Thursdays can be dull in the baseball world because of open dates and lifeless day games. Thankfully, this Thursday provided plenty to analyze. Here’s the best of what you missed during yesterday’s action.
1. Let Pitchers Hit!
Perhaps you’re an avowed supporter of the designated hitter. Perhaps Major League Baseball should, finally, do away with pitchers hitting in the National League to bring some needed consistency to its rules. But if that happens, we’ll be denied the thrill of seeing the unlikely pitcher home run. On Thursday night, Blue Jays starting pitcher Marcus Stroman provided the rare instance of an American League pitcher smashing a dinger during Toronto’s 9–0 win over the Braves in Atlanta.
Over the long haul of a 162-game season, pitcher home runs (and extra-base hits) are moments that can excite the entire team. The Jays had lost the first three games of the series, were dealing with the fallout of Kevin Pillar using a homophobic slur against reliever Jason Motte, and saw slugger Jose Bautista get plunked early in the game after two bench-clearing incidents on Wednesday. The reactions from Stroman’s teammates prove that all the frustration of a forgettable series momentarily dissolved after seeing their pitcher—one who might see some 10 plate appearances all season—hit his first career home run.
There was genuine fan interest in Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner participating in last year’s home run derby (Bumgarner himself wanted to participate, but the player’s union summarily killed the idea), and Bartolo Colón’s 2016 home run off of James Shields was arguably the most popular highlight of the season. The DH might be the more practical and player-friendly option, but it’s not nearly as fun as watching a pitcher help himself out.
2. The Injury Bug bites two of the NL’s best
The National League lost two of its top performers in the span of 48 hours. First, Braves first basemen Freddie Freeman was diagnosed with a broken wrist after being hit by an Aaron Loup pitch on Tuesday night. Before getting hit, Freeman was hitting .341/.461/.748 with 14 home runs and leading the big leagues with a 1.209 OPS. He was on pace to eclipse his outstanding 2016 campaign, which he finished hitting .302/.400/.569 with 34 homers. Even more debilitating, Freeman is in his Age 27 season, which is commonly considered the prime of most hitters. The broken wrist will shelve Freeman for 10 weeks, so expect to (hopefully) see him back around the trading deadline or the beginning of August.
Freeman’s injury will do more damage to his fantasy owners’ playoff hopes than to the Braves’ postseason chances, but Justin Turner’s pulled hamstring could be a significant blow to the Dodgers. The third baseman—currently leading the NL with a .379 batting average—pulled up lame while trying to score on a Yasmani Grandal single during L.A.’s 7–2 win over the Marlins on Thursday. Manager Dave Roberts expressed some optimism after the game, claiming that Turner had some strength in the hamstring, and that the pain was behind the knee and not “in the belly” of the muscle. Turner will undergo scans today, but injured hamstrings are typically balky and require extended recovery times. The Dodgers have succeeded despite injuries in the past (they set a MLB record for DL days last year and still made the NLCS), but Turner is one player—both on the field and in the clubhouse—that they may not be ready to replace immediately.
3. … but the Dodgers had themselves quite a night
The Dodgers coasted easily over the struggling Marlins on Thursday night with the kind of complete performance that proved why their one of baseball’s best teams. Starting pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu logged one of his better outings of the season, scattering seven hits and two earned runs over 5 1/3 innings, and provided two highlight-reel plays. His double off of Edinson Volquez was the first extra-base hit for any Dodger pitcher this season, and his leaping grab on a comebacker evoked a memorable response from Clayton Kershaw.
The 442-foot shot was Puig’s longest of the MLB Statcast era and his team-leading eighth homer of the season.
The biggest star of the night, however, was the bullpen, which relieved Ryu with 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief and 10 strikeouts. Kenley Jansen logged an immaculate ninth inning (three strikeouts on nine pitches) and even helped himself with an infield single in the bottom of the eighth. It was the third time in last 100 years that a bullpen didn’t allow a hit and had 10 strikeouts.
4. There’s no reason to worry in Chicago
Cubs president Theo Epstein was motivated to issue a reassuring statement to fans this week, claiming that he wasn’t worried about his team’s lackadaisical start to the season. The Cubs responded by sweeping the Reds and moving two games over .500.
It’s a bit disconcerting that several of the Cubs’ essential players are hitting well below their respective capacities—Anthony Rizzo (.224), Addison Russell (.215), Kyle Schwarber (.188)—and 2015 Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta has been awful (5.44 ERA, 1.46 WHIP), but Chicago still has too many weapons to be in any significant trouble. If Arrieta can’t recover his old form, then the Cubs may seek starting pitching at the deadline, but their lineup and bullpen remain too good for them to face a significant challenge in the NL Central … for now.
5. The Tigers are happy to have J.D. Martinez back
In six games back from the disabled list, Martinez is 8-for-16 with five home runs and 11 RBI. His slash line is .500/.680/1.438. Who cares if it’s a small sample size? In a season where Miguel Cabrera is struggling, the Tigers must be thrilled that one of their other big swingers isn’t struggling despite missing the first month-and-a-half of the season. This was Martinez’s latest effort during Detroit’s 6–5 win over the Orioles.
Whether Pillar, his agent, or a Blue Jays representative wrote this apology, it is a fairly sincere expression of regret that we don’t see enough from public figures. It’s disheartening that Pillar was comfortable using a homophobic slur at all, and the common “this is not who I am” refrain is a tired one, but the two-game suspension should help prevent players from using the offensive language that Pillar used in Wednesday’s game. The earnestness of the written note is welcome, but let’s hope Pillar speaks about the situation at some point and encourages a further examination of baseball’s issues with homophobia.