Joaquin Benoit and his rash of round-trippers
Relievers ride good stretches and bad struggles over the course of the year. The short nature of their outings normally leads to pass-fail grades rather than anything in the middle like a quality start. So the Tigers aren’t panicking over what they’ve seen from Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit over the past week or so.
Still, Jim Leyland isn’t downplaying how badly they need those two to pitch well.
“Obviously, Cokey and Benoit have been struggling a little bit,” Leyland said Thursday, “but they’ll straightened out.”
There’s a difference between the two situations. Unlike Coke, Benoit had borderline All-Star numbers going into the All-Star break. He was back in the conversation among the best setup men in baseball. Moreover, he has had stretches like this before.
The quirky part, though, is that Benoit isn’t getting roughed around. In fact, he’s still averaging less than a hit an inning since the All-Star break, nine hits over 10 innings for a .243 average. The problem is that seven of those nine hits are home runs. When his pitches are getting hit, they’re hit hard.
By comparison, Benoit gave up one home run over his first 36 innings, with 48 strikeouts over 36 innings.
It’s not one pitch either. Even when he gave up home runs on consecutive pitches Thursday, the first was off a 96 mph fastball to Mark Teixeira on a 2-0 pitch, and the second on a first-pitch changeup up and out.
You wonder, though, if Eric Chavez might have been onto something when he talked about the home run he hit off the changeup, a normally deceptive pitch Benoit uses to get swings and misses.
“My numbers aren’t very good against him,” Chavez said. “In fact, they’re pretty terrible (3-for-16 before that home run). I was looking for a heater, and I believe he left a changeup kind of up and away and I just saw it out of his hand.”
The key to the changeup, of course, is that it’s got to look like the fastball coming out of a pitcher’s hand. The delivery and everything has to be similar, only the velocity has to be different. If Chavez is able to pick it up out of the hand, it’s interesting.
Nobody else has said anything about picking up Benoit’s pitches like that. In fact, both of the home runs off Benoit last Sunday came off 95 mph fastballs in hitters’ counts after swinging and missing at changeups to start off the at-bats. So was Taylor Teagarden’s walkoff home run off Benoit July 14 in Baltimore (after seeing four consecutive fastballs).
The good news about something like that is that it’s easier to correct than, say, an arm injury. Benoit’s velocity suggests no arm injury.