Friday, June 08, 2007
If nothing else, it's good to have her back in the mix.
Dr. Pauly is a one-man wrecking crew and has the market cornered on interesting off-the-table goings on (not to mention much-needed visual coverage of Liz Lieu, Shannon Elizabeth, Isabelle Mercier, and Brandi Hawbaker), but for further WSOP details about actual hands and tournaments I've also been heading to Card Player, Poker News, Gut Shot, and Poker Wire. Oh, and WSOP coverage or not, read Guinness and Poker too.
I feel really bad right now. A HUGE cockroach just scurried by me. I tossed a napkin at it, and it took off right for Kelly Thesier of MLB.com. She didn't go completely nuts, but she’s still trying to calm down and mentioned something about me and a gun.There's probably a joke to be made here about Jim Souhan, but I'm far too classy (or perhaps not quite clever enough) to make it. Also, if you missed the aforementioned question-and-answer entry from earlier this week, click here to check it out.
Occasionally I'll watch a movie, enjoy it, and fail to understand why it didn't get more attention when it was in theaters. Stranger Than Fiction is one of those movies. Will Ferrell is funny in what is for him a very understated role, Maggie Gyllenhaal is surprisingly good as his love interest, Emma Thompson is perfect as the quasi-star, and the quirky plot works just well enough to get you onboard. Plus, Buster Bluth is prominently involved. Grade: B-plus
I'm not really into horror movies and didn't even see the original, but really enjoyed Hostel: Part II. In addition to all the gruesome stuff and well-done gore, director Eli Roth did an excellent job allowing the audience to follow both the good guys and the bad guys throughout their respective journeys. The plot offered just enough twists and details beyond the typical horror-movie approach to intrigue me and somewhere along the way I inexplicably started fawning over Bijou Phillips. Grade: B
One of the reasons to go is I'm not necessarily convinced that we're headed in the right direction now. And I hope I'm wrong, because I want the paper to succeed. I really believe in the end that the franchise is still ours to wake the town and tell the people that the news is more than the most recent murder, that our audience is very engaged, very involved.A few years ago Grow spoke to one of my journalism-school classes and, even then, had plenty of concerns about the way the Star Tribune was run. In fact, I remember being shocked as he openly criticized various aspects of the paper to a bunch of wannabe-journalists. He's certainly not alone in thinking that despite all that's going wrong in the newspaper world, there's always "got to be a place for this ... got to be something." I agree, but I'm not sure that the industry is willing or able to find that place.
Part of my motivation for initially wanting to discuss the subject is my never-ending fascination with the newspaper business and how it relates to so-called "new media." However, beyond that I had talked to several friends who work at the Star Tribune and it upset me a great deal to hear that their jobs were in danger. I felt like ranting about the newspaper industry and supporting my friends who were seemingly about to get screwed by it, but instead I held off and let things play out a little bit first.
While my original entry on the subject will never see the light of day, I'm happy to report that the news looks very good for the handful of friends and acquaintances whose potential layoffs had me so upset. That could still change, of course, and I'm sad to note that longtime newspaper veterans like Grow, Steve Aschburner, and James Lileks have been forced out. However, for now at least it's good to know that people whose work and friendship I've enjoyed so much over the past few years are safe.
In five years of writing for an online audience I've learned to appreciate advantages that "online" and "non-traditional" hold over "print" and "mainstream," but an advantage I never imagined is job security. Beginning with AG.com and extending to Hardball Times, Rotoworld, and NBC Sports, I'm fortunate enough to have lucked into some wonderful situations. Yet I've always sensed that the unpredictable nature of the medium and untested career path meant the clock could strike midnight at any time.
I once imagined that after getting my foot in the door at the Star Tribune, I could climb the organizational ladder rung by rung to the top, which for me was writing columns. In the online world, there's no clear "top" and you don't advance from rung to rung so much as jump from ladder to ladder. I always thought of that as a negative, but it turns out that it's the newspaper business that finds itself going through massive changes. Right or wrong, that gives me a sense of satisfaction.
