A flop in Boston, Brad Penny thriving back in NL

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After pitching for the Giants in the second half last season Brad Penny shut out his former teammates for seven innings last night, improving to 3-0 with a 0.94 ERA on the year.
Penny looks to be the latest in a long line of veteran starters who turned things around and had more success than ever before under Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, with Joel Pineiro and Kyle Lohse providing the most recent examples.
Of course, Penny’s resurgence actually dates back to last year, before hooking up with Duncan in St. Louis. He pitched his way out of the Dodgers’ plans by going 6-9 with a 6.27 ERA in 2008 and then flopped in Boston with a 5.61 ERA in 24 starts, at which point the Red Sox released him.
Penny signed on with the Giants and went 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA in four starts down the stretch, which was enough for the Cardinals to give him $7.5 million in guaranteed money this offseason. Suddenly that looks like a bargain, because Penny is now 7-1 with a 1.92 ERA in his last 10 starts, walking just 12 batters in 70.1 innings. Penny had plenty of success for the Marlins and Dodgers before falling apart in 2008, so obviously returning to the NL has helped.
Beyond that, Duncan has him throwing more strikes and inducing more ground balls than ever before, which is a huge change for a pitcher who basically just tried to blow hitters away with his mid-90s fastball for the first 10 years of his career. So far this season Penny has thrown his fastball just 51 percent of the time, which is big drop compared to his career rate of over 70 percent.
He obviously won’t be this good all season, but Duncan has worked similar magic with similar pitchers before and while a sub-1.00 ERA is flukishly amazing much of Penny’s improvement can be traced to what seems to be a legitimate change in approach.

Anthony Alford to miss 4-6 weeks following wrist surgery

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Blue Jays’ outfielder Anthony Alford will miss at least 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery on his left wrist, the team announced on Saturday. Alford was placed on the 10-day disabled list earlier in the week after sustaining a left hamate fracture on a foul pitch, and could miss significant time in what looks to be a lengthy rehab process. MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the procedure has been scheduled for next week and will be performed by Dr. Donald Sheridan in Arizona.

Alford, 22, was called up to the majors from Double-A New Hampshire last Friday. He went hitless in his first three outings, finally catching a break against the Brewers on Tuesday when he pinch-hit a leadoff double in the seventh. The injury occurred two innings later when Alford fouled off a pitch in the ninth inning, fracturing his wrist in the process.

Alford will join eight other players on the Blue Jays’ disabled list, including outfielders Steve Pearce (calf strain), Dalton Pompey (concussion) and Darrell Cecillani (partial shoulder dislocation). He’s expected to be replaced by 24-year-old outfield prospect Dwight Smith Jr.

Stephen Strasburg hit a new career high today

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Good luck getting a hit against the Nationals this weekend. Stephen Strasburg followed Max Scherzer‘s 13-strikeout performance on Friday with a dazzling outing of his own on Saturday afternoon. The right-hander whiffed a career-best 15 batters in seven innings, allowing just three hits and a walk in the Nats’ 3-0 win.

It took Strasburg several innings to get into a groove after pitching into (and out of) a jam in the first inning. The Padres loaded the bases with Allen Cordoba‘s leadoff single, a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman and a four-pitch walk to Cory Spangenberg. By the third, Strasburg was cruising, striking out the side on 18 pitches and keeping the Padres off the basepaths until the sixth. He recorded his 15th and final strikeout in the seventh inning, catching Padres’ prospect Franchy Cordero swinging on a 1-2 pitch to effectively end his outing.

While 15 strikeouts set a new career record for the Nationals’ ace, he came close to reaching the mark twice before. The first time, he struck out 14 of 24 batters during his major league debut against the 2010 Pirates, though the 5-2 win did little more than keep the Nationals neck-and-neck with the Marlins at the bottom of the NL East. Five years later, he tied his 14-strikeout record against the 2015 Phillies, tossing a one-hitter in eight innings to cement his ninth victory of the season.

The only one who doesn’t seem overly enthused by the new record? Strasburg himself, who told MLB.com’s Jamal Collier and AJ Cassavell: “It’s pretty cool, but there’s another game five, six days from now. I’ll enjoy it tonight, but back to work tomorrow.”