Monday, October 14, 2013

Detroit's dumbest move: Throwing David Ortiz a first pitch changeup

The Detroit Tigers pitching staff continues to do things that have never been done before.

Starter Max Scherzer went 5 2/3 innings without giving up a hit in Game 2 of the ALCS on Sunday night. The Tigers became the first team in postseason history to have a starting pitcher carry a no-hitter into the sixth inning in three consecutive games.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, on Sunday they also became the first team in postseason history to have four different pitchers give up a single run in the same inning. When David Ortiz hit a first-pitch changeup from closer Joaquin Benoit out of the park for a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning, Jose Veras, Drew Smyly, Al Alburquerque and Benoit were all charged with one run.

Ortiz's blast erased a 5-1 Boston deficit, and the Red Sox went on to win 6-5 and even the best-of-seven series at 1-1. Predictably, exploded with criticism of Detroit manager Jim Leyland. Scherzer had thrown 108 pitches threw seven, but he wasn't allowed to start the eighth inning. Did he have another inning in him? Maybe, but Scherzer said he was done at that point after the game. Did Leyland overmanage by using those four relief pitchers to try to get through the eighth inning? Perhaps. I'm not a big proponent of the lefty-righty, batter-by-batter stuff. I always figure if you use enough relief pitchers, eventually you'll land on a guy who doesn't have his best stuff that day.

All that said, Leyland had his best reliever on the mound to face Ortiz. The odds were still in the Tigers' favor. They were up four, there were two outs, and the pressure was on Ortiz to do something to get his team back in the game.

Ortiz did just that, but I think he was helped by the worst decision any Tigers player or manager made all evening: They threw something offspeed on the first pitch of the sequence. I'm pretty sure the veteran Ortiz has seen that trick before. The pitcher assumes the hitter is looking first-pitch fastball with the bases loaded, so he tries to flip a sloppy offspeed offering up there in hopes of grabbing a first-pitch strike and getting ahead in the count. That kind of crap works against younger hitters. It didn't work against Ortiz, who ripped the ball into the right-field bullpen, a hit that definitely turned the game around and possibly the entire series.

Bad thought process, bad pitch. Throwing a changeup in that situation was worse than any of the questionable decisions Leyland made throughout the game. Next time, throw Ortiz a well-located fastball on the first pitch.

1 comment:

  1. In a vacuum, you'd probably expect Benoit to put a fastball in that same location on the first pitch, but Ortiz was looking offspeed all the way. Probably because that's how the Tigers have pitched him the whole series. Ortiz just made the adjustment, and Detroit got caught flat-footed at a very bad time.