The Yankees‘ matchup against Cole Irvin last Wednesday was an interesting one. He has been a good pitcher for the better part of two seasons now and I was intrigued to see how he would approach attacking the middle of the Yankees’ lineup. During the bottom of the first three innings, he was insistent on pounding his low-90s fastball against Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. To no surprise, the tactic didn’t work against Judge. On the fourth consecutive fastball in Judge’s first at-bat, he barreled a home run with a very easy-looking swing.
Later on in the third inning, Irvin took the same approach against Stanton. For awhile, it was working out pretty well, but the thing about facing this level of hitter is that you can’t get away with being too predictable. While there is a case to be made that pounding fastballs over and over again can be a way of pitching backwards, it’s tough to argue in favor of this strategy when your fastball is low-90s and not incredibly overwhelming. Let’s jump into the at-bat though and try to dissect what happened.
Dotted fastball just under the zone to start the at-bat. It’s a good pitch against a hitter whose swing isn’t ideal for hammering the low fastball from the left-handed sign; 1-0 count.
Similar pitch, but this time it was in the zone. If you didn’t realize, Stanton was incredibly late on this swing. He almost swung when the pitch was in the mitt.
Center-cut fastball on a 1-1 count. Irvin was so confident in his read of Stanton’s swing that he went right back to a challenge pitch and once again blew away Stanton with a 92.7-mph fastball.
I don’t blame Stanton for getting his best hack off though. With runners in scoring position, it’s important to take an aggressive swing to drive runners in. It was only a 1-1 count. It’s said that the first two strikes are for you and the last one is for your team. In other words, once you’re at two strikes, you take swings to keep the at-bat alive.
This time, Irvin dialed it up a few ticks, but so did Stanton. He sped his swing up while expecting to be challenged by Irvin. This is what great hitters do. If a pitch doesn’t have a great location and has the potential to be spoiled, then you better make sure you spoil it. Repeat the 1-2 count.
It’s an interesting approach, but I respect Irvin’s confidence in himself to get Stanton out with a steady dose of fastballs. I’d say that Stanton won this pitch though. After a fifth straight fastball, he proved that he can spoil it while waiting to get a pitch he can hit. That’s battling with what you have in the moment; 1-2 count.
Wow. Another fastball from Irvin! I understand that Stanton still never sped up to the point where he could catch up to the pitch, and yet it still feels risky. I guess you can say he executed this pitch though. If you’re throwing another one, then you might as well miss out of the zone and hope for a chase.
The only issue about this pitch is that Irvin is in a hole. Stanton can’t speed enough to put it in play, but do you really want to spoon feed him another fastball? This is the roadblock you face when taking this approach against a great hitter. In a 2-2 count, I had no clue what Irvin would do next.
Welp. He strayed away from the fastball and opted for a changeup. Stanton had no issue flicking this one to the opposite field for almost 400 feet.
YES Network announcer Cameron Maybin would go on to say that Irvin sped Stanton up by finally throwing the changeup. However, it’s tough to doubt the location and pitch decision after throwing six straight fastballs beforehand. Sometimes, the better player just wins. This was one of those cases. Lesson learned from Irvin to take a more balanced approach in the pitching leading up to this.