|The Blue Jays Blueprint: Toronto’s Way to Beat Clay||09.30.09 at 11:43 am ET|
The Blue Jays slammed Clay Buchholz for seven runs (matching a season high) in five innings to deal the pitcher his first loss since Aug. 13, an eight-start run in which the right-hander was 6-0 with a 2.44 ERA. After yielding just one homer in his prior six starts, Buchholz allowed a stunning five longballs on Tuesday. The run-down on those blasts:
–Jays leadoff man Jose Bautista set the tone by blasting the first pitch of the game, a 92 mph fastball, over the Wall.
–Adam Lind, with a runner on first and no outs in the first, crushed a 1-2 changeup for a two-run homer to center.
–In the top of the second, Aaron Hill fell behind 0-2, then worked back to a full count before going deep to left on a changeup.
–In the top of the third, Kevin Millar fell behind 0-2, but sat on a 1-2 changeup that he drove out to left field.
–Finally, in the top of the fifth, Lind (who ended the game with a career-high three homers, the first such game a Fenway Park visitor since Frank Thomas accomplished the feat as a member of the White Sox on Sept. 15, 1996) smashed a 94 mph fastball on a 1-1 count.
So: two homers on early-count fastballs, and three on late-count changeups. The Blue Jays appeared to follow a blueprint in their fourth game against Buchholz, and they unloaded on his off-speed offerings with two strikes.
“They’ve faced him quite a few times this year. I thought they were sitting soft, especially late in the count. They got some change-ups up,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “I thought they did a good job of picking out one speed with Buc and he was elevating a little bit and they hit it a long way.”
Buchholz threw 20 pitches with two strikes. Of those:
–Six were changeups (all in the first three innings). The Blue Jays blasted three homers on the pitch, took one for a ball, grounded out on one and lined out on one. They did not swing-and-miss at a two-strike changeup.
–One was a curveball, resulting in a single.
–Seven were fastballs: four balls, two groundouts, one strikeout looking
–Six sliders: two swings and misses, one called third strike, two balls, one foul
In other words, when Buchholz threw hard stuff (fastballs and sliders) in two-strike counts, the Jays primarily took the pitches. When they swung, they either missed or made poor contact.
When he threw off-speed pitches, namely his Bugs Bunny changeup and curve, Toronto swung at all but one pitch, and typically made hard contact.
“I felt like I did a pretty good job with the majority of the guys getting ahead in the count and two-strike counts. The execution of the two-strike pitches weren’t near as sharp as they needed to be,” said Buchholz. “Obviously, they had a game plan and they stuck to it and they beat me tonight.
“The home runs, or a couple at least, they were sitting soft with two strikes. All year I’ve been throwing my changeups with two strikes to get outs with. Even though a couple of them were in decent locations, they sat back on it. They did a good job of following their game plan and sticking to it.”
Of course, such a claim represents a potential danger with the playoffs soon at hand. Postseason opponents zero in on such vulnerabilities, and typically do a tremendous job focusing on a pitcher’s weaknesses. Scouts for the Yankees, Angels, Tigers and Twins were all in attendance at Tuesday’s game; no doubt, all of them noted the success of looking for changeups on two-strike counts and making him use his fastball.
That being the case, with Buchholz representing an almost-certain member of the postseason rotation, he will have to counteract the tactic. He has the tools to do so, namely the ability to change his pitching patterns by leaving opponents guessing as to what pitch will be thrown in what count, and by executing his breaking stuff so it disappears on two-strike counts, rather than staying thigh-high.
“When you throw up in the zone and pretty much in the middle, I think anybody can hit those kind of pitches, even with the stuff Clay has,” said catcher Victor Martinez. “I think it was one of those days he didn’t have his best stuff and they really made him pay.”
“There are other teams who have sat on [Buchholz’ slow stuff], too,” Francona added. “His changeup’s so good they don’t hit it. It’s just the ball was elevated a little bit [on Tuesday].”
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