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June 21, 2007 at 12:59 AM

Weaver delivers

Some of you were rubbing your eyes in disbelief tonight at what Jeff Weaver just did to the Pittsburgh Pirates. There were times in May when it looked like he wouldn’t throw nine innings the rest of the season combined, let alone that many in a single outing. So, a 7-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. First victory of the season for Weaver, who nearly had one at Wrigley Field last week. First complete game for the M’s since Cha Seung Baek did it at Tiger Stadium back in the Mayan Era. Uh, no, sorry. I meant back in May.
That disbelief is now extending into this morning and I’m sure some of you are wondering just how much of last night’s effort was Weaver and how much of it was the Pirates. Well, I’ve always been one to believe it’s never a good thing in baseball to question good fortune, no matter how it shines down upon you. So long as it shines. Jeff over at Lookout Landing seems to take the same view. At the very worst, Weaver just gave the bullpen a night off. He just got the Mariners through another game with him in the rotation. Take it and go home smiling.
No? You won’t? Well, I’ll be honest, my curiosity is there too. The Mariners just spoonfed Weaver some of the least productive offensive clubs in the National League to begin his comeback off the DL. No one will mistake the Padres, Cubs and Pirates for the 1927 Yankees, the 1999 Indians or the 2003 Red Sox. But Weaver did change speeds and mixed his pitch locations up. Yes, the Pirates are a swing happy club, just like the Mariners. No, they don’t do as much damage as the M’s do when they swing.
I counted Weaver making 6 of his 27 outs on the first pitch. Then another 8 outs on the second pitch. That’s more than half the outs he recorded in the ballgame coming on the first two pitches. Nine of the 32 batters Weaver faced swung at the first pitch. An amazing 27 of the 32 batters he faced hacked away at one or the other of his first two offerings. That’s one way to get through a complete game shutout. To Weaver’s credit, the Pirates didn’t do any serious damage off him.
Think the Red Sox will be swinging that early when Weaver faces them next Monday at Safeco Field? I don’t know. But I doubt it. Let’s see how the Red Sox went about destroying the Braves 11-0 yesterday.
The Red Sox sent 46 batters to the plate and only 3 of them swung into outs on the first pitch. Only 6 of them did so on the second pitch. So, what’s that? It means just 9 of the 46 Boston hitters made outs on the first two offerings. Remember, there were 14 Pirates hitters doing that and they sent only 32 batters to the plate all game — 14 less than Boston. Hmmm. Guess the Red Sox don’t like to swing early that often.
Well, they do take some swings. There were 26 of 46 Red Sox hitters taking first swings either on the first or second pitch. That’s 57 per cent. It’s just not 84 per cent like the Pirates had. The Boston hitters also didn’t swing into early outs at nearly the same rate — 20 per cent compared to Pittsburgh’s 44 per cent.
Another five of Boston’s hitters waited until the third pitch to swing. Four more didn’t hack until the fourth pitch and three waited all the way until the fifth pitch before initially swinging. That’s 46 pitches those 12 guys made the opposing pitchers throw before even taking their first cuts. Impressive. The rest of the Boston batters in the game were either walked, walked intentionally or struck out looking — all without swinging.
Those four, five and six-pitch at-bats will severely hamper a pitcher’s efforts to throw a complete game. Weaver needed 109 pitches tonight, even with the Pirates merrily swinging into early outs. He deserves full marks for what he did, but obviously will face a much more difficult challenge against the seriously disciplined Boston hitters. The Red Sox have a .357 on-base percentage and are drawing 4.17 walks per game, both very high numbers. Pittsburgh entered the night with only a .316 on-base percentage and drawing 2.86 walks per game.
Weaver’s next outing will not be an easy one.
This one’s for “Victor” — a nice story detailing the best outfield throwing arms in the majors. There’s your guy, Ichiro, at No. 2. I knew you’d like it. Any time Brian Butterfield says something about defense, you should listen. The Toronto coach is the one who trained Derek Jeter when he was breaking in to the Yankees system — getting him to stop making errors by the truckload — and is regarded as one of the top defensive coaching specialists in baseball.
Yes, the Astros remembered they were the Astros again and blew another one to the Angels. A’s won as well, so no ground gained by Seattle. Only a pitcher gained. You hope. Cross your fingers.

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