Posted on: March 7, 2012 7:06 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 7:17 pm
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Quick glimpse, small sample. Two innings, first impression:
Yu Darvish's Japanese legacy and World Baseball Classic dominance looked for one day Wednesday like they will translate beautifully into the major leagues.
Or, if you prefer, you could take it beyond one spring outing.
"They're going back to the postseason," Padres second baseman Orlando Hudson said of a Rangers team with Darvish in their rotation. "That's a no-brainer."
Darvish surrendered two hits -- doubles to Hudson and Will Venable -- no runs and whiffed three Padres in Texas' 6-3 Cactus League win on a cold, windy Arizona afternoon.
He rose to the occasion when needed, handcuffing the Padres to 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position. He backed off when the situation suggested, getting Carlos Quentin to swing out of his spikes with a 79 m.p.h. curve to end the first.
He threw first-pitch strikes to seven of eight batters faced, including each of the first six major league hitters he saw. He got nine swing-and-misses, and threw 26 strikes and just 10 balls.
He does not dawdle like Daisuke Matsuzaka, and he does not nibble like C.J. Wilson. He comes right at hitters, and he's got the stuff to do it.
"He's got some deception and he's got some velocity," Texas' Michael Young said. "If he commands the heater, he's going to get outs."
Scouts said he threw six different pitches: Two variations of his fastball, two types of curveballs, a slider and a change-up. Texas catcher Yorvit Torrealba says he throws seven pitches. In a game in which everything plays off of the fastball and changing speeds, though, who really can count?
"At one point, I was thinking about taking my glove off and using two hands" to flash signals while calling pitches, Torrealba joked.
With a fastball that hit 95 and an even slower curve than the one Quentin saw, clocked at 67 m.p.h. to Will Venable, Darvish possesses an exceptional ability to keep hitters off-balance. His fastball ranged from 92 to 95 m.p.h.
Though Hudson yanked a double between Young and second baseman Ian Kinsler in the first, it was Venable's booming double in the second that was the attention-getter. Venable blasted a 2 and 2 fastball some 420 feet off of the batter's eye in dead center.
Not only was it the hardest-hit ball against Darvish, the moment also later provided some pretty good insight into just how stubborn, determined and proud Darvish is.
"The dry air in Arizona and the wind blowing out carried the ball pretty far," Darvish said through an interpreter. "To me, it didn't seem that it was hit very squarely."
To which, a couple of Padres called bull. Mark Kotsay chortled that during his 16 years in the majors, he hasn't seen a ball blasted 400-and-some feet high off of a "50-foot wall" that wasn't exactly, um, smoked.
"Maybe his perception of reality isn't as right on as ... I don't know," Venable said. "No comment."
Translation: Yes, Venable thought, he not only squared that fastball up, he CRUSHED it.
So file that one away. If Darvish is as dismissive of other hitters who take a bite out of him as he was of Venable, well, some awfully entertaining rivalries are about to be born. Or, a bit of a humbling process is about to begin.
Mostly, Darvish said, he was happy to get his first Cactus League start out of the way. He said his teammates teased him a little about being nervous before the game, and "I told them, no, I'm not." He was very happy with the way his secondary pitches were working, though he acknowledged that throwing into the teeth of a strong wind aids the movement of his pitches.
He opened some eyes with two impressive defensive plays, showing some quickness while covering first base on one play and leaping high to grab a high chopper up the middle. He threw home, and Torrealba tagged the runner coming in from third.
Defense-loving Texas manager Ron Washington said those plays were the most impressive things he saw the 6-5 Darvish do.
"That's a big Asian dude," Hudson said. "What's that guy who played basketball for the Rockets? Yao Ming? I looked at him and thought, that dude is big. ...
"Watching him on TV I thought, he's big. Then when I saw him, I thought he's not as big as I thought. Then I got to the plate and I thought, damn."
Hudson had no qualms about admitting his excitement to face Darvish. He said he even had trouble sleeping Tuesday night.
Interestingly, the Rangers picked up on Hudson's eagerness.
"I thought Hudson grinded out his at-bat," pitching coach Mike Maddux said of Hudson's first-inning double. "It looked like one of those emotional at-bats where it's like, 'I'm going to show this guy.'"
One other impression: Darvish worked both innings entirely from the stretch, not the wind-up. Even with nobody on base. He works both ways randomly, he said.
Maddux said he was given two DVDs, one from a game last July in which Darvish worked from the stretch, another from a game last October in which he worked entirely from the windup.
