Monday, April 17, 2006

Things that have happened in the six days since I last posted:

- We lost a blowout to Texas.

No comment.

- We lost 6-5 to Baltimore.

Ervin Santana's line for the game (four runs in seven innings, three home runs allowed) was worse than that in his first start (one run allowed over five-and-two-thirds), but I actually thought he looked better. (Seitz thought he looked ragged, so your mileage may vary.) But he seemed to be hitting his spots a bit more, and the placement of the center field camera in Oriole Park really showed off the bite he has on his slider.

As for the three home runs, Jay Gibbons' came on a pitch just above the knees on the outside corner, definitely not a mistake pitch. Nick Markakis' came on a ball down around his shins, and didn't strike me as an awful pitch, though many left-handed batters have a good power stroke on pitches in that area, and the small sample on Markakis thus far hints that he may not be an exception. And the pitch to David Newhan was poor, as evidenced by the fact that it resulted in a home run hit by David Newhan.

The problem is that the O's jumped on every one of Ervin's mistakes, and the jetstream in the air that night was unforgiving to fly balls. The kid has now allowed four home runs in his 12 2/3 innings of work, which is bothersome, but I'm sure will come down. I'd be a bit more worried about the fact that he's only struck out four guys this year, but it's early and his opponents have just made good contact.

The only thing that worries me about Ervin long-term (excepting health, about which you worry to some degree about every pitcher) is that he's very much a two-pitch pitcher, alternating between his fastball and his slider. Sure, he pulls the change out every once and awhile, but he doesn't use it often enough for it to be a viable alternative in his repertoire. Of course, John Lackey was basically fastball/slurve for a few years, before turning on his change and really amping up his game. Ervin is young enough, and his "stuff" is sufficiently impressive, that I have a good feeling that he'll develop into a bona fide Pitcher (as opposed to Thrower) as he matures.

The other story of the game had to do with Jeff Mathis; in the ninth inning, after Mathis' passed ball had set up the O's scoring their fifth (and go-ahead) run, I was convinced my blog about this game would include a rant about how the Angels erred in not at least offering Bengie Molina arbitration in the hopes that he would accept it and we'd have him for one more year while Mathis polished his game in the SLC.

And then Jeff had to go and tie the game with a home run.

Well, I still think Bengie should have been offered arbitration, and I'm not convinced Mathis is ready to play in the major leagues. But he's learning from one of the best in his manager, and long-term I feel he'll be a productive regular player. And we have to remember that he's only 23 years old.

- We lost to the Orioles 3-2.

I saw the very end of this game, when Casey Kotchman struck out looking, and once I saw the highlights I had no desire to go back and watch the rest.

Casey, as you know, has been kind of a mess this year, notching only one extra-base hit and a barely tolerable three walks in thirty-three at-bats, all adding up to a paltry 182/250/212 AVG/OBP/SLG line. On the face of it, I'm not bothered, as he started off 0-10 in the majors last season after struggling at AAA, and came around to hit a solid 278/352/484 for the year.

But, just like Ervin and his 2.5 pitches, there is one thing about Casey that bothers me. His swing tends to be top-hand dominant in a way reminiscent of Darin Erstad and his chronic 4-3 shenanigans. Rolling the top hand over during a swing often leads to weak toppers to the right side; Casey's groundball-to-flyball ratio is a ridiculous 4.25:1 this season -- he just isn't driving the ball yet.

That bothers me a little bit more than his tentativeness at the plate, as that's probably just a mental problem. But the top hand thing is something that appears to be inherent in his swing.

How much of a leash does Casey have? I think his productive summer last year bought him quite a bit, as if his reputation and minor league performance hadn't already. Kendry Morales is off to a slow 273/273/364 start in AAA (he also started off fairly slow in the Texas League last season before catching fire in late summer), so there's no real pressure coming from there. I think Casey will have time to straighten out, and that he will succeed in doing so.

- We beat the Orioles in a blow-out.

I didn't catch the whole game, but John Lackey looked very good. Take out his one bad inning in Seattle, and his season line looks like:
IP  H  HR  SO  BB  R  ER   ERA
18 14 2 17 2 4 4 2.00
Obviously, that five-run inning happened, and we can't ignore it. But Big John has been superb outside of that mini-meltdown, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is most impressive. The Baseball Prospectus book labeled him our new ace this year, and he looks committed to earning that moniker.

Did Ckotchy do the top hand thing last year, too, or is this a new development? If that is his natural swing, I am fine with it, but if it is something new, I see cause for concern.
It's something he's done all along, as far as I can recall, though it seems worse when he's struggling. I might have to see if I can look at some of his hot hitting from last year on the MLB.tv archives to make a good comparison.
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