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Kelly Stafford, wife of Lions QB Matthew Stafford, announced via her Instagram today that she will have brain surgery later this month after a recent MRI uncovered a tumor. Stafford said doctors discovered an acoustic neuroma on her cranial nerves; thankfully, the tumor is benign.
Stafford wrote that she started to feel dizzy within the last year, then began to experience vertigo in January while working out. Things kept getting worse and once she started to experience spells of vertigo while standing, she went to the ER. Bloodwork didn’t show anything amiss, but her symptoms worsened. Matthew recommended she see Lions doctors, and they helped her figure out what was wrong. “Several vertigo spells later,” she wrote, “Matthew’s team doctor recommended we go get an MRI of my brain to rule everything major out. A few days later we were hit with the results.”
Stafford announced the news on the eve of the couple’s four-year wedding anniversary. The surgery will take place in April, and Stafford wrote, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t completely terrified of brain surgery.” While any brain surgery is obviously a big deal, a doctor who spoke to the Detroit Free Press called acoustic neuromas “very treatable.”
CINCINNATI – With the game on the line and Cincinnati’s Yasiel Puig fouling off fastball after fastball, Freddy Peralta and Manny Piña decided it was time for a meeting on the mound.
Peralta, who throws an overwhelming majority of fastballs, wanted to come back with another fastball away.
Piña, the Milwaukee Brewers’ veteran backup catcher, didn’t like the swings Puig was getting on fastballs on the outer half of the plate and wanted his pitcher to come up and in with a high heater.
Unable to agree, the battery mates compromised on a curveball, which Peralta delivered perfectly in the dirt in front of the plate, with the off-balance Puig waving futilely at it for strike three. It was the eighth pitch of the at-bat and the first that wasn’t a fastball.
Thus ended the biggest at-bat of the day for Peralta, who pitched eight brilliant innings as the Brewers held on for a 1-0 victory Wednesday afternoon and sweep of the three-game series at Great American Ball Park. Alex Wilson finished off the Reds in a tense ninth to give the Brewers their fifth one-run victory and a 6-1 record.
“That was the at-bat of the game,” Piña said. “Puig came off the bench (as a pinch-hitter) and he was swinging. We attacked him with the fastball and he was missing just a little bit. I told Freddy I wanted a fastball, up and in. I didn’t want him to get extension with his arms.
“He didn’t want that. He wanted to go down and away. So, I said, ‘OK, give me a good curveball in the dirt.’ That’s what he did. I didn’t want it for a strike. We were looking for a bad swing. If it’s a ball, it’s 3-2 and we can fight.”
Peralta, 22, is known as a fastball, flyball pitcher, and he certainly lived up to that reputation in blanking the Reds on two singles over eight innings. Of the 100 pitches he threw (72 strikes), 84 were fastballs. And of the 24 outs he recorded, none were on the ground, which he had not realized until told.
Puig was the 11th strikeout victim by Peralta, who rebounded from a shaky first start against the Cardinals. In that game, he threw 39 pitches in the first inning, surrendering three runs. This time, he retired the side in the first on nine pitches and was off to the races.
After allowing a leadoff single to Eugenio Suárez in the second inning, Peralta retired 20 hitters in a row before Curt Casali singled with two down in the eighth, leading to the duel with Puig.
“It’s teaching myself that after I have a bad outing like last time, I can come back and make improvements, and have a good outing,” Peralta said through translator Carlos Brizuela. “Even though things didn’t go well last time, I kept working to do better.
“It’s about attacking and going after hitters. I faced them last year and I knew they were aggressive. I knew if I threw strikes, I could get them out. It was a very competitive game. (Castillo) was throwing all of his pitches for strikes. It made for a good competition.”
Reds starter Luis Castillo, whose changeup has bedeviled the Brewers many times in the past, did so again and would have matched Peralta’s outing if not for what had to be the dumbest balk of his career. After Jesús Aguilar reached base on a one-out walk in the second inning, Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto played behind the runner, with the Reds well aware Aguilar never had attempted a steal in the majors.
