MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

On big day, pitchers show they do more than throw

On big day, pitchers show they do more than throw

Welcome to the day of the pitcher. When it's good like this, it's best to simply sit back and enjoy the show. So here's a tip of the hat to Vince Velasquez and Jaime Garcia and to Jordan Zimmermann and Danny Salazar and others.

Well done, men, well done. And when it's this good, when there's both power and craftsmanship, hitters have almost no chance.

That's when bats are shattered and knees buckled. Maybe that's the most impressive thing about Thursday. This wasn't just power pitching, although there was plenty of that. Velasquez topped out at 98 mph, Salazar at 97.

To throw hard is one thing. To understand working fast, throwing strikes and changing speeds, that's when great pitching becomes an art form.

That may be why Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman was just about as impressive as anyone in allowing the Yankees two earned runs in eight innings. In that contest, he was magnificent, getting 17 ground-ball outs and one fly-ball out.

Velocity still matters. And pitchers are throwing harder. In a decade, the average Major League fastball has ticked upward from 90.3 mph to 91.8 this season.

What has changed are the number of pitchers throwing harder than ever. In 2008, just one pitcher -- Robinson Tejeda of the Royals -- had a fastball that averaged 95 mph or better for an entire season. Last season, there were 19 pitchers throwing 95 mph or better, led by Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard at 98.1 mph.

But throwing hard is only part of the story. On Thursday afternoon, it was also about changing speeds, throwing strikes and keeping hitters off balance.

Here we go:

1. Vince Velasquez, Phillies

How do things look now, Phillies fans? Better, right? If you needed a reason to believe in the reconstruction of the franchise, this is it. That's the thing about throwing a bunch of kids into the mix. Sometimes, things happen quickly.

#THIS Velasquez tosses a gem

Velasquez arrived from the Astros in the Ken Giles deal in the offseason. He's 23 years old, and he has one of the best arms in the game. Velasquez showed it off in his ninth career big league start, a three-hit shutout of the Padres in a 3-0 victory on Thursday afternoon. And the shutout, the bottom line, wasn't nearly the most impressive thing.

It was how he did it. Velasquez's fastball sat at around 95 mph the entire day. His curveball is so good that he threw 30 of them. Velasquez induced 27 swings, becoming just the seventh pitcher to pitch nine innings with no earned runs and at least 16 strikeouts since 1913.

2. Jaime Garcia, Cardinals

Garcia showed the Brewers six different pitches in a one-hit, 13-strikeout shutout and 7-0 victory that was pitching at its highest level. He threw two different fastballs, commanded both of them, but also mixed in 18 changeups and 14 breaking balls.

Garcia's one-hit shutout

Garcia's fastball sits at around 92 mph, but because of the command and the other pitches, it has the impact of 96 or 97 mph. The Cards have long seen him as a potential top-of-the-rotation guy if he can stay healthy. That's who the Brewers saw on Thursday.

3. Danny Salazar, Indians

Remember when Salazar was a guy who threw really hard and was still trying to figure things out? He's a polished pitcher these days, and the best evidence of that was the 12 swings and misses his changeup induced during a six-inning scoreless start in a 6-0 win over the Rays.

Salazar's nine strikeouts

Salazar still is a power pitcher. His fastball sat at 95 mph most of the afternoon, and because he locates the fastball so well, his changeup is even better. Lots of people are picking the Indians to win the American League Central because of that rotation, and Salazar reinforced that opinion on Thursday.

4. Jordan Zimmermann, Tigers

Zimmermann has been so good for so long that his six-inning scoreless start against Gerrit Cole and the Pirates in the Tigers' 7-4 win is the kind of outing that has become the norm. Since the start of the 2011 season, he's 67-43 with a 3.12 ERA.

Zimmermann's six scoreless

Zimmermann made it a fastball-slider day against the Bucs, averaging 94 mph with the fastballs and a nearly unhittable 89 mph with the slider. This was exactly the guy the Tigers hoped they were getting when they plucked him off the open market.

5. Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays

This performance in a 4-2 victory over the Yankees ranks alongside any in baseball on a day dominated by great pitching. In allowing two runs in eight innings, Stroman showed the Yanks six different pitches, moved the ball around, changed speeds, crafted a masterpiece.

Stroman retires 11 in a row

6. Jason Hammel, Cubs

If you were looking for one more sign that this is the best team in baseball, look no further than Hammel. After two starts, he has a 0.75 ERA, and he was at his best on Thursday in six shutout innings in an 8-1 win over the Reds as the Cubs improved to 8-1.

Hammel's six shutout innings

7. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals

This wasn't going to be a good day for the Braves to break their eight-game losing streak. Not with Strasburg touching 97 mph with his fastball and mixing in curves, changeups and sliders. He allowed two runs in 7 2/3 innings, but after the Nationals scored four runs in the third inning, the game never seemed to be in doubt in Washington's 6-2 win. Strasburg's ERA sits at 1.98 after two starts. Yeah, sometimes a guy is every bit as good as advertised.

Strasburg whiffs seven in win

8. Ian Kennedy, Royals

In a word, dominant. Kennedy faced the minimum 15 hitters through five innings before allowing a Carlos Gomez single to lead off the bottom of the sixth. By then, he had a 6-1 lead and was coasting. Jose Altuve broke up the shutout with a seventh-inning home run, but Kennedy lowered his ERA to 0.66 after two starts with his new team, which finished off a 6-2 victory.

Kennedy fans seven to earn win

9. Mat Latos, White Sox

Latos didn't allow a hit until Joe Mauer led off the fourth with a triple, and that led to the only run he allowed in six innings of a 3-1 victory over the winless Twins. He stayed with hard stuff most of the day, but 11 curves kept a struggling team off balance.

Latos' one-run outing

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.