After missing my chance to watch the 2010 Indianapolis Indians due to a rain delay, I was bummed by the timing of their one trip to Durham in 2011. They’re here in the middle of a week instead of a weekend and on top of that, my yearly thesis committee meeting was on Tuesday. So Monday’s game, which would’ve been a hard ticket to get since it was played at the old Durham Athletic Park (that is, the park from Bull Durham instead of the nice, modern minor league stadium you see above) and that game sold out quickly. Today’s game is at 11 AM, which is obviously out. Thursday is the day I can usually convince people to go to the park with me, because hot dogs and french fries and other various ballpark foods are only a dollar.
The problem for me is that Sean Gallagher is pitching on Thursday. Rudy Owens was pitching last night. You can see why that wasn’t going to work for me. So I got down to the park last night, too. Before we launch into the recap, remember that I’m not a scout. I watched David Price late in the summer of 2008 and wrote that I didn’t think he was ready for the Majors quite yet and he ended up getting the last out of the ALCS just a few months later. Anyway, on to Owens.
Having never seen Owens in person before last night, I can say that now I think I have a pretty good idea of why scouts are so divided on the guy. Last night, his fastball sat between 89-91 all night, topping out at 92. I couldn’t tell the difference between his changeup and his curveball from where I was sitting, but early on in the game he didn’t really seem to be using his offspeed stuff much at all.
As a result, he didn’t miss many bats in the first few innings and he barely got any groundballs. Through four innings, he had just one strikeout (it was a big strikeout; it came with Felipe Lopez up, the bases loaded, and two outs in the third) and three groundouts. He wasn’t getting hit all that hard, but every out wasn’t a pop-up either. And while he’d put seven runners on base (two walks and five singles), the only run that had scored to that point came as a direct result of a single that was really an error by Josh Harrison (more on this later). He had only given up one run and he shouldn’t have given up any, but it seemed like he was teetering on the brink of disaster the whole early part of the game.
And then, suddenly, he was fine. He put down the last eight hitters he faced (he got a pop-up and a flyout to escape what could’ve been an even uglier fourth inning, then cruised through the fifth and sixth), he struck two of them out, and every out in the fifth and sixth innings was either a strikeout or a groundout. He seemed to be mixing in his offspeed stuff a little better and his command improved a bit and he was suddenly untouchable. He didn’t lose anything off of his pitches at any point in the game; his fastest pitch of the night (that I saw, at least, I didn’t catch them all) according to the stadium gun was a 92 mph fastball in the sixth inning.
I’m not trying to sound overly critical; I obviously caught the guy at a point in the season when he’s not at his best and even though he had rough spots last night, he did finish up awfully strong. It was easy to see why he’d look really good on a nights he has his command and can mix pitches up a little better, but it was also easy to see why some scouts look at him and see a Paul Maholm or Zach Duke style pitcher that’s pretty reliant on his defense to get outs. In any case, he definitely didn’t look like a guy that’s ready for even a cameo appearance in a big league uniform yet, so I think we can safely put that question away at least until the summer.
The rest of the team was … not good at all. Indianapolis’s defense is flat-out brutal. They were charged with four errors last night (Pedro Ciriaco booted a ball at short, Matt Hague made a bad throw on a potential fielder’s choice at second, and Dusty Brown and Justin Thomas both made ugly throws), but they could’ve been charged with more. As noted, Harrison made a bad play on a grounder to third that could’ve been a fielder’s choice or double play that ended up leading to Durham’s first run, plus he made a really strange decision on a grounder the inning before with the bases loaded that could’ve cost Indianapolis a run if Owens hadn’t struck Lopez out. On a sharply hit grounder, he fielded the ball and instead of instinctively throwing to second for what should’ve been a routine 5-4-3 double play, he froze, then panicked and made a bad throw to the plate to get the force out. He did have a nice diving stop and throw in the sixth, but he looked more like a deer in the headlights than anything. Andrew Lambo and Alex Presley did cover a nice amount of ground in the outfield, which was good to see.
The mental mistakes extended all over, too. In the tenth inning with runners on first and third and one out, Wimberly hit a hard grounder to second base with the infield drawn in. Lambo broke for home and was easily thrown out. In the eleventh with the bases loaded and one out, Chase D’Arnaud (who didn’t play but was pinch-running for Dusty Brown) stayed at third on a fly to semi-shallow left field instead of trying to score. I don’t know who was making the decisions there (it may have been the third base coach), but if I was going to challenge on either of those plays, it would’ve been the flyball to the outfield. Also, there was a terribly timed bunt, which I’ll get to in a bit.
There’s not much on the club in terms of hitters, but with Corey Wimberly batting leadoff and Pedro Ciriaco batting second, that was to be expected. Wimberly is incredibly fast, though. The Indians’ only run came when he blasted a stand-up triple into the left-center gap, then scored standing up from third on a pop-up by Ciriaco just behind third base that caused the Bulls’ third baseman to turn his back on the infield. When he paused for a second and forgot about Wimberly, he had basically conceded the run. Ciriaco also hit the ball square on the nose four times, but ended up with three lineouts to the shortstop and one screeching lineout to center field.
The two guys I was most interested in seeing, though, were Alex Presley and Andrew Lambo. Presley looked good at the plate; he drew a walk, had a solidly hit single, stole a base, and nearly added a second hit with a grounder that almost snuck between first and second base. Then, he tried to lead off the top of the eleventh with a bunt. The kid’s hitting .358 and slugging .528 and Indianapolis can barely get anything together at the plate and he’s trying to bunt for a hit. Unreal.
I thought Lambo looked pretty good, too. He didn’t show a ton of power, but he had a few good at bats (one resulting in a walk) and both of his singles were very solidly struck. It’s looked like he’s coming out of his funk in the last week or so of games, and that’s definitely what I saw when he was at the plate last night. The two pictures below are of his first single.
On other thing of note from last night is that Cesar Valdez, acquired from Arizona in the Zach Duke trade, looked pretty impressive in an “I have no idea how this is happening” kind of way. In three innings of shutout relief work, he gave up one hit, no walks, and struck out four, but I think every single pitch he threw was between 82 and 87 mph. He sure had Durham fooled, though.
I know this all sounds kind of dire, but this is a team that we all knew going into the year was kind of between cycles with Tabata and Alvarez sticking in Pittsburgh and Sanchez and Marte and Locke and Morris starting in Double-A. Besides Presley and Lambo and Owens, all of whom looked fine last night (and Lincoln and Wilson, who didn’t play), there’s not a whole lot on the team besides guys trying to prove themselves and marginal prospects. That’s certainly what they looked like last night, too.
Also, they lost 2-1 in 11 innings. Did I mention that?