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Eyeball Scout, "Make Or Break Stretch" Edition

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First of all, this stretch coming up shouldn't be "make or break" because the A's have been done, cooked, and done so many times. Yet the AL West refuses to let them go.

Oakland enters play tonight just 9.5 games back of the reeling Houston Astros, already losers of 7 straight as they prepare to go up against Felix Hernandez this evening. The Angels have fallen back under .500 and if the A's were to get hot right now they could make hay against two of the teams they are chasing: Texas and LAA. If it's been "now or never" for a while, well it's certainly now or never now. Huh? Right.

Billy Burns

It's great that Burns got so many first pitch fastballs down the middle for a week and really took advantage. But in a way, it's great in the way it was great when Jemile Weeks clubbed a couple of spring training HRs and decided he was a power hitter. (Or maybe just remembered that he wasn't very good.)

Burns' game is not first pitch hacking, yet in the past two weeks he has continued to swing at first pitches like they're going out of style. Your OBP is generally going to look good when you're batting over .300 but the reality is that Burns' OBP is just .040 above his batting average and as his batting average regresses -- and my eyeballs tell me that a big regression is coming -- he needs to go back to what got him to Oakland, which was long and pesky at bats.

Walks are especially important for a base stealer, even more so for a singles hitter and yet more so for a singles hitter so many of whose hits are infield bleeders. The difference between a walk a hit for Burns is so much less than it is for  slugger, and as those bloops to CF become fly outs, the choppers to SS become comebackers, and the one-hoppers to 3B get fielded, Burns is going to be as good as his ability to work the count, foul off tough pitches, and take his walks. Start now.

Pat Venditte

The stat sheet always said "marginal stuff, gets hitters out" and in his first trek through the big leagues what has Venditte done? He has thrown 86MPH from the right side, mostly 82 MPH from the left side, and gotten hitters out. His line so far: 5⅔ IP, 1 hit, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K. You'd take that any time from any side, right?

To my eyes, it's not really a fluke in that Venditte's fastball command (save for a two-batter glitch in his last outing) has been exceptional, especially from the right side. He can seemingly paint the outside corner on command, which helps to neutralize those 3-4 MPH he is missing in velocity. His slider from the right side has Ziggyesque, Bradfordesque "whiffle-ball slider" action and the curve from the left side has pretty consistently missed bats.

That two-batter glitch could be representative of the "real Venditte" Oakland was nervous about, but I tend to give him a mulligan for that last outing in general because he was pitching on consecutive days and pitching in long relief, which was kind of a desperation move for an Oakland team that is working without a true long reliever right now. I thought that under the circumstances, Venditte did a yeoman's job even though it was the shakiest he has looked in any of his appearances to date.

What the eyeball scout would recommend is that Venditte needs to use the inner half of the plate more to RH batters. You can see RH batters leaning out over the plate watching the slider move off the plate and not chasing it. In order to get batters to expand the outside part of the plate, you have to keep them honest on the inner half. Run a few fastballs in on the hands and that slider away will gain a couple inches of traction.

I think this will be essential for Venditte going forward, because with only 86 MPH in his back pocket, Venditte cannot live on one side of the plate no matter how good his command may be.

Brett Lawrie

Just a quick note on Lawrie, and if someone good with video has examples they could kindly post them in the comments. I notice that Lawrie tends to lean his body forward on breaking pitches, basically "jumping at them" so that upon contact his bat is poised to pop them up -- which he then does.

I actually noticed in spring training how consistently Lawrie popped up breaking pitches and I think it comes from not keeping the body (and with it the hands) back until the ball reaches the plate, but instead leaning and going out to get the pitch before it gets in deep.

I don't know if I'm describing it properly, but I think that if upon being out in front of a silder Lawrie could still keep his body and hands from lunging, he would drive the same pitches he is currently lifting or missing entirely.

2-0 since the curse was lifted through effigy. Jesse Chavez tries to make it 3-0 tonight against Hector Santiago down in Anaheim...