When the Astros traded the Reds for utilityman Jeff Keppinger, not everyone was as enthused as I am. But tonight, he introduced himself to Houston in his very first at-bat as an Astro. In the bottom of the tenth inning with men on the corners, the Cubs decided to ask their new closer, Kevin Gregg, to walk Miguel Tejada to get to Keppinger.
Then, with the bases loaded, Gregg fell behind 2-1. With the bases loaded and the count in his favor, Kepp knew he could sit on a fastball, and that’s exactly what he did. He got the fastball and knocked it through the infield, breaking his bat in the process, but scoring Ivan Rodriguez to win the game 3-2, evening the series with Chicago.
A great finish to a good game that featured bad calls on both sides (Reed Johnson beat out an acrobatic play by Tejada, but was called out at first anyway to end an inning; Geoff Blum reached third on a Michael Bourn slap bunt that left Cubs shortstop Aaron Miles off the bag, but Blum was called out.) LaTroy Hawkins proved that he is not invincible when he dons the Astros uniform, blowing a save in the eighth by giving up a monster home run to Alfonso Soriano.
I was happy to see the Astros working the count, something they didn’t do terribly well last year. They pushed Cubs starter Ryan Dempster up to 95 pitches before he departed after 6.0 innings. Cubs reliever Aaron Heilman threw 30 pitches. If baseball is a war of attrition, the Astros are making early work of the Cubs’ arms.
I ran the numbers during the game, and the Astros hit .316 against Dempster during plate appearances that lasted 4 pitches or less. They went 0-4 with 3 walks (.429 OBP) on at-bats that lasted 5 pitches or more.
Against the bullpen, they went 0-for-3 during at-bats that lasted less than 4 pitches; 4-for-10 with 3 walks (.538 OBP) on at-bats going 4 pitches or more.
That’s not a coincidence. They worked the count early against Dempster, despite limited results, which allowed them to get to the weaker arms in the bullpen, who they then took advantage of. Now, it’s no surprise that they hit .200 during one-pitch at-bats. A 1.600 SLG on two-pitch at-bats is a bit surprising, though.