Jake Peavy’s Big-League Debut

First off, my condolences to the family of Darryl Kile, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 33. From everything I’ve read, it sounds like he was one of the good guys in the game. He will be missed.

It was a day of odd connections. Kile grew up in the next town over from the late Mike Darr, whose father actually coached Kile at one point in youth baseball. Saturday night, several Padre and Yankee players held a bowling tournament to raise money for Darr’s family. Phil Nevin, organizer of the event, ended up taking Kile’s wife, who was moving their family into a new home here, to the airport to return to the Midwest. And during the day, Jake Peavy had made his big-league debut for the Padres, which called to mind former Padre prospect Gerik Baxter, killed last year.

I don’t mean to bring everyone down, but it’s weird how baseball and life can become so intertwined. The death of someone like Kile affects a lot of people, even those of us who never knew the man. And, on a more selfish level, it reminds me of my own mortality. Kile was born six months before me. He was in better shape than I could ever hope to be. There is no explanation for his death. That is frightening. And very, very sad.

Moving back to on-field action, I got my first look at Mark Phillips this year on Friday night. There weren’t any guns in front of me but he appeared to have good life on his fastball, and his curve was working. In six innings, only two balls were hit hard. One of them left the yard, the other was caught. Beyond that, he allowed three scratch singles and a walk to home run leader Corey Hart in his final inning of work. Phillips located his pitches well, and generally made hitters look bad all night. If he’s not ready for Double-A now, I don’t know when he will be.

Jake Gautreau continues to impress. He hammered a two-run homer to right-center off a lefty.

As you probably know by now, the Padres have recalled Jeremy Fikac, Eric Cyr, and the aforementioned Peavy from Mobile. They’ve placed Bobby Jones on the DL with a tender elbow, optioned J.J. Trujillo to Mobile, and outrighted Trenidad Hubbard to Portland.

Peavy looked good in his big-league debut. More about that in the next few days. For now, I’ll just give you this nugget. On the experience of pitching before 60,021 people (largest crowd in the big leagues this season), Peavy said, "You take it in and say, ‘Wow,’ but I knew my job wasn’t to be awestruck. It was to go out and pitch, and that’s what I tried to do the best of my abilities."

Classic. Any questions about his makeup? The guy is 21 years old and has never pitched above Double-A. And for his first big-league start, he draws the biggest crowd of the year in all of baseball, against the Yankees. And all he’s talking about is the job at hand.

I’ve been trying to think of pitchers I’ve seen who are comparable to Peavy, and the guy who immediately jumps to mind is Adam Eaton. Very similar in terms of stuff, command, and poise. Of more established pitchers, Peavy reminds me of guys like Matt Morris and Javier Vazquez.

But again, more about Peavy later. For now, let’s talk about Oliver Perez, the 20-year-old who shut down the Yankees Friday night. I caught the replay of the game on TV after the Storm game. The biggest thing Perez had working for him, in front of 55,858 fans, was his composure. The guy simply didn’t get rattled, no matter the situation.

Perez mixed his pitches well and kept hitters off-balance. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he worked behind in the count all night and missed badly with several pitches. Not to discount Perez’ ability to work under pressure, but if I had to use one word to describe his outing, it would be "lucky." To wit:

  • Top 2nd, 1st and 2nd, 0 out: Rondell White lines into a double play, no runs score.
  • Top 4th, 1st and 3rd, 0 out: Perez falls behind Jorge Posada, 2-1, but induces a ground ball back to the box. Perez holds the runner at third and retires Posada.
  • Top 4th, bases loaded, 1 out: After allowing a 1-out walk to load the bases, Perez serves up a fly ball to shallow left off the bat of White. Bernie Williams comes home from third to score what would be the Yankees’ only run.
  • Top 5th, 1st and 2nd, 0 out: Perez falls behind Bernie Williams, 3-1, before getting him to ground into a double play.

Don’t get me wrong; Perez made good pitches when he had to. But guys like White, Posada, and Williams usually cash in the kinds of opportunities he gave them. In short, Perez can’t pitch the way he did Friday night and expect to succeed at this level.

I’ve already mentioned Perez’ poise, which is definitely a plus for him. He also moves very well around the mound and does a good job at the plate, both swinging away and laying down the bunt. He’s a good athlete. The one thing he doesn’t appear to do well yet is hold runners.

Okay, now for the real concern I have with Perez. He’s 20 years old. He’s won his first two big-league starts. He threw 107 pitches in his debut (5 innings) and 114 against the Yankees. Perez is listed at 6-3, 160 lbs. He’s a kid. I worry about how much mileage will be put on his arm if he sticks with the big club for an extended period of time.

Perez is a very promising young pitcher, but (a) based on what I’ve seen, I don’t believe he’s quite ready for the Show and (b) it is going to be more of a challenge to monitor his pitch counts in San Diego, where the goal is to win games, than it would be in Mobile, where the focus is on player development. I hate to say this, because I always want to see these kids do well, but a part of me hopes he gets pounded in his next couple of outings so he can go back to Mobile and work on his command. I’d hate to see him follow the career path of someone like Steve Avery.

That’s all for now. More on Peavy in the next few days.

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