The Dodgers, who rank third in the league in runs scored, fifth in wRC+, 12th in DRA and fourth in run differential, enter Sunday’s road trip finale with the fourth-best record in the league.
That’s going to include a 3-3 record at worst on the road against the Braves, who hold the fifth-best record in the league, and the Rays, who of course remain the best team in the league. A win this morning would send the Dodgers back to Los Angeles with a pair of series victories against two of the league’s best teams, doing so with three starts by rookies and one by the struggling Noah Syndergaard. While they are clearly not a finished product for the playoffs, the Dodgers are still getting by and it’s pretty hard to complain about the results so far given this past offseason decisions and the in-season injuries.
|8:35 A.M.||Tampa Bay|
|1B||Freeman (L)||SS||Franco (S)|
|DH||Martinez||2B||B. Lowe (L)|
|2B||Vargas||RF||J. Lowe (L)|
|P||Stone (R)||P||Fleming (L)|
While I absolutely swear I heard Kirsten Watson say Mookie Betts would be in the infield today during yesterday’s game, he remains in right field for the Dodgers as they actively avoided putting any of their left-handed outfielders in the lineup today. That’s because the Rays were incredibly annoying about who is starting the very, very early game today (more on that below).
Instead, Trayce Thompson will look to break his 0-for-39 streak that includes 23 strikeouts. He does have eight walks during that stretch, which may help him out today.
Because the Rays are annoying and this game is at 8:30 a.m., I put together a bunch of words on Taj Bradley who Chad (and others) mentioned would be the starter today for Tampa Bay.
Well as you see above, he is clearly not the starter and instead it’s the left-handed Josh Fleming. Of course it is. So here’s your reminder on how bad (or I guess how improved since the last time we did this) the Dodgers hit against left-handed pitchers:
Fleming holds a 3.59 ERA/4.72 FIP/4.36 xFIP in 42 2/3 innings this season. His 12.0 K% and 9.7 BB% make up the 110th K-BB% (2.3%) of the 111 pitchers with at least 40 innings this season. That is literally the lowest K% among those 111 pitchers as well, with Fleming instead leading the same group in GB% at 63.2%. In his 35 innings during the 2022 season, Fleming’s 63.8% was seventh among pitchers with at least 30 innings.
That’s because the 27-year-old throws 43.9% sinkers (90.2 mph), 29.7% change-ups (82.8 mph) and 22.0% curves (76.4 mph) with only a very occasional four-seamer (91.7 mph). And with stats like that, you can probably believe his sinker has 32.7 inches of vertical movement (8th among 243 sinkers) and his change-up has 42.4 inches of vertical movement (5th among 253 changes).
As I mentioned above, the Dodgers avoided putting many left-handed batters in the lineup today as Fleming’s sinker (59.6%) and curve (34.4%) combo have them hitting .118/.167/.235/.402 in 35 PAs this season while righties have hit .285/.360/.407/.767. It’s an even split of change-ups and sinker at 39.0% to right-handed batters with the curve at 18.1%.
Fleming has gone 5 innings in 3 of his past four starts and matched his season high of 6 innings against the Blue Jays on May 22. That outing was also his highest pitch total of the season at 90, and continued a stretch of pretty decent results after allowing 6 runs against the Yankees on May 7. Over his past three outings, Fleming has allowed 3 runs in 15 innings with all three scoring on home runs (a solo shot by Anthony Volpe and a two-run homer for Whit Merrifield).
In his two starts in the majors this season, Stone has received plenty of run support with the Dodgers scoring 10 against the Phillies on May 3 in Los Angeles and eight against the Braves on May 22 in Atlanta. In all honesty, that has helped Stone’s outings look considerably better than they have been.
After 47 of his 77 pitches (61%) went for strikes against Philadelphia, Stone finished with 43 of 79 (54%) strikes against Atlanta. The latter result led to five walks against the Braves, with two of those ending up as runs. Sitting at 57.7% strikes in those two starts, Stone is behind his Triple-A pace of 60.8% strikes in 2023 and 64.5% strikes in 2022. When he was in or around the zone, Stone did produce plenty of swings and misses against the Braves. All three of Stone’s pitches finished his most recent outing with a Whiff% of 40.0% or higher. That included six misses on 15 swings against his fastball, two misses on five against the slider and six against 14 swings against the change-up. All of those were way up from his debut when he generated just six misses on 37 total swings, led by three on four swings against the slider. Those two extremes were pretty evident against the Braves. Stone faced nine batters in the 1st inning, which included two walks, while facing just three batters in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th innings.
The catch to that Whiff% against the Braves is where in the count those misses came. Finishing with just one strikeout, which came swinging against Matt Olson who registered three of the 14 Whiffs in that at-bat alone, Stone induced just one swinging strike when he was ahead in the count. Four came with the count even, again two of those were to Olson, with the others coming at 1-1 to go ahead 1-2. Those two at-bats ended in a line out and a ground out.
Otherwise, he was working to get back to an even count against batters after struggling to land first-pitch strikes. Among the 20 batters he faced in Atlanta, Stone recorded eight first-pitch strikes with three of those coming on foul balls against his fastball. In total, Stone recorded two first-pitch fastballs looking, two change-ups looking and a ground out on a fastball. Nine first-pitch fastballs went for balls, including Stone’s final four batters of the day as his pitch total surpassed 60. After opening the game at with his hardest fastball at 96.2 mph, Stone hung around 95 mph in the first inning before dropping down to 93.5 on 11 of his last 13 fastballs in the 4th and 5th innings.
Here’s an overall look at Stone’s pitch usage and results against Atlanta.
Against the Braves, May 22
|Pitch||Total||Called Strikes||Swing and Miss||Foul||In Play||Balls|
And here’s a look at his debut against Philadelphia.
Against the Phillies, May 3
|Pitch||Total||Called Strikes||Swing and Miss||Foul||In Play||Balls|
Through two starts, 36 of his 78 fastballs have been called balls. That’s just 53.8% strikes on the fastball, while the change is at 63.3% strikes and the slider is at 55.5%. In what amounts to probably the most obvious chart I could create for you, here’s a look at how often his pitches have been out of the zone.
Outside Zone %
|Pitch||May 3||May 22|
And that’s 600 words to say Stone probably needs to have more consistent command of his fastball, as 13 of the balls in his five walks were fastballs.
How Stone pitches today may have an impact on the next run through the rotation as Michael Grove seems like he’s ready to go.
First pitch is scheduled for the absolutely insane time of 8:35 a.m. PT at Tropicana Field on Peacock.