Another day, another loss - although losing to The World Champion Chicago White Sox!! should only count as half a defeat, on account of their total awesomeness. Right? Oh, well, it's spring, so I guess none of the losses count for anything. Or half of anything. I've lost myself. Whatever, take your box score. 10-3, final. Mike Hargrove's inner sense of regret grows by the day.
Highlights: Raul Ibanez hit a home run off of one of my favorite pitching prospects in the league, and Jesse Foppert doesn't need Tommy John Surgery again. Oh, and the Mariners scored first and actually managed to hang on to a slim lead for a little while. But you know what Ron Fairly says about scoring less than four runs in a game. I guess that's it for the highlights.
...Not...Highlights: It feels a little unfair that pretty much everything I've written so far this spring has focused on the pitching staff, but it's not without reason - not only have the arms been collectively awful so far, but pitchers are also more volatile on a year-to-year basis than hitters, so it's worth keeping an eye on them in the early going. Hitters, by and large, are reasonably predictable. Pitchers, not so much. It's difficult to say what you're going to get from a given arm next year until you actually see him pitch, and now that we're beginning to see these guys throw after a long winter...well, we're getting ideas, and they're not good.
Speaking of "not good," Jesse Foppert pitched today. I guess you could say he was all right in a poor-man's-Nolan-Ryan sense of the term, in that he didn't allow any hits between his walks, but that doesn't strike me as a very rational position to hold. Foppert walked four of the ten batters he faced this afternooon, coming out of the game having thrown more balls than strikes. He clearly just didn't have any idea where his stuff was going, and while that's okay sometimes if your name is Oliver Perez or Felix Hernandez, it's not if you're Foppert, because it's not like his stuff was particularly good - he was topping out in the high-80s, which harkens back to the days of his mysteriously disappointing rookie season with the Giants. That's not going to get it done. If Foppert's chances of breaking camp in the rotation improved a week ago, they were dealt a massive blow this afternoon, what with his lousy performance and Gil suddenly feeling terrific again. It just doesn't look like Foppert is close to where he needs to be to be effective against quality hitters. You can see why I want Gil to be healthy coming Opening Day (or a few days after it, anyway) - there just isn't a better alternative in the organization, not right now.
Foppert's control problems, at least, can be explained in part by a blister he developed on the middle finger of his pitching hand. Blisters are annoying, and the middle finger is the last part of the body to touch the ball upon release, so you can do the math - pitchers, be it subconscious or not, will alter their delivery ever so slightly to relieve the pressure put on a blistered finger, and that can do funny things to the ball's spin (and thus the pitcher's command). Blisters also make it difficult to get a good feel for the seams, which compounds the problem. That said, Foppert's control wasn't really the biggest concern today. We know he's not going to walk two guys every inning. The issue is that he's still 6-7mph below where we all want him to be, and that can't be explained away by a simple blister. The velocity will come, but it's pretty clearly going to take its time.
Oh, and after Foppert was yanked, Scott Atchison got bombed again, and Renee Cortez had another generous outing. Cortez isn't really a big deal, since nobody was expecting anything out of him this spring, but as for Atchison, he's one of those guys who'll need to seize every opportunity if he wants to carve out a career for himself, and right now, he's not doing so hot.
That's all well and good, but in the end, who really cares about a Spring Training game (even if it's against The World Champion Chicago White Sox!!)? The talk of the day was Adrian Beltre hitting his third home run in two games, helping drive the Dominican Republic to an 8-3 victory over Team Long Island. Beltre's back!, people declare. And it's all because he's in shape again!, they continue.
The first thing everyone does (myself included) when talking about a hitter who's looking to rebound is look at his stance. I don't know why that is, exactly, but it's true, and it's dumb, because stances don't make nearly the kind of difference that, say, a mechanical adjustment would make for a pitcher. Bad hitters will be bad using any number of stances, and on the other side of the coin, Albert Pujols would still be amazing if he decided to go all Jay Buhner in the batter's box. Stances can make a difference, but the most important thing for any hitter is proper pitch recognition, and that has a lot more to do with a guy's brain than the way his feet are aligned.
Here's Adrian Beltre. The image on the left is from his game today, while the image on the right is a typical stance from 2005:
I guess you could say that 2006 Beltre has his hands in more of a cocked position than 2005 Beltre, but if you watch a little tape, you'll see that there isn't a real big difference in there. And why should there be? All winter long we've been hearing about how Beltre's problems are in his head, that there was precious little difference between his 2004 and 2005 swings and stances. The way he stands isn't what needs to be fixed - it's the way he recognizes fastballs and sliders. And the only way to do that is to throw him a million of them until either your pitching machine breaks or Beltre dies of exhaustion (in which case I think the Mariners would be able to recover the rest of his contract).
So why did Beltre hit a home run to the deepest part of the field today, if not because of an adjusted stance? I'll tell you why. The pitch he hit was a thigh-high 3-2 fastball clocked at 86mph over the heart of the plate from some Italian League nobody. Honestly, pitches don't get any meatier. You don't hear people going crazy about the home runs Beltre hits in batting practice, so why should we care that he hit one in a game against the same kind of pitching today? I'd be ashamed of him if he didn't hit that ball 415 feet. (Note that this says nothing of his two-homer game against Venezuela, which rocked.) If Beltre did a lot of work over the winter in an effort to rebound from his letdown season, then we'll see that in his performance over the next several weeks and several months. I do not, however, believe we'll be able to see it in his stance. That just doesn't strike me as the root of the problem, here.
Jarrod Washburn, Francisco Cruceta, Marcos Carvajal, and George Sherrill tomorrow afternoon against Colorado. I'll be out of town this weekend, so if anything of interest happens, it'll probably be up to you in the comments and/or Diaries.