Upcoming Series Matchups (7/6/10): Padres Bats Vs. Nationals Arms

By Editorial Staff

I haven’t done much in the way of series previews in my time at Chicken Friars, but I think I’ve largely covered what needs to be covered in the minors for now, so I’m giving this a shot.

So, let’s take a look at the three starting pitchers the Nationals will be sending out in their upcoming series against the Padres (Tuesday-Thursday), how to beat them, and how well the Padres match up with them. The next article will look at Padres pitching against Washington offense.

The three probable starters for the Nationals are the wily Livan Hernandez and young finesse righties J.D. Martin and Luis Atilano. The Padres dodge a bullet as Stephen Strasburg starts the day after the Padres leave town.

(more after the jump)

Hernandez, Martin, and Atilano all share some common characteristics. They all strike out between 4.34 and 5.71 batters per nine innings, so they don’t get a lot of whiffs. None of the three is likely to hit 90 mph with their fastballs much, as Atilano throws 86-90 mph, Martin 85-89, and Hernandez 82-87.

Hernandez has four pitches: the fastball, a slider in the upper 70’s, a changeup in the upper 70’s, and a big curveball in the mid-60’s. The fastball-slider combination comprises over 80% of his pitches, somewhat surprising for a soft-tosser: you’d think he’d mix it up more. This fastball-slider predominance does make the curve and change very effective when he does use them (he throws each about once every 11 pitches), as they catch batters off guard. He throws the curveball quite often with two strikes, especially 3-2, so the Padres need to make sure to stay on it.

Hernandez rarely walks batters (2.79 K/9), but throws an astoundingly low 37% of his pitches in the strike zone. The thing is, his stuff is so hittable that when a hitter swings, he almost always makes contact, meaning that the first swing of the at-bat usually results in a ball in play. The Padres will need to be careful to pick their pitches off of Hernandez. He does throw the heater 81% of the time to start an at-bat, so they might want to sit on that, because it gets tricky after that first pitch.

The Padres’ strong point this year offensively has been their ability to stay back on breaking stuff, as they register above-average marks against curves and sliders, but nothing else. That offers some hope that the team’s offense can stay on Hernandez’s pitches enough to do some damage off him. The good speed of the team will also help, as Hernandez doesn’t control the running game very well, and his pitches, particularly the curve, are easy to steal on. Since so many balls go in play off Hernandez, the speed will also give the Padres more infield hit opportunities.

J.D. Martin is a four-pitch guy with an upper-80’s fastball, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup. He’s about as easy to hit as Hernandez, with the slightly better velocity on his pitches offsetting the greater movement on Hernandez’s.

Martin’s curve and change have been horrific in the majors, largely because there’s only a 5 mph difference between his fastball and change (and just 2-3 mph between the cutter and change), and he’s very predictable with the curveball, completely abandoning it when behind in the count and overusing it when ahead. The curve has impressive break, but it’s so big and slow Martin doesn’t have good command of it either.

So the curve and change are nothing to worry about. The Padres really have to worry about the fastball and the cutter exclusively.

Martin’s fastball is straight, but he has very good command of the pitch, a primary reason for his walking just four batters in 34 2/3 innings. The cutter is a solid pitch that he’ll throw in just about any situation, and he commands it sharply as well. The fastball and cutter combine to make up 80% of his arsenal, so he’s essentially a more predictable version of Hernandez with a worse-rounded arsenal.

Martin is a flyball pitcher who can be hurt by the home run ball, and his fastball could be easy meat if he leaves it up in the zone to Adrian Gonzalez.

Martin isn’t a perfect matchup, as the Padres struggle against fastballs and cutters, but the curve and change will likely fare poorly for him, so if the Padres can take advantage of a couple of his fastballs, the game should go well. Martin pitches to contact, so again, the speed helps.

The rookie Atilano is another four-pitch guy with a fastball-slider combo that makes up, you guessed it, about 80% of his pitches. However, the fastball itself is nearly 70%, and he actually turns to an average changeup more than the slider. LiK. Martin, he has a big, slow, ineffective curveball, but Atilano rarely dusts it off.

Atilano doesn’t really do much well. He keeps the ball in the zone about an average amount, doesn’t have a plus pitch, gets some grounders but not too many, gives up some homers but not too many, and walks some but not an egregious amount (although pretty bad next to his 4.36 K/9). His 4.72 ERA looks about right under those circumstances.

Again, the Padres are going to need to come prepared to deal with the fastball, which isn’t the greatest matchup for this team. Still, they’re major league hitters–86-90 mph heat isn’t going to scare even Oscar Salazar. None of Atilano’s pitches have rated as even average this year, so the Padres should be able to have some success–and again, with very few strikeouts likely, the potential for the speed to help out increases.

So, three solid matchups overall, nothing too harsh, but nothing that plays right into the Padres’ hands (except the speed element against the three contact-oriented pitchers).