Tag:Zach Britton
Posted on: May 8, 2011 8:27 pm
 

3 to watch: The perfect matchup edition


Twice last year, Roy Halladay pitched against Josh Johnson.

Their combined numbers in those two games: 32 innings, 16 hits, 2 runs, 1 earned run, 3 walks, 30 strikeouts and a 0.28 ERA.

And one perfect game.

One game ended 1-0, in Halladay's favor (that was the perfect game, and the one run was unearned). The other game ended 2-0, in Johnson's favor.

The second game, in which Halladay allowed one run on six hits in eight innings, is his only loss in 19 starts against National League East opponents in his year-plus with the Phillies. He's an incredible 18-1 with a 1.56 ERA in those 19 games.

Which brings us to Tuesday night, when Halladay and Johnson meet up for the first time this season.

It's far too early to call this a Cy Young showdown (and Jaime Garcia of the Cardinals, who is 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA and two shutouts, might be just as good an early candidate). And since this is just the second of six series between the Phillies and Marlins, there's every chance that Halladay and Johnson could meet up again.

That's fine. Anytime they meet, they're the featured game on 3 to watch. Anytime they meet, I'm paying attention, and I'm betting you will, too.

On to 3 to watch:

1. By this point in his Cy Young season, Zack Greinke was 6-0 with a 0.40 ERA. This year, because he played basketball and broke a rib, he's just now making his first home start, in Padres at Brewers, Monday night (8:10 ET) at Miller Park . Brewers fans are no doubt excited to see Greinke, but you have to wonder how much the Brewers' recent slide (eight losses in the last nine games) has hurt their enthusiasm.

2. Coming out of spring training, the Braves were the popular pick as the NL East team with a chance to take the division title away from the Phillies. But it's the Marlins who have spent most of the first five weeks of the season in second place, often just half a game behind the Phils. The Marlins split two games in Philadelphia last month (a third game was rained out), and they get their next chance at home this week. The highlight matchup, of course, is Halladay vs. Johnson, in Phillies at Marlins, Tuesday night (7:10 ET) at Sun Life Stadium.

3. If Halladay vs. Johnson might help decide the NL Cy Young race, then Michael Pineda vs. Zach Britton might have helped decide the American League rookie of the year race. Too bad that Pineda is facing Jake Arrieta (a fine young pitcher, but not a rookie) in Mariners at Orioles, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at Camden Yards . Pineda, 4-2 with a 2.58 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings, is the early leader. Britton, 5-2 with a 2.93 ERA, faces the Mariners on Thursday night.

Posted on: April 14, 2011 1:38 pm
 

Britton, Kershaw, Belt and the Texas connection

NEW YORK -- Zach Britton was in high school when he met Jake Arrieta.

And when he met Clayton Kershaw. And when he played against Brandon Belt.

So when Belt made the Giants' opening day roster, Britton texted Kershaw to reminisce. When Britton got to the big leagues with the Orioles, Arrieta was already there.

Is this the big leagues, or just a Texas neighborhood reunion?

It would be a big neighborhood. Belt grew up in Lufkin, 230 miles away from where Britton went to high school in Weatherford, just west of Fort Worth. Arrieta is from Plano, just north of Dallas, where Kershaw grew up.

But the connections are real.

Britton's older brother Clay played with Arrieta at Weatherford Junior College.

"I've known him since I was a sophomore in high school," Britton said.

Britton played summer-league baseball with Kershaw at the Dallas Baseball Academy, and the two planned to pitch together at Texas A&M before both were high draft picks and decided to sign out of high school.

"He's a good guy," Britton said. "We talk a lot."

They're not as close to Belt, but they do remember facing him.

Kershaw faced Belt again the other night, in the big leagues. He and Belt may eventually see Britton and Arrieta in an interleague game, or even in a World Series game.

"That would be something," Britton said. "We'd definitely talk about it, and about how far we would have come."

Posted on: April 7, 2011 6:04 pm
 

3 to watch: The no snowing in Minnesota edition

It was cold on opening day at Yankee Stadium. It was colder, at least according to the thermometer, the next day at Citizens Bank Park.

On Thursday at Progressive Field, the game-time temperature was 38 degrees.

And now it's time for baseball in Minnesota?

Sure is, and the forecast for Friday's first pitch of the year at Target Field is a very reasonable 61 degrees.

How about we move all early-season games to Minnesota? And play them outdoors.

We all thought the Twins were taking a huge gamble with the weather, when they moved out of the Metrodome and played their first outdoor home games since 1981. We all thought they'd be playing doubleheaders all summer, to make up for all those games that would be snowed out.

