When Willians Astudillo came in to pitch the ninth inning for Minnesota in what was ultimately a 16-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox, he was plenty warmed up already, having entered the game as the Twins’ catcher five innings earlier. He could therefore bring his best stuff to the mound when he faced Yermin Mercedes, the American League’s early season lock as Being Of The Year.
And Astudillo knew better than to bring the heater, because Mercedes would be looking dead red. Two men, combined height 11 feet eight inches, combined weight 470 pounds, thinking about baseball the same way. Never get cheated, never give in.
So Astudillo quickly fell behind, 3-0, one of the pitches a 45-mph eephus that sputtered and coughed as it reached the plate. He needed to go to his best stuff so as not to walk Mercedes and endanger his earned run average, and he knew through painful experience that his 86-mph fastball wasn’t going to cut it, not after his five-run inning against Tampa Bay three years earlier in which he threw 32 pitches, 31 of them fastballs. Indeed, he’d pitched earlier this year, against the Los Angeles Angels, and threw six 40-some-odd-mph eephii in seven pitches to breeze through the Angels.
Thus, he knew at 3-0 what Mercedes needed—47 mph of his best work, the kind he threw two hitters earlier to Nick Madrigal to induce a ground ball to first baseman Miguel Sano. And Mercedes, who’d seen an arcing beach ball from Astudillo on the 1-0 pitch, got another one at 3-0, ignored the unwritten rule about not swinging on a 3-0 pitch and drove it well over the center field wall to make it 16-4. Good scouting, White Sox.
As for La Tortuga, it seems clear the hitters know what’s coming, albeit at the speed of soil erosion. What he needs clearly is a change off his eephus.