Five things we learned Tuesday: Billy Hamilton makes new best catch of year

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The Dodgers’ offense continued to roll against Madison Bumgarner, the Royals won again, Danny Salazar continued to struggle and CC Sabathia shut down the Mariners. The top five (pay special attention to No. 5):

1. AL East starters rise to the occasion. The Blue Jays, Red Sox and Orioles all won, so the Orioles remain two games behind the Jays and Sox in the American League East. The three starters are all huge keys down the stretch:

R.A. Dickey: 6.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 2 SO

Clay Buchholz: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 9 SO

Kevin Gausman: 6 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 2 SO

Buchholz’s outing might be the one to focus on here. In three starts since he returned from his exile to the bullpen, he has allowed five runs in 16.2 innings, including two runs over his past two starts. Can we read anything into this last start? He faced the Rays, who rank second in the AL in strikeouts, so keep that in mind when you see those nine K’s. The big positive is he averaged 92.9 mph with his fastball, harder than he was throwing earlier in the season and about matching the 92.8 mph from his last previous start. He used all four of his pitches and had an impressive swing-and-miss rate of 32.6 percent.

But Buchholz might be returning to the bullpen with injured starters Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez nearly ready to return. Manager John Farrell will have an interesting decision to make.

By the way, the top rotation ERAs in the AL since the All-Star break:

1. Rays: 3.04

2. Tigers: 3.33

3. Red Sox: 3.38

4. Blue Jays: 3.70

11. Orioles: 4.43

With or without Buchholz, it seems the sometimes-maligned Red Sox rotation is getting hot at the right time. Meanwhile, the Orioles placed Chris Tillman, their best starter, on the DL with shoulder inflammation. He was supposed to start Thursday against the Nationals, but felt soreness while throwing his bullpen session Tuesday.

2. Pirates seek another gem in the scrap heap of mediocre pitchers. Every year, the Pirates find somebody. First, it was Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano. In 2014, Vance Worley had a 2.85 ERA in 17 starts. Last year, they traded for J.A. Happ, and he went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts. This year, pitching coach Ray Searage hasn’t had his usual success. They traded for Jon Niese and signed Juan Nicasio, and neither worked. Liriano regressed, and even Gerrit Cole hasn’t been as dominating. Somehow the Pirates have remained on the fringes of the wild-card race. The latest hope to help the scuffling rotation is Ivan Nova, acquired from the Yankees on Aug. 1 for two players to be named, and he pitched the team’s third complete game, taking a shutout into the ninth before settling for a 98-pitch, six-hit, 6-1 win over the Astros. He’s 3-0 with a 3.20 ERA in four starts with the Pirates. Is this more Searage magic at work?

It’s possible, although I’m not ready to make a conclusion just yet. Two things the Pirates preach: pitch inside and get groundballs. In his four starts, Nova’s groundball rate is actually down a bit compared with when he was with the Yankees, but his fly ball rate is down 10 percent (he has allowed more line drives). Against the Astros, however, he had his highest rate of grounders in a start since May, getting 16 groundball outs. If Nova can keep doing that, the Pirates have a chance to make up the 2.5 games on the Cardinals for the second wild card.

3. Nine in a row for the Royals. This is starting to get fun. Yordano Ventura threw six scoreless innings in a 1-0 win over the Marlins. Ventura’s first-half ERA: 5.15. Since the break: 2.65. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Last year, he had a 5.29 ERA through early August and then 2.38 over his final 11 starts. That ace the Royals have needed all season? They might have found him.

4. The Rangers release Josh Hamilton. As the news story explains, this wasn’t really a surprise. Releasing him before the end of August means they can invite him to spring training; otherwise, they would have had to wait until May 15 to sign him. In the first four years of that five-year, $125 million contract he signed with the Angels, Hamilton will have played in just 290 of a possible 648 games. When he did play, he wasn’t that effective, accumulating just 3.4 WAR. Even if the Rangers re-sign him, he’ll be 36 years old and coming off missing an entire season and most of another. That’s a lottery ticket at best, not somebody to count on. He did a lot for the franchise, but I’m not sure the Rangers need Hamilton as part of their future.

5. Maybe Billy Hamilton should have run in the 4×100 relay. I mean …

Everyone called Andrew Benintendi‘s catch on Monday maybe the best of the year. Umm, not anymore.

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