Saturday, May 13, 2006

Saturday Rainiers Wrap

The Rainiers opened a four-game series with Albuquerque today in sun-soaked Tacoma. It was quite warm in the sun, but behind home plate it was freezing. Poor Cesar Jimenez' teeth were chattering audibly. Anyway, Francisco Cruceta had a great bounceback game from his 1IP 9ER debacle in hitter-friendly Salt Lake. He was effectively wild with his fastball in the first few innings; overthrowing and coming across his body a bit, leaving the ball way outside to righties, but he got enough pitches over to coax hitters into swinging. He gave up some base hits, but got 8Ks in 7IP - this was vintage Cruceta. Francisco has good velocity - he touched 94MPH with his fastball in the first - but works mostly in the 92MPH range. He also featured a slider that he got more and more confident with throughout the game. He threw it at 82-84, but also took a lot off at certain times, bringing it down to 77-79 at times; I thought it was a curveball. He never looks overpowering, but kept getting fly balls to the center. That's a good plan in Cheney at any time, but with the wind blowing in, that was a recipe for easy outs. By the third, Cruceta was in rhythm and looking pretty good.
The Rainiers took their only lead in the first on an RBI grounder by Todd Sears, the last of three consecutive singles. It scored Chris Snelling, and for a while it looked like there might be a play at the plate; you could almost hear 1000 people inhaling sharply. (The throw was cut off).
Snelling ended up with a 2/5 1k line.
Albuquerque got the tying run off Cruceta in the 6th, and then broke it open off of Renee Cortez in the 8th. A two-out single got the Isotopes a run, and then Scott Seabol knocked a two-run HR. Mike Nannini came on to pitch the 9th and gave up what turned out to be a pretty crucial 5th Isotopes run.
Down 4, with the 7-8-9 hitters up, the Rainiers mounted a great comeback. Asdrubal Cabrera reached base by getting plunked by a Brad Clontz pitch. Rob Johnson lined a single to left, and then Scott Youngbauer singled to load the bases. Shin-Soo Choo hit a sac fly, and the Isotoped manager went to have a discussion with Clontz about how to pitch to Adam Jones. The best part of the game, for me, was watching Snelling talk to Jones about hitting the submarining Clontz, demonstrating a line drive swing for Jones to emulate. It demonstrated two things: 1, Chris Snelling is a second hitting coach on this team, a guy some young guys look up to despite the fact that he's young himself. Second, Jones is extremely coachable. He took Snelling's advice and hit a ball on the screws into left for an RBI single. The Isotopes immediately went to Chris Resop to stop the bleeding and to face Snelling (even though Resop's a righty, brought in to face the sweetest lefty swing you'll ever see). Now Doyle himself had a chance to win it, just like his first game on Wednesday. Unfortunately, it didn't quite go according to plan, as Snelling's liner to left was caught by former WSU Couger Mike Kinkade. After a TJ Bohn single and a walk to Todd Sears, the bases were loaded with two outs - the score was now 5-4 Isotopes. The Rainiers' Hunter Brown took a called strike one (way outside; why does this always happen to Brown?), fouled one off, and then, with two strikes, crushed a pitch to center...that Isotopes SS Robert 'Jack' Endino speared to end the ballgame.
Rob Johnson merits a special mention, as he went 2/3 to raise his average to .289, and threw out Seabol trying to steal second. Isotopes leadoff man James 'Armitage' Shanks was successful in stealing second; I mention this only because it was the first really bad throw I've seen Johnson make.
Speaking of which, I was talking to a White Sox scout about the freakishly accurate arm of Asdrubal Cabrera - that Betancourt has a stronger arm, but Cabrera's is at least as accurate, probably more so. Wouldn't you know it, the first chance Drubie gets, and he overthrows Sears at 1b.
The scout also talked about Jeremy Reed's struggles - he thought Jeremy was pressing and rolling over pitches that he used to drive into gaps. It's certainly plausible; Reed's hit a ton of weak grounders to second this year. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense: as Reed continued to make outs, and probably heard a 100 people say 'don't try to hit home runs up there' he flattened his swing even more, making it all but impossible to elevate a pitch. Trying to hit singles may have prevented him from hitting, er, singles. Contrast that with the slight uppercut he's shown off since coming back from exile on the pine barrens. 2 HRs in 2 days is infinitely preferable to another 0-4, and even though we all know he won't be a true HR threat, I hope it's convinced him to forget the 'slap your way out of it' plan. So far, so good.

Other random notes from the M's system:
Stephen Kahn is now officially struggling. He's been wilder than normal after his amazing start, culminating in today's 1IP 3H 3R 3BB 1K performance. Maybe he was taking it easy since he wasn't in a save situation... IE won the game, however, 9-8. Yung-Chi Chen got a double in four trips to DROP his average to .352. There was some talk at the game that he's been called up to San's pretty clear that he's got nothing to prove in the Cal League. He's also another WBC vet who carried over his success there (GS vs. the PRC) into his season.
San Antonio won 6-3, with Bryan LaHair going 2/3. Wlad Balentien is now down in the .240s... I'm still pulling for the guy.


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