An Unhittable Debut
The Astros are known around the league as a club that uses their strong analytical background and pioneering work into spin rates and the like to improve the overall quality of any and all pitchers that they come into contact with.
Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Wade Miley, Charlie Morton, Collin McHugh, Will Harris and Ryan Pressly are among the lengthy list of hurlers who improved their performance and strikeout rate under the watchful eye of Jeff Luhnow and company.
So naturally, when Aaron Sanchez was acquired from the Blue Jays just prior to Wednesday’s trade deadline, optimists around the league salivated at the prospects of the Astros’ brain trust digging in and attempting to correct whatever has plagued the talented right-hander.
The 27-year-old hurler came to the Astros with an underwhelming 6.07 ERA, 1.69 WHIP and 99/59 K/BB ratio across 112 ⅔ innings. Sure, there was talent there, but this type of transformation would take time, right?
No one could have foreseen what happened on Saturday though, in Sanchez’s first start as a member of the Astros.
Sanchez went out and fired six innings of no-hit baseball against the Mariners, allowing just a pair of walks and striking out six along the way. He was lifted after throwing just 92 pitches in his six frames -- 55 of them or strikes.
Will Harris took over for Sanchez and worked through the seventh inning without allowing a hit. Then Joe Biagini -- who also came over to the Astros from the Blue Jays on Wednesday -- went through the eighth inning with the no-hit bid intact.
That put all eyes on Chris Devenski who was tasked with working the ninth. Devenski got Kyle Seager to ground out to first base, then struck out Omar Narvaez. That left only Daniel Vogelbach standing in the way of history. After running the count full Vogelbach flew out to right field, competing the combined no-hitter for the Astros.
It was the third no-hitter in the big leagues this season -- and the second one against the Mariners after they were no-hit by the Angels on July 12.
It was the 12th no-hitter in Astros’ franchise history and their first since Mike Fiers no-hit the Dodgers in 2015.
An excited Sanchez told reporters after the game, “It’s hard to come to a team and feel like you can contribute in a way when they’re already so good… It’s been an unbelievable 48 hours, and for today to end like it did, I’m so happy.”
One of the big keys to success for Sanchez in this start -- which also led to the improvements for Charlie Morton when he was with the Astros -- was the increased usage of his curveball and four-seam fastball. Sanchez entered the start throwing his curveball 22% of the time, but wound up throwing it 29% of the time in this one.
Mariners’ manager Scott Servais noticed a distinct change in Sanchez’s arsenal and pitch usage on Saturday, explaining "Sanchez pitched different tonight than he typically does … Going into the game, we know what Houston likes their guys to do. He quickly jumped on board with what they like to do over there, and he got results tonight. You’ve got to give him credit. He was riding more four-seamers up in the zone. Typically he’s been more two-seam down. But he did a good job tonight.”
The Astros have now won 13 of their last 16 games and own the best record in the American League at 72-40. They already had a terrific top three in their rotation with Verlander, Cole and Miley -- and that was before acquiring Zack Greinke from the Diamondbacks in the waning moments on Wednesday.
To be able to slot Sanchez in as the fifth member of that starting rotation, is a tremendous luxury. He isn’t going to pitch like this every time out, and it’s still way too early to tell if he’ll turn his whole season (and career) around with the move to the Astros. But at least for one night, Luhnow and company look like the smartest men in the room.
Nelson Cruz wasn’t a hot commodity on the free agent market over the winter, despite coming off a season in which he had blasted 37 home runs in 144 games for the Mariners -- the fifth straight season in which he had hit 37 or more long balls.
He hung around as a free agent until the end of December, when the Twins surprised the baseball world by inking the soon to be 39-year-old slugger to a one-year $14.3 million contract with a $12 million club option for 2020.
The way that Cruz has been mashing the baseball, that contract looks like a ridiculous bargain.
Entering play on Saturday, Cruz had swatted 27 home runs through his first 81 games of the season. That included a recent surge in which he had left the yard nine times in his last 12 games -- including a three-homer game against the White Sox on July 25.
In the first inning on Saturday, Cruz obliterated a Danny Duffy offering for a solo home run. He repeated the feat again the very next inning, one of three homers that the Twins would blast against Duffy in the second inning. He wasn’t finished though. Cruz then strolled to the plate in the sixth inning and blasted a two-run shot off of Jorge Lopez -- allowing him to eclipse the 30-homer plateau for the sixth consecutive season.
He also became the first player in Major League history to have multiple three-homer games after turning 39 years old -- let alone accomplishing the feat twice in a matter of eight games.
Cruz has now clobbered 12 home runs in his last 13 games. He’s slashing a monstrous .295/.386/.652 with 30 long balls and 72 RBI in 82 games on the season. His .652 slugging percentage would set a Twins’ franchise record.
I think it’s a safe bet to say that the Twins will be picking up his $12 million option for 2020.
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The Yankees -- who are no strangers to dealing with injuries this season -- lost another big bat from the middle of their lineup on Saturday when Edwin Encarnacion fractured his right wrist when he was drilled by a pitch during the first game of their doubleheader against the Red Sox.
Initially, fantasy owners were able to breathe a sigh of relief when it was announced that Encarnacion’s X-rays came back negative, but after undergoing a CT scan, the diagnosis quickly became much more grim.
