ARLINGTON, TEXAS — Knowing the less and less effective he was against lefthanded hitters the more and more of them Dakota Hudson was bound to face, pitching coach Mike Maddux pulled the young righthander into a meeting this past week to offer a new view on this one-sided issue. He didn’t want to talk about what was going wrong.
He wanted to describe what Hudson could do right vs. lefties.
“It was not about what the lefties are doing, but what I’m doing to lefties,” Hudson said. “Execution was a big part of it. It gave me confidence. It’s a way to stay positive and put a good flip on it.”
Even better, he got good results from it.
Facing a flotilla of lefthanded batters Saturday, Hudson had one of his most effective outings of the season, handling six innings and piloting the Cardinals to a 8-2 victory against Texas at Globe Life Park. The win, which came between torrential storms in Arlington, offered a momentary break in the Cardinals’ squishy May and a continuation of what Hudson has done with three quality starts in the month. Two bands of severe storms, which included hail and shreds of lightning through the sky, delayed the start by 2 hours, 11 minutes. As Carlos Martinez made his debut of 2019 with a scoreless ninth inning a third thunderstorm dumped on the ballpark. Only a clutch double play kept the game from going into another delay.
Paul DeJong had the cloudburst double in the Cardinals’ pivotal five-run inning and the shortstop finished the game with a homer and a season-high four RBIs.
That offered Hudson (3-3) a cushion he hadn’t had in previous starts this month, and he wouldn’t need because of an adjustment in his approach. The Rangers greeted Hudson with a left-leaning order: The first eight batters in the lineup all hit lefthanded against Hudson. It was exactly the kind of test Maddux, with an assist from the Cardinals’ analytics crew, had prepped him for during their meeting.
“He was kind of scouting me, in his own way,” Hudson said.
“We had two plans – a Plan A and a co-A,” Maddux said. “We tried to understand what their approach is and we kind of got a grasp on it. We were able to execute.”
Entering Saturday’s games, lefties had hit eight of the nine homers Hudson allowed this season. Lefthanded batters had a .388 average against the Cardinals’ first-year starter and a 1.205 OPS. The numbers Maddux and Hudson discussed went deeper, but the response wasn’t complicated. Better command of his fastball and some elevation would free-up additional use of his breaking pitch, if he could land it. When the first two batters of the first inning, both lefthanded hitters, reached base against Hudson, he had his first trial. Matt Carpenter turned a grounder into a rundown and an out, and Hudson took care of the rest.
He slipped free of the first inning, struck out two in the second inning and didn’t allow a run until the Cardinals already led 6-0. One of the two runs he allowed scored on a groundout. He needed seven pitches to complete his sixth and final inning. And in each inning he utilized a slow curve and a harder, sharper breaking ball that is a variation on his cutter. He changes the grip on the pitch – holds it deeper in his hand – and gets a sharper drop.
At 88 mph, it got a strikeout in the second.
As a threat, it helped his fastball get a strikeout in the fourth.
“He’s had it,” Maddux said. “Consistency is the thing.”
Same thing goes for the Cardinals’ offense. They’ve had runners on base. Consistency has been a thing. Once they had failed to make anything out of a runner at second with no outs in the first inning, the Cardinals reached the fifth inning Saturday hitless in their previous 20 at-bats with a runner in scoring position (RISP). They went three consecutive games without a RISP hit, and as a result the entirety of their recent offense was fabricated out of homers, outs, and errors.
Toss in a wild pitch and that was the Cardinals’ early offense Saturday.
Harrison Bader got the first of his two hits, took second on an error, and got to third with the wild pitch. That put him in scoring position with one out. DeJong skipped a grounder to shortstop for the RBI – and the Cardinals’ sixth consecutive run scored on an error, an out, or a solo home run. The Cardinals’ inability to break through with a hit with runners in scoring position has been the biggest drag on their offense. Manager Mike Shildt referred to it as a “timely hit” and often how it was missing. Rallies teased. Rallies hinted. Rallies stirred. Rallies petered. Without the hit to bring home a run, the rallies never delivered the crooked numbers they could.
When Bader keyed the fifth inning with a one-out single, Carpenter followed with a long fly ball to right field that was initially ruled a home run. A review of the video concluded that it had it the top of the padded wall and come back into play.
A two-run homer became a one-run double.
Another rally teetered on the top of a wall, literally.
“It’s like, really?” Shildt said, articulating his feeling in the dugout.
Carpenter was nearly picked off but the tag eluded the Rangers, and after a walk to Paul Goldschmidt up came DeJong for the Cardinals’ sixth at-bat with a runner in scoring position. He lashed a two-run double and a five-run inning bloomed. DeJong would say later that moments like “opens our offense up as a group.”
“The fact of the matter is we’ve had a lot of opportunities – which everyone knows about – and we finally found a ball that was hit hard that didn’t go at somebody,” Shildt said. “I turned to Ollie (bench coach Oliver Marmol) and said, ‘Man, that’s nice it actually got through somewhere.’ It kind of opened the floodgates a little bit. We kept adding on.”
And Hudson kept holding them back.
That parade of lefties that awaited him in the Rangers order went four-for-17 against him with only four singles, no damage, and four strikeouts.
He put a good flip on it.
“I’m learning how to make adjustments on the fly,” Hudson said. “Just a lot of good minds in this room to pick.”