Around the MinorsMarch 18, 2007
Spring Training Report: Live in Arizona Days 4-6
By Marc Hulet

I attended my fourth spring training game in Peoria, Arizona to watch the Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers after spending the previous three games in Surprise. It was the first and last time I will set foot in Peoria's ballpark.

First off, when I ordered the ticket a week ahead of time, I asked for a seat in the shade (we fair-skinned Canadians have to be careful) only to find that my seat was in fact very much in the sun and the narrow roof did not even cover the row I was in. Although there is a small roof on the third base side, the position of the sun during the afternoon ensures that few, if any, seats on that side are in the sun until about 4 p.m. I was able to exchange my ticket for the third base side under the roof (after some grumbling by the ticket window employee who insisted I already had "shade seating"), but I was left wondering why I had not received this in the first place.

Another problem - perhaps a small one - was the fact that the scoreboard did not post the speeds of the pitches. In this day and age of fan interest, I find it hard to understand why all stadiums and baseball broadcasts do not post the speeds.

Speaking of speeding balls, an elderly woman was hit in the side of her face by a foul ball and it looked pretty bad for a few minutes. But paramedics were on the scene within a matter of seconds and the woman was able to walk out with some minor assistance.

The final straw that broke the camel's back was trying to get out of the stadium after the game. The Peoria stadium, unlike most, does not employ traffic coordinators or police officers after the game to direct traffic through the stop lights and onto the busy highway. That is left up to the drivers and it was a mess.

Anyway, back to the game. It was a pitchers' duel for the most part: Ben Sheets versus Jarrod Washburn. Sheets was in mid-season form. He pitched five innings and allowed only two hits. He walked none and struck out two. Of his outs, seven were via the groundball and three were flyballs and two were line drives.

Relievers Ben Hendrickson (1 IP, 1 ER) and Matt Wise (1 IP, 3 ER) struggled. Derrick Turnbow pitched a scoreless, hitless final inning for the Brew Crew.

Washburn struggled early for Seattle, giving up two hits and a run to the first two batters he faced (Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy). After that, though, he settled down and ended up allowing only three hits in total over four innings of work. He did not allow a walk and he struck out one. The flyball pitcher recorded five outs via the groundball and five outs via the flyball.

Relievers Julio Mateo, Arthur Rhodes and Jon Huber each worked an inning and did not allow a run. Eric O'Flaherty pitched the final two innings in the game for Seattle and allowed two hits and one run. He recorded three groundball outs, two fly outs and one line drive out.

Offensively for Milwaukee, Weeks went 2-for-3 with a double and a single. His wrist, which has caused him to miss a significant amount of time, looked healthy. Other players who had hits included Hardy (1-for-3), Tony Graffanino (1-for-3), Ryan Braun (1-for-4) and Tony Gwynn (1-for-2). Gwynn also popped out to the pitcher on a horrible bunt attempt. He is going to have to get better at bunting to utilize his speed and detract from his lack of power.

Defensively, Braun's arm looked OK but not great and his range to his left was not that great. Prince Fielder, unfortunately, did not play.

For Seattle, Ichiro Suzuki went 1-for-3 and his defensive replacement Adam Jones went 1-for-1 in centerfield. Jose Vidro, playing DH, was 1-for-3 with an RBI single. His replacement, top catching prospect Jeff Clement, was 1-for-1 and also drove in a run. Kenji Johjima was 1-for-3 with a single. Non-roster player Gookie (Travis) Dawkins came off the bench to replace shortstop Rey Ordonez (1-for-2) and hit a two-run homer.

Overall, Seattle did not instill a lot of confidence in me. Washburn was pretty good but the Milwaukee batters really teed off in the first inning and every ball hit was struck hard. Their depth is also lacking when you look at the likes of Brian LaHair, Tony Torcato and Dawkins. The bullpen was also average at best. Adrian Beltre looked better throwing the ball around warming up between innings than he did during actual game play.

