With several of the Brewers' regulars getting a day off today, the lineup card looked a little different today. A few bench players got in a full day's work, and the batting order was rearranged somewhat. One of these was fourth outfielder/pinch hitter Norichika Aoki, who played left field and batted leadoff in the place of Ryan Braun (with Rickie Weeks moving to the third spot).
Aoki's line of 1-4 (with a walk) doesn't look exceptional, but the outfielder showed a remarkably good approach in all of his at-bats. Let's take a look at his trips to the plate again, pitch by pitch:
1st Inning: Called strike, ball, ball, ball, ball (walk)
3rd Inning: Called strike, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, ball, foul, ball, in play (flyout to left)
6th Inning: Ball, called strike, ball, ball, swinging strike, foul, foul, in play (single to right field)
8th Inning: Ball, (2 pickoff attempts), ball, ball, called strike, swinging strike, swinging strike, swinging strike (strikeout)
In four at-bats, Aoki drew 29 pitches, including a ten-pitch plate appearance in the third. Also, of the 13 pitches Aoki swung at, he made contact on nine of them. That's impressive, and it very well may have helped win the Brewers the game. The benefits of patience at the plate are almost too extensive to count, but we'll focus in on one:
The more pitches a batter gets the pitcher to throw, the better. The pitcher has to deal with the fatigue that comes from extended innings, and the batter (and his teammates) get an increasingly good look at the hurler's arsenal and stuff that particular day.
Cubs' starter Ryan Dempster threw 106 pitches today. Of those, 22 occurred while Aoki was at the plate, or 20.8% of Dempster's total. With each pitch, Aoki drained Dempster's arm a little more, and gave his teammates a clearer picture of what the Cubs' pitcher had that day. That may have proved big in the seventh inning.
In the seventh, the Brewers were down by a run, with Mat Gamel leading off. Gamel led off the inning with a double, and Alex Gonzalez struck out. That brought pinch-hitter George Kottaras to the plate with a runner on and one out. By this time, Dempster sat at 95 pitches through six-and-a-third. (If Aoki has three "normal" at-bats, Dempster probably has somewhere around ten less on his total.) Kottaras deposited a flat slider over the right-field fence to put the Brewers up for good.
It's very possible that Dempster throws the exact same pitch if he has a little more left in the tank. It's also plausible that Kottaras and the other guys on the bench weren't paying much attention to what was happening on the eighth pitch of one of Aoki's at-bats. (Also, it goes without saying that Aoki probably won't see seven pitches per plate appearance for the rest of the season.) However, I think we can consider this a fine example of how plate discipline can help a ballclub, and it's clear that Aoki has plenty of it. If nothing else, that will make him a nice complement to Carlos Gomez, his more free-swinging benchmate.