<
>

1st pitch: A good start to a start

Today’s Trivia: With one more hit, Magglio Ordonez will become the sixth Venezuelan with 2,000 career hits. Can you name the other five?

Quick Hits: A lot of attention is paid to how a team’s pitching staff fares in the final innings of a game, and rightly so. Just ask the Tigers. Justin Verlander has a 14.40 ERA in the first inning and opponents are hitting .435. However, the best bullpen ERA in the majors (2.31) is a big reason that team is 5-2 when trailing at the start of the second inning. Other early inning tidbits:

* The Tigers have allowed 20 runs in the first inning, which is four more than the 16 they have allowed in innings seven through nine combined.

* The Red Sox are the only team that hasn’t allowed a home run in the first inning, but they’ve allowed 12 after the sixth inning, which is the most in baseball.

* The Red Sox have allowed 10 stolen bases in the third inning alone, which is more than seven teams have allowed all season.

* Opponents are hitting just .188 against the Rays in the first three innings, compared to .252 after.

* Of the 29 home runs allowed by the Rays, 11 led off the inning. In fact, opponents are hitting .296 against the Rays to lead off an inning and just .211 after.

* The Braves have a 2.29 ERA in the first three innings and a 6.24 ERA in the next three.

* The Indians have issued 28 walks to lead off an inning compared to only 20 strikeouts.

* Opponents are hitting .467 against Mike Leake in the first inning and just .205 after that.

* Similarly, Todd Wellemeyer has allowed four home runs in the first two innings and opponents are hitting .333. After that, he’s only allowed one long ball and opponents are hitting .170.

* On the other side of things is John Lackey. Opponents are hitting .091 in the first inning and .354 after that.

* Opposing hitters are hitless in the first inning against Phil Hughes (0-9) and Brian Matusz (0-11).

Today’s Leaderboard: Opponents are hitting .368 against the Tigers in the first inning and .320 in the first three innings combined, both the highest in the majors. Meanwhile, opponents are hitting just .171 against the Marlins in the first inning.

DIGGING A HOLE

Highest opponent batting average in 1st inning this season (Source: Baseball-Reference.com)

Key Matchups: One way to tell that 2009 was a down year for Roy Oswalt? He didn’t beat the Reds. He picked up a no-decision in all four starts against Cincinnati, but that was good enough to keep his incredible record intact. In his career, Oswalt is 23-1 against the Reds. At .958, he has the highest winning percentage for a pitcher with at least 20 wins against a particular team. Next on the list is Carl Mays who was 35-3 against the A’s in a career that spanned from 1915 to 1929. Oswalt will again have to deal with Joey Votto. After entering 2009 just 3-for-17 against Oswalt, Votto went 4-for-6 with a home run and triple against him last season.

Every pitcher aims to keep the ball in the park, but for Carl Pavano it is especially important. In his 83 career wins, Pavano has thrown 583 innings and allowed only 37 home runs. But in 79 losses, he has thrown 398 1/3 innings and allowed 69 long balls. Thursday, Pavano faces the Tigers, against whom he is 4-1 with a 3.00 ERA in his career. A big reason for the success? In 42 innings, Pavano has never allowed a home run against the Tigers. In fact, current Tigers are homerless in 108 at-bats against the Twins starter.

Trivia Answer: Omar Vizquel (2,706), Luis Aparicio (2,677), Andres Galarraga (2,333), Dave Concepcion (2,326), and Bobby Abreu (2,136) are the only Venezuelans with more hits than Ordonez. However, Miguel Cabrera (1,250 hits at age 27) may end up passing them all.