June 4, 2007

Slowey's Debut

Armed with incredible minor-league numbers that include a 1.86 ERA and 292-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 285 career innings, Kevin Slowey took the mound Friday night in Oakland and made his major-league debut against the ever-patient A's. Rookie Travis Buck led off for the A's, stepping into the box against Slowey with a .265/.371/.538 hitting line. A strike-throwing machine throughout his college and pro career, Slowey predictably got ahead of Buck with a first-pitch fastball that cut the plate in half.

After a foul ball put Slowey ahead in the count 0-2, he got the left-handed hitting Buck to strike out looking on a fastball that started inside and tailed back over the heart of the plate. Not only did Slowey have his first strikeout just three pitches into his big-league career, he had already shown the excellent fastball-based command that made him such an intriguing prospect. Unfortunately, the rest of the first inning didn't go quite as smoothly for the 23-year-old right-hander.

Nick Swisher watched a first-pitch strike, but worked the count to 3-2 without swinging his bat and then yanked a single into right-center field. Milton Bradley came up next and Slowey threw another first-pitch strike, but this time Bradley lined it into left-center for a hit. With runners on first and third, Minnesota native and cleanup hitter Dan Johnson stepped to the plate and became the third A's batter to take a first-pitch strike from Slowey, this one a high changeup.

Johnson looked at a curveball outside to even the count and then fouled off four straight pitches, before laying off a high fastball and a misfired changeup to run the count full. He then fouled off a pair of 3-2 high fastballs before coaxing an 11-pitch walk on a low fastball to load the bases with one out. The plate appearance epitomized the A's offensive approach and, as Slowey learned throughout the night, was an example of the difference between major-league hitters and the Triple-A bats he dominated:


0-0 77 MPH Changeup Strike (Looking)
0-1 71 MPH Curveball Ball
1-1 88 MPH Fastball Strike (Foul)
1-2 79 MPH Changeup Strike (Foul)
1-2 87 MPH Fastball Strike (Foul)
1-2 87 MPH Fastball Strike (Foul)
1-2 88 MPH Fastball Ball
2-2 75 MPH Changeup Ball
3-2 88 MPH Fastball Strike (Foul)
3-2 88 MPH Fastball Strike (Foul)
3-2 89 MPH Fastball Ball

To Slowey's credit, after losing the 11-pitch battle against Johnson he found a way to wriggle out of the bases-loaded jam with no damage being done. After Eric Chavez became the fourth A's hitter to look at a first-pitch strike, Slowey got him to foul out to Mike Redmond on a 1-1 offering. Slowey also started Bobby Crosby off with a first-pitch strike, but Crosby followed Bradley's approach by hacking it at, ending the threat with a ground out to Jason Bartlett.

Slowey threw 17 of his 25 first-inning pitches (68 percent) for strikes. Of those 17 strikes, seven were fouled off, six came looking, and four were put in play. In other words, the A's didn't swing and miss at a single Slowey pitch in the first frame. That trend continued in the second inning, as Mark Kotsay led off with a first-pitch single into left field. However, Slowey got his first swinging strike on the next pitch, missing Marco Scutaro's bat with a 90-MPH high fastball (his first pitch above 89 miles per hour).

Scutaro fell behind 0-2, but put together another tough plate appearance. With the count even at 2-2, Slowey threw an 89-MPH fastball over the outside corner and Scutaro took the seventh pitch he saw for a called third strike. Slowey quickly retired Jason Kendall on a three-pitch ground out, which brought Buck up again. After throwing first-pitch strikes to the first nine batters he faced, Slowey started Buck off with a ball before getting him to fly out to center field on the next pitch, ending the inning.

Slowey got ahead in the count when Swisher stared at a pair of pitches that grazed the outside corner leading off the third inning and then challenged him with an 89-MPH high fastball on 0-2. Swisher took a big cut and missed, giving Slowey his first swinging strikeout. He fell behind Bradley with a first-pitch ball before coming back with two straight swinging strikes, but gave up a fly ball to left field that Lew Ford played into a "double" on a 3-2 pitch that was the eighth of the plate appearance.

