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The Strike Zone

Five Cuts: The good and bad of instant replay; Sabathia's struggles; two key injuries

A successful Rangers replay challenge on a pickoff throw to second very likely changed the outcome of what turned out to be an eventual Texas win over the Phillies. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images) A successful Rangers replay challenge on a pickoff throw to second very likely changed the outcome of what was an eventual Texas win. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Rangers win on walkoff after successful challenge

The challenge came with one out in the top of the sixth inning with the Phillies in the middle of a rally that had given them a 1-0 lead over Texas. Ben Revere was on second base. Jimmy Rollins, who had singled home that first run, was on first. With a 1-1 count on Marlon Byrd, Rangers starter Martin Perez turned and fired a pickoff throw to second. Second base umpire Cory Blaser called Revere safe, but the replay showed that Perez's perfect throw to second allowed second baseman Donnie Murphy to catch the ball and tag Revere in the same instant, a moment before Revere got his right hand back to the bag. Rangers manager Ron Washington appealed, and after two minutes and 18 seconds the call on the field was overturned.

Getting the call right erased a runner in scoring position, one that might have scored on Byrd's subsequent single and definitely would have scored on Ryan Howard's subsequent double, which plated Rollins with the second run. It also gave the Rangers the second out of the inning, which helped them end the Phillies' rally before Byrd or Howard were able to score, as both were stranded in scoring position when Carlos Ruiz grounded out to end the inning.

That very likely changed the outcome of the game. The Rangers scored one in the bottom of the sixth, plating an Alex Rios leadoff double, and one in the bottom of the seventh, with Adrian Beltre doubling home Shin-Soo Choo, to tie the game. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, Choo walked and was bunted to second. After a walk to Prince Fielder, Beltre came through again with a walkoff single to give the Rangers a 3-2 win, one they earned entirely on their own merit, but may not have had if instant replay hadn't helped the umpires get that crucial call right.

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Giants lose after being unable to challenge blown call at home

If the Rangers' 3-2 win was an example of the new replay system's considerable upside, the Giants' 5-4 loss later Tuesday night was an example of the challenge system's considerable shortcomings. With two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning of the later game, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy challenged a safe call by umpire Chris Guccione on a pickoff attempt at first base, believing that Diamondbacks runner A.J. Pollock was out on the play. The umpires found the replay inconclusive, which it was, the call on the field stood, and the inning continued with Gerardo Parra doubling Pollock to third on the very next pitch.

Two pitches later, Giants starter Matt Cain crossed up his catcher, Buster Posey, resulting in a passed ball that sent Pollock scampering home. Posey got to the ball and made a sliding flip to Cain covering the plate. Cain, sprawling out in the dirt, got his glove down in between Pollock's lead foot and the plate, but home plate umpire Eric Cooper called Pollock safe again. This time, the replay was indisputable: Pollock should have been out. However, because Bochy had already used up his one challenge on the pickoff play (managers can only challenge a second time if they win the first challenge), the play was not reviewed and the safe call was allowed to stand. The Diamondbacks went on to win the game by just one run.

The challenge system clearly failed the Giants. That play at the plate should have been reviewed, whether at Bochy's request or the umpires'. It does make some degree of sense to punish the Giants for what proved to be a gratuitous challenge on the play at first, but what doesn't make sense is a system that doesn't allow a play as clearly incorrect as the one at home plate to be reviewed. Under the system in place, umpires can only initiate a review of a home run call prior to the seventh inning. That is what needs to change. Those at the Replay Command Center in New York were most likely able to see that the call at home was blown as soon as Cain started barking at Cooper. The umpire at the command center should have a means of signaling to the game umpires that a play should be reviewed. Second to that, the umpires on the field should be able to request a replay at any time, something that would have been appropriate given Cain's reaction. As new as this system is, instant replay has thus far proven to be a speedy and effective way of getting the calls on the field right. Its only apparent weakness thus far is the method of triggering them.

