O’Sullivan Bids for Rotation Spot
By Ethan Witte
Right-handed pitcher Sean O’Sullivan had his contract purchased from Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Sunday to make a spot start for the Phillies against the Washington Nationals.
O’Sullivan being the quintessential Quad-A pitcher, there wasn’t much expected of him, especially with his opponent being one of the Nats numerous aces, Max Scherzer. This was Scherzer’s first-ever start in Philadelphia, and the focus of the game was more on him than a 27-year-old journeyman pitcher.
The Phils own coaching staff talked about the newest National a lot. Infatuation with the new opposing pitcher was probably at a fever pitch. You can almost hear Bob McClure‘s pregame conversation with O’Sullivan now:
McClure: “You’re pitching against the Nationals as a team, not Max Scherzer.”
McClure: “But don’t forget, you can not give up any runs because Max Scherzer.”
McClure: “Max Scherzer.”
O’Sullivan: <walks away>
All things being considered, the Phils would have likely been ecstatic to get 5 innings of work from O’Sullivan, hoping that he could keep the team in the ballgame. Rather than simply rehash what happened in the game (which you can find here), I want to focus on O’Sullivan and what he did well.
Judging from the final results of his day, it seemed as though O’Sullivan had a plan to attack the zone, and rely a lot on his defense. Hunter Wendelstadt, home plate umpire for the day, had a fairly consistent strike zone, making it a little easier on O’Sullivan:
O’Sullivan would rely heavily on two pitches: a sinker (52 of 91 pitches thrown; 57%) and a slider (25 of 91; 28%). He mixed in a few four-seam fastballs, and threw only one changeup or curveball. For the most part, he stuck with his best two pitches. Since his sinker only sits in the low 90’s, he wouldn’t be missing many bats (8 total swings and misses in the game) and needed to follow his game plan to have the best chance at success.
It worked out pretty well, save one bad pitch to Bryce Harper. Seven of the 18 outs he recorded were on the ground, while six were outs in the air. His 5 strikeouts were a bonus, as he hasn’t really been a strikeout pitcher in his career. Another big bonus: he only walked one batter.
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You can see in the above charts that he really wasn’t nibbling against the Nationals either. Judging from the results, his game plan obviously was a good one, especially with a weakened, and struggling, Nationals lineup.
After the game, Ryne Sandberg seemed impressed. When asked about O’Sullivan’s immediate future with the team, the Phillies skipper said, “I believe he has another start in him.”
Six innings of two-run ball is about all the Phillies could have hoped for from O’Sullivan, especially going against Scherzer. It should be enough to give him another start, perhaps two, before the club has to start making decisions when Chad Billingsley is ready to go.
At the very least, Sean O’Sullivan has shown that he can be a good depth piece for the team, which will be important come June and July. It would be foolish to expect this kind of outing very often from O’Sullivan, but even if his regular starts result in 6 innings with 4 runs allowed, that still could be very effective.