Then they had one game rained out all season. The NFL's Vikings, who still play indoors, had more weather postponements than the Twins did.

Target Field became one of the best baseball stories of the entire summer, a beautiful park (maybe baseball's best) with daily sellouts and a great baseball atmosphere.

And the weather turned out to be no problem at all.

"We had one rainout, and one suspended game, and other than that we never put the tarp on the field during a game," general manager Bill Smith said.

That can't happen again this year?

"Why not?" Smith said.

"I'm counting on it," Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer said with a smile. "I'm not holding my breath. But I am counting on it."

The Twins opened with a week of games away from home (one of which, on Wednesday in New York, was rained out). But Smith is not among those who believe baseball should avoid opening in cold climates.

He wants the Twins to open at home sometimes.

"You tell me whether the weather in Minnesota is going to be better this week or next week," he said. "It's one week."

There is rain in the forecast for Sunday, when the Twins are scheduled to play their third home game against the A's.

But no snow.

"We're done with that," Smith said.

On to 3 to watch:

1. Are you starting to believe in the Orioles' young pitching staff? I am, but I'm anxious to see how they do over the weekend against the Rangers. I'm especially anxious to see how Zach Britton does, when he makes his second big-league start in Rangers at Orioles, Saturday night (7:10 ET) at Camden Yards .

2. The Twins did fine with the weather last year, and opening day looks good. But aren't they tempting fate by scheduling their second home game for an evening start. Actually, the reason for the start time for A's at Twins, Saturday night (7:10 ET) at Target Field , is that a Friday home opener provided the Twins with no makeup date in the event of a rainout. If Friday's game had to be postponed -- there's no rain in the forecast -- the plan was to make it up at noon local time on Saturday, meaning that people with opening day tickets would still be able to see the opener.

3. Back in February, when I ranked baseball's most untradeable contracts , I didn't include Josh Beckett on the list. I'm beginning to think I should have, because in the year since he signed his four-year, $68 million extension, Beckett hasn't looked like a $15.75 million a year pitcher. Health was no doubt part of the reason for last year's 5.78 ERA, but Beckett wasn't good this spring and wasn't great in his first regular-season start, Tuesday in Cleveland. Add in the fact that the Red Sox are 0-6, and that the Yankees are in town, and that CC Sabathia will be his mound opponent, and there will be more focus than ever on Beckett in Yankees at Red Sox, Sunday night (8:05 ET) at Fenway Park .

Posted on: April 4, 2011 12:09 pm
Edited on: April 4, 2011 12:46 pm
 

Should Yanks worry about Jeter?

The biggest concern of the Yankees' opening weekend was Phil Hughes, whose startling spring training decline in velocity continued into an ugly first start of the regular season.

But what about Derek Jeter?

It's only three games, and it was cold, and everything could change a month from now, or even a week from now. But in the Yankees' first three games of the season -- and they won two of them, don't forget -- one of the most stunning sights was Jeter's lack of mobility at shortstop.

"I'm shocked," said one Northeast-based scout who has followed Jeter's career. "I know there's been a lot of talk about his range the last few years, and I didn't really buy it until last year. But [this weekend], it was really down. He didn't react to balls off the bat.

"He almost looks overmatched by the ball."

Again, it's possible this is just an early-season blip. A scout who watched the Yankees this spring in Tampa said that while Jeter's range was a little down, it wasn't shockingly bad.

Jeter didn't look good at the plate against the Tigers, either (2-for-10), but that's less of a concern now than his defense -- even if the defense is a long-term concern.

Hughes' lack of velocity is already significant.

Scouts noticed it all spring in Florida, when he was throwing his fastball 87-89 mph (as he did in Sunday's loss to the Tigers). The Yankees played it down publicly at that point, but as Joel Sherman revealed in Monday's New York Post , even during the spring Hughes and new pitching coach Larry Rothschild worked on his mechanics in an attempt to get the velocity back (Hughes regularly hit 94 mph last year).

As Hughes told reporters Sunday, "It is tough for me to pitch at this velocity."

*****

A few other opening weekend thoughts:

-- The Giants' defense is a serious issue, enough so that it could end up being the reason they don't repeat. One scout who watched their opening weekend series in Los Angeles came away convinced that the Giants are below average defensively at almost every position in the field. "Barry Zito pitched a very good game [Sunday], and he should have won the game," the scout said. "[Zito] competes with the stuff he has. If the defense makes the plays behind him, he'll compete enough to be a fourth or fifth starter."

