The 9 a.m. game is an anomaly in spring training, but when you're this deep into camp and have so few pitching injuries, even minor ones, sometimes it's necessary to get inventive to create opportunities for innings. Yesterday's morning intrasquad on the "B" field seemed engineered primarily to stage a lengthy Kris Benson effort without disturbing the five-man rotation that's methodically ramping itself up toward April. But one man can't pitch an intrasquad alone (well, I suppose that's not necessarily true), and Benson, while interesting, wasn't the most impressive pitcher to take the ball Saturday morning.
Benson was better than I expected he'd be, though his line was probably a bit deceiving. Working against a lineup full of upper-level minor leaguers, he logged five innings without issuing a walk, yielding three runs (two earned) on eight hits while setting seven down on strikes. He regularly flashed a really good breaking ball, but his fastball was tagged too often, and as far as the impressive strikeout-to-walk result was concerned (plus the 52 strikes out of 70 pitches), both totals were aided by a handful of swings on pitches that big league hitters wouldn't have offered at.
Still, Benson appeared to have enough that he can't be ruled out -- to the extent you can assess things three weeks before the season -- as a candidate to pitch every fifth day at Oklahoma City.
But the performance that branded my baseball brain yesterday morning lasted all of 11 pitches. I've seen Kasey Kiker pitch in March 2007, October 2007, March 2008, and September 2008, and what I saw yesterday was different from the rest. He's leaner, he seems to have a new level of fight in his eyes, and he was flat nasty in retiring three hitters in order, two young Latin American hitters who swatted helplessly at the lefthander's power stuff, sandwiched around a harmless dribbler to first base by minor league veteran and Olympic-experienced Emerson Frostad.
Leaving the hitter-friendly California League for Frisco, a move Kiker is likely to be asked to make in three weeks, could put the 21-year-old in a position to bust out this season, not only taking the next step in a progression that has seen him log 52.1 innings in 2006, 96.1 innings in 2007, and 121.2 innings in 2008, but also putting himself closer the center of the radar.
Biggest shock of the day? I saw Justin Smoak get out. Once.
Good grief. He's very good at baseball.
I like watching Guillermo Moscoso pitch. His stuff has life. He works quickly. He's intense. But he was inconsistent, as German Duran, Frostad, and Smoak each squared up on him (though Duran and Frostad flew into outs) and he uncorked a 57-foot breaking ball with Greg Golson on third, resulting in an easy run. There's some thought that his assortment would play better in relief, allowing him to concentrate on a smaller pitch selection.
I like watching Guillermo Moscoso pitch, but I love watching David Paisano throw from center field. Wish he would hit. Maybe this is the year. His 275-at-bat run with Spokane last summer (.262/.332/.400, 44 RBI in 66 games) wasn't awful.
Omar Poveda's two scoreless innings in the intrasquad were impressive. Not Kiker impressive -- the 6'4" righthander's moving parts aren't nearly as clean as the 5'8"-ish Kiker's -- but effective enough against a number of hitters with experience at higher levels.
Speaking of standout defenders with bat questions, I know Manny Pina's reputation, and that if everything goes right he's almost certainly no more than a big league backup, but every time I see him, he seems to execute. He's always been a guy who puts the ball in play, but he seems to be growing into one that uses all fields and isn't going to have the bat knocked out of his hands. He's a tremendous asset to an organization that's going to be in a position for the foreseeable future to trade either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden for pitching.
As the intrasquad game was going on, directly behind us on one of the practice fields was a batting practice group that included Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, David Murphy, Teagarden, and Hank Blalock, and a hitter whose reps at the plate had me turn around twice, thinking from the sound of contact that Hamilton must have been taking his rips. Saltalamacchia is hitting balls, just as Hamilton did last March, that have you waiting to hear some sort of rifle range reverb.
Right now, Saltalamacchia is different. Different from what he was a year ago, and different from almost every other hitter who wears a Rangers uniform to work. Hope this lasts.
Wilmer Font looks noticeably slimmer and stronger since September.
Matt Harrison, despite having no feel for his changeup yesterday afternoon, mixed his new cutter in liberally and held the White Sox to a run on four hits and one walk in four innings, setting four down on strikes.
Three more hits for Joaquin Arias (.526/.526/.526), who played both second base and shortstop and was the middle man on a 4-6-3 double play off the bat of Carlos Quentin in the seventh.
C.J. Wilson was scratched with a blister on his pitching hand. One local report suggests he could be sidelined for as much as a week.
Pedro Martinez? Ivan Rodriguez? The first issue is a non-starter for me unless I am assured that Ben Sheets will not sign here this year and that I'm prepared to lose Dustin Nippert for good (he's out of options, has been outrighted before, and would have no role with Scott Feldman likely sliding into the long man role). The second just doesn't make sense -- unless Saltalamacchia or Teagarden is traded. Teagarden catching twice a week for Texas would be better for his development at this point than catching five days a week in Oklahoma City, which is to say nothing of the reduction in AAA role that would mean for Max Ramirez.
Jose Jaimes went 12-8, 4.93 over six seasons in the Rangers system, never pitching for a full-season affiliate. At age 24, he's now one of the Rangers' two Dominican Summer League pitching coaches.
The Rangers could begin the process of optioning players on the 40-man roster and reassigning non-roster players to minor league camp today, according to local reports. The exhibition schedule in minor league camp kicks off Tuesday, though workouts are in full swing now.
When we were kids, the rule was always no swimming on gameday. One of the kids below will be allowed to get some pool time in today, just as he did yesterday. As for the other one, not so much: He's pitching this afternoon against the Padres.
Rangers Podcast in Arlington founder and star Ted Price was good enough to capture some of Derek and Max's throwing session on video. If you're interested, you can catch a little more than a minute of it on YouTube at
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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