At long last. After what seems like the longest two weeks ever, the preamble to Cactus League action is finally over, and this afternoon, at 1:05pm Arizona time, our boys of summer will hit the playing fields of spring down in Tucson. We'll be facing the Rockies i.e. the only other team left down in the old pueblo. It's the first of five contests against our divisional rivals this month, so we'll probably be sick of them by the end of March. But, at this point, I am just happy to be hearing about actual, contemporary baseball, rather than watching yet another re-run of the George Brett Pine-Tar Incident on the MLB Network.
After the jump, we'll discuss those upcoming contests, the ongoing rehab of Brandon Webb, fantasy baseball and other stuff, some of which may not involve Justin Upton's long-term consumption of burritos.
Brandon Webb's first open bullpen session, as shot by Nick Piecoro
If there's been not much "real" baseball as yet, our rehabbing ace has been doing his best to fill in the blanks, with his first public(ish) bullpen session on Sunday, documented Zapruder-style above, by Nick Piecoro from beside the (artificially) grassy knoll. If you look closely, you can see Webb's pitches going back...and to the left. Back...and to the left... Back...and to the left. [I just hope Oliver Stone reads this blog, so someone will get the reference] Nick's observation was, "Sometimes it was there, the Webb of old, other times, you could tell he was fighting his mechanics a little. It also looked like his effort level wasn’t even close to full bore, like he was focusing a lot more on getting everything straight with his delivery than on throwing hard."
Another Webb bullpen supposedly followed on Wednesday, but I haven't been able to find any info on how it went (must have been something else going on yesterday). Assuming it all went well, the plan from here is to throw against hitters in a batting practice session, then look for him to get into a spring training game, I'd estimate probably next week. AJ Hinch is still making optimistic noises about Webb being available for the third game of the season. Piecoro is less confident thatll be the case, but points out that better for him to miss a start or two at the beginning of the year, if that means he'll be good to go for thirty thereafter.
If not, early signs are that Kevin Mulvey might be the spot starter, based upon his inclusion in the rotation for the first go-around of Cactus League games. It is a little hard to say, as that may just be because of Sunday's split-squad games - both against the Rockies - where we would need an extra pitcher anyway. Ian Kennedy gets the "home" start that day; rounding out a rotation that begins with Billy Buckner tomorrow, while Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson get the starts on Friday and Saturday respectively. Monday sees another candidate for the fifth spot, Rodrigo Lopez. Don't expect them to go more than a couple of innings, of course.
Steve Gilbert talks to Chris Young, who discusses, frankly, his poor 2009 and hopes for this year. Says Young, "I was extremely frustrated because I was used to playing at a certain level and when I wasn't getting results it was very frustrating... I know how hard I was working and the adjustments I was trying to make to turn things around. My desire and work ethic were not the issues." There's also evidence his struggles were as much mental as anything, based on his late-season surge. "I got comfortable in the box again and I was confident at the plate. I wasn't thinking as much. When you stop thinking is when things turn around for you, because when you're not thinking at the plate you let your natural abilities take over instead of thinking so much about mechanics." Here's to less thought in 2010!
Interesting insight into the mechanics of spring training from Daron Sutton. It seems Hinch is living up to the promise of working on the basics that need to be improved. So far, so good, according to the manager, who says, "We've had really efficient, crisp team defense drills every day... I've been very happy with the attention span of our guys during the drills and most importantly the quality of work that we're getting. We're not just check-marking the box and getting it done. We're getting quality work in". Sutton adds that pitch selection has also been an area of importance - I liked the line, "A hitter needs to take an "A" swing at an "A" pitch, not an "A" swing at a "B" pitch."
I mentioned this in the Fanpost, but Al had an interview with Scott Smith, mayor of Mesa, about the spring training plans. Worth a read, even if not quite the questions I'd have fired at Mr. Smith! The quote I liked in particular was, "I am puzzled how, in today's financial world, asking those who use facilities to bear a small portion of replacing those facilities is unfair." I'm delighted that the Cubs are now being asked to contribu... Oh, hang on: what he actually means is anyone who attends a Cactus League game. Whether at Hohokam or not. Whether a Cubs fan or not. And anyone who hires a car. Must be some new definition of "use facilities," of which I was previously unaware.
Fantasy baseball. I'd been kinda hoping to have this under way, but the delay is because the baseball sites have been working on a tie-in with CBS Sports and their fantasy baseball leagues. Basically, this will mean that the top flight is going to include, at no cost to the players, all the optional bells and whistles which you typically have to pay for - $160 per year on CBS. The basic format will remain the same: rotisserie, 5x5, head to head, and we should have the details of that worked out in the next few days. The top managers from Division I will get first crack at the open slots, with any space thereafter on a first-come, first served basis. I recall someone saying the were willing to run Division II, so there should be room for everyone.
There will be a Gameday Thread for this afternoon's contest, though I'm not sure of the coverage available - it is being broadcast on 620 KTAR, and I think should be streaming through their site. Will there be MLB Gameday for those of us stuck at work? Not so sure. I suspect I won't be running a thread for every spring training contest, probably just the "important" ones like Webb's first start, or those which are televised. But it'll also probably depend on interest, so if you want to see more threads, comment often today!