April 2007

Still Searching

Yesterday was my fourth start of the young season. Even though it feels like we’ve been playing for months. I came into this outing very determined to continue on the road to recovery from those first two starts and start a new streak of positive games. We lost 5-4 on a top of the 9th grand slam off reliever Luis Perdomo. A rough way to lose a game.
The Lakewood Blueclaws. The opposing team for today. Most of these guys were on the Batavia Muckdogs (short-season Phillies affiliate), which I faced last year plenty of times. With success, too. So, I remember a lot of these guys and their tendencies. It paid off, for the most part. My line:

4 ip, 5 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, 5 K

A good line, sure. Especially when the offense struggled while you were on the mound and you left with the scored tied 1-1. Still, I did enough things wrong to call it an above average performance, instead of a great performance. Among them include two botched routine outs. On one, my mind went blank and I didn’t cover first base. The other, not a mental error like the first, but charging a soft ball to me I slipped on the wet grass and was unable to make the play. This eventually led to their sole run against me scoring.

Pregame: I knew I was going to throw strikes today. Usually, when my pregame warmups are not pinpoint, I’m on. And vice versa. Oddly enough.

1st inning: Great inning. Quick. 3 up, 3 down. Efficient, managed pitches.

2nd inning: First batter gets a single. So what. Next batter grounds into a fielder’s choice to Lytle at 3rd. Almost an error, but he recovered and made the play. Next batter fought off pitches to earn a walk. With 1st and 2nd in the 2nd inning, you don?t want to give in to a batter and let a big inning erupt. I step back, take a deep breath. Strikeout. Strikeout. Inning over.

3rd inning: The jams are becoming more and more prevalent with each inning. Just need to bear down and attack the zone. The dangerous hitter. Leadoff guy, Quintin Berry, takes a 2-strike fastball on the shoulder. Tried to come in, but came in too far. So, with the first out coming on a bunt out, we’ve got a guy at 1st base, who will probably steal. So, I give him different looks, knowing that he likes to get his lead early, before I even come set. I give him the attention he deserves, but he steals goes for it, and gets it. His 10th steal of the year. Next batter strikes out, followed by a single that leaves me with 1st and 3rd. So, I just strike out Jay Miller. End of inning.

4th inning: I know my pitch count is getting high and nearing the 85-pitch limit. But the key is to reach 5 innings. So a quick inning would be crucial. The leadoff hitter pops out to the 1st baseman after a long at-bat. Next up, Gus Milner, singles on a pretty well hit line drive. What I needed to do was execute the fastball away, but I left it up. Next is the slip ‘n slide “error” that wasn’t called an error. Then a throw a good pitch that leads to a blooper to left field and Milner scores. The dangerous Quintin Berry is up again, but I strike him out on a handful of pitches. But, I finish him off with a changeup down and away. The last batter grounds out to shortstop. A lot of damage was prevented that inning. To get out of any bases loaded jam with none or 1 run scoring is a job well done. But, my pitch count is already at 78 and my day is over. 1-1 is the score. No decision. I’ll have to wait 5 more days to search for that first win.

On The Road with the Captains (part III)

Sorry my updates are so spread out lately. I’m going to try and write more frequently, especially during this 13-game home stand. In the meantime, it’s part 3 of my road trip series.
The last game of our home series was my second start that I reviewed earlier. It resulted in my second loss and another sub-par outing. So, this road trip was going to be important for me not only to get back on track, but also to use my bullpen session to start fixing anything that may be off.

The first series was at Hagerstown, a “short” 5-hour drive from Northeast Ohio and considering we left on an off day, it was an easy ride. Threw on my iPod and listened to some music followed by watching some Family Guy DVD episodes on my computer. When we get to Hagerstown, the hotel wasn’t too bad, but not the best we’ve ever stayed at considering it didn’t have any Internet access. But on the plus side, there was a restaurant called Barefoot Bob’s or something like that. Great food, bar hours, sports on TV. Can’t complain. We get to the field not expecting much from what I had heard prior to getting there. It sure filled my expectations. Hagerstown’s facility has the potential to be one of the worst in the South Atlantic League. And from what I’ve heard, it is. Small, cramped clubhouse. If you are building a minor league stadium take note: Huge couches in a small clubhouse are not the smartest idea. The field, though…wow. It looked like a weak Division III baseball field. Left field was about 425 feet and the outfield fence just went straight across to right field that was about 320. The visiting bullpen was literally just a pitching rubber with a slight decline all the way to the plate (no real mound). The infield was as dead as grass gets and the outfield had more hills and slopes than a town with dreams of hosting the Winter Olympics. But we are professionals, so we don’t let it bother us too much. Amazingly, we leave Hagerstown with our first series, winning 2 of the 3 games.

