Kevin Slowey and the no-hitter that was never gonna happen

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Kevin Slowey was brilliant yesterday, no-hitting the A’s through seven innings, and many fans at Target Field in Minnesota booed when he didn’t come out for the eighth inning. And then they booed even louder when reliever Jon Rauch allowed a one-out hit on the way to giving up two runs.

However, it was absolutely the right call by Ron Gardenhire. Sure, he could have left Slowey in to start the eighth, but between his pitch count and elbow issues a no-hitter just wasn’t going to happen.

Slowey had his last start skipped due to elbow soreness and was slated to be on a relatively short leash yesterday. Those plans obviously changed somewhat when he failed to allow a hit through seven shutout innings, but Slowey was already at 106 pitches with six outs left to go. Under normal circumstances I’m sure the Twins would have given Slowey every opportunity to make history, but those weren’t normal circumstances.

He’s averaged 16.3 pitches per inning this year, including 15.1 pitches per inning yesterday, so realistically it likely would’ve taken at least 130 pitches to finish the no-hitter. His career-high is 114 pitches and he’s thrown more than 106 pitches just seven times in 76 starts, so allowing Slowey to throw 20-30 more pitches than ever before just days after elbow soreness kept him from taking his turn in the rotation would’ve been something between silly and irresponsible.

And for what, exactly? No-hitters are great and I certainly don’t blame anyone at Target Field for wanting to witness one in person, but there have been five (or six) no-hitters already this season and a total of 268 in baseball history. Allowing someone who missed his last start with elbow problems to go well beyond his previous career-high pitch count in an effort to get the six outs still needed to become No. 269 hardly seems worth any kind of risk.

When the best-case scenario is a 130-pitch no-hitter from a 26-year-old pitcher with a tender elbow that’s a pretty underwhelming best case and with two innings remaining the odds were still against Slowey actually completing the no-hitter. Leave him in and there’s a strong chance he ends up allowing a hit on, say, his 127th pitch, in which case the Twins would’ve gone from risking his health for a minimal reward to risking his health for zero reward.

All of which is more or less exactly how Gardenhire explained his through process afterward:

I would boo too. I mean, I was booing myself. But I also know what’s right, and that’s why I [pulled him]. I wanted to see a no-hitter myself, but I also know I’m responsible for this young man’s arm. You just can’t risk a guy’s career. I’m not going to do it. Slowey is coming off an elbow injury and we’re not about to even come close to risking this guy.

I’m not going to let him throw 125, 130 pitches. It’s just not going to happen. If he went back out for one more inning, he’d probably be up around 115, 120, and he’d be done anyway. There was no way he was going to finish, and we’re just not going to risk this young man. He’s got too big of a career ahead of him.

Judging by all the hugs and handshakes he was doling out in the dugout between the seventh and eighth innings Slowey wasn’t exactly crushed by the decision to pull him, although he did admit afterward: “I don’t think it would be possible not to be a little bit disappointed.” He also joined Gardenhire in seeing the decision as a smart one in the bigger picture:

More than anything I was encouraged. I was encouraged by the way it was presented to me, I was encouraged by the fact that Gardy and [pitching coach Rick Anderson] care a whole lot more about me as a person and as a pitcher in the long term than they do about winning one game, or having one accomplishment. I think that says a lot about them, and it says a lot about our organization.

Exactly, and I also think that reaction says a lot about Slowey.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.