What is going on with Benoit?

Before we get into dissecting Joaquin Benoit, let’s make something clear: Anyone who expected Benoit to duplicate his 2010 numbers from Tampa Bay was kidding themselves. When we point out that Benoit already has given up four more earned runs than he did all of last year, it’s almost more for entertainment purposes, because those numbers were ridiculously good. The fact that he’s now more than two-thirds of the way to his 2010 hit total in about a quarter of the innings is more concerning, because it’s more relevant, but that’s a little deceptive, too.

Also worth noting: Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, was a Brandon Lyon fan at this point in 2009. He had allowed 12 earned runs on 16 hits over 15 2/3 innings then, including 11 walks. He gave up just 40 hits over 63 innings with 20 walks and 52 strikeouts after that, and then was paid handsomely on the open market.

Got it? Good. Now, what the heck is going on with Benoit?

“If I would know that, I would give you an answer,” Benoit said. “I’m trying to figure it out.”

To Benoit’s credit, he stood in front of TV cameras and microphones and answered all the questions asked of him, which lasted a little more than three minutes. He didn’t have a whole lot of answers, but he tried.

“I’m probably giving the hitters more credit than what they deserve,” Benoit said later. “I’m probably throwing the pitch that they’re looking for, and in their location. There’s not much I can do when that happens. It’s wrong pitch selection.”

Manager Jim Leyland and pitching coach Rick Knapp have a little different take. To Knapp, pitch selection and pitch execution are pretty good. Pitch location is not.

“I can’t figure out what’s going on,” Leyland said, “because we don’t see anything that indicates something wrong, with the exception that he’s just [not] locating the ball. He’s just not getting the ball where he’s trying to throw it, it looks like to me. The velocity is certainly OK, but it looks to me like he’s not locating the ball where he’s trying to get it for some reason. That means you’re out of sync or something, and he has been for a few times out now.”

Benoit agreed that his health is fine.

“I mean, I’m pitching,” Benoit said. “I have my velocity. Things are not going right.”

He does not have his location, for whatever reason. Or at least, he has it inconsistently. The game-turning double from Aaron Hill came in a five-pitch at-bat that started off with two nasty pitches to put Hill in an 0-2 hole. He pitched to catcher Alex Avila’s mitt on the next two pitches, but Hill didn’t chase.

The last pitch, the 2-2 pitch, was supposed to be low and away. It was up and over the plate.

“He made four pitches to Hill that were good,” pitching coach Rick Knapp said. “The fifth one’s bad. He just missed the spot.”

Knapp has his own ideas why.

“Is it mechanics? I don’t think it’s mechanics,” Knapp said. “I think it’s just confidence. Throw the ball down isn’t really something you can think about. You have to leverage it that way. You have to know that you’re going to throw the ball down and not have to think about it. When you have to think about it, then you have a better chance to make a mistake. And that’s kind of about where he’s at right now. He’s trying to execute pitches maybe too hard and he’s not.”

Both Knapp and Benoit said they felt his previous outing last week at Minnesota was a big step forward. He gave up three hits over 1 1/3 innings and a game-tying run that was unearned thanks to a double-error play, but he also kept the Twins from pulling ahead with help from two eighth-inning strikeouts.

When he’s on, he’s a swing-and-miss pitcher more than a contact pitcher.

“It was really better in Minnesota,” Benoit said.

Knapp believed the Minnesota outing was something to build on.

“I think Minnesota was a good positive stepping point,” Knapp said. “It just didn’t work out for him tonight. He’ll get more opportunities. It’s one of those deals where you have to execute to get confidence. Confidence isn’t something that you’re going to just show up with. It isn’t something that just walks through the door. You have your swagger, but I think right now he’s a little bit in his own head.”

Just about everyone was asked whether the three-year, $16.5 million contract, and the pressure to pitch up to it, could be contributing to that.

“I’ll answer that by saying I don’t know the answer to that,” Leyland said. “Something’s not right. He’s obviously a little frustrated, trying to do too much. That’s a possibility. That’s something we’ll have to look at it. He’s an important piece of the puzzle, but we’re going to have to look at it and figure something out. I’ll have to figure out the strategic part.”

Benoit had that question posed as well.

“There’s always pressure when you’re pitching and you don’t perform to the level that everybody expected,” he said.

Said Knapp: “I don’t know that he’d be out there in those situations if he didn’t perform like he did the year before. He deserves what he got [contractually]. Like I said, we need him to be good — not great, just good.

