The fighting Jays are back. A win would have been better, but there were a few things to enjoy.
I watched the game on television with Liam over at his mother's house, which is why I wasn't participating in the game thread. Which made reading it afterwards especially interesting. And of course, it's still growing as I write this. I feel like Tristram Shandy...
So first, a few noteworthy posts that caught my eye:
Field turf may have helped the Jays there on all three plays the Jays got outs on. A couple of them may have gotten through on the old Astroturf.
I agree absolutely - Elijah posted that after Hudson's fine play on Varitek's bouncer up the middle. No one makes that play on the old surface, and there are lots of second baseman who don't get to that ball on any surface.
The Blue Jays infield defense is going to look a lot more impressive than it has in years. That doesn't mean they'll actually be better (although they will), but infielders from both teams will be getting to balls they didn't get to before because this surface will slow them down a lot more.
This is actually something that helps a defensively challenged team more than a good one. If you have really good defenders, what you do is make the field difficult - your guys can handle it, but the other team can't. Earl Weaver once said that the smartest thing he did his first year in Baltimore was shave the infield grass practically out of existence - he had Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, and Davey Johnson. They could make plays anyway.
That scoreboard is going to give Jamie Campbell more trouble than the fielders.
Indeed it was the scoreboard. I was thinking at the time that Jamie was sitting in a fairly new location, and my own experience at the Dome is that when you're not in the seat you're accustomed to, you have no idea where fly balls are going. All you can do is watch the fielders, they generally tell you. I was in the football press box (way down the left field line) for the 1993 World Series and I thought Carter's homer was a pop up to third, until I saw Incaviglia running for the wall.
Hinske looks like a different ballplayer, and not just different from last year.
Liam said "look how he's changed his stance." Hinske himself had said that his hand injury had thrown off his mechanics at the plate, but that he and Mike Barnett had addressed the problem and he was optimistic. And it looks very promising to me. The most obvious thing you can see is that his hands seem to be higher and further back than they were last year. The overall result is that he seems to be in sync - his hands are body are moving in a proper rhythm to get the bat into the hitting zone with speed and power. When I think of last year, it was as if he got the bat started after he got his body started. He didn't have good bat speed, and he was effectively hitting just with his arms.
The dinger off Embree was very impressive. A LH throwing gas, and he turned on an inside baseball and crushed it. No way he does that last year. Just no way.
Oh yes... your Blue Jays player of the game:
Yes, the living room was filled repeatedly with cries of "DUDE!" We are looking forwards to lots, lots more of that.
And honourable mention: Yo! Vinnie! The Incredible Chulk was very very sharp in his season debut.
God, this lineup is so tough. None of them would bite on Bush's breaking pitches, and the two times he leaves a fastball up, they've been knocked out of the park.
As it happens, King Ryan, I had decided that the very thing I wanted to focus on during this game was exactly how Bush and Zaun went about attacking that lineup. For one thing, it's a nice battery for such a project. Zaun is willing to be different back there. Some of you may remember him talking about being willing to pitch "backward" - in other words, stuff like throwing a breaking ball on a 2-0 count. And Dave Bush has to pitch to be effective. He has to hit his spots and move the ball around. Bush and Zaun tried to set up the Boston hitters. Whereas when Brandon League came in, Zaun basically just held his glove in the middle of the plate. It didn't work out tonight, of course...
So what were they up to?
Bush seemed to be feeling a little bit for the strike zone in general, and Tim Timmons' strike zone in particular. It seemed a little tight - fair, but tight - and it did take them a while to identify it.
Bush throws four pitches. He has a two seam fastball with a bit of sink on it. He generally throws it around 88 MPH low and away to a LH hitter; his four seam fastball comes in a wee bit quicker - about 90-91 MPH - and he throws it up in the strike zone. He has a slider that he throws in the low 80s. His fourth pitch looks to me like a very slow curve. I know the broadcast crew was calling it a change-up, and indeed it's certainly a drastic change of speed. He throws it in the high 60s. Like a Candiotti knuckleball. But it moves much more like a curveball. It doesn't even remotely resemble Foulke's changeup, for example. Foulke's change looks exactly like his fastball - except it's coming in at 74 MPH instead pf 87.
So some observations. Here, for example are the three Johnny Damon at bats against Bush.
Each of the Damon at bats saw Bush use both his slider and curve as well as his fastball; each time he tried to get ahead of the hitter with pitches low and away; each time, he eventually came inside and that was the pitch that Damon finally put in play.
First time up, Bush got ahead of Damon 0-2 with a two-seamer and a pair of curves, one of which Damon fouled off. Bush then threw his first slider of the night, hung it a little, and gave up a hit.
