Fish Cap: Marlins pitching shines in Houston sweep
By Michael Jong
There is no doubt that the Marlins needed their sweep of the Houston Astros to get back on their feet after suffering through the previous month. The series wins versus the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics were nice, but the four-game sweep of the Astros was really helpful to the club’s chances of climbing back up to a .500 record. The Fish are a good enough team that they should have had a decent chance to sweep a club like Houston, so it was good to see them “beat the bad teams,” so to speak.
Series Hero: Hanley Ramirez (0.353 WPA)
Series Goat: Omar Infante (-0.136 WPA)
Impressed by: Hanley Ramirez (16 PA, 3 H, 1 HR, 0 K, 5 BB)
Depressed by: No one in particular
Pitching very impressive
Every starter the Marlins threw out there this weekend worked against the Astros. Of the four that took the bump for the Fish, Brad Hand unsurprisingly looked the worst, throwing a mediocre game that included four strikeouts versus three walks and a good amount of luck on balls in play; he allowed 19 balls in play and surrendered only two hits, an impossibly low average. He still appears to not be ready for the big leagues, but the Marlins will take the two-hit performance any day. The other starters, however, all looked solid. Ricky Nolasco, Javier Vazquez, and Chris Volstad combined for 22 innings pitched and 18 strikeouts versus just two walks. It was encouraging to see none of the three pitchers allow home runs. Volstad in particular did an excellent job of home run suppression by forcing 10 of his 17 balls in play on the ground, collecting an xFIP of 2.04 for that game. Ricky Nolasco was also excellent, posting his sixth complete game of his career and looking like the Nolasco of old, striking out eight and walking one. These three performances were almost flawless in execution aside from the hits allowed by Volstad.
Vazquez Velocity Watch
Of course, the continued success of Vazquez is also a story of interest. In his Friday win, the 35-year old threw at an average of 90.5 mph, once again primarily staying above the 90 mph range that he was previously unable to touch at the beginning of the season. It should be no surprise that he now has semblance of his old command back; since May 21, Vazquez has walked just 10 batters in 57 innings pitched, versus walking 24 hitters in his first 39 1/3 innings in a Marlins uniform. In fact, here’s the breakdown once again, splitting his pre- and post-velocity change numbers.
|First eight starts||39 1/3||88.2||7.55||5.52|
|Last 10 starts||57||90.4||3.63||4.04|
The change is astonishing, and it is likely directly tied to that sudden increase in velocity. Perhaps with the velocity uptake, Vazquez is allowed to be around the zone and not have to nibble around the zone. It seems some of this could be tied to a mechanical change, as Jaime Navarro of the Miami Herald reported that pitching coach Randy St. Claire showed Vazquez in late May that he was not using his lower body in his delivery. Ironically, the first time we saw the resurgence of Vazquez’s velocity was in late May against the Tampa Bay Rays. Could it be that that simple tweak in delivery has caused the return of an effective Vazquez? Here’s what Vazquez thinks:
"“It hasn’t meant better results because I had some really bad games during that stretch. But the life of my fastball is back, and I feel a lot better. Sometimes because my velocity wasn’t there, I would try to trick people. Now that my fastball is back, I’m trying to stay more aggressive, mix it up better.”"
Whatever is happening, keep doing it Javy. The Marlins could use another effective pitcher with Josh Johnson hurt.
Hanley Ramirez sighting again
All three of Ramirez’s hits this past weekend occurred in his excellent game on Friday evening. What was even more interesting about Ramirez’s performance over the weekend, aside from that two-run no doubter to the one of the deepest parts of Sun Life Stadium, was his impressive plate control. He drew five walks and avoided the strikeout throughout his 16 PA against Houston, an eye-popping statistic to go along with his .273/.500/.543 weekend. It’s no surprise that the Marlins have found their winning ways again since Ramirez began hitting; since the Los Angeles Angels series, Ramirez is hitting .364/.447/.591 with four homers and the Marlins have subsequently won 11 of those 19 games. It is not much, but it is the sort of self-correction the Fish were looking for from Ramirez as his slump continued.