Cactus League’s Relentless March, M’s host Reds
Nate Karns vs. Anthony DeSclafini, 1:10pm (Daylight Savings adjustment means we’re back to “normal” start times in AZ.)
After splitting their split-squad games yesterday, the M’s take a slightly smaller roster back to their home park to face Cincinnati. Reds prospect Cody Reed was dominant yesterday, and today they’ll face off against another young hurler who figures to have a rotation spot sewn up. Thankfully for the M’s, DeSclafini isn’t a lefty throwing a plus fastball and a plus breaking ball – he came up initially with the Marlins as more of a command guy, albeit with enough velo and movement to get some strikeouts. The problem was that his excellent control came at a cost: he got a lot of the plate, and thus gave up a lot of hard contact, leading to very high BABIPs. Home runs weren’t a particular problem, which is interesting given his fly-ball tendencies, but batters in the minors and majors have consistently posted higher-than-average BABIPs. A move to Cincinnati and a home park that tough on fly-ballers who get a lot of the plate forced DeSclafini to make some adjustments: last year, he walked more batters, but kept his HR rate in check by giving up more ground balls.
As it turns out, DeSclafini changed his pitch mix fairly substantially in the second half of last season. Instead of a textbook average four-seam, he shifted to his sinker, which he’ll throw at 92-93. He ditched his change-up and started throwing a lot more curve balls. This all had salutary effects on his K:BB ratio, but it didn’t quite solve the “lots of dudes are squaring up his pitches” problem. We’ll see if further adjustments can help with that, or if DeSclafini is in the Ryan Franklin family of pitchers who admirably won’t be scared out of the zone, and are forced to take some punishment as a result.
Nate Karns’ route to the 5th starter job got a tiny bit easier today when the M’s announced that they’d be shifting Mike Montgomery to the bullpen. Montgomery was excellent yesterday, tossing three shutout innings in what looks like his final start, and if you read yesterday’s post, you know that I’m not sure this is the best role for him. That said, as M’s relievers continue to fall with injuries (today, the M’s announced Charlie Furbush may not be ready for opening day, and he still hasn’t appeared in a spring game), his odds of making the team and not spinning the waiver wheel are better. Karns’ primary opposition for the #5 spot, James Paxton, also pitched yesterday, and looked fairly good, but again, his velocity simply isn’t where you’d expect it to be. Pitch FX again classified most of his fastballs as cutters, which makes the average velocity for either pitch kind of useless. That it’s confusing the two at all is a bad sign, as is the fact that Paxton’s touching 93 only very, very rarely.
Thus far, Karns has been a bit different than we would’ve expected. After spending his first full season as a high-strikeout, high-homer, high-fly-ball guy, he’s been a ground-balling pitch-to-contact guy in Peoria. This is one of the many reasons why it’s so hard to get a handle on spring training stats. Sometimes guys really are just working on things, or trying a new pitch. Still, in a tough competition for a key role on the club, Karns should probably start missing a few more bats.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Powell, CF
3: Smith, DH
4: Cruz, RF
5: Iannetta, C
6: Sardinas, SS
7: Montero, 1B
8: Taylor, 2B
9: Lucas, 3B