Thoughts from Tucson, Part 1

Caught a couple games in Tucson this past weekend. On Friday, right-hander Matt Buschmann started for the T-Padres and shut down the Salt Lake Bees. Working exclusively out of the stretch, Buschmann tossed a complete game, allowing one run and using just 97 pitches in the process. He isn’t a prospect, but that is a fine effort in that ballpark.

The Padres, for their part, scored 11 runs. It could have been worse, as twice they loaded the bases with fewer than two out and came away empty.

Will Venable, recently demoted, led off and hit the ball very hard three times in five trips to the plate. He tripled to dead center in the second inning, homered to left in the fourth, and homered to right in the fifth.

Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium plays a lot differently than Petco Park. The fences are further out at Kino (and there is an insanely high wall — I’m guessing 40-45 feet — beyond center field), but among relevant factors, almost everything else is working in the hitter’s favor:

  • Tuscon is at much higher elevation than San Diego (~2500 feet vs ~20 feet).
  • Tucson is hotter than San Diego (game time temperatures at Petco from 2006 to 2008 averaged 69.4 degrees F, while the three games this weekend at Tucson — all night games — checked in at 95, 93, and 84).
  • Tucson has much lower relative humidity (don’t have precise numbers, but it’s somewhere in the 65-70% for range for San Diego and in the low-20s for Tucson).

There also was a strong wind (13 mph in two games we saw, 20 mph on Sunday) blowing from left to right field. It should be noted that Petco Park featured the strongest winds to right field among MLB ballparks from 2006 to 2008, so this may not be a huge factor, at least not as compared to elevation, heat, and humidity.

I was asked via Twitter whether Venable’s homers would have left Petco Park. His triple probably would have. The ball he hit went about halfway up the monster in center. He got all of it, and even with the boost from altitude and wind, I’m not sure many ballparks could have held that.

The homer to left reminded me of Venable at his best. He got his arms extended and hit the ball with lots of backspin. The ball wouldn’t have carried as well at Petco, but Venable picked a good location and it probably would have split the gap in left-center for a double.

The homer to right would not have left Petco and probably would have been an out. He hit the ball hard but got under it. In San Diego, that ball dies on the warning track. In Tucson, it keeps going.

Overall, Venable looked eminently comfortable at the plate… like a guy who doesn’t wish to stay in Tucson a moment longer than necessary.

Anthony Rizzo looked comfortable, too. He doubled to right, homered to right, walked, and flied out twice. The double was a smash that caromed off the first baseman’s glove and down the right field line. The home run was legit.

The second fly out was impressive. After falling behind in the count, Rizzo worked it full. I turned to Mrs. Ducksnorts and said, “If this is a strike, he’ll smoke it.” It was, and he did. The ball died on the warning track in center, although in Rizzo’s defense, he hit it off the end of his bat.

The other impressive aspect of Rizzo’s offensive game is that, at least in the two games I saw, he didn’t venture out of the strike zone. He seemed to have a clear grasp of what was hittable and what wasn’t.

Over at Hardball Times, Brad Johnson makes a compelling case for keeping Rizzo at Triple-A despite his blistering start. Having seen Rizzo in spring training and again in Tucson, I’m convinced his power will play anywhere.

At the same time, seeing how the ball carries at Kino and knowing what Petco does to lefty-swinging power hitters, I’m inclined to agree with Johnson’s assessment. Assuming the Padres decide to go with youth at some point this year, I believe they would be better served by sticking a healthy Kyle Blanks at first base with a view toward building his trade value.

Why not just keep Blanks? It’s possible, although Rizzo is younger, has less service time, and was drafted by the folks now running the show. I wondered out loud what teams might be interested in Blanks, and the responses were interesting: A’s, Orioles, Tigers, White Sox, Angels, Brewers… But this is a discussion for some other day.

Back to the game, Jesus Guzman hit an absolute bomb to center in the first. It went over everything, very Branyanesque.

Andrew Parrino, another non-prospect, looked good at shortstop. He made several routine plays and one spectacular one to end the fourth.

Luis Durango got the start in center and had a rough night. He hit a lazy fly ball to center after failing to lay down a sacrifice in the second. He then grounded into a 4-6-3 double play with the bases loaded to end the third. After walking in the fifth, he struck out with the bases loaded to end the sixth.

Former Padres right-hander Brian Lawrence started for Salt Lake and fooled no one. Another ex-Padre, Paul McAnulty, batted seventh and DH’d. Funny, I saw McAnulty play for the Bees last year in a game at Sacramento. I still think P-Mac could have had a big-league career, but he’s old enough now (30) that we likely will never know.

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3 Responses »

  1. re: Matt Buschmann … “He isn’t a prospect” … hey, sometimes guys like that make it, just ask Dirk!

  2. free P-Mac!

    thanks for the information and insights, GY.

    other note, the next Red October could be Petco Park:

    http://www.gaslampball.com/2011/5/30/2198286/petco-park-stadium-secrets-instant-replay-console

  3. @LynchMob: Well played, sir. As usual, I hope the player proves me wrong.