<
>
Insider

Early performances that mean something

5/10/2013

Justin Upton is not going to hit 135 homers, Matt Harvey is not going to win every game, and Clayton Kershaw is going to allow a run (probably). But there are small sample sizes from the first nine days of the 2013 season that are worth believing in.

1. The Seattle bullpen is overpowering.

Closer Tom Wilhelmsen might have the best power curveball in baseball, and Carter Capps' fastball is the definition of late movement. Charlie Furbush, Oliver Perez and Stephen Pryor have not allowed a hit and so far, opposing hitters have a .565 OPS against the Mariners' bullpen.

If the Mariners hit, they will remain relevant all summer.

2. Adam Jones just keeps getting better

He had an All-Star season last year before really struggling in the playoffs, and he's off to a strong start this season -- and what really jumps out is that he has just two strikeouts in 30 at-bats. The Orioles outfielder also has just one walk, which means that pitchers are going to take the Josh Hamilton approach with him and repeatedly throw it out of the strike zone. But Jones is thriving in two-strike counts in the small sample this year, going 6-for-12 with a homer.

3. Matt Harvey is officially a beast

The numbers say it: The Mets right-hander has allowed one run in 14 innings, with 19 strikeouts and four walks. On Twitter, Curt Schilling had this to say: "Matt Harvey WILL be in the Verlander, Strasburg, Kershaw, Felix discussion inside of 12 months."

But mostly, the hitters say it, with their defensive swings. Michael Young has seen a billion sliders in his lifetime, and yet he had no chance against Harvey's; Ben Revere doesn't strike out much and yet he was completely overwhelmed.

But the funny thing was: This wasn't Harvey at his best, as Terry Collins noted.

4. Roy Halladay is officially a problem

His fastball velocity wasn't awful in his start against the Mets on Monday, when he consistently nicked 91 mph. But in throwing 99 pitches in four-plus innings before being relieved, his arm angle was low again and he could not command the baseball. In one sequence, he fell behind Harvey -- the Mets' pitcher -- three balls and no strikes, then had to battle through six more pitches, including a long foul ball, before finishing him off. Halladay has allowed six walks and 12 hits, including three homers, in 7 1/3 innings this season, for a 14.73 ERA.

The Phillies have been very supportive of Halladay, largely because they have a ton of respect for him and partly because he's one of the highest-paid players on their roster and they need production from him. But after Halladay's difficult spring training, this situation soon may reach a point where the Phillies have to consider alternative solutions to try to fix him, because he's pitching terribly and he's taxed the bullpen; the relievers have had to account for 9 2/3 innings in his two starts.

He was hit hard, as Matt Gelb writes, but got a heartening text message. Erik Kratz was given a day off and he was irked.

These Phillies are not worth watching, writes David Murphy.

5. Jered Weaver's velocity is a work in progress

He is highly respected and a gamer, and like CC Sabathia, he'll make the most out of whatever stuff he has. But his fastball readings raised eyebrows in the scouts' section Sunday night when he was knocked around by the Texas Rangers. One scout counted three fastballs of more than 86 mph during his entire start, and according to FanGraphs, he's down about 2 mph since last season, when his fastball was clocked at an average of 88 mph. It was a very windy night in Arlington and there's no telling how much this impacted Weaver -- and Yu Darvish, for that matter. But Weaver's velocity will be something to watch in upcoming starts.

6. Justin Upton is locked in

He seemed happy early in spring training, he seemed happy at the end of spring training, and he's really happy now in his new digs with the Braves. According to Elias, Justin Upton is the first player since the Alex Rodriguez in 2007 to hit six home runs in his team's first seven games of a season. But Upton is the first player in major league history to do that in his first season playing for a team.

7. Kershaw is better than ever

There will be days this season when he dominates opposing hitters with his fastball, and just his fastball. But the Dodgers' lefty has used his whole repertoire like never before, encompassing a higher percentage of curveballs and sliders to keep hitters off balance. In his first two starts, Kershaw has thrown fastballs on just 56.5 percent of his pitches, a career low. From FanGraphs:

Fastball: 56.5 percent (average velocity 92.6 mph)

Slider: 24.6 (85.1 mph)

Curveball: 15.7 (73.8 mph)

Changeup: 3.1 (85.3 mph)

So this means his range of velocity is almost 20 mph, which is a staggering differential, especially because he can throw his curveball for strikes consistently.

8. Jed Lowrie has been the best under-the-radar player.

He's been a good player for a few years, in those times when he's been off the disabled list, and he probably feels somewhat lucky now that he's landed with the Athletics, having escaped the Astros' current situation. So far, his OPS of 1.567 is second in the majors, behind Justin Upton, and while we wouldn't recommend placing MVP futures bets on Lowrie in Las Vegas, his track record is established: When he plays, he hits.

Around the league

• All you need to know about the strike three call to Ben Zobrist is covered in the word and body language of Texas closer Joe Nathan. He threw the pitch that was outside and low, and for an instant, he appeared to assume that he had just walked Zobrist, setting his body as if to take a return throw. When he realized the pitch was called a strike, Nathan said "wow." The reaction could've been about the fact that he just got his 300th save, but it more likely was about the strike three call.

If you read Joe Maddon's lips in his argument with the umpires, he said the same thing to them that he did on Twitter: This cannot happen in a Major League Baseball game.

