Saturday, April 14, 2007

Rainiers Report #1

You've seen the box score, or the recap in various places... and you know J will keep you up to date with boxes and stats. So I'll try to refrain from a play-by-play approach here.
The first in a series of rambling observations from venerable Cheney stadium:

1: Justin Lehr knows how to pitch. His pure stuff wasn't all that impressive, really - he used a high-80s fastball and a cutter to get downward movement on the ball and induce a flurry of ground balls. But it's sort of hard to believe that this guy was known for above average K-rates throughout his career. It was one day, and he was facing a pretty good line-up, and let's face it - he pitched quite well: 6IP 1R 3H 1BB 1K. He just wasn't what I'd expected. He's now had back to back impressive outings after his disastrous first relief appearance, so hopefully he's righted the ship and he can continue his poor man's Chien Ming Wang routine.

2: Long-time Morsels favorite Wladimir Balentien had a great home opener, with a sharply hit single to center his first time up, and then a majestic, towering solo home run leading off the 6th. I was sitting behind home plate, and thought the ball was hit too high to leave the park... the RiverCats outfielders knew immediately: neither the CF or LF took a step. I think the height threw me (and many others around me); I don't think I've ever seen a HR hit so high.
I remember Ryan Christianson hitting a wind-aided fly ball that came close, but that was more of an actual pop-up that got pushed over the RF fence. This was an absolute bomb, just to the left of the big scoreboard in left-center... I've used majestic, maybe I'll say it was Stargellian? Wlad also picked up a stolen base, and made a nice running catch of Hiram Bocachica's 10th innng drive up against the wall in right (at least someone could catch a baseball in the 10th).

3: Adam Jones looked good at the plate - the ability he learned late last year to fight off tough pitches (located FBs or good breaking stuff) was on display, as he had a number of good ABs, resulting in 2 hits and two walks. Scouts wondered about his defense last year, and he proved he could give you decent CF defense after just learning the position. Then, scouts wanted to see him control the strike zone more and even up his K:BB ratio a bit. So far, so good: he's got 6BBs and only 9Ks so far. We'll see if there's anything else the nay-sayers can point to in a few months. Nothing to report about his defense, as the GB-fest rendered him sort of superfluous. Jones too picked up a stolen base, his first of the year.

4: Eric O'Flaherty was straight dealing... he only had 1 K (he got Daric Barton on a sick slider, causing Barton to slam his helmet in disgust), but could've had more - his slider simply broke too much and fooled both the batter and umpire. JJ Furmaniak was doing that Jason Varitek thing - flinching away, then watching as the pitch broke right over the inner half of the plate (yes, I know Felix was doing that as a righty, and with a mid 90s FB, to a LH hitter. Felix is not fair.), but O'Flaherty couldn't get a call. That led to 2BBs in his 2 innings. He'll definitely be someone to watch; a LH reliever with a bit more stuff than Jake Woods (to say the least), but whose back probably won't allow him to pitch in long relief.

5: I miss Asdrubal Cabrera. Osvaldo Navarro was 0-4 with two shocking errors in the decisive 10th. I know, I know - it's one game, and the scouts love his D. But I miss the days of a slick fielding SS who could also take a walk (Navarro has 1 in 8 games, Cabrera has 3 in 5 so far for AA Akron).

6: Byron Embry is a large human. He looked a bit like ex-Rainier 1B/mountain Juan Thomas. That's gotta be somewhat intimidating. His delivery was somewhat reminiscent of Emiliano Fruto's, in that he almost short arms the ball. That might give him some deception, so we'll have to see if he gets more Ks than his pure stuff/velocity would suggest. He's been a little shaky with his command so far (hey, just like Fruto), but then that comment could be made about basically anyone in the Rainiers' pen.

7: Jon Huber isn't exactly proving the M's wrong for sending him to AAA this spring. It's kind of tough to pin the loss on him, as the Rainiers team-wide defensive collapse ruined all of his best pitches (turning routine GBs into ugly, ugly errors). But he's still a far cry from where he was with the M's last year. The lead-off single was a legit line-drive, and then he walked Charles Thomas to bring his OPS *up* to .367. As mentioned above, Hiram Bocachica hit a screaming line drive to the wall for the first out, and Huber also uncorked a WP. Coming on the heels of his meltdown vs. Fresno on April 10th, it's becoming something of a pattern. Perhaps it's just the cold; he started last year in the Texas league (and was noticeably better in the second half last year too...hmm).

8: Have teams picked up a 'tell' in Rainiers pitchers' moves to first/home? Everyone's running wild on Rob Johnson, which is just weird. The RiverCats went 3-3 off RJ last night, and that's been going on a lot. Not sure what the problem is, but coupled with his 3-base error, he's in a real funk on the defensive end (maybe his first?). I wonder if the pressure of competing with Jeff Clement is getting to him, or if the stolen base thing is the product of the Rainiers coaches telling their staff to not worry about holding guys on. It's just such a turnaround from the beginning of last year when Johnson was throwing guys out left and right.

9: The Schlegel group made some changes to the stadium and the experience this year, and... so far, I'm not exactly thrilled about it. The bleachers on the 3b side were removed, along with the patio deck. Replacing them is a three-tiered concrete monstrosity known as 'party decks.' I have been to all manner of parties, dear reader, but I simply cannot think of a less festive atmosphere than an unmarked slab of concrete. Perhaps it's edgy to combine the experience of minor league baseball with a dash of 'prison recreation area.' Inspired by the Rainiers' creative branding, I've renamed my driveway the Party Zone, and the patch of overgrown ivy between my house and my neighbor shall now be known as Area FiftyFun.
Also, they've cut back a bit on the draft beer selection, turned the nice little bar under the 3b side reserved stands into a private area for 'Gold Club' members only, and the wait-staff who would go get beer and food for fans in box seats are gone. Hmm.
Hey, if the 'Gold Club' and the 'Party Decks' keep baseball in Tacoma, I'm down with it. I'm trying to think about these...changes strategically, and I acknowledge that Tacoma's park makes turning a profit a little tough. When PCL teams from Memphis to Sacramento are in larger towns to begin with, and then build MLB-stadia-in-miniature, you can bet that the Rainiers and their owners have to come up with new ways to get more revenue. But it needs to be mentioned that the ballpark experience fell a bit short last night, and that had nothing to do with the weater.

That's all I've got. Anyone notice anything else about yesterday's game that was particularly intriguing?

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At 4/14/2007 10:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the party deck description, and if we're counting driveways, I'm happy to note that I have a party deck as well.

Last night's game - a pitching duel till the 10th. Tonight's game - a slugfest until (for our side) Ryan Rowland-Smith came in. Man he looked great. If only HE had pitched the 10th for us last night, then no one would have HAD to field the ball.

Run with Rhubarb was back tonight (absent last night, causing concern). New feature tonight - two players (one of which was Rob Johnson, I think the other was Jon Huber) sitting on bar stools signing autographs for fans as they walked in.

A great catch by Jones (followed by a throwing error), and an amazing play by Navarro (to make up for his error earlier in the game), but mostly, it was all about hitting tonight, and it was sweet to watch. If not for the Brad Thomas outing (which was painful), we would have pulled it off.

Here's hoping for sun tomorrow and a good outing by Baek.


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