Norichika Aoki’s third big-league homer — coming six innings after his second — was a walkoff blast in the bottom of the 10th inning Thursday, giving the Brewers a 4-3 victory over the Cubs.
Aoki ended up with his second straight three-hit game today, making this something of a coming out party against the Cubs.
Aoki, a three-time batting champ in Japan, received very little interest from anyone other than the Brewers after saying he wanted to jump to MLB last winter. Even the Brewers might have passed if not for the looming threat of Ryan Braun’s pending 50-game suspension. Milwaukee signed the 30-year-old to a two-year, $2.5 million contract that didn’t even promise him a roster spot coming out of spring training.
Aoki went on to make the club, but he still started all of three games in April. More playing time came last month with Carlos Gomez on the DL and Nyjer Morgan struggling, and while Aoki didn’t take advantage at first, he’s been one of the Brewers’ best players the last three weeks. With Corey Hart often at first base as a result of Mat Gamel’s season-ending knee injury, Aoki has stepped in as a right fielder against right-handers and hit .343/.389/.582 in 67 at-bats since May 17.
It’s the power that’s a surprise. Aoki hit as many as 20 homers in a season in Japan, but he was all of the way down to four last year in his final season the Yakult Swallows. Imports with similar power production in Japan have tended to be singles hitters in MLB. Aoki, though, has 13 extra-base hits already in 119 at-bats for the Brewers.
The Brewers signed Aoki with the idea that he’d be their fifth outfielder. Now he may well get a shot to be a full-timer. Both of his homers today came off righties, but he’s actually hitting .341 in 41 at-bats in lefty-lefty matchups. Hart should get used to playing first base going forward.
Last night the Detroit Lions played the New York Giants. During the game Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford called an audible. The call itself referenced Stafford’s childhood friend and high school baseball teammate, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. From the Freep:
Matthew Stafford stepped to the line of scrimmage late in the third quarter and surveyed the Giants defense.
With five pass rushers across the front and three Giants cornerbacks showing a press-man look, Stafford looked at his two receivers to the left and invoked the name of his childhood friend, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
“Give me Kershaw here, Kershaw,” Stafford said, repeating his friend’s name two more times as he spun around at the line of scrimmage.
The audible did not result in a pick-4 to Aaron Altherr. It called for a run up the middle. And it worked nicely, gaining eight yards.
You may suggest the results of other starting pitcher-themed audibles in the comments. I’ll start: “Harvey! Harvey!” is where the QB fakes a handoff, drops back, looks deep and then his arm falls completely off. Damndest thing.
Matt Harvey‘s season was mostly a loss due to extended time on the disabled list. He’s been given a chance, however, to end the season strong and make a case for himself in the Mets’ future plans. Unfortunately, he has been unable to make that case. He was shelled again last night, and his late season opportunity has been a disaster.
Last night Harvey gave up seven runs on 12 hits and struck out only two batters in four innings against a Marlins team that, until facing him anyway, had been reeling. It was his fourth start since going on the shelf in mid-June and in those four starts he’s allowed 21 runs, all earned, on 32 hits in 14.2 innings, for an ERA of 13.19. In that time he’s struck out only eight batters while walking seven. His average fastball velocity, while ticking up slightly in each of his past four starts, is still below 95. Back when he was an ace he was consistently above that. His command has been terrible.
Injury is clearly the culprit. He had Tommy John surgery just as he was reaching his maximum level of dominance in 2013. While he came back strong in 2015, he was used pretty heavily for a guy with a brand new ligament. Last year he was felled by thoracic outlet syndrome and this year a stress injury to his shoulder. Any one of those ailments have ended pitchers’ careers and even among those who bounce back from them, many are diminished. To go through all three and remain dominant is practically unheard of.
Yet this is where Matt Harvey is. He’s 28. He’s still arbitration eligible, for a team that is, to put it politely, sensitive to large financial outlays. While his 4-5 start opportunity to end the year may very well have been seen as a chance to shop Harvey to another team, his trade value is at an all-time low. It would not be shocking if, on the basis of his recent ineffectiveness, the Mets considered non-tendering him this offseason, making him a free agent.
Someone would probably take a chance on him because famous names who once showed tremendous promise are often given multiple chances in the big leagues (See, Willis, Dontrelle). But at the moment, there is nothing in Harvey’s game to suggest that he is capable of taking advantage of such a chance. All one can hope is that an offseason of rest and conditioning will allow Harvey to reclaim at least a portion of his old form.