Posted Under: Johanna's View
So yesterday, I not only made it to Florida, I made it to the ballpark. The Braves were the only Florida spring game yesterday, and fortunately, they are one of the most northern Florida teams, so with my schedule freed up for the day, I walked up and bought a ticket, and found myself sitting behind home plate in the glorious sun.
In the photo at left, Tim Hudson is pitching for the Braves, and he has just walked Prince Fielder. But on the first day of spring training, that means absolutely nothing. Hudson went two innings- which is standard for a starting pitcher the first time through the rotation of spring, and then the Braves trotted out seven other pitchers, including closer Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel had a tough go, walking two. He was around the plate but not crossing much, and you could tell it made some of the Tigers hitters a little uncomfortable.
Rick Porcello started for the Tigers, and he looked quite good for his two innings. Some of his pitches had amazing movement for the first spring start. Of course, he was out of the game quickly as well, and then the Tigers fans to my right got to see quite a few young Tigers pitchers. And that is what the early games do. They allow you to see the pitchers that your team’s front office think have some promise, or could fill a temporary hole at some point.
Hitters during the first week only go about three at-bats. In effect, they last longer than the pitchers into the game, but at about the 6th or 7th inning the line-up turns over to those younger players or those invited to spring training to fill a hole the team has in its depth. Rarely will you see someone whom the team expects to make the team as a starter, but often these invites are there to make either the major league or the AAA team to allow for injuries to the starters. Remember, every team has injuries. The trick to staying in the hunt as a playoff contender is to have a person at AAA who can come up and contribute for 15-20 days. The spring invites are the people the team is looking at to see how well they fit that role. Spring invites also might be competing against other for that job, but if they do well, at the end of spring training if the team that brought them to spring training doesn’t feel they need them, there might be another team whose needs have changed who will.
The nice things about yesterday’s game is that the first part, with the starters just putting in their work, moved quickly. And the game itself was decided by these younger hungrier players. Two such standouts were Tyler Collins and Daniel Fields. Fields made one of the most outstanding catchers I have ever seen- and I write that without exaggeration. The ball was hit into the left field gap, and Field had to run straight to his right, and then made a fantastic dive to his to his right to catch the ball. Keep in mind his glove is in his left hand, and so to keep his eye on the ball while diving - well, very hard. Tyler Collins also made a great diving catch to rob the Braves of a hit. After saving that ball, he then went to bat in the next inning and got the Tigers their first hit- a triple. In his second at-bat in the game, he hit a double. Keep in mind that the Tigers only got 4 hits on the day- Collins ended with two of them.
While the younger players were playing, the starting pitchers from earlier in the day were getting their running in with a trainer in the outfield. That made everything feel just right. I was at a ballpark. The sun was shining, and spring training games were underway. The season is just around the corner.