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A Pitcher's Duel Turned Laugher
It looked like another night of a non-existent offense would ruin Mike Minor's fantastic night, but a good break started the turn.
As last night’s game was humming along due to both Mike Minor and Frankie Montas absolutely shoving, I was trying to figure out how to write about another loss but with this one coming with a pitcher who absolutely deserved to win. Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary with the offense finally getting things going in the late innings. I know the pitcher win is an outdated statistic, but sometimes a guy is so good on the mound that they absolutely deserve that W.
That was Mike Minor last night. The box score doesn’t always tell the story, but last night it did. Minor went seven, gave up three hits, struck out eight and walked just one. I could leave it at that and you would know how good he was, but he was even better than that. Maybe it’s just the lack of quality pitching lately, but I’m going to really heap some serious praise on Minor from last night.
Let’s start with the swings and misses. Coming into the game last night, the A’s swinging strike rate was 10.8 percent, which was the fourth lowest total in baseball (since you’re surely wondering, the Royals swinging strike rate is eighth highest in baseball). All Minor did was get 19 swings and misses last night, which was the second most of any pitcher in baseball last night behind Dallas Keuchel. His 19 swinging strikes in 106 pitches meant the A’s swinging strike percentage was 17.9 percent.
Out of 106 pitches, Minor got 53 swings, so the whiff rate was 36 percent. Friends, that’s very good, and the fastball was really working. He got 12 whiffs on 30 swings for a 40 percent rate, which is a lot higher than his season total of 20.6 percent. He did it while averaging a touch under 90 MPH. What’s kind of crazy to me is that his spin rate was actually a touch down, but it was just one of those nights for him.
That’s where he wants to live and while it’s counterintuitive to some archaic thinking about where pitches should be, it clearly works and worked against a solid offense in the A’s. He made one mistake on a knuckle curve to Jed Lowrie that he probably wanted to get in an extra four to six inches, but even that wasn’t a terrible pitch.
While he was getting all those swings and misses, I think I was most impressed with his seventh inning, which I’ll admit to being totally against him out there once the Royals took the lead in the top half of the inning. With Matt Olson leading off, I could sort of understand maybe using Minor as a lefty specialist and he went a direction with him that I don’t think Olson was expecting.
He basically worked Olson’s eye level from top to bottom and didn’t throw him a single fastball, a pitch he threw more than half the time last night. He stayed with that gameplan against Sean Murphy before he went back to the fastball and got Murphy to chase badly.
Then he ended his outing by taking advantage of Matt Chapman who is struggling badly.
That slider on the second pitch is a mistake that Chapman probably would have done some serious damage on a couple years ago, but he’s just not the same hitter he once was. And that was his outing. Of course, I’ve got some gifs for you because that fastball was legitimately popping.
But first, he got his first strikeout on a truly nasty slider to Chad Pinder:
Look at the spot on this fastball to Pinder in the fourth:
Or this fastball to Mark Canha in the sixth:
Okay, you get the point. Minor was legitimately dominant and has now been really quite good for awhile.
But again, without the offense, this newsletter would have a drastically different tone. Carlos Santana singled in the first and Kelvin Gutierrez singled in the second. Neither reached second base. They went 1-2-3 in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth. Montas was so good that I don’t think any offense would have been able to do anything against him in those first six innings, but especially not an offense struggling as bad as the Royals were.
But then to start the seventh, Andrew Benintendi, who had looked awful, lined a single to center field. After a Salvador Perez strikeout, Jorge Soler stepped to the plate and did what he apparently does best and that’s make contact with the catcher’s mitt to reach first on catcher interference. And then came the break the Royals needed and hadn’t gotten in almost a week.
You don’t often see Chapman get eaten up by a ground ball, but he absolutely was. Dozier hit the ball hard at 101 MPH, but that’s a play Chapman probably makes 99 times out of 100. But this was the one time and it gave the Royals their first run and tied the game. Of course, they hadn’t led since the middle innings on Saturday and Gutierrez came to the plate and took a slider for a ball before taking a 95.5 MPH sinker and swinging through one at 95. Both were at the bottom of the zone.
Montas had that pitch working all night. He had a CSW% (called strikes and whiffs) of 42 percent on that pitch. I have no idea why he went away from it, but he did and he threw Gutierrez a slider that was maybe a touch below the zone but that spot was called all night. And with the infield in, Gutierrez hit one at 69.2 MPH that took approximately 371 hops to get through the infield, but it scored two to give the Royals the lead.
With the weight of the last five games seemingly off their shoulders, they were able to get it going against Jesus Luzardo, who had really shown some signs of dominance as a reliever. With two outs, Benintendi came to the plate and turned a 97 MPH fastball around for his first home run against a lefty since September of 2019.
Salvador Perez followed by shooting a double to right-center field, bringing up Jorge Soler. On a 2-0 pitch, he did this:
Just look how happy he was.
And just like that, the Royals had scored six runs in two innings after they scored five in three games against the Angels. This thing turned FAST.
It really is amazing what one break can do for an offense. Maybe it doesn’t carry over to tomorrow, but it felt like there was a tightness in every single at bat until Chapman missed that ground ball and then Gutierrez rolled that ball up the middle. You could almost feel the tide turn two timezones away. Baseball is a funny sport and now the Royals are 6-5 over their last 11 games.