However, as someone who grew up wanting to become a newspaper columnist and has befriended many people in the business, news of the Star Tribune's cuts hit me with an even bigger sense of sadness. I'll probably go to my grave feeling resentful of the newspaper business, but that's largely because of how badly I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted it and it didn't want me, and that's not something easily forgotten. But now it's changing for the worse and it pains me to watch it happen.
Beyond that, the "newspaper business" is really just an umbrella covering a bunch of hard-working, talented people who got into the club I couldn't. They're also people with families and mortgages to pay, and in the days since the Star Tribune's cuts were announced that point has really struck home with me. Whether through relationships I made while in journalism school or through this blog, I have a lot of friends who're being hurt by the changing newspaper world.
I reached out to several of them over the past month and came away from nearly every conversation thinking just how awful the whole situation is. As anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows, I've long felt that the newspaper business was in trouble and bound for landscape-altering change. The Star Tribune's cuts are the type of thing that I've been expecting, but that doesn't make it any easier to swallow when I see friends and people whose work I admire getting caught up in the crossfire.
They didn't spend half the game circling people in the stands with a telestrator. They didn't butcher the English language constantly. They didn't act as if it's still 1965. They didn't repeat the same tired lines over and over. Basically, they didn't make me want to put the television on mute, which is something I've done a lot recently with Twins games. I'd probably grow tired of Sciambi and Simpson to some degree if I listened to them as much as I have Bremer and Blyleven, but I'd pay to find out for sure.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
The Answers (Part 1: Random Questions)
Opening the floor up for questions last week led to over 100 being asked in the comments section and another three dozen or so being sent in via e-mail. Responding to all of them would be pretty tough, but I'll tackle as many as possible by breaking up the answers into two entries. Below you'll find the first installment, which covers questions that I'd classify as "random." That means stuff about this blog, my personal life, and basically anything that's not directly related to the Twins.
Where do you find your stats?
I use Baseball-Reference.com and The Hardball Times most often, but also find plenty of numbers at Rotoworld, Fan Graphs, Retrosheet, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Cube, ESPN.com, MLB.com, and MiLB.com (plus several other places that I'm probably forgetting).
Do you own a Twins jersey? If so, who's name is on the back?
My only baseball jerseys are retro ones of Joe Morgan, Tony Gwynn, and Bo Jackson (the latter of which you can see me wearing in Sports Illustrated). One of the only bad aspects of losing nearly 100 pounds is that all three jerseys are way too big for me to wear now.
Does everyone at Rotoworld work for NBC now or is NBC just a Rotoworld sponsor?
NBC purchased Rotoworld last year, so we're all NBC employees. I even have business cards with the peacock logo on them.
How is the "Top 40 Minnesota Twins" series coming?
Slowly. My intention was to start cranking them out again and I started to do that by posting two in the same week (No. 20 Camilo Pascual and No. 19 Dave Goltz), but that was way back in February. It's difficult to write them during the season, because covering current events becomes the focus and I'm often too busy with my Rotoworld/NBC Sports duties to have time for proper research. With that said, I've recently been working on the next installment and No. 18 should be ready relatively soon.
Any insight as to who has the inside edge for Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com?
Jenna Fischer and Keeley Hazell remain the leading candidates to follow Heidi Klum, Jessica Alba, and Elisha Cuthbert as the fourth Official Fantasy Girl in AG.com history, but at this point I'm willing to leave the throne vacant until a clear titleholder emerges. It's not a decision to be taken lightly.
Have you discovered any desperate housewives in your new neighborhood?
I've yet to discover any Eva Longoria look-a-likes within a 50-block radius of my front door. So far at least, my neighborhood is extraordinarily quiet. I've said at most a total of 25 words to two neighbors, although I have met Abby, the Bichon Frise that sits outside all day across from my house.
Do you think it's time for another blogger-reader gathering?
Absolutely. I'm not much for doing the planning to actually set stuff like that up, but I'm always willing to promote it and attend. The last one was a lot of fun.
Have you gone out on a real date recently? If you did, would you tell us about it?
