Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The News From DBAP - The Wormkiller General Lives!

That's a mighty fine biscuit...


That's Durham Bulls Athletic Park, at least for the moment. Tonight was the first game of the season I was able to get to, with the Bulls taking on the Pawtucket Red Sox in the first game of a four game set.

Most of the Bulls' offensive talent (B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes) has graduated to Tampa Bay, meaning that the focus of this year's team will be on the lights-out pitching staff that kicked out the veritable jams for Montgomery last year. In other words, don't expect a lot of hitting, but Scott Kazmir might be getting some company sooner than later.

Tonight's starter was Mitch Talbot, part of the loot acquired in the Aubrey Huff trade. Henceforth, I'll be referring to him as "Wormkiller General", as he got 11 of his 18 outs on ground balls. He racked up 4 more on strikeouts in six hitless innings on a night that could best be described as "goddamned cold", and even from his warmups you could see that he was keeping the ball down, downer, and downest. His velocity was up to around 91-92 and his control was good, all of which bodes well for the future. They took him out after he'd proved all he had to against a PawSox lineup that honestly didn't look like it could touch him.

Chad Orvella, on the other hand, didn't seem quite right. Yes, he got three quick outs in the ninth, two on strikeouts. Yes, he was dialing it up to 93 by the time he got the last batter. But the old pop you used to hear when his fastball exploded into the mitt just wasn't there, and most of his pitches were around 88-89. He still generates a lot of fouls straight back, however, and in what was the game's most amusing moment, he accused his bullpen warmup catcher of lobbing spitballs back to him. The catcher's defense? "No, man, I don't do that to you."

Pawtucket's Abe Alvarez looks to be on the Pete Walker career path. He gave up 5 runs on 2 homers, and would have given up more if most of the Bulls hadn't decided to swing themselves up to the Show in a single at-bat. Craig Hansen, on the other hand, looked good in his inning of relief work.

He may not be a shortstop any more, but Joel Guzman at least looks like a hitter when he's at the plate. Good swings most of the night, and good hustle. Jorge Velandia, on the other hand, looked like a man being attacked by swarms of locusts every time he came up to bat.

Jorge Cantu was at first for the Bulls tonight, leading to some interesting speculation. If he's over his foot injury and can get his stroke back, he's a lot more interesting as a long-term solution for the big club than Ty Wiggington. I'd love to see Johnny Gomes get a shot at it myself, but he still has to dig out from under the wreckage of his injury-impaired 2006.

You could visibly see batters getting closer and closer to Steven Andrade's stuff. The first couple, he tied into knots, working up and down in the zone while changing speeds from about 76 to 84. One pitch clocked at 94; they had to be pointing the radar gun at someone zipping by on the Durham Freeway for that one. By the end of his second inning of work, however, he'd given up a hit and you could see the wheels starting to fall off. I'd be surprised if he A)got many multiple-inning stints from here on in and B)had a lot of success the second time around the International League.

Lots of bad throws from Pawtucket, including one that actually allowed catcher Raul Casanova (who does indeed run like a Molina) to reach first on an infield dribbler.

The fan of the night had to be the gravelly-voiced older gentleman sitting to our right, who swore that Dustan Mohr had no shot at a big league career because he had a "prep school name". After Mohr (who's spent part or all of 6 years in the bigs, including part of last year with the Red Sox) cranked a solo shot that went out in a hurry, the cracks stopped coming. He also noted that he was in Boston for the miracle season of '69, Tony Conigliaro's rookie year. This would have been fascinating to eavesdrop on, except that the miracle season was '67, and Conigliaro's rookie year was 1964. Ah, well, at least everyone not named Abe Alvarez had a good time.

And all hail the Wormkiller General
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