caught looking

a blog about the philadelphia phillies. not to be confused, exactly, with "caught looking" the debut album by independent/unsigned/unheard of singer/songwriter greg roth, who is, coincidently, yours truly.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Floyd the Barber

Despite play as shakey as a grandmother's pointing index finger, the Phils managed to take 2 of 3 on the road against division rival and very vulnerable Atlanta Braves, a squad currently trotting out a winless starting rotation that looks like its about to implode in the sky. Early on, yes, but is it really so hard to imagine that one year, maybe this summer, it all goes horribly wrong for the 14-year division champs?

Last night, Gavin Floyd turned in a nice, if not overwhelming, outing, giving up single runs three times in 6 innings, but generally throwing the ball aggressively and -- here's the most reassuring part -- hard. Floyd's fastball, which failed to show up with him in his debut in south Philly against the Dodgers, returned en masse last night, topping out at 94 and sitting above 90 virtually the entire night. After 6 innings and 95 pitches, Floyd handed the ball to the increasingly confusing Phillies bullpen.

Staked with a 5 run lead before Ryan Howard made the first out, Floyd showed us exactly what every half-interested Phillies fan will take from him this year: velocity, something remembling control (although far from commanding), great breaking stuff, flyball outs, and most importantly, a short memory. For instance, after Howard showed us the Dorn Ole play on a double-play chopper hit to him in the first, Floyd pitched out of the jam somewhat, allowing only a sac fly. After Jeff Franceour suddenly awoke with a home run in the second, Floyd sent the side down in order. And, in the sixth, Floyd still threw the ball as if he were fresh, giving the Phils two-thirds of a solid game on the mound.

Ryan Franklin solidfied his job as least trustworthy pitcher, however, coming in to relinquish another gopher ball in his quest to lead the majors in home runs yielded, despite beingin the pen. With Eric Milton picthing better so far, perhaps Frankjlin has a shot. Meanwhile Aaron Fultz 2006 still does not look like Aaron Fultz of 2005, but after hitting the first batter he faced in the seventh, the side went down in order. Finally, Tom Gordon appears to be settling into a niche in the closer's roll that is somewhere between the domination of Billy Wagner and the frustration of Jose Mesa. While no Joe Table, Flash will allow baserunners this year, although the "wild pitch" in the 9th was most definitely a passed ball on Fasano -- he may be an excellent best friend, but he has got to learn to block ball sin the dirt and not pancake them. How well Gordon gets out of jams will be the jury on his season on the ninth.

And for all you Pat Burrell haters out there, witness the play of the game that ended up saving the v ictory for the Phils. With Abreu on first and looking highly runnerish, Burrell worked a deep count by laying off two straight fastballs low and away. Then, as Abreu broke for second, Pat the Bat poked a ground ball right down the hatch of where second baseman Marcus Giles was before he moved to cover second. Hit and run? Check. Abreu moves the third on the play, allowing him to score on Utley's sac fly. It was perhaps Burrell's best at-bat of the year and precisely the kind of thing this teams needs to keep doing to scratch out enough runs to give it's staff enough run to pitch: situation hitting.

On to Colorado, .500 ball in site.

Friday, April 07, 2006

AA Battery

Taking a break from the already underachieving biog league club, we ventured to Bowie, Md., last night to witness the Class-AA season opener for the Reading Phils against the hometown Baysox. Besides the cheaop tickets and the invitation from a softball teammate and college buddy, we were looking forward to seeing one of the mid-level squad's golden arms pitch. In this case, it was Scott Mathieson, better known as the Canadian pitcher who nearly gave up a home run to Chase Utley in the WBC.

Bowie's stadium is weird -- located in kind of a suburban megaplex behind the home depot -- the chill in the air prevented more than a few hundred people from attending the game. The majority of attendents were of the young pursuation and the excitement of every foul ball in the stands seemed to grow inning by inning. To be fair, this game had more foul balls than any we'd ever seen. That probably has something to do with opposing aces on the mond as well as rusty hitters.

The Phils seemed to be ready early, knocking out six singles in the first 3 innings and scratching out a run in the second. Conversely, Mathieson was tough early, sending the first seven batters down in succession by throwing hard -- his fastball popped Jason Jaramillio's glove at 96 two or three times --and little else. His first spin through the lineup, only one hitter caught up with anything he through and that was an 88 mph slider that Michael Bourn amazingly ran down in the gap in leftcenter with a spectacular diving catch.

By the second time, through, however, was a different story. Mathieson walked a few batters, and gave up a two run dinger to leadoff hitter Jeff Fiorentino on a slider that he apparently developed in the Arizona Fall League in order to drop his curveball. With all due respect to whatever his pitching coaches tell him, Mathieson might want to think about keeping that curve, or some form of slurve, around, since essentially all his pitches were coming in at the same speed and same angle. Mathieson seemed to throw almost all fastballs the first three innings, as everything was straight and between 91-94. By the 6th inning, Mathieson's pitch count was over 100 and while his velocity was still pretty solid, with the occasional dip in the mid-80s, his fastballs appeared to lose a few mphs and were getting higher and higher.

The other player we were very interested in watching was catcher Jason Jaramillo, who seemed not entirely confident behind the plate (one very bad passed ball as well as some communcation problems with Mathieson), and had both a good at-bat at the plate and very bad one in which he swung at three straight balls low and outside to K. Jaramillo, a switch hitter, posted a .300-plus average last year, so we don't expect too many bad showings at the plate this season.

