If tonight’s plan was to get ahead in the count and keep the Minnesota Twins’ hitters off balance by mixing speeds, Wade Davis executed it to near perfection. Without his best stuff – as described by his catcher Kelly Shoppach – the right-hander worked seven efficient and effective innings. He allowed just one run on four hits and two walks, finishing the night at an even 100 pitches (59 strikes).
Although he registered just one strikeout, and 13 of 26 first-pitch strikes, Davis found himself up 0-2 in the count more than usual. Coming into the game Davis had reached 0-2 around 18% of the time. He did it on seven occasions tonight – or around 27%.
Early on Davis had great command of his fastball. Against left-handers, he was able to avoid the down-and-in quadrant of the strike zone a.k.a the nitro zone. As the game progressed, he went inside on righties more, but did a good job of keeping the ball away from the middle of the plate.
In addition to moving the ball around quite a bit, Davis did a really good job of pitch sequencing and changing speeds.
He used all of his pitches and did not allow the batter or count dictate what he threw. At no point of the game did he become reliant on one pitch over another. Despite the Twins refusal to swing at the breaking stuff, he continued to throw it for the sake of balance. It was not a dominant start by any stretch; however, in the mold of James Shields, Davis went deep in the game and gave his team a chance to win.
Once again, the Rays offense was slow to get things started. Nick Blackburn held the team scoreless for the first five innings before the team scored three runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh. Tampa Bay had five hits in the sixth inning - including another go-ahead hit off the bat of Johnny Damon. B.J Upton had an RBI double while Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce also had hits in the inning. The pair of lefties finished with three hits apiece; the second straight three-hit game for Joyce.
This week, Joe Maddon has raised some eyebrows by using Felipe Lopez in the cleanup spot. Without Evan Longoria or Manny Ramirez, there is no clear-cut fourth hitter on the roster. While Lopez does not seem like the prototypical cleanup man, his .857 OPS since his callup is the second-highest on the team. When Evan Longoria returns, Lopez will likely remain on the roster over Casey Kotchman.
Joe Maddon let members of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce luncheon select the lineup tonight; however, one of the Maddon-made moves was starting Kelly Shoppach against the right-handed Blackburn. In general, individual matchups are not a good baseline because of sample size issues. On the other hand, there must be something Shoppach knows about Blackburn. Before the game, I tweeted the following… “If Nick Blackburn leaves a fastball over the plate, I expect a Kelly Shoppach home run to LF.” Not to go #humblebrag, but…
After Joel Peralta worked a scoreless eighth inning, Maddon tried to close the game with Cesar Ramos, then Juan Cruz, then Jake McGee, before finally having to bring non-closer Kyle Farnsworth for the one-out save. Ramos and Cruz struggled with strikes while McGee induced a groundball out from Jim Thome during his one plate appearance Kyle Farnsworth hit 98 on the radar gun and struck out Michael Cuddyer to end the game.