Mike Ford was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday and he’ll help to shoulder the load in Encarnacion’s absence. The Yankees have thrived on the next man up mentality this season, with Gio Urshela, Cameron Maybin and Mike Tauchman among the many who have had unexpected success when forced into the Bombers’ lineup.
The 36-year-old slugger said Saturday that he only expects to miss 3-to-5 weeks with the injury, which was described as a hairline fracture in his right wrist. That timeline may seem a bit optimistic, but it's encouraging to see that Encarnacion is so eager to return. What will be important to watch, is how the wrist injury impacts his power stroke upon his eventual return.
It's a major loss to the Yankees, and to fantasy owners, who have enjoyed Encarnacion's power production this season. Despite a poor batting average, Encarnacion has slugged 30 home runs, driven in 74 runs and scored 74 runs through 101 games on the season.
American League Quick Hits: Aaron Hicks is set to undergo an MRI exam on Sunday after injuring his elbow while making a throw to third base during Saturday night's game against the Red Sox. … David Price will be activated from the paternity list to start on Sunday against the Yankees. He’ll attempt to snap the Red Sox’ seven-game losing streak… The Orioles claimed Ty Blach off waivers from the Giants. … The Twins placed Byron Buxton (shoulder) and Michael Pineda (triceps) on the 10-day injured list. … The Royals claimed Jacob Barnes off waivers from the Brewers. … John Means (shoulder) will return from the injured list to start against the Yankees on Wednesday. … Didi Gregorius sat out both games of Saturday’s doubleheader with a strained knuckle on his right hand… Corey Kluber (arm) is set to begin his minor league rehab assignment on Thursday. … Ken Giles (elbow) is expected to be available on Sunday. … Andrelton Simmons was a late scratch from the Angels’ lineup due to a sore left foot. He’ll undergo an MRI on Sunday. … Derek Fisher was pulled from Saturday’s game with a facial contusion after he was hit in the face by a fly ball that he lost in the sun. … Patrick Sandoval is expected to be recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake to make his first big league start against the Reds in Cincinnati on Monday. Felix Pena will undergo an MRI exam after leaving Friday's start against the Indians with a right knee sprain. … Jordy Mercer was pulled from Saturday’s game due to lower body cramping. … Chris Sale was slaughtered for eight runs on nine hits over 3 ⅔ innings in a loss to the Yankees. … DJ LeMahieu homered twice and drove in four runs to lead the Yankees’ attack in the first game of their doubleheader. … Eric Sogard belted a pair of long balls and plated five runs in a victory over the Marlins. … Jonathan Villar homered and swiped a base in a win over the Blue Jays. … Michael Brantley went 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and four RBI in a lopsided win over the Mariners. … Francisco Lindor clubbed a three-run homer in a win over the Angels… Gleyber Torres swatted a pair of home runs as the Yankees took the nightcap from the Red Sox to sweep Saturday’s doubleheader. … Rougned Odor blasted a walk-off solo homer in the 10th inning to sink the Tigers. … Danny Duffy allowed nine runs (eight earned) over 4 ⅔ innings in a brutal loss to the Twins. … Matthew Boyd fanned nine over 5 ⅔ innings of two-run baseball in a no-decision. … Chad Pinder blasted a pinch-hit, three-run homer to lead the Athletics past the Cardinals.
National League Quick Hits: David Dahl was placed on the 10-day injured list with a high right ankle sprain. … The Cubs designated veteran right-hander Brad Brach for assignment. … The Mets claimed Donnie Hart off waivers from the Brewers. … Howie Kendrick missed his second straight game due to leg cramps. … Willson Contreras was forced to exit Saturday’s game with a right hamstring strain. He’ll undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of the injury. … Evan Longoria (foot) is expected to return to the Giants’ lineup on Sunday. … Matt Carpenter (foot) is likely to return to the Cardinals’ lineup on Sunday. … Neil Walker was removed from Saturday's game against the Rays with a jammed right index finger. He’s considered day-to-day. … Cole Hamels struck out six over five scoreless innings against the Brewers in his return from the injured list. … Albert Almora went 3-for-3 with a homer in a victory over the Brewers. … Marcus Stroman surrendered three runs on seven hits over 4 ⅓ innings against the Pirates in his Mets’ debut. … Wilson Ramos went 4-for-5 with a homer, double and six RBI in a win over the Pirates. … Bryan Reynolds went 4-for-4 with a double and three runs scored in a losing effort there. … Aaron Nola punched out 10 over seven innings of one-run ball in a dominant victory over the White Sox. … Nick Pivetta worked the final two innings to record his first career save. … Ronald Acuna Jr. delivered a walk-off win for the Braves with an RBI single in the 10th inning. … Aristides Aquino went 2-for-2 with his first major-league home run in a loss to the Braves. … Shane Greene suffered a blown save, giving up a run in the ninth inning against the Reds in his Braves’ debut. … Trevor Bauer allowed three runs on seven hits over 4 ⅔ innings in his Reds’ debut. … Walker Buehler punched out an astonishing 15 batters in a complete game victory over the Padres. … Scooter Gennett swatted his first home run of the season as the Giants topped the Rockies. … Eduardo Escobar homered twice and drove in a career-high seven runs as the Diamondbacks slaughtered the Nationals. … Stephen Strasburg took it on the chin, giving up nine runs on nine hits (including three home runs) in a loss to the Diamondbacks.