-- The Angels bullpen was bad against the scrappy Royals, but one scout who watched them came away talking more about how bad Scott Kazmir looked. "Terrible. No velocity. No command. No nothing," the scout said.

-- When I wrote last week about teams that benefit from fast starts, I really should have mentioned the Orioles as a team that would be interesting to watch this year. It's going to be hard to do in the AL East, but the O's have the good young pitching that can help carry the momentum when a team starts strong (e.g. Padres 2010). One thing to remember about the O's: If they somehow stay in the race through midseason, you can count on them to be aggressive in the July trade market. "We'll be all-in," one O's person said.

-- One more thing about the O's. Scouts who watched them this spring were not surprised to see Zach Britton pitch so well Sunday against the Rays. One scout said Britton was the Orioles' best pitcher this spring, and two more said that they liked Britton ahead of Yankees superprospect Manuel Banuelos, who got more attention. Britton only started Sunday because Brian Matusz was hurt, but there's already speculation that he'll stay in the rotation even when Matusz returns.

Posted on: April 3, 2011 8:47 pm
 

3 to watch: The fourth starter fallacy edition

We talk about rotations as if they match up one-against-one, ace against ace, No. 5 starter vs. No. 5 starter.

But they don't.

Not even in the first week of the season.

You know how many opening day starters are going to face off against another opening day starter in their second start? Only 16 out of 30.

Barely half of them.

The schedules don't always match up. Rainouts get in the way. Guys get hurt. Some teams are skipping the fifth starter this week, some aren't.

So instead of CC Sabathia against Carl Pavano, you've got Sabathia vs. Brian Duensing. Instead of Josh Johnson against Livan Hernandez, you've got Johnson vs. John Lannan. And so on.

And that's just for the second start of the year. By the end of the month, the chances that one team's ace will match up against another's will basically be the same as the chances he matches up against the No. 5 starter.

That's how the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo could have the fifth-best run support in baseball last year, even though he started on opening day. The Brewers didn't score all those runs off other teams' aces.

That's how CC Sabathia could have the second-best run support among Yankee starters last year.

So if you're one of those saying Cole Hamels is going to have a great year because he's the Phillies' fourth starter, I'm going to disagree. I don't doubt Hamels will have a great year, but it won't be because he's going to have it easier than if he had started one of the first three games of the season.

Hamels will face Mets fourth starter Chris Young on Tuesday night, in the season debut for both pitchers. And maybe that's why I didn't include that game on this week's 3 to watch:

1. Josh Beckett was an opening day starter last year, and the year before that (and for three years with the Marlins, too). So is he a No. 4 starter, now that he's starting the fourth game of the season, in Red Sox at Indians, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at Progressive Field ? Beckett had a poor 2010 season and a poor 2011 spring training, but now the Red Sox hope he can deliver them their first win, after a season-opening sweep in Texas. Teams do rebound after beginning a season 0-3. Six 0-3 teams in just the last 20 years have gone on to win a division title, most notably the 1998 Yankees who began 0-3, then won 114 of their next 159 games. Even 0-4 teams aren't dead. The 1999 Diamondbacks began 0-4 and went on to 100 wins. The 1995 Reds won their division despite starting 0-6, but they did it with just 85 wins. You can bet it will take more than 85 to win the American League East this year.

2. In three games started by Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz (combined career record: 206-129), the Rangers hit 11 home runs and scored 26 runs. Now the Rangers face a fascinating trio of Mariner pitchers, beginning with Erik Bedard (first start since July 25, 2009), continuing with Michael Pineda (major-league debut) in Mariners at Rangers, Tuesday night (8:05 ET) at Rangers Ballpark , and continuing with Felix Hernandez (2010 Cy Young winner) in Wednesday's daytime series finale. The 21-year-old Pineda's debut has been much anticipated, as he is one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. It's an interesting matchup, too, because Rangers right-hander Alexi Ogando will be making his first big-league start.

3. Three games in, we know that the Orioles rotation has pitched 20 innings while allowing just one run on six hits. What we don't yet know is if that means that the Orioles young starters are ready to shine, or whether Rays (without Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, and with Evan Longoria getting hurt) are going to be a bad offensive team. We should know a little more by the time Chris Tillman makes his second start, in Tigers at Orioles, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Camden Yards . Tillman is the guy who held the Rays hitless for six innings on Saturday, getting pulled from the game because he had thrown 101 pitches. No matter how this week goes, it's safe to say the Orioles pitching doesn't get talked about enough. Some scouts in Florida this spring said the O's Zach Britton is even better than the Yankees' Manuel Banuelos, but it was Banuelos who got all the attention.

 
 
 
 
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