“I know it isn’t because he’s not trying. He’s digging in. He’s looking at tape. He’s trying to feel it, trying to make sure. There’s a fine line between trying to do too much and maybe his stuff dropping off. I don’t think it’s a stuff issue. I think his stuff is fine. I think now we have to get him zeroed in on hitting the glove, staying on the spot, executing the pitch he’s trying to make.

“I think everybody wants him to perform, nobody moreso than him. Like I said, I don’t see the stuff falling off. I see him missing his spots, which means we’re getting closer to where we need to be.”

17 Comments

To me right now he can just not be put out there in criical situations until he figures it out! Unfortunately we don’t really have a sure thing out there except Valverde!! Close games are not comfortable at all!

If I recall correctly, Brandon Lyon added a pitch (cutter?) during 2009, and became a different pitcher.
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If anyone can figure it out, it’s Rick Knapp. Besides him, they could have AJ Sager take a look, and I don’t mean sending Benoit to Toledo. The interesting comment came from Leyland: “I’ll have to figure out the strategic part.” That’s the key question. If we think Benoit can be used in “non-important” situations for awhile, look at Brad Thomas. He pitches about once a week. That won’t fix anything. Meanwhile JL is left to mix and match the 8th inning…..yet again. Good luck, Jim. How many of us armchair managers would like to have to tackle this one?
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Probably nothing more damaging than having your setup and/or closer being ineffective for whatever reason.

I didn’t expect Benoit to pitch like he did last year. The point everyone left out is that last year, Benoit pitched almost absurdly better than any other in his career. He just was way to big of a risk. Obviously, I didn’t expect him to be this bad either, but I think every other season he’s ever pitched has to be taken into account too. It’s kind of like Jarrod Washburn a couple years ago. The guy was dynamite that first half season, so Detroit got him. Then, statistics came into play (and he injured himself) and the numbers righted themselves.

I’m an Inge fan. And I was embarrassed last night – he pretty much blew the 1-0 lead and couldn’t do anything with the bat

How, exactly, did Inge blow the 1-0 lead?

I was wrong. Inge is responsible for the 2-1….did you see Hill’s double? WTF i thought inge was good at fielding? he played poorly defensively throughout the game and then couldn’t tie the game up at the end.

I did think Inge should have made a better play on all three of those (hard hit) grounders near him. He did not seem to be very quick making a play on any of them and making a play on just one of them probably prevents the inning. He seemed slow, and if he’s not making those plays OR hitting, we’ve got a problem. I’ve been an Inge apologist too, and, its easy to Monday morning quarterback.

Inge was supposed to catch that rocket that Hill hit? Come on, let’s be real. We received six walks in seven innings and scored none of them, Benoit got lit up like a pinball machine, Cabrera missed a pop up and botched a grounder, and Boesch’s throw home went in the general direction of Highland Park, yet it’s Inge’s fault for not making the play of the year?

If it was JUST the Hill rocket – which i still think was not a “catch of the year” catch – then i’d give Inge the pass. Again, I love Inge – i’m not hating. But there was 2 other instances where inge looked “slow motion” in the field —- and then of course he did nothing with the bat – as usual.

All i’m saying is when inge is defensively bad…..as well as his usual offensive no-show…..then it’s hard.

don’t get me wrong, it’s still an improvement over Munson….

He’s always had a shaky career, but looked so good last season how could you not think he’d turned a corner? I think he will put it together eventually, but he’s clearly not up for the 8th at the moment. I recall reading when he was signed that he was once a closer and shifted to setup because he didn’t like the high tension… that doesn’t bode well.

At this point, I say use Al-Al. He’s been pitching lights out lately, might as well give him a shot and see what he can do. If he’s being considered to close one day, test him now. It’s not like he can do worse really.

I thought he was supposed to be our closer in waiting. He just doesn”t look comfortable for whatever reason right now, but he did at the start of the season. Lights out! And, that is what you expect from a set-up man. Sure he might have a bad game here or there, but not consistently like this for weeks.

pitchers go through slumps just like hitters. mechanics, usage, confidence, injury, execution, luck…all factor in. all magnified when he toes the rubber in a tight situation. might be shifted to a lesser role, but more likely remains for now in that 8th inning spot, but with quicker hook from Leyland.

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Inge would do better in 2b

His smile after the single will create bad blood with fans

… What?

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