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Indians Indians Archive The B-List: 4/15
Written by Steve Buffum

Steve Buffum

David Huff began the day with only a tough-luck loss on his resume and finished it with the Tribe’s first complete game (and first post-game pie) of the season.  Huff was masterful, and gives Buff some hope that this season will be a fundamental “step up” for Huff.  Shin-Soo Choo gets the only meaningful hit, but the hit was meaningful enough to have meaning, as it were, while the Rangers Keystone Cop^Hmbo proved instrumental as well.  Bring on the Evil Sox!














Rangers (5-4)













Indians (3-6)













W: Huff (1-1)     L: M. Harrison (0-1)


1) Grover Norquist’s Government

The subject line refers to the famous quote in which Norquist describes the size of the government he’d prefer.

That is the size of the threat the Texas lineup posed to David Huff.

Where do you start with a performance like this?  The beginning is a nice-enough place: Huff retired the first nine hitters in a row, with two Ks (one swinging) and the three-through-eight hitters not hitting the ball out of the infield.  In his 12-pitch third, he threw a first-pitch strike to each hitter and 9 strikes in all.  He reached a two-ball count to three of the hitters, but none saw a third.

The game looked like a tough-luck loss for Huff when after a solid single to Elvis Andrus, Mike Young was able to muscle an outside pitch just over the right-field wall.  Down 2-0, Huff gave up another single to Vlad Guerrero before getting Nel Cruz to ground into a double play.

I mention each of these three hits because this represents one of two innings in which Huff allowed a hit.  In fact, there were only three innings in nine in which the Rangers had a BASERUNNER.  After walking Andres Blanco in the 6th, Huff set down the next ten in a row before giving up a single to Young in the 9th.  He needed three more pitches to end the game with a 3-2 win.

To pitch a complete game, you need to be efficient by keeping guys off the bases, but also getting enough misses to suggest that the opponent is off-balance and not timing you well.  Huff got 12 swings and misses, which might be a career high.  Although he only started 18 of 31 hitters with a first-pitch strike, he did manage 71 strikes in 104 pitches, which is superb.  In a sense, what I saw from Huff yesterday was a guy who was able to throw strikes with confidence because he was spotting them well and he wasn’t worried about getting hit hard.  In some ways, this reminded me of Cliff Lee in 2008: not necessarily the result (to be explicit, I am not calling on David Huff to win the Cy Young this season), but the process.  Take an improved fastball (pitch f/X suggests that Huff has added two if not three MPH to last year’s 90), spot it with greatly improved command (1 walk, 68.3% strikes), and attack hitters.

The two differences are that Lee transformed himself from an Elartonesque flyball pitcher to a more groundball version, and his cutter moved more and later than Huff’s.  Huff is still essentially a flyball pitcher and doesn’t have the late movement (to my untrained eye) that will result in weaker contact or more frequent misses.  Still, the APPROACH is similar, and a welcome sight.  It is also illustrative to note that Huff is 25, while Lee was 29 in 2008.

Interesting small-sample stat of the day: in 10 plate appearances, left-handed hitters sport a sparkling .000/.000/.000 line against Huff.  10 batters, 10 outs (3 Ks).  Righties are hitting .227/.271/.318, which is great news from a SLG standpoint (in 10 hits, Huff has allowed 1 double and 1 homer) and is damned fine in and of itself, but zero point zero is zero.

2) A firm grasp of the obvious

After the Indians took a lead in the bottom of the 8th, Manny Acta sent Huff back to the mound to pitch the 9th inning. 

"It was his game," Acta said. "He was never in trouble, other than the two-run homer. He was in complete control the whole time, so we didn't see any reason to go to the bullpen. That was a message to him."

Now, technically, Chris Perez was throwing a ball in the bullpen.  Maybe he was just loosening up in preparation for the White Sox series (the one team he has had success against).  Also, it is possible that Deimos and Phobos are not moons of Mars, but rather gigantic chocolate eclairs.  No, he was warming up in case something went awry and Nel Cruz came to the plate with a runner in scoring position.  Come on.

But to send Huff back out for the 9th was an obvious move for three reasons:

a) Huff had only thrown 96 pitches and really was in total control of the Rangers all game.
b) It really is valuable to tell a young starter you believe he can finish the game
c) Huff was the best pitcher available: there was no reliever I can point to and say, “That guy would be more likely to retire a Texas Rangers hitter than David Huff.”

Of course, just because a move is obvious doesn’t mean it’s not a good move.  It WAS a good move, and I’m thankful Acta used it.

3) Devil’s Advocacy for Fun and Profit

This having been said, David Huff came a within a couple feet of not winning the game.

Look, it’s very true that Huff completely throttled the Rangers.  If not for a very fine piece of hitting by Mike Young, it’s possible this game would have been a shutout: a little bit less wood, and Choo catches the ball at the wall.  So there’s a couple feet away from being a zero-run game.

