Through his first 15 starts this season, Nick Blackburn was the best he version of himself that he could possibly be. A 3.15 ERA through 97 innings. Opponents hit .268/.320/.418, which is good but by no means exceptional. And while 18% of his balls in play were line drives, batting average on balls in play reached just .281. You might say that Nick was just a little lucky, but considering that he's a ground ball pitcher and that his balls in play weren't always particularly well-struck, maybe he wasn't as lucky as you might think.
But after last night, his last seven starts have led to an 8.37 ERA in just 33.1 innings. Opponents have put up an OPS near 1.000, thanks to a triple slash that Albert Pujols would be happy with. Line drives are up just a tad, to 20% of his balls in play, but his BABIP is off the scale at .394.
This is what happens to pitchers who don't get a lot of strikeouts. Sometimes luck works for them, sometimes it doesn't, and watching his performance last night can put it all into perspective. Batters are always going to put a lot of balls into play against Blackburn, but it's the how and why that make the difference. Last night his fastball was effective against left-handed pitchers, inducing nine swings which resulted in just one hit. So when Nick said in the postgame:
"I was trying to stick with four-seamers I could get down. But it didn't really matter. Anything that was down, they spit on, and just waited for something to be up."
Well, it was true. Pitches that weren't fastballs were left belt-high and got ripped. Especially his changeup (6-for-10 off balls in play).
That, in a nutshell, is your recap of last night's fiasco of a ballgame. The offense gave Blackburn a 1-0 lead in the first and a 2-1 lead in the second, but he just didn't have command of his pitches last night. Certainly not his sinker, but he didn't really have control of anything else, either.
Let's hope for a series win this afternoon.
Anthony Swarzak: 2.2 innings, one unearned run, four strikeouts. Great job.
Michael Cuddyer, Jim Thome, Delmon Young: RBI for each
Blackburn: Tough night. Of his 10 hits allowed, four were doubles and one was a triple. OUCH.
Ben Revere: His .298 OBP will look really nice in the leadoff position on a permanent basis, yes? No.
Trevor Plouffe: He doesn't belong in the two-hole. Trading Denard Span would only make that worse.