Today marked the beginning of March's final trek through ol' Nebuchadnezzar's 7-day calendar. It's a dichotomous time in the Spring Training schedule. Everyday players guaranteed spots on the 25-man roster spend the waning days in the Phoenix sun polishing and re-polishing their swings, like a soldier with his gun. They focus on maintaining health, not wanting to push their bodies too far before attempting to play more than 1450 innings of baseball in half a year. Above all though these veterans wile away the last week of March staving off boredom. It's a time where most things that go right don't matter, and all the things that go wrong can linger.
For those without the privilege of boredom this week is a nerve-wracking, exciting, and potentially disappointing time. Role players, prospects, veterans in camp on a minor league deal, all those for whom merely surviving til Opening Day is the biggest goal, these players spend this time constantly on edge. There are roles, careers, and lives being birthed and killed.
In that vein I sat down today to watch James Paxton attempt to prove to the Mariners that he deserves the team's final rotation spot. James Paxton, Nathan Karns, Jesus Montero, Dae-Ho Lee, Shawn O'Malley, Luis Sardinas, these are the things you watch games like today's for.
Goodness where was I? Oh right, James Paxton. Well the Cubs, who almost certainly have the game's best offense, put out a full lineup against James Paxton today. Of course one of the storylines of March has been Paxton's month-long ineffectiveness. The combination of the Cubs' spinning razor sharp blade of an offense and James Paxton's fastball of paper mache predictably led to yet another poor start from the big Canadian. Paxton lasted only 4 innings, allowed 9 hits, 7 runs, 3 walks and zero strikeouts.
If you want to obsess over exhibition stats you'll note that Paxton now has a 6/8 K/BB ratio this month. If you (rightly) don't put too much stock in that thing you'll notice his velocity is still way, way down from his previous years. If Nate Karns hadn't also been having a rotten spring I doubt that we'd even be talking about Paxton's strug....
The session is done for the day, the baseballs placed back in their bucket. He checks the message on his phone, a familiar number.
Well my stars why does that keep happening? I am so easily distracted today. Anyway, outside of the Mariners 5th rotation spot currently being something akin to a writing contest between Stephenie Meyer and E.L. James, there was plenty to enjoy about today's game. Seth Smith hit a two-run double and appears to have graduated to the level of Alpha-Dad, the dad of which all other dads wistfully aspire to whenever we grill burgers in flip flops on our back deck. Smith is hitting .541 and remains one of the finer acquisitions of Jack Zduriencik's final years.
After Paxton Paxton'd the bullpen was very effective, particularly Donn Roach, who very much appears to be in the running for an Opening Day role in a bullpen that desperately needs effective arms. Roach threw two scoreless innings, and struck out two, and walked no one. That is the description of basically every Donn Roach outing this spring. On a day when fan favorites Shawn O'Malley and Jesus Montero saw their places on the 25-man go away, it's fun to have longshots like Roach giving us an underdog story to root for.
This was a long game, and with bored stars and dwindling scrappers it was yet another one to file away as soon as it was finished, an infinitesimal data point of almost zero meaning. Even with Jason Heyward having to run away from some damn bees, it's hard to think of anything else of note to say about the final games of Spring Training.
He strides back toward the plate, his body feeling more whole than it has in a year. The balls are coming his way again.
I think I'll stop there. Robbie's gun seems clean. Let's play with some live ammo already.