Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Blackburn Pitching in the Dead of Night


When your pitching style is better described as a dance routine, you have little room for missteps.  With ten days of rest between starts, Nick Blackburn was hardly the pirouetting marksman that we have been accustomed to seeing on the mound.  His normal groundball tendencies gave way to an all-out aerial attack including Daric Barton and Matt Holliday launching home runs number 11 and 12 against him this year.  When the smoke cleared and his night was all but over Blackburn's demeanor, like his pitches, was as flat as a week-old bottle of 7-Up as the A’s ransacked him for seven earned runs on thirteen hits in five innings of work. 

“(Pitching coach Rick Anderson) was telling me what it was between innings.” Blackburn told reporters in the clubhouse, “and I still couldn’t go out there and make the adjustments.”

This outing pales in comparison to what he was like just fifteen days ago against the Tigers.  Completing nine innings while scattering seven hits and striking out six, Blackburn compiled what we have come to expect as the norm -- pitches moving in every which direction and more speed changes than rush hour, as visually represented here

This assortment prevented hitters from sitting in one area, looking for one type of movement.  Just when you think he was going to run a pitch in on you, Blackburn's cutting one away and gets it off the end of the bat for an easy groundball out.  
Blackburn's night in Oakland, and his first post-All Star Break start, failed to capture that kind of magic.  His pitches lacked the run they did at the beginning of the month. 
 As you can see, the Athletics weren't forced to patrol the plate and strike zone for rogue cutters and runaway four-seamers like the Tigers were up against.  When you are throwing 86-90-mph with minimal movement, opposing batters can hone in on a location instead of covering an area from batter's box-to-batter's box. 
As pitcher that relies on touch and feel, Blackburn's ten days of rest probably was the culprit behind his inability to move his pitches like he normally does.  He had the opportunity to keeps this start from going from a headache instead of a full-blown migraine had the defense converted one or two more groundballs.  Consider this Oakland outing an anomaly but bear in mind as a contact-heavy pitcher, Blackburn's stats will fluctuate with his defense behind him.