Winter/Fall League Update
Consequently, the first few weeks of play tend to be a comparison of players whose bats have caught fire and others who might get a hit around the time hell freezes over. The longer they play, the more things seem to average out to a consistent level.
Case in point: third baseman Greg Dobbs. Not typically one to hit .400+ or slug .700+ for any length of time, he has slowed down a little, but is still one of the better offensive players in the Arizona Fall League at .325/.386/.500.
In a week where the whole of the Javelinas offense was held to a "mere" six and a half runs per game, Dobbs scored four runs in four games played. Those four runs brought him up to ten on the season, tied with Shin-Soo Choo and Indians prospect Ryan Garko for the second on the team.
One of those runs came Monday night, a 16-13 victory over the Saguaros, when Dobbs reached on a fielding error and Garko punished the mistake by hitting one out of the park.
In the same game, Dobbs walked twice to bring his AFL to four, third on the team. With just 40 at-bats to his credit thus far, the 26-year-old should have more walks through next week than he did in 255 at-bats with Tacoma.
Meanwhile, Choo has entered a bit of a rough stretch. For the week, he hit just .125, a mere 2-for-16. The 22-year-old did try to make the most of his opportunities though, and scored three runs in his four games. Another sign of progress came with his first double on the 19th.
In spite of all this, Choo is still hitting .302/.423/.395, and is still a threat to take a walk and steal a base. He is probably working harder than ever to get his bat back to where he wants it.
Michael Morse had an even tougher time this week, getting just a double in ten at-bats over three games. To add insult to injury, he made another error on Wednesday that led to an unearned run in an 8-12 loss.
But like Choo, this tough week seems to underscore how well Morse was doing in the previous two weeks. He still has one of the better averages on the team at .317/.349/.390, and it should be only a matter of time before he starts getting more production out of his hits.
The pitchers, however, weren't as lucky to just average out to their usual performances. Instead, they're averaging out to what the rest of the pitching staff has been doing since the start of the AFL season.
The off-and-on performances of Jon Huber have sent his ERA to an even 7.00 after a short-lived outing this week. On the 19th, he was pitted against the Saguaros in an intra-complex game where the Javelinas were blown out, 12-2.
Huber faced the same problems as earlier in his career: too many pitches left in the zone. It doesn't matter how great your stuff is, after so many innings of the same speed and location, hitters will get used to it. The 23-year-old righty had seven hits, two walks, and seven strikeouts overall in his three innings, but all five of his runs crossed the plate in his last inning of work.
The strikeouts are more than promising, but if Huber can't effectively mix his pitches up, he may be switched to a permanent relief role in the future. He'll be on schedule for two starts in the coming week, which may give those in the front office a better grasp on his future role.
A week ago, Jared Thomas, was one of the best relief pitchers in the league. How quickly things change. Like many relief pitchers that have one bad outing, he seems to have suffered the most from this.
During an appearance against the Desert Dogs on Wednesday, the 24-year-old was tagged for seven runs and the loss in just two-thirds of an inning, as the Dogs rallied back with seven hits and a walk off of him.
A Saturday afternoon stint against the Rafters yielded only slightly better results. Thomas did pick up the win, but he also gave up both of their runs after three hits and two walks.
As a result, he now has a 7.71 ERA and batters are now reaching base 39% of the time against him, all because of one horrendous outing. Hopefully, this week will just be an aberration on an otherwise successful campaign.
Sometimes players need more time in the game to sort out their problems, and that's looking to be the issue with Brett Evert. Having the stuff but lacking his control, Evert had two outings this week, one excellent and one lackluster, but showing some progress.
On the 18th in the 16-13 victory over the Saguaros, Evert managed to be the only Javelinas' pitcher to not give up a run, tossing a perfect inning of relief to pick up the save, albeit without any strikeouts.
The less impressive outing came on Friday night, when he pitched two and a third innings of relief in an 18-7 loss. Taking over in the sixth inning, the 24-year-old gave up six hits and struck out two in his stint. While three runs did score, all of those came in his final inning of work, where Padres' right-hander R.D. Speihs gave up three hits and a walk before recording the third out. It's likely that Evert had been limiting the damage himself up until that point.
Still, the 24.75 ERA and .500 opposing batting average is indicative of pitcher still struggling to find his groove. Since Evert doesn't have to worry about any significant changes to his role on the staff, it should be easier for him once he does get going.
Down south in the Venezuelan Winter League, the Lara Cardenales have found a bit more consistency in their pitching and it's paid off with a 5-1 record for the week.
One of the main figures in the team's dominance has been former VSL pitcher Cesar Jimenez. After six innings of relief work where he held his opposition hitless and struck out four, manager Phil Reagan decided to plug him into the starting rotation.
The move immediately paid off, as the 19-year-old southpaw went five innings on Friday night, holding the Tigres to a run on six hits and a walk.
With a 0.82 ERA and a .158 opposing batting average to his credit, Cesar is being hailed as one of the best pitchers on a strong Cardenales staff. In-game accounts also indicate that his curveball, which he has only started consistently using this season, is showing signs of improvement.
It's hard to win games without offense, though, and to get what you can out of that you need someone to set the table. Luis Ugueto has been doing just that, batting leadoff and in nine games so far, he's batting .359 and has scored eight runs.
One of his best games came this Saturday against the Caracas Leones, when he hit a solo shot to score one of his runs in the game. The second run was carved out the old fashioned way: an infield hit, a stolen base, then driven in by a hit that just got into the outfield. Well, it actually wasn't as simple as that; the pitcher tried to pick Ugueto off, but lost the ball in the transfer, and Ugueto took the opportunity to keep running and was rewarded for it.
Stolen base or no stolen base, a run's a run and the 27-year-old's alert play helped make it happen. If he keeps this pace up, he might become a useful bench player instead of going down in Mariners history as "rule V kid".
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