• Tommy Henry thinks his slider is why he’s seen improvement lately.
In his last two starts, Henry has allowed just three runs in 11 2/3 innings. One of the biggest keys for him during that stretch was improving his slider.
“Now it’s going to be a pitch that I throw to either side, can throw in any count I feel like and I think hitters should consider that opens other doors. So if I had to put my thumb on it, without diving too deep into it, that’s probably my hunch.”
Probably the key to his improvement isn’t the slider (14% SwStr%), but the moving away from his four-seamer (7% SwStr%). Before June 17, he threw his fastball 50% of the time. As of June 17, it’s only 41% of the time.
• Kyle Muller’s fastball was over 1.5 mph higher on his last start.
Another noticeable difference was Muller’s increased fastball speed, which he said was a result of mechanical modifications and long throw and weighted ball practice with the Minors. During his first nine starts of the season, Muller averaged 92.7 mph on his fastball. Against Chicago, that heat averaged 94.3 mph and maxed out at 97.2 mph.
Armed with extra taps on his fastball, Muller threw more than ever in a single start in his big league career: 53 of his 86 pitches. The increase in speed made his secondary throws seem more deceptive, particularly the curveball, which generated 14 swinging blows and six pinches on his 18 offerings.
“My fastball and slider started to mix and there wasn’t a big speed difference in my last few starts in the big leagues,” Muller said. “Getting my heating back to where I could attack guys was huge. Not having to rely so much on my slider and picking and choosing favorable spots where to throw it also improves the pitch.
While more swings-and-misses are nice, it’s his walk rates of 4.7 BB/9 in the majors or 4.4 BB/9 in AAA that are the bigger problem.
• Bryan Woo will likely be slowly rolled out of the All-Star break and demoted at some point in the season.
The Mariners have made no secret of the fact that Woo, who topped his 2,022 innings total (56) in his recent start against Washington on Tuesday, will be watched much more closely as the club approaches summer, just as Logan Gilbert and George Kirby each of the past two seasons.
The good news is that the All-Star break is looming, and with it ingrained in off-days and the chance to fully re-enter the rotation going into the second half. It’s highly likely Woo will be optioned with the Minors for shortened outings at some point to curb his workload as well, much like Kirby did last summer.
• Will Smith will be the closer even after the team is traded for Aroldis Chapman.
By acquiring Chapman, the Rangers have plenty of high-leverage relievers this season, but Bochy didn’t promise that the left-hander would become the official closer in the near future.
“I think we’re going to use [Chapman] like the Royals used him,” Bochy said. “He can go seventh inning, eighth inning. I think they even used it in sixth. I spoke with [Smith]. He’s still going to close matches. If he needs a day off or something, Aroldis can do that too. I just haven’t had a chance to talk to him yet, so I won’t go into it too much.”
• Masataka Yoshida still suffers from jet lag.
But a peculiar and persistent challenge was the jet lag.
“I’m still working on it,” Yoshida said through interpreter Keiichiro Wakabayashi during Boston’s three-game set in Toronto. “Every time I think, ‘Should I sleep during the flight to get used to the time [of] where am I going?’ So that’s what I do.”
• Brady Singer now rolls a change.
Singer’s substitution will be critical in helping him return to the pitcher he was last year. He changed the grip on the pitch earlier this season, so it was a work in progress to get used to that and gain confidence in throwing. But the way he throws it suits him better; the righty throws more of a split change similar to his sinker grip – basically he uses his sinker grip and splits his fingers apart on the ball. That helps Singer feel more natural when throwing.
During the season, Singer threw his substitution 83 times and the field generated only one swing-and-miss.
• Matt Manning got zero swings and misses on his secondaries in his debut.
Manning threw 58 percent fastballs on Tuesday, though Hinch said the ballpark’s radar read some of Manning’s changes as fastballs. The Heater has always been his calling card — his four-star last season had a run value of minus-8, one of the best numbers in baseball — but the rest of his arsenal has always been the big question in Manning’s development.
On Tuesday night, Manning threw 25 percent curveballs and 15 percent sliders. Neither pitch scored a touch from a Rangers batter. Only three fastballs and one slider landed for strikes called, though Manning did produce some weak contact with his underlings.
Those secondaries have to miss some bats if Manning is to be a successful pitcher.
• Tony Gonsolin’s slider has been ineffective.
“I think what stands out the most is he just hasn’t had a slider,” said Roberts. “Of [right-handed hitters], the equalizer has been the slider, and he just hasn’t had it. It doesn’t have the bite. It’s been in the zone and he’s not getting the swing and miss we’re used to.
The on-field pass rate has dropped for four consecutive seasons (27% to 21% to 19% to 15%).
• The team has suggested putting Miguel Vargas and Michael Busch on second base.
Roberts suggested that Michael Busch at second base is something the Dodgers might consider later in the season. With Vargas right-handed and Busch left-handed, they were able to form a natural pack. But Busch could have as many or more defensive issues than Vargas at second base, and while he fired Triple A, it was a mixed bag in a limited number in the majors.
• Once Bryce Harper starts playing first base, Darick Hall could be out of work.
But what happens when Harper is ready to play first base? Kyle Schwarber is expected to move from left field to DH. If not exclusive, it’s enough that Hall’s playing time becomes more limited.
The Phillies selected Hall for Triple-A shortly after Harper rejoined the Phillies last August, but Thomson said there is a way Harper and Hall can coexist.
“Maybe,” he said. “We’ll see where we are at that point.”
• Pitch classification systems confuse Graham Ashcraft’s cutter and sinker.
“I felt like I could put the ball where I wanted today,” said Ashcraft. “I felt like I could get that chase when I needed to. I mean, the slider was really good today. I felt that what helped me the most was the double seam. On the board and on the iPads, it reads like a knife when we see it and everything, but we know it’s a float.”
“The profile is completely different from what the four seam or the cutter shows for people to see,” he said. “It kept the guys honest. It made that slider get that swing-and-miss because it kept those right-handers off the plate.