Ah, the first Cardinal
game notes of the year. It can only mean one thing.
Baseball is back.
Sure, it was sloppy, ugly, and at times nearly unwatchable. Sure, the Cards got their asses handed to them, mostly by their own relief pitchers' inability to throw a ball over the plate. And sure, Albert didn't play and Holliday didn't play and Yadi didn't play and Evan MacLane got the start. So what? I sat down on my sofa, turned on the television, and there was a baseball game on. To me, that's more than enough cause for celebration.
-- Okay, first off, when was the last time you got to see a game with not one, but two
knuckleballers? Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen it before. Unless I watched Tim Wakefield
take on Tom Candiotti
sometime in the distant past and just don't remember it, I'm going to say that was a first for me.
I love knuckleballs, to tell you the truth. I just think it's funny as hell watching real live major league baseball players flail helplessly at a pitch cruising in at a leisurely 65 mph. There's just something about the knuckleball that's so damned much fun.
That being said, watching a knuckleballer pitch when he can't find his grip has got to be the most miserable thing in the world. Charlie Zink, you owe me half an hour of my life back.
-- Most impressive player of the game for me: Joe Mather. Not because the man they call Bombs did anything super impressive (in fact, that error he made cutting off Colby Rasmus' throw home was one of the more boneheaded plays you'll see), but because he just looked like, well, him.
There's never been a real question about Mather's talent, or his ability to hit a baseball very, very hard and very, very far. The only question has been that of health, specifically the health of his left wrist. Watching Mather swing, the way he was able to release the bat properly through the zone, I couldn't help but believe he really is finally back healthy and ready to contribute to this year's team. And I was impressed. You just can't fake that sound the ball makes coming off his bat.
-- Speaking of sounds, I really, really wish Adam Ottavino would figure out some way to throw strikes consistently. You could hear just from the pop of the mitt when Ottavino threw the ball yesterday that he has special stuff. It's easy to talk about a hitter just having a different sound when the ball comes off his bat, but how often do you hear of a pitcher who makes a different sound when he throws? Ottavino has that. Sadly, he doesn't seem to have a real good idea where the ball is going a large percentage of the time.
For most of his professional career, the story has been the same with Ottavino: outstanding, shutdown stuff coupled with significant control issues. Not one hitter was able to square the ball up against Adam in the game, but he still managed to load the bases due to his inability to throw strikes. Can someone get this kid a consistent release point? Pretty please?
-- You want to talk control problems, look no further than Francisco Samuel. I used to believe in Samuel, but I've lost almost all faith he'll ever be able to improve his control enough to pitch even mopup innings in the majors. I just don't think he ever sees the big leagues. His delivery is just a mess, and he literally has no clue where the ball is going when he lets go of it. Sad, too, because it's clear he has just an off the charts sort of arm.
-- Eduardo Sanchez, on the other hand, was very impressive. He wasn't really even all that sharp, leaving a couple fastballs up in the zone where hitters were able to get fairly good swings, but the stuff is undeniable. His breaking ball in particular is just ridiculous. I can't wait to see what Sanchez can do with a couple more weeks of spring training to sharpen his command up.
Unfortunately, I don't think there's any way Sanchez breaks camp with the big club this spring; there are just too many guys ahead of him on the depth chart. If he has a good spring, though, he could certainly pitch his way into being the first guy called up when the Cards need another pitcher. With his combination of stuff and the ability to actually control where that stuff is going, I could also see him making it very, very tough to send him back down once he does get here.
-- That home run Ike Davis hit off Samuel was one of the longest I've ever seen. I don't know if Albert's shot off Brad Lidge that went over everything was any longer than that bomb. It would surprise me if the Mets don't find a way to take Davis north with them. He looks like he's very nearly a finished product, and I think he's going to be a beast in the very near future.
-- Ryan Ludwick looked good. After seeing him struggle badly in ST last year, it was nice to see him come in with his swing looking like it's in midseason form. I wonder if Mark McGwire has had anything to do with that? We've heard he was helping Ludwick work on something in his swing; I sure would like to know what exactly.
-- Colby Rasmus walked twice. Sure, it's the first game of spring. It's still better than him swinging at pickoff throws to first the way it seemed he did at times last year. Let's hope it lasts.
-- Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the debut of Dan Descalso, who's been one of my top prospect crushes pretty much since the day he was drafted. I just love watching him swing the bat, and he didn't disappoint me, collecting a pair of singles in his first plate appearances of the spring. I'm pulling for you, Dan.
It was an ugly, ugly game, but not entirely out of character for an early spring contest. A knuckleballer tossing in a stiff breeze didn't help matters any, but the rest was pretty much par for the course for the first of March. We saw some bad defense from players who don't ordinarily play together and a fireballer with no control anyway go into full meltdown mode. In other words, it was the sort of game that can drive you up a wall with frustration at all the mistakes made.
It was also the best game ever. Baseball is back.