The Giants can take no more. Well into Tim Lincecum‘s third straight year of mediocrity — since the start of 2012, he’s got a 134 ERA- and 114 FIP- — and most of the way through the first year of his 2/$35m extension signed last winter, San Francisco will skip him in the rotation and instead give Thursday’s start to Yusmeiro Petit, a 29-year-old journeyman who has found a home as a swingman this season. Petit has appeared in 33 games for the Giants in 2014, which is one more major league game than he’d seen in the past five seasons combined.
Petit was once a top-100 prospect, and he has been around for so long that he was part of the 2005 trade that sent Carlos Delgado from the Marlins to the Mets, but he’s also been DFA’d at least twice, including by the Giants last year, and lost on waivers from Arizona to Seattle another time. For a three year stretch between 2010-12, he threw exactly 4.2 big league innings, and he spent all of 2011 in the Mexican Leagues before the Giants took a flyer on him as a non-roster guy in January of 2012. In the minors, he was once described as having the potential to be a “Nelson Figueroa type,” which: high praise!
It’s not really news that Lincecum is a shadow of what he once was. Petit, a soft-tossing righty who’s kicked around for a while, isn’t exactly the next hot prospect. But if you happen to find yourself with nothing to do at 3:45 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, you should take the time to check out Petit’s start against the Rockies anyway, for one simple reason: Petit, an otherwise nondescript pitcher of little repute, might just break a major league record for pitching dominance. 38 times in a row, hitters have stepped to the plate, and 38 times, they’ve failed to reach base. The record of 45 is within reach. Let’s take a walk through Petit’s magical month.
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This all started in the midst of one of Petit’s worst outings of the year. After spending most of the previous two months in the bullpen, Petit picked up a spot start in place of Matt Cain on July 22 in Philadelphia, lasting five innings and giving up five runs. He allowed four hits in the fifth, his final inning, including a Jimmy Rollins homer, allowed Marlon Byrd to double, and then finished the inning with this:
That Grady Sizemore groundout was all but ignored — as it it absolutely should have been — in a game the Giants would go on to win in 14 innings. Why in the world, in a game between a decent team and an atrocious team, would anyone care about a single out? You wouldn’t, except for when you think about the fact that Petit would go on to do that again 37 more times. Yes, in a row.
Four days later, Clayton Kershaw shut down the Giants 5-0 on a three-hit shutout, because Clayton Kershaw is really, really good. Petit came in for mop-up duty, setting down all six Dodgers he faced, including getting Yasiel Puig on an 89 mph fastball:
Puig has seen 215 pitches this year between 88 and 90 mph, and he’s swung and missed just 15 times, or just under seven percent. 48 of those times, he’s put the ball in play, and 23 of those ended up as hits. By all rights, this ball should have ended up deep in the left field stands or at least hit hard somewhere, but it didn’t. You have to be good to be on a streak like Petit is on, but you have to be a bit lucky too.
The Giants broadcast was so impressed that they decided to stare at the Bay Bridge for nearly 10 full seconds. And why not? It’s gorgeous:
Two days later against Pittsburgh, Petit replaced an ineffective Madison Bumgarner, pitching the fifth and sixth innings, adding six more outs to his streak. The fun part about a streak like this is that, by definition, Petit’s BABIP is .000. It has to be, of course. So when Petit allowed a ball to be hit hard, like he did here to Neil Walker…
…he was fortunate that it went directly to the center fielder, rather than to a gap or almost anywhere else. We’re now 13 batters into the streak after this game, and Petit still hasn’t made it to a three-ball count on anyone. It probably didn’t hurt that Gregory Polanco decided to go after the first pitch he saw, popping out to third base. So far, this is just a decent few outings from a pitcher with a moderate amount of skill.
Petit didn’t pitch for a full nine days after the Pittsburgh game — the life of a reliever can be so, so weird sometimes — until soaking up the final inning of a 3-1 Milwaukee victory. This is going to be a recurring theme: every single pitch of this streak has come in a game the Giants would lose, with the exception being the very first out in Philadelphia, which required 14 innings and hours after Petit was out of the game anyway.
