Rohrbaugh, Jimenez dominate
It's early in the year, but the Rainiers rotation certainly looks impressive so far. Robert Rohrbaugh got his first start of the new season last night and threw 6 shut-out innings, allowing only 3 hits, no walks and getting 5 Ks. A fly-ball pitcher, Rohrbaugh might be expected to do well in April in the spacious confines of Cheney Stadium. But the wind was blowing out last night (or out to right center), but the Grizzlies simply couldn't get solid contact off of him.
Even the outfield fly balls were pop-ups, with Wlad calling off Chen for one and Hulett making the catch in front of Brent Johnson on another.
Ivan Ochoa was the only Grizzly who had a couple of good swings - he picked up a couple of singles on the night. Scott McClain squared up a couple of pitches on Rohrbaugh, but had a line-out and a fly out for his efforts.
Rohrbaugh is basically Ryan Feierabend if you take away 3 MPH on his fastball. As Feierabend's 'stuff' is not exactly eye-popping, that should tell you something about Rohrbaugh. The guy isn't just another in the long line of Jamie Moyer clones the M's drafted, he's trying to get guys out with Jamie's arsenal. Seriously. His FB was varied last night, but he threw one of them at 82 MPH. Moyer himself might throw faster than that in the 8th inning. He generally worked between 84-86, but got up in the high 80s occasionally and hit 90 one time.
All of this is to say that the reason Rohrbaugh is not well thought of in prospect circles is... valid. If Feierabend has little room for error, Rohrbaugh has none. And yet, the guy's been successful at every stop so far. My guess is that if he wants a real shot at the majors, he'll have to improve his command a bit. It's tough - get too much of the plate with an 84MPH fastball, and you'll get annihilated. Walk too many with an 84MPH fastball, and people will encourage you to explore different career options. He's been in the 2.5-3BB/9IP range historically, but last night's no-walk performance may be a great harbinger of improved command as he settles in at the AAA level.
A lot of people like to make fun of the Grizzlies line-up, and given that these are the guys who couldn't make the SF Giants MLB roster, there's a grain of truth there. But while the line-up isn't exactly littered with great MLB prospects, it's clearly not a bad AAA line-up. Scott McClain hit 31 HRs at this level last year, and hit at least 28 HRs in AAA five times (for four teams). He also hit 39 HRs for the Seibu Lions in NPB. You all know that Justin Leone's a quality AAA slugger, and OF John Bowker's coming off a year of .307/.363/.523 in the Eastern League last year (he's the closest they've got to a prospect). On paper, they may be a better AAA line-up than the Rainiers. The best on the Rainiers are better than the best on the Grizzlies, and clearly have better MLB prospects, but the Grizzlies have fairly impressive depth.
I mention this to give added context for Cesar Jimenez's jaw-dropping performance. Jimenez came in to start the seventh and promptly struck out the side on 12 pitches. He faced the heart of the order, and got Leone, McClain and Brett Harper (.296/.350/.500 last year in the eastern league) easily. He started the eighth by striking out Eliezer Alfonzo, then K'ing Bowker. Bowker was the only player to work the count and foul off a couple of pitches, but in the end he couldn't lay off a nasty change. Julio Cordido was the last man to face Jimenez, and actually managed to put the ball in play... a meek pop-up to 1B Bryan LaHair.
The left-handed Jimenez faced 4 righties and 2 lefties - the fact that his change-up is as tough on righties as lefties may actually hurt his chances of making a return to the majors; Jimenez isn't a LOOGY. He's done fine versus lefties so far, but he's not a George Sherrill or Arthur Rhodes type of pitcher. If he makes it, it'll have to be as a set-up guy who can get righties or lefties (sort of the role Ryan Rowland-Smith finds himself in...finally... for Seattle). With Eric O'Flaherty struggling, he may get a chance this year. Arthur Rhodes may be one place ahead in the queue, but Rhodes' health at this stage is always a question.
Jon Huber finished the game out by allowing a run on a hit, a walk and a wild pitch.
The offensive 'star' of this 2-1 victory was Wlad Balentien, who followed up his grand slam on Wednesday with a 2-4 performance last night. He knocked in the first run with a line drive smash double to left. He actually hit the ball so hard that he was very nearly thrown out at second; a neat slide helped him avoid the tag, but the ball beat him to the base handily. Wlad's going to be fine, and his slow start wasn't all that concerning to the R's.
Matt Tuiasosopo, on the other hand, continues to look a bit overmatched. He went 0-3, and is now 1-19 on the year. He struck out twice and popped up on the infield. I know Churchill at Prospect Insider is still high on him, so perhaps there's no need for panic, but as someone who's been a bit circumspect on Tui for years, uh, yeah, I'm a little worried. He's still young, but without some power, and without a better showing against high minors righties, it's going to be tough to stick as a corner defender. One thing he's shown in his MiLB career is a willingness to listen to coaching and a real aptitude for learning and improving. He's not someone who's gotten frustrated by some seriously frustrating spells in AA, and he's improved each year (particularly in plate discipline). I'm sure he'll get better, but he's got a long way to go.