We speak of Vultures in this weekly column, but seldom do we mention how different they all are. After all, not all vultures are created equal.
May 26th. A.J. Schugel of the Pittsburgh Pirates.I’m not quite sure what this guy is doing in a Major League roster. According to baseball reference he has yet to add value to his career. Gerrit Cole had pitched 5 innings of good baseball. Labored baseball as he hit 99 pitches heading into the 6th. Hurdle gave Cole the rest of the day off. Then he took out a hat with a bunch of names in it and pulled one out which said A.J. Schugel.
At least that’s how I assume he picked A.J. to come in and pitch the 6th inning. This is a guy the Pirates have already yo-yoed to the minors and back precisely because he can’t be trusted to get Major League hitters out. I have it on good authority that this is, in fact, the definition of a turkey.
Actually it seemed like it might have paid off at first. Schugel managed to get two outs in a row (Owings grounded out and Tomas struck out looking). All seemed to be well in hand for a productive Major League inning of pitching. Then disaster struck. Patrick Corbin (The opposing pitcher!) singled. Juan segura singled. Michael Bourn walked. The same Bourn who was traded from Cleveland to Atlanta which then released him causing him to wander around MLB minor league contracts until he latched onto Arizona. Bases loaded, two outs and Paul Goldschmit up to the plate. I’m not sure why Hurdle left his pitcher in that situation. I’m familiar with the old adage sink or swim but this was more like throwing him into a pool with a big shark in the water so sink, swim or become dinner.
What happened next was as predictable as the next solar eclipse. Paul hit a two run RBI single tying the game. All things considered A.J. got off lightly. Polanco lined out to mercifully end the inning. Pittsburgh would score in the bottom of the frame and add three more runs to win by a comfortable 8-3 margin, but it sure didn’t look comfortable in the 6th. A.J. got the win as the pitcher of record. I’m pretty sure Cole could have done better.
In ornithological circles this is a known as a Turkey Vulture:
May 27th. Joe Biagini of the Toronto Blue Jays. Joe here is a Rule 5 draft pick plucked (hah!) from the Giants. He made the opening day Roster as a bullpen arm and has been quite reliable, striking out the likes of David Ortiz and for the most part inducing weak contact with a nice 57.6% GB rate.
On this particular day the Evil Dwarf (a.k.a. Dustin Pedroia) had his number and hit a lead off double in the top of the 8th. Joe tried his best to preserve the one run lead. He managed to get Xander Bogaerts to fly out to Saunders in left field but the Evil Dwarf moved up to third anyway. Travis Shaw hit a single that was deflected by Justin Smoak (with friends like these who needs enemies right?) and Pedrioa scored the tying run. Fortunaltey the Hanster Hanley Ramirez hit a double play to end the inning and snuff out the threat but not before the damage was done.
In the bottom of the 8th, Josh Donaldson hit a bomb with a man on first to regain the lead which the Jays would not relinquish, so Joe got a souvenir win courtesy of Josh Donaldson, MVP extraordinaire.
Joe is a native of California. Hence this is a California Condor. The Scientific Method at work people.
May 29th. Adam Liberatore of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The circumstance of this particular Vulture have been much discussed in the blogosphere today due to Kershaw coming out of the 8th inning, man on first and two outs in favor of Adam Liberatore (a lefty) to pitch to Curtis Granderson (also a lefty) with the tying run on first. Granderson would go on to hit a triple and drive the run in blowing the save opportunity.
I’m not going to dwell on the fact that Dave Roberts could have trusted Kershaw (who has great numbers against lefties) for one more batter or bring in Kenley Jansen for the four out save). Liberatore has good numbers against lefties too.
Instead my interest is in the observation that perhaps pitch selection was a problem here. Curtis likes the inner half of the plate and to pull the ball a lot (as do MANY MLB hitters, this is not rocket science). In fact throughout the series Granderson has hit the ball in precisely that location for some damage. Many have observed that Granderson seems vulnerable to the outside and away pitches. In the four pitches thrown to Granderson they all seemed middle of the plate-ish, nothing away. One was a high ball, another a ball in the dirt, the third a 4 seam fastball fouled off and then an 81MPH slider crushed for a triple in what seemed to be the heart of the plate.
Adam would strike out Asdrubal Cabrera on three pitches to end the inning and prevent the Mets from taking the lead. The Dodgers would eventually score two more and win, but one can’t help but feel that Adam screwed Kershaw out of a win here. Coming in high from the bullpen and snatching the W from Kershaw’s fingers. Like a Gryphon Vulture.
I’m sure we’ll see more species of Vultures as the summer heats up and pitchers flail helplessly as hitters butcher their offerings left and right in the late innings.