Congratulations, Collin Balester. A lot of guys never even get to The Show, much less start their big league careers with 4 innings of no-hit ball and a win over the second-best offensive club in the NL. A special night for the kid, and if you didn't enjoy it, then you might wanna check your pulse.
We were told to expect a 4th starter, and for four innings, he looked even better than that, like Bowden might have inherited a real gem. Fans were chatting about a no-hit debut with visions of Buchholz dancing in their heads. In the end, 5 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 3 Ks, 3 BB, and he hit Josh Willingham (which is ok with me).
But no, what I saw was basically a 4th or 5th starter who was dancing on the knife's edge for most of the game and escaped.
He's 6'5", and true to the profile he had trouble repeating his delivery. He's not Tyler Clippard falling off of the mound who knows where with each pitch, but he's something less than smooth. In all he threw 94 pitches, just 54 for strikes.
He threw a ton of fastballs (79% by my count, which is a really high number). Seemed like LoDuca was afraid to call the curve after he missed three times and hit Willingham with it in the first, and he hardly called the change at all.
The fastball ranged from 90-93, maybe hitting 95 once or twice according to Gameday. What worked was that he was busting guys inside effectively and getting what looked to me like a pretty generous outside corner. The called strike 2 vs. Jacobs in the 4th, strike 2 against Cantu in the 5th, strike 2 on Hermida in the 3rd--all very close pitches, probably not really strikes, and getting the call changed those ABs.
But then of course in the 5th he lost it completely. You really don't expect it to end well when you walk the bases loaded, including walking the opposing pitcher on four pitches with Hanley "Manny Fears Me" Ramirez on deck. I could add that said pitcher was Mark Hendrickson, who at 6'9" has just about the biggest strike zone in baseball, and that he was trying to sac bunt, but you already got the point. Kid lost the strike zone big time.
But then he came right back with a first-pitch curveball for a strike to Hanley with the bases loaded. Great, ballsy pitch. He did that to Willingham in the 4th, too, but he'll need to be able to get that pitch more consistently if he's going to make it.
He eventually jammed Hanley well enough to give up just a sac fly, but then he walked Hermida to load the bases and only got out of it when Jorge CanNot (.184 in his last 18 games) popped up a pitch that looked awfully hittable to me. Hate to say it, but he was lucky.
Bottom line is that the margin of error for a pitcher like this is very small. He's not going to last by just nibbling the corners with a 92-mph fastball. If he gets squeezed or misses a little out of the strike zone (or worse, over the plate), he's going to get hit hard. And if he keeps walking guys, those mistakes are going to be 2 and 3-run homers. He needs to be able to pitch backwards, get strikes with the curve, mix in the change, and spot the fastball. Not an easy way to make a living, but if he's your worst starter, it could work.
And hey! Thanks to Ronnie Belliard, Ballester got the win, so he gets to stay! (You didn't think I wouldn't work in one more gratuitous shot at JimBo, did you?).