After a difficult latter half of May, Felipe Vazquez seemed to get himself in the clear with some effective performances to begin this month. Vazquez’ first three games in June resulted in 3.1 scoreless innings with five strikeouts. That brief string of encouraging outings was snapped on Wednesday, as he nearly frittered away the three-run lead the Pirates gave him to start off the ninth inning against the Diamondbacks. Jon Jay’s two-out, bases-loaded single cut the lead to one run, and the tying run — represented by Deven Marrero — was just 90 feet from home. After an intentional walk to Paul Goldschmidt, Vazquez escaped the inning by striking out Jake Lamb.
While Vazquez had been achieving good results in his prior appearances, there were still warning signs. He had been getting swinging strikes at a much lower rate than he had been during the season’s first month-and-a-half, and going back to his four-run debacle against the Padres on May 20, Vazquez has been getting chases at an anemic 20.6 percent rate. That trend was mirrored in Wednesday game, as Vazquez threw 19 of his 36 pitches outside of the strike zone, and hitters swing at just two of them. The lack of chases has been detrimental to both his strikeout and walk rates, which respectively stand at 18.8 percent and 16.7 percent since May 20.
While the Pirates’ bullpen situation has been a common subject of this column, there has been a dearth of closer drama on the Nationals and Padres. That means there is not much of a chance that Justin Miller or Jose Castillo will be collecting saves anytime soon, but both have been sensational since their recent callups.
After his 1.2-inning performance against the Yankees on Wednesday night, Miller is up to 10.2 innings this season without having allowed a run, walk or an extra-base hit. He is a Mark Trumbo single removed from being perfect. In parts of three seasons with the Rockies and Tigers, Miller compiled a 4.99 ERA, so what is so different now? He is throwing his four-seam fastball a little more and his slider a little less, but the real change has been in the quality of his four-seamer. The pitch has generated a 22.5 percent swinging strike rate, as opposed to his previous career-high rate of 11.8 percent in 2015. He’s throwing with more spin, getting an average of 2433 rpm on his four-seamer, which is a 78 rpm increase over his 2015 rate, when he managed to strike out 29.5 percent of the batters he faced. This season, he has struck out 21 of 34 batters for a rate of 61.8 percent.
Castillo has only made three appearances to date, including Wednesday night’s stint against the Cardinals, in which he struck out all four batters he faced. He has now struck out nine of 14 batters and has allowed only a single and a hit batter over his first four major league innings.
The Padres’ 22-year-old lefty is making it hard for Diego Castillo to keep pace in the Battle of Relief Prospect Castillos. That’s no slight to the Rays’ 24-year-old righty, who has been superb through his first four games as a major leaguer. He got his first big league win in Wednesday’s series final against the Blue Jays, pitching a scoreless final two innings of what had been a 0-0 tie until Matt Duffy’s walk-off single against Ryan Tepera. In 5.2 innings, Castillo has allowed only one run, while striking out eight batters and walking two.
Garrett Richards had to depart his Wednesday start at the Mariners after two innings due to a tight left hamstring, and with Cam Bedrosian unavailable to pitch after being used on three consecutive days, the Angels’ bullpen roles got ratcheted up. That meant Mike Scioscia had to call on Blake Parker to enter in the seventh inning, which was the earliest he had put his current closer in a game since May 18. With a one-run lead, Parker stuck around for the eighth inning, but a solo homer by Ryon Healy — his fourth homer in three days — knotted up the score. It was the fourth home run Parker had allowed this season but his first since April 27.
Scioscia can be fickle about his closers, but in between the appearances in which he most recently yielded home runs, Parker had pitched 18.2 innings with only two runs allowed with 25 strikeouts and five walks. It seems unlikely that his job is in danger after blowing his second save of the season.
Quick hits: The White Sox placed Nate Jones on the 10-day disabled list with a right pronator muscle strain on Wednesday…The Rockies expect to activate Adam Ottavino on Thursday, per MLB.com. He has been on the DL since May 28 with a left oblique strain…Having pitched in back-to-back games, Kyle Barraclough sat while the Marlins were in a 4-4 tie heading into the ninth inning against the Giants on Wednesday night. Drew Steckenrider came in to pitch a scoreless inning, and in the bottom of the frame, and Brian Anderson‘s bases-loaded sacrifice fly gave him his third win of the season…Addison Reed’s bid to remain in a setup role for the Twins took a hit on Wednesday night against the Tigers. He allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits in 0.2 innings, blowing his fourth save of the season and dropping to 1-5. For much of May, Reed’s average fastball velocity hovered above 92 mph, but in five June appearances, he has averaged just 91.2 mph…Joe Maddon used a modified Waxahachie Swap in the eighth inning of the Cubs’ 1-0 loss to the Brewers, as he had both Steve Cishek and Brian Duensing pitch and play left field.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.