For whatever reason, Castillo turned to throw to first base and had to hold the ball when he saw Votto wasn’t holding the runner. The balk moved Aguilar to second, and he scored the game’s only run on a two-out single up the middle by Piña.
“You’ve got to be aware,” Aguilar said. “You pay the price. I’m not going nowhere, man, but thank you.”
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With Josh Hader unavailable after closing the first two games of the series, Alex Wilson got the call in the ninth. Signed after not making Cleveland’s staff in spring training, Wilson has not allowed a run in three outings but had to pitch out of a first-and-third, two-out jam in the ninth by getting Suárez to bounce into a force at second.
Missing Corey Knebel for the whole season and Jeremy Jeffress for the present, the bullpen has performed well enough to seal five one-run victories and get the team off to a great start.
“It didn’t surprise me but there was no conversation about (pitching the ninth) before the game,” Wilson said. “Everybody has stepped up. It’s next man up, it always is. I got thrown into this thing out of nowhere and probably surprised a few guys.
“I feel like the entire bullpen has gelled really well. I basically went from no job to a save in two weeks. I have a save, a win and a hold all in one week with a new team. It was basically me begging and pleading to find a job. I’m just taking it as it comes. I’m happy to contribute any way I can.”
And so the Brewers completed their first week of the season, earning a day off Thursday after yet another nail-biting victory.
“It’s unique,” manager Craig Counsell said. “We’ve played seven games, and five one-run games. I hope that (high number of close games) doesn’t continue. But we came out on top, which means we’re making plays and guys are making pitches.
“We’ve won games with a lot of guys doing good things, and doing good things late in the game.”
Matthew Boyd has come a long way since Tigers fans first got a look at their new acquisition back in 2015. Boyd arrived along with Daniel Norris and Jairo Labourt in the deal that sent David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays. At the time, Norris was the showpiece. However, Boyd is the one who has incrementally transformed himself into a very solid major league starter. Through two starts this season, he now looks ready for a true breakout campaign.
It all came together on Wednesday in perhaps the finest performance of his career as Boyd struck out 13 Yankees in a 2-1 win. That was the highest single game strikeout total by a Tigers pitcher since Max Scherzer’s 14 strikeout performance against the Pittsburgh Pirates back on August 14, 2014. Boyd also racked up the most strikeouts in a game by a Tigers lefty since franchise legend Mickey Lolich punched out 15 hitters back in 1972. Combined with Boyd’s 10 strikeout performance on March 29 against the Blue Jays, and he is currently your major league leader in strikeouts this season with 23.
So how did Boyd transform himself from a decent but unheralded pitching prospect into this Andrew Miller-looking strikeout artist you see before you? Well, it didn’t happen overnight. There have been numerous major changes along the way.
The evolution of Boyd’s delivery
The first, and perhaps the biggest adjustment, was the change in arm slot Boyd made during the 2016 season. From a relatively conventional three-quarters arm slot, Boyd began dropping down more, moving his release point to a low three-quarters position.
That change produced the makings of the sweeping pair of breaking balls Boyd now features. It also appeared to have improved his deception, by hiding the ball a little longer — from right-handed hitters, in particular. Still, while he was able to refine his repertoire and improve his command somewhat through the arm slot adjustment, the strikeouts still eluded him prior to this year. Giving up contact in this era, particularly in the air, is a dangerous proposition, and Boyd didn’t induce enough whiffs to balance out the occasional bursts of hard contact he allowed.
The rebuilt slider
Things started to change in 2018 when Boyd emerged with a rebuilt slider to punch out 22.4 percent of batters faced. To that point, he had never topped a 20 percent strikeout rate in a season. Between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Boyd, as he typically does, worked out at Driveline Baseball’s academy in Washington. The main goal? To sharpen the slider. He came out of spring camp a year ago convinced he had finally found the breaking ball he’d been looking for.
