Tommy Milone's recent starts against the Texas Rangers have varied in quality, but overall the A's lefty has not had great success. I believe the success the Rangers have had is the result of a very specific approach they have against Milone: "Look changeup."
For reference, here are Milone's last 4 starts against Texas:
3⅔ IP, 9 hits, 6 ER, 0 BB, 2 K
5⅓ IP, 8 hits, 6 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
5 IP, 6 hits, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K
6 IP, 5 hits, 3 ER, 4 BB, 1 K
However, it is not the numbers but rather my eyes, that tell me how Texas' hitters are approaching Milone. When Milone throws to the Rangers' hitters, you see more perfectly thrown changeups below the knees that hitters watch instead of chasing. Meanwhile, you see Milone hurt fairly infrequently with the fastball.
Most hitters look fastball first, then adjust to the offspeed pitch. This is because if you don't look fastball you generally can't hit it. While this is a baseball principle, some hitters deviate from it by guessing, or trying to sit on, a type of pitch or a location. Coco Crisp does this a lot and that's why you sometimes see him take a 2-strike fastball that catches a lot of the plate and start walking towards the dugout before the ump's hand has gone up: He was guessing and he guessed wrong.
With the Rangers' hitters against Milone it looks like they are mostly sitting on the changeup figuring they will get it eventually. As a result they are not chasing many changeups out of the strike zone and they are squaring up many in the strike zone. They have taken Milone's best pitch by far and neutralized it, and had more than their fair share of success.
The adjustment Milone needs to make is simple. His 87-88 MPH fastball might not be good by industry standards, but to a hitter who is sitting changeup an 87-88MPH fastball is not very hittable -- which is precisely why hitters generally look fastball first and adjust from there.
At least the first time through the order tonight, Milone should throw mostly fastballs and cutters, mix in an occasional curve, and don't throw the changeup until hitters are forced to look fastball. For as long as the Rangers' hitters are sitting on the changeup, Milone's fastball will be his best weapon and will be a great weapon. So much so that batters will be forced to abandon their "sit changeup" plan -- at which point Milone can go back to his bread-and-butter and have great success with it.
Remember, as a pitch the changeup is effective because of the fastball that sets it up. Without context, the changeup is just a 79MPH sinker -- and there's a reason no one has ever rushed to sign me to a professional baseball contract. But to a batter sitting on and waiting for the changeup, an 87-88MPH fastball is more like a 93MPH fastball under normal circumstances. I hope to see a lot of those "high octane 87MPH heaters" until the hitters themselves tell Milone that it's time to pull the string.
A's-Rangers at 7:05pm tonight with Tommy Milone vs. Yu (Don't Own Us!) Darvish. See you then!