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A's Road Trip Ends Like It Began: Ben Sheets Lit Up

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First off, I really hope you'll check back at 3:00pm as I will have a comprehensive look at "managing a pitching staff," and I suspect it will be a heck of a lot more interesting than talking about this monstrosity of a game.

I'm not going to sugarcoat today's effort by Ben Sheets: He was truly terrible, actually worse than he was in his more-than-forgettable performance at Tampa Bay. Sheets' line (3.1 IP, 10 hits, 9 ER) doesn't even tell the story, as Sheets was hammered for a barrage of doubles (4), triples (1) and HRs (3), and there was nothing cheap about any of them. What's going on, you ask?

Here's what I see from Sheets. His velocity is fine but his control -- both in and out of the strike zone -- is not. In this way, he is profiling similarly to a lot of pitchers who recover from Tommy John surgery, as those pitchers often find that they come back throwing just as hard as before but with less command. Sheets is known for his outstanding BB/9IP ratio, yet after two more walks today he has walked 16 batters in 30.1 IP.

But this is only part of the story. Sheets' fastball today was straight. Sheets and Marcum were a study in contrast, as Marcum sat in the high 80s with his fastball, but had terrific movement, and as a result his fastball was very effective while Sheets saw his 90s fastball launched time and time again.

My conclusion is that Ben Sheets is accustomed to throwing high fastballs over the plate, knowing that the combination of great location, great velocity, and explosive finish will carry him. This is no longer (or not currently) the case, but Sheets is either not adjusting or else he is flat out misfiring. He needs to be down in the strike zone with his current fastball; more to the point he has to find some movement even if it means sacrificing some velocity. Throw a high octane fastball in the hitting zone with no movement and it will be knocked around like it's batting practice, and that's what happened to Sheets today. (His curve is also less effective right now, even when well located, because the fastball is not as much in the hitter's mind as it used to be.)

Meanwhile, Sheets needs to embrace that his fastball is not an asset right now and that he's better off throwing his changeup more even if it's his 3rd best pitch, even if he doesn't have a ton of confidence in it, even if he didn't need to  use his changeup to make the All-Star team 4 times. That was then, this is now, and right now hitters are consistently teeing off on a very straight fastball.

Managing a pitching staff is very difficult, especially when your Opening Day starter gets rocked and your best pitchers are hurt, but even under the best of circumstances. See you at 3:00pm for analysis of what good managers do to get the most out of the guys they have...