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Kids Don't Follow What You're Saying, We Can't Hear: Next Series Pitchers Preview: Baltimore Orioles

After being swept in a short series, the Blue Jays look to rebound against the fifth-place Orioles in a three game set this weekend.  The Orioles send three rookie starters to the hill, with a combined 16 career starts.  Not to be outdone, the Jays will be sending rookies out tonight and tomorrow afternoon.  Tonight's game, which starts at 7 pm, will see Ricky Romero and Jason Berken square off.  Tomorrow afternoon at 1, Maryland native Brett Cecil gets the start against prospect Chris Tillman.  The series closes on Sunday, when Roy Halladay again looks to pick up his 12th win and he'll be opposed by southpaw Brian Matusz.

Hopefully the Jays can take this series so we can get back on track for our series next week against the Yankees.

7 August

Jason Berken (1-9, 6.93, 1.712 WHIP)

Berken was covered about a month ago.  Including that start against the Jays, since we covered him, he's made five starts and pitched 23 1/3 innings, walking 10 and striking out just eight, en route to an ERA of 8.10 and OPS-against of 911.  He's PQSed 2, 0, 2, 3 and 0.  Hopefully the bats are alive and we can manage more than the two runs we scored off him last time.


8 August

Chris Tillman (0-0, 6.75, 1.688 WHIP)

Tillman makes his third major league start on Saturday afternoon.  Although he was hit hard by the Royals his first time out (4 2/3 IP, 2 K, 1 BB, 3 HR, 7 H), he fared a little better last time (6 IP, 5 K, 3 BB, 1 HR, 7 H).  Nonetheless, his Groundball / Flyball ratios are not encouraging -- he has gotten just eight grounders against 38 balls in the air (flies + line-drives).  His 6.75 ERA has actually been kept artificially down by an 81% strand-rate (though his HR/fly ratio stands at a bloated 18%, so those should somewhat even out going forward).  His strikeout- (5.6 K/9) and walk- (3.2 BB/9) ratios are not awful, but if they do not get better he will not be able to stay in the League unless he is able to induce more grounders.  Considering that major-league hitters are better than minor-leaguers, his groundball-numbers in the minors were not terribly encouraging around 40%, but 40% is still far better than the 22% he is currently inducing.  His strikeout-rates at AA in 2008 (10.0 K/9 over 139 IP) and at AAA this season (8.8 K/9 over 101 2/3 IP) show that he does have the capacity to miss bats.  He also cut down on his walks considerably in AAA this season (2.3 BB/9 vs. 4.2 BB/9 in 2008 at AA), so it is likely that his declining strikeout-rate is indicative of a deliberate effort on his part to stay in the zone.

In his two starts this season, Tillman PQSed a 0 against the Royals and a 3 against the Tigers.  We'll see how he does against the Jays.

In the high-minors, Tillman has actually been more effective against lefties (2008 FIP of 3.00; 2009 FIP of 2.68) than righties (2008 FIP of 4.03; 2009 FIP 2.85).  In 2008 he also induced grounders 43% of the time vs. lefties and just 38% of the time against righties.  It will be interesting to see if Tillman continues to be more effective against lefties in the majors (what we've seen so far is such a small sample that it really isn't even worth considering).

Tillman is a three-pitch pitcher, who uses a 94 mph four-seamer to set up a quality changeup and a big 12-6 curve.  If he can locate the curve, he can be tough, but otherwise batters (particularly righties) should be able to sit and gear up for the fastball.


9 August

Brian Matusz (1-0, 1.80, 1.800 WHIP)

A hard-throwing lefty who tries to keep the ball down, Matusz is similar in many ways to Brett Cecil.  He's only made one start (5 IP, 5 K, 3 BB, 0 HR, 6 H), so don't read too much into his rate-stats.  He was reasonably effective, but did manage to strand 90% of base-runners (obviously a 1.80 ERA is not consistent with a 1.80 WHIP).  What this may tell us is that he may demonstrate poise with runners on and working from the stretch may not be too taxing for him.  I did not see his start, so that is -- of course -- pure speculation on my part.  The youngster has pitched just 113 2/3 minor league innings, but did very well, striking out 120 (9.5 K/9) while walking just 32 (2.5 BB/9).  In his first start he did miss quite a few bats with his slider.  At 48%, he's been quite effective at inducing groundballs.

In the minors, Matusz demonstrated strong platoon splits.  Against lefties, his strikeout- (11.0 K/9) and walk- (2.4 BB/9) rates were both better than against righties (8.9 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9).  His strikeout-rate against lefties is particularly impressive, likely thanks in large part to his slider.  He also generates a higher proportion of grounders from lefties (56%) than righties (46%).

Like Cecil, Matusz throws hard and keeps the ball down, relying on his two-seamer (which comes in around 92 mph) to get grounders and his four-seamer and slider to get batters to swing and miss.  Matusz also throws a change (mainly to righties), but his slider is his bread and his two-seamer is his butter.