Francisco Cordero’s first season in Blue Jay blue hasn’t been pretty so far. Through a team-high 11 appearances (11 innings), he’s given up 17 hits, thrown a pair of wild pitches, already surrendered three home runs and has been charged with seven earned runs; good for a 5.73 ERA. Right-handed hitters are 6-for-18 (.333) off of him with a 1.122 OPS, left-handers are 11-for-29 (.379) with a .937 OPS and he’s given up a run in each of his last three outings. And if saves are your thing, he’s already blown two in four chances.
Despite all of this, however, Cordero was one pitch away from a clean inning last night, when he pitched much better than the box score indicated.
To put the above comment into context, I am, by no means, Cordero’s biggest supporter, as I’m well aware of his diminshed average fastball velocity and the concerning drop in his strikeout rate from 12.2 whiffs per nine innings in 2007 compared to just 5.4 per nine in 2011. I wasn’t a fan of the Cordero signing in the first place, and back in January I wrote that I would have preferred the Jays give the eighth inning and high leverage situations to Casey Janssen, who had the best season of his career in 2011, instead.
But I’m cutting Cordero some slack for his performance last night which, for me, is bold. His line was this:
(BS, 2)(W, 1-1) 1.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K.
Rangers leadoff hitter Alberto Gonzalez took a first-pitch, 86 mph slider from Cordero for strike one before chopping a grounder foul to the third-base side on an identical 86 mph slider for strike two. Tossing the slider once again, this time a bit higher in the zone but on the outer half of the plate, Gonzalez weakly grounded out to a running Brett Lawrie for the first out of the inning.
Next up for the Rangers and pinch hitting for center fielder Craig Gentry was Adrian Beltre, who entered the game with a .321 average and .899 OPS, easily one of the best hitters on a loaded Rangers roster. After missing low and away with his first fastball of the inning, Cordero went back to his slider and dropped it on the inner half of the plate to even the count with a called first strike. Cordero found himself behind once again 2-1 after missing high with another fastball, but reared back to “blow” a 92 mph four seamer by Beltre on a foul tip for strike two. Then, in what I thought was his best pitch of the inning, Cordero struck out Beltre swinging on a fastball in the exact same location, on the outer half of the plate.
That brought up Ian Kinsler, Cordero’s final obstacle in closing out only his second perfect inning of the season. The Jays’ interim closer fed Kinsler a well-placed slider outside for a first-pitch strike — something that he’s only managed to do a career-low 48% of the time this season — before getting the call on a low and outside fastball to get ahead 0-2. The pitch was beautifully framed by Jays catcher Jeff Mathis (pictured below, post-frame), who stuck his glove to lift the pitch up ever so slightly.
But after fouling off two good pitches and taking a low ball over the plate, Kinsler ripped a single to center to keep the inning alive in just a solid piece of hitting from the Rangers’ second baseman. All six of Cordero’s pitches in the at-bat were well placed, as five were in the strike zone and the other was a low-and-outside slider that Kinsler was coaxed into chasing.
Cordero threw 16 of his 21 pitches (76%) for strikes, which was his highest percentage in any outing so far this season and against a Rangers squad that boasts the best offense in the Majors right now. Sure, Cordero is far from the same pitcher that he was in 2007 when he was with Milwaukee, but his performance last night was easily his most impressive of the year and there were some positives to take from it.