With Johnson up again, Slowey fell into his first deep hole with back-to-back balls. He avoided another prolonged battle by inducing a weak ground ball to the third-base side of the mound, showing good quickness and athleticism by making an easy play out of it for the second out. While retiring Johnson for the second time proved easy, Chavez's second trip to the plate resulted in a 13-pitch marathon involving nine foul balls, including six in a row with the count at 3-2:


0-0 88 MPH Fastball Ball
1-0 88 MPH Fastball Strike (Foul)
1-1 86 MPH Fastball Strike (Foul)
1-2 89 MPH Fastball Ball
2-2 87 MPH Fastball Strike (Foul)
2-2 81 MPH Curveball Ball
3-2 86 MPH Fastball Strike (Foul)
3-2 89 MPH Fastball Strike (Foul)
3-2 89 MPH Fastball Strike (Foul)
3-2 88 MPH Fastball Strike (Foul)
3-2 82 MPH Curveball Strike (Foul)
3-2 90 MPH Fastball Strike (Foul)
3-2 89 MPH Fastball Out (Pop Up)

After fouling most of the pitches straight back, Chavez's ninth foul ball was a pop up between first base and home plate. Chavez immediately tossed his bat and helmet to the ground, and began to take off his batting gloves, but got a second life when Justin Morneau misplayed the ball when he initially thought that Redmond would make the play. Slowey came right back with his 11th fastball of the at-bat, inducing a pop up near the plate that actually stayed fair for the third out. Redmond was impressed:

He did something tonight I've never seen, a guy throw that many fastballs inside to Chavez and have him not hit him. I've never seen a guy sneak that many fastballs by him. And he got him out. He definitely has stuff to work with. He's got a little bit of deception with his delivery too.

It took 65 pitches for Slowey to get through three innings, which would normally suggest that his control was suspect. In reality that was far from the case, as he threw 70 percent of his pitches for strikes in the first three innings. Along with the A's rarely swinging at the first several pitches of an at-bat, what caused Slowey's pitch count to swell so much was an amazing 20 foul balls. In fact, Slowey's first 65 offerings included more foul balls (20) than balls (19).

He made quick work of the A's in the fourth inning, retiring Crosby, Kotsay, and Scutaro on 10 pitches, although even Kotsay's at-bat included four foul balls. Slowey then seemed to lose his command in the fifth inning. He shockingly walked Swisher on four straight pitches, and also started both Kendall and Bradley with back-to-back balls. Despite the wildness, Slowey escaped the inning unscathed thanks in part to Bartlett robbing Buck of a line-drive single up the middle with a nice diving catch.

Clinging to a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, Slowey started Johnson with back-to-back pitches out of the strike zone before getting him on a fly out to left field. Chavez stepped to the plate again and Slowey threw a first-pitch strike for just the second time in six batters. With the count at 1-2, Slowey threw a 79-MPH changeup up in the strike zone and Chavez launched it into left-center for a game-tying solo homer that narrowly cleared the wall.

Whether or not the homer came because Chavez made adjustments following the previous 13-pitch at-bat, he clearly won the war against Slowey after losing the earlier battle. Slowey recovered to get two quick outs against Crosby and Kotsay, ending the inning. With the game tied heading into the seventh inning and his pitch count already at 99, Slowey was pulled from the game in favor of Juan Rincon. The Twins went on to win in 10 innings, leaving Slowey with a no-decision despite the following line:

 IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
6.0 5 1 1 2 3 1 99

While perhaps not a great performance, it was a very impressive debut from a pitcher with 18 career starts above Single-A. Slowey threw two-thirds of his pitches for strikes against a patient, primarily left-handed lineup, and got 10 of his 18 outs via strikeout or ground ball. As Kotsay said afterward: "He threw strikes, and that was the scouting report." Slowey also lived up to the scouting report by working mostly with an 87-90 MPH fastball, showing good movement and a willingness to pound hitters inside.

Slowey's fastball sinks down in the zone with good side-to-side movement, tailing away from lefties and running in on righties. However, he struggled to compliment his fastball with effective off-speed pitches, which also matched the scouting report. There's little doubt that he commands his fastball well enough to get big-league hitters out, but the A's showed that he may have a tough time missing bats and keeping hitters off balance without improving his changeup or curveball.

Slowey threw 73 fastballs among his 99 pitches, with 78 percent of them going for strikes. Of the 26 non-fastballs, just nine were strikes and that includes Chavez's homer. Redmond said after the game that Slowey "did a great job throwing a lot of fastballs for strikes" but "didn't have great command of his breaking stuff." That's certainly to be expected from a 23-year-old making his big-league debut, but it's also something that Slowey will likely need to deal with going forward.

He averaged more than a strikeout per inning in the minors and with a moving fastball that's constantly being pumped into the strike zone, it's not difficult to see why. However, Slowey likely didn't face many hitters capable of fouling off those tough fastballs to extend plate appearances at Rochester, New Britain, Fort Myers, and Beloit. As Slowey put it, "I felt like I made the pitches I needed to make, but a couple of those at-bats dragged on." Here's more from Slowey:

I felt like I was making pitches to get guys out. These guys are major league hitters for a reason. They know what it takes to foul a ball off, they know exactly what's a strike and what's not. There certainly are a lot of great things about the outing, but there are a lot of things I have to work on and try to eliminate some of those 20-pitch at-bats.

Between the six solid innings of work and his quotes afterward, Slowey's debut went about as well as possible. Welcome to the rotation, Kevin.

Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.