Sheets should be very good for Milwaukee this year if he can stay healthy. Again, though, their bullpen was average at best and their depth is also questionable (Mat Gamel, Michael Rivera, Chris Errecart, etc.). However, I think Milwaukee may surprise some people in the National League Central this season. Seattle will probably disappoint.

* * *

My fifth spring training game was an interesting one for the simple fact that I got to see one of the top 2007/07 free agents: Barry Zito. The bonus was that I also got to see Barry Bonds play for the first time live.

Facing the Kansas City Royals, Zito pitched four innings and did not look particularly sharp. His fastball topped out at 88 mph and he lacked pinpoint command of his off-speed pitches. Zito threw 71 pitches in four innings and only 41 for strikes (58%). That said, the Royals' batters managed only four hits and two runs off Zito and the game ended 7-6 in Kansas City's favor.

Barry Zito:
First Inning: 22 pitches, 14 strikes (64%) and 16 fastballs; 4/7 first-pitch strikes
Second Inning: 16 pitches, 10 strikes (63%) and 8 fastballs; 2/3 first-pitch strikes
Third Inning: 19 pitches, 10 strikes (53%) and 8 fastballs; 3/4 first-pitch strikes
Fourth Inning: 14 pitches, 7 strikes (50%) and 8 fastballs, 1/3 first-pitch strikes

Zito's 12 Outs:
Five on fastballs
Six on Off-speed pitches
One pickoff

1. Looking at a curveball (73 mph)
2. Swinging at a curveball (74 mph)
3. Looking at a fastball (85 mph)
4. Swinging at a curveball (72 mph)
5. Swinging at a changeup (76 mph)

Right vs Left:
Righties: 3/12 (.250 average)
Lefties: 1/3 (.333 average)

The Bullpen:
The Giants also brought Vinny Chulk, Ryan Meaux, Osiris Matos and Billy Sadler to the mound with mixed results. Chulk's fastball ranged between 91 and 95 mph but it was fairly straight and hittable.

The Giants fielded their regular season lineup, save for Todd Linden in left field and Mark Sweeney at first base.

Dave Roberts: single, reached on error by shortstop, groundball to first, strikeout.
Omar Vizquel: double play, strikeout, strikeout,
Barry Bonds: strikeout, line drive out to first, line drive homer to right,
Ray Durham: first-pitch homer to left field, homer to left, strikeout,
Rich Aurilia: deep fly to center, strikeout, homer to center, line drive out to left.
Bengie Molina: line drive out to third, pop out to center, fly out to right,
Randy Winn: pop out to first, strikeout, single to left,
Todd Linden: groundball to third, homer to right, reached on error by shortstop, fly out to left.
Mark Sweeney: fly to center, strikeout, strikeout, groundball to first.

Off bench:
Luis Figueroa: 0 for 1, fly to left
Lance Niekro: homer to left
William Bergolla: single, caught stealing
Justin Knoedler: strikeout

Kansas City:
Jorge De la Rosa received the start for Kansas City and his battling for a spot in the rotation. The left-hander was OK but not great against San Francisco. In four innings, he allowed three hits and two solo homers. He was relieved by David Riske (one inning, solo homer), Brandon Duckworth (three innings, three solo homers) and Jason Standridge (one perfect inning for the save).

Offensively, top prospect Alex Gordon led the way and should be at third base to start the season, if he continues playing even half as well as he did on this day. Gordon looks like a big leaguer and there is definitely something "different" about him. He went 3-for-4, although one of those hits should have been an error (the fourth questionable scoring play in five games at the Surprise stadium).

Ryan Shealy was 1-for-3 with a double off the wall, which just missed going out. Billy Butler pinch hit for Shealy and grounded into a double play. Mark Teahen was 1-for-3 with a single and a walk. He played right field, paving the way for Gordon to start at third base.

