February 20th, 2009

Good day for Zumaya, Porcello

Two scenes should give you most of what you need to know about the second day of pitcher-hitter meetings Friday.

  1. Miguel Cabrera smiling and yelling a torrent in Spanish back towards the mound, where Rick Porcello had just sent him swinging at a NASTY sinker and not coming close. Cabrera was having absolute fun with it, and he got a smile out of the normally unflappable Porcello.
  2. Alex Avila’s description of catching Joel Zumaya’s session: “My hands are going to be sore tomorrow.”

There were other encouraging signs for the Tigers. Nate Robertson had some bite back on his slider, for one, and Clay Rapada was consistently putting his pitches around the knees without leaving anything up. But Porcello and Zumaya were nasty today. Porcello was nasty enough that Magglio Ordonez, who was waiting for his turn against Edwin Jackson on an adjacent field, stepped out for a minute and walked next door to see what the hubbub was about Porcello.

“He’s got a presence,” Ordonez said later. “Good attitude. I like his attitude.”

The outing reinforces the consensus on Porcello: He has Major League stuff right now, but they have to figure out if he has the know-how to use it without the experience.

As for Zumaya, there’s a very businesslike presence to him, and he took it to the mound today. As soon as he walked out to the mound, he quickly pushed the protective screen out of the way and started his warmup tosses. He wasn’t throwing anywhere near full strength, but he was generating velocity. He also had movement going on his breaking ball. As for the split changeup I wrote about a few days ago, he threw some of those, too, which Avila described as nasty.

That decision to forgo the screen nearly came back to bite him when Cale Iorg hit a hard comebacker, but Zumaya deftly snared it, then hopped off the mound in a rare display of enthusiasm as teammates howled.

These are the moments that make these first few days of pitcher-batter matchups interesting. It’s called live batting practice, but as I’ve said before, the advantage clearly lies with the pitcher. As another player said, give Cabrera another couple weeks and let him get back into the box against Porcello. Still, putting a batter into the box gives the pitcher a frame of reference for the strike zone, and they can go about trying to hit it. Towards that goal, it was a very good day for the Tigers.

Postscript on Ni

I didn’t include this in the story this morning (only so much room), but manager Jim Leyland had a lighthearted moment with Fu-Te Ni yesterday during his throwing session. As the session was wrapping up, Leyland wanted to get across the idea that Ni had one more pitch left, but obviously didn’t know the word in Taiwanese or Mandarin. So he just blurted out something — fuji was basically what it sounded like. His coaches thought he had been taking Chinese.

Friday morning update

Pretty quiet around here in Lakeland, where the combination of low temperatures in the 40s and strong breeze made for a chilly morning (relatively speaking, I know).

It’s another round of pitchers vs. hitters later on this morning, including Joel Zumaya on the mound. The more pitchers you talk to around the clubhouse, however, the more you realize this drill is basically about pitchers finding the strike zone with their pitches now that they have someone standing in the box as a reference point. Seeing how hitters react will be a job for the early Spring Training games starting next week.

Interesting comment from Jim Leyland in regards to Brandon Inge and his new hitting technique. Responding to the question of what was different for Inge this offseason compared with past years, when he had seemingly been unable to take in coaching on his hitting, Leyland said, “You can’t force yourself on somebody. They get signed because of a certain way they hit. It’s a game of adjustments, and hopefully that’s what he’s doing. Sometimes people have to fail a little bit.”

“You see Brandon and you watch him, and you know he can do it.”