First off, if your #2 hitter lays down a sacrifice bunt in the first inning — as Luis Rodriguez did on Friday night — then you probably need to find another #2 hitter. Second, for as indifferent as I generally am to the stolen base, it disturbs me that Willy Taveras has more than twice as many by himself this year than does the entire Padres roster. (It also astounds me that Taveras has so many steals despite being a useless hitter — and people scoff at the notion of there being a continued need for Tony Womack’s skill set.)
Anyway, it was fun to watch the kids play. Fun in the sense that our team is going nowhere and there are still games left on the schedule so we might as well enjoy them, but fun nonetheless. To the observations…
Venable made his big-league debut on Friday, getting the start in center field, and pounded a triple off the right-field wall in his first at-bat. It’s only one at-bat, but he gave a nice demonstration of why some folks are more excited about him than I am:
- He drove a ball hard against Aaron Cook. For all of his faults (how can you throw 95 mph and not strike anyone out?), Cook doesn’t give up many well struck balls like that. Granted, it was an 86 mph breaking pitch, thigh-high on the inner half, but still… As Matt Vasgersian noted, that ball is a homer in about 28 other ballparks.
- He’s a tremendously athletic kid — like Chris Young, a former Princeton hoopster — and it shows. Midway between first and second, when he saw the ball carom away from Brad Hawpe, Venable kicked into another gear. He took a beautiful turn at second and generally made running the bases look effortless — in stark contrast to pretty much everyone else on this team.
On Saturday, I got to see him in person and again, he impressed. The box score shows that Venable went 1-for-4 with 2 RBI, but it doesn’t show probably the single most important thing he did in the game.
In the third inning, after he’d driven in the Padres’ first run, Venable took out Colorado second baseman Clint Barmes on what would have been an inning-ending double play off the bat of Edgar Gonzalez. A run scored, and then Ubaldo Jimenez self-destructed (in a manner eerily similar to his April 15 start at Petco Park), surrendering four more before being lifted.
I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I’ve underestimated Venable. Again, we’re talking about an extremely small sample, but he looks like a better player than his numbers indicate — what that portends, we cannot say.
Still, it’s worth noting that guys like Mike Devereaux and ex-Padre Gary Matthews Jr. didn’t reach the big leagues until their mid-20s; both were pretty athletic and ended up having decent careers. At age 25, Venable may not have much untapped potential, but it’s hardly a stretch to think that he could have a career similar to those of Devereaux and Matthews.
Hayhurst’s final line (4 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 1 HR, 4 BB, 4 SO) was awful, but I saw some things I liked. First, the bad news:
- His command was terrible. Nobody should ever need 101 pitches to get through four innings.
- He left a curve out over the plate to Garrett Atkins in the third, and Atkins just crushed it.
As he demonstrated in rather convincing fashion in his second big-league start, Hayhurst has zero margin for error. That said, he’s got some game:
- Channel 4SD had his fastball at 89-91 mph (with good sinking action according to my eye — a little like Clay Hensley in that regard), his curve at 74-78.
- He did a good job working both sides of the plate. Sometimes kids just up from the minors are reluctant to pitch inside to guys they’ve seen on television; this absolutely was not a problem for Hayhurst.
- When he’s not hanging it to good hitters, the curve looks like a legitimate out pitch; I’m guessing this is what gave guys at Triple-A fits.
- The two hits he allowed ahead of Atkins’ homer were complete flukes. The first came on a 3-2 fastball up and in that shattered Barmes’ bat and resulted in a weak grounder to third; Kevin Kouzmanoff made a terrific barehanded pickup, but his throw bounced, skipping off Adrian Gonzalez’s glove and into the third row. The second came on a 1-2 breaking ball to Taveras. The pitch crossed the plate at shin level, outer half, and somehow Taveras managed to nine-iron it down the right-field line. The video is inconclusive, but I think his back foot may have been off the ground when he made contact. Whatever the case, it was ugly and certainly shouldn’t have resulted in any outcome that rewards the batter.
Like Hayhurst, Geer was inefficient, needing 105 pitches to get through five innings. The stadium scoreboard had his fastball at 86-88 mph, and it didn’t appear to have a lot of movement. Geer also had trouble commanding his secondary pitches.
In the past I’ve compared Geer, based on his statistical record in the minors, to Justin Germano. After seeing him in person, I’ll throw out another name that will be familiar to those who have followed the club in recent years: Ismael Valdez.
Geer looks to me like a potential #5 starter. His stuff is underwhelming, which means his command has to be perfect. Unlike with Hayhurst, I didn’t see an out pitch from Geer. Maybe he has one, but I didn’t see it.
On another note, have you noticed how inefficient the Padres starters have been lately? I have, and it bugs me:
Hayhurst, Aug 23 @ SF: 4 IP, 76 pitches
Josh Banks, Aug 24 @ SF: 3 IP, 53 pitches
Jake Peavy, Aug 25 vs Ari: 6 IP, 121 pitches
Chad Reineke, Aug 26 vs Ari: 5 IP, 93 pitches
Cha Seung Baek, Aug 27 vs Ari: 5.2 IP, 104 pitches
Hayhurst, Aug 29 vs Col: 4 IP, 101 pitches
Geer, Aug 30 vs Col: 5 IP, 105 pitches
That’s about 20 pitches per inning over seven starts, which is unacceptable. Actually, so is a rotation of Hayhurst, Banks/Geer, Reineke, and Baek, but what can you do?
Well, first you can have Peavy fan 13 Rockies over eight innings. Then you can release Brett Tomko and call up Wade LeBlanc (he’s scheduled to start on Wednesday in Los Angeles; and oh yeah, Matt Antonelli is joining the big club as well — congrats to him!). Then you can welcome Young back to the rotation and watch him square off against former teammate Greg Maddux on Monday.
It’s all very confusing…