Phil Coke shows that anybody can pitch the ninth

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Did you ever notice that when baseball broadcasters start talking about the ninth-inning mentality and about all the setup men who couldn’t handle the closer’s role, they never go on to name names?

Moments after John Smoltz went on his little spiel about how not everyone can pitch the ninth Sunday, Phil Coke finished shutting down the Yankees for his first postseason save. Coke, closing in place of the beleaguered Jose Valverde, pitched two scoreless innings, striking out three, in relief of Anibal Sanchez as the Tigers gave themselves a 2-0 ALCS lead.

By the way, this is the same Phil Coke…

– who gave up a .396 average to right-handed hitters this year. Righties were 40-for-101 with 13 extra-base hits against him.

– who had given up nine homers in 40 2/3 career innings at Yankee Stadium. Coke, of course, started his career with the Yankees before being included in the three-team Curtis Granderson-Austin Jackson-Ian Kennedy-Max Scherzer-Edwin Jackson deal that also included the Diamondbacks.

– who had a 5.82 ERA after the All-Star break this year.

Coke struggled enough that manager Jim Leyland lost some faith in him against right-handers. Coke made 20 appearances between August and September, but he pitched just 11 1/3 innings between them. He typically went a full innings in his outings early in the year (apart from Aug/Sept, he pitched 42 2/3 IP in 46 appearances).

And Coke did allow a hit to a right-hander today. Alex Rodriguez singled off him with two outs in the ninth. Somehow, Coke avoided collapsing from the pressure of the situation afterwards. He just did his usual thing (well, it’s everyone’s usual thing lately) and struck out the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson to end the game.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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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.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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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.