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The Strike Zone

Aces High: Five pitchers deliver brilliant starts on Wednesday

Johnny Cueto (Al Behrman/AP)Johnny Cueto threw the third shutout of his career in beating the Pirates on Wednesday. (Al Behrman/AP)

Between chilly early-season temperatures, getaway games and a doubleheader in the Bronx, Wednesday created conditions that elicited some great performances from starting pitchers. Here's a rundown the best of them — a quintet who combined to allow just one run in 41 innings while striking out 42 and walking just three. Wednesday's Yu Darvish-Felix Hernandez duel was covered in depth here.

PitcherTeamOppIPHRERBBSOGame Score
Johnny CuetoRedsPirates930001293
Masahiro TanakaYankeesCubs820011087
Julio TeheranBravesPhillies93000485
Cliff LeePhilliesBraves9111111373
Michael PinedaYankeesCubs64001366

Johnny Cueto, Reds vs. Pirates

The Reds' 28-year-old righty set the bar high during his team's 4-0 win in chilly Cincinnati — 44 degrees at first pitch — on Wednesday afternoon. Not only did he throw the seventh complete game and third shutout of his career, but his outing was just the second of each this season, with the second-best Game Score. Only Andrew Cashner's 94 Game Score via a one-hit, 11-strikeout shutout of the Tigers on Apr. 11 surpassed it. Additionally, Cueto was the first pitcher to throw a shutout with zero walks and double-digit strikeouts since Shelby Miller's one-hit, 13-K masterpiece against the Rockies last May 10. His 12 strikeouts set a career high, surpassing an 11-K outing against the Nationals on Aug. 28, 2011.

Cueto needed just 107 pitches to go the distance, using more than 12 in an inning only in the eighth, when he needed 14 — as many as he threw in the third and fourth innings combined. He threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 30 hitters he faced, six of whom immediately hit into outs, and he retired the last 13 hitters he faced, and 17 of the last 18. Via BrooksBaseball.net, he got 11 swings and misses, including five out of 16 pitches via his changeup and three out of 13 via his slider. Of the three hits he allowed, two were infield singles; the other was an Andrew McCutchen double, marking the only time all afternoon that the Pirates put a runner in scoring position. Here's the highlight reel of his day:

[mlbvideo id="32126337" width="600" height="336" /]

After a season in which he made just 11 starts due to a recurrent lat strain, Cueto has now gone at least seven innings in all four of his starts, something he did just once after May 31 last year. His 35 strikeouts and 30 innings both lead the NL, and his ERA is a sterling 1.50.

Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees vs. Cubs

Tuesday night's rainout created the need for a day-night doubleheader in the Bronx. The makeup game began with the thermometer at just 43 degrees, but the temperature didn't faze Tanaka, who looked worth every penny of the $175 million the Yankees spent on him. Granted, the Cubs — who came into the day 4-8 and tied for the NL's worst OPS+ at 76 — are no juggernaut, but he dominated them thoroughly. He threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of 27 hitters, kept his pitch count at 14 or lower in every inning but the second, when he needed 18, and generated 12 swings and misses from among the 27 split-fingered fastballs he threw (data again via BrooksBaseball.net). The splitter was his putaway pitch on seven of his 10 strikeouts, and the only two hits he allowed were bunt singles. Roll the tape:

[mlbvideo id="32126687" width="600" height="336" /]

Before yielding to Shawn Kelley for a scoreless ninth, Tanaka threw 107 pitches and generated 16 swings-and-misses, with the other four coming from among the 17 sliders he threw. His 10 strikeouts matched his total from his previous outing against the Orioles, and through three starts, he now has 28 strikeouts against just two walks in 22 innings. In notching his second double-digit strikeout game, he became the third pitcher to do so within his first three major league starts since 1993, joining Daisuke Matsuzaka (2007) and Stephen Strasburg (2010). Meanwhile, his 87 Game Score was the season's fourth-highest, behind the aforementioned Cashner and Cueto as well as Yu Darvish, who put up an 88 in his Apr. 11 no-hit bid against the Astros.

Julio Teheran, Braves vs. Phillies

Cliff Lee, Phillies vs. Braves

Wednesday night featured the best pitchers duel of the young season, a two-hour, 29 minute affair in which the two pitchers doubled the complete game total to date, with the 23-year-old Teheran notching his first career shutout. The game's lone run came when Evan Gattis homered off Lee to lead off the fourth inning. The dual complete games in a 1-0 contest marked the first time that had happened since Seattle's Felix Hernandez got the upper hand against Minnesota's Liam Hendricks on Aug. 27, 2012.

