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Yoan Moncada’s 2019 debut was exactly what he needed. I’m not sure any of the 24 others can say the same after Thursday’s 5-3 Opening Day loss to the Royals.
Moncada went 1-for-3 with a walk. That kind of line isn’t new to him, but it’s how he went 1-for-3 with a walk that stands out. His pitch chart is beautiful:
Brad Keller isn’t a strikeout machine, so Moncada should have had better luck with his swings. That said, he held off on pitches he couldn’t hit and offered at what he might be able to square up, which is the template for the idea going forward.
- 1-0 (89.8 mph lineout to center)
- 0-0 (99.3 mph lineout to left)
- 1-1 (105.3 mph single through shift on right side)
- 3-1 (walk)
Along with the bat, third base looked natural to him, and not for a lack of testing. He converted a couple of tricky batted balls into outs. Neither of them qualified as highlights according to MLB Advanced Media, but we’ve seen players screw them up before, especially on wet turf.
In the fifth, he charged this Chris Owings chopper and made an on-target throw.
I mentioned this on Sox Machine Live, but I’ve long suspected that this kind of play is easier than it looks, only because it was one of the few plays Mark Teahen could reliably make some years ago. Still, Moncada had no problems making a quick exchange and throwing in stride, which wasn’t always the case at second.
Then in the seventh, he briefly saved a run by cutting down Adalberto Mondesi at the plate. Mondesi had reached on his second triple of the game, but he couldn’t make the last 90 feet this time.
Again, this is the kind of body-gathering Moncada struggled with at second, but everything looked fluid here, from smothering the short hop to an on-target throw after the minimum of steps required to orient himself.
There are 161 more games, so Moncada will make mistakes in the field and get locked up by a third-strike fastball eventually. Still, Opening Day is about hope, and with Moncada showing positive returns early, he leaves open the possibility that he’ll be able to show them often, too.
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As for Eloy Jiménez , his day can be summed up with two charts. They threw him a ton of sliders, and he chased enough of them for the Royals’ liking.
The first pitch he saw in a big-league game was a fastball from Keller, who gave him nothing but breaking pitches over the rest of their first two battles.
First PA: Jiménez chased two of the three sliders he saw after that first-pitch strike for a K.
Second PA: Jiménez swung through a hanging slider, then swung at two of four sliders out of the zone for another strikeout.
Third PA: Jiménez took an elevated outside-corner fastball for strike one, laid off a slider, then chopped another high fastball for his first contact of the night, which resulted in a 4-3 putout.
Fourth PA: Lefty Jake Diekman threw him sliders 80 percent of the time. Jiménez swung over two of them to fall into a 2-2 count, then got hit in the toe for the most unceremonious of first career RBIs.
Unlike Moncada, Jiménez didn’t get a lot of action his way. He was turned around by the one ball hit over him, but he also had no chance on what turned to be Jorge Soler’s rocketed RBI double.
Jiménez chalked up his awkward start to emotions, and he’s probably not wrong:
‘I was too anxious,’ Jiménez said, looking noticeably more relaxed postgame. ‘Today was the first game and I think that’s why I swing at too many balls in the dirt. But I’m going to adjust.’
While he’s a rookie getting his first cuts with the White Sox, Jiménez has some experience with this matter. He’s been The Man in minor-league lineups long enough that he understands what it’s like to be pitched around.
Somebody like Moncada, while touted, could be theoretically retired inside the strike zone at Triple-A (28 percent strikeout rate). Those pitchers weren’t good enough to succeed regularly (.282 average), but they had reason to try. MLB pitchers showed what that strategy looks like with more reliable execution last season.
Jiménez, conversely, batted .337 across Double-A and Triple-A last year and only struck out 15 percent of the time. He’s had plenty of nights where he only sees junk. The pitchers are now better and so is the junk, but he’ll probably be better equipped for the MLB variety of this strategy once he gets a few more firsts under his belt.