Prior to this afternoon’s game Ron Gardenhire told reporters that he and pitching coach Rick Anderson have been trying to convince Francisco Liriano to “pitch to contact” rather than focusing on racking up strikeouts.
Liriano apparently listened, because this is what happened in the fourth inning:
Six runs on eight hits and maybe three of them were well-struck. Even the double was on a ground ball down the third base line. And he needed a strikeout just to escape the nightmare inning filled with bloopers falling in and grounders getting through.
There are certainly positive aspects of pitching to contact, including better control and going deeper in games, both of which Liriano could stand to improve upon. However, when a pitcher is coming off a season in which he racked up 201 strikeouts in 192 innings while posting a 3.62 ERA does it really make much sense to ask him to “pitch to contact”?
Beyond that, why should Liriano trust that the Twins’ sub par defense (which today includes Michael Cuddyer at second base) is up to the task of making him look good with a pitch-to-contract approach? Last season no defense in the league turned a lower percentage of balls in play into outs than the Twins did behind Liriano and they certainly didn’t do him any favors today.
To be clear, Liriano has not pitched well through three starts this season. He also isn’t getting much help.
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.
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.