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Saturday, March 26, 2005

Two Games

Dayside: Angels 6, Cubs 4

Escobar's status at the beginning of the year still has everyone wondering how effective he's going to be, or whether he'll even be on the team on opening day. Yesterday's game didn't give me any warm fuzzies that Esky's improved to the point where he's major league ready exactly yet, but he's close, much closer than I thought even a week ago. Giving up three runs (all earned) on six hits, and most importantly, no walks in six innings, Escobar showed signs of returning to 2004 form. However, he did surrender a home run to Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano, proving Zambrano is a pretty good hitting pitcher. By contrast, Z had his best stuff, and the Angels got three runs off him, including a two-run shot by Erstad (his first multi-base hit of the season). It was the first runs Z surrendered all spring training. I know, don't read too much into it.

Other than that: the boys in red were pretty sharp, and Robb Quinlan shows signs that maybe his 2004 wasn't a one-month fluke, going two for three and scoring a run. At the very least, he's a valuable bench player.

Overall, both clubs looked pretty close to regular-season ready, which isn't necessarily good news for either one, especially the Cubs. Speaking of the Tiny Bears, we hung out in the outfield berms with the voluable, jovial Al Yellon of SPORTSblogs' Bleed Cubbie Blue, his friends John (who draws cartoons at BCB), Jessica (from New York) and her friend Mike (who lives in Arizona), and our two Padre-lovin' friends Jen and Jo from San Diego. One of the great things about spring training is that the fans who show up for it are generally fans of the game, well informed, and almost never boorish. I only got harrassed once -- and then by someone safely in an SUV -- for wearing Angels garb to Phoenix Muni at the A's game last night. Once in the stadium, I saw a number of others so attired, and Giants, Mariners, and many Padres fans as well.

Northsiders continue to worry about the Cubs' bullpen, and with good reason; as Al wrote in his game recap,

Hendry's got to be burning up the cellphone lines after Chad Fox again had a not-so-good ninth inning; after whipping off what looked like a 95-MPH fastball to get Curtis Pride on strikes, the next batter whipped a ball just as fast up the middle for an RBI single -- this after Fox had wild-pitched David Matranga into scoring position after a walk. Fox is maddening -- you can see he has ability, but he drives you nuts with walks and ill-timed wild pitches like this.
Frankie's close, but he's back to his bad old tricks with runners on base. He never seems to do well once somebody gets on, so watching him surrender a run on two hits and a walk wasn't too surprising if you recall his 2003. You always want to cut pitchers in Arizona spring training some slack because of the slight elevation, the thin, dry air, and the heat, but yesterday only the elevation was in operation (it actually rained a bit yesterday morning). Frankie just couldn't locate his slider, and as often happens when that happens, he starts giving up runs. Of course, that balances with the three strikeouts he made to finish the ninth, but it's not a record you want for a closer.


Nightside: Padres 6, A's 1

Did 2004 ever end? That's the Groundhog Day question for the A's Barry Zito, who got knocked around for five runs, four earned, on five hits and five walks in four innings. Zito struggled with command (again), couldn't locate his curve (again), and generally was a mess on the mound. Woody Williams, by contrast, set the A's down with aplomb and speed, giving up a walk, four hits, and one run (earned).

At this point in spring training, you expect the fielding to actually be major league quality, but then I remembered -- Robert Fick is in camp. Fick is one of my least favorite players in the majors, mainly because he pulled an A-Rod style karate chop on Eric Karros in the 2003 postseason. The episode blew over quickly because, hey, he's not a Yankee. Anyway: Fick bobbled a routine groundball but managed to recover thanks in part to Williams' alert fielding, but it's pretty rare to see that level of ineptness this late in ST.

But the wacky fielding wasn't limited to the Pads' infield. Our season-ticket-holding friends, Jen and Jo, inform us that the Pads' outfield is stocked with players who create adventures where none should exist. For instance: Ryan Klesko. Klesko frequently takes bad routes to the ball, and looks like he has no idea where the ball is going. So with last night, where he kept alternated running and looking over his shoulder. Now, in some fairness, the wind was coming in hard straight down the left field side of Phoenix Municipal Stadium last night, and so balls hit to left would tend to curve back. But -- as this was a night game -- we could reasonably expect a lot of the problems Arizona gives fielders with its high, thin skies wouldn't happen. Uh uh. Still. Not. Too. Good.

The A's bullpen is improved over last year, but I can't decide whether Juan Cruz represents that much of an upgrade. Certainly, if he's found his niche in long relief, it's questionable whether he's learned anything, handing out four walks and one hit over three. Ricardo Rincon in particular had a rough outing, giving up a run on two walks and a hit.

As to the Pads' bullpen, they didn't need to be serious about it, as Williams cruised through six. Thus, in one-inning turns, did we watch Rudy Seanez, green newcomer Randy Williams (2004 ERA 5.79 in 6.0 IP), and Dodger castoff Brian Falkenborg pitch to a diminishing cast of A's regulars, and an increasing band of rookies and wannabes.

Former Dodger Dave Roberts managed two at bats, and accomplished nothing. As much as I like Dave, I have to think DePo made the right move unloading him. But, hey, based on the ads he made while a Dodger, I'd cheerfully predict he's got a real chance at a job behind the mike somewhere.



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