It's very rare that it's a good idea to send one's starter back out for the ninth inning. Well, to be clear, I'm speaking from the "in a vacuum" perspective. It's nice to reward a guy, and maybe you could reap rewards from that later, but if you have a decent closer, it's better to go with him fresh over the laboring starter almost every time.
And it isn't just that the starter is tiring, and is less likely to have his best stuff, it's that the batters are getting yet another look at him. For a starter like Roenis Elias, who's making his first tour through the league, this is big. In the ninth inning today, Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez were each getting their fourth look at him. This may be the best 2-3-4 in baseball and they'd had ample opportunity to time his delivery and get a good look at his release point.
Now, on the latter, we know Elias does a lot to make sure batters—well, lefties—are guessing on his release point. Jeff recently had a phenomenal post on this, and Elias' two different breaking balls, over at USS Mariner. As a quick illustration, here's a look at Elias' release points to date. You can see two clusters, with the lower one off to the right being where he occasionally drops it down against lefties.
When I wrote about Elias in spring training, I noted that the coaching staff had tried to stop him from doing this, and that him doing so could lead to future success. When asked about it, why he did it, he supposedly said the reason for it was simple: he mixed it up because "I'm from Cuba."
Well, he hasn't stopped, he's been better than we could've possibly imagined—and today he added a funny new "I'm from Cuba move." Let's see if you can spot it. Shouldn't be too difficult.
Here's the first pitch Elias threw to Ian Kinsler, without the new move:
Elias proceeds to get ahead of Kinsler, and after the Tigers' second baseman just barely fouled off a filthy 1-2 curve, Elias decided to throw in a new wrinkle:
Did you spot it?
Out of nowhere, Elias adds a small little hitch to his delivery—just enough to keep Kinsler from having him timed. Who knows if this had an impact on Kinsler, but as long as it isn't hurting control (and it wasn't here), it can't be a bad thing.
What's even funnier is that, after going to the hitch on the second 1-2 pitch, he took it away on the third.
Then, in facing the best hitter in baseball, Elias brings back the new trick. Matt noted the statement pitch in his recap, and here again is a Gameday look at what was a middle-middle fastball to a guy with a 157 wRC+:
Yes, quite brazen, probably more insane. But as mentioned, Elias went with the hitch to Cabrera. Now, don't only focus on Roenis, watch how Cabrera freezes and then restarts at the exact moment Elias pauses:
By this point, Mike Blowers can be heard holding back a chuckle on the ROOT broadcast. "He is feeling pretty good about it," he said after this pitch. "He did the hesitation thing again. I don’t think I’ve seen that this year." As good as Blowers' prescient knowledge of the future is, he's even more spot-on about the past. If this is the first time he's seen Elias throw it, it's probably the first time he's ever done it in a major league game.
He did it for all three pitches he threw to Cabrera, inducing a grounder to Willie Bloomquist, and the one pitch he threw Martinez to get a game-ending flyout.
I can't get over this. I know Elias has probably done this in bullpens, and most likely in spring or the minors, but to pull the hitch out—from seemingly nowhere—agains the best heart of the order in baseball while going for the CGSO is too good.
I've written before about Elias' narrative, that perseverance, and his ability to make adjustments when needed. Sometimes narratives are undeserved, and they're often forcibly applied when there's no place for them. Elias has shown, once again, the story around him is fitting.
It isn't just that he keeps his composure in big spots, he does more than that. He adjusts, and keeps on attacking with whatever he has—or whatever he can come up with.