Last night presented to me what might be the only perk of my West Texas relocation (I live in Lubbock). Because the Texas League All Star Game was being held in Midland, which in West Texas parlance is close to Lubbock (i.e. a two hour drive), I had to go. Plus, I have a good friend who is always telling me that a restaurant in Midland has the best Chicken Fried Steak—ever. If there are two things in life I love, they are Astros baseball and chicken fried steak. It was a win-win decision.
I arrived at the park at about 6:45 PM, which was about enough to time for me to hone in on where the scouts where, and set up shop right behind them. I was able to infer—correctly, I hope—that of the six scouts I was near, one was from the Marlins, one was from the Giants, and the remainder are question marks. As I told David via text message, the first few innings of the game were lost on me. Aside from watching Koby Clemens strikeout swinging in first two ABs (he did work them full first) and JB Shuck look lazy/tricked by the 20-25 mph wind that was blowing in, but swirling too, I had no feeling one way or the other about the other players than "I wish David, Orem, or Subber where here to tell me what I am missing." Sad, but true.
The group of scouts I creepily lingered behind to look over their shoulders took more notes on Clemens than they did many of the other hitters. Of course, this needs to be couched in the fact that it was near impossible to infer what their tiny, scratch writing said. His first two ABs were nearly identical. Took the count 2-0. Whiffed on a pitch. Fouled off another two. Took another ball between the fouls. And then whiffed a fastball chest high and inside. Apparently the book has already been written on Koby. They weren't identical, but that's how they felt.
I missed JB Shuck's first at bat because I sprinted over the bullpen (which few were hanging out by on account of the rain) to see Lyles start warming. (At Citibank Ball Park, if you stand at the catcher's end of the bullpen, the light pole completely obscures your vision of home plate) Watching Lyles warm up is by far my most exciting Astros experience in 2010. Everything he does is effortless looking and totally repeatable no matter what pitch he threw.
Lyles was all stretched out, but the frame was taking longer than he had anticipated. I strolled back over to the scouts and watched as Lyles periodically got up and tossed a few more pitches from a far. Finally, Lyles made his jog out to the mound. On cue, the scouts all started shuffling papers, made sure their guns were ready, and got to work taking notes. Lyles, in his one inning of work, in an exhibition game, was less than impressive. He was way up on all of his pitches and fell behind on the first two batters he faced. Both later made the kind of contact that would have easily resulted in two HRs were it not for the heinous wind blowing in, too. When I shelved my emotions and started evaluating what Lyles was doing, though, I quickly got more impressed. The kid was constantly on the edges with his fastball. He can flat locate it. Whether it was the rain, or the wind, though, his location was just a few inches too high to be effective. I believe I bore witness to one change-up that was a called strike, but my vantage precluded saying for sure. It was an 82mph offering and the scouts went nuts with it. [update - Lyles' fastball sat 89-90 on the various gun readings I saw. One of the guns was fast than the others and he hit 91 once on it]
Lyles got out of his jam unscathed, but it was clear that he was not pleased with himself. I asked one of the scouts his impression of Lyles, but he and the guys around him were also first time Lyles watchers. They all agreed that for Lyles to be doing as much damage as he is doing this year, that his stuff and command are top-notch. The word that kept coming up, though, was "interesting." "Lyles is an interesting guy." "I hear his change up is interesting." It didn't seem to be interesting in a bad sense, but that was the consensus descriptor nonetheless.
I waited around to watch Shuck meekly chop a ball to third for a ground out and then Koby K-swinging for a third time. I apparently missed Shuck figure out the wind situation in some late inning heroics, but I had to make it to Wall Street for their chicken fried steak before they closed. Sadly, I think the chicken fried steak wins the highlight of the trip. It was delicious and I wanted to take a bath in their gravy. If I had seen Lyles strike somebody out, then Lyles would have won out.
This has to be filed under things I am pleased to read:
"We're definitely going to be cautious with him, especially since he's such a special arm," Mills said. "We want to make sure he's 100 percent and his strength is back where it needs to be. We need to err on the side of caution and let him get strong."
The quote is in relation to Felipe Paulino and how he likely won't be back with the Astros until after the All Star Break. Not because he can't, but because the Astros are choosing not to let him. Responsibility, what a concept.
If Paulino gets healthy and stays healthy and Wandy pitches more like he did yesterday than the rest of the season, then next year won't be more depressing than this year—I think. I am pleased to see that Paulino is not being pushed. Very, very please.
File this one under things that make me want to bash my laptop over someone's head:
That was just the headline of the story, but the piece does go on to elaborate at Mills' plan for utilizing Blum at SS with increased frequency. In a day and age where I can type www.fangraphs.com into my browser and then search Geoff Blum and then click the heading "Advanced Fielding" and quickly learn that Blum is -3DRS with a .750 RZR at SS in 2010 in under twenty seconds, why is Blum getting more time than is absolutely necessary at SS?