8 Pitchers Whose Awful Spring Starts Are Already a Big Concern
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Spring training isn’t as innocent as it sounds.
For many, it’s a time to get revved up for the regular season—getting back into the daily grind, throwing a couple bullpens, taking batting practice and developing friendships with the new faces on the team.
For others, however, it’s a time to work out the kinks. That seems to be the case with a few pitchers this spring as several notable names have struggled early. Command and velocity aren’t always immediately going to be there two or three weeks in, but it will be concerning if the lack of success continues.
Teams, for example, have to plan around what they see in spring training. If your projected No. 5 starter is getting shelled each outing, it’s probably time to think about giving a prospect a shot or a reliever that can be stretched into a starter. Or maybe sign a veteran free agent or make a trade.
Like I said, this is a serious time of the year for some players. Let’s take a look at who hasn’t been so hot lately and why teams should be concerned about those taking the mound in 2013.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
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Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is off to a horrible start. He’s gotten progressively worse each time he’s taken the mound this spring, and the minor adjustments don’t seem to be working.
In Kershaw’s first outing, he allowed two runs on four hits across two innings. The next time out, three runs came around to score—although only two were earned—on six hits in three innings. Most recently, he allowed four runs on seven hits in three innings.
For those keeping track at home, that’s eight earned runs on 17 hits in just eight innings of work. Opponents are hitting .436 against him, and that 9.00 ERA isn’t looking too pretty.
Kershaw explained his frustrations to Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles:
“Concerned might not be the best word, but it’s definitely not a confident feeling, I guess you could say, after giving up that many runs,” Kershaw said. “You can’t say, ‘Oh you feel great’ and, ‘Oh, you’re doing great,’ if you’re not seeing the results. I’m definitely looking forward to have a good start here one of these days.”
It’s imperative that Kershaw gets his act together soon. The Dodgers need him to lead their rotation as the team has high expectations for the upcoming year.
Jair Jurrjens, Baltimore Orioles
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The Baltimore Orioles signed Jair Jurrjens this past winter to compete for a job in the starting rotation. So far, he’s been a major disappointment and is great jeopardy of getting left off the 25-man roster once Opening Day rolls around.
Jurrjens hasn’t helped himself out once since taking the mound for Baltimore. He wasn’t terrible in his first start, allowing a run on two hits in two innings. But he was a train wreck the next time out, giving up three runs—two earned—on two hits in one inning while walking three.
Jurrjens’ most recent start didn’t go much better. He walked two batters, gave up five hits and allowed three men to cross the plate in just 2.2 innings of work. He’s walked six and given up six earned runs on nine hits in 5.2 innings. Can you say, ‘Welcome to Triple-A’?
Jurrjens told Eduardo Encina of The Washington Post that it’s a “mechanics issue” and his manager, Buck Showalter, chimed in on what’s been happening:
“We’re still trying to familiarize ourselves with him,” said Showalter. “He’s got a lot of sink there. He’ll get better. We’ll see if he can get better the next time out. He’s missing down. Everything’s down. I’d feel a lot different if he was missing up, away, in, out. It’s just all down.”
If Jurrjens is going to try to resurrect his career in the big leagues, he needs to avoid throwing balls in the dirt. As long as they’re somewhere else, Showalter seems fine with that. Finding his command is essential to making the club post-spring training.
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
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The Philadelphia Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon an offseason ago to become the full-time closer for what looked to be a team that could contend for a World Series title. That, however, wasn’t the case in 2012.
Last season, Papelbon saved 38-of-42 games for the Phillies, posting a 2.44 ERA in 70 innings of work, striking out 92 in the process. But instead of picking up where he left off, the right-hander has been very, very bad this spring so far.
The right-handed closer got crushed by the Detroit Tigers on Feb. 25 and his numbers tell the entire story. He allowed six earned runs on five hits—two of them being home runs—while walking two and getting yanked before he could finish the one inning he was scheduled to pitch.
Papelbon was a little better the next time out, but not by much. He finally pitched a full inning, but two runs came across to score. In 1.2 innings this spring, he’s allowed eight earned runs, an absurd total for only two appearances.
The Phillies, however, haven’t expressed concern over their closer’s performance, according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer. But they should be.
Philadelphia doesn’t have many solid backup options if Papelbon’s poor pitching becomes a trend instead of a fluke couple of games. Hypothetically, Mike Adams could close, but $13 million is a lot of money to be paying a guy who doesn’t pitch in the ninth.
Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland Indians
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Ubaldo Jimenez’s first two seasons with the Cleveland Indians have been horrible to say the least. He’s gone 13-21 with a 5.32 ERA in 242 innings of work. He lost a league-most 17 games last year while also setting a new career high with a 5.40 ERA.
Cleveland made a bunch of changes this past offseason with the hopes of competing for the division crown in 2013. But a lot of the team’s potential success relies on the former Colorado Rockies ace.
“It changes the whole dynamic of the team,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway told Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. “For him to pitch well is a big part of our team. I think we’re going to see it this year. He’s been looking really good and he’s confident. He’s coming in with the right approach.”