Weeks is displeased. Gameday doesn’t really agree:
By the end of this stint, Petit will have retired 16 consecutive batters. No one will have noticed.
It’s now August 10, and the Giants are — wait for it — losing! Must be time to call out Petit, as Lincecum lasted just 3.1 innings to the red-hot Royals. Petit relieves Javier Lopez in the sixth with two on and none out, and needs just 11 pitches to get through three Royals, including Salvador Perez on a 1-2 curveball:
The curveball is important, because while Petit still doesn’t throw harder, he’s throwing differently. For most of his career, Petit was a fastball/cutter guy, mixing in a curve and change about 10 percent of the time each. Four times, he’s had a month where he’s thrown the curve at least 22 percent of the time. Those months? May, June, July and August of 2014. And why not? It’s now his primary out pitch; despite throwing it less than half as often as the four-seamer, he has 15 more strikeouts with the curve. Restricting it just to the streak, he’s thrown the curve to nine hitters. Six have struck out.
Petit gets another week-plus break, this time eight days, before appearing again on August 19 against the Cubs — or at least that’s what the box score would have you believe. That August 19 game was the now-infamous “tarp game,” and when it resumed two days later after the upheld challenge, Petit “started” it in the bottom of the fifth, 10 days off the Kansas City game. He’s now retired 19 in a row, and we’ll make that 21 after whiffing pitcher Kyle Hendricks and Chris Coghlan to start off his day.
Now, he’s facing Javier Baez, and while Baez’ penchant for hitting mile-long home runs must be disconcerting for a pitcher, it must also be reassuring to know that he will swing at just about everything. Baez does not disappoint:
Petit comes back in the next inning to strike out Anthony Rizzo and Chris Valaika — that’s five whiffs in a row — and getting Luis Valbuena to ground out. We’re up to 25 consecutive batters retired, two short of a perfect game, had it all come at once. No one seems to have noticed yet.
On Saturday, Lincecum lasted all of 2.2 innings in Washington, giving up six earned runs. It may be the last time we see him start for a while, but at the time, the Giants simply needed to eat up the innings. In came Petit for his finest performance yet: 4.1 perfect innings against one of the best lineups in baseball.
No. 27 comes against Anthony Rendon, who is getting a lot less MVP talk than he deserves, and it’s an 88 mph fastball that Rendon has no business letting go by:
That’s 27 straight hitters retired. The Giants broadcast, understandably, is still talking about how badly Lincecum pitched and what it would mean both for the Giants’ season and for his career. Petit breezes through the next three innings, setting down 12 in a row, and his final hitter of the day comes in the seventh inning:
It took 10 pitches — the longest of any plate appearance during the streak — but eventually, Adam LaRoche grounded out into the shift:
That’s 38 in a row, putting him just seven away from setting the all-time record:
Suddenly, Petit is on the cusp of the major league record of 41 consecutive batters retired by a reliever, set by the White Sox’s Bobby Jenks in 2007. Petit is also just seven away from matching the major league record by any pitcher, set by the White Sox’s Mark Buehrle when he followed up a perfect game with 5 1/3 spotless innings in his next start.
Obviously, Petit isn’t a great major league pitcher, or, usually, even a good major league pitcher. But he’s had his moments — last year, he came within a strike of a perfect game — and for the last month he’s been the right combination of good (13 K, 0 BB) and lucky (every batted ball going to a fielder). On Thursday against a bad Colorado team, he’ll just need to keep it going through the third inning to set a new record. It won’t be as impressive as Buehrle’s perfect game, of course, since it wasn’t done all at once, and it might not even be remembered beyond this week if he does it. It’s still worth keeping track of. After all, it’s not every day you see a pitcher threaten to retire more hitters in a row than anyone, ever.
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