More Notes from Peoria

We got a late start on Saturday and didn’t arrive at the ballpark until 12:30 p.m., which meant missing all the morning practices. We sat in Section 119, up along the foul line in left field — close to the action but at a severe angle.

The Cubs had come to Peoria and so had their fans. The announced crowd was 10,737, nearly twice as large as the crowd at my previous visit two weeks earlier.

I spent the middle innings standing on the walkway behind our seats, chatting with my Baseball Prospectus colleague Christina Kahrl and longtime Ducksnorts reader LynchMob. I paid attention to the game, but only insofar as conversation with folks I rarely see in person would allow.

If baseball is religion, the ballpark a church, and the game a sermon, then people are what hold everything together. With all due respect to that afternoon’s sermon, it was more important that devotees congregate and discuss matters of great importance… you know, life and all that.

Aaron Harang, who has been working with pitching coach Darren Balsley to clean up his mechanics, looked good. By this, I mean that I didn’t notice Harang until he departed with one out in the sixth, having allowed just two hits. He was, to indulge in a trite phrase, quietly effective.

On offense, right fielder Eric Patterson led off the Padres’ first inning with a triple to the gap in left-center field off right-hander Matt Garza, and that set the tone for the entire afternoon. The wind was blowing out 18 mph to left, which may have aided Patterson’s drive.

Patterson, who appears to be the favorite (over Aaron Cunningham) for the fifth outfielder spot, later laced a ground ball double just inside the first base line. Cunningham would replace Patterson in right and collect two hits of his own (including a double) on this day.

Both times I’ve seen Cunningham this spring, he has hit the ball very hard in practice and in games. He’ll start the season at Triple-A Tucson, but he belongs in the big leagues. The only thing Cunningham doesn’t do well is throw, and his other tools make up for that.

The Padres abused veteran right-hander Braden Looper in a six-run sixth. The big blow was Chase Headley’s grand slam to right-center that created a buzz. Wind or not, the ball was well struck.

Cameron Maybin also hit one out that inning, to left-center. Maybin had struck out swinging against Looper the previous inning. Gameday has the strikeout and the homer coming on changeups, but it categorizes many of Looper’s offerings as changeups, which makes me wonder if his fastball just isn’t fast.

Lefty Cory Luebke, nominally in competition with Wade LeBlanc (he’ll be the guy) and Dustin Moseley (hello, bullpen) for the fifth rotation spot but likely ticketed for Tucson, worked the final 3 2/3 innings. Luebke’s line looks bad thanks to a grand slam he served up to Cubs catcher Max Ramirez, but he pitched well.

Most Cubs fans missed the Ramirez grand slam. With their team down, 13-0, and alcohol sales ended, they left in droves before he did his thing.

Luebke was victimized by shortstop Everth Cabrera’s shoddy defense. Cabrera, who entered the game in the sixth, committed the Padres’ only two errors of the game. The second, with a runner on first and no out in the eighth, could have resulted in a double play that likely would have kept Ramirez from batting at all that inning.

Granted, you still need to get the job done even when your teammates don’t do the same. Luebke didn’t and… grand slam.

Toward the end, the Padres sent out a bunch of kids wearing uniform numbers in the 90s and no names on their backs. Perpetual A-ball outfielder Danny Payne (part of the less-than-stellar 2007 draft class) patrolled left field, with Matt Clark at first base, and an unidentified player in center.

The unidentified player turned out to be Rico Noel, the Padres’ 10th round pick in 2010 (Paul DePodesta loved him). Noel homered in the eighth, but if his name was announced, nobody around me caught it. I asked Twitter, and Twitter — as it will do — responded. One person mentioned having seen Noel play in college and remarked that he “hits the ball extremely hard for a small(er) kid.”

Yep, good ol’ no. 99. Take that, Barbara Feldon.

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