Jerry Blevins took the mound with a plan. The lefty reliever entered the game with runners on first and second and none out, his team trailing by two runs. Possessing neither overpowering stuff nor a high ground-ball rate, he was going to rely on scouting reports and location to get out of the inning. Seven pitches later, he did just that.
Blevins, who has appeared in 161 games over six seasons with the Oakland A’s, broke down this particular performance, pitch by pitch.
Blevins on his outing: “I started off Hitter A with a fastball. I tried to come up and in and missed in, just off the plate. He’ll chase and likes to jump on a fastball away, so if he sees fastball you try to jam him, break his bat, and get a ground ball and a quick out. Reports show he is very aggressive to the first pitch. I know if he doesn’t swing at the first pitch — which he didn’t — he’s also really aggressive toward the second pitch. I figured he’d be looking fastball again, so I threw him a changeup, hoping that he’d either pop it up or swing and miss. I located it well, down and away, with good depth and deception. He popped out to the infield.
Player B is also aggressive. He’s left-handed and likes to jump on a left-handed reliever late in the game with runners in scoring position. I started him off with a cutter away. He’s thinking fastball, recognized fastball middle, and swung over the top of it. On my next pitch, I came in off the plate with a fastball to back him off and open up the outside. That made the count 1-1. Then I threw him a fastball down and away that he took. It was a strike, so now it’s 1-2. I know he’s probably looking curveball, so I’m going to give it to him, but in the dirt, out in front of the plate. If he’s looking curveball, and recognizes the pitch, he’s more likely to swing at it. If I can put it in a location where he can’t hit it, it’s in my favor. He swung and missed for strike three. Tendencies showed that he was likely to swing at it and that turned out to be the case.
Player C was a right-handed hitter. He’s very aggressive on the first pitch. He’s also on the back end of the lineup and not a super power threat. I wanted to locate a fastball down and away to try to get a quick out. I was hoping to have him jump on that pitch, knowing that if I located it well, it wouldn’t matter. He’d either roll it over or just hit a ground ball. I got a ground ball on the first pitch, to the right side.
“Going in, I have an idea of the sequences I want, based on execution. If I miss on the first pitch, then it kind of resets itself in the same manner that I know the hitter, but a 1-0 count is quite different from an 0-1 count. The same with a 2-1 versus a 1-2. The numbers on those are obvious, as you well know. Every pitch resets your pitch sequence. It also depends on how the hitter looked when he approached the pitch, whether he took it or swung at it. That plays a part in my idea of what I want to do to a hitter.
“I think I shook a couple of times in that game, although for the most part, my catcher and I on the same page. It was a familiar foe — we knew the hitters coming up were aggressive — so we were well-accustomed to the chess match. I ended up getting three outs on very few pitches, which was rare efficiency on my part.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.