"The biggest pitches you make come from the stretch," Maddux said. "If you want to hone that craft, by all means, I'm all for it."
Hone it Darvish did, as his homeland studied through a microscope. Four different networks beamed Darvish's two innings back to Japan live, according to Rangers' PR guru John Blake. ESPN News showed the first four hitters live. Some 150 media members packed the press box in what had to be some sort of Cactus League record.
Yeah, you could see why Darvish and the Rangers were just as happy to get this one behind them.
As the Padres' Hudson said, that's a whole lot on the back of a 25-year-old who is moving to a new country to change jobs, no matter how talented he is. First time you surrender a home run, everyone wants to know what happened. First time you get knocked out of the box after three innings, everyone demands explanations.
Of course, that all comes with $111.7 million -- the $60 mil the Rangers are paying Darvish, and the $51.7 mil posting fee.
"Ichiro kind of set the bar high getting 900 hits a year," Hudson said. "[Darvish] has got to go win a Cy Young."
Posted on: February 21, 2012 6:56 pm
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The game's worst-kept secret finally was uttered publicly -- and definitively -- by the Mariners here on Tuesday: Ichiro Suzuki, leadoff man extraordinaire for most of the past decade, will be bumped down in the lineup in 2012.
Suzuki, at 38, is coming off of his worst season in the majors. That, combined with the Mariners' persistent failure to score runs over the past two seasons, made it impossible for Seattle to justify keeping Ichiro atop the lineup.
Eric Wedge will begin the season with Ichiro hitting third. The manager envisions Chone Figgins, who was an All-Star as the Angels' leadoff man in 2009, returning to the top of the lineup in what likely will be a last-ditch grab at past glories for Figgins. Though it is not cast in stone, Wedge said second baseman Dustin Ackley likely will hit second.
Wedge said he and Ichiro talked on Monday before the Mariners made their decision public a day later.
"I sat down and explained to him the whys and wherefores," Wedge said. "This wasn't out of left field.
"He's on board with this. I was very clear with him, and he was very clear with me. This is all about the team. ...
"You look at the impact he can have in the middle of the lineup, it's greater than the impact that he can have at leadoff. It's that simple."
Suzuki, a lifetime .326 hitter, batted a career-worst .272 in 2011. It was the first time in 11 seasons that his average dipped below .300. The 2001 AL MVP's .310 on-base percentage also was, by far, a career low.
"I came in prepared mentally because there was a possibility I'd be hitting elsewhere," Ichiro said through a translator following Seattle's workout Tuesday.
Asked if it will be strange to not hit atop the lineup, Suzuki said: "Anything can happen in this game. It's not just leading off. That's the fun part of the game. Like I fell you guys all the time, I'm ready to pitch."
That likely will not be happening anytime soon. Though some Mariners' fans might swear at this point that Ichiro will take the mound before Figgins will bounce back.
Part of Wedge's thinking, he said, is to get Figgins back into his comfort zone. A colossal disappointment after signing a four-year, $36 million deal before the 2010 season, Figgins bottomed out last season at .188/.241/243. He suffered while doing so, managing what was thought to be a sports hernia through much of the season's final four months but what turned out to be a torn labrum in his hip.
"I'm happy to be healthy," said Figgins, who was married in the offseason. "We talked about what might happen [with the lineup], but I'm just happy to be healthy."
It's no secret that Figgins has been a fish out of water during his two years in Seattle, from having to adjust to a different (non-leadoff) spot in the batting order because of Ichiro to failing to figure out a way to fit his offensive game into Safeco Field.
Clearly, the Mariners are hoping that no small part of this move will result in a boost to Figgins' confidence.
"I'm going to give Figgins first shot at," the leadoff role, Wedge said. "I'm confident that Figgy can get back to his old self as a leadoff hitter. He got on base, scored runs, and really was a pain to opposing teams when he led off in Anaheim."
While the Mariners sort through the top two spots in their order and hope Figgins and Ackley can produce solid enough springs to solidify their roles, the heat will be on Suzuki, who has one year and $17 million left on his current Mariners' deal.
His slugging percentage has been below .400 in each of the past two seasons, and in three of the past four. His OPS has been below .800 in three of the past four seasons. He tweaked his batting stance over the winter, and now is utilizing a more wide-open stance this spring.
"I want to perform better," Suzuki said when asked why he made the changes. "We all make changes to perform better. That's one reason. That's the only reason."
He said he does not view the three-hole as requiring him to hit for more power, though that view likely will be at odds with other folks' expectations (starting with his employer). His career-high is 15 homers, in 2005. He had five last season. In his view, situations dictate some actions at the plate.
