I realize that the last thing that most of you want to do is re-live last night's game, but hopefully any readers with a strong stomach will hear me out. I'll try to keep things brief.
Reading through numerous recaps of last night's 4-2 loss to the Indians, I came across a recurring theme: lots of writers are blaming this loss on the Tigers' tendency to swing at pitches outside the strike zone.
Josh Worn, at Walkoff Woodward:
The Tigers swung early, the Tigers hacked at balls. The Tigers capitalized once again on the aura of mediocrity and looked just as bad and as boring as they did on Sunday, against another pitcher who has historically struggled throwing strikes, Phil Hughes.
Our very own Kurt Mensching:
Facing Ubaldo Jimenez, a pitcher who struggled hard not to walk batters in earlier games, they played right into his hands. He didn't even have to throw strikes. They did the rest.
Normally, I wouldn't question what these two have written. We all know that they are two of the best in the business -- we're still waiting on Josh to get called up by MLive or the Free Press, by the way -- but something just didn't seem right to me.
This might seem crazy, but I think Ubaldo Jimenez simply pitched well last night.
First, let's get one caveat out of the way: I am not arguing that the Tigers were patient at the plate last night. There were several instances in which I thought they could have done a better job at working the count -- their 0-for-9 mark after 2-0 counts attests to that. What I am going to point out shortly is that the Tigers were seeing the strike zone much better than most of us are giving them credit for.
After staring at the image above until my head started to hurt (though that could have also been ESPN's Stephen A. Smith yelling at me about the Boston Celtics), I only counted four pitches outside the strike zone that were swinging strikes or outs (I tried to count the foul balls, but honestly I had difficulty distinguishing the green from the maroon). For an offense that has swung at a lot of bad pitches this season, I think they did a good job of finding "their pitch."
Meanwhile, check out all of those dark blue dots in the strike zone. Like Jim Leyland said after the game, the Tigers weren't able to execute when they got ahead in the count. These dots indicate all those 2-0 fastballs that turned into lineouts or, more often, lazy flyouts. The writers at Let's Go Tribe were quick to point this out as well:
[Jimenez] seemed to emphasize his four-seam fastball, and not only did he throw it for strikes, but the Detroit hitters seemed to have difficulty in centering it. That pitch set up everything else in his considerable arsenal, and for at least one night, he looked like the pitcher the Indians envisioned when they cleaned out their pitching prospect stable last July.
The frustrating part about this is that Jimenez was wild. He only threw 55 of his 102 pitches for strikes. I'm not excusing the fact that the Tigers were only able to take one walk -- along with Quintin Berry's hit-by-pitch that led to the Tigers' first run -- in 6 2/3 innings. They need to work deeper into the count and drive up pitch counts, especially with how they are struggling to make solid contact at the moment.
That being said, I can't fault their approach against Jimenez last night. To those that don't agree with the previous sentence, remember that hindsight is 20/20. Before last night's contest, Jimenez had a career ERA at Comerica Park hovering around 10. This team has seen him before and knows how wild he can be -- don't forget that they drew six walks off of him a couple weeks ago. They were able to get into favorable counts, but simply couldn't execute when Jimenez threw a fastball over the plate. Was it his doing or the Tigers'? We don't know, and I honestly don't think it matters.
Sometimes in baseball, you just have to tip your cap to the other guy, and I think that Jimenez deserves that for his performance last night.