Tag:Marc Rzepczynski
Posted on: October 16, 2011 11:50 pm
Edited on: October 17, 2011 1:24 pm
 

World Series preview: Rangers vs. Cardinals



By Matt Snyder


Talk about your clashes in historical pedigree.

The St. Louis Cardinals franchise began all the way back in 1882 (as the St. Louis Brown Stockings). After having just won the 2011 NL pennant, the Cardinals now have 18 NL titles and 10 World Series championships -- looking to add No. 11 in the next week and a half or so. The history of the franchise is loaded with Hall of Famers and transcendent personalities, and the city is often said to be one of the best baseball towns in the country. Manager Tony La Russa has been playing bullpen matchups since before Al Gore invented the Internet.

The Rangers' franchise, on the other hand, has only been around since 1961 (as the Washington Senators -- they moved to Texas and became the Rangers in 1972). Prior to 1996, the Rangers/Senators had never been to the playoffs. Prior to last season, they'd only won one playoff game in franchise history. The only individual Hall of Fame plaque with a Texas Rangers cap is Nolan Ryan's. Sitting right in the middle of die-hard football country, Arlington hasn't exactly been romanticized as a baseball hot spot. Manager Ron Washington took his first managing job in 2007.

Full playoff coverage
Of course, history has absolutely nothing to do with this series. The players are the ones who will win this series, not the uniforms or any flags in the respective stadiums honoring the past.

The Rangers are now making their second consecutive trip to the World Series and there's no doubt they're a current baseball powerhouse. Anyone who watched Game 6 of the ALCS can attest that the fans are as great as anywhere, too, because Rangers Ballpark was rocking.

These two teams have lots of similarities, too.

Both lost an ace before the season even began. The Rangers lost Cliff Lee to free agency while the Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright to a torn UCL in his throwing elbow -- requiring season-ending Tommy John surgery. Both offenses feature several power hitters while the bullpens got stronger down the stretch on the strength of midseason acquisitions and some roster/role tinkering. And both teams have been scorching hot for the past six or so weeks.

Sure, the Cardinals late surge got lots of attention and rightfully so. It's because they were running down the Braves from a double-digit deficit in the NL wild-card race. But check this out:

Rangers' September record: 19-6
Cardinals' September record: 18-8

Rangers' October record: 7-3
Cardinals' October record: 7-4

So if you're going to argue for the hotter team winning the series, you're picking the Rangers -- not the Cardinals. Since a Sept. 10 loss to the A's, the Rangers are 21-5. To put that in perspective, that's a 162-game pace of 131 wins. To reiterate, the Cardinals are playing exceptional baseball right now and deserve all the credit they've gotten for the huge comeback in the regular season and run in the playoffs, but let's not be fooled into thinking they come in hotter than their Texas-sized opponent.

TEAM INFORMATION

Texas Rangers (host Games 3, 4, 5*)
96-66, AL West winner.
ALDS: Beat Tampa Bay three games to one.
ALCS: Beat Detroit four games to two.
Manager: Ron Washington
Offensive ranks: 3rd in R, 2nd in HR, 1st in AVG, 5th in OBP, 2nd in SLG
Pitching ranks: 13th in ERA, 12th in K, 5th in WHIP

St. Louis Cardinals (host Game 1, 2, 6*, 7*)
90-72, NL wild card winner.
NLDS: Beat Philadelphia three games to two.
NLCS: Beat Milwaukee four games to two.
Manager: Tony La Russa
Offensive ranks: 5th in R, 13th in HR, 5th in AVG, 3rd in OBP, 6th in SLG
Pitching ranks: 12th in ERA, 21st in K, 15th in WHIP

*if necessary
[Note: All rankings were regular season and for the entire MLB]

POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN -- WHO HAS THE EDGE?

Catcher: Mike Napoli vs. Yadier Molina


Big offensive advantage to Napoli here, but Molina can hit, too. Big defensive advantage to Molina here, but we've seen what Napoli can do behind the plate this postseason. This is a tough call for many reasons. We're weighing Napoli's power stroke (30 HR in 369 at-bats this season) against Molina's ability to completely eliminate the opposing running game. Ultimately, it's a toss up between two really good players.

