Pitch location -- specifically fastball location -- is something that I have emphasized this season, particularly with Rick Porcello on the mound for the Tigers. Last night, we saw a similar pitcher in Houston's Bud Norris struggle with his fastball location. He paid for it on multiple occasions, including nearly all of the Tigers' extra base hits. Let's take a closer look at what happened.
Note: In order to illustrate how Norris missed his location, I added a couple indicators to the GIFs below. It should be fairly obvious, but the red dot is catcher Jason Castro's pitch location, while the blue dot is where the pitch actually ends up.
Situation: top of the first inning, no runners on base, zero outs. Andy Dirks wastes no time in his newly appointed leadoff role, lining the second pitch he sees over center fielder Robbie Grossman's head for a double. Castro targets low and insider, but Norris misses up and over the plate.
In the next at-bat, Torii Hunter lines a 1-1 pitch over Grossman's head for another double. Norris keeps the ball low, but misses out over the plate. Hunter, historically a good low-ball hitter, jumps all over the pitch to drive in Dirks.
Situation: top of the fourth inning, no runners on base, zero outs. Norris' poor command came back to haunt him again in the fourth inning. Prince Fielder got an elevated fastball on the outside half of the late and he lined it into the left-center gap for a leadoff double.
On the next pitch, Victor Martinez gets yet another fastball and lines it into the seats for a two-run homer. This was a significant play at the time, giving the Tigers a 3-2 lead. This was Norris' worst miss of the night, nearly bringing Castro out of his crouch because the pitch is so high.
Another observation: it's encouraging that Martinez can still punish a mistake. Now, the trick is getting him to do it more often...
Later in the inning after Norris loaded the bases, he put Andy Dirks into a quick 0-2 hole. Unlike the previous situations, Dirks did his damage on a changeup that was actually pretty well located. Norris got the changeup down in the strike zone, though it probably should have been a bit lower. The problem? This is Dirks' wheelhouse. He turns on the pitch, driving it out of the park for his first career grand slam.
After a frustrating day at the plate on Sunday, it was nice to see the Tigers take advantage of Norris' mistakes and cruise to a comfortable win. In particular, Dirks and Martinez need to continue to punish bad pitching to help fill the void left by Austin Jackson while he is on the disabled list. Based on what we saw last night, the Tigers appear to be in good shape for the time being.