Justin Masterson shut out the Twins for 7.2 innings last night, allowing just four hits and no walks while striking out six, and remarkably did so while throwing fastballs on 103 of his 104 pitches. Seriously.
His timing was especially amusing because just a few hours earlier Sam Miller wrote a Baseball Prospectus column about all-fastball repertoires and wondered how long it would be before someone went with 100 percent heat in a start.
Masterson was damn close, throwing just one slider among 104 offerings, and Jordan Bastian of MLB.com (at the Twitter urging of an intrigued Miller) talked to the right-hander about why he bothered using the one non-fastball:
Well, you know, we thought we’d probably use it more. That one would hopefully kind of put it in the back of the head like, “Oh, later on in the innings, is he going to throw one here? Is he not?”
Along with that little intro to Game Theory he also said the approach was a case of “don’t change what’s working.” In other words, if the Twins kept showing that they couldn’t hit his fastball why did he need to throw anything else? Masterson got six strikeouts and 15 ground-ball outs while allowing zero extra-base hits, and only a Chris Perez blown save kept him from winning a 1-0 game while throwing one pitch slower than 90 miles per hour.
I’ve been skeptical of Masterson as a starter because I wondered if his lack of secondary pitches would eventually force a move to the bullpen, but that looks kind of silly right now. He has a 2.64 ERA and 101/40 K/BB ratio in 136 innings spread over 20 starts this season and, as Bastian notes, he’s thrown 82 percent fastballs.
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.
Twins’ right-hander Nick Burdi is set to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, the team announced on Friday. Burdi made 14 appearances for Double-A Chattanooga before succumbing to a torn ulnar collateral ligament and is not expected to make his major league debut until mid-2018 at the earliest. A UCL tear doesn’t always require Tommy John surgery — less severe cases can be treated with platelet-rich plasma injections, for example — but Twins’ chief baseball officer Derek Falvey told the press that surgery was unavoidable as Burdi had sustained a “full thickness tear” in his elbow.
Entering the 2016 season, Burdi was widely considered a top ten prospect in the Twins’ system. His exceptional velocity and potent fastball-slider combo made him a fearsome relief option as he came off of his first season in Double-A Chattanooga in 2015. During the 2016 season, however, the 24-year-old experienced a significant setback after a bone bruise cut his season short in late July. Prior to Friday’s diagnosis, he appeared to be staging an impressive comeback with the Chattanooga Lookouts this spring, decorating his efforts with a sparkling 0.53 ERA, 2.1 BB/9 and 10.6 SO/9 over 17 innings.
It’s a tough break for the Twins, whose farm system was ranked 21st in the league by Baseball America. “Obviously he’s proven when he’s healthy he’s an absolute premium prospect, and the Twins are treating him that way,” Burdi’s agent, Matt Sosnick, told Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press. “We just want to make sure everything we do ultimately leads to the goal of getting him back on the field as quickly as he can.”