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D’backs 11, Pirates 1: Victory With A Price

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Somebody let the injury bug cause havoc throughout the Diamondbacks organization today.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A few miscellaneous notes and thoughts before we begin recapping today’s game:

  • It’s strange walking into Chase Field a quarter of the way through the season and not seeing huge patches of dead grass. The artificial turf was a terrific decision, and because they don’t need to keep the roof open before the game for sunlight the inside temperature is comfortable walking in.
  • $80-100 for a D’backs branded polo in the team store? No thanks. I’ll just drop a few more bucks to get a jersey.
  • I hope Portillo’s remains at Chase Field until the end of time.
  • Is it mandatory for Pirates fans who wear those old school hats to actually look like a pirate? I couldn’t count on one hand how many I saw today.
  • I’d bet that Cole Tucker has sold the most Pirates jerseys this season, and they were all purchased by Arizona residents.
  • The Tremble Clefs, a senior choir group with members who combat their Parkinson’s by singing, sung the National Anthem before the game and did a phenomenal job.
  • 101 year old D’backs fan Dorothy threw out the first pitch together with the Mesa fire department. She was recently on an episode of LivePD when first responders assisted her in her home after she activated her LifeAlert. Her only ask was to be put back in her chair so she could continue watching the game. I can’t say I’ll be any different when I reach her age!
  • It cost me more to park today than it did to actually attend the game. I only paid $10 to park right next to the stadium. That’s a win in my book.

The Game

Chris Archer made his first start today since April 26th coming off of the 10 day injured list for the Pittsburgh Pirates. His opponent on the mound was Zack Greinke, and for a game that was billed to be a pitcher’s duel it was largely one sided. Archer’s command was downright horrendous in the first inning. Chris walked three of the first four batters he faced, Jarrod Dyson, Eduardo Escobar, and Adam Jones. Jones and Dyson each walked on four pitches, so it was obvious that Archer’s stuff was not there early. Arizona made him pay for those three walks scoring three runs in the first inning. Ketel Marte singled home Dyson on a base hit to center. Christian Walker hit a grounder to third which should have resulted in a double play, but Colin Moran misplayed it allowing Escobar to score and keep the bases loaded. Nick Ahmed brought in the final D’backs run of the inning with a sacrifice fly to right field, and before you knew it Arizona had a 3-0 lead.

Archer settled down after the Ahmed sac fly retiring the next nine batters faced in order, striking out five of them including four in a row, but the wheels came completely off with two outs in the bottom of the fourth. After setting down Walker and Ahmed on only six pitches in that inning, the line against Archer went as follows: double, four pitch walk + wild pitch (to Zack Greinke!), stolen base (by Zack Greinke! and this is key), two run single, stolen base, two run home run. That series of events gave Arizona a 7-0 lead and chased Archer from the game. We can’t just stroll by the Greinke stolen base without discussion because it was a key moment in the inning other than our pitcher successfully taking another bag. Because Greinke took the extra 90 feet, he was able to score on Dyson’s single rather than stop at third base. Greinke took a bit of a stutter step about a quarter of the way to second, possibly in attempt to draw the throw from Francisco Cervelli to allow JRM to score. Once Zack saw that the Pirates weren’t going to fall for it, he just kept on motoring. It worked beautifully.

For as awful as the Pirates were on the mound today, Zack Greinke was on an entirely different planet at the rubber. He wasn’t dominating with strikeouts, but his years of experience really shined through today. Greinke was generating weak contact, stranding runners in scoring position, inducing double plays, and messing with release points. Here is a sequence against Pirates slugger Josh Bell from today:

Bell still had two hits against Greinke today, that’s 50% of the Pirates hits against him in this game if you’re keeping track at home, but what we see is remarkable nonetheless. That image above is Bell’s at bat against Greinke in the 4th. Greinke threw two fastballs, two changeups, a slider, an eephus, and the kitchen sink, but that’s not what is relevant here. Look at the different release points on the pitches. Not a single one of the pitches had the same release point. You’re probably thinking, “Ok, but why do I care?”

Much emphasis has been placed on “pitch tunneling” in recent years. I’m not going to go into tremendous detail on this subject in a game recap to avoid a rabbit hole, but essentially pitchers are attempting to make two or more pitches look the same up until the hitter’s decision point to swing. A hitter would be thinking to himself, “That looks like a fastball. I think it’s a fastball. I’m going to crush this fastball!” ... Surprise! It was a slider you just swung through for strike three. It’s what makes hitting an MLB pitcher so hard, but Greinke just laughed in the face of that wisdom in this sequence. He threw from multiple angles, including sidearm, with four different pitches. As difficult as it is for a batter to hit two or more pitches thrown from the same release point with different movement, imagine how hard it is to hit four different pitches with different movement from different release points. It’s something we don’t talk about or consider enough. How does a hitter know what Greinke is coming with at any time? Unfortunately, Josh Bell is tremendous at the plate this season and still got Greinke twice, but this is how Greinke continues to succeed at an advanced age with decreasing velocity.

Let’s get back on track here. Greinke very nearly could have thrown a complete game shutout today, and it would have been the first for an Arizona starter this season. Zack was only at 95 pitches through two outs in the eighth inning in the midst of a 2-2 count to Pirates reliever Chris Stratton, but then he called for Torey Lovullo and the training staff to the mound. Never a good sign. Greinke was pulled from the game in the middle of that at bat with discomfort in his abdomen and will have an MRI to confirm the severity of the injury. Hopefully it’s nothing serious, because he has been dominant outside of the terrible Opening Day start in Los Angeles. Greinke’s ERA now stands at 2.78 after today. Yoshihisa Hirano came on in relief to complete the strikeout on one pitch. Shouldn’t two thirds of the strikeout be credited to Greinke? Kidding.

Even though this game was getting out of reach for Pittsburgh by the fourth, Arizona added four more runs to their total before the conclusion. Adam Jones smoked the first pitch from Chris Stratton in the bottom of the fifth into the D’backs bullpen for a solo home run. In the bottom of the eighth, Escobar doubled home Dyson. Blake Swihart, who had pinch hit for David Peralta due to injury earlier in the game, followed that with an inside the park home run giving Arizona their tenth and eleventh runs of the game. Peralta left the game in the seventh with tightness felt in his right trapezius, but Lovullo commented postgame that it should not be serious.

Arizona’s bullpen was unable to finish off the combined shutout in the final three outs. Andrew Chafin gave up a single to Adam Frazier and a walk to Gregory Polanco. He nearly got Starling Marte to ground into a double play, but had to settle for the force out at second instead. Chafin was lifted in favor of Yoan Lopez with two outs after striking out Josh Bell. Pittsburgh’s only run came on an RBI single from Melky Cabrera, but that would be all they could manage in the series defeat.

05/15/19, D’backs 11 vs. Pirates 1
FanGraphs

Hopefully he is ok: Zack Greinke +19.7% WPA, 7.2 innings pitched, 0 earned runs, stolen base

We need this guy healthy in order to succeed too: David Peralta -6.3% WPA, 0-for-3

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No red comments. I’m disappointed! Let us pray that Zack Greinke and David Peralta will be just fine. No game tomorrow. Friday begins a stretch of thirteen games in a row against National League West opponents including the D’backs first games against San Francisco this season. Time to feast!