Three Strikes: Correa makes MLB debut, Sale continues to impress

Three Strikes: Astros infielder Carlos Correa makes MLB debut, Chris Sale continues impressive performance, Blue Jays win sixth straight game
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On the same day that the Astros became the first team ever to make two of the first five picks in the Rule 4 amateur draft, the player they made the top pick in the 2012 draft, shortstop Carlos Correa, made his major league debut. He drove in their only run in support of the second player they drafted that year, righthander Lance McCullers. That one run wasn’t enough to beat White Sox ace Chris Sale (the 13th overall pick in 2010), but it was a solid debut nonetheless for Correa in a game that dominated a short Monday night schedule.

Correa Debuts

Wearing his draft position on the back of his jersey, Carlos Correa debuted at Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field after a 25-minute rain delay, and if he didn’t exactly hit the cover off the ball or make any particularly spectacular plays, he still managed to impress. In three at-bats against one of the best pitchers in baseball, Correa was one of just two Houston batters to avoid a strikeout against dominant Sale (George Springer, oddly enough, was the other). Not only that, Correa didn’t swing and miss at any of the eight pitches he saw from Sale. He made contact with all four of his swings against the lanky lefty, resulting in a foul out to third base, an infield single, a foul directly back to the backstop on one of just two fastballs he saw from the White Sox’ flamethrower and a groundout to second base. It wasn’t until he faced Chicago’s closer, David Robertson, representing the tying run with one out in the ninth inning, that he swung and missed twice, striking out on the latter swing at a 94-mph cutter darting away and out of the zone.

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Yes, that’s taking a sunny view of a 1-for-4 performance in which Correa failed to get a ball past the infielders, but it speaks to his pitch recognition and his ability to put the bat on the ball. He was more impressive out of the batter’s box, showing smooth, clean actions at shortstop on the two grounders hit his way, charging both and getting in good position to make strong, accurate throws to first base. He also showed good situational awareness in being in position to take the cutoff throw from centerfield when slow-footed Jose Abreu tagged up and went to second on a ball hit to the warning track (he was safe, but Correa’s quick transfer and accurate, well-placed throw made it close). He was also in exactly the right spot to tag out Avisail Garcia on a run-down perfectly executed by Chris Carter later in the game.

As for that RBI, he got it not with his bat, but with his legs. In his second at-bat, with his Astros trailing 1–0, men on second and third and two outs in the fourth, Correa took a slider down and in—he took the first pitch and swung at the second in all four at-bats on the night—then hooked a 96-mph fastball below the zone toward the shortstop hole, forcing his opposite number, Alexei Ramirez, to range far to his right to make the play. Using every bit of the speed that helped him steal 18 bases in 19 attempts in the minors this season, Correa beat Ramirez’s throw to first by a couple of feet, though it took a replay review for the umpires to get the call right.

In all, it was a good night for Astros draft picks, with McCullers, the team’s No. 2 pick in 2012 (41st overall as compensation for free agent Clint Barmes!) working a strong seven innings, allowing just four hits and striking out seven against no walks only to be undone by a two-run home run to the opposite field by Garcia on a good fastball out and away in the bottom of the fourth. Those two runs, as it turns out, were all Sale needed.

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Strikeouts on Sale

Exciting as Correa’s debut may have been given his elite potential, the performance of the night was undoubtedly Sale’s, as he set a season high with 14 strikeouts while holding the first-place Astros to that one run on five hits and a walk over eight frames. Despite sitting through a 38-minute rain delay in the top of the fourth, Sale retired 13 off the last 14 men he faced starting in the fifth inning, getting eight of those 13 outs via strikeout.

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With that, Sale has struck out 10 or more men in four straight starts and five of his last six outings while completing at least seven innings in all six of those games. Those five 10-strikeout games are the most by any pitcher this season.

Meanwhile, Sale is just the second pitcher in the last five seasons to strike out 10 or more in four straight starts, joining David Price, who did it in five straight starts last June, and is the first pitcher in White Sox history ever to turn the trick. Over his last six starts combined, he has gone 4–1 with a 1.35 ERA and 0.66 WHIP, while striking out just shy of 40% of the batters he has faced. He's tallied 67 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings for a 12.9 K/9 and 9.57 K/BB while averaging just over 7 2/3 innings per start. If there were any lingering concerns from his two poor outings as April turned into May, they can be put to rest.

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Rounding Into Shape

The Blue Jays won their sixth straight game Monday night, beating the Marlins 11-3 in Toronto. The Blue Jays, who lead the majors by more than a half run per game with 5.32 runs scored per game on the season, have been on an absolute tear over these last six games, scoring at least six runs in every game in their streak and averaging 7.67 runs per game. They’ve also been impressively stingy during this span, only once allowing more than three runs and averaging just 2.67 runs allowed.

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Those are decisive wins and they have helped the Jays compile the third-best run differential in the majors to this point in the season (+53, behind only the Cardinals’ +62 and the Dodgers’ +55). As that run differential suggests, the Jays are due for considerable positive correction with regard to their record, which could reach .500 for the first time since May 12 if they can extend their winning streak to seven games with another victory Tuesday.

Leading the charge will be Jose Bautista, who, having finally returned to rightfield after spending May exclusively as a designated hitter, has gone 9-for-22 (.409) with four home runs and six walks during the current streak. The Jays also hope to have Edwin Encarnacion, who has appeared in just two of the six games of the current streak due to a sore shoulder, back in the lineup on Tuesday against veteran Dan Haren as they attempt to continue their climb back into the AL East divisional race.