Nick S already said all that really needs to be said about this:
Incredibly Batista got pulled from the rotation today and still managed to get the loss.
For five innings, this was a hell of a game to watch. The M's were hitting Garza, the Rays weren't hitting RRS, and the outs were flying by such that it looked like we might get through everything in a timely, pleasant fashion. You really couldn't have asked for a better start. But then RRS got tired, Jimenez came apart, the Rays took the lead, and the game started to plod along at an unbearable pace. Sure the M's were able to come back a little later on, and yeah, over the duration there were more than a couple exciting and high-leverage showdowns, but the game was proceeding so slowly that by the ninth I was just pleading for some sort of conclusion. I didn't care how. I just wanted out. Fortunately these are the situations for which Miguel Batista was built. There are sure things, and then there's the eleventh inning today. Despite what some people might tell you, consistency isn't always a virtue, and Miguel Batista's a textbook example of why.
By the way, allowing the winning run before we got to bat around without a DH? Uncool. You can't watch Willie hurt himself and get as far as we did tonight without following all the way through and letting the pitcher bat. Now the whole deal just feels incomplete. And considering it took four and a half hours to finish, I didn't think that would be possible.
Biggest Contribution: Ichiro, +45.5%
Biggest Suckfest: Cesar Jimenez, -66.7%
Most Important AB: Beltre DP, -33.3%
Most Important Pitch: Crawford double, -29.9%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -43.6%
Total Contribution by Lineup: -6.4%
Total Contribution by Opposition: 0.0%
(What is this chart?)
It's deathly late so I'm just going to occupy this space by talking about RRS' debut as a stretched-out Major League starter. Anyone who only looks at the box score without having watched the game is going to be left thinking he didn't pitch particularly well. Four runs and nine baserunners in 5.2 innings don't really represent an improvement over the guy RRS was replacing, and this was against a lineup without its megatalented young third baseman. In short, statistically, RRS could've been way more impressive.
But the truth of the matter is that, no matter what the numbers say, this was about as good of a game as we could've expected RRS to throw. I don't mean that to be disparaging, either; I mean he pitched well, and didn't deserve his mediocre results. Were there any justice in the world, he would've been able to drive home a winner. Instead, I don't know, maybe he picked Cesar Jimenez up by the neck and threw him into a wall. That seems to be a popular way of making people accountable.
There just isn't really all that much to complain about. All anybody expects from RRS is that he pitches like a #4 starter, and that's exactly what he did tonight. He missed a goodly number of bats (9). He generated a decent number of grounders (8). He didn't allow the Rays to spray line drives all over the field (4). He could've found the strike zone a little more often than he did, but that's just part of his identity. He isn't a guy who's going to pound the zone and put everything in play. He'll get a few more strikeouts, and he'll allow a few more walks. It may not be the perfect approach, but it's worked well for him in the past, so there's no reason to change. He'll pitch to the corners for better or worse, and more often than not, it's for the better.
He worked well through five innings before getting gassed in the sixth. And it was pretty apparent that he was running out of steam, too, because he started going through a steady cycle of wiping his brow and stepping off the rubber to buy himself more time. The traditional sign that a pitcher's getting tired is that he loses a few miles off of his fastball, but another solid indication is a slowing of the tempo, and RRS was clearly looking to take his time over those final few at bats. But then, considering he'd already thrown 105 pitches and had been the victim of some questionable defense, you could forgive him for not making it into the seventh. It would've been nice to see him walk off the mound triumphantly one more time, especially given the way he closed out the fifth with that strikeout of Pena, but when he was done, he was done. To be honest, I'm surprised they got as much out of Ryan as they did.
Not that his fastball was suffering, at least in terms of velocity. Observe:
First five fastballs: 88.7mph (average)
Middle five fastballs: 88.4mph
Final five fastballs: 89.0mph
First third: 88.9mph
Middle third: 88.3mph
Final third: 89.2mph
Aside from dialing things up to get through the fifth, RRS's velocity held steady for most of the game. And that's pretty impressive for a guy who hasn't consistently worked this deep into games in years and years. With him, fatigue seems to manifest itself in command, rather than velocity - you could see that later on he was starting to pitch around the zone, rather than in it, as his precision dropped off. He didn't fall apart or anything, but...okay, imagine a hypothetical circle with r = 6. This circle represents RRS' ability to locate his pitches when he's fresh. If he's aiming for the center of the circle, 90-95% of the time the ball will end up within the circle. Later on, when he's tired, the circle expands, to the point at which it has an r = 8 or 9. That's not a huge difference, but it is a substantial one, and it wouldn't surprise me if, over a large enough sample, RRS allowed a ~third of his walks to the final ~quarter of batters he faces in each start. Given that he doesn't exactly have knockout stuff to begin with, he probably isn't the sort of guy you want to leave out there long after he's started running on fumes. The damage may come gradually at first, but I imagine it would pick up pretty quickly if no one intervenes.
Tonight RRS was working with all four of his pitches, but the one that stood out - the one that's always stood out - was his big bendy curve. While it only comes in around the low-70s, it's such a change, and it has so much movement, that it's almost impossible to square up. We saw him drop one on Upton in the fifth on a 2-2 count that just froze Upton in his cleats. It's a dynamite pitch that'll give him another true weapon against lefties if he can get a hang of the command. Slightly better placement of the pitch gets him through Gabe Gross in the sixth before he ever hits the single to Lopez.
What does it look like? Here are the trajectory views from the top and the side:
Not only does it have that ridiculous amount of drop, but it also has more horizontal movement than the slider as well, and when you've got a guy on the mound with two distinct breaking balls that're only 4-5mph apart, it can be awful hard to distinguish between them in time to get a good swing. Of course, the curve takes a good half-second to get to home plate, so by itself it isn't all that hard to notice and at least foul off, but when you also have to protect against a faster breaking ball, then that's where it becomes extra tricky. Ask Carlos Pena. In three plate appearances against RRS, Pena saw 16 pitches and only two fastballs (one of which HIT HIM IN THE FACE). 13 were sliders or curves, and Pena swung through four of them while fouling off another three. Nobody else who appeared in the game tonight was as uncomfortable in the batters' box as Pena was against RRS. And that's saying something, because Pena's a heck of a hitter. But RRS had the upper hand, knew it, and took advantage of it. Those were some real quality at bats. Even the one where he beaned Pena in the face, because how often does anyone ever get beaned in the face?
For RRS, this was a quality start. Not according to the official rules, but according to anyone who knows anything about pitching, he threw the ball well tonight, and deserved a better fate. If he can keep up this sort of performance in the rotation through the end of the year, then that's big, terrific news for the organization. Because if you don't think it's valuable to have a competent #4/5 starter for close to the league minimum, then you haven't been watching much Carlos Silva.