For better or worse I've always been willing to share an awful lot of personal stuff on this blog, from bloody ears and buying real estate to getting rejected from a college newspaper and losing a pet. But date recaps, complete with bullet points and play-by-play? That's just not happening. If you want to read about my dates on a blog, your only hope is that I start dating a female blogger who feels more like sharing.
We get weekly updates on the fantasy girls, but barely any on the real girls in your life. Are you seeing somebody currently? Or are you just dropping your "I was featured in Sports Illustrated" card at clubs and bringing home groups of beautiful women every night?
The day I start to bring home "groups of beautiful women every night" is the day I stop wasting my time blogging. Or watching baseball. Or using the computer.
Does it disturb you that readers (presumably male) have an unnatural interest in your sex life?
Not really. Plus, there were far more disturbing questions submitted.
What's your address? I'm tired of hearing about this great house, I want to drop by for a beer and see it.
See what I mean?
Any suggestions for an aspiring sports blogger?
I'm asked some variation of this question on a near-daily basis and, while I have all kinds of thoughts on blogging and could probably fill a book with advice, I always start with three suggestions. The first is to write as often as possible. The second is to let your personality show through in your writing. And the third is to involve yourself in the blogging world by reading and linking to other blogs. If you do those three things and have some writing talent, with any luck you'll eventually gain a good-sized audience.
How much time does it take you to do your blog?
It varies, but the average is likely multiple hours per day if you count all the things that go into writing the blog and maintaining the site.
How do you make money from a blog?
Some bloggers get paid to blog, like Will Leitch at Deadspin or the boys over at AOL Fanhouse (or Joe Christensen and LaVelle E. Neal III at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, I suppose). Other bloggers, like me, blog for free and generate revenue through advertisements.
How much money do successful bloggers earn?
This depends on your definition of "successful." In my mind, blogging success relates more to the size and scope of someone's audience than the revenue their blog generates. In that sense, my guess is that most "successful bloggers" earn little to no money. Of late a lot more opportunities to make money from blogging have popped up, although the number of people generating enough income from blogging to call it even a part-time job still represent just a small fraction of bloggers.
Any thoughts on the travesty that is Lindsay Lohan topping Maxim's Hot 100 list? Unbelievable.
A lot of people seem to be outraged by the selection and she's certainly not at the top of my list, but I'm amazed by how good Lindsay Lohan is able to look despite seemingly doing everything she can to ruin herself physically. Seriously, if I'm ever lucky enough to have a bunch of gossip blogs write about me checking into rehab or the police finding cocaine in my car following a DUI arrest, I'd be thrilled to look half as good.
What's the best Italian food in the Twin Cities?
Before they closed up shop downtown near the Target Center, my favorite Italian restaurant was Cafe Di Napoli. Apparently they recently opened up in another location, but I haven't been there yet.
How often do you attend Twins games in person? Do you think that will increase with the new Twins stadium on the horizon?
I usually go to about a half-dozen Twins games per season, but I've yet to go this year. I despise indoor baseball and the Metrodome is particularly bad, but the bigger reason is that as odd as it sounds, my job at Rotoworld makes going to games in person difficult. A big part of my job involves watching as many innings of as many different games as possible each night, and then writing about all the action the next morning.
Armed with the MLB Extra Innings package on DirecTV, I often flip back and forth between seven or eight games at a time while checking in on certain at-bats and taking various notes. Going to the Metrodome to watch the Twins means that I'm not watching all the other games, which makes it difficult to do my job well. With that said, when the Twins start playing outdoors in 2010, my plan is to be a regular at the new ballpark if at all possible.
When you go to games, do you get media credentials or sit in the stands with "the people"?
This is one of the questions that I've been asked most since starting this blog and my answer hasn't changed in five years. I sit in the stands and the only time I've ever gotten media credentials of any kind was at the Winter Meetings in Florida this winter. That access came courtesy of NBC, and allowed me to do things like interview Ron Gardenhire while playing the role of reporter alongside guys like LEN3, Jayson Stark, and Ken Rosenthal in the "media room."
