Chris Davis Will Have To Adjust To New Pitching ApproachPosted on June 10, 2013
By Jim Henneman
It was only a matter of time before Orioles first baseman Chris Davis hit one of those valleys that tend to disrupt even the hottest of hitters in the big leagues. And it's probably not surprising that it showed up about the same time that opposing pitching philosophies underwent a not-so-subtle change.
No longer trying to tease Davis with slow stuff away, pitchers have switched to a tactic that calls for pounding him inside with hard stuff. It took a toll June 7-9 in Tampa, Fla., where Davis went hitless during a dozen at bats, striking out six times. Now comes the readjustment period.
Davis opened the season by turning on a couple of inside fastballs for mammoth home runs, which no doubt triggered the style of pitching low, slow and away. When Davis was able to avoid the low part of the equation, it became obvious that slow and away wasn't working, necessitating the change that resulted in a rash of inside fastballs.
Throwing a steady diet of fastballs to a hitter with as much power as Davis has can be a dangerous proposition, but he'll have to make an adjustment to stay on pace for what should be a career year. At the age of 27, Davis may have his best years ahead of him.
The propensity for off-speed pitches still seems to be dominating the major leagues. Pitchers who regularly throw in the 95-mph category are relying more and more on mid-80s changeups. Oftentimes, it appears the pitch becomes overused, which might even be one reason why Orioles rookie Kevin Gausman has struggled so much during his brief exposure to the major leagues.
As the game moves more and more away from "old school" philosophies, pitch selections have changed dramatically. Throwing a changeup on the first pitch was deemed a strict no-no -- the thought being that a changeup could be effective only after a hitter had been exposed to something of the hard variety.
Now, pitchers not only are willing to start a hitter off with a changeup, they often use the pitch back to back, a high-risk, high-reward scenario that would have been frowned upon a generation ago. In today's game, development of secondary pitches sometimes comes with the deterrent of losing effectiveness and/or confidence in the bread-and-butter pitch -- which, regardless of the generation, has always been the fastball. It always will be, even if it sometimes looks as if it's being phased out of existence.
Along those lines, it was considered job threatening to give up a hit on an 0-2 pitch, rather than showcase the generally useless waste pitch. But during this age of double-digit pitch counts and six-inning quality starts, the waste pitch has gone the way of the Baltimore Chop, relegated to obscurity.
Watching the Orioles and Rays June 7-9 served as a reminder that Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon has something on his pitching staff, aside from a stronger and deeper rotation, that O's manager Buck Showalter doesn't have. There were a lot of snickers this spring when Jamey "invite me to camp on a minor league contract and I'll make your team" Wright won a place on the Rays' staff.
One could only wonder what the Rays, with a collection of young arms headed to Triple-A Durham, were thinking when they added Wright. What they were thinking, it turns out, is they needed somebody to absorb middle innings during those ugly games that are usually lost causes, a role better served by a seasoned veteran than by a raw rookie. Wright is the type of pitcher that former Orioles manager Earl Weaver craved during his Hall of Fame career in Baltimore, often citing Diego Segui as the perfect example of a rubber-armed pitcher who could save a staff.
But Maddon probably does wish he'd used Wright a little earlier than he did June 9, when Matt Moore was left to absorb a 9-1 pounding (perhaps a punishment for failing to back up home plate, which cost him a run) during a game the O's had to hang on to win, 10-7.
On the same day that the O's took advantage of Moore's erratic behavior on the mound, three pitchers with fairly recent rumored ties to the Orioles, either via free agency or trade, were starting pitchers for their new teams.
Joe Blanton (a player the Phillies offered a year ago to the Orioles, who turned them down) lost for the 10th time out of 11 decisions this year with the Angels. Kyle Lohse, who stayed on the free-agent market until a week before the season started, recorded his second win in eight decisions for the Brewers. Ryan Dempster, who was rumored as both a trade and free-agent acquisition during the last year, also won, salvaging a 10-5 triumph with the Red Sox and leaving him with a 4-6 record.
Combined, those three are 7-22 this year, making Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette 3-for-3 on those decisions. You can bet he'll have another shot at Blanton for a lot less than a top-tier prospect really soon.
As the saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for." Even with their own rotation in a constant state of flux and in need of some stability, the Orioles shouldn't make splashy trades or free agent signings -- at least for now.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.
Posted June 10, 2013