Home is where the shutout is
It’s hard to get much lower than the Rangers were after Monday night’s game.
Their season was slipping away from them and it seemed no matter what they did, things just weren’t falling into place. No one could buy a hit. The bullpen couldn’t get the big out when they needed it and every break seemed to fall against them instead of their way. Heading into Tuesday afternoons tilt, A.J. Griffin took the mound in his hometown knowing how important it was to perform at a high level. Griffin answered the call and then some for the Rangers on Tuesday, pitching a complete game shutout, with all the run support he could ever need behind him.
In short, this was one of the best days the Rangers have had all season long.
By the time Griffin stepped onto the field, the Rangers were ahead 5-0. The offense did their job in every phase of the game and the defense was able to do their job as well behind one of the most rapid-pace pitchers in Major League Baseball.
As the final out was recorded, I spoke to my brother on the phone; the first words out of his mouth were, “This team is such a conundrum.” A conundrum is defined as “a confusing and difficult problem or question.” Are these Rangers ever a conundrum?
Tuesday, on paper, was a game the Rangers were supposed to lose. Jered Weaver was on the mound. We all know him: that guy with long hair who throws really slow and always seems to dominate the Rangers, no matter how bad of a pitcher he is overall. He is also that guy who has NEVER lost to the Rangers at home. Never. So, here come the Rangers: a team struggling in all phases of the game, striking out more times than you can count, and what do they do? Oh, of course—they score five runs on Weaver before the second out is recorded. Why not?
2017 doesn’t make sense for the Rangers, at least not yet. But that’s okay, because Tuesday was a good day for the team, and especially for A.J. Griffin. So let’s talk about something good for a change.
Pitching: Griffin takes it to the house
There are not enough positives to describe A.J. Griffin and the performance he put together on Tuesday afternoon. First of all, Griffin was pitching at home in San Diego—in front of friends, family, and even his high school coach. Sometimes, players raise their level of play when they are at home; other times, the excitement of the moment can lead to uneven performances.
Griffin took the sweet side of home cooking to another level Tuesday, and it was exactly what the Rangers needed, and needed badly.
In spring training, A.J. Griffin had no guarantees that he would even make this team. He came to the Rangers at the beginning of last year, having been sidelined for most of two seasons with injuries. Though he had periods of success, Griffin was not consistent; he ended the year with a 7-4 record and a 5.07 ERA. Well, Griffin did make the team out of spring training and has arguably been the Rangers best pitcher so far this year. After Tuesday’s performance, Griffin is 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA on the year. What’s even more impressive for Griffin is that he has the reputation for being the type of pitcher who can only go through an opposing lineup a couple of times. For the most part, this has been true. Tuesday, however, it didn’t matter, and Griffin’s shutout was just the second one of his career.
So what has made Griffin so effective both, on Tuesday and for the year over all? It’s no secret that Griffin isn’t going to blow anyone away. His fastball sits in the mid to high 80’s, and he compliments it with a mid- to upper-60’s curveball.
This is precisely what makes Griffin so successful when he’s on. He isn’t powerful and he isn’t a master of control either. What he is, though, is fearless.
Griffin is not afraid to give up a home run, and he goes after everyone. He also does an extremely good job of mixing up the speed on his pitches. When you see a 65 mph curveball cross the plate and the next pitched is an 88 mph fastball, it might as well be 98. According to Brooks Baseball, Griffin had a speed differential of 21 mph on Tuesday between his fastest pitch and his slowest. Griffin was also unusually accurate for his standards on Tuesday, throwing 71 of his 104 pitches for strikes.
Finally, Griffin is just really good at pitching with a lead. Does he get a lot of run support? Sure he does. But he also knows how to handle a lead better than most. It can be extremely difficult for some pitchers to change their approach when they get a lead. Griffin, on the other hand, goes to work, throwing strikes and working quickly.
Griffin commented on that approach after the game saying, “We just tried to pound the zone, get ahead of everyone, and good things happen when you do that.” Griffin also appreciated the early run support; of the 5-run first, he said, “Our guys did a hell of a job getting out there with a good decent lead in the first inning and I was able to try to not mess it up the rest of the time.”
When asked how he was so effective today, Griffin talked about his curveball: “If I’ve got my curveball going, if I am throwing it for strikes, then they have to respect it—so then that makes my fastball play at the top of the zone that much better.”
Offense: What a difference a day makes
Jeff Banister rolled out a different looking lineup on Tuesday afternoon, with Shin-Soo Choo occupying the leadoff spot for just the second time this year. That moved paid immediate dividends as Choo was hit by a pitch after working the count to 3-2, and then scored on a Nomar Mazara double. The first inning, in general, was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Rangers; they sent eight men to the plate and scored five runs on four hits and a HBP. The big hit of the inning was a three-run shot by Ryan Rua that broke the game open early.
It was truly remarkable to see the Rangers have the amount of success they did against Jered Weaver, who was done after just three innings pitched—having allowed seven runs on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts. The most surprising thing all day may have been those two Weaver walks; the Rangers strike out a ton, and Weaver had only walked six batters all season coming into the game.
Speaking of walks: the Rangers walked seven times on Tuesday, their second-highest total of the year. The Rangers also cut down on their strikeouts, racking up just eight on the day.
Remember Shin-Soo Choo hitting in the leadoff spot? Well, he got on base four times Tuesday afternoon. Remember how bad Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor had been going into Tuesday? They both contributed two hits, and Gallo reached for a third time with a walk.
It was just one of those days. Everything seemed to go right—and for Rangers fans, it has been a long time coming.
So what was so different today that led to all the runs? For Jeff Banister it was simple; as he said, “Our guys up and down the line up were dedicated and disciplined to their approaches.” Banister went on to praise his players for staying with their approach no matter who was on the mound. “I think our guys, their approach today, keeping the ball in the middle of the field,” he said, “The thing that I liked the most was that even when they made the pitching changes, the guys they stayed with their singular approach.”
That much was evident on Tuesday as the Rangers kept the pressure on throughout the entire game.
Now, was it the type of game that can turn a season around? I’m not even going there. Too many unusual things have happened this year to even attempt that, but it was fun. And, for the night, Rangers fans can go to sleep with the sweet satisfaction of a win.
The Rangers finally head home after their second 3-city road trip of the season. The opponent will be these same San Diego Padres, and it will be Yu Darvish on the mound looking to lead his Rangers to their second win in a row.