Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Opening Day Game Thoughts

I'm not going to write about every game or every day of the season.  However, I watched a lot of baseball yesterday and I have some thoughts to share.  I thought the Twins game went about as would have been expected, and I was happy that they made it close near the end.   I don't like to get too caught up in one game, but it's just too much fun to write about baseball, so here are some thoughts.

Aaron Hicks had a tough debut.  Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball, so it wasn't going to be easy.  Hicks struck out in all three of his at bats against Verlander.  I went back and watched those at bats again and I didn't see anything that worries me long-term.  He fouled off some decent fastballs that he probably should have put in play, but he also seemed to get good looks at Verlander's changeup.  He got fooled on a curve in the first and a fastball in the third, but most of his swings were good and he didn't seem to be seeing the ball poorly. 

I called his first pitch swing against Smyly in the 7th.  You had to figure he wanted no part of striking out four times in his debut.  He was a little out in front of the pitch, but at least he put it in play.  His last at bat was encouraging, as he took a couple close pitches to work a five pitch walk.  He saw a first pitch changeup in all four of his left handed at bats, and didn't swing at one.  If that is the scouting report on him, hopefully he jumps on an early off-speed pitch against Anibal Sanchez on Wednesday. 

I thought Vance Worley looked great yesterday.  The first inning was a bit rough, but he had some bad luck as well.  That Torii Hunter single could have just as easily been a double play.  Prince Fielder's double wasn't hit well either.  After Hunter's lead-off double in the 3rd, Worley was pretty much lights out.  He did let the lead-off batter reach in the first four innings, which is something he should not get into the habit of doing, but he was basically effective through six innings.  I liked what I saw. 

I don't have much to say here except Mauer did not seem to have an issue adjusting to his new spot in the batting order.  He had two hits, and probably should have had three.  He nearly tied the game in the bottom of the 8th.  His approach at the plate is really something to watch.  I'm a fan, that's all.

Fien looked great.  He mowed down the top of the Tigers' order and made it look pretty easy.  I'm not sure this means anything long-term, but if Fien can become a reliable late-inning reliever, the Twins' bullpen could be surprisingly good. 

Ramirez made the 5,000,000th appearance in MLB history, according to Baseball Reference.  You can read about it here.  This was exactly the time to use Ramirez.  The bases were loaded, Pedro Florimon was up, and the Twins needed runs.  Ramirez worked the count enough to allow a run to score on a wild pitch.  While Ramirez is not a special hitter, he does have power.  He is certainly a better bet to drive in runs than Florimon.  Some prefer Jamey Carroll in that spot, but I am guessing Ron Gardenhire wanted a power bat, to try to tie the game up. 

Here's the controversy.  He swung at the first pitch, which many did not like because Smyly had walked the previous two hitters.  I don't have a problem with it.  The bases were loaded and Smyly is command/control pitcher.  Smyly could have easily grooved a get-me-over fastball to get ahead in the count.  If he had, Ramirez could have done damage.  Instead, Smyly threw a good slider and Ramirez swung over it.  Ramirez was early on the next pitch too, but ultimately had a good at bat. 

Other MLB Notes

Bryce Harper hit two home runs.  I predicted that he would win the NL MVP.  This amazing first game doesn't make him any more or less likely to win, but it was fun to watch him blast those home runs.  His power is crazy.  His swing is so violent.  Oh, he also threw a runner out at home.  My favorite baseball archetype is the power-hitting right fielder with a cannon arm.  I'm going to enjoy Harper's career.

Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale and Felix Hernandez were all outstanding yesterday.  No surprises here, but it's always fun to watch aces dominate.  Kershaw took matters into his own hands, hitting a go-ahead home run in the bottom of the 8th.  He ended with this line:  9 innings, no walks, 4 hits, 7 Ks, 94 pitches.  Outstanding. 

Chase Utley had a great game yesterday.  He was 3-5 with a triple, home run and 3 RBI.  As with every example above, it is just one game.  However, it would be fantastic to see Utley return to his superstar days of old.  He's 34 now, and I think he has had a Hall of Fame career.  If he can tack on a couple more great seasons, I am betting that others will agree with me (if they don't already). 

I really enjoyed Opening Day.  Although, I spent the evening at the X, watching the Wild play one of their worst games of the season.  Other than that, it was a really fun day and I look forward to sharing my unwanted thoughts with all of you this season. 

What stood out to you on Opening Day?  If you aren't interested in single game notes, I did write about 1989 Donruss baseball cards, if that's up your alley.  You can read it here.  

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