At the conclusion of yesterday’s game, R.A. Dickey described the outcome as a “confluence of a lot of weird things.” So goes pitching with a knuckleball – a pitch Dickey affectionately refers to as a “capricious animal.”
The Boston Red Sox sent their own knuckleballer to the mound today in Steven Wright to face off against Marco Estrada, who made his 2016 debut. Wright’s knuckleball developed some life of its own as well, as his catcher, Blake Swihart, was charged with a pair of passed balls in the first inning alone. That should elucidate how difficult Josh Thole’s job is when catching Dickey, especially since his knuckleball is also a bit faster than Wright’s.
Estrada started the season on the disabled list due to a lower back issue and was activated in time for today’s game. To make room on the roster, Franklin Morales was added to the 15-day DL with the always-worrying “shoulder fatigue.” Whatever ailed Estrada prior to the season seems to be fully recovered though, as he spun a gem with eight strikeouts on 91 pitches through seven innings. And, when he needed it in the second inning, his defense bailed him out by throwing Dustin Pedroia out at home plate.
Top Play of the Game by WPA
In a game that lacked any singular-moment excitements, Travis Shaw’s walk to lead off the seventh inning contributed the most to either team’s win probability (+.059 WPA). In context, Shaw’s walk was important to the Red Sox’s cause, however. He was only the third lead off runner for the visitors and a legitimate threat to spoil Estrada’s strong outing late in the game. Instead, Estrada got Chris Young to fly out and promptly struck out both Blake Swihart and Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bottom Play of the Game by WPA
In the bottom of the eighth and with one already away, Drew Storen got Xander Bogaerts – one of the Red Sox’s best hitters – to ground into a double play (-.082 WPA). With the home team only up by two at the time, Bogaerts represented the tying run in a crucial opportunity when the Blue Jays bullpen has been somewhat suspect.
Storen got out of the inning, Josh Donaldson hit his fourth home run of the year, and Roberto Osuna put a bow on it with second save.
Estrada’s Back, Baby
Honestly, that was going to be the headline regardless, right? Either Estrada was back and awesome, or he was going to struggle and we would have blamed his back.
Estrada had a shot at the complete game shutout but, with the game so close and his workload limited, John Gibbons pulled him after a strong seven innings. Estrada had eight strikeouts or more only three times last year in his 28 starts.
He really only got into trouble once today, in the second inning. With how long the bottom of the first went on for, perhaps Estrada’s lengthy time on the bench can be held somewhat attributable. And, as previously stated, the defense bailed him out before the pitch count got too high. In fact, in Estrada’s seven innings, he only needed to use more than 13 pitches twice. Efficiency and strikeouts? That’s an exciting combo.
Trend to Watch
Going forward, the story will likely revolve around Estrada’s strikeout ability making a resurgence. Much was made last season of Dioner Navarro and Estrada’s alleged game plan to get pop-ups on his well-placed fastball and changeup combination. His strikeout totals have sort of waned, however, his success has only grown.
Perhaps with Russell Martin behind the dish, Estrada can learn to balance both attributes; inducing weak contact and whiffs. Time will tell.
With an off-day tomorrow, the Blue Jays will look to return to a .500 record when they host the New York Yankees on Tuesday night. First pitch is scheduled for 7:07pm ET, Aaron Sanchez (0-0, 1.29 ERA) will take on Michael Pineda (1-0, 10.80 ERA). It will be the opener to a three-game set between the AL East foes.
Pineda – a right-hander – flashed some brilliant starts last year, however, problems seem to materialize for him when he’s looking for strikeouts too much. With the Blue Jays batters currently striking out the second-most of any team (very small sample size alert), Pineda could get on track.
Sanchez, who was excellent in his first start this season, could continue to validate the club’s decision to make him a starter with another strong outing. The Yankees have a more fearsome lineup on paper than the Tampa Bay Rays do, and this will be his first career start against them.
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