I don't get many opportunities to see Ranger games in person since I live 2 1/2 hrs away from Arlington in Central Texas. It's a real treat to go see the RedHawks play when they come to Round Rock though. I had a few questions that I wanted answered: Is Salty still throwing the ball back halfway to the pitcher? Or over his head? Can Mitch Moreland play decent defense in the outfield? Is Brandon Boggs a viable replacement if one of our outfielders goes down with an injury? Who is Cody Eppley and what does he do to get hitters out? Why isn't Michael Kirkman not listed on Dirk's list of top prospects if he's been the biggest winner for the RedHawks this year? I'll try to answer each one individually.
First comes Salty. I watched every throw he made all night, from warmups to the final pitch. Every single one. He was faultless. No problems whatsoever. When he was behind the plate he always made soft, medium high tosses back to the pitcher. He never did rocket one back. But at least he was spotless. When the bases got juiced, Salty walked up even to home plate before floating the return back to the pitcher. I don't have a problem with that, but after a while it seems odd. He'll eventually have to learn to trust himself more than that. One could argue that his control was significantly better than Kirkman's. It was also clear that his arm is healthy and strong since he made powerful, accurate throws down to 2nd base after warming up the pitcher during each half innning. He never got a chance to throw out a base stealer. That's mainly Kirkman's fault. It's Salty's hitting that's bothersome. He does get a few good pitches to hit, however he's not driving them. One walk. That was the upside for his night with the bat in his hand. If there was one thing that amazed me on Friday, it was that Salty was the biggest specimen of man on the field. He must be at least 6'3" and his torso and legs look powerful. Nobody from either team on the field came close to matching his size.
On to Kirkman. I guess it's not a big secret that control is his problem. Walks, of course. He didn't walk a bunch during the game, but Houston's farm club is not the greatest hitting team either. But it's evident that control is a problem. He fires a wayward ball much too often for my liking. If he eventually makes the big club, then you'll have to get used to the fact that a fair number of his pitches are going to hit the dirt around home plate. He doesn't miss high, he misses low without fail. Salty is decent at blocking balls in the dirt, but an analyst might think he's not blocking enough just from sheer volume. It's a problem. I saw it even when Kirkman was warming in the bullpen before the game started. Once he bounced one so far in front of home plate, that the ball bounced over Salty's shoulder. Luckily, that was in the bullpen. Kirkman wasn't hit hard, he throws 93 mph with some regularity, but the control thing bothers me. A bunch actually. He also has a hitch in his delivery. It seems like, after he plants his lead leg, that his head and neck get in the way of a smooth delivery. Weird. 96 total pitches, 60 for strikes. That doesn't sound bad, but it looked bad. And he made Salty look bad even though the RedHawks won.
Mitch Moreland. He only got to make two plays in the outfield that I remember. One was a routine fly ball towards the line in right field and the other was charging a base hit to right with a runner on second. His throw was a disappointment to me. I remembered that he was a closer in college, but the throw was a dying duck. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the runner never attempted to reach home from second base. Or maybe he stumbled a bit during the execution. I'm not sure. I do like his plate approach a bunch. He's very patient, but when he gets a good pitch to swing at, he makes an aggressive cut. Never gets cheated. The ball sounds a bit different coming off his bat.
My old friend Brandon Boggs. My favorite hitters always carry a high OBP. He didn't play. Damn. Chad Tracy didn't play either. Chris Davis had already left for Arlington. That's quite a loss of lumber. Ryan Garko had a long homer to left field to keep everyone of us few Ranger fans longball happy. I hope you realize that before Chris Davis left that this team had (wait for it) ... 4 first basemen. Tracy, Davis, Garko, Moreland.
Cody Eppley. I had no inkling that he is a sidewinder. He throws a tick harder than most sidearmers. His fastballs were consistently 88 all night. 78 mph slider (I think). Cody pitched both the 8th and 9th inning of a close 4-2 game. That's interesting since he just arrived. Maybe it's due to an overworked staff. I don't follow this team closely enough to really know for sure. He faced the minimum 6 hitters during those 2 innings. 4 K's and 2 ground balls. What's not to like about that? He was impressive. He made several batters look like they had no clue. I assume that his ceiling would be, can you say, O'day, O'day, O'day. One note about Zach Phillips who finished off the 7th inning: When he throws his breaking ball, he keeps it down. I mean consistently. Always. Always between top of the knee and the dirt. I like that. He's a high energy guy too.
The Express has two of our old buddies on their team. Ramon Vasquez was playing third and Matt Kata also wore his uniform on the field. Still smiling about both of those guys not being on our team. I wonder what the Pirates did to get rid of Vasquez? DFA?
Funniest moment of the game came during the top of the 8th inning. The Redhawks had the bases loaded and Iribarren (he's not as big as he is listed in the program) was hitting with a 3-1 count. He took a huge swing at the next pitch and connected. Solid contact. The problem for the Express was that the center fielder was shaded well over into left field alley and playing shallow, but the high, soaring fly ball was headed towards the right-center field fence. This ball was surely one of the hardest hit balls of Hernan's career, way up into the night. The Express fans lost their breath because they were already down 2 runs and this ball was threatening to blow the game open. Yordanny (or whatever the Express centerfielder is called) who is not slow, took off, bee-lined a direct path to the ball, and after what seemed like 15 seconds, caught it near the wall, underneath the 407 foot sign. It was one of the longest runs I can ever remember an outfielder making to catch a fly ball. Ever! Yordanny (or whatever his name is) got a standing ovation from about half the crowd even though it was not a diving catch. He didn't climb the wall either. Granted, he was very close to the wall, and he might have jumped a small bit. Standing O mostly for making a long run. That moment was a real treasure to have captured and it went against our team. Motley crew of players but a very special moment. Kind of reminds you that baseball isn't as easy as they make it look.
Gentry. I like watching him run the bases. It's more track than baseball. If he could only find a way to get on base more often, then he'd probably be in Arlington.
I was planning on going to the game Saturday night too, but I had to stay home to watch Cliff Lee make his debut. Guess I made the wrong choice. Why does Baltimore have to peak against us? Oh well, I've already got tickets for the Sunday night game. If you want me to look for anything specific, put it in the comment section.