First base: Michael Young vs. Albert Pujols


Young is a very good hitter. A great one at times, including most of the 2011 season. He just became the first player in LCS history to record two extra-base hits in one inning. He's gotten some noise in the AL MVP argument. It's just that he's not Albert Pujols in any aspect of the game.

Second base: Ian Kinsler vs. Ryan Theriot


Theriot's a scrappy singles hitter who makes lots of baserunning mistakes. He's not a defensive liability at second like he was at short, but he's still not much more than just an average player. Even if Skip Schumaker can return at full health, the upgrade is pretty minor. Kinsler had 32 homers and 30 stolen bases in the regular season and is far superior with the glove. 

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus vs. Rafael Furcal


Andrus is a solid defender and base stealer, but not a very good hitter. Furcal has provided St. Louis a bit of a power-speed combo atop the order since his acquisition. It's a really close call here, but Furcal seems to be providing his team more of a spark at this point in time. Things could easily change by the second inning of Game 1, but we're going Furcal by a nose for now.

Third base: Adrian Beltre vs. David Freese


A healthy Freese has been a monumental boost for the Cardinals' offense, especially as Matt Holliday has dealt with some injuries. Freese was a really good hitter in the regular season and absolutely exploded in the NLCS. Beltre can match and exceed his firepower, though. Beltre had 32 regular-season homers and then went yard three times in the clinching ALDS Game 4 at Tampa Bay. He's also a great defender. Before the NLCS, Freese was underrated, but let's not overcorrect based upon six games. He closed the gap, but is still slightly behind Beltre overall.

Left field: David Murphy vs. Matt Holliday


When healthy, Holliday is an elite player. He's starting to look healthy based upon the last few games, too, so this is an easy call.

Center field: Josh Hamilton vs. Jon Jay


Jay isn't a bad player by any stretch, but he's out of his league here. When Hamilton can keep himself on the field, he's one of the most feared sluggers in the league, and will also sell out his body to make a big defensive play (see Game 6, for example).

Right field: Nelson Cruz vs. Lance Berkman


We cannot discount the season that Berkman, the NL Comeback Player of the Year, put together. He was great, and especially valuable early in the season when Holliday was hurt and Pujols was struggling. But Cruz still almost matched his power production despite playing 21 fewer games in the regular season. In the playoffs, Cruz has been the best hitter in baseball, not to mention that he's a much better defender than Berkman. This one would be a toss up, but Cruz's hot hand pushes him over the top. Put it this way, Cardinals fans: What if you could trade Berkman for Cruz straight up for the series? You'd do it. Don't lie.

Designated hitter


The designated hitter for the Rangers is a mix and match thing. Young or Napoli can be used there, which would get Mitch Moreland or Yorvit Torrealba into the lineup. It's also possible Washington goes with Endy Chavez or Craig Gentry in the outfield and uses Murphy at DH. So, essentially, we're judging the bench here. For the Cardinals, the smart money is on Berkman being used as the DH, which then puts Allen Craig in the outfield. So what we're really judging here is which offense benefits more from being able to use a DH and, oddly enough, the NL team here does. Craig is a much better offensive player than Moreland, Torrealba, Chavez or Gentry. So the three games in Texas will actually favor the Cardinals in this one aspect of the game, however small it is.

Starting rotation: C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland vs. Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse


Both rotations have good ability yet have been shaky at times. Holland and Garcia particularly struggled in their respective LCS'. Wilson and Carpenter both pitched like aces at several points throughout the regular season, but the deciding factor here is that Carpenter has shown he can carry his team in a big game. Wilson, meanwhile, is 1-4 with a 5.40 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in seven career postseason starts.

Bullpen: Neftali Feliz et al vs. Jason Motte et al


The fact that both teams won four of six games against their respective LCS opponents with zero quality starts tells you all you need to know about how good the bullpens are right now. The Cardinals' bullpen has significantly improved down the stretch, as Motte has stepped in as the closer -- despite not being "officially" named as such. Marc Rzepczynski has been a solid left-handed addition just as right-hander Octavio Dotel has gotten some really big outs. Especially after the NLCS, you have to say the Cardinals have a very strong bullpen right now. The way things have gone for Texas of late, though, it's even better. Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando have proven to be an exceptional duo to bridge the gap from the starters to the potentially dominant Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz at the back-end.

