Returned yesterday from several beautiful days in S.W. Florida. It was well over 70 degrees and sunny every day except Sunday, which was a tough day for baseball. Saw the Yankees on Friday and Sox on Sunday. Following are my observations:
On Friday the Twins started a group that included most of the players we will see on opening day, except Joe Crede (was DH), Joe Mauer and Denard Span (had day off for his birthday). Young was in left, Brendan Harris at third and Mike Redmond behind the plate with Scott Baker on the mound. The Yankees countered with a group that was unknown to everyone including the many New York fans around me....other than starter Ian Kennedy, Jorge Posada (DH) and Melky Cabrera.
As most would expect, I was more interested in the prospects than those players we know will head north in April. That was good as the starting group didn't leave many impressions. Baker pitched two innings giving up 3 runs. He was up the entire game and every time you looked, was down 2-0 or 3-1 in the count which allowed the hitters to sit on his fast ball. On a steal attempt, Redmond looped a throw to second that was very late. On a double play attempt, the runner didn't slide and Alexi Casilla threw the ball well over Justin Morneau's head into the stands allowing one of the Yankee's three runs to score off Baker. Casilla did make an unbelievable stop to his right later (he didn't get the runner) and an equally good stop to his left on Sunday when he did get the runner.
Brian Duensing came on in the third inning and struggled a bit getting out of the inning with the bags full. He stayed in for a second inning and was very sharp. Several young pitchers followed with Kevin Mulvey pitching two strong innings and finishing the best of the trio of starters. In the seventh inning, Rob Delaney topped out about 88-89 with most of the batters appearing somewhat fooled swinging at pitches in the lower to mid 80's. Ben Julianel was ok in the eighth and Mike Gosling struggled a bit in the ninth.
Matt Macri played some shortstop with Matt Tolbert at second. Later in the game, Trevor Plouffe pinch ran and stayed in the game with Macri moving to second and Tolbert to right. Macri played some first base on Sunday and looked very comfortable. Dustin Martin had several very good at bats and of note is that when Jason Pridie came in the game Martin stayed in center field. He misplayed one ball a bit but it was an absolute shot that went off his glove almost at the wall while looking straight back into the afternoon sun. Martin didn't have any assits, however, made several very strong throws to third from deep centerfield. David Winfree played some right field and didn't look as comfortable at the plate as did Martin. Danny Valencia had a key hit, however, his defense was more of interest. He made a very nice play on a slow bouncer to the pitcher's right...making a very strong, accurate throw. With the Twins leading 5-3 and the bases loaded with one out in the ninth, he played a ball to his left on the small hop and misplayed it allowing a run to score. The baseball gods were looking out for him however, as he had an opportunity to redeem himself on a slow bouncer to the pitchers right with two outs and the bags full. He made a clean pickup and again fired a strong, accurate throw to nab the runner by a step...ending the game.
The player of the game however, in my opinion, was catcher Wilson Ramos, who entered the game in the fifth inning. He hit one ball very well, unfortunately right at the second baseman. He also walked and scored a key late run...appearing to run ok for a catcher. The Yankees ran on him in what I think was his first inning behind the plate. The pitch was up and he was coming up as he received it and fired a laser to shortstop Macri. I doubt the ball was ever more than shoulder high and Macri caught it about a foot above the bag and had to wait to tag the runner. It was one of the best throws I have ever seen and I doubt the Yankees believed it so they tried to run again a few innings later. This time he fired before he was up and I doubt the ball ever got more than four feet off the ground. Tolbert took this throw also about a foot above the front edge of the bag as the runner was going into his slide...again waiting for the runner to slide into his tag. I have always been curious about this young man's defense. It remains to be seen over time how he handles pitchers, blocks balls in the dirt, etc. If this game was a good indication, however, his arm is as good as there is.
Sunday was a rough day for baseball. The temperature at game time was nearly 70, however it dropped to the high 50's by games end with a strong swirling wind that was blowing out to right field with gusts that I expect exceeded 30 mph. Kevin Slowey got the start and was rewarded with a trip to the bullpen following his two innings. He threw a total of 18 pitches to six batters....three of which were balls. Classical Kevin Slowey! With an off day Monday, Glen Perkins came on to pitch three innings, allowing three hits with two strikeouts. Perkins stayed out of trouble by keeping the ball on the ground, getting two double plays. Matt Guerrier had a rough sixth inning, mostly with the strike zone. He was behind in the count to every batter allowing walks to the first two with the Sox scoring their first run on a Dustin Pedroia sac fly. Craig Breslow was ok in the seventh, allowing a home run to Kevin Youkalis that was a routine fly ball that wouldn't have gotten to the warning track if it hadn't been for the wind (the US flag was straight out most of the game). Jose Mijares looked like he did last September, pitching a quick eigth inning with a walk and strikeout. Philip Humber came on in the ninth allowing a solid single to the first batter before getting out of the inning with a fly to center and a 4-6-3 double play.
Span was in left and looked like he had never played the position before struggling with several balls. In his defense, the wind was blowing the ball all over the place with Red Sox left fielders also struggling on several balls. With two outs in the third, Carlos Gomez used his speed to beat out a slow grounder to short with Span following with a walk (I was sitting in the first row just past the Sox dugout on the first base side....from that spot one can actually feel how fast Gomez is and what his speed does to a shortstop on a slow grounder). Unfortunately, Casilla ended the inning with a weak popup to third.
Martin hit a shot down the right field line for a double with one out in the 8th. He moved to third on a Luis Matos flyball to center and was driven in by a wind aided single by D.J. Romero (a high pop up to deep short that the shortstop misplayed as the wind blew it well to the right field side of second). I don't recall Romero making any plays defensively, however, he is a tall young man who appears to be an excellent athlete. Getting playing time in spring training for a young man who has not played above Low-A ball tells us that the Twins must be very excited about this young prospect. Winfree followed Romero's rbi single with a solid single before Toby Gardenhire grounded out to the first baseman, 3-1. Brock Peterson pinch hit for DH Joe Crede in the ninth, getting a solid single. Trevor Plouffe pinch ran and stole second. An error by the shortstop put runners on first and second with no outs and the Twins down 2-1. Unfortunately, Jose Morales was unable to advance them as his bunt was popped up to the catcher. Tolbert was unable to drive in the lead run as he did on Friday, popping up to the second baseman. Martin had several big hits including his double an inning earlier, however, grounded back to the pitcher to end the game.
I know it is early, but Pridie was also unsuccesful getting a bunt down on Friday as he bunted the ball foul twice before making a key out. Hopefully, players like Pridie and Morales will work with Rod Carew and Paul Moliter and get this fundamental down?
Final observations.....Ramos is for real and I will be surprised if he is not called up this September; I really like Martin who has a strong arm, is bigger than I expected and appears to be a very solid hitter; Plouffe looked solid at shortstop and runs the bases very well; Tolbert is being trained to play everywhere, Winfree is also bigger than I expected and Romero just flat out looks like a young man who is a very good athlete. As for pitchers, Mulvey was solid...and looked a lot like Slowey. Delaney looks intriguing and Kevin Slowey was, well he was Kevin Slowey.
Now, back to winter!