There are many ways to win an at-bat. If you know baseball, then you know great at-bats don’t always lead to a hit. Under the specific context of the first inning, you’re playing a certain role for yourself and the team. Depending on the hitter, you want to take a pitch or two to get your timing down. If a pitcher is struggling off the jump, you can put pressure on them with your patience. You’re not forced to do so, but it’s best to pick your spots wisely.
It was weird to see DJ LeMahieu in the four-hole on Sunday but because of his approach and knack for making contact, he is a nice fit to clean up any runners on base. In the first inning against Cubs righty Keegan Thompson, LeMahieu did exactly that and it paid off big time for the lineup.
Like I said, if the pitcher is struggling right out of the gate, you have to pick your spots. Knowing that Thompson’s feel for the strike zone was off, DJ was auto-taking on the first pitch, and it worked out nicely to get a 1-0 count with two runners on.
Another auto-take on a similar pitch, but this one scratched the corner. DJ wasn’t going to be overly aggressive here, even with runners in scoring position. Thompson isn’t the type of pitcher who you’re too worried about being even or behind in the count against. The approach is consistent, like DJ always is. The count sat 1-1.
It looks like Thompson was peppering the low-and-away corner with cutters to yield a ground ball and potential inning-ending double play, but LeMahieu wasn’t going to chase this pitch, or maybe even swing at in this zone/location of the plate. Now ahead in the count, DJ should be looking for a meaty pitch in the center of the plate that he can shoot in the outfield.
This was the meatball pitch I was talking about, and DJ put a very nice swing on it despite the foul ball. Thompson clearly did not have feel for any pitch; his arsenal is meant to pitch to corners. Leaving a fastball over the plate like this is a dangerous game. Luckily for him, LeMahieu was behind and only fouled it off for a 2-2 count.
I like DJ’s swings in this at-bat because they have noticeable intent. However, it’s clear that his timing just isn’t there. He is behind on very hittable pitches in advantage counts. With runners in scoring position, I would say that these are the pitches you can’t miss. It’s your opportunity to make the most of the situation. But you have to work with what you have in the moment. Now was DJ’s time to battle out the at-bat in vintage form.
Okay, this was obviously a very easy take. It’s one of those moments when you get a little bit of a scare hoping the ball doesn’t run even further into your face. The count was now full at 3-2.
Now here’s the thing about this next pitch. DJ knows that he has help behind him with the scorching-hot Matt Carpenter waiting his turn. Thompson has barely been in the zone and the 2-2 lost changeup was a further indicator of his struggles. You see the sign that the runners are going and know you need to make contact if the pitch is in the zone, but you balance that with the fact that Thompson has zero feel and this is a huge pitch.
Okay, here we go:
This was way closer than DJ made it seem. I actually think this is a pitch that he can shoot into right field better than most, but he opted to take his base. Sometimes, that’s all you have to do — pass the baton to the next guy. A bases-loaded situation in the first inning with no feel for the strike zone is a nightmare situation for a pitcher.
Thanks to this at-bat, Thompson was forced to do the thing he was mightily struggling to: throw strikes. It led to a big inning and Thompson only lasting two outs into the game, which was followed by a putrid performance by the Cubs’ entire team. The 18-4 final score might have been a bit of a shock, but the actual result was quite the opposite.