Upcoming Series Matchups (7/30/10)–Padres Bats vs. Marlins Arms

By Editorial Staff

The Padres offense faces a more and more daunting task each time out in the upcoming series, facing Chris Volstad, Ricky Nolasco, and Josh Johnson.

Can they jump on Volstad? Is Johnson going to be as unhittable as usual? Find out after the jump.

Volstad is an intimidating presence on the mound at 6’7″, but while he has solid velocity, throwing 89-94 mph, he generally goes with a two-seamer and pitches to contact. The approach only has led to a 47.4% groundball rate this year, which is somewhat sub-optimal for a pitcher of his ilk.

He has a big curveball, but likes to keep the pitch in the zone and look for grounders with it rather than using it as a swing-and-miss offering. The approach doesn’t work all that well, and the Padres are a breaking ball-hitting team, so the pitch isn’t much of a concern.

Volstad’s added a slider this year that is a good pitch when it’s on, but he’s still struggling to learn how to precisely command the offering, so he occasionally misses up with it, which leads to bad outcomes for him. The Padres should be able to handle it.

Volstad also has a solid changeup that rates as his most effective pitch. He doesn’t use it late in counts very much, though, instead going with the breaking stuff. That’s poor pitch patterning on Volstad’s part: if a batter swings through a 1-1 changeup only to hit a 1-2 curveball up the middle, the changeup didn’t help much, did it?

With the closest thing he has to an “out pitch” not being used to get outs, it’s no wonder Volstad’s had trouble this year.

He can probably neutralize Will Venable and Everth Cabrera, and Scott Hairston could have some trouble with Volstad as well, but the majority of the San Diego lineup shouldn’t have too much trouble with him. Volstad simply lets too many hitters get contact on their own terms to succeed.

The Padres shouldn’t stack the lineup with lefties against Volstad, by the way–Venable and Cabrera are poor matchups for his arsenal, and, thanks to the good changeup, Volstad has a reverse platoon split this year (4.26 FIP vs. LHB; 4.77 vs RHB).

Nolasco is a considerably tougher test. The good news is that the Padres are better-equipped than most to handle his two breaking pitches, which combine to form 40% of his pitches and are more effective than Volstad’s. His slider, in particular, is tough, generating whiffs on 20% of swings against it. He’ll throw any of his pitches in any count, so he keeps hitters guessing, and he walks just 1.80 per nine, so he’s not going to give up cheap baserunners.

Nolasco gives up a lot of homers; he tends to work up in the zone too much, particularly with his fastball, which is 89-93 mph with little movement. He doesn’t command his splitter as well as his other pitches. When it’s down, it’s very tough. When it’s up, it gets sent long distances.

Ordinarily, I’d say to just work the count against him and wait for Nolasco to leave something up in the zone, but Nolasco throws so many strikes that just taking the first two pitches would lead to lots of 0-2 counts.

I get the feeling that the fate of Nolasco’s outing relies more in his hands than those of the Padres’ hitters. His breaking stuff is just good enough that the Padres’ proficiency at hitting it won’t matter if he locates it, and his fastball/splitter combo is poor enough than the Padres’ weakness with it won’t matter if he doesn’t locate it. If Nolasco gets ahead in counts and keeps the ball down, the Padres are in for a tough day, and really should just focus on putting the ball in play as much as possible and making something happen. If he falls behind and leaves the ball up, he could be in for an early exit–he’s given up 4 ER or more seven times this year, after all.

Finally, the Padres get to face the towering 6’8″ Josh Johnson and his 1.72 ERA. They’ve avoided some tough pitchers in past series, so I guess it was bound to happen that they’d face an ace sometime.

Johnson has the same stellar control as Nolasco, but with the added skill of keeping the ball down–he’s allowed just five homers all year.

His heat comes in at 93-97 mph, and he backs the pitch up with an upper-80’s slider and sinking upper-80’s changeup.

All three have rated well above average this year, not surprisingly. The slider has been his best pitch.

The slider and changeup are so good that teams’ best bet against Johnson is to just try to jump on an early-count fastball. Even that’s tough to do, though, and the Padres aren’t exactly a fastball-hitting team. Adrian Gonzalez and Scott Hairston can turn around heat, and Yorvit Torrealba, Chase Headley, and Chris Denorfia aren’t completely helpless against heaters, but that’s hardly something to build a plan of attack around.

In case you’ve been wondering, new acquisition Miguel Tejada is strictly a breaking ball hitter who doesn’t have the bat speed to catch up to heat. He’ll fit right in on this team, and he’ll fit right in in struggling with Johnson if he starts that day.

Similarly to Nolasco, Johnson will get the job done if he throws quality strikes, and unlike Nolasco, he isn’t likely to spot the Padres a home run. San Diego needs to do whatever it can to put the ball in play and try to make something happen, as Johnson isn’t going to walk people and he isn’t going to throw fat pitches late in counts.

It’ll be a tough final two games for San Diego. They have a good shot at the first one, but they’ll need Kevin Correia or Jon Garland to step up on the mound in one of the final two games to keep pace with the Marlins’ two electric arms.