The redesigned slider was much slower, averaging 80.5 miles per hour — the previous version had averaged 86.1 mph in 2017. The improved depth on the pitch, along with the sweeping horizontal movement produced by the lower arm slot all came together for him. Boyd responded correctly by leaning heavily on his new weapon. In 2017, Boyd threw the slider just 11 percent of the time. In 2018? He upped that to 31.1 percent as the slider became the foundation for how he sequenced hitters.
However, no one predicted the results we have seen early in the 2019 season. With 23 punchouts in two starts, Boyd currently leads the majors in strikeouts. It’s early, and the Yankees lineup he faced on Wednesday was missing dangerous hitters like Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar, and Aaron Hicks. But the stuff, and the interplay between Boyd’s redesigned repertoire, are undeniable. This is a very different pitcher than we saw in his first few seasons in Detroit, and the baseball world is taking notice.
Taking it to a higher level
Boyd had one key drawback entering this season that needed to be addressed. As we wrote in our review of his 2018 campaign, he became an extreme fly ball pitcher last season. In fact, he posted the second highest fly ball rate among qualified starters in 2018, right behind Justin Verlander. However, unlike Mr. Verlander, Boyd paid for it with a lot of home runs, particularly on the road. The culprit? His two-seam fastball.
Hitters posted an isolated power (ISO) of just .164 against his four-seam fastball in 2018. Against the two-seamer? Hitters clobbered him for a .318 ISO against. That discrepancy immediately makes anyone familiar with sequencing in the launch angle era cringe. Ditching the two-seamer almost entirely seemed to be in the offing. Based on his work thus far, Boyd appears to have agreed.
Per Brooks Baseball, Boyd has only thrown four total two-seamers in his two outings this season. Instead, he is using the four-seamer almost exclusively now (89 through two starts) and living at the top of the strike zone. This change, combined with the increased depth on the slider, creates very similar tunnels for his fastball, slider, and slow curveball, and is making it very tough on hitters through his first two outings.
This is a valiant effort by our friend Rob Friedman, and helps with visualization, but the slider in the gif actually hung up and outside — catcher John Hicks wanted that one on the hitter’s back foot. You can get a better idea of what Boyd is doing to hitters by imagining the high fastball paired with the nasty offering below.
You will also have a better idea why comparisons to lefties who create huge horizontal angle, such as Andrew Miller, were flying fast and furious on social media as Boyd carved his way through the Yankees lineup.
The emphasis on horizontal movement, and the slower speed on Boyd’s new slider make it almost indistinguishable from his curveball when he chooses to pair them both. More importantly, the depth produced by the decreased velocity allows Boyd to start both pitches on a target line at the top of the strike zone — just like the fastball — and still manage to bury both breaking balls below the zone. He is now working at three distinct velocity bands, with the fastball between 90-94 mph, the slider and changeup close to 80 mph, and the curve typically checking in around 70-72 mph. That separation generates a lot of wind in opposing bats, particularly as they all look so similar out of his hand.
We’re just two starts into the season. While the Bless You Boys staff had hopes of another modest breakout from Boyd this year, we’re not prepared to predict Cy Young candidacy just yet. Unlike Justin Verlander, Boyd doesn’t have the velocity and ridiculous backspin to pitch up in the zone without taking some lumps along the way. However, Comerica Park is a great place for fly ball pitchers, and if Boyd can continue to rack up strikeouts at a higher clip than ever before, he should be able to limit the damage when the long ball does rear its ugly head.
Overall it’s been a remarkable evolution, and a testimony to Boyd’s work ethic and unwillingness to settle for just a back-end starter role. He made fairly radical changes that many pitchers wouldn’t be able to stomach, and those adjustments to his delivery and slider have paid huge dividends. The final piece may be simply to continue paring back on his pitch mix and simply lean into his best pitches, leaving aside the two-seam fastball and perhaps even the changeup as well.
PHILADELPHIA, PA – MARCH 28: Philadelphia Phillies Pitcher David Robertson (30) delivers a pitch during the game between the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies on March 28, 2019 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA.(Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)
After the game, Robertson – who signed a two-year/$23 million free-agent contract with the Phillies in January – didn’t mince words.
