Yes, the slider sometimes misbehaves.
It did so in the first inning of last night’s game in Pittsburgh. After Adam Frazier led off with a single, Dakota Hudson’s 3-2 slider to Bryan Reynolds sailed high, and Pittsburgh had their first two runners on base. The slider to the next Pirate hitter, Starling Marte, did worse than sail high. It tailed back right over the heart of the plate and waited for Marte to smash it – which he did.
Fifteen pitches into his evening, and Dakota Hudson was down 3-0, and the slider was – in no small part – responsible.
(Parenthetically, most of the TV viewers saw Marte after the home run smile to the camera and demonstrate with his fingers 3 to zero. In baseball this is almost always a bad idea. Under any circumstance a three-run first inning lead is far from iron clad. All the more so when your team has been in a pronounced slump – as Marte’s has. And even more so when the team you are playing is starting to heat up – and the Cardinals seem – finally – to be that team. Through most of this season, an early three run deficit did feel like a thirty run deficit. But for the moment, anyway, the team has turned the page on those issues and is becoming a confident enough offense that three early runs don’t phase them much. Anyway, as so often happens, Marte’s chest-thumping meant little in the long run. He and the Pirates would not score again.)
So, back to that slider.
Fast forward to the fifth inning. St Louis now leads 4-3. But there is more trouble on the way for Hudson. After another lead-off single from Frazier, Dakota fell behind both Reynolds and Marte to the point that they declined to chase Hudson’s sinker, and both drew walks. Walks have been a growing concern over Dakota’s last several starts.
Now we had trouble. Bases loaded. Nobody out. And to the plate was Pittsburgh’s blossoming superstar, switch-hitter Josh Bell.
Hudson threw two excellent fastballs under Bell’s hands that he fouled off. On 0-2, Dakota went back to that slider. It darted in along much the same track as the fastballs. But, before Bell’s bat could turn on it, it dropped like a stone for the strikeout.
That was the turning point. After that, Colin Moran bounced into a double play, and the inning was over. Hudson and some more splashy work by the Cardinal bullpen would allow the birds to hold on to this one by that 4-3 score (box score).
Along the way, Hudson would cobble together his eleventh quality start in his last 15 games, and stretch to 17 consecutive starts his streak of not allowing more than 3 earned runs – quite a trick after he was down 3-0 before he recorded his first out.
In his early starts this season, Dakota Hudson frequently faced lineups stacked with left-handed bats. And all too often those bats took advantage of the young Cardinal starter.
One of the adjustments that Dakota has made as the season has progressed is developing a weapon that can neutralize those left-handed bats. More and more, now, that weapon is becoming his wipe-out slider.
In his 6.1 innings last night, Hudson finished with 5 strikeouts – all swinging. The two right-handers that he got (Chris Archer and Jacob Stallings) both went down on fastballs. But the three lefties that he chalked up (Bell and Moran twice) all got that nasty, nasty slider.
So, yes, Dakota has a weapon that has equalized things a bit against lefties. Even more interesting to me is this. All 5 of Hudson’s strikeouts came on 0-2 pitches. None of them even prolonged the at bat to four pitches with a foul ball. Moreover, they were the only 5 at bats of the night against Hudson that ended 0-2. In his 22.1 innings this month, Hudson has struck out 10 of the 12 batters whose at bat ended with an 0-2 count.
This slider is now becoming a put-away pitch that batters who are backed up in the count are kind of at the mercy of. As a companion pitch to his ground ball arsenal, this bodes very well for the future.
But it would help if he could get it to behave a little better early in games.
After an earlier streak where he went 7 consecutive starts without allowing a home run (and serving up just 1 home run over a ten-start stretch that reached 60.1 innings), Dakota has now given up at least one home run in six consecutive starts.
Even though his four July starts haven’t been his smoothest, Hudson has still won them all. He is now 8-1 over his last 12 starts, carrying a 3.01 ERA in those games and getting 56% ground balls.
How Good is Giovanny Gallegos
After Hudson’s 6.1 innings, and with the Cards clinging to a one-run lead, manager Mike Shildt went to Giovanny Gallegos for 5 critical outs as he finished the seventh and worked the eighth. In typical style, Gallegos finished them off, five-up and five-down with 3 strikeouts.
How good is he? By the numbers, you would have to say that Giovanny is as dominant as any relief pitcher in baseball. Here’s a taste:
Last night’s game was Gallegos’ sixth consecutive scoreless outing. In those games, Giovanny has pitched a total of 9.2 innings allowing 2 hits and walking 1 while striking out 13. Over his last 22 games, Gallegos has completed 27.2 innings in which he has been brushed for 2 runs on 13 hits. His 2 walks have been offset by 37 strikeouts. In this stretch, Giovanny has thrown 71% of his pitches for strikes.
The numbers on these last 27.2 innings add up to a 0.65 ERA and a batting line of .141/.167/.228.
This is dominance.
Not that it matters, but with all the strikes that Gallegos throws, he almost never finds himself behind in the count. Last night he was behind only one of the 5 batters that he faced, getting Reynolds to strike out on a 3-2 pitch.
Over the last month, only 5 of the 35 batters to face Gallegos have put themselves ahead in the count. They are 0-for-4 with a walk. This season, Giovanny has faced 178 major league batters. He has worked behind on only 37 of them. And as I say, it matters little. Even the ones who do get ahead in the count against Gallegos are only hitting .172 with 1 home run.
There was a time not too long ago when Kolten Wong was daily listed among the struggling hitters. Those days, for the moment, are past. Wong singled, doubled and drove in St Louis’ first run of the game. Kolten has now hit safely in five consecutive games in which he has had a plate appearance, going 7 for 17 (.412) in those games.
For the month of July, Kolten is a .348 hitter (16 for 46).
Tyler O’Neill’s recent slump continued last night. Hitless in 4 at bats, Tyler is now 0 for his last 12, and 2 for 22 (.091) over his last 5 games – games in which he has no extra base hits, no walks, and 1 run batted in. It has been 13 games since Tyler’s last walk.
On May 29, the Cardinals were planted by Philadelphia, 11-4. That loss culminated a 6-18 spiral that knocked the team from first place in this division to two games under .500 at 26-28.
That was 46 games ago. Since that time, St Louis has been steadily re-gaining ground in the division, winning 27 of these last 46 games. One of the notable things about these games is that Matt Wieters has been the catcher in almost half of them. Matt has started 22, Yadier Molina just 18 of them before his injury sidelined him, and Andrew Knizner has started the other 6.
Wieters has made some offensive contributions to the surge, including 6 home runs – most of which have been telling, even if they haven’t been terribly frequent. After his 0-for-4 last night, Wieters is hitting .188 (15 for 80) over the last 46 games.
In and out of the lineup, and starting the last two games in center field, Yairo Munoz has seen his batting average slip a bit recently. Munoz was hitless in 3 at bats last night, and is just 10 for 43 (.233) for the month of July.
In last night’s ninth inning, Munoz fell behind Pittsburgh’s Chris Stratton 0-2, and struck out swinging on the next pitch (that slider out of the zone).
Perhaps hitting behind in the count is one area where a player’s lack of regular at bats may take its greatest toll.
Over his last 76 plate appearances, Munoz has found himself behind in the count 34 times. Yairo is just 3 for 34 (.088) in those at bats with no extra-base hits (in fact, one of the three singles was an infield hit), no walks, 12 strikeouts, and 1 double play grounded into.
Kolten Wong’s RBI double brings him to within one run batted in of last year’s total. He drove in 38 last year and has 37 now this year.