"I've always performed when wanting to hit a home run," he said. "Even when leading off, you want to hit a home run when it's the right time.
"That will not change."
His once jet-black hair now dotted with flecks of gray, Suzuki, according to Baseball Prospectus, saw his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) drop 100 points on line drives and 40 points on ground balls. Some of the former is attributable to luck (bad), while some of the latter likely is because of his age (getting old).
"I want him to make it his own," Wedge said of Ichiro and the three-hole in the lineup. "He's as smart a baseball player as we have in there. He wants to do what's best for the ballclub."
Said Ichiro: "I was always prepared to do what's best for the team."
Sunblock Day? Best day of the week so far. Temperature hanging in the mid-70s. Warm sun. Life is good.
Likes: Carlos Guillen, trying to stay in the game with the Mariners, intently watching the clubhouse television after practice. What was he watching? Footage of Prince Fielder joining his old Tigers teammates in Lakeland. ... Padres bullpen coach Darrell Akerfelds staying strong while batting pancreatic cancer. He underwent off-season surgery to determine whether his tumor could be removed, but doctors said it could not be because it was entwined with surrounding arteries. But the good news is, it hasn't grown since last year and Akerfelds is back in uniform for San Diego this spring. ... Mariners general manager Jack Zdurencik has put together quite a front office, including relatively new additions Ted Simmons, Joe McIlvaine and Chris Gwynn. ... Gwynn says his brother, Tony, is doing great after last week's surgery to remove a cancerous tumor inside his right cheek. The brothers spoke over the telephone, and Chris says Tony, who had a nerve removed from his cheek and another transplanted from his neck/shoulder area to replace it, sounds "normal." ... Best scene Tuesday: A father leaning over close to his young son while Felix Hernandez was throwing a bullpen session and telling the boy, "Listen to him pop that glove." ... One heck of a story from Thomas Lake in the current Sports Illustrated looking at Wes Leonard, the Michigan high schooler who made a winning basket and then died on the court last winter, and the Fennville community. ... The sesame swordfish with orange chile salsa at the newly opened Richardson's in Phoenix. Fabulous meal the other night.
Dislikes: Manny Ramirez signing with Oakland. More on that later in the week.
Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"I been stumbling on good hearts turned to stone
The road of good intentions has gone dry as a bone
-- We Take Care of Our Own, Bruce Springsteen
Posted on: September 28, 2010 1:29 am
Given documentary filmmaker Ken Burns' talent for storytelling, were he to draw them up, each baseball season would ebb and flow in perfect cadence, with six divisional races each thundering toward its own unique and dramatic climax right up until the final day of the season.
Being that the game has a mind of its own and refuses to be tamed, we're left to settle for Burns' forays into documenting it for PBS.
Given his latest work -- The Tenth Inning, to be shown on your local PBS television station in two parts on Tuesday and Wednesday -- it's a pretty darned good trade-off.
Picking up where he left off in Baseball, which, with some 43 million viewers, was the most-watched series in PBS history, Burns and his co-producer (and co-director) Lynn Novick hit all the right notes in The Tenth Inning. From the dramatic opening showing a young Barry Bonds with an ominous hint of what's to come, Burns and Novick reel you in quickly and keep things moving at a nice, crisp pace that Greg Maddux would appreciate.
Particularly good is their treatment of the 1994-1995 players' strike and the resulting break in trust with the fans, the examination of the Latin American and Asian influx into the game (there's some great, if brief, Roberto Clemente footage, and some good stuff on Ichiro Suzuki) and the treatment of the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase in 1998.
You can't help but be moved by the excellent chapter on 9/11 and baseball in its aftermath. And as the documentary moves beyond that into Bonds chasing the single-season and all-time home run records, his gargantuan size is maybe even more striking in hindsight than it was at the time. From there, the handling of the game's steroids scandal is skillful.
Among the interviews woven throughout, those with Joe Torre and Pedro Martinez are especially good. So, too, are those from MSNBC's Keith Olbermann -- who tells a wonderful story of meeting a New York cop on the street on the day baseball resumed following 9/11 -- and Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton.
There are so many small, perfect touches throughout that I won't get into all of them. But a couple of small examples -- and those of you who regularly read this space on the Internet know how I relate to all things music -- are from the soundtrack: As Burns and Co. are covering the Braves winning the World Series in '95, Georgia's Allman Brothers are playing in the background. And behind a segment on the Cleveland Indians of the '90s is music from Ohio-native Chrissie Hynde.
