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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spring Training, Day 1: A's 8, Angels 1

There's something perfectly symmetrical about spring training in Arizona, not unlike the baseball diamonds it's played on; mostly, for me, it's about the rhythms of summer starting up once more. The green grass of the fields -- anomalous for Arizona, for even their parkland here has a stubby, pale green grass that dies off by midsummer -- reminds you of the lush oasis of Los Angeles, built on purloined water.

Today's contest was, unfortunately, pretty one-sided; Jered Weaver struggled through his first inning of work, giving up three hits and two runs that presaged the final outcome. Of course, he wasn't helped by his outfield defense, as left fielder Juan Rivera misplayed a line drive directly at him, turning an almost certain out into a single. Facing the bottom of the A's order in the second, Weaver almost had a clean inning save for a two-out single by second baseman Gregorio Petit. Another out — Weav's third strikeout of the game, Jack Cust for the second time — and he was done for the day. At least he was better than his last start, an abysmal game that saw him record only two outs and nearly get walloped with a line drive to boot.

Of course, the A's weren't finished with Angels pitching, and as this was a showcase for the likely mop-up section of the bullpen (Justin Speier excepted, though he pitched like it), they pretty much feasted on the fodder the Angels threw up (vomited is maybe a good word). That engorging started with the hapless Matt Wilhite, who got DH Mark Ellis to fly out to center, but took four more batters thereafter to make the final out of the third, allowing his inherited baserunner to score and giving up a pair of baserunners, one via a walk.

There was more and less damage later, as Jack Cust welted a long, towering homer off Speier to right to lead off the fifth. So hard was it hit that Angels right fielder Gary Matthews, Jr. trotted back a few feet but then just looked up and back to track the ball's trajectory. The A's must have felt they'd seen what they needed to from starters Nomar Garciaparra (at third) and Orlando Cabrera (at short), because they were out of the game in the fourth, Nomar having posted two hits by himself, one of three Athletics to do so.

It seemed odd to look up at the box score and see only three men with two hits apiece, because the A's pretty much had their way with Angels pitching all game, but Oakland ran rounds of substitutions every inning from the fourth through the seventh, more or less assuring that the loud, repeated banging noises coming from the field would be evenly distributed against a larger group of players. Indeed, the A's outhit the Angels by nearly three to one (14 to 5). The Angels' only run came off Mike Napoli's fifth inning solo shot, one of only two extra-base hits on the day, the other being Kendry Morales' long center-right double to lead off the seventh.

So we hear now that the Angels are allegedly more concerned this year about plate discipline this year, which beats last years' flippant disregard for Ball Four. The concern, tardy though it may be, is without a doubt welcome; the Angels' collective offensive woes have gone unchanged, once more clocking in in the bottom half of team runs scored. Maybe Bobby Abreu and the ghost of Mark Teixeira are exactly what they need. Or maybe they need to fire Mickey Hatcher. Whatever, admission that there's a problem is the first step to actually fixing it.

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