Over the first four games of his major league career, Shane Carle had given up eight hits, four runs, a homer, and struck out six batters over six innings. Before that, he was known in the minor leagues for good control, but a propensity for allowing homers in bunches along with lacking an out pitch.
But there he was – entering with one out and the bases loaded on Tuesday night. Julio Teheran had retired just seven batters in his continuing effort to become Jair Jurrjens. To be fair, Carle wouldn’t be facing the big thumpers in the Washington order – Miguel Montero and A.J. Cole were due up. Cole had just homered against Teheran so perhaps we should give him a bit more credit as a hitter. Then again, considering how Teheran pitched yesterday evening, perhaps that credit won’t be justified.
Due to his control, Carle wasn’t a terrible option here. He had started in the past and the Braves were definitely hopeful of a multi-inning outing to save their bullpen. But on the other hand, he hadn’t shown much of anything in the majors. While it’s extremely early, the Braves were effectively hoping that a guy that was so good he cost the Braves some unnamed “cash considerations” to acquire would save their collective butts.
And, because baseball, he would.
The first pitch to Montero wasn’t that good. Carle gets some good natural sink off his four-seam fastball, but you typically don’t want it to split the plate at the thighs – regardless if it had 94.3 mph velocity. It prompted a swing by Montero, who lined it to right. However, considering the location, Montero didn’t make good contact. Three hitters before, Ryan Zimmerman also hit a liner. It had an exit velocity of 106.6 mph. Montero’s liner was hit 24 mph slower. Once you get below about 93 mph exit velocity, balls that are struck don’t have a whole lot of success of becoming a hit, let alone an extra-base one. Montero’s liner was easily caught by Nick Markakis, whose throw held Howie Kendrick at third.
Cole stepped in and just like Montero, he went up hacking. Unlike with Montero, Carle’s fastball was in on the hands and well-located. The Nats’ pitcher, who finished with a negative Game Score, could only pop the ball up. Carle was out of danger.
He would stay in to face the top of the lineup the next inning. Carle is a flyball pitcher so it’s not unusual that he induced a pair of flyouts in the frame. One was hit softly by Adam Eaton after a five-pitch at-bat in which Carle tried to stick to the outside corner. After four fastballs and a 2-2 count, Carle crossed up Eaton with a changeup that was harmlessly lifted to the outfield.
Between the flyball outs, Anthony Rendon hacked at the second of two fastballs. The first was a badly located heater on the outer half of the zone that Rendon spit at. The second was a heater over the inside half of the plate. It would have been strike two had Rendon not pounded into the ground for the second out.
The final out and the second flyball of the inning was a bit scarier. After walking Bryce Harper, Carle gave Zimmerman a fastball about belt-high over the inner half of the strike zone. Zimmerman cracked it, driving it 272 feet with an exit velocity of 94.4 mph. However, he got under it a bit too much, with a 52-degree launch angle. Statcast utilizes both launch angle and exit velocity to calculate a hit probability. Even though Zimmerman hit the ball hard, because of how he undercut the heater, it only had a 1% chance of being a hit. That doesn’t mean it can’t be a hit – Preston Tucker‘s double in the bottom half of the inning only had a 4% chance of being a hit because of exit velocity. But Zimmerman had a very small chance of reaching base in his at-bat. And he didn’t.
Carle’s second full inning had a few hard-hit balls sandwiched around a softly hit one – which interestingly enough became the one hit against Carle in the outing. Let’s start with Kendrick, who Carle had stranded at third base when he entered in the third. If there was one complaint about Carle’s outing, it might be that he was so predictable. Of the 13 batters he faced, he threw a first-pitch fastball 12 times. The only time he didn’t, he was facing his final batter. To be fair, though, aren’t you supposed to throw strikes when you have a good lead?
So, Kendrick saw a fastball to begin the at-bat at 94.8 mph. It was a fat fastball, too, near the middle of the strike zone. But Kendrick still rolled over it, pounding it into the ground at 105 mph – the hardest hit ball Carle would give up. Dansby Swanson picked it up and threw out Kendrick.