I'm fairly certain that I could get a press pass to Twins games at this point and perhaps some day I'll give it a try just to write about the whole experience. However, as a day-to-day thing I continue to feel that watching the game in the press box alongside Sid Hartman and then heading to the locker room afterward to ask Torii Hunter questions is not necessary for what I do here. The jobs LEN3 and Christensen do for the Star Tribune are tough ones and they do them better than I ever could.
As a young, single, male homeowner, have you hosted any poker nights at your place?
Not yet, but I'm planning on it eventually. My dad has had a poker game with a group of friends he grew up with every week for the past 40 years or so, and I'd love something similar at some point. Inviting random blog readers over to my house probably isn't a very good idea, but hosting a tournament for the local bloggers might work. Unfortunately, I'm lazy and hate organizing things, so who knows if it'll ever happen. What I probably need is someone else to plan the event at my house, which is pretty pathetic.
How's the ear? Any more gross pictures to share with the rest of us?
The ear looks good, at least as far as ears go. Because of the surgery it now looks a bit different than the other ear, but it's close enough that it doesn't really matter. If you feel like seeing for yourself, watch my latest "Gleeman Report" video on NBCSports.com and guess which ear was sliced up.
How's the weight-loss program going? I recall you had some staggering numbers and said basically that it was an eat less, exercise more program. How much and what type of exercise do you do? How little do you eat?
I've more or less stalled on the weight-loss program. I'm currently down about 90 pounds from where I started and I've been in the 85-95 range for quite a while now. I'd prefer to continue losing weight, but given that I've slacked off on the exercise, maintaining the 90-pound loss for several months is also encouraging. It took me nearly a decade to find the motivation to begin the program, but I'm hoping that it won't take nearly as long to find the motivation to start it up again.
My "program" isn't actually very interesting or revolutionary, which is a shame given all the diet books out there. When I was in full-fledged weight-shedding mode, I rode an elliptical machine for 45-60 minutes per day. Along with that, I simply ate less and cut out most snack-type food while going cold turkey on all desserts. I've heard countless overweight people suggest that they became fat without eating a lot, but I find that difficult to believe. If you eat less and exercise more, you'll shed pounds.
Do you listen to sports talk radio?
I used to listen to KFAN quite a bit, but likely haven't tuned to the station for more than 15 minutes at a time in several years. One of the nice things about working from home is that there's no commute involved, so listening to a 45-minute radio segment about the Vikings' fourth-round draft pick becomes a lot less appealing. I've always enjoyed Dan Barreiro's show and Chad Hartman (and his producer Doogie Wolfson) have been nice enough to mention my work on the air every once in a while.
I've always loved radio and over the years I've regularly listened to guys like Barreiro, Tony Kornheiser, Howard Stern, Adam Carolla, and Bubba the Love Sponge. One of the things about television that frustrates me is the need to add bells and whistles to everything. ESPN has sort of taken that approach to extreme levels, with many of their shows turning what should be interesting discussions into little more than shouting matches accompanied by flashing graphics and annoying sound effects.
Talk radio appeals to me for the exact reasons why shows like Around the Horn on ESPN rub me the wrong way. Radio is long form and casual, and for whatever reason seems far more personal. I'd love to eventually get involved in radio, although my tendency to shy away from call-in interview requests makes that tough. Something about phone-ins freak me out even though I do them every week for NBCSports.com now, but the idea of doing shows from the studio doesn't scare me. It's weird, I know.
How do you create such insanely good teams in Diamond-Mind?
This question came from Will Young, who happens to be in both of my Diamond-Mind keeper leagues. There's a long answer involving all kinds of strategy and theories, but that's boring and I'm not about to share my secrets with him anyway. The short answer is that when you literally get paid to do things like "create insanely good teams in Diamond-Mind," it's easy to be good at your job.
Are you going to the SABR convention in St. Louis this summer?
Of course. Aside from the annual SABR convention, I don't think I've taken a non-working vacation of any kind since going to Las Vegas for my 21st birthday (which is pretty sad, now that I think about it).
With the last name Gleeman, are people ever taken a back by your often critical opinions thinking that you should be a man full of glee?
