You’ve heard it said before. What’s the best pitch in baseball? Strike one.
Jordan Zimmerman of the Nationals put on an absolute clinic on “strike one” Sunday. Zimmerman threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 29 Padres hitters he faced in his complete game shutout.
While Zimmerman was throwing strike one, the Padres were standing at the plate with their bats on their shoulders. Zimmerman threw first-pitch strikes to the first 13 batters. By the fourth inning, the Padres hadn’t recognized this yet, as all three hitters in the fourth inning took the first pitch for a strike. How long does it take a team to recognize that a guy is throwing strikes? Weren’t the five strikeouts the first time through the order enough of a hint? In the second, third, and fourth innings, 8 of the 9 Padres batters took the first pitch for a strike.
Zimmerman started nine hitters 0-and-2. Strike two is a good pitch, too.
Yasmani Grandal swung at a total of 4 pitches of the 13 he saw. Those 13 pitches included 9 strikes and 4 balls. In his first AB, he struck out on four pitches, never taking his bat off his shoulder. In the 5th inning, he again took the first pitch for strike one, then struck out for the second time. In his third AB, he took the first pitch for a strike for the third time, and finally hit a fair ball on a 1-2 count, flying out to CF. Why isn’t Phil Plantier telling Grandal to swing early in the count? And if he is, why isn’t Grandal doing it?
Zimmerman is known for his control. It’s not like this game was unusual for him. He pounds the strike zone. That’s why he was a 19-game winner last year. Before Sunday’s game, hitters were hitting .204 off of Zimmerman in at-bats that started 0-1. And they were hitting .450 when swinging at the first pitch.
Seth Smith’s triple came on the first pitch of his 7th inning AB. Then two of the following three hitters took the first pitch. They went 0-for-3 and stranded Smith at third.
I think really savvy hitters notice this kind of thing. I would really hope that coaches notice this kind of thing, and let hitters know to change their approach during the course of the game. I would also hope that they would notice it before I would. But I saw no indication that anyone was aware of this, as the trend continued for the entire game. Six of the last seven batters took the first pitch, five of them for strikes.
I don’t mind a team that has a good approach at the plate, but doesn’t get good results. That will turn around in time. But a bad team approach at the plate has to fall on management. The Padres need to fix this in a hurry, one way or another.