Right-hander Zack Greinke dazzled on Saturday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals, pulling the Brewers into a 1-1 series tie and giving them a chance to pull out a series win on Easter Sunday.
However, it was not meant to be. Lance Lynn baffled the Brewers in 6.2 innings of two-hit baseball, and Randy Wolf labored through five innings that featured 108 pitches and three earned runs. In fact, the damage could have been significantly worse. The Brewers’ southpaw tiptoed around a potential disaster that featured runners at first and second with no outs and a run already scored in the inning. Two strikeouts and a pop up to second base prevented the base runners from even moving up a single base.
Wolf did not necessarily pitch poorly. The strikeout-to-walk ratio was overwhelmingly solid — as he struck out seven and only walked one — but he ultimately worked inefficiently on the mound, threw a ton of pitches, and served up nine hits.
One of the staples of his repertoire since coming to Milwaukee has been the cut fastball. In many ways, it has transformed his approach on the mound. He has always handled left-handed hitters with aplomb, but his cut fastball allowed him to better handcuff right-handed hitters on the inside portion of the plate and keep them from diving out for his offspeed stuff on the outer half.
On Sunday afternoon, though, Wolf perhaps fell in love with the inner half of the plate too much against right-handed hitters. The opposition effectively got to eliminate the outer half of the plate and focused their approach on keeping their hands in and getting the bat head out enough to square up the inside pitch.
Take a look at his pitch chart against right-handed hitters on Sunday:
I drew the line down the middle of the strike zone to better highlight the overwhelming cluster of pitches on the inner half of the plate. Wolf clearly did a nice job burying the ball on the hands of right-handed batters, which can be seen in the myriad of blips off the plate on the left side of the grid, but he also missed on the inner half of the plate quite a bit. As the game wore on, Cardinals hitters began to look for the mistake in that portion of the plate and began squaring him up in the second and third time through the batting order.
Wolf needs to better locate his fastball on the outer half of the plate and to utilize his changeup on the outer half. In his five innings of work on Sunday, he did not generate a single swing-and-miss from a right-handed batter on a changeup, and the vast majority of the called strikes on his changeup also came on the inner half of the plate.
Success for Randy Wolf comes when he changes speeds, keeps hitters off balance by using the inside and outside corners of the plate with his fastball, and by burying his cutter on the hands of the opposing right-handed hitters. He did two out of the three on Sunday afternoon. The results depicted that fact. He only allowed three runs and kept his ballclub in the game, but too many pitches and too many hits only allowed him to go five innings.
Look for the Brewers’ southpaw to work the outside portion of the plate against right-handed batters much more in his next start; because if he continues to live on the inner half of the plate and has a game where his location is not sharp, opposing teams will feast on 85-90 MPH pitches belt-high on the inner half. He needs to work that cutter in on the hands of right-handed hitters, but he needs to continue to work that outer half to keep guys from cheating at the plate and waiting on that inside pitch.
Fortunately, his next start projects to come against the Atlanta Braves. The majority of their premier hitters — Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, and Freddie Freeman – are all left-handed. The only real power threat they possess from the right side is Dan Uggla and maybe Eric Hinske, if the Braves choose to play him against a left-handed pitcher.
On paper, it certainly appears to be a favorable matchup for Wolf. Perhaps it will be the perfect opportunity for him to refine his approach and rebound from a sub-par outing against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday afternoon.