Defense


Getting Furcal helped the Cardinals, as will being able to use Craig in right instead of Berkman when the games are played in Texas, but this isn't really a match. The two teams had virtually identical fielding percentages during the regular season, but that doesn't measure range. The advanced metrics that do measure range pretty heavily side with the Rangers here. If you just go by position, only at catcher and first base are the Cardinals clearly better. Everywhere else it's either debatable or definitely the Rangers.

PREDICTION

First of all, keep in mind all categories above aren't created equal. Having a slight edge at shortstop, for example, isn't near as important as having an edge in the bullpen. The position-by-position breakdown is just a snapshot at the different strengths and weaknesses of each team. Adding everything together, including the momentum and swagger heading into the World Series, the Rangers have a better offense, defense and bullpen. And while the Cardinals have been having all their happy flights, the Rangers haven't lost consecutive games since August 23-25. The Cardinals' run has been a great story and nothing would surprise us here, but we'll go with the St. Louis run ending when it runs into a more talented buzzsaw. Rangers in six.

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Posted on: October 13, 2011 1:25 am
Edited on: October 13, 2011 2:15 am
 

Cardinals bullpen retires 12 Brewers in a row

Jason Motte

By C. Trent Rosecrans

ST. LOUIS -- Only the Nationals had more blown saves than the Cardinals this season, as 26 times the Cardinals had a save situation and then lost a lead. But Wednesday, Chris Carpenter left the game after just five innings in Game 3 of the NLCS and said he wasn't worried about the outcome.

"Typically, as a starting pitcher, you're concerned about that -- you don't want to leave 12 outs for your bullpen," Carpenter said. "I was OK with it. I worked as hard as I could. I had confidence in my guys down there. I had confidence in what they were going to do. And they did it again."

NLCS Coverage

Not only did the Cardinals relievers -- four in all -- get the 12 outs needed, they only needed to face 12 batters to do it. No Brewer reached base after Carpenter intentionally walked Prince Fielder with two outs in the fifth. Fernando Salas got three fly balls to get through the sixth, then Lance Lynn had three fly outs in the sixth and stayed in the seventh to get Ryan Braun to ground out for the first out before lefty Marc Rzepczynski came in to face Prince Fielder. Rzepczynski got Fielder to strike out on four pitches before giving way to Jason Motte -- the team's not-closer -- to strike out Rickie Weeks and then stay in for the ninth and get two strikeouts and a ground out, ending the game.

"Get 12 outs against that offense -- it's not going to work very often that you can put four zeroes against their offense," manager Tony La Russa said. "But each guy came in and really stepped up. I thought they were really aggressive, they threw good strikes and didn't fall behind."

There's been an on-going joke that La Russa still refuses to call Motte his closer -- but since recording his first save on Aug. 28, he's had one blown save a 2.91 ERA. In the playoffs, he's yet to surrender a run, recorded three saves and appeared in five games, all while allowing just one hit.

"Now we've got a guy that's throwing 100 mph, has a nasty slider, it's a presence out there, a force, and you just tip your hat to him because he's turned himself into a closer pretty quick," Berkman said, before he was reminded Motte's not been designated the "closer" by La Russa. "Well, he ends the games for us, whatever you want to call it."

There's talk that La Russa would like to get a big-name, veteran closer during the offseason, so if Motte's not the closer, he doesn't have to demote him. For this season, though, the Cardinals turned around their bullpen late in the season when they traded for right-hander Octavio Dotel, left-hander Marc Rzepczynski and starter Edwin Jackson. Jackson allowed the team to move Kyle McClellan back to the bullpen to fortify the back end. 

Salas, Lynn, Dotel and Mitchell Boggs all recorded saves in the second half of the season, but Motte's seem to hold it down lately.

There's also the fact that the guy who more or less invented the modern bullpen usage is pulling the strings -- and for this series he has eight relievers to chose between.

"Tony is the most prepared person I've ever been around. He lives and dies by numbers, by match ups, by lineups," Carpenter said. "I mean, everyone questions at times why he throws different lineups up there. It's because there's reasons behind that. He's put his work into knowing why he's doing that.

