Ichiro Suzuki went 0-for-4 yesterday after striking out three times Saturday for the just the third time in his career, leaving him with the lowest OPS (.743) and second-lowest batting average (.307) in 10 seasons with Seattle.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu suggested that the lack of capable of hitters following him in what is the league’s worst lineup has motivated opposing pitchers to work around Suzuki more than ever before.
Maybe they’re pitching him a little bit tougher than normal. He’s the one .300 hitter in your lineup. He’s a guy that doesn’t normally walk. I think they’re forcing him to swing at pitches maybe a little bit further out of the zone than normal. I see him fouling off a lot of pitches a lot more than I did last year. Not because he’s missing, but I think they’re not as good as pitches he was afforded last year. That’s just my opinion.
Studies have more or less shown that the general notion of “lineup protection” is somewhere between massively overblown and a flat-out myth, but a deeper look at Suzuki’s numbers this season shows that Wakamatsu may be right.
Pitches thrown to Suzuki have been in the strike zone just 45.5 percent of the time this season, which is his lowest single-season mark by a relatively wide margin and well below his career total of 52.0 percent. Suzuki is also swinging at pitches outside the strike zone far more than usual, taking a hack 36.1 percent of the time compared to 26.0 percent for his career.
Most of Suzuki’s other numbers–stuff like contact rate, swinging strike percentage, and other data found on Fan Graphs–are pretty much in line for his norms, so Wakamatsu’s explanation seems to be make a lot of sense. Of course, at age 36 you’d also expect Suzuki’s performance to decline regardless of whether he’s getting as many hittable pitches as usual, so it also may not be as cut and dried as the manager thinks.
Jaime Garcia has been at the center of trade talks for several days now, but on Friday night, he commanded center stage for an entirely different reason. The Braves’ southpaw went head-to-head with Dodgers’ lefty Alex Wood and mashed his first career grand slam: a two-out, 399-foot blast that cleared the wall in right field and put the Braves up 9-0 in the fifth inning.
The bases-loaded knock was the third career home run for Garcia, whose contributions at the plate have been few and far between over his nine-year track in the major leagues. Not only did the homer mark an impressive career first for the 30-year-old, but it was just the second pitcher grand slam in Braves’ history and the first since 1966.
Garcia looked almost as impressive on the mound during Friday’s series opener, issuing one run, four hits and three strikeouts through his first six innings. The Braves currently lead the Dodgers 12-1 in the top of the seventh inning.
As for whether the slam will affect negotiations between the Braves and Twins? MLB.com’s Mike Petriello put it best:
Athletics’ first baseman Ryon Healy had a scary moment during Friday’s loss to the Mets. Lucas Duda smacked a single to the first base side, where the ball took a high hop and caught Healy in the left temple. He crumpled to the ground after getting struck by the one-hopper, but was eventually able to stand and walk off the field with assistance from a trainer.
Prior to the injury, Healy went 2-for-3 at the plate with an RBI single in the first inning. He was replaced by Yonder Alonso, who finished off the rest of the night’s 7-5 loss with a walk in two plate appearances.
Following the game, manager Bob Melvin told reporters that Healy did not appear to have sustained a concussion as a result of the hit. Healy said he thinks he’ll be good to go for Saturday’s game, though a final decision likely won’t be made until tomorrow.