But in the 9th with one out and a man on first, Josh Hamilton smashed a ground ball toward the hole between first and second, and it took a fine play by Matt LaPorta to gather the ball and beat Hamilton to the bag.

And the following hitter, Guerrero, hit a solid line drive that Mark Grudzielanek was able to snare for the final out.

If either of THESE balls were hit a little bit further left (Hamilton) or right (Guerrero), those are solid singles to right, and although I respect Shin-Soo Choo’s throwing arm as much as any man, it’s not inconceivable that even just a hit by Guerrero (with two outs and Young on second) would have tied the game.

And, of course, had the Rangers played even a modicum of defense in the 8th inning, Huff would not have had a lead to protect in the 9th anyway.

So while it’s true that Huff had an excellent, superlative performance … there’s nothing to say that this performance was in and of itself enough to win the game.

4) And why is that?

Because our offense was PITIFUL.

Guys.  Look.  Colby Lewis may in fact be For Real.  I don’t believe it, personally: I got to see The First Colby Lewis Era here in Texas, and by golly, he wasn’t any good.  Maybe he has something else going for him now.  Frankly, I think he looked dominant because he got to face us.

But I will tell you this: Matt Harrison is NOT For Real.  Matt Harrison gave up 192 hits and 56 walks in 160 IP last season (1.55 WHIP, 5.40 ERA).  He gave up 22 homers, although admittedly, he pitches in Jet Stream Park.

Now, you may point out that Harrison is 24 (a year younger than Huff) and was, for all intents and purposes, thoroughly indistinguishable in 2009 from David Huff (1.49 WHIP, 5.21 ERA, 17 HR in 143 1/3 IP).  And you might have a point.  If Huff can make a quantum leap, why not Harrison?

Because of the Fundamental Error of Attribution, that’s why.  So there.

But the offense really did (and does) look pitiful.

5) Ducks on the Pond!

The Rangers hit 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position, but they only left two men on base.  One of the PAs was Guerrero in the 9th: the other two came in the 6th after a walk and a sacrifice bunt.  I mean, the Rangers were CLAWING for opportunities to score.

You want opportunities to score?  Consider the leadoff double by Choo in the 4th, after which a groundout did nothing.  However, he got to third with one out on a wild pitch … and was stranded after a lineout.  With two outs, Matt LaPorta drew a walk … and they were both stranded by Mark Grudzielanek.

In the 5th, a leadoff single by Andy Marte meant that he advanced to second on a one-out single by Asdrubal Cabrera.  And then Grady Sizemore struck out on three pitches, and Choo grounded out on a ball hit roughly nine feet.

Lost in the heroics of the 8th inning was the fact that the batter after Choo’s homer, Austin Kearns, singled to left, and Travis Hafner was hit with the next pitch.  There are still zero outs.

LaPorta, first pitch, double play.  Grudz, fly out.  Thanks for playing.

In all, the Indians went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left seven men on base.  Ptui!

6) But what a “1”!

Of course, the “1” in “1-for-9” was quite a clout: Choo hammered a high pitch from Harrison well over the right field wall (no “game of inches” stuff here) immediately following two incredobollixed infield grounders for a three-run shot that effectively won the game.  Money quote:

“No one was more excited to see Choo's homer than Huff, who said he fist pumped so hard he nearly fell off the bench.”

Another money quote:

"I think this town needs to rally behind this kid [Choo]," Acta said.

Are you serious?  Is there actually a Cleveland Indians fan who does not know that Shin-Soo Choo is our best player?  Really?

By the way, he also had a double and is hitting .323/.475/.677.

7) Wait, are you serious?

You heard me.  Best player.  Grady is lovely.  Fausto has nasty stuff.  Santana, I’m looking forward to.  Shin-Soo Choo is the Cleveland Indians’ best player.

8) A welcome wrinkle

With Sizemore and Choo hitting 2nd and 3rd, Austin Kearns got the call to hit 4th against the left-handed Harrison.  Travis Hafner slotted down to 5th.

Now, in terms of this game, this had very little impact.  You get 6 hits and a walk and go 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, it doesn’t really matter what the “handedness” of the “suck” is.  However, I would like to think this will be a more permanent feature, at least against the Buehrles and Lirianoes of the Division.

Of course, I would like to split the three lefties (or four, with Branyan) up because of late-inning matchup weaknesses as well (cf. Oliver, D., or Thornton, M.), but I will accept baby steps in this regard.

9) Sotto Voce

Travis Hafner vs. lefties: .267/.267/.267.

2009: .865 OPS against RHP, .696 against LHP.

2008: .149 ISO against RHP, .060 ISO against LHP.

Going back further than that conjures a player who no longer exists.

I think a strict platoon might be going overboard, but … I dunno, man.  Does Jim Thome get a lot of plate appearances against lefties these days?  Is there a rule that says a late-inning matchup would ruin Hafner’s confidence for ever and ever?

Just sayin’.

10) The best bullpen outing this season

Well, *I* liked it.

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