Pitching Report: Sonny Gray emerges as one of the stars of Opening Day
The Pitching Report is back for the 2015 season. Every Monday (...going forward) we’ll take stock of the current pitching landscape. With every team having played exactly one game, the landscape is much the same as it was when we were all drafting teams as recently as a few days ago. Given that all of 30 starting pitchers have outings under their belt this season, we’ll scale back on the usual Pitching Report, saving our first Buy, Sell or Hold of the season until next week. The typical Pitching Report will also rank all of the week’s two-start pitchers, and highlight anyone with a particularly favorable matchup, or matchups, over the following seven days.
Think of this week’s Pitching Report as a neat little bow on Opening Day.
Pitchers of the Week
David Price, Tigers: 8 2/3 IP, 1 W, 5 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.58 WHIP
Price, the new face of the Detroit rotation, absolutely shut down the Twins, limiting them to just five hits in 8 2/3 innings while nearly achieving a Maddux (complete game shutout with fewer than 100 pitches) on Opening Day. Price had everything working for him against the Twins, as he retired the first 14 batters he faced. Kurt Suzuki and Jordan Schafer led off the sixth with consecutive singles, but Price then fanned Danny Santana and got Brian Dozier to hit into a 6-4-3 double play. Those were the Twins’ only two plate appearances against Price with a runner in scoring position.
Johnny Cueto, Reds: 7 IP, 10 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.71 WHIP
Cueto picked up in 2015 right where he left off in 2014. The righty shut down the Pirates, whiffing 10 batters and allowing just four hits and one walk in seven innings. The Pirates managed to get someone on base in five of the seven innings that Cueto was on the mound, but only once did they get a runner into scoring position, and even that was on a two-out double by Josh Harrison. Cueto was in control of the game from the moment he took the ball until the moment his day was done. He left the game with a 2-0 lead, but Kevin Gregg surrendered a two-run homer to Andrew McCutchen, saddling the starter with a no-decision (win-loss sure is a cool stat for pitchers, huh guys?).
Sonny Gray, A’s: 8 IP, 1 W, 3 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.25 WHIP
Perhaps the best pitching performance of the day was saved for last. Just a few hours earlier, Corey Kluber flirted with a no-hitter, getting through five innings before giving up a hit. Gray did him a few better, going seven frames without allowing a Ranger to reach base via a hit. He retired the first eight batters he faced, hit Rougned Odor, and then retired another 13 in a row, with a Ben Zobrist error thrown into the mix. Gray’s bid for a no-no was broken up by a Ryan Rua leadoff single in the eighth, but by then the game was well in hand. All told, Gray fired eight shutout innings, allowing one run, one walk and one hit batsman. It was an auspicious start to the season for a pitcher many have labeled a bust candidate, myself included.
Pitchers of the Weak
Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees: 4 IP, 6 K, 9.00 ERA, 1.75 WHIP
Tanaka’s first official start since coming back from an elbow injury actually kicked off with a bang. He sent down the first five hitters he faced, struck out Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and made it through the first two innings allowing just an infield single to Dioner Navarro. From there, the wheels fell off. He allowed a leadoff single to Kevin Pillar in the third, and followed that up by walking Devon Travis. Reyes then laid down a sacrifice bunt, which Chase Headley promptly threw away. Russell Martin followed with a two-run single, and after Bautista flied out, Encarnacion belted his first home run of the year. Tanaka would close that inning and get through one more without giving up another tally, but the damage was already done.
Cole Hamels, Phillies: 5 IP, 6 K, 7.20 ERA, 1.60 WHIP
In a twisted way, Hamels’ performance on Monday may end up feeling like a success. If the Phillies and Red Sox ever get together on a trade that feels too obvious not to happen, Hamels will likely look back on this start and being happy that he got knocked around by Dustin Pedroia and company. The second baseman led the charge, hitting two of Boston’s five homers in the 8-0 win. Hamels surrendered the first four, with Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez also taking him deep. When Hamels kept the ball in the park, he looked fine, but allowing homers has a way of making BABIP irrelevant. He’ll get a chance to redeem himself in the opening week of the season when the Phillies host the Nationals over the weekend.
Jeff Samardzija, White Sox: 6 IP, 1 K, 7.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP
With Chris Sale’s first start of the season pushed back a week due to a broken foot suffered in the off-season, Samardzija became just the second person to make Opening Day starts for the Cubs, and then the White Sox, in consecutive seasons (the first was Jaime Navarro in 1996 and 1997). It did not go well for him, however, as he allowed one run in the second, two more in the third, another in the fifth, and one of the five that the Royals scored in the seventh inning to put the game away. He also caused some fireworks when he hit Lorenzo Cain immediately after surrendering a homer to Mike Moustakas. When Samardzija’s splitter isn’t biting, as was the case on Monday, he tends to leave balls up in the zone. That’s exactly what led to his lackluster debut with the White Sox.
Prospect to watch
Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks
Until just about a week ago, conventional wisdom held that Bradley would start the year either in the Arizona bullpen, or in the rotation at Triple-A Reno, with an eye on joining the team at some point during the year. He avoided both of those fates, however, riding a strong spring to the fifth spot in the Diamondbacks’ rotation. The trade of Trevor Cahill to Atlanta aided Bradley’s efforts, but he didn’t just end up as one of the team’s starters by default. He surrendered just four runs on 20 hits in 22 1/3 innings this spring, striking out 14 batters while walking just six.
The elbow injury he suffered last year is a distant memory, but understand that it essentially cost him the entire season. He missed two months, and looked uncomfortable when he was back on the mound, struggling with control issues evidenced by the 5.3 free passes he issued for every nine innings. Even with that season on the back of his card, he was a consensus top-25 prospect this year, reaching an upper bound of No. 11 on Baseball Prospectus. We talked him up as a pitcher to target late in drafts last week, days before he was officially named the fifth starter. If he’s still out there in your league, you’ll want to scoop him up if you have the roster space. He’s expected to make his first start Saturday, facing the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw. No pressure.
GIF of the week
Felix Hernandez really deserved to be recognized as one of the best pitchers of Opening Day, after he held the Angels to one run, while fanning 10 of them, in seven innings. He may not have earned that distinction at the top of the column, but we reserved the first GIF of the week for the way he treated Mike Trout in their final two matchups of the day. To be fair, Trout tagged Hernandez for a homer in the first inning, but the King got the better of the MVP his next two trips to the plate. Below are the final pitches in each of those at-bats.