There are so many more examples like that, big and small. The Tenth Inning is beautifully done and, if you love baseball (or even are just OK with baseball but love American history), it's worth scheduling a couple of hours Tuesday night and a couple more Wednesday night to make sure you see this.
And if you can't, it's definitely worth DVRing for a look when you get a free night or two.
Believe me, you'll be thrilled that you did.
Likes: The 50th anniversary Monday of Ted Williams blasting a home run in his final at-bat before retiring, perhaps the most memorable final act in any Hall of Fame career -- and certainly the only one to be the subject of such beautiful prose as John Updike's Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, the author's famous essay for the New Yorker. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary, the Library of America is presenting a cool little book reprinting Updike's original essay, plus an autobiographical preface and a terrific new afterward prepared by the author just months before his death. This is the essay in which Updike begins "Fenway Park in Boston is a lyric little bandbox of a place. ..." and, after describing Williams running around the bases with his head down and refusing to tip his cap to the crowd -- curtain calls wouldn't become customary until years later -- includes this sublime bit of writing: "... But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he refused. Gods do not answer letters." If you're interested in the book, you can find more details (including ordering information) here.
Dislikes: Really hate to see Atlanta's Martin Prado go down with what surely looked like an oblique injury in Monday's game against Florida. This week's battle for two playoff spots involving the Braves, San Diego and San Francisco is going to be riveting, and you really don't want to see teams depleted. Atlanta already lost Chipper Jones weeks ago. ... Meantime, will injuries to Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria (quad) and Minnesota's J.J. Hardy (ankle) this week turn into significant issues for October?
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Pretty girls from the smallest towns
-- Drive-By Truckers, Birthday Boy
Posted on: July 15, 2010 2:34 pm
Edited on: July 15, 2010 3:07 pm
So my good buddy Gregg Doyel wants steroids back in baseball?
He wants artificially inflated behemoths flexing their muscles? He wants brawny Jolly Green Giants feeding us red meat and cheap thrills?
Hey, Gregg, we've already got that.
It's called the NFL.
I know, I know. They've got a steroids policy over there, too, and they had it long before baseball and yada, yada, yada.
What are we supposed to be, stupid? It's normal for guys to grow to 6-7 and run the 40 in two seconds flat?
You want juice, go watch Cowboys-Raiders. Or tour a Tropicana plant.
Leave baseball alone.
Go ahead, take your shots at the "purists". Compare the low-scoring games this summer to a Spain-
Steroids and greenies? Really?
I mean, I know you've always lived just one area code away from the cuckoo's nest, Gregg, but I thought you were more responsible than this. What are you doing tomorrow, teaching the neighborhood kids how to make moonshine?
What I get tired of is, there is little appreciation for subtlety anymore. Anywhere. You can't go to a movie without things blowing up onscreen every two minutes. Everybody's yelling at everybody on radio and cable TV, from the ESPN shout-fests to CNN's Nancy Grace.
Must we be smashed over the head with a sledgehammer each way we turn in life anymore?
Must everything devolve into Short Attention Span Theater?
If you want to zing Tuesday night's All-Star Game, here's where you go: Joe Girardi's managing. To be given a 34-man roster and still be exposed by failing to have a pinch runner at the ready for David Ortiz in the ninth inning was flat-out embarrassing. If Girardi's Yankees play in the World Series this October, all he has to do to learn why they don't have home-field advantage is look straight into the mirror.
Baseball made several tweaks to this year's game and still couldn't get it right: What's needed is smaller rosters, not larger ones, and stars like Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki and Joe Mauer actually still being in the game when it's on the line in the late innings.
Even commissioner Bud Selig was rhapsodizing earlier Tuesday about the days when Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente played the entire All-Star Game. Well, duh. That's how you juice this thing back to the level it once was.
Still, Tuesday night's game had some terrific moments. The best of which was Scott Rolen's intuitive read of a single to center and busting it all the way to third to spark the NL's winning rally. It was the kind of key play that too often was rendered meaningless during the Steroid Era as everyone sat around and waited for three-run homers.
No, other than Girardi's death-wish managing, the only folks who couldn't enjoy this, I'm sure, are the ones who complained that there still weren't enough things blowing up in Iron Man 2. Which, no, I didn't see. The first one was lousy enough.
Anyway, Gregg, I could go on from here, but my guess is I've lost you already, my friend. You're probably already salivating over Cowboys-Raiders.
Oh, one other thing: I don't completely disagree with everything you wrote in this whack-job of a piece. The Tiger Woods line? Excellent.