Marty Foster acknowledged he blew the call. From Evan Grant's story:

Home plate umpire Marty Foster called an 82 mph curve ball on the low and outside part of the plate a strike on left-handed hitting Ben Zobrist. After a tirade from Zobrist and Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, Foster said he blew the call.

"I saw the pitch and, of course I don't have the chance to do it again, but if I did, I wouldn't call that pitch a strike," Foster said after the game. "Joe was not violent. Joe was very professional. He was frustrated and I understand. He acted probably the best he can under that situation."

Marc Topkin has the reaction from the Tampa Bay clubhouse.

• The Astros have lost six in a row, and in that time, they've scored nine runs in 54 innings, with 37 hits, 7 walks and 69 strikeouts.

Rick Ankiel thought it would get better sooner. J.D. Martinez got pulled from Monday's game.

• The Reds continue to roll, with a huge comeback against the Cardinals. From Elias: The Reds scored nine runs in the top of the ninth inning to break a 4-4 tie, pinning a 13-4 loss on the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Cincinnati became only the fifth team in major league history to score nine or more runs in the ninth inning in a game that was tied entering that frame. The others were the 2002 Mets (at Atlanta); 2001 Tigers (at Texas); 1950 Braves (at Pittsburgh); and 1939 Indians (at Philadelphia).

Moves, deals and decisions

1. John Axford has been replaced in the closer role.

2. If the Reds need a starting pitcher, Tony Cingrani is off to a great start in Triple-A, as Hal McCoy writes. Cingrani is left-handed, and the Reds' entire major league rotation is made up of right-handers.

3. Julio Borbon's time with the Rangers is coming to an end.

4. The Nationals ponder the loss of Michael Morse.

5. The O's decided to back up Miguel Gonzalez's start.

6. Jamie Moyer isn't ruling out another comeback.

Dings and dents

1. David Freese is back.

2. Jose Bautista is ready to come back.

3. Jeff Niemann is likely lost for the season.

4. The Pirates won, but lost Wandy Rodriguez.

5. Charlie Morton is making progress.

6. The Red Sox are waiting before making a decision on John Lackey.

Monday's games

1. There is a ton of excitement in Kansas City over the Royals, and the Royals gave a great first impression for the home fans, as Sam Mellinger writes. Ned Yost finished the win with Aaron Crow.

2. Ubaldo Jimenez got lit up.

3. A shifting wind helped the Brewers hang on to win.

4. Brain cramps cost the Twins, as Mike Berardino writes.

5. The Marlins announced a crowd of more than 34,000 for their home opener, but lost.

6. Travis Hafner had a big day against his old club.

7. The Orioles lost again: That's three losses in a row, and counting.

8. Joe Saunders loved him some Safeco Field, writes Ryan Divish.

9. Hunter Pence showed some pop.

10. Daniel Nava mashed a big home run, after being placed in the lineup in place of Jackie Bradley Jr.

From Elias: The Red Sox' victory over the Orioles on Monday gave Boston a win in each of its past nine home openers. Only three other teams in major league history won their first home game in at least nine consecutive years.

Yankees: 1998-2008 (11 seasons)

Pirates: 1945-54 (10)

Red Sox: 2005-13 (9)

Reds: 1983-91 (9)

AL East

• Bob Elliott identifies some panic spots for the Jays.

AL Central

Torii Hunter is three hits shy of 2,000, as George Sipple writes.

• The White Sox are not concerned about Jeff Keppinger's slow start.

AL West

• Jarrod Parker's most prized possession is a notebook, writes John Hickey.

C.J. Wilson is trying for more consistency, writes Mike DiGiovanna.

NL East

• Jeffrey Loria cannot be trusted, writes a Miami Herald columnist. For Marlins fans, there is a feeling of emptiness.

• Denard Span's outfield skills have made an immediate impact for the Nationals, writes Amanda Comak.

NL Central

• The Cardinals' bullpen issues are a concern, writes Bernie Miklasz.

Brandon Phillips loves the booing.

• The Cubs came up empty for their opener, writes David Haugh. The Cubs' leadership thinks that more night games would help.

Carlos Marmol heard some boos, as Gordon Wittenmyer writes.

NL West

• The D-Backs aren't thinking about Justin Upton's blistering start.

• The Rockies are holding firm to absolutes, writes Troy Renck.

• The Padres' bullpen has honored Ron Burgundy.

• The Dodgers' bullpen has been perfect. Kenley Jansen has a healthy outlook.

Other stuff

• On Monday's podcast, Angels third-base coach Dino Ebel described the many ways in which Mike Trout impacts play, and gave the fastest time they've ever clocked him running from home to first.

• The Marlins kicked out some of their fans.

• Some of Josh Hamilton's former teammates were put off by the way he handled his weekend in Texas, believing he did nothing to tamp down the reaction and did everything possible to draw a response from the crowd.

Joe Nathan said this: "I think him being more vocal than he should have been may have created more hype and more hostility. If he had been quieter, I think this weekend might not have been hyped as much. He egged them on a little, playing with them. It's a shame. I hope it's not like this every time he comes into town."

• Terry Francona got lost on the way to the ballpark.

• Spike Albrecht and I went to the same high school, a billion years apart, so it was kind of cool seeing him fire away 3s.

And today will be better than yesterday.