I’m not sure if it’s a factor of youth, confidence or both. But the St. Louis Cardinals need to do something to get their pitchers to be more aggressive.
Several of their young hurlers are having a Jekyll and Hyde start to the 2014 season.
Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez have all bounced back and forth between brilliance and being extremely beatable.
They’re all more than good enough to retire batters with their stuff. But for some reason when they get into trouble they stop attacking batters and start to try to nibble at the strike zone. Suddenly the hurler's body language and pace change. Instead of getting in the hitter's face and being eager to retire him, the pitchers slow down and seem reluctant to make a delivery.
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It’s like watching a snow ball roll down hill. A little problem suddenly becomes a big jam.
And why does it happen at all? It’s not like any of these players are going into battle unarmed.
Miller got off to a great start Sunday against the Washington Nationals. He put up zero after zero on the scoreboard while his teammates scratched out a couple of runs. The only times he got in trouble came when he let runners get on the bases with free passes. In 5 1/3 innings of work, he walked five batters. Miller only allowed four runners to reach base via hits.
He mowed through Nats hitters in the first two innings. But in the third frame he walked Washington pitcher Stephen Strasburg with one out. Then, after retiring outfielder Denard Span on a fly ball he walked Bryce Harper. Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist came out for a visit and then Miller walked Jayson Werth to load the bases. Miller suddenly got aggressive and threw three pitches past home run threat Adam LaRoche.
In the sixth inning Miller got into trouble started again with a walk. The one out pass followed by a single and then a poor fielding choice by third baseman Matt Carpenter chased the second year starter from the game. He lost what could have been a victory when the bullpen couldn’t hold on.
Miller has enough trouble keeping his pitch counts down. So he doesn’t need to cause himself additional problems by throwing pitches out of the strike zone. Not only does the high count chase him early from games, pitchers become extremely vulnerable in extended innings. It's like when hockey players get stuck on the ice and can't make a shift change. You need that break to keep performing at a high level.
And then there’s the factor that when you're pitching behind it makes you more predictable and batters are more likely to get a pitch they can handle.
Trevor Rosenthal got into a world of trouble in the Washington series when he came into a game with a two-run lead. After getting the first out, he threw four straight balls to the second batter — a cardinal sin because it brought the tying run to the plate. And after that he got behind the next hitter which eventually resulted on the go ahead run to get to the plate.
Rosenthal also got a visit from Lilliquist that seemed to flip a switch in his head. He suddenly got aggressive and moved through the next two outs to get out of the inning. We've seen Rosenthal blow away hitters — very good hitters in very important games — with only his fastball. Why does it seem like he's sometimes afraid to throw it in the strike zone?
I would have preferred seeing the second hitter in his most recent appearance against the Nationals take a fastball into the bleachers than a base on balls. Like the old cliche says, there is no defense for a walk.
Lance Lynn outrages some fans with the way he seems to seek out trouble. But his two most recent starts have been a vast improvement over the way he was pitching earlier in the season. He’s been efficient and aggressive and he’s getting positive results. I could see why a guy like Jake Westbrook, who didn’t throw very hard and didn't have the stuff these younger guys possess, would nibble and try to trick hitters. You have to use smoke and mirrors when your stuff is diminished. But these young Cardinals hurlers all throw in the upper 90s and have several pitches that are effective.
Cardinals pitchers, you’re giving a lot of guys too much credit. Please, guys, make the other team prove to you that it can hit your stuff before you let it dictate how you attack. I think you're going to be pleasantly surprised with the results.