I've never revealed this before, but Aaron Gleeman is just a pen name. My real name is actually Johan Criticalman, but I had it legally changed just to mess with people.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: Round Up (Hitters)
During the offseason, I put together a nine-part series of entries ranking the top 40 Twins prospects of 2007. While Seth Stohs has near-daily updates on prospects over at his fantastic blog, AG.com tends to focus almost solely on the big-league Twins once the season gets underway. However, with April and May now in the books, it's a good time to follow up on my preseason rankings by checking in on how the prospects are doing through about one-third of the minor-league season.
Today I'll focus on the 18 hitters among my top 40, with an update on the 22 pitchers coming later. In an effort to keep things relatively succinct while still being somewhat detailed, I've included "good news" and "bad news" for each prospect. For some players there's a lot more of one than the other, but hopefully the approach gives a feel for how they've each performed thus far. Also shown alongside each prospect is where he ranked among hitters and on the overall list, plus a link to his write-up.
A quick warning for those with weak stomachs: The vast majority of the hitting numbers you're about to see below are extremely ugly. In part because of pitcher-friendly leagues and in part because of an almost complete absence of good hitting prospects through the organization, the Twins' four full-season minor-league affiliates have combined for a .683 OPS. To put that in some context, Nick Punto has a .661 career OPS.
High Single-A Fort Myers ranks dead last in the Florida State League with a .598 OPS, which is slightly lower than Juan Castro's .607 career mark. Triple-A Rochester ranks 11th in the 14-team International League with a .698 OPS. Low Single-A Beloit ranks 10th in the 14-team Midwest League with a .671 OPS. Only Double-A New Britain avoids being among the worst offensive teams in its league, yet still manages a modest .758 OPS (again, to put that in some context, Lew Ford has a .748 career OPS).
You've been warned ...
Chris Parmelee - Hitter Rank: 1 - Overall Rank: 2 - Profile
Good News: Has shown plenty of power for a 19-year-old at low Single-A with five homers and 17 total extra-base hits in 165 at-bats. Bounced back from a horrible April by hitting .247/.343/.449 in May.
Bad News: A total of 48 strikeouts in 50 games helps explain his .234 batting average and an overall hitting line of .234/.317/.418 is awful even for a teenager in a pitcher's league.
Alexi Casilla - Hitter Rank: 2 - Overall Rank: 6 - Profile
Good News: Sports a .360 on-base percentage in his first taste of Triple-A, including 17 walks in 146 plate appearances, and has gone 13-for-17 swiping bases.
Bad News: Batting just .264 with a .333 slugging percentage. Perhaps most surprisingly, has already struck out 25 times in 129 at-bats after whiffing a total of 56 times in 493 at-bats last season.
Joe Benson - Hitter Rank: 3 - Overall Rank: 11 - Profile
Good News: Not much. Bumped his OPS up 300 points in May after a brutal April at low Single-A.
Bad News: Just about everything else. Even with the 300-point increase, his OPS in May was just .739. Hitting .197/.289/.306 overall with 48 strikeouts in 157 at-bats. Caught on 5-of-12 steal attempts.
David Winfree - Hitter Rank: 4 - Overall Rank: 13 - Profile
Good News: Hitting .273 with a .453 slugging percentage at Double-A, including 14 doubles in just 39 games.
Bad News: Just three homers in 150 at-bats. Continues to struggle drawing walks and controlling the strike zone, with a 38-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Paul Kelly - Hitter Rank: 5 - Overall Rank: 14 - Profile
Good News: None.
Bad News: Has yet to play in 2007 after undergoing season-ending knee surgery last July.
Erik Lis - Hitter Rank: 6 - Overall Rank: 15 - Profile
Good News: Moved up to high Single-A and batted .310/.402/.488 in April.
Bad News: Batted .225 in May and is hitting just .256/.330/.372 overall despite being a 23-year-old who destroyed low Single-A in 2006.
Whit Robbins - Hitter Rank: 7 - Overall Rank: 16 - Profile
Good news: Among the league leaders at high Single-A with 26 walks in 51 games.
Bad news: Hitting just .224 with a .273 slugging percentage and zero homers in 165 at-bats.