Teheran didn't allow a hit until Ryan Howard beat out an infield single (!) to start the fifth inning, and through seven had faced just one batter more than the minimum, never going above 14 pitches to complete a frame. He began to flag in the eighth, throwing a game-high 20 pitches and working around a two-out single to Carlos Ruiz. Working the ninth while sore-shouldered Craig Kimbrel sat this one out, he showed considerable moxie after allowing a two-out single to Jimmy Rollins; he went 3-0 against Chase Utley, who then held off a changeup as Rollins stole second, but with the tying run in scoring position, he came back to induce Utley to hit into a game-ending groundout to second base. In all, he threw 115 pitches and got 14 swings and misses according to BrooksBaseball.net, nine on either his four-seamer or his sinker. His 85 Game Score was the season's sixth-highest behind the aforementioned quartet and Mark Buehrle who put up an 86 on April 2 against the Rays.

As for Lee, he became the first pitcher to throw nine innings in a complete-game loss since Arizona's Brandon McCarthy on Sept. 2 of last season, and one of just eight pitchers since 1993 to throw a complete game with double-digit strikeouts and hits allowed; here are the other seven:

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt IP ER BB SO Pitches
Jose Rijo4/30/94CINFLAL 3-481144210129
Denny Neagle9/16/95PITSFGW 10-291022110127
Denny Neagle4/14/96PITMONW 5-291021110117
Randy Johnson6/24/97SEAOAKL 1-491144019142
Kevin Brown7/15/98SDPCOLW 6-291222110126
Pedro Martinez8/6/03BOSANAW 4-291021111128
Roy Halladay6/30/10PHICINL 3-481344010119

That's some company, right? It had been nearly 17 years since a pitcher — the Big Unit, in this case — went nine in a losing cause while pulling off the feat.

Lee's 128 pitches were the highest total in the majors this year, surpassing Jose Quintana's 121 (in just six innings) on Apr. 13 for the White Sox against the Indians. The tally also set a career high, surpassing the 122 he reached three times, once apiece in the 2009 and 2010 postseasons and most recently on June 22, 2011 against the Cardinals (he struck out just three while giving up six hits that time). Via Brooks, he got 21 swings and misses, including 10 from among his 34 changeups. Among his total of hits allowed, four of them were by Gattis and three more by Chris Johnson. He allowed three hits in a row to start the fourth including Gattis' homer but escaped further damage by getting Andrelton Simmons to ground into a double play, needing just 11 pitches in that frame; in all, he held Atlanta hitters to an 0-for-7 showing with runners in scoring position. Despite his high pitch count, only in the first inning (19 pitches) and the eighth (18 pitches) did he go past 15 in a single frame.

Michael Pineda, Yankees vs. Cubs

In the nightcap of Wednesday's doubleheader in the Bronx, Pineda wasn't as dominant as Tanaka, nor did he pitch as far into the game. But with his six shutout innings of the Cubs, he did put the pine tar controversy of last Saturday's outing against the Red Sox behind him; no telltale smudges could be spotted on the ball of his thumb.

Using only his fastball, changeup and slider according to Brooks, Pineda generated just five swings and misses from among his 89 pitches, but he got ahead with first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 22 hitters he faced. He stranded runners in scoring position in the third, fifth and sixth innings, holding the Cubs to 0-for-4 in those situations. The key was his strikeout of Ryan Kalish on a low-and-away slider with one out and men on second and third in the fifth inning, when the Yankees were clinging to a 1-0 lead; it's at the 39-second mark of this video:

[mlbvideo id="32134243" width="600" height="336" /]

The Yankees added a second in the bottom of the frame, and after Pineda worked one more inning, he gave way to David Phelps, Matt Thornton and Adam Warren, who finished off the shutout.

According to the SB Nation MLB Twitter feed, the last time a team shut out its opponent in both ends of a doubleheader was on June 26, 1988, when the Twins blankety-blanked the A's. Via the YES Network broadcast, the last time the Yankees did so was on Apr. 19, 1987 against the Royals, while the last time the Cubs had it done to them was on June 27, 1962 against the Cardinals.

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