TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona spring tour begins! I’m out of the basement and snow and cold for the next few days, breathing in that beautiful warm March desert air that says baseball. Today’s game was the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. A few notes and thoughts:
Matt Shoemaker was one of baseball’s biggest surprises last year, going 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA. He entered the matchup having allowed 10 hits and seven runs in seven spring training innings, but he cruised through six easy frames, retiring the first 13 batters before Mike Zunino’s one-out double on a 3-1 pitch in the fifth inning. He was so efficient that he threw 15 more pitches in the bullpen after his start to get up his pitch count for the day."It’s steps in the right direction," he said. "That’s what we’re going for. We’re here to get ready for the season. Obviously, you want to do the best you can, but spring is getting ready for that. So when you put these games together it’s huge."Asked if he held anything back against the Mariners -- their expected rival for the AL West crown and a team he may end up facing five or six times -- Shoemaker said that wasn’t a big concern. "Baseball is all about adjustments. We’re always mixing things up. We’re approaching the same game plan overall and we’ll mix different scenarios up, but we're still attacking the zone and trying to get guys out."
Shoemaker laughed when a reporter joked about the perfect game he had going: "Yeah, I wasn't exactly nervous out there thinking about it."
The Angels received a double dose of good news when Garrett Richards threw 53 pitches in a minor league game in Scottsdale, allowing no hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Richards, returning from a torn patellar tendon in his left knee suffered last August, won’t be ready for the start of the season, but he said he felt good during Monday’s outing."I responded well," he said. "As I get stronger on my left leg it's going to make it easier for me to finish out over my front side, kind of tighten things up, as far as the slider being more consistent. That will come with time, but everything feels great right now. My body feels good. My arms feels good. The leg is the only thing I’m waiting on."Richards said he didn’t have any plays in the field and he threw mostly fastballs and sliders, plus a couple curveballs. "The sliders were good at times, but a little arm-side at times," he said. "The fastball is moving. It’s cutting, it’s sinking. The slider is sliding. I’m seeing the leg respond in a positive way. It’s not showing any fatigue and I’ve seen some real progress the last couple of weeks."Richards said the plan is to keep pitching on a five-day rotation and while the competitor in him would like to see action in a major league game, "the important thing is I’m getting my work in. The mature thing to do is to go into any game the same way."
Before the game, Angels manager Mike Scioscia explained the advantage of pitching Richards in a minor league game is it's a controlled environment. If, for example, he's thrown 30 pitches in an inning, they could take him and bring him back in the game to get up to his scheduled pitch count. "We know his stuff plays at the major league level, so we're not worried about him facing major league hitters," Scioscia said.
The Mariners didn’t bring Robinson Cano or Nelson Cruz to Tempe but did have about half a regular lineup that included Rickie Weeks, Seth Smith, Kyle Seager, Zunino, Logan Morrison and Dustin Ackley. Zunino is a guy who could be a big key to Seattle scoring more runs. The catcher has big-time power -- with 22 home runs last year -- but hit just .199 with a lowly .254 OBP, punctuated by a 158/17 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Among players with at least 300 plate appearances, only four swung and missed at a higher rate than Zunino’s 19.5 percent.
Erasmo Ramirez started for Seattle and got knocked out in the second inning -- a four-run rally started when Willie Bloomquist booted a routine grounder. Ramirez doesn’t really have a chance to make Seattle’s team -- the rotation is full barring a couple late injuries and there’s no room in a deep bullpen -- and considering he’s out of options, he’d have to clear waivers for Seattle to send him down to Triple-A. When he first reached the majors in 2012, his fastball/changeup looked like a promising combo, but he has a 5.12 ERA over the past two seasons and has allowed 25 home runs in 147 2/3 innings pitcher. Against the Angels, he couldn’t put hitters away and got hit hard in the second. After the error, David Freese roped a 3-2 pitch into the left-field corner for a double. Erick Aybar drilled the first pitch he saw for a double off the right-field wall. Ramirez had two strikes on Johnny Giavotella, who fouled off two pitches and eventually hit a hard grounder into left field for a single. After a safety squeeze bunt and fly out, Ramirez got ahead 0-2 on Kole Calhoun but couldn't put him away before Calhoun hit a hard liner over second for an RBI single.Still, Ramirez is the kind of pitcher another team is likely to claim on waivers, a guy who doesn’t turn 25 until May and has had success at one point in the majors. The Rangers, desperate for starters, could be a possible destination.
Giavotella, one of several guys battling to replace Howie Kendrick at second base, went 1-for-3 and bobbled a routine grounder, although he did recover in time for the out (Seager wasn’t exactly going full-tilt down the line). Defense has always been a knock against him, a reason the Royals never gave him a full shake at second despite some nice hitting numbers in the minors. I'm still not sure the Angels’ starting second baseman is on the roster right now. Josh Rutledge (.200) has struggled at the plate. Taylor Featherston, a Rule 5 pick who has to stick on the major league roster, had 53 extra-base hits in Double-A but also hit just .260 and didn’t walk much. A guy like Aaron Hill of the Diamondbacks could be available if the Angels are willing to take on some of his salary, but maybe the minor upgrade (Hill hit just .244/.287/.367 last year) isn't worth the additional hit on payroll.
Mike Trout saw a lot of pitchers, got one hit, flew out 410 feet to center field and made a nice throw home on a fly ball that held Zunino at third. OK, Zunino probably wasn't tagging even if I'd been in center. Trout is hitting .486 this spring with three home runs, three stolen bases and six strikeouts in 35 at-bats. Prorated to the 602 at-bats he had last year, that’s 103 strikeouts compared to the 184 he had in 2014. We’ll see how he does when he starts facing fewer minor league pitchers but so far that has to be viewed as a good sign.