Who has the most control over a baseball game? The manager? The pitcher? The batters? Nope, it’s the man behind the catcher, the home plate umpire. At tonight’s Bradenton vs. Dunedin game, the umpire liked two kinds of pitches: ones where the catcher did not need to move his glove an inch (pretty much regardless of whether the catcher was set up in the strike zone or not) and pitches right down the middle of the plate thigh-high. All other pitches were called balls — even one that clearly hit the batter’s bat on a check swing (luckily the field umpire called this a foul ball).
With an umpire like that, it wasn’t a surprise to see 13 walks resulting in 13 runs. Innings dragged on forever causing a very long night at the ballpark. And, quite frankly, I felt more of a sense of relief that the game was over instead of the thrill of pulling out a close game for the Marauders.
With the home plate umpire’s horrendous strike zone in mind, here’s how the Marauder players did.
On the hitting side, there were only 4 hits — plus 8 walks, 2 hit batsmen and 3 errors by the Jays. But those hits certainly maximized the scoring. Robbie Grossman led off the game by crushing a ball to the wall just left of straightaway centerfield. He came around on two fly balls that hit well and deep into rightfield by Jose Tabata and Jarek Cunningham. The nice thing about the top of the first was all three of these hits were struck hard to the opposite field.
In the 4th inning, the Marauders had their only multiple-hit inning. After a 4-pitch walk to Steve Pearce, Aaron Baker crushed a ball to the wall in dead center. Ramon Cabrera pushed a pitch over the head of the SS for an RBI and Adalberto Santos lined a shot right at the CF for a sac fly.
Then came the big hit of the game. After Grossman led off the 7th inning by smoking a ball to the right-center gap that the CF made an amazing sprint and head-first dive for the first out, the Jays handed the Marauders 3 baserunners in a row with walks to Tabata and Pearce and an error on the SS. Baker had a chance to make some noise but struck out swinging on a fastball right down the heart of the plate. But Evan Chambers absolutely crushed a 2-0 pitch over the left-center wall for a grand slam.
Neither Pearce nor Tabata got anything to hit all night, resulting in 5 walks between them. Pearce also reached base on an error but he might have beat out the throw if the second baseman had taken his time to get a better throw. Pearce looked like he was running well (for him anyway!) and made a couple nice plays in the field. Tabata never had to run and was the DH so I couldn’t tell how he’s doing. If I had to guess, I would expect to see Pearce back sooner rather than later, and Tabata might be a little further away.
On the pitching side, it was really tough with the combination of the umpire and the “fastball first” approach. At this level, it is unusual for Pirate pitchers (especially the starters) to throw anything offspeed unless they are ahead in the count. And with this umpire, it was virtually impossible to consistently be ahead in the count.
Brandon Cumpton had trouble hitting the glove in the first inning, fell behind, and had to either groove fastballs in hitters’ counts or walk batters. The Pirate way in the minors is to let them put the ball in play. A few belt high fastballs later, it was 4-1 in the bottom of the first inning. After that, he settled in, concentrated on throwing to the glove and actually got a few called strikes. He was sitting at 91-92 according to the scoreboard gun (which seemed accurate) and hit 93 several times throughout the game. He probably only threw 10 offspeed pitches but didn’t have great control over them.
The pitcher who looked best on the night for the Marauders was Ryan Beckman. He seemed to have no trouble with the strike zone, was throwing in the low 90’s and got 6 of the 7 batters out that he faced. He ended his performance with a beautiful curve over the inside corner to catch his last batter looking at strike three.
Diego Moreno on the other hand could not throw to the umpire’s strike zone for his life. His fastball was hitting 95-96 with a couple 97’s thrown in, but he couldn’t get a call. This resulted in a walk, HR, out and walk before he was pulled.
I feared Duke Welker would suffer the same fate as he was put in to save the game in the 9th. He walked the first batter on 4 pitches, then actually got a called strike 3 for the first out. The next batter hit a line shot that almost took Duke’s head off, but luckily he put his glove up, the ball went into it, and he was able to double the runner off first to end the game. Welker was throwing in the 93-94 range with a nice offspeed pitch in the lower 80’s.