Going into last night’s games, the MLB leader in consecutive scoreless innings pitched was former Phillie and now Rangers starting pitcher Cole Hamels. Hamels entered last night’s tilt against the Baltimore Orioles having thrown 21 consecutive scoreless frames in a row. He breezed through the first three innings in Baltimore, bringing that total to 24 straight without a run. In the fourth inning, however, Hamels did what he’s prone to do: he have up a solo homerun to Jonathan Schoop over the left field fence on a missed changeup. With the solo shot, Hamels’ scoreless streak ended at 24.1 innings pitched.
Enter the new leader in scoreless innings tossed in a row. Would you believe me if I told you it was a Phillies pitcher? Well, I bet you would since this piece has to have SOME Phillies connection. But would you be able to tell me who that pitcher was? That, I bet, would be a harder guess.
I’ll give you a couple of hints. No cheating by scrolling down to the answer. Let’s see if you know who it is. The first hint is this pitcher started the season in AAA Lehigh Valley. Hint number two is he has been sent down to the minors twice this year, but has been on the MLB roster since May 12. Final hint. This pitcher has been aided significantly by his vastly lowered hits/9 and walks/9 ratio, as well as a homerun/9 stat that has shrunk from 1.17 last year to 0.46 this season.
Give up? The answer to this little trivia question in right handed reliever Luis Garcia. The 30-year-old now has the longest active scoreless innings streak in Major League Baseball.
Garcia has not allowed a run since June 13, when he surrendered one run to the Boston Red Sox. As of the time this piece was written, that’s 38 straight days without a run given up. Garcia has spanned 14 appearances over that time, throwing 16.1 straight scoreless innings. In fact, Garcia has been so good out of the Phillies’ bullpen, that he’s allowed just 11 baserunners over those innings, giving up six hits and surrendering five walks. More importantly, he’s punched out 16 hitters, which gives Garcia a near 1.00 K/9, well above his season ratio of 6.92/9 and his career total of 7.68/9. Over the span of 14 appearances, Garcia has lowered his season ERA from 3.97 all the way down to 2.31. I know his 39 innings pitched this season is a small sample size, and a handful of good appearances in a row can really impact your ERA, but a 1.66 ERA drop over the course of a little more than a month is fantastic.
What’s really been helping Garcia succeed this year, and especially over this scoreless streak, is his ability to get ahead in the count and stay ahead. This season, Garcia has thrown more strikes in total than he has in any other season in his Major League career. For the first time in his career, Garcia is throwing more than 60 percent of his pitches for strikes, allowing him to get ahead of batters in the counts. This, of course, forces batters to be more aggressive in their approaches. Being down 0-1 to start a count as opposed to being up 1-0 swings the momentum almost entirely in the pitcher’s favor. Over the course of the season, when Garcia has gotten ahead in the count 0-1, batters are hitting .203 with 24 strikeouts. Conversely, when hitters start 1-0, Garcia has just six strikeouts. While batters are not hitting significantly higher than 0-1, just .207 to be exact, the on base percentages swell in the 1-0 situation from .239 to .324. It’s been little things like getting ahead in the count that have really propelled Garcia as of late.
Getting ahead in the count has allowed Garcia to throw less pitches, as well. Over the last 14 appearances, the most pitches Garcia has thrown has been 34 in 1.2 innings against the Pirates on July 5. While Garcia didn’t surrender any runs, he did walk two batters, which swelled his pitch count. Those two walks accounted for 40 percent of the walks he’s dished out since this streak began. So we can chalk that outing up as an outlier and not a constant.
Garcia is averaging nearly four pitches less an inning than his career best of 17.3 in 2015. He’s down to 13.7 this year. That’s where the stay ahead part comes into play. This season, he’s only allowed nine batters to see a 3-0 or 3-1 count. That’s comparable to the 48 hitters who have faced either 0-2 or 1-2 counts. 0-2 hitters are batting .048, while 1-2 hitters aren’t faring much better at just .111. That’s putting away hitters when you have a chance.
Here’s the deal. I understand that I, as a writer, have just entirely jinxed Luis Garcia and he’s going to give up three runs tonight, or tomorrow, or whenever he gets put in the game next. I get it. And I welcome the criticism when it happens, because we’re just the worst here in sports media. But this nice little stretch that Garcia is having needs to identified and applauded because, well, it’s been a rough year for us as Phillies’ fans, and this is something, even ever so small that it brightens our days for even a fraction of a moment, that we simply need. My apologies for the outing that Garcia is about to have, but I hope you’ve enjoyed his masterful pitching over the last month.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports