his first Cal League HR in the loss. Tyler Pike starts for the Blaze tonight.
Clinton got 2 runs in the 9th to get a rare road win over Burlington by a score of 5-3. Joe DeCarlo’s 2 run HR was the difference, and sinkerballing closer Kody Kerski picked up the save. Kerski’s got 51 Ks in 49 2/3 IP on the year, and has only given up 1 HR this season. His ERA is sparkly, but it’s partially the result of 10 unearned runs…almost as many as the 11 earned runs he’s been charged with. Still, as a 2nd day draft pick out of a small school (and the closer for a team that’s had precious few opportunities for saves), Kerski’s done enough to warrant more attention. Clinton’s Jarrett Brown makes the start tonight in Burlington against the Bees’ Jake Jewell.
Spokane used an 8 run 8th to down Everett 11-8. Drew Jackson was held hitless again, but he did have 2 walks. Alex Jackson doubled, and Luis Liberato had 3 RBIs for the AquaSox. Starter Nick Wells was solid again, giving up 2 runs on 3 hits in 6 IP while striking out 6. Jason Churchill was at the game and got a quick video of Wells – it’s linked in this tweet. Spencer Herrmann had a forgettable day, giving up 5 runs in 1/3 of an inning – you can probably guess which inning he appeared in. Luiz Gohara starts in Everett tonight, and the Brazilian’s looking to break out of a slump. After a solid first few starts, Gohara’s given up 14 earned runs in his last 4 starts and 13 1/3 IP. His K:BB ratio’s still pretty good, but he’s been very hittable for a guy with good raw stuff in a short-season league.