Next is Delmarva. Going over the Bay Bridge across the Chesapeake is always fun on a bus. Unfortunately, it was night, so the guys who had never been to this area of the country couldn’t see how high up we were. As we pull into Delmarva at about 2 am, the first thing we smell is the same thing we could taste. Yea, that’s how bad it was. Dead fish and dirty ocean. But that’s Salisbury for you. As the sense got accustomed to that stench around the hotel, we noticed the hotel was less than average, but had an array of food opportunities within walking distance, including a Cold Stone Creamery! And this hotel had wireless Internet. A surprise to us all, but a pleasant surprise nonetheless. As we get to the field, you can tell it’s a top tier facility. Great clubhouse, great field, nice bullpen, and a bad hitter’s eye in center field. That’s good for pitchers, not hitters. I pitch the second game of the series. Hitting just wasn’t there in game 1, so I was pretty confident it would be there for game 2. Nope. I left the game after 5 innings, allowing 1 run, but it wasn’t enough as we were down 1-0. We score 4 in the top of the 8th and they come right back to score 4 more in the bottom of the 8th. That doesn?t happen. When we score dour four I went to the clubhouse to get my post-game work done. Shoulder program with Thera-Bands, shower, change, come back out the tunnel to peek at the score. To my amazement, we were down 5-4. Nothing changed in the top of the 9th and we lose. Rough loss, and even though I threw well (finally) I still don’t feel good about the outcome. I want to win here! Not only in my starts, but every other game. I got a ring at Marietta, now I want some here. But it’s a long season. And a long ride home after the following game. 10 hours, but they give us a 10 am game to end the series so we got back around midnight instead of 10 am the following day.

In the meantime, we have a 13-game home stand. A nice, comforting, relaxing home stand. Game times change around, but it will be nice to spend the afternoons or evenings at home playing MLB 2K7 or watching movies. Maybe I’ll just sleep. My next outing will be tomorrow, Saturday, against Hagerstown. I’ll review the game ASAP.

-Mike

3rd Time’s A Charm

It took me 3 starts, but finally I threw a “quality” outing. Not a quality outing by Major League standings, but by our standards and all things considered from those first two starts, I’m calling it a “quality” start. Fortunately, though, neither quality nor quantity was enough to squeeze out a win today for the Captains. With the first half being a pitcher’s duel, the tables turned in the 8th inning. We scored 4 in the top of the 8th and they came right back with 4 of their own. After I left the game down 1-0, you do the math. We lost 5-4. “&%$! happens” -Forrest Gump.
Pitching coach Ruben Niebla and I have been working vigorously since my last outing on changing up my mechanics. Different things like how my lead arm works to control the direction (supposed to be straight to the catcher) of my body as I pitch. My problem before had been that I had a tendency to allow my lead arm to force the rest of me to the side, allowing my fastball to get away from me. This leads to walks and missed spots, which, in turn, lead to the opposing hitters taking advantage when I finally reach the strike zone.

The curveball was working big time again today. Just like last outing. But why did I let up 3 runs last time? My fastball was worthless. This time, the fastball was a lot more efficient. Yea, it wasn’t perfect, but it was working. This allowed me to use my curveball not only as my strike pitch, but as my out pitch as well. Got some good knee-buckles today, but I’m more pleased with the missed fastballs.

So, I allowed 5 hits in 5 innings. 4 of which were bloop hits. I walked 2. 1 of which was on the umpire. It’s one thing to miss a call. Every umpire is entitled to that once in a while. But two MONEY pitches in a row? That can’t happen here. And what happens when you walk 2 guys in an inning. You’re lucky, like I was, to get out of it with only 1 run scoring. But I strapped down and refused to give in. Unfortunately, the bats weren’t working just yet and when they did, our relievers didn’t have their best days. But, we know everybody has a bad day every once in a while.

Anyway, yea I’m pleased with the way I pitched today but I’ll be happier when I leave with a lead. Or at least a 0-0 score. Next time, hopefully.

Be on the lookout for part 3 of my On The Road With The Captains series coming up in the next couple of days. Until then….
-Mike

I’m Back

Hey everyone, Sory it’s been so long since my last post. I’ve either been distracting moving into my new home away from home at home or without internet at Hagerstown. I’ll write some blogs this week for sure. My next start is Sunday, so let’s see how it goes.

On My iPod

in response to Joseph’s comment on my previous blog :
Movies: The Untouchables, 25th Hour, The Prestige

TV Shows: The Colbert Report, Reno 911!

Music: everything except country. Mostly I listen to (oddly enough) movie themes. I also like rap and alternative music from John Mayer to Sublime.

