Edwin Jackson shattered the White Sox's home opener strikeout record as the Sox downed Tampa Bay 5-1 Thursday afternoon.
The most important thing accomplished by Childish Edwino (hat tip to Matt in today's chat for that nickname) wasn't his 13 strikeout, one-run performance. It was that he threw 120 pitches in eight innings, allowing the White Sox's taxed bullpen to take a rest. After playing 25 innings the last two days—in which the Sox bullpen pitched 11.1 innings—the Sox needed Jackson to go deep into Thursday's game. And he delivered, big time.
Jackson's slider was nearly unhittable. He threw 49 of them, 32 of which were for strikes and 13 of which resulted in a swing and a miss (that's a lot). The Rays chased quite a few of them—as you'll see below the fold with the pitch f/x map—but that was because, as Steve Stone noted on the broadcast, Jackson's slider was nearly impossible to tell apart from his fastball out of his hand. His fastball command was pretty good, too—much better than his last start in Cleveland—which helped set up his big day. Only one more strikeout and Jackson would've had more K's than Todd O'Connor has had heart attacks.
Image via Brooks Baseball's pitch f/x tool.
Notice how a lot of Jackson's sliders are clustered down and away to right-handers. That's where a lot of the swings and misses he generated came.
That being said, the Rays weren't swinging the bat too well as a team coming into Thursday's game. As Rays blogger Jason Collette pointed out, the sum of the nine batting averages in the Rays lineup barely was more than Carlos Quentin's OPS—which is a clever way of saying the Rays' offense has struggled so far this year.
This isn't the same team that was no-hit by Jackson last year, either. Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena are elsewhere, Evan Longoria is on the disabled list, and Dan Johnson was hitting cleanup (after his 0-4 performance, he's now hitting .043 on the season). But Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times reported that "several" of the Rays players—and manager Joe Maddon—thought Jackson threw the ball better Thursday than he did in his no-hitter last June. That isn't surprising that they thought that, as Jackson clearly did throw the ball better. Thanks to limiting Tampa Bay to just one walk, Jackson's FIP will go down after this start—unlike after his no-hitter.
Lillibridge to somewhere: Hours after the White Sox announced the end of the Lastings Milledge era, Brent Lillibridge went 2-3 with an RBI single and two stolen bases. That's one way to curry favor after what appeared to be a head-scratcher of a move.
Alexei hitting in April? It's still early, and I don't want to jinx anything...but Alexei Ramirez hasn't been bad so far in the month of April. Which is weird, because usually Ramirez doesn't start hitting until mid-May. That's been the case for the last three years, but his 2-4 day raised his season line to .296/.321/.407 in 27 at-bats. Obviously, that's an incredibly small sample size, but for years we've been wondering what Ramirez's numbers would look like if the first six weeks of the season weren't an offensive black hole. Through one week, he hasn't been bad. That's a start, at least.