Lamet leans on curveball for win in Philly

'I could feel that I had some better command on the curve tonight'

August 18th, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- With Saturday's game hanging in the balance, Padres catcher trotted out to the mound at Citizens Bank Park to relay a simple message to right-hander : "Throw your best pitch."

Lamet did not choose to go with his electric fastball, which he ran up as high as 98 mph in the 5-3 victory over the Phillies. Nor did he elect his slider -- an offering that manager Andy Green called "devastating" -- on the 2-2 pitch to Scott Kingery with two outs and a runner at third in the sixth inning.

"I said, 'The curveball is working for me and it's been working for me,'" Lamet said through an interpreter. "I could see [Kingery] getting a little anxious there, and I wanted to throw it to him with a little bit of a slide step to get him off balance."

Though Lamet had just thrown three consecutive curves, the decision worked to perfection. After taking one for a strike, swinging and missing at the next one and fouling off a third, Kingery chased the fourth straight curve in the dirt to end the threat.

It was one of 10 swings and misses induced by Lamet with the pitch, matching his career high. One start after throwing a season-low 18 curveballs, Lamet went to the curve for 35 of his 92 pitches against the Phillies.

"I think from the time I was in the 'pen, I could feel that I had some better command on the curve tonight -- a little bit more than the slider," Lamet said. "That's why you saw some more use of it tonight than the previous starts."

Lamet threw a whopping 80% of those curveballs (28 of 35) for strikes, helping keep the Phillies off balance. Overall, he threw 62 of his 92 pitches for strikes on his way to striking out six and walking only one over six innings. The one walk matched a season low, though his other one-walk performance came in a four-inning outing on July 24.

"If he doesn't give free passes, Lamet's going to be really, really good," Green said. "He's tough to barrel up consistently. His slider is devastating at times. He had some big punches when he needed them."

None was bigger than the last one to Kingery, which capped a stretch in which Lamet retired 11 of the final 13 batters he faced.

Lamet's night actually got off to a rocky start, with the Phillies plating three runs on five hits -- including a J.T. Realmuto solo homer -- over the first three innings to put San Diego in a 3-0 hole. The Padres, however, rallied for three runs in the fourth -- all set up by a two-out single by Lamet -- to tie it before taking the lead on 's RBI single in the fifth.

Lamet delivered a crucial shutdown inning both times.

He retired the side in order on 11 pitches in the fourth, then worked around a one-out walk to Rhys Hoskins in the fifth. After putting Hoskins on with four straight balls, Lamet induced a flyout from Bryce Harper on a 1-2 curveball. Realmuto then grounded out to end the frame on yet another curve.

"We needed it. We've been talking about in the dugout so often that those shutdown innings are huge," Green said. "He got it for us, we got right back in there and scored again. For us to win games consistently, our pitchers -- our starters, our relievers -- when we score, they've got to go out and shut the door, and he did it quickly."

Lamet has completed at least six innings in two of his last three starts, all while putting up a 2.50 ERA during that span. He's also struck out 25 batters in 18 innings over that stretch.

"I think I'm doing well, but I can still get a lot better," Lamet said. "There's just a lot of things to work on. As far as where I am right now, I think it's good, but I think now that I know that I'm getting into the rhythm of things, I can focus on throwing fewer pitches, getting outs faster and trying to get deeper into games -- like the seventh or eighth or a complete game."