One thing that irritates ballplayers to no end is members of the media who only want to talk to them when things go wrong. If you write about the things they do right and not just the mistakes they make, ballplayers are much more likely to accept that you’re just doing your job.
During the regular season I try to lock into each and every pitch; during spring training it’s a bit more hit and miss. You might stop watching a game to go interview the starting pitcher in the clubhouse or pay less than 100% attention when the minor leaguers take over in the later innings.
So with all that in mind, here are some completely random notes from spring training.I was only in Surprise for the last two weeks of spring training and didn’t see every inning even after I got there, but I never saw right fielder Nori Aoki cut loose with a strong throw from right field. That may mean absolutely nothing: Aoki’s arm is supposed to be better than what I saw demonstrated and pitchers aren’t the only ones who go through dead arm periods. I did see a demonstration of Aoki’s bat control; Tuesday night against the Mariners Nori took an inside fastball the other way, down the third-base line for a double. That’s not easy to do. Aoki also had a terrific leadoff at-bat on Wednesday. He started 0-2, saw 11 pitches, then singled to right. Before the at-bat was over Aoki got Padres starting pitcher Ian Kennedy to show a 2-seam fastball, a curve, a cutter and a change-up. Smart pitchers like to show as little as possible early in the game, Aoki’s at-bat allowed every Royals hitter to see what Kennedy was throwing that day. The first week I was there I saw Mike Moustakas line out to left field on a two-strike pitch. Even though he made an out, Moose got high-fives when he came back to the dugout. Lining out the other way indicates a good two-strike approach. Back to that Tuesday night Mariners game: the Royals had the infield in with a runner on third base, but when the ball was hit to shortstop Alcides Escobar, he didn’t throw the ball to home plate. If the infield is in it’s because there’s a runner on third. If the runner on third breaks for home—if there’s any chance of getting him—that’s where the ball should go. For some reason Alcides checked third base, then threw the ball to first. It looked like a mental mistake. Mental mistake number two: During a game against the Giants, Escobar was at short, Jason Donald was at second and Hunter Pence was on first base. Pence took off for second, Salvador Perez came up to throw, but nobody covered the bag—at least not right away. It looked like there was a mix up about who was covering second base. Mental mistake number three: A week earlier, against the Padres, Lorenzo Cain took off from first base when Pedro Ciriaco hit a drive to centerfield. Cain pulled up at second base to see if the ball would be caught, but there were two outs at the time. On the plus side, Lorenzo ran down a deep drive in the bottom half of the same inning. The Royals aren’t the only team that made mental mistakes; with the bases loaded Padres outfielder Xavier Nady caught a shallow fly ball and hesitated before throwing ball back to the infield. Meanwhile Salvador Perez was tagging and scoring from third base—and Sal’s not exactly a jack rabbit. Nady had a play at the plate if he’d known what to do with the ball. Bottom line: everybody screws up at some point or another. I may have seen guys who were going through the motions while playing out the last few spring training games, but if you see the same guy making mental mistakes on a regular basis, that means something. Now let’s look for some positives: Yordano "Ace" Ventura throws way hard—like 102 MPH way hard. To be honest, it’s difficult to tell the difference between a guy throwing 90 and a guy throwing 95—but when Ventura cuts loose you can see the difference. If you have a chance, get to one of his starts and sit as close to the field as you can manage. While I was there Mike Moustakas looked like the hitter the Royals have been waiting on. It’s only spring training, but Moose was taking balls the other way, up the middle and putting that inside pitch in the right-center gap.
How to end a spring training game
When you get to the last few innings of a spring training game you won’t recognize most of the players on the field—the minor leaguers have taken over. And nobody really wants a game to go extra innings. If the team’s on the road the regulars have probably already showered and just want to get on the bus and go home. Everybody is ready for the thing to be over.
The other day a game against the Padres went 10 innings and a former Royals employee—David Holtzman—had an excellent idea. If a game is tied after nine innings, decide it with a home run derby; each team gets 10 swings.
You don’t think fans would love that? Hell, the players would love it just as much. It would be agreat
way to decide spring training games. Heck, this sounds like pretty good idea for the regular season.
Back to KC
As you read this I’m probably on my way back to Kansas City. The Royals flew to Milwaukee Wednesday night, will play two games, then fly to Detroit for Opening Day. I’ll have something new every day until then and start posting after games starting on Monday.