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Dodgers finding the importance of the first pitch

Yasiel Puig hit a single on this first pitch in his at-bat in the fourth inning on Tuesday night.
Yasiel Puig hit a single on this first pitch in his at-bat in the fourth inning on Tuesday night.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After a night that saw the Dodgers make a bad first impression in Atlanta, let's look at the team on the first pitch on both sides of the ball heading into their middle game against the Braves on Wednesday night at Turner Field.

The Braves beat their former teammate Alex Wood on Tuesday, and along the way were 3-for-3 against him on the first pitch, with a sacrifice bunt.

Years ago at a Dodger Thoughts event at Dodger Stadium organized by Jon Weisman, then-assistant-GM Kim Ng spoke to us as a group, and her answer that stuck with me over time was when she was asked her favorite pitch.

Rather than give a pitch type, like a fastball, slider or curve, she said, "Strike one."

It makes sense, because the advantage swings heavily one way or the other depending on whether that first pitch is a ball or strike. After a 1-0 count, National League batters in 2016 are hitting .256/.378/.433, but after falling behind 0-1, batters are down to just .213/.265/.328.

Dodgers pitchers after getting ahead 0-1 have held batters to just .172/.212/.217. Dodgers batters after falling down 0-1 are hitting .236/.287/.305.

LA batters after taking a first-pitch ball are hitting .246/.347/.440, while Dodgers pitchers after falling behind 1-0 have seen opposing batters hit .223/.341/.433.

There is also putting the ball in play or hitting a home run on the first pitch, something Wood fell victim to on Tuesday, mentioning among other things on the postgame SportsNet LA broadcast that he lacked fastball command in his start, which lasted just four innings.

On offense the Dodgers have been on the aggressive side in 2016, fifth in the National League by swinging at the first pitch 169 times. The frequency of 31.7 percent of their total plate appearances is above the NL average of 29.8 percent.

In 76 of those instances, the Dodgers have either put the ball in play or (twice) hit a home run, hitting a robust .365/.365/.527. That includes 1-for-4 with a double play on Tuesday night. The National League as a whole is hitting .369/.367/.613 in these situations.

Opposing batters against the Dodgers have swung at the first pitch 30.7 percent of the time, and in the 54 times they put the ball in play or over the wall are hitting .340/.340/.509.

Overall, the Dodgers have struck on the first pitch more often than their opponent, a generally advantageous position, to the tune of 22 more times in 14 games. Of the remaining plate appearances, Dodgers pitchers are generally ahead 0-1 more often than their batters are behind 0-1, so that's a positive.

Wednesday starters

Opposing batters are 0-for-2 when putting the first pitch into play against Ross Stripling in his two major league starts. Against Braves starter Julio Teheran in 2016, batters are 3-for-4 with a home run and a sacrifice fly on the first pitch.

Teheran has been ahead of batters after the first pitch in 43 of 72 instances (59.7 percent), compared to 25 of 46 (54.3 percent) for Stripling. But after getting ahead 0-1, Stripling has held batters to just 2-for-24 (.083) so far, with a double, one walk and eight strikeouts.

Stripling is trying to become the first Dodgers pitcher with a quality start in each of his first three major league games since ... well, since Kenta Maeda on Sunday. But the feat is still rare, with only eight Dodgers since 1913 turning the trick, including Maeda.

Fun fact

In 2015, the Dodgers were 0-7 in the first game of a series on the road following travel of at least two time zones east. Atlanta was the first of seven such trips for them in 2016. For what it's worth, the club was 4-3 in the second game of the series last year.

Game info

Time: 4:10 p.m. PT

TV: SportsNet LA