Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I Hate Rookie Pitchers

Remember Wandy Rodriguez? Remember Ervin "Magic" Santana? Remember how spittle formed at the corner of our mouths in anticipation of lighting the rooks up? Remember how, instead, we foamed at the mouth because of the incompetence of our bats as said rookie pitchers shut us down? Unfortunately, I do too. And last night's game was a page out of last July's playbook.

Elizardo Ramirez, who must really hate his parents, threw strike after strike, fooling the helpless Nat bats, as they were apparently looking for pitches in the dirt to swing at. Elizardo (File Photo) threw 94 pitches with over 2/3 of them going for strikes. I think he only went to a 3-ball count on two batters, walking just one. Elizardo (seen here warming in the pen) had an ERA near 7 at Triple-A [I'm a half-literate monkey. That's his Major League ERA. He's been quite good in the minors] , and still the Nats bats were unable to do anything. Depressing.

Zimmerman stunk, again, leaving five runners on, and failing to come through in his critical eighth-inning AB. Jose Guillen had an RBI single in the sixth, but when the pressure was truly on in the eighth, he grounded out weakly. (With him, it's either a flyball to right-center or a groundball to the left side) Brian Schneider's corpse didn't sputter to life and there's a good chance he gets the night off with the Reds throwing a lefty. Church took an ohfer. Clayton hit a double, but still looked bad in his other bats. When things aren't clicking, it's damn ugly.

But the Lame Duck goes to the portly pitcher, the stout soft-tosser, the King of corpulence, Livan Hernandez. (file photo) For the 25th straight game, he got bombed in the first inning as the Reds played pepper with the grass. Livan could've been out of it early had the umpire correctly called a tailing fastball that caught the corner of the plate a strike, but the ump didn't. And Livan has almost no margin for error.

Tom Boswell (file photo) has an insightful column (who knew?) that gets to the heart of the Livan problem.
after offseason knee surgery, Hernandez finds himself in a quandary. He no longer has pain, but now, because he's been careful not to injure himself again, he's not in normal regular season condition.

"Last year I was running all spring and I won 12 games [by the all-star break]. I won 11 games in a row. This year, I have been riding the bike. Bike, bike, bike. But no running yet. I think now it is time to start again," he said. "I ran hard for the first time in Philadelphia [on a double] and nothing [bad] happened. It's time to see if it is 100 percent okay and do my regular routine again."

That total conditioning routine is essential not so much because Hernandez is rotund, but because he is a classic low-body pitcher who needs drive from his huge thighs to get his fastball to 90 mph. This year, he hasn't topped 86. "He's not there yet," catcher Brian Schneider said. "He relies on location so much that the days he doesn't have his [perfect] control he's going to get hit harder than most guys."

That makes perfect sense. I've said before that he's not really driving from the mound, and that pitching-wise, he seems to be treating his knee as if it were still last year. At least he seems to realize that he needs to challenge himself further, and to take the next step.

Velocity by itself isn't that important. Jamey Moyer has pitched for eons without breaking 82. Greg Maddux probably barely reaches 87. But what is important is a variance in pitch speeds. And that's been missing from Livan's game. There's very little difference between his fastball and his slider, meaning that the batter's timing isn't being upset by the pitch. Although he occasionally throws a changeup, his primary off-speed pitch is his big looping curveball. He doesn't have great command of the pitch, and it's slow enough and lacks a hard bite, so that batters frequently have time to adjust to it, or they just let it fall harmlessly out of the strikezone. As a result, they're teeing off on his fastball, and the hanging sliders (of which there are many) he throws. It hasn't been pretty, but he's shown that when he bears down, he can perform.

The Nats start Billy Traber tonight against Dave Williams (stats). Williams ain't much of a pitcher, but the way the Nats bats have gone the last two games, you don't need to be much of one to beat them.

This is going to be a good test for Traber. Cinci's biggest bat is left-handed, but there's a lot of right-handed power in that lineup. Plus, they're generally a very patient team. He's going to have to have command of the outside corner, and keep the ball down. If he leaves it up and over the plate, they have enough power to knock him off the mound (or walk him off it!) Either way, it's a tough matchup for him.

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