It seems too convenient to pin a turning point on one at-bat, but it could be said that Ichiro Suzuki broke something else besides J.J. Putz’s scoreless appearances streak on July 29.
Putz had a runner on first and a 1-2 count on Ichiro, but couldn’t find the putaway pitch as Ichiro fouled off five straight offerings, including Putz’s best splitter on pitch No. 7. Putz worked back up, and Suzuki ripped one to the gap for the first of two runs Putz would allow.
Since then, it’s been a rough ride. He’s allowed eight runs over his last 6 1/3 innings (at least one, maybe three, courtesy of Andruw Jones), and blew two consecutive saves to an unimpressive Detroit offense.
He had a similar problem with Austin Jackson on Sunday, and that plate appearance was where Putz went wrong. As was the case with Ichiro, he got ahead 1-2, and he couldn’t put him away.
But unlike Ichiro, Jackson didn’t see Putz’s best splitter. In fact, he didn’t see any splitter. Check this out:
Jackson entered the game with 122 strikeouts in 106 games. FanGraphs says he can hit the harder breaking stuff, but struggles with the tumbling, diving stuff.
But it wasn’t just against Jackson, because he only went to his splitter once over 23 pitches. It’s been an odd series of events, one that makes me wonder if one J.J. got inside another J.J.’s head:
While the numbers show Putz has used that pitch more, neither he nor Cooper said it was part of a concerted strategy.
In fact, when told he was throwing more splitters, Putz’s reaction was a surprised “I have?”
There are a couple other pitchers in recent memory who lost their split-finger pitch and ended up getting beat often on their fastballs — Scott Linebrink and Jose Contreras. But before we start predicting doomsday, I’d chalk it up to a couple of different factors.
For one, he was appearing in his third consecutive game for the first time all year. And not only that, but he was facing the same team for the third straight game. Perhaps after getting beat on his splitter the night before, he tried to give the Tigers a different look, and it didn’t work.
But more importantly, the law of averages has wanted to have a word with him for quite some time. He’s been flirting with his All-Star form of 2007, but chances are he wasn’t going to keep juggling all of these chainsaws:
- 6.25 strikeouts per walk.
- 11.3 percent line-drive rate.
- Opponents swing at 38.4 percent of pitches out of the strike zone.
- 83.3 percent strand rate.
That points to an awfully good run, one that is begging to be softened somewhat by an inconsistent couple of weeks. Putz has just happened to stack them back-to-back.
I’ve likened his situation to Tom Gordon’s in 2003. The Sox picked him up after Tommy John Surgery, Gordon got back on track and pitched his way to a big contract. Their seasons have taken similar paths, too.
Gordon started much worse, but he had a stretch of 19 strong outings before careening into the guardrail for three games in early August. He shook it off and pitched very well down the stretch, and I think Putz can, too. The pennant race is forcing Ozzie Guillen to go to his best arms more often, and Putz fits that description. Maybe too well, right now.