Last night in Atlanta Trevor Bauer made his major league debut, going 4 innings while allowing 2 runs (both earned), 5 hits, 3 walks, and 3 strikeouts. Bauer had been absolutely obliterating hitters at the Triple-A level this season, posting an 11-1 record, 2.23 ERA, while striking out 11.2 batters per 9 innings, prompting a call-up. While his 1st start wasn’t impressive, Bauer was able to keep Arizona in the game, allowing Chris Young to blast a game winning homer in the top of the 9th to give the Snakes a 3-2 victory. Let’s take a deeper look at some of last nights events in Atlanta.
First, let’s start with some of the positives from Bauer’s performance. He started off the game very strong, throwing a lively 93-95 mph fastball with some cutting movement, but he also displayed some predictable control issues, especially when throwing his curveball. In the 1st inning, Bauer was able to corral his first major league strikeout, getting Michael Bourne looking to open the contest. He ran into some trouble in the 2nd inning when some of those poorly located breaking balls started hanging up over the plate. Freddy Freeman was able to rap a double to right field, setting Atlanta up with runners on 2nd and 3rd with only 1 out. This is where Bauer made an impressive stand for a rookie.
Bauer faced Andrelton Simmons and was able to induce a grounder to 3rd. Then facing opposing pitcher Jair Jurrjens, the Diamondback rookie got ahead in the count and put him away on his best curveball of the night. Through 2 innings everything was going according to plan. Bauer had thrown 23 of his 31 pitches for strikes, hadn’t issued a walk and had posted 3 strikeouts.
In the 3rd inning Bauer would run into trouble however. The first member of the 2011 draft class to make his Major League debut walked Martin Prado with 2 outs and Brian McCann made him pay a few pitches later, double home the 1st Braves run of the game. Bauer then began to lose control, walking Chipper Jones on a full count before running a fastball too far inside and hitting Dan Uggla to load the bases. Bauer escaped allowing a big inning however, when he was able to induce Freeman into a weak pop out to centerfield.
In the 4th inning Simmons was able to hit a sharp leadoff double off of Bauer, was sacrificed over to 3rd base by Jurrjens, and brought in on a sac fly by Bourne, making the score 2-0. Bauer would close out the inning by getting Jason Heyward to hit a weak pop up on the infield, and the rookies 1st major league outing would be complete after he was pulled in the top of the 5th for a pinch hitter.
Overall Bauer displayed both the good and bad parts of his game. The youngster throws pitches with a lot of movement, sometimes so much so that he struggles to control them. He started off the game throwing a lot of pitches on the plate, but during his final 2 innings he only went 19/43 in throwing strikes, an unsustainable rate for any pitcher hoping to have success.
Bauer’s unorthodox windup, small stature, and unusual pre-game routine that involves long toss and almost 50 near maximum effort warmup pitches will always make him one of the most interesting case studies in baseball. He faced the 3rd highest scoring lineup in the National League in his 1st career start and held them to 2 runs, which is nice, but only threw 4 innings, which requires improvement. Now that the debut jitters are out of the way, I expect him to settle down and prove to be a very valuable asset to the Diamondbacks down the stretch. The rotation, which has been underwhelming (13th in the NL in ERA and 8th in strikeouts while allowing the 4th most hits), could use it.
The Braves have accumulated quite a nice collection of young talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, where under-25 players Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons stood out last night. Simmons is the Braves new 22-year-old shortstop from Curacao, who possesses soft hands and out of this world range. The catch he made down the line in left field was a play only a few select shortstops can make. Simmons looks well on his way to a very productive career, especially if he can hit .321/.356/.494 like he’s done in his first 87 career plate appearances. I think his defensive prowess will net him a few Gold Gloves in his career as well.
Jason Heyward also made one of the best throws of the season from deep right field last night to gun down Jason Kubel at the plate. In the 2nd inning Aaron Hill hit a fly ball to the middle of right field, where Jason Heyward made an absolute textbook catch and throw home.
Heyward initially makes the correct play, running not to the spot the baseball will be caught, but a few feet behind it. As the ball descends toward the ground, the Braves strong-armed right fielder starts moving his body toward the plate, gaining crucial momentum to make the throw. Heyward properly catches the ball on his glove side shoulder, keeping his hand nearby to make the transfer quickly. He fired a one-hop laser beam to a waiting Brian McCann at home plate and Kubel was toast by 5 feet. Heyward was able to get the ball to the plate in time to get the runner AND more importantly in time to allow McCann to get in a good position to avoid getting blasted at the plate, thus allowing him to make an easy tag. All around excellent baseball by the Braves defense all night.
Arizona’s Return to Full Strength
The Diamondbacks have played most of the 2012 season without some of their key offensive players, and a few others at half strength.
Centerfielder Justin Upton, who was 2-3 with a run and a walk last night, is really starting to look like an MVP-type player after struggling with a wrist injury the 1st month and a half of the season. Over the last 2 weeks (11 games) he’s hit .400 with 2 homers, 11 RBI, and 8 runs scored, providing a big boost to Arizona’s offense. After a very mediocre April and May he’s finally starting to get his bat going in June.
Shortstop Stephen Drew has only just returned after missing the first 70+ games of the season. Drew has only 2 games under his belt, but his return should improve the Diamondbacks defense up the middle. Arizona made such a huge improvement in the standings last season by playing spectacular defense, and that unit took a bit of a hit without their nominal shortstop roving around the middle of the diamond.
Chris Young’s return is much, much more important to Arizona’s playoff chances. Last night he caught up to a 97 mph fastball from Johnny Venters and sent Arizona home with a 3-2 win. Young was absolutely mashing the ball during the first 2 weeks of the season, hitting over .400 with 5 homers, but has struggled mightily since returning from a shoulder injury. The centerfielder has only hit .159 with 2 homers in 107 at-bats since returning from the injury and his 12:30 BB/K ratio is abysmal. The last week has been a little more kind to the centerfielder however, with both homeruns and a .300 average coming in that time span. Arizona could really use another impact bat, and a return to early season form for Chris Young would turn the NL West into a 3-horse race.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com