Phillies-Pirates: What you need to know

Phillies-Pirates: What you need to know

April 24, 2013, 12:45 pm
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Phillies (9-12) vs. Pirates (11-9)
7:05 p.m. – CSN

Tuesday’s Pirates starter Jeff Locke entered play with a .291 opponents’ batting average and 5.67 career ERA. The Phillies went 2 for 20 and didn’t score, prompting Charlie Manuel to vent about an offense that is struggling to even hit fastballs these days.

Not hitting fastballs

The Phils have a .701 team OPS against fastballs this season, 85 points below the National League average. They just aren’t making solid contact. The 21 double plays they’ve grounded into leads the NL, and only the Padres have hit more balls on the ground.

The Phillies rank 22nd in slugging percentage and 24th in on-base percentage.

The offense isn’t walking or hitting for power. The Phillies have 14 home runs. So do the Upton brothers in Atlanta, in 581 fewer plate appearances.

Locke wasn’t exactly a tough starter to face, but Wandy Rodriguez (2-0, 0.56) will be, especially for a team that has the worst on-base percentage (.239) in the majors against left-handed pitching.

For the Phillies, Roy Halladay (2-2, 6.04) looks to build on two very positive steps against the Marlins and Cardinals.

Halladay switching it up

Over his first two starts, Halladay averaged 26 pitches per inning, allowing 18 baserunners in 7 1/3 innings.

Over his last two starts, Halladay averaged 13 pitches per inning, allowing 10 baserunners in 15 innings.

Halladay is working more efficiently, even if he’s still struggling to throw first-pitch strikes. Doc’s career first-pitch strike percentage is 64.2 percent, but this season it’s below 53 percent. His cutter no longer has the same bite, so he’s not starting batters with it as much anymore and he will probably never again be the hyper-efficient pitcher he was in his very long prime.

From 2007-12, Halladay threw a first-pitch cutter to lefties 47 percent of the time. This season, he’s started just three of 43 lefties with a cutter, opting to go with more early-count curveballs than ever before.

The curve has been Halladay’s best weapon in 2013, holding the opposition to 1 for 19 with 12 strikeouts. Against the cutter, batters are 9 for 21 with three homers and two doubles.

Doc has dominated these Pirates in the past, going 4-1 with a 0.98 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in six starts. Current Bucs are batting .181 off him. Starters Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Clint Barmes are a combined 2 for 32.

Magic Wandy

Rodriguez has been absolutely unhittable through three starts, limiting opponents to a .096 batting average. He’s allowed six baserunners in 16 innings, and is coming off a seven-inning, one-hit, no-run start against the mighty Braves.

Lefties, righties, it hasn’t mattered for Rodriguez so far. Lefties are 1 for 8 and righties are 4 for 44 with 11 strikeouts.

Rodriguez has a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a curveball, and he’ll very sparingly use a changeup when ahead in the count to right-handed hitters. The Phillies have had major issues hitting two-seamers lately, so expect to see plenty of them.

The mid-70s curve has been Rodriguez’s out-pitch for as long as he’s been in the bigs, and it’s held opponents to a .210 batting average since 2010.

The Phillies blasted Rodriguez the last time they saw him (seven runs in four innings on April 2, 2011) but were shut down completely in his previous two outings. In those outings in 2009 and 2010, Rodriguez threw 14 innings, allowed one run on 12 hits and struck out 13.

Jimmy Rollins is 6 for 15 off the crafty lefty and Michael Young is 6 for 18. Ryan Howard is a surprising 4 for 12 with a homer.

Howard’s struggles

Howard has driven in just five of 43 baserunners. That RBI success rate of 11.6 percent ranks 242nd in baseball and partially explains why the Phillies have been struggling so much to score runs.

He has one homer and six RBIs through 19 games. Even during his ugly half-season in 2012, he had four homers and nine RBIs through his first 19.

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