The Rangers are two outs away from their first shutout of the 2011 season, and the starting pitcher responsible for carrying his team this far is two outs away from his first shutout ... ever. Now on the brink of launching his 109th pitch of the evening plateward, Colby Lewis reaches the set position, checks on a potential shutout-ruining Alexei Ramirez with a cursory glance towards second base, and fires home ...
There are those days when everything about baseball comes into near-perfect focus, and, for one reason or another, you think you've finally got everything figured out. It could be triggered by something as complex as a bit of predictive statistical analysis on your end matching up with reality, or something as simple as a wholly unexpected and flawlessly executed suicide squeeze that you visualized in your mind just before it actually unfolded in real time. There are those days ... and then there are the days where it feels like the more you think you know about baseball, the less you actually do know. I again find myself dealing with the latter, but Colby Lewis has been a point of personal bewilderment for me all season long, so I suppose it really shouldn't surprise me that he's at it yet again.
Since our enduring memories of Lewis dominating in the 2010 playoffs were forged, we've witnessed the following: a decidedly shaky three-start open to the season during which the mindblowingly stupid and wholly media-contrived paternity leave story gained traction, followed by Lewis bottoming out in his April 19th and 25th starts with 10 earned runs allowed in 10 total innings (which prompted this effort and this effort to shed some light on what was going so horribly wrong), followed by a sharp recovery from his tailspin with consecutive fantastic eight-inning starts, followed by a bizarre 7.1-inning start where he excelled at run prevention but posted highly undesirable ground-to-fly ball and strikeout figures (prompting yet another post), followed by ... well, what happened on Monday night. I feel like we've finally come full circle.
A receiving Yorvit Torrealba has his mitt carefully skirting the edge of the low-and-away quadrant, clearly looking to play things safe with a very dangerous Paul Konerko standing in and looking to crush a 3-1 fastball. The fastball comes, but it has badly missed its intended target and is elevated into the heart of the strike zone. Konerko loads and swings away ...
Shortly after the game, Lewis remarked to the assembled press that it really was just as simple as him rediscovering his fastball location and going from there -- but if you dug no further beyond that, you would be selling short the excellent slider/change-up complement that he consistently buried low in the zone to great effect (White Sox hitters mustered only a 2-for-15 showing against Lewis's breaking stuff), as well as the atmospheric conditions that lent some aid to his overall success. The ground-to-fly ball ratio was yet again an upside-down 6-to-14, but the mid-40s chill in the air and hostile winds were enormously helpful in curtailing the extra-base threat and saving Lewis from greater punishment on those occasions when the still-hittable fastball didn't quite hit its mark.
Am I still concerned about his velocity? Yes, to a certain extent. With all else being equal, a long-term velocity loss of 1-2 mph -- if one actually does exist, mind you -- leaves him with a smaller margin for error; there's no getting around that. But it is also apparent that his pitching aptitude, better-than-average secondary weapons, and evidently resurgent command of the fastball still leave him sufficiently equipped to be an asset in this starting rotation, and I truly am relieved to see it coming back together for Colby Lewis v. 2.0. When a pitcher appears as broken as he seemed to be a month ago at this time, you tend to anticipate the worst rather than the best. Sometimes, however, you end up pleasantly surprised as we are now, and any and all rotation doomsday scenarios become far less intimidating if you can just continue to count on Lewis being there for you -- dodgy batted-ball rates or not.
Bat connects with ball. Both Konerko and Lewis stare after the sphere hurtling through the Chicago night. Konerko then visibly grimaces and launches into the obligatory jog down the first base line, having just gotten under what may have been Lewis's worse pitch of the night and flied out harmlessly to a waiting David Murphy in medium-deep left-center field. A sigh of relief. Colby Lewis will have his shutout.