"Why does he push the right buttons at the right times? Because he puts in work, he puts his time into knowing when to push the right buttons. There's a reason why he's won so many games he's won. There's a reason why his teams continue to win. There's a reason why he's a Hall of Fame manager and that's because he puts his work in, he's prepared more than any person I"ve ever see, and when he does push those buttons, he has no fear whatsoever, whether it's wrong or right, and he will answer to it if it's wrong and he will answer to it if it's right. And he's not scared about it, and that's what makes him great."

He also has little reason to be scared of his bullpen anymore. Now that fear should be in the opponent.

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Posted on: October 12, 2011 11:20 pm
Edited on: October 12, 2011 11:48 pm
 

Brewers misplays leads Cardinals to NLCS lead

Mark Kotsay

By C. Trent Rosecrans

ST. LOUIS -- Milwaukee continued its postseason road woes, dropping Game 3 to St. Louis, 4-3, as the Brewers take a 2-1 lead in the NLCS.

Hero:  The Cardinals third baseman went 3 for 4 with two doubles and the RBI that turned out to be the game-winner. Freese is hitting .500 in the series and .367 in the postseason, helping bring some pop to the back of the lineup. He leads all Cardinals with 11 RBI in the postseason and three home runs. 

Goat: Ron Roenicke said "something always good seems to happen when he's in there" when asked about starting Mark Kotsay. Something good did happen -- he homered to lead off the third. The problem was two bad things happened in the first because he was in the game. Kotsay was doubled off of second base on Prince Fielder's liner to center. And, in the bottom of the inning, he was unable to get a Jon Jay sinking liner and allowed it to get past him for a double, starting the Cardinals' big inning.

Turning point: The Cardinals batted around in the first, scoring four runs. But the bleeding could have stopped after three had Corey Hart been able to corral a liner by Freese. It appeared to go right off the tip of Hart's glove. Matt Holliday scored the Cardinals' fourth run in the inning.

It was over when …: When Cardinals closer Marc Rzepcynski got the one batter he came in to face -- Prince Fielder -- to strike out for the second out of the eighth. Lance Lynn stayed in to start the inning after pitching the seventh inning, getting Ryan Braun to ground out to second. Rzepcynski came in and struck out Fielder on four pitches. Jason Motte then replace Rzepcynski to strike out Rickie Weeks.

Next: The Brewers' Randy Wolf and Cardinals' Kyle Lohse face off in Game 4 on Thursday at 8:05 p.m. ET.

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Posted on: September 30, 2011 9:22 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2011 9:34 pm
 

2011 NLDS matchup: Phillies vs. Cardinals



By C. Trent Rosecrans

The Cardinals were left for dead in late August, trailing in both the NL Central and the wild card by more than 10 games. There was even talk they'd trade All-Star right fielder Lance Berkman once he cleared waivers. Instead, they held onto him and went 23-9 in the last five weeks of the season. A season-ending 8-0 win over the Astros propelled the Cardinals into the playoffs as the Braves lost in 13 innings. As their prize, the Cards now get to face the best team in baseball in a short series. The Phillies won the NL East for the fifth straight season and ended up with a franchise-record 102 wins. The Cardinals recently took three of four in Philly, but the Phillies weren't really playing for anything. What happens this time around? We'll soon find out. 

TEAM INFORMATION

Philadelphia Phillies (host games 1, 2, 5)
102-60, NL East champions
Manager: Charlie Manuel
Team batting statistics: .253 batting average (9th in NL), .323 on-base percentage (5th), .395 slugging percentage (7th)
Team pitching statistics: 3.02 ERA (1st), 1.167 WHIP (1st), 3.22 K/BB (1st)
Star player: SP Roy Halladay -- 19-6, 2.35 ERA, 1.040 WHIP, 220 K in 233 2/3 innings

St. Louis Cardinals (host games 3, 4)
90-72, NL wild card champions
Manager: Tony La Russa
Team batting statistics: .273 batting average (1st in NL), .341 on-base percentage (1st), .425 slugging percentage (1st)
Team pitching statistics: 3.79 ERA (8th), 1.306 WHIP (10th), 2.45 K/BB (5th)
Star player: 1B Albert Pujols -- .305/.349/.465, 37 HR, 99 RBI, 29 2B, 9 SB

