Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Scouting Report: Nationals at Giants (7/23)

Nationals at Giants: Wednesday, July 23 at 10:15 ET
I missed the mark with my predicted 5-2 Nationals victory last night. What happened? Bergmann really pitched ok. When more than 50% of your outs come on flyballs, a few will drift over the fence. Didn't think the Gentle Giants would be the team to do it, but Molina got two of those. Then, the lack of a first baseman cost Bergmann at least one run (Felipe's throwing error allowing Rich Aurilia to reach in front of Vizquel's RBI double) and maybe two (the Velez squibber to Guzman in the first). (Paging JimBo! We need a real 1B!! At least one! Call up Larry Broadway!! Or Luis Jimenez!! Or Bill Rhinehart!! Please!!) But Bergy's stuff was solid--curve and slider were working. Five hits and no walks in 5 innings should get you better than 5 runs.

At the plate we did pretty much exactly what I said we shouldn't do--swing at a ton of Zito's junk. He was all over the place all night, and time and again we bailed him out. When we actually got ahead, we hurt him (Kearns's double in the 4th, Flores's triple in the 2nd). But it we should have had much more. The worst offenders: Guzman, Belliard, and Lo Duca, especially his last 2 ABs against Zito (Krukow called his AB in the 6th a "gift from heaven"), but really everyone had to pitch in a little to Zito to 5-12.

Here's my take on Game 2, a game custom-made for lovers of young, right-handed back-end starters.

Pitching match-up

Kevin "Don't Call Me Chick" Correia: A 27-year-old righty, Kevin "Don't call me Hodgkin's" Correia got his first chance to start late last year and did pretty well, going 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA in 7 starts to finish the season. This season, not so much. He's 1-5 with a 5.81 ERA. The difference is pretty obvious. He mostly throws a fastball, slider, and a change. Last year, his fastball was hitting a 90-91 mph pitch, but now it's dropped to a 88-89 mph pitch, leaving very little space between his FB and his 82-83 mph change. That's just not going to fool major league hitters. I don't know where it's coming from, but he missed a month with an oblique strain on his non-throwing side, and he's really been terrible since he came back. Maybe they rushed him. But watch the radar gun, and if he's not topping 90, he's going to be very hittable. He also has a funny reverse split--righties are hitting him 70 points better than lefties.

Collin Balester: Balester has had one very good start and two ugly ones. Really though, he's pitched pretty similarly in all three. He has a 92-mph fastball that occasionally touches 95 and has good movement. He also throws a curve and this year added a change. If he has fastball command, working the corners and keep the ball down, and throw either his curve or change for strikes (both would be great, but he needs at least one), he's tough to beat. He has had a tendency to lose the strike zone for a few batters at a time, which fits the profile of a tall, gangly pitcher who has trouble repeating his motion. But his peripheral stats are all solid--groundball %, Ks, BBs--all the indicators that he's actually pitching well. The stat that's killing him is that he's only leaving 56% of his runner on. Think about that. How many pitchers could be successful if 44% of their runners scored. Yeah, pretty much no one. That's some bad luck, but also bad defense.

What I'll Be Looking For

Manny has to give Balester the best defense available. That means Langerhans-Harris-Kearns in the OF. Flores behind the plate. Since JimBo has completely handcuffed Manny by giving him no first-basemen whatsoever, what to do there? I'd like to see them give Kory Casto a shot over there. He doesn't look like a first baseman, but he's a very solid defensive third baseman. Belliard looked terrible last night. Lo Duca just IS terrible. Between the two of them they gave away at least 2, probably 3 outs last night. I guess we're fated to see Lo Duca, but we shouldn't. Balester needs the confidence boost. We need to make sure we don't instill bad habits by having him lose faith in his defense and start nibbling for strikeouts that he can't get. His development is more important than anything else happening oin the field tonight.

Forget what I said yesterday. Willie Harris looks great. I like this matchup as well. He's going to cool off, but let's enjoy it. He now has 6 homers on the year and is 3 back of team leader Ronnie Belliard.

Zimmerman didn't do anything special in his first game back, but he took a couple walks, hit the ball hard and had a base hit. On one of his outs, and made a very nice over-the-railing catch. I have a feeling Zimmerman is going to break out. But you still gotta watch closely for signs that the shoulder is still bothering him. The reports were that his left shoulder injury was still lingering and could affect his power. He certainly didn't look hesitant at all last night, so hopefully that's a good sign.

Guzman is 0 for 4 with a GDP since the contract.

Fearless Prediction
Balester and Kevin "Not Part of the Axis of Evil" Correia both pitch fairly well for 5-6 innings, and it becomes a battle of the bullpens. The Giants' bullpen is pretty mediocre, but this time they'll get the job done. Giants win, 6-4.

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