Alex Romero - Hitter Rank: 8 - Overall Rank: 18 - Profile
Good News: Batting .332/.380/.449 with 20 extra-base hits and an 18-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 53 games at Triple-A.
Bad News: His Triple-A home is Tucson rather than Rochester, because the Twins lost him on waivers to the Diamondbacks this winter when they "needed" a roster spot for Ramon Ortiz.
Matt Moses - Hitter Rank: 9 - Overall Rank: 19 - Profile
Good News: Had a two-homer game in early May.
Bad News: Those are his only two homers in 160 Triple-A at-bats. Batting just .231/.253/.319 overall, with a pathetic 41-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 43 games. Nine errors at third base.
Trent Oeltjen - Hitter Rank: 10 - Overall Rank: 23 - Profile
Good News: Hitting .277 with a .352 on-base percentage and 11 steals in 41 games at Triple-A.
Bad News: Has managed just four walks while striking out 23 times in 116 plate appearances and is slugging .357.
Garrett Olson - Hitter Rank: 11 - Overall Rank: 26 - Profile
Good News: Has struck out a somewhat reasonable 22 times in 157 low Single-A at-bats (sorry, you only get a "none" if you literally haven't played all season).
Bad News: Hitting a measly .268/.327/.369 overall, including just 10 walks and 10 total extra-base hits in 45 games. Nine errors at third base.
Denard Span - Hitter Rank: 12 - Overall Rank: 29 - Profile
Good News: Walking at a decent rate and still very fast, going 12-for-15 stealing bases in 51 games at Triple-A.
Bad News: Hitting just .218/.280/.294 while striking out 40 times in 197 at-bats. After batting .212 in April, followed it up with a .214 May.
Trevor Plouffe - Hitter Rank: 13 - Overall Rank: 31 - Profile
Good News: Got off to a tremendous start at Double-A, hitting .310/.365/.552 with three homers in 14 April games.
Bad News: Hitting .265 with just one homer in 132 at-bats spread over 32 games since then, dropping his season totals to .279/.330/.432. Thrown out on 6-of-13 steal attempts. Fourteen errors at shortstop.
Danny Valencia - Hitter Rank: 14 - Overall Rank: 33 - Profile
Good News: Hitting .310 while among the low Single-A Midwest League's top five in homers (10), slugging percentage (.529), and OPS (.915).
Bad News: Saw his OPS drop nearly 200 points from April to May and has struck out 41 times in 187 at-bats.
Brandon Roberts - Hitter Rank: 15 - Overall Rank: 34 - Profile
Good News: Has drawn 13 walks in 41 games at Double-A after walking a total of just 36 times in 131 games at high Single-A last season.
Bad News: Everything else. Batting .252/.315/.304 with zero homers and six total extra-base hits. After stealing 50 bases last season, he's gone 4-for-6 on the bases this year.
Doug Deeds - Hitter Rank: 16 - Overall Rank: 35 - Profile
Good News: Finally moved up to Triple-A after spending two years at Double-A.
Bad News: Hitting just .234/.305/.355 with a 37-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 36 games there.
Garrett Guzman - Hitter Rank: 17 - Overall Rank: 36 - Profile
Good News: Hitting .269 with just 19 strikeouts in 175 Double-A at-bats.
Bad News: Has managed just four homers and 13 total extra-base hits while drawing only 10 walks, which adds up to a .309 on-base percentage and .394 slugging percentage.
Steven Tolleson - Hitter Rank: 18 - Overall Rank: 38 - Profile
Good News: Sporting a .357 on-base percentage with 30 walks in 52 games at high Single-A.
Bad News: Hitting just .253 with a .300 slugging percentage and has struck out 38 times in 190 at-bats while managing just one homer. Thrown out on 6-of-14 steal attempts. Twelve errors at shortstop.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Armed with incredible minor-league numbers that include a 1.86 ERA and 292-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 285 career innings, Kevin Slowey took the mound Friday night in Oakland and made his major-league debut against the ever-patient A's. Rookie Travis Buck led off for the A's, stepping into the box against Slowey with a .265/.371/.538 hitting line. A strike-throwing machine throughout his college and pro career, Slowey predictably got ahead of Buck with a first-pitch fastball that cut the plate in half.
