Sunday, April 11, 2010

2010 Power Arms Pro Debut

Today was a memorable day due to the professional debuts of Mike Leake, Stephen Strasburg, and the mysterious Aroldis Chapman.

All three performances were impressive. Here are a few notes from those that are in the know...

First, the pride of Fallbrook, California & Arizona State University, Mike Leake, bypassed the Minor Leagues to make his professional debut for Dusty Baker's Cincinnati Reds. As Gabe Lacques, of USA Today writes:
"Leake nearly completed seven innings in his debut with the Cincinnati Reds today, holding the Chicago Cubs to one run and four hits over 6 2/3 innings. Reds manager Dusty Baker finally lifted him after he issued walks in the seventh to Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez; the Reds trailed 1-0 at the time.

Leake was erratic at times - he walked seven and had to pitch out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the first inning - and dominant at others. Showcasing a changeup mature beyond his experience, Leake struck out five and threw 106 pitches."
Dusty Baker wanted Leake to have a chance to earn a win and let him pitch the 7th Inning, while too fatigued to be effective. Even the Reds broadcast team, Thom Brenneman and someone he kept calling "Cowboy*", mentioned that they noticed Leake's arm slot dropping. They said he was not finishing his pitches & his breaking pitches weren't tumbling like before, both sure signs of fatigue.

*Could Cowboy be Jeff Brantley?

The second pro debut, was Aroldis Chapman pitching for Triple-A Louisville. From Jeff Wallner's MLB.com piece:
Chapman allowed just one earned run on five hits, walked one and struck out nine in 4 2/3 innings. He threw 85 pitches, 55 for strikes, and left the game with Louisville leading, 2-1.

Four of the five hits he allowed did not leave the infield.

Nine (9) strikeouts, out of fourteen (14) outs! I can't wait for this kid to get to the big leagues.

Finally, we conclude with the debut of last season's #1 Overall draft pick, the golden boy, Stephen Strasburg. As blog favorite, Keith Law, eloquently describes in his ESPN blog:
"Strasburg's velocity was incredible; he hit 99 with his first pitch and reached that mark two other times in the third inning. He didn't throw a fastball under 97 until the fourth. Over his final two innings, he was 94-97, although he threw several pitches in the 94-96 range that had the slight tail of a two-seam fastball. His fastball command wasn't great, although that may have been more a function of situation than inability to locate. His best, most consistent pitch was his curveball, 78-83 mph with incredibly sharp two-plane break and a downward finish, and he threw it for strikes most of the day. His worst pitch was, as before, his changeup, still a work in progress, although he threw several that were plus in the 87-88 mph range with hard downward tail; he overthrew several changeups, some as hard as 92, and didn't locate the pitch well, throwing many (if not most) below the zone.

Strasburg ran into trouble in the first and fourth innings, and it's worth looking at exactly how that trouble occurred. In the first, Alex Presley cheated on a 97 mph fastball and ripped a double to right; had Strasburg gone to the changeup there against the left-handed hitter, Presley would have chopped himself into the ground and the inning would have ended without a blemish. (Cheating on a fastball means starting your bat early -- essentially, an all-or-nothing bet that the pitcher is throwing a fastball on the next pitch.) After Presley's double, Strasburg became more tentative with his fastball, working down or away but not in for the next few hitters, an inexcusable approach for a guy who couldn't throw anything under 97. The combination of a hitter getting lucky and Strasburg becoming passive when he needed to be aggressive led to the first run. The fourth inning was almost entirely the fault of a showboating infielder who turned a makable double-play ball into zero outs with men on first and second, after which Strasburg returned to the tentative approach he had in the first after Presley's double. He gave up a run-scoring single to the opposing pitcher, Rudy Owens (see below), after throwing too many fastballs in a row and giving Owens reason to cheat -- throwing a changeup to the other pitcher might seem like overkill, but Strasburg needed an out there and Owens was swinging at whatever was coming.

Strasburg's final line: 5 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K. He threw 82 pitches, 55 for strikes."
Stephen Strasburg is going on a Nationals Minor League team tour, to increase their businesses with sellouts, sponsorships, etc. They'll also be slowing down his service clock, which will basically help them keep him for an extra year before he hits mega free agency. The other two guys are both in the Reds rotation, and it'll be interesting to see who gets booted from the Reds rotation when Chapman is ready. Please Dusty, don't hurt 'em.

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