Maybe it’s the Clemens Curse, but something’s happening to the power-pitching ace since the man who’s name was synonymous with the term turned up in the Mitchell report over the winter. Two guys who fit the rocket-arm mold – Barry Zito and C.C. Sabathia – can’t seem to throw strikes, get people out or win.
Just a month into the season, the 2002 and 2007 Cy Young winners, respectively, are a combined 1-10, with Zito at -06 for the first time in his career.
They’ve been replaced at the top of the rotation by the kind of guys who throw pitches that not so much blow by hitters as elude them. Sinkerballs Chien-Ming Wang of the Yankees and Diamondback hurler Branden Webb are 11-0 between them, and they’re doing it by baffling hitters with stuff that dips, slides and moves all over the place.
Note: Any implied correlation between the shocking declines of Zito and Sabathia and Clemens/Mitchell is for entertainment purposes only. Though Zito was also mediocre last season (11-13), they are both outstanding pitchers whose woeful records could very well be turned around by fall.
In the meantime, I’m getting a kick out of Webb and Wang, the law-firm sounding pair who’ve quietly emerged as the standards of the early season.
Webb was 34-18 in ’06 and ’07. In 2003, he was baseball’s wildman. He threw 17 wild pitches and walked 199 batters, more than any other player in the majors. He also led the NL with 16 losses that year. The turnaround was attributed to anything magical.”Basically, I just tried to do what I’ve done the last three years, which is throw a lot of sinkers,” Webb said. Just keep throwing them until he got it right.
Wang has pretty much been an “ace” since his second season in the majors. He was 19-6 in ’06, 19-7 in ’07 (if he’s 19-8 in ’08, I’m calling the authorities). In fact, he reached 50 wins faster than any pither over the last 25 years.
But because he doesn’t throw peas, and does get a lot of strikeouts, he was never really perceived in New York as an “ace” in the traditional sense. That iconic tag was reserved for manly-men pitchers, guys like Clemens and his ex-BFF, Andy Pettitte.
Yeah, close your eyes and think ace and images of Bib Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Vida Blue come to mind. So do Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan and Dwight Good. Or Pedro Martinez in his prime. Guys who throw smoke and turn bats into toothpicks.
Chien-Ming Wang isn’t that guy, and even as he was winning 19 games in successive seasons it was as if Yankee fans still flt he wasn’t the team’s “ace
Maybe it’s his demeanor. Though Wang stands 6-3 and weighs 225, imposing he is not. He nature is calm, typically unruffled. Not “ace-like.” Somehow I can’t see Wang tossing a broken bat at a hitter he’d just thumped, as he glared at the batter as if he wanted to eat his young.
This year, Wang has expanded his repertoire after seeing last season what can happen when the sinker doesn’t sink. (Search: Wang, Cleveland and playoffs). He’s added sliders, splitters and chanegups to the mix, and it’s almost not fair.
Batters aren’t quaking as if they’re facing someone who could throw the ball through them; they’re just confused, baffled, befuddled.
On Sunday, in a battle against Sabathia and the Indians, Wang allowed only two batters beyong first base over his final six innings, after allowing two runners in the first.
All told, he gave up just four hits and struck out nine over seven innings in the Yankee’s 1-0 win. He’s now 5-0.
That same day, Webb outdueled the reigning NL Cy Young winner, Jake Peavy of San Diego. He gave up just one unearned over six innings to improve to 6-0 and lower his ERA to 1.98 – sixth-best in all of baseball.