David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Importance of Throwing Strikes

It’s hard not to feel better about the Indians’ rotation after the weekend just past. Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister delivered dominating performances and Brett Myers looked like he could actually be serviceable, although I maintain that the over/under on his wins is 10 and I am taking the under. But the most encouraging thing about the weekend was the number of strikes that were thrown.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Masterson and McAllister were above 70 percent strikes thrown and Myers was above 60 percent, which indicates that this was more than simply the White Sox being in a collective slump. It is more that the pitchers are grasping what Terry Francona preached all through spring training, that getting the ball over the plate is the first step to being a successful starting pitcher.

How good of a preacher is Francona? We will find out tonight. The starting pitcher in the series opener is Ubaldo Jimenez, and the opponent is the Boston Red Sox. Not only has Jimenez done a poor job of throwing strikes throughout his tenure in Cleveland, but the Red Sox are renowned for working the count and waiting for the right pitch to hit. It could be perfect storm of bad circumstances for the Indians. (By the way, it is interesting that Francona used the two rainouts last week to give Jimenez so much extra rest and time to work on his mechanics. You have to wonder what they were working on that didn’t take after six weeks of spring training.)

This will be an interesting game to watch, if one can call any game involving Jimenez interesting. Maybe it is interesting in the way that driving in a snowstorm is interesting. You feel like things are under control, but every pitch could be that black ice that sends you into the guard rail. Jimenez has been that way since he came to Cleveland, making watching his starts way too stressful to be enjoyable.

It still feels like Jimenez’ season could go either way. There is at least a chance that his first start in Toronto was more indicative of what we can expect this year than the debacle that was the home opener. In his first game, he faced several instances of adversity that would typically send the inning or the whole game astray, but he recovered every time. If he can hang onto whatever got him through his 2013 debut, one could easily see him winning fifteen games.

Jimenez needs a catcher and a pitching coach who will spot when he is losing discipline with his mechanics and snap him back into line. Since a pitching coach can visit only once per inning, that puts a lot on Carlos Santana to show the type of assertiveness that, frankly, he has not shown so far. How he handles this will go a long way toward becoming a premier catcher.

Otherwise, the most encouraging thing about the season so far is probably McAllister. We all knew that Masterson was capable of doing what he has done so far, but to me McAllister had never looked like more than a No. 4 starter before this season. So far this year, he has shown good velocity and movement while keeping the ball in the strike zone. That is about as close to the definition of a good starting pitcher as you can get. If he keeps this up and Ubaldo keeps it together, the Indians suddenly have three capable starters. Get one more guy to emerge from Trevor Bauer, Scott Kazmir, and Corey Kluber, and add in 8-10 wins from Myers, and suddenly you have a rotation that could keep us in race all season long.

Tags: Brett Myers Cleveland Indians Justin Masterson Ubaldo Jimenez Zach McAllister

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