While some of us have been excited to see Reading this season, they have an absolute dearth of power. Only two players on the roster had more than 10 HRs last season at any level, while Bowie, a team that finished 6 games over .500 last year, has 4 players with more than 20 HRs. It will be interesting to see if Reading can generate enough offense this year to support their talented pitching staff.

We left in the 6th because of the chill, with reading down 3-1. That's how it ended.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


You have got to be kidding.

Narrowingly judging our 2006 installment of the team by a single game -- last night's thrilla in the Phila -- there is positively nothing new that's positive about this team. The bright spots all phans know and love -- namely Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley -- are there, but aren't new. Complimenting those ups are the same old downs, the ghosts of mediocre seasons past. Witness:

-Bobby Abreu pulling up yet again on a sinking pop fly to shallow right, instead of sliding in for an entirely makeable, fairly injury-possibility free, shoe-string catch play. This, of course, eventually led to a run.

-Brett Myers in a huff, first about Bobby, then about pitches called balls which every angle of replay will clearly show to be balls. Balls, on the other hand, are what Myers has to suggest anything doing with the umpires affecting his pitching.

-Despite us defending him at Opening Day during his 2 for 3 performance at the plate, Mike Lieberthal is, more often than not, terrible in all aspects of the game. Blaming him for Myers' mental breakdown is unfair, but a ten-year vet has also got no excuse when his pitcher is self-destructing and he does nothing about it. Throwing a ball into CF in the 9th was galling, although not as galling as a game-ending, directionless impatient at-bat with the bases loaded by a pitcher who had just walked two batters. Fond memories still exist of Mike the Catcher circa 1999 (or even 2003), but not anywhere near the new stadium they don't.

-Charlie Manual almost insisting on making moves that confound the developed portions of the brain, sending up perhaps the bench's worst hitter, Alex Gonzalez, as the first pinch-hitting option, when Abraham Nunez, Shane Victorino, and David Dellucci would all be more potent options, and mishandling elementary situations like using a mound visit to buy time for a pitcher warming up in the bullpen. Despite being the team's fourth OF, it looks as though Shane-O is destined to be Pat Burrell's better pair of feet this year.

The optimism many of us so readily nurtured throughout the offseason has been met not just with underachievement, but familiar, frustrating underachievement. The grass we envisioned is already looking like weeds, and if you think we're being altogether presumptuous at a too-early junction of the race, well forgive us if we've seen it before. We have, and for that, we're just as insane as everyone else in this asylum.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Foul Balls Can Kill

Not to restate the obvious, but Jon Lieber did not perform well yesterday and only gave fuel to those lighting the "Not an Ace" fire underneath the team during the pre-s...well, actually, since the day Lieber was signed. But why didn't Lieber pitch well? Well, I'm not sure he didn't pitch well. That is to say, Lieber is a location pitcher, not a power pitcher and while he does not walk many, he does give up plenty of hits. Even more than that, he gives up a lot of contact.

One need look no further than the first inning, when Lieber sent the first two Cardinals down on Ks and then appeared to have Pujols rung up, only to be denied by Jerry Crawford's annoyingly conservative strike zone. This kind of situation does not help a guy like Lieber, who is not quite a nibbler, but certainly not a guy who typically strikes out the side in the first inning, as he did yesterday, following Jim Edmond's RBI triple to score Pujols.

In reality, much of what happened yesterday to Lieber can probably be attributed to three things:

1. Small stike zone
2. Rain
3. Cardinals lineup

Let me expand on point number 3 because its the most important. The Cardinals did themselves a great service by fouling off a ton of pitches the first time through the lineup yesterday. By the time David Eckstein came up the second time -- in the third inning -- Lieber's pitch count was already in the 50s. He had been thowing strikes pretty consistently, but when the wheels came off in the 4th, it was only the second time through the lineup. Remember, the Phils didn't start solving Carpenter until the third time through, when they had seen a few more pitches and, admittedly, last year's Cy Young winner certainly tired some. But, they did solve him to some extent. Thereby, the Cardinals showed exactly how to beat a pitcher like Lieber yesterday, aside from having a couple lights out hitters in the middle of the lineup: they were able to force him to throw all his pitches the first time through and made him pay for it the next time.

Jukio Santana's excuse, on the other hand, remains a mystery, aside from Manuel's first great bungling of the season. More on that next post.

On Lieber, however, BS&S hits the nail on the head with the Phils de facto number one. His success may be steady from year to year, but certainly not from start to start. At some point this year, Lieber will most likely come up big with a hot streak. What happens in the other starts is the concern. It feels increasingly that his performance depends largely on factors he can't control -- that the law of averages seems to catch up with him in big ways sometimes.

FInally consider what Lieber has said about his last two starts, yesterday and his last spin in spring training. He said he felt good throwing the ball. There was no "I didn't have my slider" or other talk abotu not being able to dial up his pitches. Lieber threw to the glove like he always does and even thought his mechanics were much imporved. Yet, after fouling off pitch after pitch the first time through, the Cardinals lineup starting banging out hits on first and second pitches the next time threw. This is how you beat a pitcher who throws alot of strikes.

Next time, maybe those balls are hit right at the infielders. Let's hope so. However, they will get hit.