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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

FOUR STARTS
I was unable to post yesterday; if I had, my post would have been titled MORE LIKE IT and would have celebrated our sweep of the Mariners. Alas, last night's game put a damper on that, but I'll cover it nonetheless.

Joe Saunders didn't have a great game on Friday, and got some help from some atom balls, but he kept his composure through a few jams, and you can't complain about going six innings without allowing a run. It was nice to see Saunders succeed in his Virginia Tech hat; the game was obviously significant to him and likely of some significance to some of his fellow Hokies, so that was a nice story all-around.

Saturday brought us the return of Bartolo Colon. Though he only notched one strikeout, he had good velocity early in the game and demonstrated good command of his pitches. When Bartolo is on, he'll often gain velocity as the game progresses; that did not happen here -- perhaps partially due to his tweaked ankle. At any rate, it was good to see the Fat Man back in action and productive, a large boon to the team.

Sunday saw Ervin Santana return to form. The Kid was locating his fastball on the corners and getting his slider over for strikes. With everything working, Ervin was able to wiggle out of a couple of jams (a good sign after his jamtastic previous starts) and put up a strong start.

Much has been made of the disparity in Santana's performance on the home and road, and I do intend to take a look at it some time, but my null hypothesis is that it's all a crazy fluke. There's no real reason he should struggle on the road and dominate at home; there's no unique characteristic of Angels Stadium that would seem to benefit him. Remember, John Lackey also had a stark home-road difference in 2003 and 2004, a trend that eventually corrected itself (and even reversed itself, slightly) in the following two seasons. Was there a reason for that? Sometimes these things just take awhile to shake out.

Anyway, while Ervin excelled by getting his slider in the zone on Sunday, Jered Weaver got rocked by failing to do so Monday night. His location was off; it seemed that the culprit was an elusive release point, as Jered would miss consistently high and then, perhaps overcompensating, consistently low, or vice versa. His slider was missing well outside to right-handed hitters, and missing the zone healthily against southbats; recognizing this, Tiger hitters were able to sit on Jered's fastball, a pitch that is missing a few miles per hour from last year. Given that Weaver the Younger couldn't locate his fastball, either, this was a source of much trouble.

(When he did get the slider over, everything was shiny. He threw two good sliders to Gary Sheffield in the first, the only two he threw for strikes in the whole inning [technically Ivan Rodriguez got a hit off of a slider, but it was comfortably out of the strike zone, but elevated so that I-Rod could get it to the right-center gap]. He also got a strike two on Brandon Inge by getting his slider over the outside corner, and while the next one was outside, Inge had to respect his ability to locate the breaking ball, and wasn't able to stop his swing once he realized the pitch was too far away. Once you establish that breaking pitch in the zone, batters have to respect, and then you can get away with throwing it out of the zone. Curtis Granderson followed, Jered lost the touch on his slider, Granderson singled off a fastball, and the rally was on.)

That lack of velocity is the only warning sign that Weaver may still be injured, or at the very least not fully recovered or prepped for the season. We don't know, of course. The location problems don't really bother me, as though he wasn't quite sharp against Oakland, he only threw one egregious pitch in that game. But as long as he's healthy, I'm unworried.

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