SCHEDULE (Click here to view the entire postseason schedule)  

Full Playoff Coverage
Game 1: STL @ PHI, Oct. 1, 5:07 p.m. ET. Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.39) vs. Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35)
Game 2: STL @ PHI, Oct. 2, 8:07 p.m. ET. Chris Carpenter (11-9, 3.45) vs. Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40)
Game 3: PHI @ STL, Oct. 4 Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79) vs. Jaime Garcia (13-7, 3.56)
Game 4: PHI @ STL, Oct. 5* Roy Oswalt (9-10, 3.69) vs. Edwin Jackson (12-9, 3.79)
Game 5: STL @ PHI, Oct. 7* TBD vs. Halladay
* if necessary

TEAM BREAKDOWN (Click player name for statistics)

Catcher
Philadelphia: Carlos Ruiz
St. Louis: Yadier Molina

This is one of the best match ups in all of the playoffs, you have two of the best defensive catchers in the game and two of the best handlers of a pitching staff. Catcher is probably the toughest position in baseball and the toughest to judge. However, these two are at the very top when they have the gear on. 

Advantage: Tie

First base
Philadelphia: Ryan Howard
St. Louis: Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols struggled at the beginning of the year, but still finished with 37 homers and a .305 batting average. With the game on the line, who else in baseball would you rather have on the line? Nobody, that's who.

Advantage: Cardinals

Second base
Philadelphia: Chase Utley
St. Louis: Skip Schumaker

Even hobbled, Chase Utley is still one of the best second basemen in the game.

Advantage: Phillies

Shortstop
Philadelphia: Jimmy Rollins
St. Louis: Rafael Furcal

Furcal is struggling with a hamstring injury, and that really hurts the Cardinals because so much of his game is based on his speed. And when you start dealing with a speedster's wheels, they lose a lot of their effectiveness.

Advantage: Phillies

Third base
Philadelphia: Placido Polanco
St. Louis: David Freese

Casual fans may not know much about David Freese, but when healthy, the Cardinals' third baseman is an impressive hitter -- and right now, he's apparently healthy. Freese, 28, had a hit in eight of the team's last nine games.

Advantage: Cardinals

Left field
Philadelphia: Raul Ibanez
St. Louis: Matt Holliday

Holliday's status is unclear, but he is on the postseason roster. If Holliday plays, he's one of the game's best. That said, his palm is an issue. He took batting practice on Friday. Even at 80 percent, Holliday is a heck of a player.

Advantage: Cardinals

Center field
Philadelphia: Shane Victorino
St. Louis: John Jay

Jay has played well as the team's center fielder, hitting .297/.344/.424, but Victorino is having a great season. Not only did he hit 17 homers, he's also played Gold Glove defense.

Advantage: Phillies

Right field
Philadelphia: Hunter Pence
St. Louis: Lance Berkman

The former teammates provide perhaps the most intriguing matchup. Both have been the faces of the Astros franchise and are now beloved in their new homes. Berkman's wrapped up the Comeback Player of the Year award, hitting .301/.412/.547 with 31 homers and 94 RBI. Pence was an All-Star in Houston and even better in Philadelphia, where he's hit .324/.394/.560 with 11 homers in 54 games. Pence isn't a Gold Glover, but he's Willie Mays compared to Berkman in the outfield.

Advantage: Tie

Starting pitching
Philadelphia: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt
St. Louis:Kyle Lohse, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Edwin Jackson

You may have noticed that the Phillies have a pretty good rotation.

Advantage: Phillies

Relief pitching
Philadelphia closer: Ryan Madson
St. Louis closer: Jason Motte

The Cardinals' bullpen has been bolstered by mid-season additions of Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel (the deal also allowed them to move Kyle McClellan back to the bullpen with the addition of Jackson). Since the trade, the Cardinals have the third-best bullpen ERA (2.86) in baseball. But the Phillies' pen has been stout all year long, while the Cardinals still have a bit of uneasiness when Tony La Russa makes one of his many visits to the mound.

