Noesi pitched a brilliant 7⅓ innings on Thursday night against the Cleveland Indians, allowing just one run on five hits. Best yet -- he didn't walk a soul while striking out five. He still hasn't won a game since 2012, but Robin Ventura isn't overlooking his contributions:
"He's really transitioned well from going as the long guy in the bullpen to being a starter," White Sox starter Robin Ventura said. "I think he's gotten a better feel for some different pitches just because now he's going through the lineup a couple times and he's able to get a feel for it instead of being in there for an inning or an inning and a half. He's progressed fairly well as far as the strength and endurance of being a starter."
Watching Noesi go about his business, it certainly looks like he's focusing on lasting five, six or seven innings -- although often times, it's been to the detriment of the first or second innings.
In each of Noesi's last four starts, he's put the Sox in an early hole, which is a big reason he hasn't lucked into a "W." On Wednesday, the only damage was a Jason Giambi solo shot in the second inning. Before then, he fell behind 3-0 to the Yankees and 4-0 to the Astros after one inning.
There is a constant -- each time out, Noesi and Tyler Flowers have tried to show only half of his hand. For instance, Noesi had only thrown mostly fastballs and a handful of changeups when Giambi belted a hanging change out of the park. Noesi then started the next batter, Yan Gomes, with a pair of sliders, his first breaking balls of the night.
It's customary for pitchers to save a new wrinkle for the second time they see a hitter, but I wonder if Noesi is playing with fire when he isn't using everything at his disposal. Each time, he gets punched in the mouth and has to change his game before he can make it all the way through the lineup once. Here's Noesi's pitch selection before the opponent stung him hard enough to force him to mix it up more.
May 28 vs. Indians: First 22 pitches: 17 fastballs, 5 changeups, first-pitch fastballs to first six batters
May 23 vs. Yankees:: First 27 pitches: 23 fastballs, 3 changeups, 1 slider, first-pitch fastballs to five of first six batters.
May 17 vs. Astros: First 14 pitches: 11 fastballs, 3 changeups, started with eight straight fastballs over three hitters.
May 11 vs. Diamondbacks: First 22 pitches: 16 fastballs, 4 sliders, two changeups, first-pitch fastballs to all six hitters, seven straight fastballs.
It looks like the plan is to show the hitters as few non-fastballs as possible, and zero breaking pitches if he can help it. The problem is, I don't think his changeup is good enough to carry such a limited approach, especially since he throws two kinds of fastballs. Sometimes he'll throw an 92-mph four-seamer, and 88-mph two-seamer, and an 87-mph changeup, which seems redundant.
I'd kinda like to know how Noesi would fare if he chose a secondary pitch besides his changeup early on, or mixed in three of the four pitches sooner than he does. Then again, maybe he'd end up shifting the problems to the middle innings.
He's already overachieving with the Sox. He came to Chicago with his tail between his legs and a 14.21 ERA on the scoreboard. Now he has a 4.33 ERA with the White Sox, and that's while stretching out from relief work to a starting role in real live games. It's hard to say how good Noesi can be, but we know how awful he can be, and we know how bad Paulino and Erik Johnson were, and Noesi isn't any of those right now. It's hard to ask much more from a ninth starter when he's the guy keeping a 10th out of the picture.