Spring Training Report: Live in Arizona
I attended my first spring training game on March 7 in Surprise, Arizona. Frankly, I was just happy to be in the warm weather after driving through a blizzard (with zero visibility) to make my flight out of Toronto. Yesterday, there was a 60 degree difference between Arizona and Ontario, thanks to a late winter cold snap. After only three days in Arizona (and 11 to go), I have to say I am in love with the state. If anyone out there is from Arizona and in need of a newspaper editor/reporter or someone in public relations, drop me a line. I will work for baseball tickets.
The game was an entertaining affair between the "home team" Texas Rangers and crowd-favorite Arizona Diamondbacks. The Rangers held off a late surge by the D-backs to win 9-8. Arizona had the winning run at second base with one out, but Texas pitcher Mike Wood induced a fielder's choice from minor league outfielder Rich Thompson and then Wood struck out top outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez (on three breaking balls in the dirt) to end the game.
Livan Hernandez received the start for the D-backs and was terrible. He dismissed his struggles after the game, saying he was concerned only about getting his work in. However, his wheels completely fell off in the third inning when he allowed six runs and appeared to be laboring. It was evident that Hernandez, who always carries around some extra weight, was not in very good game shape. His fastball was only between 81-85 mph, which is not going to cut it for a big league right-hander. After nine batters came to the plate, Hernandez finally escaped the inning after Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler flew out to left field.
Strangely enough, manager Bob Melvin (possibly the skinniest manager in the majors) let Hernandez come back out in the fourth inning. The veteran pitcher then proceeded to allow the first three runners on base before striking out left fielder Brad Wilkerson on back-to-back change-ups at 50 and 57 mph. The crowd had a good laugh at how far out in front Wilkerson was. He could have swung twice.
Brandon Medders then came in for the D-backs and hit 94 mph with his violent delivery. Bill Murphy was the next hurler and he pitched the fifth and sixth innings and looked excellent. The former Oakland Athletic lefty looks fully recovered from injuries that knocked him off track the past two years. He pitched between 88-91 mph with his fastball and had good movement.
Jeff Bajenaru, a former White Sox prospect, came in to pitch the seventh and struck out three batters, while allowing one base runner. He could have had a perfect inning if not for a double on a lazy flyball by Drew Meyer, which was lost in the sun by former No. 1 overall draft pick Justin Upton.
Former Kansas City Royal D.J. Carrasco pitched the final inning for the D-backs and looked better than he did before heading over to Japan for the 2006 season. He touched 94 mph. Arizona could have great bullpen depth this season if Murphy, Bajenaru and Carrasco begin the year in Triple-A. Worse players will begin the year in the majors with some clubs.
On the Texas side, left-handed John Koronka received the start and is battling for a spot in the rotation. He looked solid and was one of the few pitchers who was able to get breaking balls over for strikes. He did not allow a hit in his three innings of work.
Kameron Loe replaced Koronka in the fourth and pitched OK, but not great. He topped out at 90 mph, but only hit it twice. Francisco Cruceta started the seventh but was not sharp at all, managing to touch 91 mph only once or twice. He quickly lost faith in the fastball after he was torched by the D-back batters but he could not throw his off-speed pitches for strikes. He allowed four runs.
Mexican League pitcher Jose Vargas relieved Cruceta and got the final out in the inning. He then pitched the eighth inning as well and was not overly sharp. He hit 90 mph a couple times and had questionable control. The Dominican had a 1.36 ERA in the Mexican League last year and I'm guessing that's where he'll end up again in 2007.
The aforementioned Wood relieved Vargas in the eighth and also pitched the ninth, where he got into trouble. He worked between 84-89 mph with his fastball.
On the offensive side of things, D-back prospect Chris Carter had a good game, going 2-for-2 with a walk. He hit a pinch-hit triple in the seventh and added an RBI single in the ninth. Upton redeemed himself after his outfield blunder by running out an infield hit in the eighth inning.
Defensively, Chad Tracy made an error at third base, as did his defensive replacement prospect Mark Reynolds. Tracy looked unusually slow.
For Texas, catcher Gerald Laird absolutely crushed a pitch from Hernandez in the third inning, which sailed over the 400-foot sign in center field.
If spring training were to end today, right-fielder Sammy Sosa would have a starting gig on the Rangers. The comeback player hit a mammoth homer in the third inning for three RBI. The ball traveled over the 375-foot sign and cleared the entire park! He also added a double (which should have been an error on the second baseman) and struck out. Wilkerson went 2-for-3 and looks to have recovered from shoulder problems.
I am looking at attending a game on Saturday (Kansas City vs. the Cubs, I believe) and on Sunday (Texas vs. the Angels). I hope to post my observations on both games. If people have questions on specific players, feel free to ask.