Cole Survives, Phillies Start 2-0

For the first time since 2003, the Philadelphia Phillies have started the season with two wins. The team has become notorious for its slow starts, but has come out of the gates guns ablaze in 2010. The team scored 11 runs on Opening Day and tacked on another eight against the Nationals tonight. Ryan Howard hit another home run — a tape-measure shot to right-center that landed in the second deck — and Jimmy Rollins continued his great approach at the plate. Meanwhile, Cole Hamels survived through five innings without his curve and dealing with a postage stamp strike zone. Ryan Madson successfully converted a four-out save and gave the Phillies their first series win of 2010.

Rollins drew two walks in both games, only the third time he has accomplished that feat in his career. Last year, it took him until June 19 to walk twice in just one game. Clearly, Rollins is having a much easier time at the plate, which may yet prove that his 3.2% decline in walk rate from 2008 to ’09 may have been aberrant.

On the other side, Cole Hamels had a rough outing but was savvy enough to survive. Home plate umpire Mike Winters wasn’t giving him anything on the corners as you can see in this chart:

Any of the green boxes you see in or near the black box were strikes (or borderline pitches) that were called balls.

Hamels struggled with his curve. Five of his 103 pitches were curves, but none of the five were effective pitches. He appeared to be throwing them from a higher arm angle, which may explain the lack of control.

The pink boxes are Cole’s curves. Additionally, early on, it appeared to me that Cole was having problems finishing his pitches out of the wind-up. I don’t have video-capturing nor video-editing capabilities, so I can’t verify this, but that was my impression early in his start. It could be nothing — just a lack of comfort with the pitcher’s mound on the road — but it may be something to keep an eye on.

Danys Baez did not inspire confidence in his one-third of an inning tonight. While he threw hard, as his 95 MPH fastball will attest, he threw straight. Cristian Guzman led off the eighth inning by swinging at a first-pitch fastball from Baez and smoking it to left-center where it caromed off the wall. Shane Victorino judged it poorly and the ball skipped away, allowing Guzman to reach third base for a triple. Adam Kennedy then scorched a curve over the middle of the plate, a line drive to right fielder Jayson Werth, who nearly threw Guzman out of the plate. Pinch-hitter Willie Harris hit another straight Baez fastball hard, a double to right field. Baez was lucky the damage wasn’t greater.

Ryan Madson came on to finish out the eighth, striking out Ian Desmond effortlessly. Charlie Manuel allowed Madson to bat when the Phillies loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth inning against Nationals reliever Matt Capps. That decision in and of itself is not controversial, but Madson swung the bat twice. With the Phillies’ bullpen as barren as it is, it is very risky to allow Madson to take any cuts there. However, Mad Dog survived and was able to nail down the four-out save in the bottom half of the inning, a good sign of things to come.

Kyle Kendrick will oppose Craig Stammen in the series finale tomorrow at 4:35 ET. The Phillies haven’t opened up a season with three straight wins since 2001.

Game graph via FanGraphs.

Welcome Back, Nelson

Per Todd Zolecki:

The Phillies have claimed right-hander Nelson Figueroa off waivers, the team confirmed.

He is expected to join the Phillies, which means they would need to make a roster move upon his arrival. It is unclear when he will join the team, but he likely would be the team’s long man. Andrew Carpenter currently holds that role.

You may recall an article about Figueroa I wrote at Baseball Daily Digest a couple weeks ago. I concluded:

It’s hard to find a better bargain than Figueroa right now. And he’s giving the Mets every reason to insert him in the back of their starting rotation or in the bullpen. He has pitched eight scoreless innings in spring training with nine strikeouts and three walks. Spring training stats should, of course, be taken with a grain of salt — Johan Santana has a 9.00 ERA at the moment — but Figueroa certainly has pushed all the right buttons so far.

In the event the Mets do cut Figueroa, it would be hard to imagine 29 other teams passing up on such a low-risk, high-reward pitcher. Last year, he averaged 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings at the Major League level and had a K/BB ratio approaching 4.0 with Triple-A Buffalo.

With the team’s lack of starting pitching depth, this is a great pick-up by Ruben Amaro. Figueroa has been underrated throughout his career and will be able to fill in adequately as a spot starter or a short-term solution in the back of the Phillies’ starting rotation.

Additionally, Figueroa helps the Phillies meet their caterpillar eyebrow quota following the departure of Brett Myers.

Stats at The 700 Level

I’ve penned a couple Sabermetrics primers at The 700 Level. Here’s Part 1 on hitting stats, and here’s Part 2 on pitching stats. Still working out the format for tomorrow’s primer but it will involve at least fielding stats.

Looking forward to tonight’s Cole Hamels start. Hoping he gets off to a good start mostly because I am rooting for him but also because I don’t want to hear “I told you so” from the “Cole Hamels is a Nancy-boy” crowd.

If you haven’t seen Tom Verducci’s piece on Roy Halladay on MLB Network, I implore you to do so. Click here for the video.