Callaway might want to go back on his word while he still can after seeing Jimenez throw in two games this spring. The right-hander has been inconsistent yet again and if this carries over to the regular season, the Indians are in deep trouble.
Jimenez looked like he might have turned things around after his first start, tossing two innings of scoreless baseball against the Oakland Athletics. But it all went down the drain against the San Diego Padres. In that game, he allowed five earned runs on seven hits in two innings.
So which Jimenez will Cleveland get this year? The one that mows down batters or the one allows several runs to score each time he takes the mound?
Bruce Rondon, Detroit Tigers
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The panic button is on the desk of Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski and he’s about to hit it. That’s mainly because new closer Bruce Rondon has been rather underwhelming since camp started a short time ago.
Rondon’s first appearance of the spring went well, as he tossed a scoreless inning against the Toronto Blue Jays. The next was a little shaky, walking two in 0.2 innings, but while striking out two for the second consecutive game.
Then it starts to get a little ugly. He allowed a run on two hits in one inning of work and followed it up by giving up a pair of runs on two hits two days later. In total, he has a 7.36 ERA in 3.2 innings, walking five in the process.
Rondon’s inability to impress the front office thus far has caused the Tigers to start seeking a replacement. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that Detroit isn’t just casually looking for a new closer, but they are most likely going to go get one.
Heyman goes on to say that Andrew Bailey of the Boston Red Sox, who will likely be the setup man this year, could be a target, but Detroit hasn’t called about him. He also suggests that Jose Valverde, who closed for the Tigers last season, would make sense.
Last season, Rondon pitched in all three levels of the minor leagues, compiling a 1.53 ERA in 52 appearances, saving 29 games.
Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
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Matt Cain is the centerpiece of the San Francisco Giants’ starting rotation. The team’s success depends on his success. And if Cain is going to pitch like he has this spring, the Giants aren’t going to be winning their second straight World Series title.
In Cain’s first start of the spring, facing the Chicago Cubs, he gave up four unearned runs in one inning of work. A couple of days later, he allowed three earned on four hits across three innings. In his most recent start, Cain allowed two earned runs on five hits in three innings.
For the spring, Cain has allowed five earned runs in seven innings while posting a 6.43 ERA.
Part of the problem may have been that he got drilled in the leg against the Cubs, but the right-hander said it was nothing and that he wouldn’t miss any time. He didn’t miss time, but he certainly hasn’t been pitching well since, either.
Cain has already been named the Opening Day starter for the Giants, but if he continues to pitch poorly, would manager Bruce Bochy reconsider? That’s probably doubtful, but it’s still something to ponder.
The San Francisco ace has won at least 12 games over the last four seasons, posting a sub-3.00 ERA in three of them. Regardless of his spring performances, the Giants have to hope that he can win them another National League West title.
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
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There’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright and so far this spring, he’s let it crush him. Wainwright would’ve been in the clear if it weren’t for two things that happened over the offseason.
One, Chris Carpenter is likely out for the year after suffering from numbness in his throwing arm. And second, the Cardinals have decided not to re-sign Kyle Lohse, who was arguably the team’s top pitcher a year ago. Now, it’s up to Wainwright from keeping the rotation from completely falling apart.
After missing all of 2011 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Wainwright put together a solid 2012 campaign. He won 14 games for St. Louis while posting a 3.94 ERA in nearly 200 innings.
This spring, Wainwright has been inconsistent the two times he’s taken the mound. In his first start, he didn’t allow a run in 2.2 innings, striking out three in the process. Pitching against the Washington Nationals, though, he allowed four earned runs—five total runs—on eight hits in three innings.
“I realize this is spring training,” Wainwright told Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. “When I was younger, I would come in here in midseason form, ready for Game 1. Now it’s a process. You work on things. Today I went with a plan to work on my fastball and really drive it down in the zone and get some ground balls. I got some ground balls, but I left a lot of balls up. Guys, obviously, made me pay for the ones I left up.”
If Wainwright continues to leave fastballs up in the zone, it’s going to be a long season in St. Louis.
Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
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After being shut down by the Washington Nationals last season, Stephen Strasburg is back without any restrictions. The problem, however, is that a couple of starts into the spring, Strasburg hasn’t really looked the same.
Strasburg got roughed up against the New York Mets on his first outing since last year, allowing two earned runs in two innings of work. Getting the opportunity to do better against those same Mets five days later, he allowed just one run in three innings.
The tall righty’s most recent start, however, didn’t go as planned. Pitching against the Philadelphia Phillies, he allowed two runs on five hits across 3.2 innings. While Strasburg has given up 11 hits in 8.2 innings, his command hasn’t really been the problem.
Strasburg has struck out 13 batters this spring while walking just three. But overall, he hasn’t been pleased with how he’s pitched, according to James Wagner of The Washington Post:
“Being so early, I don’t feel like I’ve had enough mound time for it to just click and not really think about it,” said Strasburg. “I’m still trying to feel it out a little bit. The good thing is it felt good when I came out, so that’s the bottom line. I was able to make the adjustment a little bit fast this time.”
Washington would be in a bit of trouble if Strasburg couldn’t find his stride to start the season. He’s clearly off his game now. The question remains as to when he’ll start pitching like the ace he’s established himself to be.