11:57 PM Eastern
Man, and I thought the Tigers got Litsch-slapped last week.
So, how about those Blue Jays? Another incredible outing from Jesse Litsch, every starter save one gets at least one hit (Shannon Stewart goes 0-for-3, can’t wait for the first commenter who says Reed would have had two hits), David Eckstein goes 3-for-4 to raise his spring average 57 points and Frank Thomas goes deep for the first time this spring!
First, to Litsch. It’s important to once again note that just as the bad stuff that happens in Spring Training doesn’t mean anything, neither does the good stuff mean anything. But it’s hard to ignore Litsch’s last two starts. Tonight’s, against the Reds, he was only facing two front-line major leaguers in Ryan Freel and Scott Hatteberg, but Joey Votto and Jeff Keppinger were in there as well, two very good young hitters, so that’s something, and he had them eating out of his hands. Also, veteran bench-types Jerry Hairston, Jr., Dave Ross, Andy Phillips and Jolbert Cabrera all played, so Litsch wasn’t facing a bunch of A-ballers.
Six no-hit innings facing one hitter over the minimum despite two errors behind him. Ground ball after ground ball – only two balls were hit in the air those first six innings, and two more in the seventh. And another testament to Litsch’s mentality on the mound – his only walk of the game came in the seventh, and balls three and four were curveballs that stayed high and outside. His first pitch to the next hitter, with the bases loaded and nobody out? A gorgeous curveball that was taken for a strike. I love that.
For his last two starts, Litsch pitched 13 innings, allowing 5 hits and 1 walk. Fantastic, and let’s hope that the confidence gained down here in himself as a big leaguer and in his new sinker carry over into the regular season. He won’t have these sorts of results too often, but so long as he keeps attacking, working quickly, pitching to contact and throwing strikes, he should be a fine 5th starter, maybe even better.
Talking to Frank Thomas after his homer – a bomb off the batters’ eye in dead centre after two of the worst-looking swings I have ever seen him take – he wasn’t too excited about it. Thomas says he averages about one home run per spring in Florida (3 or 4 in Arizona where the ball carries better). He is aware of the talk about platooning him with Matt Stairs, and that he’s “lost it”, but he says people are panicking over nothing. DHing in Florida is a lot different than during the regular season, sayeth the Big Hurt. Down here, all you do between at-bats is sit in the dugout and watch. Once the real stuff is going on, Thomas rides the bike in the tunnel, watches video, moves around, does all kinds of stuff. He says he gets his best advantage from film work, none of which he does during Spring Training. Once the bell rings, we’ll see if there’s that difference he’s talking about. I’m in the camp that says Thomas will be at least the same hitter this year as he was last year.
Lastly, the defense. Three more errors tonight, but these three (unlike the 5 yesterday) were all made by people who will be in the Opening Day line-up: Aaron Hill, Marco Scutaro and Gregg Zaun. I’m not getting excited about the fact that the Jays have made eight errors in the last two games. Not only is it the last week of Spring Training, where guys have had enough and are getting impatient for the real thing, but this team was the best defensive squad in baseball last year. They have taken a step back defensively in left field and at shortstop, but a step up at third base (even with Scutaro) and probably in centre field where a healthy shoulder will make a difference for Vernon Wells. And the step back in left isn’t as big as most people seem to think. Shannon Stewart is only going to play about a third of the time. Yes, Reed Johnson is a better defender than Matt Stairs, but Stairs got a lot of work in the outfield last year, and was fine save for the first week of the season.
Day game after a night game tomorrow as we say goodbye to the Grapefruit League with the Houston Astros coming to town. There will be live-blogagge for the final time. See you then!