Wetmore: 5 thoughts times 2, Dozier, Hughes, Pinto, Morales, Correia
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Phil Hughes dominated again Wednesday, mixing his fastball, cutter and curveball for nine strikeouts, no walks and just seven hits in seven shutout innings. The Twins won, 7-2, and won another American League East series.
This column presents 5 thoughts from Wednesday's game. And after that, it presents 5 thoughts from Tuesday's game. I won't be writing columns for the Detroit Tigers series, but will return to action next week.
As always, feel free to ask any questions or make any observations in the comments. If you have a unique baseball observation during a game, feel free to share it with me on Twitter (@DerekWetmore).
1. The Twins won the game and may have lost Brian Dozier for a period of time. Dozier and shortstop Eduardo Nunez converged on a pop fly hit to shallow centerfield in the second inning. They collided, which allowed the ball to drop for a double. Centerfielder Danny Santana didn't have a play on it but either infielder could have caught it if not for the collision.
2. Eduardo Escobar replaced Dozier at second base in the fourth inning. Dozier reportedly told the training staff he took a knee to the back, and his back stiffened up. He is day-to-day, according to reports.
3. Josh Willingham nearly made a fine defensive play in the fourth inning. For all his deserved criticism as a no-range outfielder, Willingham made a strong throw and should have been credited with an outfield assist, on what turned out to be a double for Adam Lind.
Willingham fielded a grounder in left and came up firing on target to second base. Because of a defensive shift the Twins put on for Lind, Trevor Plouffe was the closest to second base and fielded the throw from Willingham. While the play might be foreign to Plouffe, it's not totally unfamiliar, because it's similar to taking throws at third. Plus, Plouffe started in the minors as a shortstop. He dropped the ball when he attempted to catch it and apply a tag to Lind, who would have been out if Plouffe hung on.
To my knowledge, defensive metrics don't record this type of play. If you want, credit Willingham with a would-be outfield assist on the play.
4. Staked to an early lead, Phil Hughes pounded the strike zone Wednesday. He threw 80 of his 101 pitches for strikes (79 percent), and as mentioned, struck out nine batters and walked none.
We're more likely to recognize Hughes attacking the zone, perhaps, when he has a lead, and certainly he was fearless over the plate Wednesday. He's challenging hitters and not trying to be too fine at the edges of the plate. But Hughes has been very good at attacking the strike zone all season. It's one of the reasons he's been better this season than his career numbers in New York would have suggested.
Hughes primarily relied on his fastball-cutter combination, but also mixed in 15 curve balls, including seven in the final two innings.
This portion of the column presents 5 thoughts from Tuesday's game.
With his spot in the rotation looking as tenuous as ever, Kevin Correia turned in one of his best starts of the season Tuesday in Toronto, and the Twins beat the Blue Jays, 4-0.
1. Correia walked a tightrope in the second inning. He gave up a pair of singles and then a line drive to the second baseman, and then walked Anthony Gose to load the bases. Jose Reyes grounded a ball back up the middle. Correia's follow-through had him finishing at the front of the mound and slightly to the first base side, facing the right side of the infield. Reyes' ball was headed on its way behind Correia's back, straight over the mound. Correia stuck his glove out near the ground behind his calves and the ball found his glove. He threw to Kurt Suzuki for the force out at home, and then got Melky Cabrera to ground out to first to end the bases-loaded threat.
1(b). The Blue Jays hit nine line drives off Correia, but three of them turned into outs. Correia got 10 ground ball outs, four fly balls outs and a strike out to get through six innings without allowing a run.
2. Correia has been unlucky this season, but not that unlucky. His 5.60 ERA though 13 starts tells you he hasn't been good. There's a stat, expected fielding-independent pitching, or xFIP, that eliminates the fielding component of a pitcher's stat line. It's designed to be on the same scale as ERA and strips out events over which the pitcher has no control, like how his fielders play behind him. Correia's 4.57 xFIP might be more indicative of how he'll pitch going forward.
Once batters reach base, he has stranded just 63.1 percent of them this season, compared to the league-average rate of about 73 percent. Based on studies of strand rate, we can expect pitchers to gravitate toward that mean of roughly 73 percent.
That's a long way of saying Correia for the rest of 2014 is probably closer to a 4.50-ERA pitcher than to a 6.00-ERA pitcher. Still, you see pitchers like Trevor May, Alex Meyer and Yohan Pino tearing it up in Triple-A Rochester and wonder when you'll see one or more of them in the big leagues.
3. Kendrys Morales has wrested the title of slowest Twin from Josh Willingham. Morales grounded into a 4-6-3 double play in the first inning. Jose Reyes came across the bag to record the out at second but then took several more steps beyond second base onto the right side of the infield to gather himself to make the throw to first base. Whether he momentarily lost his grip on the ball or simply knew he had extra time to make sure he made an accurate throw, I couldn't tell.
Reyes also ranged deep into the shortstop's hole to his right in the fourth inning against Morales. Reyes showed good range to get to Morales' grounder, which initially looked like it might make it through the infield. Despite ranging so far and needing to make a long and off-balance throw, it looked at one point like Reyes might have a chance to make a play at first. Morales beat it out for a rare infield single.
When Eduardo Nunez served a single to right in the fourth inning with Morales on second base, third base coach Joe Vavra wisely held up Morales at third. He might have held any runner in that situation with Jose Bautista's arm in right field, but especially a slower runner like Morales. When Nunez got to first base, he playfully held out his arms at Morales as if to say, 'what, you couldn't get me an RBI on that?'
I think it was playful, anyway.
4. If Morales can match his 2012-13 batting performance, the Twins will gladly take the tradeoff of not being a speed demon. In 1,179 plate appearances since returning from a broken leg in 2010, Morales hit .275/.329/.457 with 45 home runs and 153 RBIs.
He drove a ball to the right-center field gap in the fifth inning Tuesday that reached the wall. That's a stand-up double, even for Morales. He hit two more gap doubles Wednesday, including one that cleared the bases. And of course, the Twins will happily accept his limitations if he hits the way his track record suggests he will.
5. Brian Dozier clobbered a pitch in the first inning that looked like it was at his eyes. In reality, it wasn't quite that high, but it served as a reminder how good Dozier has been at driving pitches up in the strike zone and even high and out of the strike zone. Using ESPN's Hot Zone for batting average and slugging percentage, you can see where Dozier is getting it done.
Here's Dozier's batting average in divided zones:
This is Dozier's slugging percentage in divided zones:
Here's another look at the slugging percentage Hot Zone, with numbers added:
And here's the physical manifestation of those charts.