Mets Game 59: Loss to Yankees
Yankees 9 Mets 1
For the second straight start by Johan Santana, a no-hitter was carried into the sixth inning. However, Johnny Vander Meer‘s record was not in danger, since it was the Mets who were unable to reach safely this time around.
Mets Game Notes
Remember how well Johan Santana pitched last Friday? OK, now imagine the exact opposite of that, and you’ll have an idea of how this game went for him. The Yankees showed no mercy on Mr. First No-hitter, pounding him for seven hits and six earned runs in five innings. Santana allowed a career-high four homers to the Bronx Bombers, three of which came in a row. To put it mildly, it just wasn’t Johan’s day.
Here’s the catch: I’m NOT going to blame his poor outing on an injury or as a result of overuse in his previous start. Surprise! In fact, his arm action, mechanics, and sustained velocity suggested that there was no structural damage as a result of expending 40% more pitches than he’s used to executing. Johan’s issue in this game was his command, not an arm injury nor arm fatigue.
But, I do believe it’s possible that his inability to locate pitches could have been due to fatigue — by his body, rather than his arm in particular. From the first inning, Santana showed a lack of stability on his front leg — a sure indication of fatigue. Why would a pitcher be fatigued in the first inning? Perhaps because his body needed more rest. The instability issue evolved into a trunk tilt problem — in that, he wasn’t tilting, or as many high school coaches like to say, “bending his back.” If you look at most of the gopher balls he gave up, Santana was much more upright than normal at and/or after release — another red flag indicating fatigue. When the trunk is not tilting properly, the hand cannot get into the proper position / release point — hence, you saw pitches that were left way up in the zone, and summarily crushed over the wall. I also saw what I like to call the “Oliver Twist” — a term lovingly based on our old friend Oliver Perez. Because he was unstable and not pitching over his front leg, and also because he was over-rotating, on several pitches Santana was spinning in his follow-through to the point where he was eventually facing third base. That’s not like him, and it’s an indication of something going wrong. Luckily, that flaw probably won’t hurt his arm, but it did affect his control significantly.
Here’s another surprise: there likely was nothing wrong with giving Johan extra rest between starts, but there most likely was a problem with WHEN he was given the extra rest. I’m not certain, but I believe the “extra rest” Johan received occurred at the back end of the week off, rather than the front end. In other words, I’m pretty sure that Johan’s bullpen session on Tuesday was on schedule. I could be wrong — and please, someone correct me if I am — but I think that Johan’s normal bullpen session (i.e., pitching off a mound) occurs three days after his start. If that’s true, then it would have made more sense to give Johan his extra rest BEFORE that bullpen session, rather than after, as it would have been extra time to let the fibers in his body rejuvenate. Compare it like this: if you skin your knee, you need to wait for the scar to heal, right? Now let’s say it takes a week to heal — what happens if you fall and scrape the scab again before that week is up? Get it? It’s not a perfect comparison but hopefully it gives you an idea on the internal healing process.
Further, I read somewhere that Johan did his “usual long toss routine” as part of his between-start ritual. You already know how much I despise long toss, especially in Johan’s case. Beyond my concern for the damage long toss can do to an arm, it also feeds into the problem of inconsistent release point and improper trunk tilt. What you do in practice, you’ll do in the game, and as has been mentioned too many times here before, the mechanics of long tossing is completely different from the mechanics of pitching on a downward plane, off of a mound. So, repeating the activity of heaving a baseball up to the sky does nothing to reinforce good pitching habits — rather, it establishes bad habits and breeds inconsistency (a.k.a., an inability to repeat mechanics).
Which leads me to a discussion I had with Angel Borrelli immediately following the game. Angel was incredibly impressed with Johan’s development in comparison to where he was in spring training, and is positively jubilant about his future prospects. She believes that Johan has worked out his shoulder rotation issue, based on the fact he’s hitting 90 MPH on the gun and that he’s getting his arm / shoulder / hand into a good spot at the point of foot strike (i.e., the moment his foot lands to begin the stride). At the same time, she’s seeing inconsistency in his mechanics. He’s not doing everything right all the time — some of the issues I’ve already pointed out above. This is what she had to say:
“Johan has inconsistent mechanics right now, but he’s finding his way; he’s searching for the correct form. His shoulder was too slow before, but now it’s fast enough to catch up. I’m very excited for him. If you asked me if I thought he was going to be great, I would tell you, ‘yes,’ I think he’s going to be great. He’s going in the right direction.”
I don’t think we can hear better observations from Angel. Understand, though, that she also made clear that this game against the Yankees was the first time she’s seen him pitch since the spring. If his issues with inconsistency continue, then greatness is unlikely to return. She did note that there was an inconsistency not only in his trunk tilt but also in his elbow extension rate; the coordination between the shoulder and elbow is a very delicate process. But overall, her optimism and excitement were high; she was seeing the same pitching mechanics she fell in love with (and recommended to Barry Zito) when Johan was pitching with the Twins. Angel will discuss these issues in more detail on Tuesday afternoon during her weekly “It’s Your Pitch” Spreecast with Joe Castellano.
As for the game beyond Johan … do we really need to talk about it? The Mets collected two hits all night, with the second coming with two outs in the ninth. Hiroki Kuroda? Really? It must be the uniform. It’s gotta be the shoes. Interestingly, both hits were doubles. Whatever. It was an awful night. Goliath beat David this time.