We have all experienced those days where we don’t seem to be on our game. Routine tasks are fumbled, a wrong turn is taken in or out of the parking lot, a lunch appointment is missed and you forgot to kiss your wife when leaving the house. In baseball, as in most of our life, tomorrow is another day.
We learn from adversity and, more than anything else, that is what the minor leagues is all about. What teams and scouts look for, beyond the physical attributes, is can the players make in-game and post-game adjustments to deal with higher levels of competition and with the grind that is a 100+ game schedule? Well, yesterday at Wolff Stadium in San Antonio the Corpus Christi Hooks were presented with one of those days where there is ample opportunity for adjustment all around.
Good gosh amighty does Mike Foltynewicz have a live arm. Last night it was on display with dozens of fastballs in the 97-100mph range and really nice arm-side run that did not allow but one really squared-up bit of contact by the Missions all night. However, Folty’s control of the fastball came and went and it was clear he was frustrated by his lack of control. I’d not seen it from him before but there were several times where he lowered his arm angle on the fastball and it seemed he did this when he had missed his spot on consecutive fastballs from his normal arm angle.
On three occasions in his five innings his mound composure changed noticeably. There were no histrionics and he wasn’t yelling at the umpire. It wasn’t tantrum-like behavior. But a guy who is usually very quick in getting himself set and rocking and firing to the plate was walking around the mound, taking his time and generally looking grumpy.
Folty’s off-speed pitches were also inconsistent. In the first inning he got Johan Limonta (SA’s cleanup hitter) on a wicked 81mph curve. In the fourth he got Cory Spangenberg swinging on another curve at 79mph. For every good one he threw, however, he’d throw another that had no shape or bury it in the dirt well off from Rene Garcia’s target. His slider was much the same.
Now for the good news: Again, it’s not like the Missions pounded him. Far from it. Folty broke at least 4 bats and only allowed one pulled, sharply-hit ball against the 24 batters he faced. SA was over-matched against pitches in the strike zone. And there were a couple of notable instances where Folty overcame some adversity.
In the first inning, Folty K’d the first batter but Rene Garcia could not corral the ball in the dirt. It was ruled a WP but Garcia should have handled it (which was another issue in the game). Rey Fuentes laid down a sac bunt attempt and Garcia pulled Castro off first base with the throw. The next batter, Tommy Medica, then got a cracked-bat gork into left to score the first run. Helluva start to the game, right? After that, Folty K’d Limonta and got two weak grounders back to the mound. Nice recovery.
In the fourth inning, Folty got squeezed by the home plate umpire on the first batter (a walk on 4 pitches) that led to some chirping by Manager Keith Bodie. I was right behind the plate and it was clear to me the AA umpire missed on two of the pitches, one a filthy slider. Folty regrouped, struck out the next two hitters and got a broken bat grounder back to him to strand the runner at first. Well done.
It was not a great day at the office for Mike, but all the ingredients to be a top of the rotation starter remain present. And last night was a reminder those of us rooting for Folty’s success need to keep foremost in our minds he’s a 21-year old young man still learning the craft of pitching.
Other items of note from last night:
Rene Garcia had an awful night behind the plate. He had a miserable time handling balls in the dirt, not just from Folty but from Theron Geith as well. A couple of times there was hardly any effort by Garcia. First time I’d seen him struggle like this. He’s typically rock solid.
In recent games where I’d seen Domingo Santana he had made pitch selection progress and did a nice job of watching pitches off the outside of the plate go by. Last night was a reversion to the past. He did the pitchers too many favors flailing at balls he could not possibly do any damage with. But we need to be patient with him. He’s got tremendous offensive potential and is even younger than Folty.
It makes all the sense in the world given the tear he’s on but, my goodness, is the confidence transformation of Max Stassi noticeable! When I last saw him a couple of months ago he was tentative at the dish and behind it. Not last night. He looked like he owned the joint and any pitch he liked was destined to be dented.
Jio Mier has played error-free ball and made some spectacular plays, along with all the routine ones, in the games I have seen him. Last night, however, he poorly judged an infield hop and turned a possible (but difficult) DP or at least an out into an error that led to an unearned run in the eighth. It capped a disappointing game.
So, last night was not a great one in any respect for the Hooks. Tomorrow, though, is another day. Such is the life of young men chasing a major league dream.
As for me, the best part of the night was getting to meet and visit with Nick Tropeano for a bit. It was nice to see that after several seasons of silly minor league ballpark pranks he wasn’t so jaded that a bunch of kids dancing to “Gangnam Style” in the rows in front of us wouldn’t bring a smile to his face. I wished him well and look forward to him pitching in Houston. He’s easy to root for.