First game of the Metrodome's final season vs. Felix Hernandez, Ruiner Of Ceremonies. Like we couldn't see this outcome from a mile away.
- Tonight we got to watch an unusually efficient King Felix, as he only needed 97 pitches to work through eight innings and 31 batters. 67 of those pitches were strikes (69%), 25 of them being of the first-pitch variety. While his start to the game was a little bit rough - he walked Denard Span to lead off and didn't quite have his fastball - he was pretty quickly able to settle into a groove in which he stayed in and around the zone and didn't allow the Twins to make much solid contact. All in all, though he didn't generate a whole lot of groundballs or swinging strikes, this was a welcome performance from a guy we're badly going to need to take off.
Of course, the Twins don't have the most awe-inspiring lineup in the universe, particularly without Joe Mauer in the middle. So there's that to keep in mind. And Felix still had the same kind of pitch distribution as he did a year ago, including fastballs on ten of his first eleven. But this was his first start of the year, and the bulk of it came after he tweaked his ankle fielding a grounder in the first, so I'm not about to complain. You have to be reasonable. If you always hold him to the standard of Opening Day 2007, you're going to hate living life.
- I was ready for that tweaked ankle to cause everything to come crashing down. I think we all were. As soon as I saw Felix grimace and limp I figured that the best-case scenario was having him get pulled from the game, the average-case scenario was having him go on the 15-day DL, and the worst-case scenario was having him get sidelined indefinitely. And then when he approached his target return date the team would decide to try and build up his arm strength by moving him to the bullpen. So I was beyond relieved when I saw him throw his warm-up pitches without incident (as opposed to last year's single warm-up pitch and subsequent scream of agony). I don't know who to thank for our good fortune so I figure I'll just keep thanking people at random until someone steps up and takes credit.
Felix was still favoring his leg later in the game. On a few occasions you could see him landing lightly or limping a little bit when charging off the mound. But the fact that he was able to stay in for eight innings and throw so many strikes suggests that this isn't anything to worry about. Just a minor stumbling block. He was able to make a good play on a grounder in the eighth with ease.
- The first pitch Felix threw to Michael Cuddyer in the first inning was something else. A two-seam fastball at 94.2mph looked like it was headed middle-in when it started to break further in towards the knee. It wound up inside off the plate, but Cuddyer swung right through it anyway, because it spent so much of its flight time in the strike zone. I don't know if you guys ever played with Marbleworks growing up but the pitch looked like it was rolling along one of them bendy yellow tracks on the way to Johjima's glove. I'm making special note of this particular fastball because it was exceptional. I'm beginning to think that Felix thinks this is the only kind of fastball he ever throws.
- The first inning saw Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez go a combined 0-2 with zero putouts, but I still came away somewhat impressed by each of them. Gutierrez was able to take a few close fastballs and worked himself into a 3-1 count before grounding out. Chavez, meanwhile, also got ahead before grounding out and later made an absolutely spectactacular effort on a foul fly ball in the left field corner. He came up short of making the play, but it's a miracle he wound up coming as close as he did. Or it would be a miracle, were he not one of the finest defensive outfielders in the world. Range is really obvious when someone has a lot of it, and Chavez has a lot of it, and I defy you to watch a replay of that foul ball and not come to the same conclusion. He damn near killed himself flying into that wall.
- Also on the defensive side of things, Adrian Beltre turned in another impressive performance, backhanding a sharp grounder in the third and, one inning later, fielding a high chopper without even looking at the ball because he'd been blinded by the lights. I wonder if one of the reasons defense has been overlooked for so long is because, when a guy makes a great play, observers just assume that any pro should be able to make it. The truth is that Beltre makes a lot of plays most pros don't make, and just because he makes them look like second nature doesn't make them any less of a big deal. If anything, it should do the opposite.
- Chavez and Gutierrez combined to see 20 pitches out of the strike zone tonight, and they only swung at three of them (one in an 0-2 count). Say what you will about their respective bats, but one thing they're not going to do as often as certain other troublemakers is get themselves out on bad pitches. They'll be happy to get themselves out on good pitches. Although drawing a walk, hitting a homer, and getting to two other three-ball counts isn't going to do anything to diminish my belief that Gutierrez is about to become at least a league-average hitter. It's been one game and I already love him. The new Mike Cameron, indeed.
- Two really encouraging Griffey-related items:
(1) Home run! Off a lefty! Liriano made the awful mistake of leaving an elevated slider over the middle of the plate, but I don't care how bad a pitch it was; it was thrown by a lefty, and Griffey hit it really hard. How nice must that have felt, to get it off his back so fast? So much for having to endure any kind of awkward waiting period. Although I guess he still has to hit one at home.
(2) Baserunning/defensive replacement in the ninth! Wakamatsu used Wlad Balentien to run for Griffey after he drew a walk, and while a lot of that was probably because of the turf, it still sets a good precedent. Everybody saw the route Griffey took on Punto's flyball in the fifth. Everybody knows he's fragile, and that he's not a good defender. If the team is willing to pull him from whatever games he plays in the outfield in higher-leverage late innings, then that'll serve to reduce his negative impact.
- Beltre's left hand is still wrapped. I don't know if this is news.
- Bert Blyleven on Mike Redmond in the fifth:
Always happens, doesn't it - guy gets clubbed in the back of the head with a bat, then he leads off the next inning with a double.
- Based on a sample size of one game, Russ Branyan is never going to hit a lefty again for the rest of his life. His second inning AB against Liriano was as predictable as the infamous Ibanez/Fuentes showdown in 2006, or the countless Griffey/Fuentes showdowns in 2009.
- Yuniesky Betancourt saw four pitches out of the zone, and he chased them all, leading to a foul, a swinging strike, a groundout, and a double play. Of all the players who sat on the sidelines tonight, I imagine Ronny Cedeno enjoyed this game the most.
- In the bottom of the third, the Twins' broadcast welcomed Carl Pohlad's son Jim to the booth, and Blyleven and the other guy proceeded to talk rather cordially with him about the promise of the team and the excitement surrounding the new ballpark. Which is kind of like Simon Wiesenthal talking to Alexander Adolf Hitler about how Bavaria is pleasant during the spring but too dry in the lowlands.
- I've no idea how this happened.
1-0, with ace #2 taking the hill tomorrow. Here's to pattern recognition, and wishing I didn't possess it.