MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays

Unless you’re a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, everything you know about Edwin Encarnacion is a lie. If you still think of Encarnacion as “E5″, you’re wrong. Not only has he made just 10 starts at the hot corner over the last two seasons, he has evolved far beyond the the league-average hitter who pounded 26 home runs as a member of the Cincinnati Reds (with stops in the minor leagues and on waiver wire in between).

Here, in 2013, Edwin Encarnacion is one of the best power hitters in the game. He is the only player with a slugging percentage above .450 who still manages to walk more than he strikes out. He has more extra base hits this season than strikeouts. Nobody else in baseball, not Miguel Cabrera or Adrian Beltre, can claim that. Just Edwin Encarnacion.

On Sunday afternoon, Edwin Encarnacion came to the plate in the seventh inning with his team down a run. The opposing pitcher, Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays, was dealing. Archer had allowed just a single hit to that point, striking out five batters without issuing a single walk. Archer was doing it with his superlative fastball, commanding the pitch and coaxing a series of lazy fly balls.

This presents itself as a good matchup for Edwin Encarnacion, who pounds fastballs for a living. 21 of EE’s 31 homers have come against the heat this season, tying him for the lead league with Miguel Cabrera. It is a matchup of strength versus strength.

In his to previous at bats, Archer pounded Encarnacion with fastballs. The first encounter ended with a fly out to right field after a series of fastballs up in the zone. The second time around, Archer focused on the inside half of the plate, though he mixed in a decent slider while behind 2-0. This seven-pitch battle ended with a fly ball to left field that EE just missed. Archer got away with a mediocre slider in a bad spot.

The third and final plate appearance was equally compelling as the first two. Another seven pitch battle, though one which had a different ending that the first two.

The first pitch of the seventh inning at bat was a very tough two-seam fastball inside. Archer got the call (which might have something to do with all the movement.)

Archer stayed on the inside part of the plate with the next pitch, this time moving Encarnacion’s feet with a fastball up and in. Very up and in, a lot up and in. With the count 1-1, Archer comes back with a fastball up and over the plate. A pitcher that probably caught too much of the slab but, at 95 mph, the kind of mistake a pitcher can make. EE took a very healthy cut but fouled the pitch straight back.

Archer then pounded the fastball inside again but EE yanked it foul. Another fastball inside, another foul. A third 96 mph fastball just off the plate inside, another foul ball. Six pitches into the at bat, Archer has EE down 1-2 and is yet to throw an offspeed pitch. You could say Archer had Encarnacion set up. You would be wrong.

Before the final fastball inside, Blue Jays color commentator Pat Tabler offered this piece of advice/analysis:

“I think he might make a mistake if throws a breaking ball here because Edwin is such a good breaking ball hitter. If he throws it for a strike, he might hit it hard somewhere.”

One of those things happened. Archer threw a breaking ball, a slider at the bottom of the strike zone. It was hardly a mistake but Edwin Encarnacion indeed hit hard somewhere. Somewhere like the left field seats.

Only eleven right-handed batters hit home runs on sliders which were both down in the zone and on the outside part of the plate. Only three of those home runs came with two strikes. One of them was the laser shot to left you see above. It wasn’t a “perfect” pitch but Edwin Encarnacion deserves a TON of credit for this stellar at bat, as does the young Rays hurler for executing his game plan and making half a dozen good to great pitches against a tough hitter. This is not new for Archer, Edwin’s seventh inning shot was just the second home run the rookie allowed in 140 plate appearances against right handed hitters this year.

Later in the game, Encarnacion turned in another great at bat, this time against tough Rays closer Fernando Rodney, this time yanking a 98 mph two-seamer off the very top of the wall down the left field line. Just a tremendous day at the dish for one of the most under-appreciated hitters in the game. For a hitter to stay on tough, tailing fastballs at the same time as covering a good slider down in the zone, while striking out less than ten percent of his plate appearances, we can only tip our caps. Edwin Encarnacion: special hitter.

EE v. Archer, seventh inning

EE v. Archer, seventh inning