After a foul ball put Slowey ahead in the count 0-2, he got the left-handed hitting Buck to strike out looking on a fastball that started inside and tailed back over the heart of the plate. Not only did Slowey have his first strikeout just three pitches into his big-league career, he had already shown the excellent fastball-based command that made him such an intriguing prospect. Unfortunately, the rest of the first inning didn't go quite as smoothly for the 23-year-old right-hander.
Nick Swisher watched a first-pitch strike, but worked the count to 3-2 without swinging his bat and then yanked a single into right-center field. Milton Bradley came up next and Slowey threw another first-pitch strike, but this time Bradley lined it into left-center for a hit. With runners on first and third, Minnesota native and cleanup hitter Dan Johnson stepped to the plate and became the third A's batter to take a first-pitch strike from Slowey, this one a high changeup.
Johnson looked at a curveball outside to even the count and then fouled off four straight pitches, before laying off a high fastball and a misfired changeup to run the count full. He then fouled off a pair of 3-2 high fastballs before coaxing an 11-pitch walk on a low fastball to load the bases with one out. The plate appearance epitomized the A's offensive approach and, as Slowey learned throughout the night, was an example of the difference between major-league hitters and the Triple-A bats he dominated:
KEVIN SLOWEY vs. DAN JOHNSON, FIRST INNINGTo Slowey's credit, after losing the 11-pitch battle against Johnson he found a way to wriggle out of the bases-loaded jam with no damage being done. After Eric Chavez became the fourth A's hitter to look at a first-pitch strike, Slowey got him to foul out to Mike Redmond on a 1-1 offering. Slowey also started Bobby Crosby off with a first-pitch strike, but Crosby followed Bradley's approach by hacking it at, ending the threat with a ground out to Jason Bartlett.
Slowey threw 17 of his 25 first-inning pitches (68 percent) for strikes. Of those 17 strikes, seven were fouled off, six came looking, and four were put in play. In other words, the A's didn't swing and miss at a single Slowey pitch in the first frame. That trend continued in the second inning, as Mark Kotsay led off with a first-pitch single into left field. However, Slowey got his first swinging strike on the next pitch, missing Marco Scutaro's bat with a 90-MPH high fastball (his first pitch above 89 miles per hour).
Scutaro fell behind 0-2, but put together another tough plate appearance. With the count even at 2-2, Slowey threw an 89-MPH fastball over the outside corner and Scutaro took the seventh pitch he saw for a called third strike. Slowey quickly retired Jason Kendall on a three-pitch ground out, which brought Buck up again. After throwing first-pitch strikes to the first nine batters he faced, Slowey started Buck off with a ball before getting him to fly out to center field on the next pitch, ending the inning.
Slowey got ahead in the count when Swisher stared at a pair of pitches that grazed the outside corner leading off the third inning and then challenged him with an 89-MPH high fastball on 0-2. Swisher took a big cut and missed, giving Slowey his first swinging strikeout. He fell behind Bradley with a first-pitch ball before coming back with two straight swinging strikes, but gave up a fly ball to left field that Lew Ford played into a "double" on a 3-2 pitch that was the eighth of the plate appearance.
With Johnson up again, Slowey fell into his first deep hole with back-to-back balls. He avoided another prolonged battle by inducing a weak ground ball to the third-base side of the mound, showing good quickness and athleticism by making an easy play out of it for the second out. While retiring Johnson for the second time proved easy, Chavez's second trip to the plate resulted in a 13-pitch marathon involving nine foul balls, including six in a row with the count at 3-2:
KEVIN SLOWEY vs. ERIC CHAVEZ, THIRD INNINGAfter fouling most of the pitches straight back, Chavez's ninth foul ball was a pop up between first base and home plate. Chavez immediately tossed his bat and helmet to the ground, and began to take off his batting gloves, but got a second life when Justin Morneau misplayed the ball when he initially thought that Redmond would make the play. Slowey came right back with his 11th fastball of the at-bat, inducing a pop up near the plate that actually stayed fair for the third out. Redmond was impressed:
He did something tonight I've never seen, a guy throw that many fastballs inside to Chavez and have him not hit him. I've never seen a guy sneak that many fastballs by him. And he got him out. He definitely has stuff to work with. He's got a little bit of deception with his delivery too.It took 65 pitches for Slowey to get through three innings, which would normally suggest that his control was suspect. In reality that was far from the case, as he threw 70 percent of his pitches for strikes in the first three innings. Along with the A's rarely swinging at the first several pitches of an at-bat, what caused Slowey's pitch count to swell so much was an amazing 20 foul balls. In fact, Slowey's first 65 offerings included more foul balls (20) than balls (19).