“I don’t know, I’ve been sucking out there, that’s for sure,” Robertson said of his lack of control Wednesday to the collective media on NBC Sports Philadelphia after the game. “I throw it over the plate, it gets hit. I can’t throw strikes – I’m walking guys and putting guys on, I’m giving them every chance to score runs. I’m pitching like crap and it sucks. I’m very frustrated with myself. I’m itching for another outing and I’m just tired of doing badly out there.”
Robertson pointed out that he hasn’t been sharp in any of his appearances in the 2019 season thus far. The Phillies won the first two games he appeared in, but not because the 33-year-old righty was able to pitch in the manner he’s done for the better part of the last decade.
On Opening Day, the Phillies won 10-4 over the Atlanta Braves, but Robertson allowed two hits and one earned run in the top of the eighth. Two days later, he walked Dansby Swanson to lead of the ninth inning, before surrendering a two-run home run to Charlie Culberson. The Phillies still won the game 8-6, but Robertson’s struggles in his first two appearances raised some eyebrows.
And then Wednesday happened.
Manager Gabe Kapler, making a concerted effort to be more up-front with fans after tough losses, offered this assessment of Robertson.
“He just hasn’t been at his sharpest,” Kapler said. “He hasn’t had the command of his cutter, he hasn’t been able to land his curveball when he’s wanted to land his curveball, and those are his calling cards. He’s a guy that we’re going to be leaning on heavily, depending on and very much betting on to perform well for us.”
Robertson only made four Spring Training appearances, but he allowed two earned runs over 3.2 innings in the Grapefruit League. Normally, that would seem insignificant, especially for a pitcher who has the track record that Robertson has. But given his less-than-ideal start to the regular season, some have wondered if the Phillies missed some warning signs in Clearwater.
“I felt great coming out of Spring Training,” Robertson told the collective media after the game. “I was throwing the ball well, throwing a lot more strikes, throwing good finishing pitches. [When I] get ahead here, I just haven’t been able to finish anybody. Today, I just couldn’t get it over the plate.”
Robertson, like all pitchers in the Phillies bullpen, doesn’t have a defined role currently. One of the things that made him such an intriguing piece to add to Kapler’s bullpen is that he’s had success in a variety of roles. He was an All-Star as a set-up man for the New York Yankees in 2011. Between 2014 and 2016, he saved 110 games for the Yankees and Chicago White Sox. And in 2018, he again found success as a set-up man for the Yankees.
Thus far, Robertson has come into the game after Seranthony Dominguez in two of his three appearances in 2019. That leads you to think that while he may not be the closer in title, the Phillies preference heading into the season was for Dominguez to pitch in whatever the highest-leverage situation between the starter exiting the game and the conclusion of the game was. If that meant Dominguez was used before the ninth inning, Robertson would be left to either close games or keep them tied, as he was asked to do Wednesday.
After Wednesday’s game, Kapler, also citing poor performances from Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins, didn’t sound prepared to move Robertson into lower-leverage situations after a slow start to the 2019 season.
“One thing that stands out to me today is we had three players not have their best games in Aaron, Rhys and David,” the second-year manager said after a difficult loss. “And they are all three guys that I would push my chips in right now are going to win a ton of baseball games and be at the central point of those wins.”
Aaron Nola allowed more than four earned runs in a start for the first time since the 2017 season. It happens. Rhys Hoskins had what can only be described as an inexcusable error in the bottom of the eighth, which prevented Robertson from coming into the game in a save situation. Even if he’s a better first baseman than left fielder, many evaluators in the sport believe Hoskins would be a DH if that was an option in the National League. It isn’t currently, so the Phillies will put up with any errors Hoskins makes in the field, because he’s their cleanup hitter. Robertson, just by the nature of his role, you are a little less sure about, even if he’s only had three concerning appearances with the Phillies.
“It’s baseball, you’re not going to be good every time, it’s a game of failures. But I don’t like going out there and failing, so I’m just going to have to figure it out, go out there and throw more strikes, be more aggressive and make guys get soft contact and get some outs.”