Advantage: Phillies

Total advantage: Phillies (5), Cardinals (3), tie (2)

PREDICTION (click here to see full postseason predictions)

CBS Experts
Evan Brunell: Phillies in 3
Gregg Doyel: Phillies in 3
Danny Knobler: Phillies in 5
Scott Miller: Phillies in 4
Trent Rosecrans: Phillies in 4
Matt Snyder: Phillies in 3

Trent's take: The Cardinals have the best offense in the National League and the Phillies the best pitching, so it will be interesting to see strength-on-strength, even though I'm always inclined to take pitching in that situation. The Phillies are the favorites, there's no doubt about that. The fact that Furcal and Holliday are hobbled by injuries doesn't hurt that idea, either. La Russa raised some eyebrows when he switched up his rotation on Friday, announcing he'd pitch Carpenter on three-day's rest in Game 2. If the Cardinals can take one of the first two games of the series, the pitching difference isn't as big in the second two games, which could make the series interesting. But there are still "ifs" to get to that point.

More Phillies-Cardinals NLDS coverage

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Posted on: May 27, 2011 12:42 am
 

3 Up, 3 Down: Pitchers can hit too

Cliff Lee

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Ciff Lee, Phillies -- The day after Wilson Valdez showed position players could pitch, Cliff Lee showed pitchers can hit. Lee hit a single and double, driving in three runs in the Phillies' 10-4 victory over the Reds. While Lee wasn't especially sharp (by his standards) on the mound, he did what was most important for his team, stay on the mound. Following the 19-inning affair on Wednesday, Lee saved the team's bullpen by going eight innings on Thursday, despite giving up 10 hits and four runs. He did strike out eight batters and walked one.

Carlos Zambrano, Cubs -- Zambrano isn't your ordinary pitcher when he steps up to the plate, the guy knows what to do with the bat in his hand. Wednesday he went 3 for 3 with an RBI and a double. He'd also pinch-hit Tuesday night, driving in two, so he finished the series against New York 4 for 4 with three RBI. Oh, and he pitched six innings, allowing six hits and two runs, just one earned, while striking out five and walking two.

Carl Crawford, Red Sox -- Still worried about Crawford? Maybe not, especially after his last two days when he was 8 for 9 with two doubles, two triples and a home run. He was a triple shy of the cycle on Wednesday when he went 4 for 4, but made up for it with two triples on Thursday while going 4 for 5 with three RBI against the Indians. He entered May hitting .204/.227/.431 and is up to .277/.368/.645. Crawford's gonna be just fine.


Joel Piniero, Angels -- At least he's consistent. And honestly, he wasn't so bad. He went 6 1/3 innings and allowed four runs on 11 hits with no walks. In his last outing, he went 6 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on 11 hits with no walks. He did strike out one more batter than he did five days ago, three instead of two. The bad part is he lost both games.

Adam Dunn, White Sox -- Dunn took another collar on Thursday, striking out in all four of his plate appearances, including a K to end the eighth inning with a runner on third in a tie game. Dunn struck out three times against Toronto starter Brandon Morrow and then once against lefty Marc Rzepczynski. Dunn is now 0 for 33 with 15 strikeouts in 39 plate appearances against left-handers this season. Ozzie Guillen has said he'll move Dunn to seventh in Chicago's lineup on Friday.

Marc Rzepczynski, Blue Jays -- And speaking of Rzepczynski, the Jays left-hander may have gotten Dunn to end the eighth, but he picked up the loss with his work in the ninth. After third baseman John McDonald's error allowed Alex Rios to reach base and advance to second, Rzepczynski uncorked a wild pitch putting the go-ahead run on third. He followed that by hitting Gordon Beckham, setting the table for Juan Pierre. Pierre hit one down the line to first baseman Juan Rivera, who fielded the ball, but Rzepczynski wasn't able to beat Pierre to the bag. Rios scored easily on Pierre's grounder, but Beckham scored when Rivera's throw bounced off of the pitcher. 

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Posted on: May 13, 2011 7:43 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2011 12:35 am
 

Rzepczynski emerging as top reliever; Pauley too

Rzepcynski

By Evan Brunell


Marc Rzepczynski had equipped himself well as a starting pitcher the last two seasons, but found himself forced out of the rotation this season.