On The Road with the Captains (part II)

It’s 2 am and the main TV?s are off. The lights on the bus are off. It’s pitch dark. The only light you see are the firefly-like flickering of iPods from seat to seat as everybody changes songs. Legs and limbs alike change positions more than the leaders in a NASCAR race. DVD players are feeding off the last drops of battery. Counting exits is like a torture unknown to any man. Those trips under 5 hours become an afterthought. Welcome to the bus ride home at the end of a minor league road trip.
Now, if you are over 6 feet tall it’s hard enough trying to get comfortable enough to pass out. What about those guys over 6’5″ (echem!). Well, the only analogies I can draw would be a scene from Austin Powers. He is in bed with Vanessa Kensington saying, “Help, I’m in a nutshell. How did I get into this bloody great big nutshell? What kind of shell has a nut like this!?” Yea, that’s about right. Or maybe The Amazing Yen from Ocean’s Eleven curling up in the safe deposit box during the big heist.

You may be asking, “How do you prepare for rides over 5 hours?” Coming back from Greensboro, NC, Thursday night into Friday morning. That was a trip. After playing a doubleheader at Greensboro, we left for Eastlake (home of the Captains) at 12:10 am. The expected time of arrival was about 8 am. As I’ve mentioned already, I don’t sleep on buses. Not because I’m afraid or anything. I simply can’t physically get comfortable enough to sleep! We each have our own pair of seats to ourselves. But they don’t really comply to the tall people. I try putting my feet over the seats in front of me or on the seats across the aisle. No dice. My legs and feet were asleep within 5 minutes and I spent the next 5 shaking it out to regain feeling. I like to stock up on food on the last day. I usually get some granola bars, two bottles of water, and some gum. This “travel pack” usually holds me down. Other than food, my iPod usually only gets me through half of the bus ride if I?m watching a movie on it. Listening to music, it usually runs out with still a few hours of ride left. I simply stare at nothing.

What about the bathroom???
I sit in the 4th row. This means, no bathroom. Don’t get me wrong. There IS a bathroom, in the way back. But it’s more dangerous trying to get to it than stranding yourself in Jurassic Park covered in blood with no defense. Just look back there. It’s crazy! Like a labyrinth of feet. To get to the bathroom, it takes an impeccable display of balance, timing, and athleticism. I don’t really have any of that, so I chose to hold it in. Or hope the bus driver needs to go at some point and drops into a rest stop.

I do need to give the bus drivers as much credit as I can. These guys drive for hours and hours without complaint. I can only imagine how awful it must have been on the bus that crashed near Atlanta. I knew one of the Bluffton players from Marietta. He transferred after his freshman year. He survived, but my heart was with him. Scary thought for everybody. But it doesn?t happen very often, and that’s a testament to the mental strength and abilities of these bus drivers. Big shout out.

Finally, we get back. It’s daylight now. The sun has risen. Be at the field at 5 pm. Being that it?s already 8 am, it’s time for bed. Call it a day on the nightshift. Now it’s Sunday and we are just about back to 100%. It takes a few days to recover from those trips. Doubleheader tomorrow as our game was (go figure) postponed because of the snow from last night. I’ll be pitching game 2 so I’ll be back to discuss the outing later tomorrow. See ya.

-Mike

Bump In The Cliff

Hey everybody, So, I was supposed to pitch again on April 15th. and I definitely can’t wait to get back on the mound and put yesterday’s outing behind me. That’s going to have to be postponed one extra day. Why? Not because of my outing so sub-par it would give even Tiger Woods a run for his money. Not because they are bringing up a new pitcher from extended spring training. No. 28-year old Cliff Lee. You may know him from a little team known as the Cleveland Indians. You may also know he is rehabbing on his way back into the Tribe rotation from an abdominal strain. He’ll be taking over that game, pushing me back an extra day. No big deal. It gives me an extra day of rest. An extra day to regroup, relieve, and respond. So, if you live near eastlake and want to check out a few innings of Cliff Lee, come to the ballpark and check it out.Lee_81899

12-1…The Other Way

Okay, I’m not sure of the exact quote but I can’t stop thinking about Curt Schilling’s comments on his April 2nd outing vs. the Kansas City Royals in which he only threw 4 innings and was taken out of the game. It went something like, “I go out there trying to get at least 7 innings out of every start, and when I only go 5, that’s frustrating. Only going 4; that ***** something else.” He went on to state that, “As a starting pitcher, you can make your team look a lot worse than it really is sometimes and that day was today.”
2 IP, 5 hits, 6 runs, 3 BB, 1 K, 1 balk, 1 fielding error, and 1 HR. Stat of the night: 1 loss

I totally agree with you Curt Schilling.
But, if 4 ***** something else, then 2 probably isn?t fit for a public website.

