And That Happened: Opening Day’s scores and highlights

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For those of you new to in-season HardballTalk, know this: each weekday morning — and maybe some weekend mornings; I’m thinkin’ about it — I recap the previous day and/or night’s action in a little feature called “And That Happened.”  This is ATH’s fourth year, as I began it over at my old haunt, ShysterBall, where people seemed to like it well enough. If you care, it was named in honor of this video.

I’m told that was recording artist John Mayer, giving some impromptu play-by-play of  the A’s-Red Sox game which opened the 2008 season in Japan, but I’m not a big John Mayer fan so I don’t mind ripping off his bit.

The point, though, is like Mr. Mayer’s commentary, ATH is not meant to provide comprehensive or even necessarily lucid breakdowns of the previous night’s action. Oh, that happens sometimes, but mostly I’m just riffing here. Providing a little flavor of what went down in the game. Maybe an observation or an opinion or something kinda neat from the box score. Maybe an obscure movie line or two which, as long as Aubrey or David Huff remain in the majors, will likely include a few too many Groucho Marx bits.  If you want actual information, click the linked box score before every entry.  Any information I provide is, I assure you, completely by accident.

With that out of the way, let us begin our long journey through the major league season:

Dodgers 2, Giants 1: Buster Posey may be the great test case for whether people only accuse minority ballplayers of lackadaisical, addle-minded play. The run which broke the 0-0 tie was the result of Posey’s poor decision and poor throw trying to pick Matt Kemp off third. Yet, when it happened, the ESPN crew actually blamed the bad play on Pablo Sandoval, saying that he asked for the throw and didn’t do a great job trying to catch it. Maybe he did ask for it, but Posey is the catcher and he’s in charge out there. He should have thought better of it. And sorry, there was no way Sandoval could have gotten to that throw.  Then, in the ninth, Posey hit a little roller to first base that James Loney at first misplayed but then recovered and shoveled to Jonathan Broxton for the out. The ESPN crew lauded Loney for the play — which they should have, because it was a good recovery — but they made no mention of the fact that Posey was shuffling down the line with all the urgency of a condemned prisoner walking the green mile.

The booth walked back their comments regarding the pickoff throw after the commercial break, but both there and in the ninth the impulse to absolve Posey of his baseball sins seemed irresistible. All I could think was how different the reaction may have been had it been B.J. Upton or Hanley Ramirez making those decisions and not running out that roller.

Reds 7, Brewers 6: I would like it to be known that, in my little preview of yesterday’s action, I called Edinson Volquez out as being shaky.  To whom do I report to receive my laurels?  Fine, but that’s a laurel you owe me. Anyway, the Ramon Hernandez walkoff homer saved Volquez’s bacon. Too bad that so many Reds fans had already left the park and thus didn’t see it.  Cincy was a baseball town once. People here in Ohio swear to me that this is true.

Padres 5, Cardinals 3: Pujols goes 0 for 5 and grounds into three double plays. It’s tempting to say something more about that, but given that this brings the score to 1,404,492 times that Pujols did something good to, like, 8 times he did something bad over the past 11 years, I think he’s entitled to a pass here. If Ryan Franklin doesn’t give up a homer with two out in the ninth it doesn’t matter. If Ryan Theriot doesn’t make that error in the 11th, it probably doesn’t matter.  And while we’re on the subject, I expected letting Brendan Ryan go would cost the Cards on defense at some point, but who’d a thunk it would happen on Day One?

Angels 4, Royals 2: Jeff Francoeur had a homer and Melky Cabrera reached base four times.  When those guys are providing your offensive heroics you know you’re in trouble. Oh, and Francoeur came to bat with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out swinging on a pitch that was above his neck, so it’s good to see him in midseason form.

Braves 2, Nationals 0: All Jason Heyward does is hit home runs in his first Opening Day day at-bat. Year-after-year! And Mac Thomason had a sharp observation over at Braves Journal:

Last year, Bobby often let Lowe work an inning too long, or a batter too long. Fredi didn’t do that this time. When Lowe’s 105th pitch walked Zimmerman with two out in the sixth, Fredi got the hook and brought in O’Flaherty, who allowed a flare single to LaRoche then got out of it.

And how. It’s almost certain that Bobby Cox leaves Lowe in there. Nice to see Fredi bring out the hook.  All of the reasons Fredi Gonzalez is like Bobby Cox are why he got the job. Because following a legend is so tough, however, and because the new guy doesn’t get the same kind of free pass the legend got for the same behavior, it will be the ways in which he differs from Cox and does things better than Cox did which will help him keep the job.

Yankees 6, Tigers 3: Curtis Granderson, like Dante in “Clerks,” wasn’t even supposed to be there yesterday thanks to a wonky oblique muscle.  But he made it, and he had a much better day than Dante did too, what with the go-ahead homer and the nice defense in center. At least I’m assuming he had a better day than Dante. I have no idea how Granderson’s conversations with his girlfriend went after the game. Beyond that, the Yankees script was followed nicely: a strong start from Sabathia and then some shut-down bullpen work from Chamberlain, Soriano and Rivera.  We’ll see that at least 37 times this year. 37!

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.