A feeding frenzy on tap at the dish?
Game 2 plate ump known for small zone, benefitting hitters
NEW YORK -- Jeff Nelson, who manned first base on Wednesday night, moves behind the plate for Game 2 on Thursday night after crew chief Gerry Davis worked the plate in Game 1, a 6-1 Phillies victory at Yankee Stadium. There was little or no complaint about Davis' strike zone from either side, an effort Nelson will try to duplicate.
"Nelson has what I'd call a tight strike zone, which is always an advantage to the hitters," said the Dodgers' Larry Bowa, who had a front-row seat as the third-base coach when Martinez stymied Los Angeles in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. "It means a pitcher has to throw it in something like a small cup. But in actuality, that's fine. You know what you're facing going into the game."
Nelson, 44, has been a Major League umpire since 1999, when he and Paul Nauert filled vacancies left by the retirements of Jim Quick and Harry Wendelstedt. Although he's only in his 11th season, this marks his sixth postseason assignment and second World Series. He worked the AL Division Series in 2000 and 2001, the NLCS in 2002, the ALCS in 2004, and the NLDS and World Series in 2005.
Martinez will know Nelson's tendencies going in, having seen them firsthand when Nelson worked the plate for his start on Sept. 30, which just so happened to be the night the Phillies clinched the NL East title at Citizens Bank Park. But Martinez was unable to throw it in Nelson's small cup that night. He lasted just four innings, allowing three runs (all earned) on six hits (two home runs) and a walk with two strikeouts. He threw 84 pitches, 54 for strikes.
In his only postseason start this year, Martinez was masterful. Although he wound up with a no-decision, he deserved better. He spun seven innings of two-hit, no-run ball in Game 2 of the NLCS, a 2-1 loss to the Dodgers, hitting nearly every speed on the meter from 75 to 94 mph.
"Well, I'm not as powerful as I used to be," Martinez said. "I have a hard time clicking 94. But I don't believe I need 94, to be honest. I believe that if I can just confuse them enough to get a fastball by them or a breaking ball or whatever, and it's spotted in the right position ... because it's all about location, honestly.
"On some pitches I can be a power pitcher, because I can click a fastball sometimes. And some of the times I'm just a finesse pitcher that knows what to do out there, an experienced pitcher. Could be a sinkerball, like a junk thrower, whatever you want to call me. I just know I'm a pitcher, and I'm out there, and I'm out there to beat you with whatever I have."
To be successful against this Yankees lineup, as Cliff Lee was in Game 1, he'll have to hit his spots with whatever he's got, and get Nelson to call them.
Nelson did not call a game started by Yankees Game 2 pitcher A.J. Burnett this season, but it stands to reason that Burnett's "stuff" -- a mid-90s fastball and nasty slider -- would play better in the zone than that of Martinez's, should both pitchers be forced to pitch in the zone. On the flip side, Burnett has trouble throwing strikes to begin with, having led the AL in walks with 97, and that could get him in trouble with Nelson behind the plate.
Burnett struggled in his last start, a 7-6 loss to the Angels in Game 5 of the ALCS in which the first five batters reached base and he staked them to a 4-0 lead in the first inning. He allowed six earned runs over six innings, with three walks and three strikeouts in taking a no-decision when the Yanks rallied for six runs in the top of the seventh inning before giving the lead back with three in the bottom half.
"Maybe after that start, I realized maybe early on I might be a little finer as opposing to just get ahead," Burnett said. "I won't change anything as far as my plan or my attack, just maybe not be so careless from the get-go, just throwing balls over the middle to get strike one."
So how will it play out? We will find out on Thursday night at 7:57 p.m. ET, when Burnett deals the first pitch of Game 2.
Jim Banks is the Central Executive Editor for MLB.com. National writer Barry Bloom contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.