I got Yu, babe
Ryan Spilborghs walked out of the batting cage in the tunnel behind the left-field wall at Goodyear Ballpark, in full uniform with bat in hand, and headed into the makeshift press conference room that was set up for Yu Darvish.
With more than 100 reporters on hand — beat guys from the Indians and Rangers, national writers from U.S. outlets, columnists and a huge throng of media from Japan — Spilborghs wanted to peak in on the spectacle. He leaned around the corner in the back, watching the show.
I asked quietly, “Are you going to ask a question?”
He replied, “Yeah, ‘How scared would you be to face Ryan Spilborghs?'”
Such good-natured jokes seemed a bit warranted given the sheer size of the event. It’s much like the Dice-K Mania that spread a few years ago when Daisuke Matsuzaka made his trek from Japan to Major League Basebal. Darvish pitched three innings of spring baseball and we were asking hitters for detailed analysis.
In that way, it was a bit much. Whether it’s a Minor League pitcher in camp for experience, a veteran arm prepping for a season with loads of job security, or a blockbuster free-agent signing like Darvish, it is extremely difficult to take much away from three innings in the preseason.
“He’s just getting in shape,” manager Manny Acta reminded. “So it’s unfair to judge him on just one outing in Spring Training.”
Still, this was the Indians first look at Darvish, who was making his second spring start. In that way, it was an important day for Cleveland, which will surely see the Japanese righty throughout the season. He throws “at least seven pitches,” according to MLB.com Rangers beat man T.R. Sullivan, and it seemed like the hitters saw most of them.
Jason Kipnis said he struck out on a splitter. Jack Hannahan saw some two-seamers (sinkers), but doubled on a four-seamer. Darvish showed off a slow sweeping curveball that can keep hitters off his heater. He’s got a slider and a changeup, and mixes in a cutter as well.
“In Spring Training, we’re all still working on stuff,” Kipnis said. “It’s nice just to get a pitcher that you haven’t seen before and you know you’re probably going to see during the season. So it’s good to get a first look at him and kind of get something in the back of your head for when you do face him in the season.”
Hannahan noted that Darvish was missing with his sinker, so the Indians third baseman tried to work into a count where he’d get a meaty four-seamer to hack at. That’s what Hannahan received and he led off Cleveland’s two-run third inning with a two-base hit.
In all, Darvish allowed two runs on three hits in three innings. He struck out two, walked four and ended with 61 pitches (29 strikes). Hannahan mentioned that the pitcher’s four-seamer came in straight, which made it easier to handle than the other dancing pitches.
“In this league, it doesn’t matter how hard you throw,” Hannahan said. “If your fastball is straight, it’s going to get hit. But, he’s got that big, slow curveball that I think is going to keep guys off-balance and keep guys honest.”
Each position player we talked to was taken aback when they saw the horde of media awaiting them when they came off the field. When we asked Kipnis if he had a minute to chat, he repied, “with all of you?” When we were done dissecting Darvish’s outing, I jokingly asked Kipnis, “So, just how frightened were you?”
“Yeah, I shouldn’t have even brought a bat up there,” he quipped.
Some notes from Tuesday…
- Indians manager Manny Acta isn’t about to call any of the fifth starter candidates a favorite at this point, but he sure doesn’t shy away from raving about Jeanmar Gomez. “He’s throwing the ball the best out of those guys,” Acta said on Tuesday. “It’s still very early, but he’s not hurting his chances, for sure.”
- In Tuesday’s 8-8, 10-inning tie against the Rangers, Gomez entered in relief of starter Josh Tomlin and turned in three shutout innings. That gives Gomez seven shutout innings (eight if you include an intrasquad game) on the spring. Acta said he has been impressed with Gomez’s fastball command, slider improvement and ability to not be bothered by entering games in relief to this point in spring.
- Gomez is up against Kevin Slowey, David Huff and Zach McAllister for the lone vacancy on the starting staff. McAllister also pitched on Tuesday, turning in two shutout innings of his own. McAllister is clearly on the club’s radar, but I think he’s a long shot to win the job. Gomez, Slowey and Huff offer more experience, giving that trio a clear edge.
- As for Tomlin, he really labored after turning in a quick 1-2-3 first inning. The right-hander gave up seven runs (four earned) on eighthits in his three innings of work. Acta noted that Tomlin was supposed to pitch four innings, but his pitch count forced them to cut his outing short.
- Closer Chris Perez (strained left oblique) had a quiet day of rehab at the complex on Tuesday morning, but he told me he’s scheduled “to throw 150” on Wednesday. He didn’t specify whether he meant miles per hour or distance — or both. I’m going to assume he meant long toss from a distance of 150 feet. Live batting practice off a mound seems to be in his near future.
- Indians first baseman Casey Kotchman (lower back tightness) told me Tuesday morning that he was feeling much improved over the past couple of days. He’s still day to day — or “blink to blink” as he quipped — though it’s not clear when he might get back into game action. The Tribe will see how he’s feeling on Wednesday morning.
- Indians relievers Raffy Perez (sore left shoulder) and Robinson Tejeda (strained right calf) continue to work through their respective throwing programs. Perez threw off a mound on Monday and has live BP in his near future. Tejeda threw off a mound on Tuesday. He’ll probably have another couple mound sessions before returning to games.
- One more on the injury front: outfielder Felix Pie (neck stiffness) did not play in Tuesday’s game, but Acta said he was available, if needed. Pie crashed into a wall trying to make a catch on Sunday and has been sidelined since. He will be available to play on Wednesday in Scottsdale.
- Acta walked away impressed with the Indians’ offense on Tuesday, when Texas ran out to a 7-0 lead in the third inning. The manager said the hitters “could’ve rolled over” but they kept fighting and chipping away, scoring two runs in each of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings. Asdrubal Cabrera, Lou Marson and Kipnis each had two RBIs in the game.
- You know who else remains hot at the plate? Non-roster invitee Jose Lopez. He went 2-for-4 to raise his average to .467 this spring, and he made some nice defensive plays at first base. It says here that Lopez is making a realy strong push for a utility role off the Indians’ bench.
- Worth noting: Lopez is among 3 players in camp who fit the criteria for a new aspect of the latest CBA. Lopez, Cristian Guzman and Dan Wheeler — all in camp as NRIs — would be in line for a $100,000 bonus and an automatic opt-out clause (effective June 1) if they are not placed on the active roster by March 30 (five days before MLB’s Opening Day). It’s a new little wrinkle that will surely play a role in roster decisions as camp nears its close.
- On Wednesday, the Indians head to Scottsdale to take on the Giants. Listed as available to pitch for the Tribe are Derek Lowe (starter), Scott Barnes, Vinnie Pestano, Danny Salazar, Chris Seddon, Tony Sipp and Joe Smith.
- MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” Spring Training tour made its stop in Goodyear to visit the Tribe over the past couple of days. The Indians will be featured in an hour-long show on MLBN at 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Tune in for interviews, a breakdown of the roster and a look at the season ahead.
Photo of the Day
Indians reliever Frank Herrmann, deep in thought while filling out his NCAA tourney bracket on Tuesday morning.
Herrmann is representing the Indians in an MLB.com tourney challenge featuring players from each team. A Harvard product, Herrmann went with his heart with his university’s first-round pairing with Vanderbilt.
“I had to pick Harvard,” Herrmann explained. “Vandy could go on a run, but if Harvard pulls off a win, and I didn’t pick them, I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Stay tuned for more…