Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Is Livan Back?

With today's 7-inning, 2-run performance, former enigma Livan Hernandez appears to have turned a corner. He's now had four straight outings giving up three earned or less.
           IP H  ER BB K  HR
5/31 PHI 7 5 2 2 3 2
5/26 LAD 7 6 3 0 5 0
5/21 BAL 7 6 1 4 4 0
5/16 CHI 7 8 2 3 1 0
He's still not overpowering batters; he's not K-ing many, and he still looks like he's pitching around certain batters.

The main difference, I'd guess, is in his line drive rate. Today's game was against a home run hitting team in a home run hitting park. But other than that, he doesn't seem like he's thrown as many hanging sliders as he had earlier in the season. In fact, going back to his 4/19 start against these same Phillies, he had allowed just two homers before today's start. Batters are still hitting .300 off him, but it was way higher than that just a few weeks ago.

I've only seen him a few times, but it doesn't seem like his velocity is any higher. He just seems like he's found touch on his pitches. He really wasn't getting much variation on his pitches, and was constantly looping his slider in there, finding the fat part of the bat. What's changed? Is he just throwing better pitches? Did he have some arm soreness before that was preventing him from getting the proper torque on his breaking pitches? Regardless, he's succeeding, and that's a good thing, even if we're still not going to contend.

  • Livan wasn't the only pitching story of the game. Mike Stanton was the unsung pitching hero of the day, slicing through the heart of the Phillies own Murderer's Row. With a slim one-run lead, Mike Stanton worked a perfect eighth, striking out all three batters: Chase Utley (.322/ .398/ .538), Bobby Abreu (.280/ .455/ .522), and Ryan Howard (.299/ .354/ .614).

    When Stanton sticks to left-handed batters, he's got his uses. It's when Frank sees performances like today's and asks him to do things that he's not really capable of doing that the team gets into problems.

    But for today, his curve was working; it seemed to have a bigger bite than usual. And when his curve is on, his fastball, which isn't quite what it was, is good enough to get by major league hitters. When the curve isn't working, that's when he gets pounded.

  • But the Majority Whip goes to the one Nat who seems to come to play offensively every day, Alfonso Soriano. He drove in all three runs, and every one of them was critical. Watch him punish this non-hanging curve, turning on it and hitting it hard to left.

    It seemed like, before I went on my sojurn, that Soriano, even more than before, has been taking all-or-nothing cuts at pitches, trying to turn and drive most everything early in the count. When he gets two strikes, it seems, (and this is just based on a handful of games worth of observation) that he gets much more patient, especially as pitchers nibble away with mediocre breaking stuff away, hoping he'll fish.

    He's hitting with as much power as he ever has in his career, because of this approach, but also showing as much patience as he ever has, too.

    Warning: Unanswered questions ahead: Is this because of a conscious effort to screw it and go for raw power numbers and counting stats in a contract year? Is this part of a philosophy imparted to him by Mitchell Page -- the approach is exactly what he preached while with the Cardinals?

    Regardless of motive, Soriano's a fun player to watch. He's always played with an energy, which is hard to describe. It's in a similar vein to the way that certain people seem to light up a room with their charisma, turning heads everywhere. You can definitely see why scouts (and that's what Bowden is at his heart) drool at the guy. He's got the good face.