Last night in Washington, Adam Wainwright made his record-tying start with catcher Yadier Molina. These two have formed the battery for 248 Cardinal games over the years – tying the Tom Glavine/Javy Lopez record.
In rolling through 6.2 innings in the game, Adam threw 80 pitches. Twenty-six of those were curve balls – Waino’s signature pitch. The fastest of these (according to Brooks Baseball) spun in at 77.6 mph. Adam’s fastest pitch of the game (a sinker) registered all of 92.4 mph. During the evening, 12 of Adam’s 80 offerings cracked the 90-mph barrier.
The league, of course, is well aware of who Wainwright is – especially at this point of his career. Beating Wainwright means that you need some strategy for coping with that curve.
If he’s missing the strike zone with it, then the adjustment is easy. Just don’t swing at it. If he is throwing that curve for strikes, you can try to wait for him to hang one – Victor Robles got a hanger on a 3-1 pitch and sailed it over the wall.
But if he’s not hanging them often, then most teams will take the approach the Nationals took last night – hit him early in the count. Once Adam gets two strikes on you, you become vulnerable to Uncle Charlie. Early in the count, Wainwright will throw more cutters and sinkers to set the hitter up for the curve. Twenty-one of the 29 batters to face Adam ended their plate appearance before strike two, with 7 of them hitting Adam’s first strike.
Across all of baseball, this is very profitable hitting territory. According to baseball reference, all major league hitters are hitting .342 and slugging .617 when they hit that first strike.
But, of course, Wainwright and Molina have been around a bit as well. Figuring that the Nationals would be looking to hit something other than that curve, they mixed plenty of cutters (13) and sinkers (23) – especially early in the count. In a sense, it was a case of be careful what you ask for. The battery of Wainwright and Molina was consistently effective at jamming the Washington hitters – who were very obliging.
In the second inning, Matt Adams got enough of one of those inside cutters to float it into short left-center for a single. The next inning, Adam Eaton was quick enough on another inside cutter to stroke it just fair over the right-field wall. For the rest, it was a predictable mix of relatively easy fly-ball outs.
For the rest of the series, Washington will have to deal with pitchers with more stuff in Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson. But last night, they were treated to a demonstration of pitching as an art form. When he’s right, Adam can make it look fairly easy.
Ah, But Those Home Runs
In spite of the strong performance, Wainwright did serve up two more home runs. For the rotation, now, that is 34 home runs allowed in 151 innings. The opposing slugging percentage against Cardinal starters is .502 – the second highest in all of baseball.
That Bullpen is Still Plenty Tough
As they have for most of the year, St Louis’ bullpen came in and closed the door. Over the last 2.2 innings, Washington managed only 1 hit and no runs. The batting average against the Cardinal bullpen falls to .178 – the lowest in the majors.
Adding another strong outing to his excellent start, John Gant threw 1.1 scoreless innings last night. His season ERA slides to an unexpected 0.98.
He reached two strikes on all 5 batters he faced last night, a facet of his game that has been exceptional this year. So far this season, 63.2% of all batters John has pitched to have ended up in two-strike counts. They have not prospered, hitting .050/.116/.050.
Speaking of Two Strikes
Almost as masterful on the other side was Washington starter Anibal Sanchez. Mr. Sanchez, himself, featured a cutter that never exceeded 89.5 mph. But he spotted it expertly on the corners of the zone.
He, and the relievers who followed him, put 27 of the 38 Cardinal batters in two-strike counts – on their way to ringing up 15 strikeouts and holding one of baseball’s most consistent offenses under four runs for just the fifth time this season.
Contrary to the plan at the start of the season, Jose Martinez started for the thirteenth consecutive game last night. For the third straight of those games, he finished with 2 hits. He has hit in 11 of those games, getting multiple hits in 7 of them. Jose carries a .462 average (20 for 47) as he is making it exceedingly difficult for management to put him back on the bench.
One of those hits (his second inning single) came on a 1-2 pitch. Martinez – among his other accomplishments – is the best two-strike hitter on the team, carrying a .318 average (14-for-44) when down to his last strike.
While most of the team seems to be perking along, things are still a struggle for Matt Carpenter. Matt found himself in two-strike counts through all 5 of his at bats. He walked once and struck out the other 4 times. He now has 7 strikeouts over his last 2 games. For the season, only Paul Goldschmidt (61.4%) has found himself in two-strike counts with more frequency that Carpenter (60.0%). Once considered the team’s best two-strike hitter, Carp is hitting .145 (9-for-62) in that situation so far this year.
And, yes, Yadier Molina’s career-best-tying 16-game hitting streak came to an end in the win. Yadi was 0-for-3 with a walk. During the streak, Molina hit .328 (21 for 64) with a couple of home runs. Yadi drove in 19 runs during that streak.