Friday, March 23, 2012

The Knuckler Knuckles, and Mets Win 8-2

Now less than two weeks until opening day, it is around this time that teams truly begin tightening things up. That was the case for the New York Mets on Thursday, as they beat the Houston Astros by a score of 8-2.

RA Dickey, the only active knuckleballer in the major leagues, was outstanding, pitching one out into the seventh and not giving up a hit until the sixth inning (let’s save the no-hitter for April.) He also got a great sacrifice bunt down at one point, something the entire pitching staff has had to work on. Now, to say the Astros resembled a major league team would be a stretch, with Carlos Lee the only recognizable name in their starting line-up. You have to be on your toes at all times, however, and my favorite player did not let up on the Texas team in transition. He finished his day striking out Lee, but apparently the 80 pitches weren’t enough and he continued to throw on the sidelines.  I love watching RA pitch. I love watching the sequence of his pitches against every batter he faces. He is extremely methodical in the way he goes about his business, and it is a thrill every time he is on the mound. What makes him that much more interesting than the knuckleballers of the past is the way he alternates speeds of his bread-and-butter pitch. And oh, he happens to throw a mid-80’s fastball with bite as well.  RA Dickey is one of my favorite things ever about baseball. He has a book and a movie arriving soon, and I have a feeling those respective items will be some of my favorite things ever as well.

Wandy Rodriguez, the Astros starter, was wild, and the Mets offense took advantage of anything over the plate.  With Andres Torres ailing, Ruben Tejada and his .360 On-Base-Percentage carried the top spot in the line-up. He showed off the muscle he added in the off-season by turning on the second pitch he saw, blasting a home run over the left field wall. I don’t think he’ll ever be a slugger, but a little pop never hurt anybody. Ruben at the top could potentially work, and I don’t believe replacing that aspect of Jose Reyes’ game will add any more pressure to the kid. He’s not going to be a speedster, but all we need is for Ruben to keep improving, get on base and play his game. I believe he has the mentality to do so.

Other takeaways from the game:
  • SNY was having some problems at the beginning with their sound. It was as if we were all listening to the radio feed over the broadcast, with Gary, Keith and Ralph a second ahead of us.
  • Ike Davis’ 25th birthday was yesterday, but apparently the Domain Diamond Vision wished him a “happy 30th birthday.” Uhhh….we have six seasons of awesome 1st baseman production before that birthday, and hopefully and entire career of it in the Orange and Blue.
  • Matt Den Dekker got the start in center field, and it sounds like he will continue on with major league camp for a few more days or so. The kid needs to shorten his swing, for it’s too long to be productive at the professional level, let alone the major league level. He has had a K-percentage above 20% for the last three years, and that has to go down if he is ever to be a serviceable major leaguer. It will be interesting to monitor his progress this season…or lack thereof.
  • Lucas “Mayhem” is not hitting like he was at the beginning of camp. The ball is not erupting off his bat like it was and this is leading to more pop-ups. He did start at third, however, and made a great diving stop to his right at the hot corner and proceeded to throw the runner out. It was awesome. I like the versatility Sandy has brought in this year.
  • This team will need to maximize their opportunities every time they are presented to them, and they are doing so right now on the base paths. We don’t have Reyes’ speed anymore, but bases can be stolen with great jumps, which Bay got in the 3rd.
  • Omar Quintanilla cleared the loaded bases in the eighth with a double down the right field line. Even though he has been sent to minor league camp, I expect we will be seeing him in Flushing at some point this year. He has a nice, compact, level swing, plays great defense, and with Ronny CedeƱo’s paltry offense (.297 OBP last year) Quintallina might be a better option to back up the middle infield.
  • The infielder Jordany Valdespin got an opportunity in center field, and on cue the batter hit it hard his way. He made the play soundly. With his bat and his hopefully maturing nature, this might be the way he gets to the major leagues. Captain Kirk Nuiewenhuis is first in line but doesn’t seem to be able to stay on the field.
  • Josh Edgin might have only been in A-ball last year, but I like his stuff and his poise. He could be the lefty specialist of the future.
  • Turns out Mike Pelfrey had been pitching with an ankle sprain. Doesn’t change my opinion of him. I still look forward to Matt Harvey replacing Little Pelf.
  • Ramon Ramirez looked sharper this game than he has been.
  • Frank Francisco didn’t get one pitch off that wasn’t hit hard in the 9th inning. He gave up a two-out run, and all three outs in the inning were bullets to the fielders. Tighten it up, Frank. We need your saves desperately this year.
I truly believe this team is gonna be good. But I can’t convince people. The Mets have to do that.

Less than two weeks, folks.

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