Webb duplicating Opening Day game key to reaching next level

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NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball went to great lengths in the offseason to find ways to increase the action during games, and one of the chief architects of that effort, Theo Epstein, was at Yankee Stadium on Thursday to get a first look at how it all will play out during the regular season. The Yankees' 5-0 win over the Giants did not at all turn out the way he and other MLB officials might have expected. 

Gerrit Cole recorded his first seven outs via the strikeout and Logan Webb matched him and then surpassed him. Webb got five strikeouts of his won in the first two innings as the teams combined for an astounding 11, and he finished with a career-high 12 on the day, one more than Cole. 

The Giants and Webb hope to see more strikeouts this season as the young right-hander continues his evolution, and it will be particularly important for a groundball pitcher who has a shaky defense behind him and no shifts. But this isn't what Webb expected, either.

"I don't think it would be smart for me to try to match that guy in strikeouts," Webb said of Cole. "I think he's the best strikeout pitcher in baseball. I wasn't necessarily trying to go toe-to-toe with him. I was just trying to not give up any runs."

Cole led the Majors with 257 strikeouts last season, 14 more than the next closest pitcher. Webb had a great year overall but was 29th in strikeouts, with his rate dipping from 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 2021 to 7.6 last season. 

For someone who gets hitters to pound the ball onto the ground as much as Webb does -- the Yankees elevated just two pitches beyond the infield, both of which left the yard -- it's not necessarily imperative to pile up strikeouts. But duplicating some of Thursday's success would certainly help Webb reach the next level, one filled with perennial All-Stars and Cy Young Award candidates. 

"I think Logan pitched about as good a game as he could have hoped and all of us could have hoped for," manager Gabe Kapler said. "He attacked the strike zone with all of his pitches, was as efficient as we've seen him in a long time, a lot of swing-and-miss. Just an excellent outing by Logan and a really good swing by (Aaron) Judge on that fastball. The two homers beat us today."

The second homer was a Yankee Stadium special, finding the short porch in right field. Webb was trying to get Gleyber Torres to roll over into a double play but the Yankees' DH smoked a sinker into the seats.

Webb was charged with four earned runs in six-plus innings, but his 12 strikeouts went down as a career-high and broke Madison Bumgarner's franchise mark for strikeouts on Opening Day. It's a distinction Webb wasn't able to celebrate Thursday.

"I'd rather have more wins, to be honest with you, than strikeouts," Webb said. "I would say it's more of an emphasis to try and do that but I'd rather have no strikeouts and give up no runs, to be honest with you. I feel s----y about losing the game."

This one was on the lineup much more than Webb. Cole's 11 strikeouts, also a franchise record for an opener, got him through six shutout innings. The Giants kept swinging and missing against the bullpen and finished with 16 on the day. Led by Webb, Giants pitchers also totaled 16 strikeouts.

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That's not the brand of baseball that MLB wants moving forward. The shift restrictions and bigger bases are meant to juice batting averages and stolen base totals, but there will be days and situations when Webb needs to reach back for a strikeout. That ability might now be there for him more than ever before.

"I think a lot of it is about being ahead in counts, it's about count leverage, generally speaking," Kapler said. "It's the same stuff we've seen over the course of the last couple of years: A really good, high-quality, sinking fastball; a really nice slider; and a changeup that can get swing-and-miss, too.

"The ingredients are all there. It's just a matter of him getting in count leverage and staying in count leverage."

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