Lessons Left To Learn
Let’s start with this: Hunter Strickland will be alright. Maybe someday closer alright, more certainly regular big league reliever alright.
But Hunter has a problem with left-handed hitters. A real problem. He, like many power fastball pitchers, throws a very straight fastball. Fastballs are hard to catch up with, but not impossible. And a good hitter will have a swing that lets the power of the fastball put the power into the hit. Strickland worked hard to improve his off speed stuff, and it’s there. But the fastball, what every other pitch works off of, is too straight.
At some point, Hunter will learn to ease off with that fastball. He’ll learn to sacrifice a couple of MPH for a cut or a sink. He’ll get that late movement that pushes the ball a couple of inches up the barrel of the bat, or down below the sweet spot. It’ll turn upper-deck home runs into fouls or ground balls or, at worst, low line drives.
But it is not this day. And he shouldn’t even be trying.
I’ll give Bochy credit, he’s loyal, even to green rookies. And I’m glad he gives them chances to redeem themselves and improve. But this is one place where it isn’t the place to do so. It’s hard to plan a bullpen against such a balanced team like the Cardinals, I admit. You never know when it’ll be close or a small lead, and who will be needed.
But Bochy burned his two lefties early, with Matt Adams sitting ahead. The Cardinals don’t have a lot of left-handed power on the team; pretty much it’s Carpenter and Adams. But they do hide Adams between two right handed power threats. Affeldt was good, throwing two innings of ball, but as a valuable lefty reliever, that’s a tough way to burn him when you’ve got Lincecum and Petit as long men and Jean Machi generally being able to handle a lot of batters.
There’s a lot of second-hand guessing there. Machi, of course, didn’t help much as Oscar Taveras beat him. Sergio Romo left a changeup up against Kolten Wong. But those are relative surprise home runs. Taveras has power, but he’s been slumping, and Wong isn’t a big power guy, he’s a guy you usually can make mistakes to and not pay so dearly. So much of the questioning and second guess lands on the Strickland inning. And rightfully so.
Hunter does need to learn to pitch against left-handers. But I’d rather not see him do any more learning this series.