Has Hochevar turned the corner with back-to-back strong starts?

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Prior to last week Luke Hochevar seemed destined for a career as a
solid but unspectacular mid-rotation starter, which while certainly not
a bad thing would qualify as a big disappointment for the No. 1 overall
pick in the 2006 draft.

Hochevar had a mediocre 92/39 K/BB ratio in 123 innings at Triple-A
and then went 11-16 with a 5.25 ERA through his first 33 starts in the
majors, managing a measly 4.7 strikeouts per nine innings. His average
fastball was just 90 miles per hour, he wasn’t missing any bats, his
control was shaky, and despite still being just 25 years old Hochevar
didn’t look like someone capable of becoming an elite starting pitcher.

That may still end up being the case, but he’s at least done a good
impression of an elite starter in his last two outings, racking up 22
strikeouts in 13 innings while handing out zero walks against two of
the AL’s best lineups. He had nine strikeouts in six innings against
Tampa Bay and then whiffed 13 in seven innings Saturday versus Texas,
which is remarkable for a guy who never had more than six strikeouts in
his first 33 starts.

Bill James once found that pitchers with even a single 15-strikeout,
zero-walk start were overwhelmingly destined for greatness. In fact, as
the always awesome Joe Posnanski points out
of the 21 guys to accomplish that feat 20 of them are “either Hall of
Fame quality or excellent pitchers” with Sterling Hitchcock being the
lone exception. Of course, Posnanski also notes that dropping the
threshold to 13 strikeouts produces “a significantly bigger group.”

The 13-strikeout group has 75 pitchers, to be exact, with
significantly more non-elite names mixed in with the Hall of Famers. In
other words, Hochever’s outstanding 13-strikeout, zero-walk performance
against the Rangers doesn’t really predict greatness so much as
goodness. After all, for one game to have that much meaning is
extremely difficult.

However, Posnanski’s findings got me wondering about Hochevar’s
two-game stretch with 22 strikeouts and zero walks. Or, put another
way, how many pitchers have had back-to-back starts where they didn’t
walk anyone and struck out at least nine batters? Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com,
I can tell you that Hochevar was just the 29th guy to do it since 1954
and no one has done it in three straight starts. Here’s the list:

Randy Johnson (x2)      Rich Harden             Oliver Perez
Pedro Martinez (x2) Dan Haren Steve Renko
Curt Schilling (x2) LUKE HOCHEVAR Nolan Ryan
Erik Bedard Fergie Jenkins Ray Sadecki
Kevin Brown Jon Lieber Johan Santana
Steve Carlton Jim Merritt Mike Scott
Roger Clemens Terry Mulholland Ben Sheets
Bob Gibson Mike Mussina James Shields
Dwight Gooden Roy Oswalt David Wells
Aaron Harang Camilo Pascual

Not all of those names are great pitchers, but an awful lot of them
are and most of the elite starters from the past five decades are on
the list. All of which isn’t to suggest that Hochevar is suddenly
destined to become a great pitcher, just that the possibility at least
seems a whole lot more plausible than it did a couple weeks ago.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.