Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tazawa settles down after wild first inning

(Thanks again to brooksbaseball.net for the PitchFX charts.)

Junichi Tazawa's first inning -- Nick Green error or no Nick Green error -- looked quite a bit different than his final four innings. He repeatedly let Detroit hitters off the hook in the first inning, going to a two-strike count six times and an 0-2 count four times and striking out exactly no one. Even when he got outs, he repeatedly let hitters extend at-bats far beyond what he needed to do.

"We somewhat self-destructed defensively a little bit to extend that inning," pitching coach John Farrell said. "That was completely out of his control. The thing he did that was most impressive was continue to execute pitches despite a couple of ground balls that could have shortened up the first inning."

Said Tazawa through a team interpreter, "I was wondering, 'What will happen? Will I be OK?' It was an unsteady time for me."

By the fifth inning, though, it appeared that he'd figured things out. He jumped ahead of Clete Thomas by an 0-2 count -- the same Clete Thomas who had singled up the middle on a 1-2 pitch in the first inning -- and put him away with a fastball up and out of the strike zone.

"I think, in the first two innings, my control was not as good as it should have been," Tazawa said. "But by the third inning, I was getting more used to it, and I think the pitches responded to that."

Check out these two charts. The key to the approach plot is to imagine it from the catcher's point of view, meaning everything off to the right side of the chart is outside and everything to the left side is inside, be it again lefties or righties.

Tazawa's first inning

Tazawa's final four innings

The biggest thing to notice: The Tigers put two pitches in play (blue dots) that were up and over the middle in the first inning alone: Curtis Granderson's pop-up to short and Brandon Inge's run-scoring double to left field.

In the final four innings, though, Tazawa effectively kept the ball out of the middle of the plate -- and, more importantly, kept the Tigers from putting any of those pitches in play. The only ball the Tigers hit that could be considered up and over the plate was Ryan Raburn's bunt attempt in the fifth inning.

"His fastball command, particularly down in the strike zone, and his split got better as the game went along," Farrell said. "He was very impressive for the five innings he pitched tonight."

Tazawa also didn't waste pitches well off the plate the way he did in the first inning. His waste pitches instead were curveballs and changeups in the dirt, pitches that are going to induce more swings and misses than fastballs well outside.

His chart from the first inning looks like a dartboard in which his misses seem evenly spaced out on all sides. His chart from the final four innings looks like that of a pitcher who has a game plan -- keep the ball down and away, particularly to the Tigers' righthanded hitters, taking the Green Monster away as an ally. (He attacked the zone more against lefties, venturing up and out of the zone in his strikeouts of Clete Thomas and Alex Avila.)

"The action and the consistency to his secondary pitches, particularly his split, became a little more sharp (after the first inning) and a little bit more consistent down in the strike zone to get some swings and misses," Farrell said.

You can't take too much out of one start. John Smoltz, after all, settled down after a rough first inning in Washington back in June but never again recaptured the promise he'd shown in the final four innings of that outing.

But seeing Tazawa execute his game plan through the final four innings against the Tigers on Tuesday night still had to bring a smile to the face of everyone in the Red Sox organization.

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