Second time, Bush started him off with a slider. It missed, but I liked the gumption - throw the same pitch the guy hit last time. Pretty good bet that it's not what he was looking for. Bush then pounded three fastballs at the outside corner to bring the count to 2-2. He mixed in a curve, which Damon fouled off. Bush then threw a four seamer in on him, and got the ground out to second.
Third time, Bush started Damon with a curve that missed away; evened the count with a two-seamer low and away; missed with a slider that hung but was high out of the strike zone; and then came inside with a fastball that got Damon on a flyball to left.
Trot Nixon also batted three times against Bush, and it looked as if they wanted to see if Trot could still catch up to a major league fastball. They threw him three fastballs his first time up - low and away, outside for a ball, low and in the middle of the plate - and got him to fly out to left.
Second time, Bush started Nixon off with a slider that Nixon fouled off. He then threw six fastballs in a row - high, low, inside, outside - and Nixon hit the last one over the fence. I thought it might have been one too many, but hey... it's easy to take the test after you know the answer.
But they didn't do that again. Nixon's third time, Bush got ahead 0-2 with a couple of fastballs, low and away and then in on his fists. He then missed with a couple of curve balls to go 2-2. He got him to ground out on a slider.
I think I missed a couple of pitches (especially during Mueller's first at bat), but I have Bush throwing 19 curves and 11 sliders. The other 50 or so pitches were fastballs. In the early ininngs, he was mostly throwing fastballs. He was generally always mixing in the breaking ball, but very much relying on the hard one. After the third inning (18 pitches, 14 fastballs, including six in a row to Nixon) you can almost see him and Zaun having a chat in the dugout and changing things a bit. In the fourth inning 5 of 9 pitches were curves or sliders; in the fifth inning 8 of 14 pitches were breaking balls.
The slider was not working very well during the first three innings. Damon got a base hit, Ortiz took one for ball four, and four others missed the strike zone. What I like is that he didn't ditch it. He started Mueller with one in the fourth and went ahead 0-1; he struck out Bellhorn with a slider in the fifth, and retired Nixon with another, his last pitch of the evening. He threw them mostly to LH hitters - granted, there were six LH hitters in the Boston lineup. But Ramirez and Renteria didn't see the slider at all. He did throw a couple to Kevin Millar. He threw that curve ball of his to everyone, and got three outs with it: Renteria both times, and Manny Ramirez in the third. No one did anything with it, and he threw it for strikes often enough.
The other thing I wanted to look at was what he went to on the telling counts: 0-0, 0-2, 2-0, and 2-2.
0-0: First time through the order, everybody got a fastball. Second time through the order, he started mixing things up. He started Damon, Nixon, Millar, and Mueller with sliders; Varitek, Bellhorn, and Damon (third time) with curves.
0-2: The classic thinking here is "waste a pitch and see if he chases it." Zaun doesn't think much of that idea, and I'm with him. Bush had four 0-2 pitches. He threw a curve which Damon fouled off, and then a slider that Damon hit for a single. He threw David Ortiz a fastball that missed high. And to Trot Nixon, he threw a curve that missed away. I like the approach - no waste pitches - alas, no outs recorded and a hit surrendered.
2-0: The conventional wisdom is that you have to throw a strike, so here comes a fastball. Tommy John, among others, begs to differ. John once said that "the same pitch that batters take for ball one and two, they'll swing at and ground to short on 2-0, because they think you're supposed to throw a strike." Bush didn't rock this boat. He threw Manny Ramirez a curve in the dirt on 2-0, but it's Manny Ramirez. You don't tug on Superman's cape. Millar, Varitek, and Millar again all got fastballs low and inside. Millar fouled both off; Varitek took a strike.
2-2: This is the count where, as Tom Boswell once wrote, "you're most likely to find out the pitcher's true opinion of both his strength and the batter's weakness." We had a number of them:
David Ortiz, first inning. A fastball inside on the hands, which Ortiz fouled off. Count still 2-2, Bush threw a curve which missed inside to run the count full.
Johnny Damon, second inning. A curve on the outside corner, that Damon fouled off. Count still 2-2, Bush threw a fastball inside and got the groundout.
Trot Nixon, third inning. A fastball, missed inside.
Bill Mueller, fourth inning. Fastball, low and away, fly out to left.
Mark Bellhorn, fifth inning. Slider, high outside, swing and a miss.
Trot Nixon, fifth ininng. Slider, down and in, groundout.
OK, I should stop all this soon. But I'm pretty sure that now that Miguel Batista is no longer in the rotation, Bush will be the most rewarding and interesting pitcher to watch with this kind of attention.