Saturday, February 25, 2006

Two who may be ready and may have to be

When ball hits bat is baseball's equivalent of metaphors "where the rubber hits the road "or "the cutting edge." The human eye cannot see this magic moment, and only recently can it be captured on film. Nowhere else can civilians witness this wondrous moment closely unless they are ever fortunate to sit behind a batting cage while a pitcher is throwing to a hitter. Its an umpire's view. The catcher normally rests his butt on the back of the cage as its pushed as far forward as can be.
A first memorable moment for me came during the spring of 1985 and I was watching one of these batting practices on a Joan Payson field in St. Petersburg. Coaches Al Jackson and John Cumberland watched with me a young righthander throw to a hitter in the cage.
Jackson was marveling at some wondrous sinking life on a fastball while he chewed on some sunflower seeds. He whispered, "sweeeeeet heart."
Cumberland responded, "no shit."
The righthander was Rick Aguilera who found himself in the big leagues a few short months later. Many successful years followed.
Similar moments are occurring this spring with Henry Owens and Mike Pelfrey. Newsdays's David Lennon does a wonderful job this morning in capturing this for Mets fans with yesterday's session with Pelfrey.
Hope springs eternal that Pelfrey will be able to assume the number one starter role for the Mets. And soon. With a Pedro Martinez getting longer in tooth and pushing off on a big toe that no one's willing to let on their concerned about, Pelfrey may be needed by mid-summer. Any organization would hate this, the Mets included. The best case scenario is for five starters to emerge from camp healthy and give the club the quality innings it needs to get to Billy Wagner. Pelfrey can then get his innings against minor league hitters and make his way to Norfolk by midsummer, but be placed on thre roster in August to be eligible for any playoff run. But if the former isn't what materializes, expect to see him by June. He'll be needed every fifth day by September for a certain pennant drive.
If misfortune occurs at the top of the rotation, a lead in the division will be unlikely and much will be needed from a bullpen that's likely to have some innings taken up by Henry Owen.
Two things cannot be taught to pitchers. One is the natural sinking life on a fastball like that of Aguilera's or a Roger McDowell or even a Doug Sisk. All college pitchers, their time in the minors was short, their impact immediate.
The other which cannot be taught is natural deception. Sid Fernandez had this and one could witness this for yourself in the batting cage. Sid hid the ball well and when it came out of his hand, he appeared to be pushing it at you. Ron Darling once described a Fernandez curveball as, "the curve that's seldom swung at."
Owens has similar deception, already picking up a reputation for such as explained by Adam Rubin in today's Daily News. Owen's unique delivery creates the perception the ball is coming out of his throat. Deception plus velocity equals outs. Baring something unforeseen, Owens's Shea Stadium debut will most assuredly come sooner rather than later.
So the two pitchers which received such caution here last week, are finding themselves in the Mets plans for this season. With acquisitions and the age of this year's club, the Mets are all-in, and with no time for caution with young arms and psyches.


At 4:49 AM, Anonymous Shawn said...

Isn't hitting a baseball supposed to be the hardest thing you can do in all of sports? Really enjoy the blog, Bob!


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