At the same time, Toronto's projected bullpen lacked a left-hander after seeing Scott Downs head to the Angels, so Rzepczynski saw an opportunity.

“We had a lot of young starters coming into spring training and with the off-season moves the team made we didn’t have a lefty in the pen," Rzepczynski told the Toronto Sun. "So, I wasn’t totally shocked with the idea of becoming a reliever."

It may seem odd for a team to convert a young left-hander like Rzepczynski to the bullpen, especially in light of his 3.66 xFIP in 11 starts back in 2009, plus a 4.15 tally in 12 starts and two relief appearances last season, indicating that he could be a serviceable No. 3 or 4 starter in the majors, but with a fastball that averaged under 90 mph and the era of crafty lefties dissipating, it wasn't clear if "Scrabble" -- as the Jays blogosphere calls him given how high-scoring his last name would be in, you guessed it, the game Scrabble -- could stick in the rotation.

There's no question about his ability to stick in the bullpen now that he's impressed in the early going.

“He’s on a steady pace to become one of the better relievers in the game,” said manager John Farrell. “His velocity has climbed and he’s got multiple weapons to get both left and right hand hitters out. We can put him in there against anyone.”

The 25-year-old has seen his fastball velocity climb to an average of 90.9 mph and has spiked in his last two appearances, running it to 93 on his team-high 18th appearance May 10th. That's a significant difference for the lefty who is fulfilling the tried-and-true beliefs that starters who convert to relievers see their pitches tick up in velocity because they don't need to keep energy in reserve to go seven innings.

"Pat Hentgen [Toronto’s bullpen coach] told me to attack," Rzepczynski noted. "Early on, I was trying to be too fine, trying to be too cute. As a starter you’re always saving something for the third or fourth time you face a hitter. I don’t have to think about that now. I just go out there and give ‘em everything I’ve got.

“I threw relief a lot in college so I took some things from that experience but it really started last year with Downs, both of us are left-handed, two-pitch [fastball, sinker] guys. There isn’t one guy who’s brain I haven’t tried to pick."

Rzepczynski is part of a Jays bullpen that has pitched almost half of Toronto's available innings this year, running a 127 1/3 total as Toronto starters struggle to make it through the sixth inning.

“There’s a quiet confidence [among the relievers],” Rzepczynski said. “We’re not going to be an out-going, cocky group. We all have confidence in each other that if one day one guy can’t do the job; the next guy will. Like the other day, I had confidence [Jon] Rauch was going to get me out of a jam; just like I felt [Jason] Frasor had confidence I’d get him out of a jam. Right now everybody just feels good about themselves and the guy next to them.”

Rzepczynski isn't alone in enjoying a transition to the bullpen, as the Mariners' David Pauley is enjoying his own renaissance. Pauley had an intriguing curveball back in his Red Sox days after coming over from San Diego when he made a few spot starts but was ultimately a fringe starter that bounced to Baltimore and Seattle and their respective minor-league affiliates before settling in as a reliever this season.

Pauley leads all AL relievers in innings with 23 2/3 and has a pristine 1.16 ERA with a 13/5 K/BB. He doesn't miss many bats and has a very low batting average on balls in play, so he's not this good, but does seem poised to pair improved command with a nice role as a middle reliever with the ability to eat up innings.

“I’m just doing what I do best; being aggressive with hitters with my pitches, keeping the ball down and trying to get outs quickly in the count,” Pauley told the Tacoma News-Tribune. Pauley's quick work has allowed him to pitch multiple innings without breaking a sweat -- he once tossed four innings against Detroit and only tossed 32 pitches. Compare that to a recent inning by Daisuke Matsuzaka in which he tossed 37 pitches in just one inning.

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Posted on: February 5, 2011 8:51 pm
Edited on: February 5, 2011 8:53 pm
 

Drabek to fight for rotation spot

DrabekIn the last two years, the Blue Jays have traded away their Opening Day starters, leaving a void at the top of the rotation.

Or is there one?

Yes, there's no Roy Halladay or Shaun Marcum any longer, but Toronto still has plenty of young starters. Last season, the rotation was anchored by Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil and Brandon Morrow. All three remaining starters are also the only ones guaranteed rotation spots for 2011 as FOX Sports reports.

