Foul Balls Can Kill
Not to restate the obvious, but Jon Lieber did not perform well yesterday and only gave fuel to those lighting the "Not an Ace" fire underneath the team during the pre-s...well, actually, since the day Lieber was signed. But why didn't Lieber pitch well? Well, I'm not sure he didn't pitch well. That is to say, Lieber is a location pitcher, not a power pitcher and while he does not walk many, he does give up plenty of hits. Even more than that, he gives up a lot of contact.
One need look no further than the first inning, when Lieber sent the first two Cardinals down on Ks and then appeared to have Pujols rung up, only to be denied by Jerry Crawford's annoyingly conservative strike zone. This kind of situation does not help a guy like Lieber, who is not quite a nibbler, but certainly not a guy who typically strikes out the side in the first inning, as he did yesterday, following Jim Edmond's RBI triple to score Pujols.
In reality, much of what happened yesterday to Lieber can probably be attributed to three things:
1. Small stike zone
3. Cardinals lineup
Let me expand on point number 3 because its the most important. The Cardinals did themselves a great service by fouling off a ton of pitches the first time through the lineup yesterday. By the time David Eckstein came up the second time -- in the third inning -- Lieber's pitch count was already in the 50s. He had been thowing strikes pretty consistently, but when the wheels came off in the 4th, it was only the second time through the lineup. Remember, the Phils didn't start solving Carpenter until the third time through, when they had seen a few more pitches and, admittedly, last year's Cy Young winner certainly tired some. But, they did solve him to some extent. Thereby, the Cardinals showed exactly how to beat a pitcher like Lieber yesterday, aside from having a couple lights out hitters in the middle of the lineup: they were able to force him to throw all his pitches the first time through and made him pay for it the next time.
Jukio Santana's excuse, on the other hand, remains a mystery, aside from Manuel's first great bungling of the season. More on that next post.
On Lieber, however, BS&S hits the nail on the head with the Phils de facto number one. His success may be steady from year to year, but certainly not from start to start. At some point this year, Lieber will most likely come up big with a hot streak. What happens in the other starts is the concern. It feels increasingly that his performance depends largely on factors he can't control -- that the law of averages seems to catch up with him in big ways sometimes.
FInally consider what Lieber has said about his last two starts, yesterday and his last spin in spring training. He said he felt good throwing the ball. There was no "I didn't have my slider" or other talk abotu not being able to dial up his pitches. Lieber threw to the glove like he always does and even thought his mechanics were much imporved. Yet, after fouling off pitch after pitch the first time through, the Cardinals lineup starting banging out hits on first and second pitches the next time threw. This is how you beat a pitcher who throws alot of strikes.
Next time, maybe those balls are hit right at the infielders. Let's hope so. However, they will get hit.