In today's edition of Hit and Run, Jay Jaffe looks at Chris Davis's homer binge, the possibility of Marcus Stroman returning this season from a torn ACL for the Blue Jays and Tyler Moore's pitching debut.
Chris Davis helped the Orioles remain within a game of a Wild Card spot on Wednesday afternoon in Oakland, smashing a 10th-inning grand slam that proved to be the difference-maker in the team's 7–3 win. Here's the shot, which came at the expense of Arnold Leon and, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, was estimated at 404 feet:
Davis has been on a tear lately. In his last 15 games, he’s clubbed nine homers, enough to tie him with Carlos Gonzalez and Lucas Duda for second in the majors since the All-Star break; only Nelson Cruz, who's hit 10, has more. Cruz's five-game home run streak came to an end on Wednesday afternoon in Colorado, though he did go 2-for-5 with a double.
Davis's tear is reminiscent of his 53-homer 2013 season, which featured separate stretches of 11 homers in 23 games and 17 in 31 games. His current outburst has pushed his season total to 28, good for seventh in the league and two more than last year. Likewise, his .248/.330/.517 line is a big boost over last year's .196/.300/.404. Davis's season was a disaster for more than the sub-Mendoza batting average, of course. Last September, he was suspended 25 games after testing positive for Adderall, which is commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but is often abused because it's a stimulant; he failed to go through the proper channels to renew his therapeutic use exemption (TUE) from the year before. The suspension cost him the opportunity to play in the '14 postseason and carried over to Opening Day this year.
Over the winter, Davis got a TUE for a different ADHD drug, Vyvanse, for this year, and even with a mediocre May (.196/.301/.464), he leads the Orioles in homers and RBIs (79) and ranks third in OPS+ (130) behind Jonathan Schoop (140, albeit in just 113 PA) and Manny Machado (138). His rebound is positioning him for a significant payday when he reaches free agency this winter, though given last year's mess, it's more likely to be on the order of Cruz's four-year, $57 million deal than the nine-figure bonanza that seemed possible in the wake of his 2013 season.
Marcus on the mend
Back in March, the Blue Jays suffered a major blow when Marcus Stroman tore his left anterior cruciate ligament while fielding a bunt during pitchers' fielding practice. He underwent what is typically a season-ending surgery on March 19.
The key word there is "typically." To date, just one other major league player has come back from an ACL tear in the same season: Yovani Gallardo, who tore his ACL on May 2, 2008 while pitching for the Brewers. Less than five months later, he made something of an historic return, starting for the team on Sept. 25 and then making one start and one relief appearance in the NL Division Series. He wasn't particularly effective, allowing four runs (just one earned), walking six and striking out 11 in 11 innings, but he showed such a rapid recovery was possible.
Stroman is hoping to follow in Gallardo’s footsteps and return in time to help the Blue Jays, who since trading for Troy Tulowitzki and David Price have won seven out of eight to climb to 57–52, good enough for the second wild card spot and 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the AL East. The 24-year-old righty, who last year pitched to a 3.65 ERA and 2.84 FIP in 20 starts and six relief appearances, threw on flat ground on Wednesday (some reports had him throwing off a mound, which he won't do until next week). He's tentatively scheduled to start a rehab assignment on Aug. 21, and if he's able to make four or five appearances without complication before the minor-league season ends on Sept. 7, he could return to the Blue Jays, albeit as a reliever.
The Jays will take any help they can get. Picking up the slack for a shaky rotation, their bullpen ranks sixth in the league in both ERA and FIP (3.35 and 3.51, respectively), combining the league's best strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.6) with a middling home-run rate (1.0 per nine). Twenty-year-old rookie Roberto Osuna is the current closer, with Brett Cecil and the since-traded Miguel Castro having cycled through that spot. LaTroy Hawkins, acquired from the Rockies in the Tulowitzki deal, drew the save against the Twins on Wednesday night, while Aaron Sanchez, who recently returned to a setup role after beginning the year in the rotation but missed seven weeks due to a lat strain, began serving a three-game suspension for his part in the weekend's beanball war with the Royals.
Even if he isn't in the closer mix, Stroman could provide an additional late-inning weapon for John Gibbons. The Blue Jays' manager stresses that the team doesn't want to put him in jeopardy, telling MLB.com's Jamie Ross that Stroman’s return is still "far-fetched" and adding, "We don't look at it like he's gonna come to the rescue, save the day.… It's his goal [to return in 2015]. We're on board if he can pull it off, but we're not gonna do anything stupid either."
Of course, just about everything has to go right for Stroman to get back to the majors before season's end. Here's hoping he can pull it off.
Moore on the mound
It's been a dreadful week for the Nationals, who have lost five out of six to fall behind the Mets (who swept them over the weekend) in the NL East race. Even with the recent returns of Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth from injuries, their offense has managed just 17 runs in that span, and manager Matt Williams hasn't exactly covered himself in glory with his by-the-numbers bullpen management. He somehow failed to call upon either Drew Storen or Jonathan Papelbon in the series against the Mets, which included two one-run losses, one of which resulted with his going a bridge too far with starter Joe Ross on Saturday; he surrendered a game-tying home run to Duda in the seventh inning.
Williams didn't exactly find a solution to his woes on Wednesday night, but he did provide a bit of levity amid the team's otherwise-embarrassing 11–4 defeat by the Diamondbacks. With runners at the corners and one out in the ninth inning of what was then a 10–2 game, he pulled rookie reliever Felipe Rivero—who retired just one of the five batters he faced over the course of 30 pitches, plunking one and balking in a run in the process—in favor of reserve outfielder/first baseman Tyler Moore, who last pitched as a high schooler in Flowood, Miss.
The 28-year-old righty was immediately handed a task that even aces and closers would prefer to avoid: facing Paul Goldschmidt, who had already collected three hits off starter Gio Gonzalez and leads the NL batting race while ranking second in slugging percentage (.339/.453/.580 by the end of the night). Via an 82-mph fastball on a 1–0 count, Moore managed to get the Diamondbacks' slugger to ground into a fielder's choice:
The run scored, but that's still a respectable showing. Moore followed that by hitting Welington Castillo with a 77-mph cutter, but two pitches later, he induced Aaron Hill to line out to second base.
Moore is the second Nationals position player to pitch this season after Clint Robinson; both outings came against the Diamondbacks, the first of them on May 13. In all, this season has seen 19 instances of position players pitching, with the Cubs' David Ross and the Rangers' Adam Rosales doing so twice. Those 19 appearances are three shy of last year's total, the highest of the post-1960 expansion era if you exclude the 2003–04 seasons, which are bulked up by the 72 appearances of Brewers swingman Brooks Kieschnick, who made 75 additional appearances as an outfielder, pinch-hitter or DH in that span. The Indians (David Murphy and Ryan Raburn), Tigers (Josh Wilson and Jose Valdez) and Rays (Jake Elmore and Nick Franklin) are the other teams that have gone to the position-player well twice this year; the last of those came against the Nationals on June 16
As you'd expect, the results have not been stellar. Over the course of 16 2/3 innings, the non-pitchers have yielded 18 runs (10 earned) on 21 hits, eight walks and five hit batsmen, striking out four while yielding eight homers. That's a 5.39 ERA, and it doesn't even include the four inherited runners that they've allowed to score. Of course, the games in which they pitched were decided by an average of more than 10 runs. By those very, very low standards, Moore did just fine.