There’s been no official announcement in the wake of Rafael Furcal’s season-ending Tommy John elbow surgery, but manager Mike Matheny made it clear that Pete Kozma will be the Cardinals’ starting shortstop.
That’s no surprise, as Kozma played shockingly well down the stretch last season after stepping into the lineup for the injured Furcal and his only real competition for the job this spring is Ronny Cedeno.
However, based on his minor-league track record Kozma is going to be overmatched as a regular. Kozma has hit just .236 with a .308 on-base percentage and .344 slugging percentage in 671 games as a minor leaguer through age 24, including just .232 with a .292 OBP and .355 SLG in 131 games at Triple-A last season.
Aside from his 26-game stint with the Cardinals last season there’s nothing in Kozma’s track record to suggest he can handle major-league pitching and in fact based on his production at Triple-A he projects as one of the majors’ worst hitters. Assuming he turns back into a pumpkin it’ll be interesting to see how long of a leash Kozma’s late-season magic buys him.
Justin Verlander is approaching the tail end of a fantastic year with the Astros — arguably one of his best in the last decade — and on Saturday, he kicked off his last regular season start at Minute Maid Park with a strikeout, his 270th of the year. While that’s still a few shy of Max Scherzer‘s league-best mark of 290, it was a new personal record for Verlander, who had yet to beat the previous career record he set with 269 strikeouts in 2009.
Verlander’s moment arrived at the top of the first inning on a seven-pitch called strikeout against the Angels’ Kole Calhoun. Cole worked a 2-2 count, then fouled off a pair of 95-MPH fastballs before missing the seventh and final pitch at the top of the strike zone.
Jose Fernandez battled twice as long in the next at-bat, albeit with far more disastrous results. His 14-pitch duel against the Astros’ righty ended when he caught a fastball on his hand and was forced to come out of the game.
After expending a total of 27 pitches in the first inning, however, Verlander returned in the second to strike out the side, then logged another pair of strikeouts in the third. With six strikeouts through three innings, he boosted his season strikeout total to 275 — just a hair above fellow Houston righty Gerrit Cole (and all other AL pitchers), who previously led the team with 272 whiffs on the year.