Adam Warren Makes Beautiful Use of Slider and Change in Spot Start

When the Cubs acquired Adam Warren, they told him they’d give him the opportunity to start. He got the chance to do just that on Wednesday afternoon, though the route he took wasn’t necessarily conventional and the role isn’t necessarily permanent. After coming out of the pen for the first three months of the season, Warren was sent to AAA Iowa to stretch out in order to spell the regular starters heading into the break.

Joe Maddon has been adamant that there is a specific plan for his swingman and that the Cubs would not deviate from that, but Warren’s performance in the face of a few stinkers from other starters is sure to raise questions. Let’s dispense with speculation for the time being, even though I am a little concerned about what Jason Hammel’s been doing against lefties, and focus on what the man the Cubs got for Starlin Castro was able to do as a starter.

In a nutshell, Warren threw strikes. He rarely found himself behind hitters and had five Reds hitters in 0-2 counts, finishing with six strikeouts in only 5 innings of work. Despite starting seven batters with a ball, he pitched to only five 2-1 counts and only once went to either 2-0 (against the last batter he faced, opposing pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, who eventually struck out swinging) or 3-1 (against Zack Cozart, who eventually struck out swinging).

But saying that Warren threw strikes is only telling part of the story. What was really impressive was the confidence he showed in his secondary pitches, in particularly the slider and changeup. Of the 12 pitches he threw immediately after running the count to either 1-0 or 2-1, Warren used seven changes and three sliders. The only times he went to the fastball were in that 2-0 count against DeSclafani, just trying to blow it past the pitcher.

In all, Warren went to his changeup 23 times, throwing it for strikes on 17 occasions. He utilized the slider 16 times, 11 of which were strikes. Again, this only tells us part of the story, as it’s not just about whether a pitch was a ball or a strike. To that end, Reds hitters only put two sliders (fly out, single) and two changeups (ground out, fly out) in play. What’s more, they only made contact at all with nine other changeups (all foul) and four sliders (three foul tips, one foul)

Five of Warren’s strikeouts came on the slider or change and all were swinging (Joey Votto foul tipped one on strike two). Oh, and did I mention he walked no one? I guess I just did. It’s a beautiful thing when a pitcher can work close enough to the zone avoid walks while remaining deceptive enough to induce whiffs and weak contact. His only mistake in the game came in the very first at-bat against Zack Cozart in which Warren ran the count full before giving up a home run.

Thing is, he was obviously going out there trying to settle in by pumping fastballs. In that 10-pitch battle, Warren went to the fastball eight times and eventually saw it tagged over the centerfield wall. The next time Cozart came to the plate, however, he saw only one heater. Here’s the sequence: slider (ball, 0-1); changeup (foul, 1-1); 2-seam (ball, 2-1); changeup (ball, 3-1); changeup (called strike, 3-2); changeup (foul, 3-2); slider (swinging strike, K).

The last two pitches Warren threw to Cozart in each of his first two at-bats represent four of the six pitches Warren threw in full counts all afternoon. In addition to the results above, the replacement starter got a swinging strike on a change to Adam Duvall and that aforementioned foul tip strikeout on a slider to Votto. After going fastball/fastball to the leadoff hitter with poor results, Warren turned to his secondaries and really began to shine.

Again, it’s really something when a pitcher has enough confidence in his stuff to throw non-fastballs in full counts, particularly against dangerous hitters. The Reds were rarely able to touch the slider or change and they couldn’t do anything with them even when they did. Contrast that with the way the other Cubs starters have been pitching lately. Jake Arrieta in particular has had a hard time getting in front of hitters and making them play his game.

Consider that in his last start in New York, the Cubs’ ace threw as many pitches in full counts in the 1st inning alone as Warren threw in 5 innings Wednesday. Arrieta went to 3-2 counts on each of the first three batters and on four of the six Mets he faced in the opening frame last Saturday. While he settled in after the rough start, throwing 35 pitches in an inning isn’t necessarily ideal.

I’m certainly not saying Adam Warren is better than Jake Arrieta. I’m not even saying that Warren should be made a permanent starter…yet. What I am saying is that he pitched a helluva ballgame, even considering the opponent and the fact that his bullpen cheesed things up in the end. The Cubs now have almost a full turn through the rotation before the All-Star Break, which gives them a chance to steady themselves and figure things out a bit before getting a breather.

Maddon did seem to acknowledge the other day that Warren would return to the pen when the second half opens, so it’s possible that neither his performance nor that of Jason Hammel will impact the plan that’s been set forth. If nothing else, the Cubs got a firsthand look at their next-best option for the rotation should they decide against making a move for a starter at the deadline.

Or maybe they just know that their low-risk gamble paid off and that they got a good start from a guy who’ll return to his role in a bullpen that needs all the help it can get. Kind of a win-win. Well, except on the scoreboard.

So what do you think, dear reader? Are we looking at Jason Hammel’s successor or just a guy who showed out in a spot start and needs to get back to relieving the starters instead of joining them?

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