That's no surprise, as my batterymate Jay Jaffe wrote in August, before the current system was official, "the creation of an NFL-style system with its artificial limits on the number of calls that can be reviewed in a game appears to be a less-than-ideal solution. It shifts the burden of being correct away from umpires and onto managers while squandering the rich technological capacity to ensure the proper calls are made as often as possible — calls that can have multimillion dollar consequences. Bad call after you’ve exhausted your challenges? Tough luck." That is exactly what happened Tuesday night, and it may have cost the Giants the game.

Sabathia struggles again

The good news for the Yankees is that, over his final four innings of work Tuesday night, CC Sabathia allowed just two singles and a walk while striking out five and throwing just 49 pitches. The bad news is that, in the two innings prior to that, he gave up six runs on six hits, two of them home runs, while striking out just one and using up 50 pitches. On the game as a whole, his fastball averaged less than 91 miles per hour, comparable to his velocity last April, the slowest his fastball has ever been in his career.

Sabathia has a history of poor performances on Opening Day. In 2009, he allowed six runs in just 4 1/3 innings, compared to the full six innings he pitched Tuesday night, and this was the fourth time that he gave up two home runs on Opening Day, the last being 2012, when he allowed five runs in six innings. Last year, after Sabathia gave up four runs in five innings while walking four on Opening Day, we cited his poor track record on Opening Day and advised Yankee fans not to fret. Given his career-worst performance over the remainder of the season, one in which decreased velocity and an inflated home run rate were primary symptoms, we have no such advice this year.  It may not be time to panic just yet, but despite his weight loss, Sabathia looked far too much like the 2013 model in Houston on Tuesday night.

Brian Wilson's elbow sends him back to the disabled list

Two nights after the worst outing of his career handed the Dodgers their first loss of the season, Brian Wilson has landed on the disabled list with nerve irritation in his pitching elbow. The Dodgers have not said how long Wilson is expected to be out or if this current issue is in any way related to his April 2012 Tommy John surgery, but it's another big blow to the Dodgers pitching staff, which found out earlier on Tuesday that Clayton Kershaw will likely miss all of April due to his the strained muscle behind his left shoulder.

Lauded for its depth and collection of former closers, including Wilson, Chris Perez, J.P. lefty Howell, and, I suppose, Brandon League, the Dodgers bullpen has been shaky early this season. In the second game in Australia, the Dodgers' pen gave up five runs in the final two innings. Wilson imploded in Sunday night's domestic opener, and on Tuesday night, Kenley Jansen, who gave up a two-run home run to Mark Trumbo in Australia, loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth before getting the final out to preserve a 3-2 Dodgers win.

It's early, the team's schedule has been irregular, the pitchers responsible for the two worst performances thus far, Wilson and rookie Jose Dominguez, who was charged with three of the runs in Australia, are off the roster (Dominguez was optioned to Triple-A when the team returned to the U.S.), and the pen is indeed deep enough to survive without Wilson. Still, the team's end-game doesn't look nearly as intimidating as it did just a few nights ago.

Wilson Ramos to have hamate surgery, out 4-6 weeks

There was some confusion over whether or not National catcher Wilson Ramos broke his hand in Monday afternoon's opener against the Mets, with initial reports saying that he did but his x-rays later coming back negative. We now have clarity: Ramos broke the hamate bone in his left hand. As far as broken hand bones go, that's the one to have. Hamate breaks are common and the bone, which is inessential, can simply be removed. That's still a surgical procedure, one which will put Ramos on the shelf for a month to six weeks, but it's not one that will completely derail his season. For a recent example, look at the Giants' Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval broke his left hamate in April 2011 and his right hamate in May 2012. He missed 41 games the first time, 35 games the second time, made the All-Star game both years, and 2011 remains the best season of his career despite the time he missed. Ramos suffered his injury on a foul tip in the seventh inning on Monday. Jose Lobaton will be the team's primary catcher in his absence.

 

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