It’s a game of adjustments, they say, and the Jays seem determined to keep making them with their players when things aren’t working well. And why wouldn’t they? They’ve seen their changes work to dramatic effect in recent years, from Jose Bautista to Edwin Encarnacion, from Adam Lind to Colby Rasmus, we think. And now– perhaps– to Esmil Rogers and J.P. Arencibia, as well.
The former, Esmil Rogers, I tend to believe in.
John Lott of the National Post writes about how the reborn starter has begun throwing a sinker– something I noted in last night’s Game Threat– with great success. Jeff Blair also spoke about the pitcher’s new weapon on this afternoon’s edition of Baseball Central, explaining to Dirk Hayhurst that it came from none other than Pat Hentgen.
The story that Pat told me last night after the game– they were in New York and he walked up to Esmil Rogers– they were in the clubhouse very early– he walked up to Esmil Rogers and said that something had been bugging him. He’d been watching Esmil in the bullpen– same thing you saw, great fastball and slider– fastball slider– but he walked up and said, “Have you ever thrown a sinker?”
Rogers said he had, and Pat said, “Well, if you’ve got a few minutes, why don’t we go out in the bullpen, because I want to show you something.”
And essentially what he did, he showed him a sinker that Scott Erickson– who had a terrific sinker when he was pitching in the Majors, and was a former teammate of Hentgen’s. He showed him a sinker grip that Erickson showed Hentgen– Hentgen couldn’t throw it all that well, but it was a grip and– to make a long story short– the way that Pat explained it, when you release the ball, you get the same sensation you get when throwing your four-seamer, except it’s a two-seamer. That’s what he told me– it involves a knuckle or… anything… something like that. And essentially, Rogers threw it in the bullpen, it was great, and then, as Pat said, “The next thing is, you’re going to do it in a game.”
First game out, Arencibia calls for it, throws it– great– falls in love with it. Gets Evan Longoria, his next outing after that, to hit into a double play, and now it’s like… it’s his pitch.
Lott’s piece refers to the story in much the same way– minus the bit about Hentgen– with a focus on the game against Tampa as well.
“He got two double plays in those innings, maybe three double plays,” Arencibia recalled. “I think that is when I really went like, ‘Hey, we’ve got something here.’ ”
It was, in fact, three double plays, each starting with a ground ball to the shortstop, and each ending an inning. And since Rogers has moved into the starting rotation, the sinker has proven critical to his surprising success.
. . .
“His sinker is the biggest difference,” Arencibia said. “Earlier, guys could jump on his fastball. He had a pretty straight fastball, and now he’s sinking it so you really have to respect that. He can sink a right-hander in, and then they have to respect that ball in, and now he’s throwing 96-mile-an-hour fastballs down and away, late, to strike them out.”
It’s obviously still very early in this experiment, and much of Rogers’ success, in addition to the major new part of his repertoire, is due to the fact that he’s commanded the ball well– which is something that might not be entirely sustainable. On the other hand, if someone explained that it’s related to him being more comfortable throwing the sinking two-seamer and less reliant on aiming for perfect placement of his too-straight four-seamer, and better able to keep hitters off balance, I think I could actually buy that.
What I have considerably more difficulty buying are the improvements to J.P. Arencibia’s game, as championed today in the Toronto Star by Richard Griffin.
Griffin writes of defensive improvements– as I noted in yesterday’s Daily Duce that he’d said in a chat he’d begun seeing following Arencibia’s work in Chicago with roving catching instructor Sal Fasano– and also of work on the other site of the ball that hitting coach Chad Mottola has done.
Even as the Jays played better baseball since the middle of May, Arencibia seemed uncomfortable behind the plate and was similarly struggling at the plate, chasing pitches in the dirt and outside the zone, getting himself out in big situations. The final straw came last Tuesday in Chicago. Arencibia came up four times with a runner on third and less than two outs. The first three times he struck out. In his final at-bat the Jays scored on a wild pitch, then held on for the first victory of the current streak.
“It was kind of the game in Chicago where he failed to drive the guy in from third three times, where he kind of said, ‘OK, it’s time to make the adjustment,’” Mottola recalled of the decision to get back to basics upon the team’s arrival in Texas.
“We’re trying to get (his front foot down) early. When he’s there early, he has a better chance of recognizing pitches. When he gets in trouble, he gets fast and tries to do too much. We’re trying to take out the peaks and valleys.”
Now… I’m not saying it hasn’t worked or that it won’t work, or that it isn’t nice that Arencibia has posted a 1.533 OPS over his last four games. It’s just… here’s how he’s done that: two crushed mistakes off the godawful Jeff Francis, plus a weak infield single off Wilton Lopez; a dinger and a double off Derek Holland; and another home run off Justin Grimm.
Touching up Holland like that is impressive, to be sure, but knocking one out in hitter-friendly Texas against Justin Grimm is less so, and don’t even get me started on the meatballs being served up by Francis last night. I mean… it’s great that the coaching staff (finally– though, to be fair, I obviously have no idea at what point drastic measures began being discussed) got to the point where they felt changes needed to be implemented, and that they have Arencibia’s ear to do so, but… I’m not quite ready to call anything a success just yet.
The catching stuff, which I must admit I’ve paid too little attention to to have noticed, sounds promising, at least. Griffin adds:
As for his improved defence post-Fasano, Arencibia has looked far more comfortable behind the plate since the session at U.S. Cellular Field. He sets an early target, and keeps his body low and still. His setup is consistent and comfortable, with his actual receiving of the ball being sublime and umpire friendly. He claims he doesn’t feel much change, but others around the club have noticed.
So… there’s that? Now all J.P. has to do is add a few more walks into the mix and we’re… well… not “golden,” but at the very least better. Though… as long as the wins keep coming, who the hell is any of us to complain about anything, right?