Michael O'Neal pitched well in his much anticipated debut Saturday. - Anthony Hall photo
A pitch-by-pitch look at Auburn starting pitching from the Tigers' four-game sweep against Maine over the weekend.
Let's take a look, pitch-by-pitch, at three different Auburn starters from the past weekend: Dillon Ortman, Michael O'Neal and Rocky McCord. Each one of their pitches is represented on the chart below. Here's a quick key:
S: Swinging strike
F: Foul ball
Y: Fly out
G: Ground out
P: Pop out
L: Line out
4: Home run
C: Caught stealing
Letters/numbers in white mean a run scored. E, obviously, is for Error. Also, to differentiate it, O is being used for foul out.
Rocky McCord's first start, by most accounts, was a solid one -- just one that was plagued by wasted pitches and deep counts. One earned run, two walks, but only four innings to show after 90 pitches. For McCord, it looks like the issue was finding a rhythm early -- you can chalk some of that up to the cold weather and not being properly warmed or stretched out -- but ultimately, those deep counts were his undoing. McCord faced 18 hitters, and the majority of them saw full or 2-2 counts.
Surprisingly, the later frames (third and fourth) were where Rocky was the most effective. Starting in the third and staked to a 4-1 lead, McCord was able to settle down and started of a string of six out of seven first-pitch strikes. Another positive for McCord: battling out of trouble early. After two outs in the first, McCord gave up a full-count home run to Fransoso and then looked to be coming unraveled: double, single, and all of sudden, the Black Bears were threatening to blow the game open with 2 outs. McCord got a 2-1 ground out and ended the threat.
One other note from McCord's start: the number of ground outs. Seven out of the 18 hitters faced were retired by ground outs. McCord is a guy who works low in the zone and pitches to contact. That was done effectively Saturday and should be seen as a positive sign for his progress.
Probably the most anticipated start of the weekend was from JUCO transfer Michael O'Neal. O'Neal was the exact opposite of McCord on Saturday: highly efficient and effective. O'Neal averaged only two pitches per batter, compared to McCord, who averaged five. O'Neal also pounded the zone, throwing 39 of his 54 pitches for strikes. If I had to put a reason as to why O'Neal was pulled, it would have to be his location. He was leaving a few pitches up, and hitters were pouncing on them and stringing solid singles together. O'Neal was also good with first-pitch strikes, connecting on 15. Overall, 5 2/3 innings, two earned runs and a W in his Auburn debut is quite impressive.
I'm not sure what to make of O'Neal right now. He was good, mainly inducing ground balls, but hitters were making constant contact with him. I think, for now, the best thing to be said about him is that he's going to be as good as his defense is. If Auburn puts up a lot of errors, then he will struggle.
Finally, let's take a look at Dillon Ortman, making a start and a change from the bullpen. He was solid overall, recording a nice 51 strikes in 82 pitches. He was done in by his defense, however, and had two unearned runs to spoil and otherwise decent debut. One thing that stands out from Ortman? That closer mentality is still there. He absolutely lived by first pitch strikes, starting a streak in the second where 13 of the 15 hitters he faced started out behind in the count. It also showed when he was starting to lose control slightly towards the end of the fourth and start of the fifth. You could see a little bit of his steam starting to come off after the error in Heath's second at-bat. Ortman gave up a wild pitch and then started losing hitters.
Overall, all three pitchers listed here had solid debuts. However, their ability to go deep into games is going to be the difference between Auburn and the postseason.