Entering the 6th inning of yesterday’s 5-3 loss to the Angels, it looked as if Javier Vazquez was going to turn in an outing good enough to silence some of his critics, as he had allowed just two runs to that point despite not having his best stuff. Three batters later, Javy was getting booed off the mound following doubles by Torii Hunter and Kendry Morales. Let’s take a look at those two at-bats, with screengrabs from Gameday, to see what went wrong (Mike at RAB also looked at the Morales at bat).
The Hunter at-bat was fairly straightforward. Vazquez started with 2 fastballs to go 0-2, and then went with two sliders and a fastball down and away to push the count to 3-2. This is representative of the trouble Javy had putting hitters away yesterday, as he could not seem to find the right pitch to finish hitters off with two strikes. I understand the goal of getting a free swinger type like Hunter to flail at something, but none of the 3 pitches was at all close to the zone and did not tempt Hunter at all.
The final pitch of the at-bat was a fastball that was belt-high and on the outer half. While I have no problem with going to the heater there, I do take issue with the location. When backing up a fastball with a second heater, it is imperative that you do something to change the hitter’s eye level or catch him protecting the wrong portion of the plate, unless you have enough velocity to simply blow it by the hitter in the same location. Vazquez did attempt to do so, bringing the pitch up from below the knees to the belt area. However, changing the eye-level of a fastball hitter like Hunter means bringing that pitch all the way up, letter high, particularly when he knows that the pitch is likely coming into the zone due to the full count. Essentially, there is a good chance that Hunter was sitting on a fastball there, and it needed to get further up the ladder or further inside in order to fool him. Instead, it was an 89 MPH pitch right where the first two fastballs were, and Hunter did not miss it. I am not sure if the problem was the pitch call or the execution, but I thought that it was an incredibly poor pitch that put Vazquez in a bind. After a wild pitch and a strikeout of Matsui, Javy faced Morales and had a similarly poor at-bat.
The issue in the Morales at-bat was not so much location as it was pitch sequencing and selection. Morales fell behind 1-2 on the strength of two changeups that he swung and missed on. Javy followed with two more changeups out of the zone that Morales did not bite on, and suddenly it was 3-2. However, Morales is a left handed hitter and first base was open, so Vazquez did not have to throw a strike and could play for the double play with Juan Rivera coming up. He had the ability to attack Morales in a number of ways.
The only thing that would not make any sense in this spot would be to throw a changeup in the strikezone due to the count. Morales had already seen the pitch 4 times in the at-bat, and had likely timed it at that point. While doubling up changeups is actually a pretty solid pitch combination, four in a row is pushing it. To throw that same pitch but to make it more hittable by throwing it higher than any of the previous ones is simply poor strategy (Mike’s post showed that Jorge set-up lower, and Javy missed the spot. Even so, the pitch would have been in the same spot as pitches 1 and 3). A fastball up or a breaking ball in the dirt would have been vastly preferable. Instead, Javy threw the changeup belt high, and Morales drove it into the gap to end Javy’s afternoon. Those two at-bats, particularly the final pitch of each, were the difference between a good outing and getting boo’ed off the mound.