He made quick work of the A's in the fourth inning, retiring Crosby, Kotsay, and Scutaro on 10 pitches, although even Kotsay's at-bat included four foul balls. Slowey then seemed to lose his command in the fifth inning. He shockingly walked Swisher on four straight pitches, and also started both Kendall and Bradley with back-to-back balls. Despite the wildness, Slowey escaped the inning unscathed thanks in part to Bartlett robbing Buck of a line-drive single up the middle with a nice diving catch.
Clinging to a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, Slowey started Johnson with back-to-back pitches out of the strike zone before getting him on a fly out to left field. Chavez stepped to the plate again and Slowey threw a first-pitch strike for just the second time in six batters. With the count at 1-2, Slowey threw a 79-MPH changeup up in the strike zone and Chavez launched it into left-center for a game-tying solo homer that narrowly cleared the wall.
Whether or not the homer came because Chavez made adjustments following the previous 13-pitch at-bat, he clearly won the war against Slowey after losing the earlier battle. Slowey recovered to get two quick outs against Crosby and Kotsay, ending the inning. With the game tied heading into the seventh inning and his pitch count already at 99, Slowey was pulled from the game in favor of Juan Rincon. The Twins went on to win in 10 innings, leaving Slowey with a no-decision despite the following line:
IP H R ER BB SO HR PITWhile perhaps not a great performance, it was a very impressive debut from a pitcher with 18 career starts above Single-A. Slowey threw two-thirds of his pitches for strikes against a patient, primarily left-handed lineup, and got 10 of his 18 outs via strikeout or ground ball. As Kotsay said afterward: "He threw strikes, and that was the scouting report." Slowey also lived up to the scouting report by working mostly with an 87-90 MPH fastball, showing good movement and a willingness to pound hitters inside.
Slowey's fastball sinks down in the zone with good side-to-side movement, tailing away from lefties and running in on righties. However, he struggled to compliment his fastball with effective off-speed pitches, which also matched the scouting report. There's little doubt that he commands his fastball well enough to get big-league hitters out, but the A's showed that he may have a tough time missing bats and keeping hitters off balance without improving his changeup or curveball.
Slowey threw 73 fastballs among his 99 pitches, with 78 percent of them going for strikes. Of the 26 non-fastballs, just nine were strikes and that includes Chavez's homer. Redmond said after the game that Slowey "did a great job throwing a lot of fastballs for strikes" but "didn't have great command of his breaking stuff." That's certainly to be expected from a 23-year-old making his big-league debut, but it's also something that Slowey will likely need to deal with going forward.
He averaged more than a strikeout per inning in the minors and with a moving fastball that's constantly being pumped into the strike zone, it's not difficult to see why. However, Slowey likely didn't face many hitters capable of fouling off those tough fastballs to extend plate appearances at Rochester, New Britain, Fort Myers, and Beloit. As Slowey put it, "I felt like I made the pitches I needed to make, but a couple of those at-bats dragged on." Here's more from Slowey:
I felt like I was making pitches to get guys out. These guys are major league hitters for a reason. They know what it takes to foul a ball off, they know exactly what's a strike and what's not. There certainly are a lot of great things about the outing, but there are a lot of things I have to work on and try to eliminate some of those 20-pitch at-bats.Between the six solid innings of work and his quotes afterward, Slowey's debut went about as well as possible. Welcome to the rotation, Kevin.
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