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The results might have been on Dallas Keuchel’s side Friday night, but don’t ask him how he did it.
OK, the beat writers asked him how he managed to throw four scoreless innings in the White Sox’s 5-0 blanking of the Reds, but he couldn’t say he designed his evening that way.
“I was telling [Rick Renteria] right when I was done, I was very, very fortunate tonight, and that’s gotta be one of my luckiest starts that I ever had.”
Keuchel said the quality of pitches was “not there,” attributing the substandard feel of his pitches to rust, and a lack of physical activity while letting his back heal up. He said the first inning felt “foreign,” but beyond that, he said he taxed his back enough to know that it felt right.
He also received some help behind the plate. Umpire James Hoye gave him a fairly wide strike zone, but Keuchel attributed it more to Yasmani Grandal.
“The plate was actually really nice tonight,” Keuchel said. “Yas made his money tonight behind the plate, because there were multiple times when he would call two-seam, and it kinda just rode across, almost acting like a cutter. For him to really make my pitches look better than they were is a true testament for him, so I’m very thankful for Yas tonight.”
I’ve been thinking about Grandal — along with the improvement from James McCann — while watching Josh Donaldson show a lack of remorse for his tantrum following his homer off Reynaldo López at Guaranteed Rate Field on Thursday.
If you didn’t catch it the first time around, Donaldson showed up home plate umpire Dan Bellino by covering home plate with dirt to complete his trot around the bases because he was fixated on a slider off the plate called a strike a couple pitches earlier.
And Donaldson was fixated on that slider off the plate because López and Grandal had gotten a few borderline pitches in the two at-bats prior.
The Statcast summary of Donaldson’s at-bats shows that Bellino only made one egregious strike call, but Donaldson was still thinking about it days later when he vented further to the media in melodramatic fashion.
“When Rocco came out and I asked (Bellino) very clearly, “Hey, I want to know where you had the pitch,’” Donaldson said. “I asked him three times very clear and he couldn’t answer my question. When Rocco came out and the umpire’s explanation was, ‘I think he’s just getting excited.’ No, I’m not getting excited. I’m asking you a question and you can’t answer my question and now you’re trying to revert the attention back to me like I’m being an asshole, and I’m not. I’m just asking you a question and you can’t answer it. At the end of the day, it gets reflected toward me. … He was wanting me to do something and so I gave it to him. I made it a point. The players are the only ones who can hold these guys accountable because there’s no (fines) or (suspensions) for these guys. They just go out and show up every day at 6 o’clock and they’re out of here 30 minutes after the game. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to them. They don’t realize we’re playing for our families, we’re playing for our livelihood. Fortunately for me, I have a contract. But at the same time, I want to win and compete. But for a lot of these guys who do not, the difference between consistently bad calls against one individual can definitely affect their career one way or the other.”
There’s a valid point in Donaldson’s screed, because the umpiring has been worse this year. It’s more that turning a go-ahead homer into an ejection that helped cost his team the game remains a thoroughly unconvincing way to make it, especially when there’s no remorse for hamstringing his manager. Good luck swaying skeptical parties that your perspective is indeed calibrated correctly.
From our perspective, Donaldson can rant all he wants. Grandal made him unravel by stealing a strike. This is what we were missing out on when the White Sox ignored framing for several years. Think of all the fun we didn’t have.
* * * * * * * * *
The Most AL Central Manager has stepped out of the divisional limelight. Citing health concerns, Ron Gardenhire abruptly retired from the Detroit Tigers on Saturday with 10 games left on the calendar.
Gardenhire had been classified as high-risk for COVID-19 before the season due to diabetes and his battle with prostate cancer. He didn’t cite the coronavirus, but he said he made his decision based on how his body was responding to the stress of the season, which was exacerbated by a bout of food poisoning.
“As we talked about the way, I’ve been feeling since I had that bout of food poisoning in Minnesota and stomach problems, and then the tension, the stress that goes along with this job,” Gardenhire said, “I told Al I would step out right now.
“I don’t want to put any pressure on Al or anything like that. It’s been wonderful here. But I also know I have to take care of myself. And when you come to the ballpark and you’re stressed out all the day and your hands are shaking, that’s not fun. I’ve got grandbabies. I’ve got kids that I need to take care of, and my wife. And as I told Al, I’m going to step back and take care of myself, try to get healthy and get back to the norm.”
I was skeptical of Detroit’s decision in turning to Gardenhire before the 2018 season. He lost 90 games in four consecutive seasons to close out the Twins chapter of his career, and while it wasn’t all on him, he and general manager Terry Ryan enabled each other’s anachronistic preferences, and they led the organization into a dead end.
It’s hard to judge Gardenhire’s Detroit career because he arrived just as the Tigers went full rebuild, bottoming out with a 114-loss season in 2019. Gardenhire came away with a 132-241 record in Detroit that knocked his career below .500, but did anybody expect better? One could say the Tigers overachieved this year, even if they’re just 22-29.
If the Tigers merely wanted a proven managerial presence to keep an undertalented roster from falling apart, then he did his job. We would have learned more about their expectations from a manager at the end of his contract after the season. Neither the GM nor Gardenhire expressed future plans or hopes, but that Gardenhire was high-risk made the whole season sort of a day-to-day endeavor. At the end, Gardenhire planned to retire, and even he was surprised that he called it quits on Saturday.
Gardenhire was a central figure in the first chapter of the Twins-White Sox rivalry, and given how much his Metrodome-tailored team tormented the Sox during the century’s first decade, it was strangely satisfying to hear him praise this iteration of the South Siders last week, even it was from a different dugout.
“I look at this ballclub right here (the White Sox), and I’ve said they can play with anybody,” Gardenhire said. “This lineup, it’s non-stop all the way one through nine, and they have pitching.”
“I think the Twins have a little pitching problem right now,” Gardenhire said. “I would say the lead would probably be these guys right here (the White Sox), because they can do so many things offensively, and that’s not shorthanding the Twins. They can really hit too. So can Cleveland. Very good baseball teams.
“But the pitching we’ve seen here has been really good. Their defense has been really good. This team definitely has a chance to do what they do.”
(Photo by Rob Grabowski/Icon Sportswire)