The final two spots will be battled out by Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch, Jo-Jo Reyes, Scott Richmond and Marc Rzepczynski.

While Litsch will be 25 before Opening Day, he also hasn't seen extensive playing time in the majors over the last two seasons thanks to injuries. When he's right, he would be perfect in the back of the rotation. Meanwhile, Reyes is unlikely to get a shot after failing in Atlanta and making just two starts for Toronto after being traded along with Yunel Escobar. Richmond is a former independent baseball player who received 24 starts in 2009 -- but posted a 5.54 ERA. He spent 2010 in the minors when he wasn't hurt. Rzepczynski, meanwhile, has the most major-league experience over the last two years, posting a 4.32 ERA (4.95 in 2010) across 23 career starts.

That leaves Drabek, who is likely the leader for the No. 4 spot, allowing Litsch and Rzepczynski to battle it out for No. 5.

Drabek, part of the Halladay return, made his debut last season at age 22 and made three starts, walking five, striking out 12 and giving up nine earned runs. He pitched a total of 179 innings across the minors and majors, and it's not entirely far-fetched to think he could contribute 200 innings to Toronto.

"You can look at the [innings] progression he’s already gone through to this point," new manager John Farrell said. "What it’ll come down to now is his efficiency in games. When you look at the competitive nature of the person, and you know that the talent and personal side align, this is a very exciting and bright young prospect.

"You’re talking about someone who loves to compete and doesn’t back away from challenges. That’s his wiring and his makeup."

While Drabek has proven he can handle a big workload and appears to be the best pitcher of the remaining crew left contending for a rotation spot, the Jays may want to rethink giving him 32 starts over a full season. After all, the depth is there and while Toronto would love to match or exceed its 2010 wins total of 85, it can't come at the expense of a young starter who could anchor the rotation for years to come.

Not only that, but one major league inning is far different than one minor league inning. Up in the majors, you're facing people up and down the lineup that would be in the top five spots of any Triple-A lineup, with the competition and expectations that much higher. These innings at the big league level require more effort, just like 80 pitches on a hot, humid day in a slugfest can be tougher than 100 on a cool, crisp day where both sides are mowing down batters.

And again, this is a young pitcher. Does Toronto really want to risk derailing him for life just to get 200 innings in his rookie year of a division in where it is very unlikely the Jays make the postseason?

If Toronto decides to carry Drabek on the Opening Day roster, they should shoot for no more than 180 innings from the right-hander. If everything goes right for Drabek, that may mean skipping a few starts down the stretch, but at that point the Jays will probably be out of the postseason race, so it wouldn't matter.

Finances also come into play. By demoting Drabek to start the year, they can hold him out until June or July and then bring him up and guarantee an extra year of team control. That's a slippery slope for a team looking to stay relevant in the AL East, however -- especially since the team's shedding of Alex Rios and Vernon Wells have cleared up tons of dollars.

-- Evan Brunell

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Posted on: September 27, 2010 11:40 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2010 11:41 pm
 

Rzepczynski mows down Yankees

Marc Rzepczynski
When you hear that Marc Rzepczynski "struck out eight Yankees in a row," it definitely gets a wow. But there's a qualifier that takes a bit of the luster off the feat.

What the Jays left-hander actually did was record eight consecutive outs via strikeout. There were back-to-back singles in the middle of the run.

Still, it was an impressive accomplishment -- especially since the first seven of the eight were swinging strikeouts. Rzepczynski got Alex Rodriguez to end the first inning, struck out the side sandwiched against the two singles in the second, then struck out three in order in the third and struck out Rodriguez again looking to start the fourth. Robinson Cano ended the streak when he flied out, but Rzepczynski came back to get Marcus Thames swinging to end the inning.

(An aside: Did Rzepczynski's parents really have to name him Marc with the alternative spelling? Isn't it tough enough that the kid was going to have an alphabet-soup last name, without making sure he would have to go through life spelling his first name for everyone, too?)

His six consecutive strikeouts tied Ted Lilly's Blue Jays record, set in 2004. His nine in the game, which he won while giving up two earned runs over five innings, matched a career high.

-- David Andriesen

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