Baseball history practically guarantees there will be more days like Sunday for the Fresno Grizzlies.
A left-handed pitcher takes the mound and shuts down a predominately left-handed hitting Grizzlies lineup, just like Las Vegas 51s lefty Sean Gilmartin did in a 3-0 win over Fresno before an announced crowd of 8,765 at Chukchansi Park.
Over seven scoreless innings, Gilmartin struck out eight, didn’t allow a walk and scattered three hits.
“He did a good job,” Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco said of Gilmartin. “Threw his breaking balls for strikes. Kept our lefties off balanced. We’ve got to make some adjustments because we’re going to face more lefties out there.”
Stocked currently with as many as seven left-handed hitters, the Grizzlies are expected to struggle against left-handed pitchers.
Decades of data show left-handed hitters more often struggle against left-handed pitching, though there have been individual exceptions.
“I just think left-handed hitters don’t face enough left-handed pitching; they’re not used to it,” Grizzlies hitting coach Ralph Dickenson said. “It’s just a matter of familiarity.”
The Houston Astros Triple-A affiliate might not be able to revolutionize baseball and figure out how to get their left-handed hitters to excel against left-handed pitching.
But the Grizzlies are hoping for some improvement in that area, and they’re adamant they’ll achieve that while still using a predominately left-handed lineup, rather than platoon batters and bringing in more right-handed hitters.
There’s no platoon here in the minors. We’re developing. If they want to make it to the big leagues, be an every day player up there, you got to be able to hit left-handed pitching.
Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco
“There’s no platoon here in the minors,” DeFrancesco said. “We’re developing. If they want to make it to the big leagues, be an every day player up there, you got to be able to hit left-handed pitching. That’s just the way it is. That’s what the organization is encouraging.”
Of the Grizzlies’ seven left-handed hitters, four hit below .260 against lefties last season, with their power hitters the most frequent victims of outs.
▪ A.J. Reed led all minor league hitters with 34 home runs and 127 RBIs last season. But he hit just .238 with two homers in 63 at-bats against lefties a year ago. Reed finished 0 for 4 Sunday.
▪ Jon Singleton, who had 22 homers and 83 RBIs for the Grizzlies last season, hit a measly .172 with five homers over 157 at-bats against lefties. He did not play Sunday, instead getting his first day off of the season during the afternoon affair.
▪ Third baseman Colin Moran hit just .235 against lefties in 98 at-bats last year. He’s been the one exception for the Grizzlies this season, though, when it comes to hitting lefties. He went 2 for 4 Sunday to raise his average to .533 (8 for 15) against left-handed pitching.
A small sample size, surely. Nonetheless, DeFrancesco credited a slight change in Moran’s swinging mechanics with the 23-year-old learning to keep his front side closed a little more.
“Just been working and trying to get better,” Moran said. “I’m staying in there a little bit better against them, seeing it longer.
“They are tougher, coming in with their arm slot. It’s just kind of a tough angle on some guys. But you want to have the same approach whether it’s a lefty or righty on the mound.”
But even the Grizzlies’ left-handed hitters who haven’t struggled as much against left-handed pitching got shut down Sunday.
.250 Combined batting average by the seven left-handed hitting Grizzlies against left-handed pitching last season (168 for 671)
▪ Leadoff hitter Tony Kemp hit .253 in 83 at-bats last season vs. lefties. He finished 0 for 4 Sunday.
▪ Middle infielder Nolan Fontana, who hit .273 with one homer in 121 at-bats last year, was 1 for 3.
▪ Outfielder Jon Kemmer, who hit .319 with two homers in 69 at-bats a year ago, was 0 for 3.
▪ Andrew Aplin, who was .338 with two homers in 80 at-bats against left-handed pitching last season, finished 0 for 3 Sunday.
Combined, the seven left-handed Grizzlies players hit .250 (168 for 671) against left-handed pitching last season, and this is the first year that Kemp, Kemmer, Aplin, Reed and Moran have opened a season in Triple-A.
To help the Grizzlies get better against left-handed pitching, they will try to find a left-hander to help throw batting practice and likely will use a left-handed pitching machine that can throw curveballs.
The Grizzlies are looking for a left-handed arm to help with their batting practices and give their players more opportunity to see left-handed pitching during non-game situations.
DeFrancesco added that the team might start using a left-handed pitching machine that can throw curveballs.
“Once we get comfortable in the next couple of weeks, we’ll get into our groove,” DeFrancesco said. “But right now, we just got to battle and be ready for the challenge.
“Because we’re going to face more lefties and teams are going to throw out more lefties out of their bullpen against us.”