Purgatory Online

Thursday, April 08, 2004

You walk him, and pitch to the rhino.

Unfortunately for Joel Piniero, it that strategy isn't so effective if the rhino is also capable of knocking the ball into downtown Tacoma.

The hitting looked pretty damn good last night - even more impressive than during the opener. They seemed to be a bit more patient at the plate, at least against Piniero, but the results were the same. David Eckstein continued his excellent leadoff work - he's 5 for 11 in these past two games, and, more significantly, 28 for 75 since the start of Spring Training and 18 for 44 since March 21. He's always been manic, but this year he seems...grittier, somehow. More mature in his determination. While it's always absurd to make predictions this early in the year, he's worth keeping an eye on with respect to "Comback Player of the Year" honors.

Unfortunately, Darin Erstad isn't doing too much to vindicate the people who said he'd have a monster season this year. Again, it's way too early to judge, but...two for 11? With four strikeouts? Jeezum crow. Ersty won't be able to hide in the two-spot, either - it'll become apparenent pretty quickly that having an unproductive out machine in between Eckstein and the boppers is pretty much like putting a speedbump in at the Daytona 500.

Washburn was unimpressive, and not just in his 31-pitch fourth inning. He pitched behind in the count a lot, and ended up throwing a lot of get-me-over stuff that got hit on the screws. He didn't walk anyone, but there are a lot of major league hitters who can put wood on a 91 mph fastball over the heart of the plate on a 2-1 count. He did strike out six, but he also surrendered a home run - not so nice to see, considering he led the league in that last year.

And, for the second straight game, there were middle-relief problems. The man that Rob at 6-4-2 calls "Osama Ben Weber" (in reference to his absurdly grown-out goatee) looked shaky, giving up an instant double to Dangerous Dan Wilson and allowing runs from both an inherited runner and one he grew all by himself. He did settle down to pitch a nice seventh, and the Rodriguez-Percival tandem was flawless in the eighth and ninth, but the Mariners managed to claw their way back from 8-0 to 9-7, illuminating the fact that the Angels are really skating on thin ice until Brendan Donnelly's return.

On that front, incidentally, Donnelly's progress is steady. He remains in Arizona, recuperating from his various surgeries, and was re-examined at Scottsdale Memorial Hospital on Tuesday, at which time the packing in his nose was changed. He's not been released to start any baseball-related activity, but is scheduled to be re-examined on the 13th.

Today, the Angels have a getaway game scheduled for 1:35 Pacific Time. We'll get our first look at Kelvim Escobar in an Angels uniform, and Kelvim will settle into a season in which he doesn't have to pitch half his games at SkyDome. Escobar's home/road splits last year were eyebrow-raising: a 5.64 ERA in 95.2 innings pitched at home, and a 2.76 ERA in 84.2 innings pitched on the road. At one point last year, he won six straight road decisions, and he gave up four times as many home runs in Toronto as he did while on the road (12 to 3). Whether that's just a weird coincidence or has some deeper meaning, I suppose we'll know after this season. In any event, he's pretty much owned the top of the Mariners' lineup in his career - Ichiro, Randy Winn, and Bret Boone are a combined 9 for 51 against him, lifetime - but he does have trouble with Edgar Martinez (13 for 25) and the aforementioned Dangerous Dan (7 for 17).

For the Mariners, Freddie Garcia will try to prevent what would be the first Angels sweep in Seattle since April of 1991. Garcia's a workhorse - think Bartolo Colon, with Jarrod Washburn's fastball velocity - but over the past couple of years he's gone from being an ace-in-waiting to a middle-rotation guy as hitters figured out that he has no real "out" pitch. He's got several decent pitches, but if you wait on the one you want, you're likely to get it sooner or later. Tim Salmon, who has just one hit so far and is probably feeling left out, will be happy to see him; Salmon is 12 for 35 lifetime against Garcia. Eckstein and Kennedy are both around .300 for their careers against him, while Troy Glaus and Garret "The Scarlet Rhino" Anderson will bring .162 and .220 averages to the plate. We may also see Josh Paul's Angels debut this afternoon, either as the starting catcher or as a pinch-hitter - Paul is 3 for 6 lifetime against Garcia.