Tonight was the definition of not having your stuff. The irony, though, (and of course, there has to be irony somewhere) is that warming up, in the bullpen pregame, I was dead on. Hitting spots, making the adjustments, doing the right things to prepare for a game. Tonight, I had a serious case of Inside The Lines syndrome. That means that pregame I do everything right and then once I get out there everything goes wrong.

The first inning wasn’t all that bad. I threw too many pitches and fell behind in the count frequently, but I did not allow myself to issue a walk and they beat me by manufacturing a run (thanks to a balk advancing the runner to 2nd base). It just wasn’t there in the second inning. Couldn’t find the strike zone and more importantly, could not make the adjustments. That’s the key to pitching.

Obviously, it’s not the start I was hoping for. ****, I was kind of looking to never have an outing like this. I’ve got my work cut out for me the rest of the season to put it behind me and start over in 5 games. I’ve got 5 games to reconfigure myself and make the changes that need to be made. Tomorrow morning it begins with a 10 am lift. Let me tell you, I’m through with that stuff. It’s all business now. **** if that is going to happen again. I may not throw perfect games every time out, but I do expect to be able to give 7 strong innings every time out there. I deserved that loss tonight. They may not have deserved a win, as I handed it to them, but they got one. This is part of the job though, you get the wins and you get the losses. And you usually get them because you earned them. Not going to do much sleeping tonight, but instead I will review the night and figure out what I can do to make sure it never happens again.

-Mike

On The Road With The Captains (Part I)

I’m back! Finally. It felt like I’ve been gone forever, but it’s only been 5 days. What a 5 days it’s been. I’m back now to begin my new series, which will follow our road trips. Every single one of them. Let you know how it goes series-by-series.
April 4: We leave for Charleston, West Virginia. Of course, I’m last on the bus, so I’m the only person who didn’t get a seat to himself (other than the person I sat with). No, don’t think I was lazy getting on. I had extra work to do. First, I had to pitch 4 innings of a simulated game INSIDE (thankfully) to a toy batter (like in Major League). I capitalize “inside” because it was freezing cold. Literally. It was about 30 degrees. Brrr. Well, after that I had to ride the stationary bike for 25 minutes, then ice my arm down. By the time I was done, we had 5 minutes left. Well, we got on the road and about 3 hours in, we passed good old Exit 1 on I-77. That’s Marietta, Ohio. My stomping grounds for 3 years in college.

April 5: First game of the year. No thanks. 35-40 degrees. This was as bad as it could get in our opinion. Boy were we wrong. Anyway, we ended up losing 4-3.

April 6: Game 2, sort of. We started the day by getting to the field only to realize it was snowing sideways! Now, we have about 11 Latin American players on our team. Each one of them had never seen snow in their entire lives. It was a treat to watch them go crazy over just a little bit of snow. Albeit, it was snowing pretty hard. Now, I swear, you’ll never see these guys this crazy and taking this many pictures. It was great. They were like 10 year olds; throwing snowballs, picking up all of the snow, taking the pictures. Well, the game starts and Steven Wright, my roommate is pitching pretty well, except for one mistake pitch that led to a “seed” home run that bounced off the Pepsi sign in deep left-center. Here, in the bottom of the 3rd. He pitches the ball. Pop fly to left-center. Nobody moves. We can’t see the ball! That’s how hard it was snowing! The game was called and we all went home. Frozen.

April 7: Finish the first game and play the second game. Here’s my day though: Lift at 10 am, bus to the field at 1 pm, throw a bullpen after team stretch, get ready to chart in the stands. Now, I don’t mind charting. I get to eat food and watch the game with not much to do. But I was wearing 6 layers as well as sweatpants under my jeans. I was cold. Still! We won the first game in a late comeback, but lost the second.

So, we are 1-2 headed into a 4-game series at Greensboro, NC. Hopefully, we can put on the burners and leave here 5-2. I’ll be back in a day or two for a blog on what goes on during rain/snow delays, with pictures as well. So, check in.

Told Ya

Florida Gators…National Champs 2007…They were just too good
Fausto Carmona pitched for us today against Akron in an exhibition game created pretty much just for him, so he could stay on schedule to pitch in the 5th game of the Indians’ schedule. He basically dominated, allowing only one hit in (I think) 7 innings. That one hit was a solo home run, but otherwise he was dominant. Hopefully that keeps up for the Indians this year.

Tomorrow is my last warmup for the regular season. I’ll be throwing a 4-inning simulation in the bullpen to get the necessary work and progressively prepare my body to pitch for 5 innings on April 10th. For now, I’m going to watch part II of the National Championships as Tennessee (wo)manhandles Rutgers.

-Mike

P.S.- I gave you an inside look at my spring training locker a few posts ago. well, here is an actual look at my Lake County locker. Everything’s there, plus a bunch of pitching or baseball-related books.
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