Chess Match: Game 39
No “Covering the Bases” today. I’m going to switch things up and go with a “Chess Match,” breaking down an important moment in the Blue Jays’ 5-2 win over the Rangers on Sunday.
The situation: Josh Hamilton at the plate for the Rangers with no outs and runners on the corners in the first inning. Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow on the mound.
The decision: Alternate fastballs and offspeed pitches until reaching a 2-2 count, then switching things up by going with consecutive changeups.
The outcome: Hamilton strikes out swinging on a changeup from Morrow with a full count. Young was running on the play, and Blue Jays catcher John Buck threw him out at second base for a critical strikeout-caught stealing in the first. Morrow then strikes out Nelson Cruz to escape the inning unscathed.
The analysis: This arguably set the tone for the entire game for Morrow. Entering Sunday, the right-hander had a 7.71 ERA in the first inning and he was coming off a disastrous outing in Boston, where he allowed six runs with six walks in just 1 2/3 innings. Morrow ran into another early jam, but settled in and shut Texas down.
In this outing, Buck and Morrow opted to focus more on offspeed pitches than the right-hander’s hard four-seam fastball. That meant more curve balls, more changeups and more two-seam fastballs. Morrow throws a hard change — around 90-91 mph — but it is enough off his 95 mph fastball to keep hitters honest when it’s working.
During Saturday’s game, Hamilton struck out three times against Ricky Romero’s changeup. During that first-inning at-bat on Sunday, Hamilton swung through a changeup from Morrow on a 1-0 count. Hamilton entered the game with a .211 average when in a 2-2 count, so a change was a good call. The hitter resisted temptation and worked the count full. Hamilton was hitting .357 with a 3-2 count.
Sticking with the changeup was a good choice for Morrow. First off, Hamilton had already shown he was having trouble with the pitch. Beyond that, Buck and Morrow entered with a game plan and it was important to keep on it. Firing another heater there might have played into Hamilton’s hand.
The comment: “He hadnt shown 94 five times in a row when he needed to reach back and get it. We had thrown some other pitches, which I think it helped those hitters not quite be on that 94, because you don’t see it over and over again. You see stuff bending. You see some stuff sinking.” – Buck
My verdict: In my book, this was the most important at-bat of the game (although Jason Frasor getting out of a bases-loaded, no outs jam with only one run allowed in the seventh was also important). Morrow had shown in other starts that if he could get through the first few innings relatively unharmed, then he could get into a good rhythm. When he has run into trouble early, it has led to some nasty innings and some ugly pitching lines. Having Buck throw out Young on top of the strikeout made this as critical as any other moment in the game.
Expect more “Chess Match” and “Covering the Bases” throughout the season