There have been some rumblings in the media that Angel Berroa is close to playing himself out of the starting shortstop position. You could see why on this night. He looked disinterested in the field and showed little at the plate. He struck out looking and grounded to third while batting ninth. He was relieved by Alex Gonzalez in the sixth inning. Gonzalez, the former Jays and Cubs shortstop, looks to be in great shape despite retiring early in 2006. Both Berroa and Gonzalez made errors in the field, although Gonzalez' was relatively difficult as he was racing back and try to make an over-the-shoulder play in shallow left field.

* * *

The San Diego Padres visited the Texas Rangers in Surprise, Arizona on March 16 and came away on the short end of a 4-3 game. Starter Clay Hensley of San Diego out-dueled Jamey Wright, who is looking to make the Rangers as a non-roster player.

Hensley pitched three innings and allowed three hits but no runs. He struggled with his control, walking three and hitting a batter. He also struck out three. Of his other six outs recorded, Hensley induced three groundballs and three fly balls.

He was relieved by Doug Brocail, who also struggled with his control. In two innings of work, Brocail allowed two hits, two runs, walked one and struck out three. His most impressive match-up came when he struck out Sammy Sosa on a 92 mph fastball, after sitting at between 86-88 mph the previous inning.

Cla Meredith, a surprise success in 2006, took over for Brocail and struggled. In one inning, he allowed three hits and two runs. Meredith walked one, struck out none and induced two groundballs and one strikeout. Scott Cassidy had a mixed outing and allowed two hits in one inning but struck out the side and touched 93 mph. Scott Strickland finished the game for San Diego with a perfect inning and struck out one, while inducing two fly outs.

Wright pitched 3.1 innings and allowed four hits, as well as two runs. He walked one and struck out three. The groundball pitcher induced five groundballs and only two fly balls.

Following Wright were Willie Eyre, Frank Francisco, Akinori Otsuka, Joaquin Benoit, Scott Feldman and Ron Mahay. Francisco, returning from Tommy John surgery, touched 96 mph and threw five straight pitches at 95 mph or greater at one point. However, he allowed two hits and one run. Feldman struck out one and induced two groundballs.

Offensively, San Diego started its 'A' lineup for the most part:
Marcus Giles: 1-for-3, single
Brian Giles:1-for-2, double, walk
Adrian Gonzalez: 2-for-4, two singles, RBI, strikeout
Josh Bard: 1-for-3, homer (3-1 fastball), strikeout
Mike Cameron: 1-for-4, double, three strikeouts
Khalil Greene: 1-for-3, single
Russ Branyan: 1-for-2, double, walk
Paul McAnulty: 0-for-3, two strikeouts, HBP
Terrmel Sledge: 1-for-4, RBI single, strikeout

It was interesting to see the Giles brothers bat back-to-back. Brian had some definite juice in his bat, despite his declining power numbers. Gonzalez is relatively slow on the bases but has solid hands at first base. Branyan is one of those players who always looks like he's having fun. He was joking and laughing with all his teammates before the game and signed a number of autographs. Greene is one of those players that just doesn't stand out because he does everything well but is not flashy about it.

Texas also started many of its regulars:
Kenny Lofton: 0-for-4, strikeout
Frank Catalanotto: 1-for-2, walk, single
Ian Kinsler: 1-for-2, walk, single
Sammy Sosa: 1-for-3, single, strikeout
Hank Blalock: 0-for-1, two walks, strikeout
Brad Wilkerson: 0-for-4, strikeout, double play
Jason Botts: 1-for-4, single, two strikeouts
Gerald Laird: 1-for-2, single, strikeout
Matt Kata: 1-for-3, single, strikeout, HBP
Marlon Byrd: 1-for-2, single, two RBI, strikeout
Chris Stewart: 2-for-2, two singles

With Mark DeRosa leaving Texas for Chicago in the off-season, the Rangers have a need for a utility player and have been giving a long look to former Diamonback Kata, who has looked solid in the two games I have seen him play. He played a flawless shortstop, arguably his weakest infield position. Stewart looks like a solid emergency catcher to have at Triple-A, having been obtained from the White Sox earlier this year. During my six games in Arizona, the Texas players appeared to be the least receptive to signing autographs.