Upon watching the first game of this regular season between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals at the ever-stunning Wrigley Field, John Kruk, on ESPN, pointed out that the reason Adam Wainwright was so good that night was because all of his stuff fooled batters; made them swing at pitches out of the strike zone. Now, of course this is the case, not too many guys can get lucky on wild swings at pitches with their arms fully extended or when their knuckles are jarred up.
For Brandon McCarthy of the Dodgers though this was not the case for him in the opening game against the Mariners at Dodger Stadium on Monday.
McCarthy’s line of 7IP, 6H, 5ER and 10K’s can be taken in a number of ways. Firstly, the K’s, he struck out 10, that is a good effort on a number of levels. But the reason he struck out all those Mariners was because of his ability to drop the ball out of the zone with his sinker, which accounted for 8 of his strikeouts.
Of course what you next look at is the 6 hits, along with the 5 earned runs. This is because he conceded 4 home runs. Yes, four, and in doing so became the first pitcher ever with that many homeruns, strikeouts and still managed to walk none.
Walking none, now that isn’t a bad feat either.
The point I am getting to here is that McCarthy is good, he is very good and worthy of his job on the LA roster, though it mightn’t be obvious with that line or his 4.05ERA last year. In fact Brandon should have got the win on Monday, had he had thrown his 4 home run at bats differently.
Right from the first at bat of the game we can see that throwing it out of the zone works, throwing it in side and fat does not. This is the game day pitch recording from the first at bat against Dustin Ackley. Pitch 1 is a sinker down and in that missed the zone… this is okay. Pitch 2 however, is a sinker that is a swinging strike. The best bit about this pitch is that it misses the zone, makes the batter swing at a ball and gets nothing from it. Then the next pitch, a curveball is middle away that Ackley doesn’t get a hit on but does his pretty sweetly to Howie Kendrick for the first out.
McCarthy v Ackley, Top 1, 0 Out, GO 4-3
Skip ahead now to when he has two outs and needs to get out of the inning, Robinson Cano is up. This is the worst at bat of his day in my opinion and was lucky only to be taxed with a single. In this at bat Brandon threw 3 sinkers for 2 strikes and a hit. This is terrible pitching, all 3 are in the zone with number 3, the one Cano hit, sitting up and allowing to be punished.
McCarthy v Cano, Top 1, 2 Out, Single to Left
This is now when McCarthy loses his confidence, on the next at bat he again places a sinker smack bang in the middle after already missing his first one way down and away and locating a curveball on the previous pitch in the same spot. Good batters tattoo these, which is good and it is what needed to happen.
However, McCarthy isn’t stupid and he knows he stuffed up, this isn’t him thinking that because of the 2 strikes on him a strikeout is present, he just missed his spot as seen by Grandal setting up outside for that home run pitch, and again the Cano single pitch but he just missed.
Of course missing your spots is what makes a bad pitcher but this is where you see he isn’t bad, in fact he is quite good. The right-hander missed his spots, it’s obvious but the way he bounces back after he did and settles down into a great game is quite remarkable. Most guys after giving up two two-out base hits for two runs will be defeated and annoyed. Brandon however sits down with Grandal and talks about it, in fact the cameras pick them up sitting and showing hand gestures about what the ball did instead of what it should have done.
Then, for the next 2 innings, Brandon is lights out. 6 up, 6 down, 3 strikeouts. For those 3 K’s he throws 12 pitches and one of them would have been a called strike.
McCarthy v Miller, Top 2, 2 Out, K
McCarthy v Paxton, Top 3, 0 Out, K
McCarthy v Ackley, Top 3, 1 Out, K
For these two innings, these 3 at bats in particular, Brandon is doing what he should be doing all the time. Even though the last one took 5 pitches it got the out in the end. If he could only go 6 innings and face 20odd batters, each with 5 pitches per AB, then that is a solid outing and I would take that any day over centering balls just for the sakes of strikes.
Then it went wayward again, facing the 2, 3 and 4 hitters in the 4th, Cruz and Seager (brother of LA prospect Corey) hit solo shots to extend the lead to 5. Right from the top of the fourth, in the out to Cano, something was different; he was centering that sinker again. Look at these at bats as opposed to the three strikeouts before; it is clear that they are badly placed. I don’t need to tell you that centering the sinker like that will end up badly, Brandon saw that himself
McCarthy v Cruz, Top 4, 1 Out, HR
McCarthy v Seager, Top 4, 1 Out, HR
But then, like a switch has been flicked, McCarthy sits down the next 2 via the old strikeout with 0 of the pitches being placed in the zone.
Everything seemed to be sorted after that for Brandon, only one more homerun to Ackley and again this was off a curveball that hung, something different for McCarthy to think about.
2 more innings of perfect ball, his pitch count was up to 98 and Brandon McCarthy was out of there.
I am not sure whether the centering sinkers are a problem of fitness or in his head or just the ball not going where he wants them to because he isn’t that good for 21 perfect outs but Brandon has stuff to be a solid pitcher, I just don’t think he has ever worked on it for very long to get it perfected. Now, at 31 it might be a little late to get the amazing status as the starter but he can help the Dodgers go a long way into 2015.