Trea Turner was next and Carle started him with a fastball outside-and-low. Carle threw 37 pitches during the outing – 25 were fastballs. But Turner was about to see a pair of sliders that perplexed the youngster. The first slider – and the second pitch of the at-bat – was a hanger that may have been so ugly, it worked in Carle’s favor. It was over the plate and right at the letters. Turner kept the bat on his shoulder and Carle got the high strike call. The righty went with his mid-90’s fastball next and again, it was over the plate – but this time just above the knees. Turner was apparently looking for something else and again declined to swing. Finally, Carle went back to the slider, catching the outside corner for strike three. Turner complained, but it was a well-located pitch.
Brian Goodwin became the ninth batter Carle faced and he started Goodwin with three fastballs – all trying to paint the outside corner. Pitch #1 was taken for a strike while Pitch #2 was a foot outside. Pitch #3 did knick the outside corner and Goodwin fouled it away. Similarly to the Eaton at-bat, Carle tried to cross up the hitter with a changeup. He did just that, but Goodwin’s slow grounder found a hole up the middle for a base hit.
The fifth inning continued for Montero, who became the first hitter to see Carle twice. The first-pitch fastball was ambushed by Montero, who lined it 100.9 mph toward left-center. Preston Tucker was able to range over to grab it. Carle’s location on the pitch was a shade off the outside corner.
As the sixth opened, Carle faced Michael Taylor, who was pinch hitting. This was more of an ugly at-bat by Taylor than good pitching by Carle. His first pitch was nearly a bull’s eye. It barely missed the center of the strike zone. Taylor kept the bat on his shoulder. I imagine when he returned to the dugout two pitches later, it was the first pitch that bothered him the most. Carle’s next two pitches were a pair of sweeping sliders with little depth. Both fluttered out of the strike zone. Both were swung at and missed.
The first time Carle saw Eaton, he gave him four fastballs before getting a soft flyout on a changeup. He opened this at-bat with a fastball that nailed the outside corner. He then went to the changeup two straight times. The first missed the outside corner by two feet while the second split the plate at the knees. Eaton swung through it. With the count 1-2, Carle may have been trying a setup pitch with another fastball, which missed the outside corner. However, Eaton pounded it into the dirt and the ball ate up Ryan Flaherty for an error.
The final batter Carle would face would be Rendon. He had seen two fastballs his first time up, but Carle tried to cross him up with a slider to open the at-bat. It was one of three first-pitch balls. Carle tried to locate his fastball next but missed inside and high. Finally, he found the strikezone on his third pitch over the inside corner. It was just below the belt and Rendon tattooed it toward deep right-center. But the Braves have Ender Inciarte. The center fielder ranged over to catch the ball at the warning track. At 387 feet, it was the only time a Nat had reached 300 feet in the air against Carle.
That was it for Carle, who was lifted for the left-hand throwing Sam Freeman to face Harper. Not only had Carle done his job to stop the bleeding after Teheran’s horrible start, he retired ten batters on just 37 pitches. He averaged 95.4 mph on his heater with a 96.9 mph max. Again, he threw 25 of them – all but seven were strikes. He had an average spin rate of 2,334 RPM, which is a bit above average. His changeup averaged 88.6 mph and was used seven times while he threw five sliders at an average of 87 mph. The slider had an average spin rate of 2,291 RPM, which is also a bit above average.
Now, will Carle be able to repeat this level of success?
I don’t know.
What? Statcast only tells me what happened. It doesn’t predict the future. That said, certainly, Carle has earned more opportunities with his outing Tuesday. I like his stuff in multiple-inning outings. Some have suggested that he might be worthy of a shot at starting, but I’m not there. What we saw Tuesday was a strong reliance on his heater and location. The more times you see the same pitch in the same game, the more hitters will get the advantage. Short sample size, but three hitters saw Carle more-than-once. They averaged 99.4 mph in exit velocity. Nearly half of balls with an exit velocity of 99 mph become hits.
It’s impossible to draw conclusions, though. It was, at worst, a great outing that helped to win the game and potentially saved the bullpen entering the finale of the series this afternoon. That’s the worst-case scenario. Gimme more of that, please.