Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Good Friday by name …

WHGB11Good Friday loomed like a bad omen this week.

The schedule of MLB Spring Training games that day included starts for four pitchers on my recently-drafted fantasy baseball roster. Poor performances, or worse an injury or two, seemed a certainty.

Jon Lester was on the mound for the Cubs against the Brewers, Jose Quintana was pitching for the White Sox against the Mariners, and the Indians-Diamondbacks game featured Corey Kluber and Shelby Miller.

Consequently, the latter had to be my choice for the evening’s entertainment, forgoing an Oakland A’s appearance for pitching prospect Sean Manaea against the Angels in the process. Such was my enthusiasm that I grabbed a pencil and a blank scorecard and got stuck into some Spring Training score-keeping practice.

Shelby Miller was a bit sketchy to start with, including plunking Cleveland’s catcher Yan Gomes on the shoulder in the second inning, but his defence helped to keep runs off the board. Wellington Castillo negated a first-inning lead-off single by Tyler Naquin by foiling an attempted stolen base and Miller’s infielders turned a double-play in the second inning.

Miller settled down from there and produced the highlight of the game with a reflex catch on a come-backer between his legs to end the fourth inning. It’s not often that I would dish out a scorecard star for a Spring Training game, but this effort deserved one.

Cleveland’s Naquin did hit a homer off him to lead-off the sixth inning and to celebrate being told that he would make the Indians’ opening day roster earlier that day. He was their first-round draft pick in 2012 and should be a good stand-in whilst Michael Brantley continues his recovery from shoulder surgery.

As for Kluber, the 2014 AL Cy Young winner gave up 11 hits across his six innings of work, yet that was predominantly due to the way he was pounding the strike zone and that’s far from a negative in the pre-season period. He struck our four D-Backs around Jake Lamb‘s second-inning home run before things unravelled a bit in the sixth inning.

Yan Gomes showed off his excellent arm behind the plate by gunning down Socrates Brito twice and also pouncing on a swinging bunt by Castillo in the fourth inning to get the lead runner at second rather than taking the safe out at first. Gomes’s 2015 campaign was hampered by a knee injury, yet he appears healthy now and is one of many reasons why Cleveland shouldn’t be overlooked in the AL Central and Wild Card races this year.

Miller and Kluber’s outings left me breathing a sigh of relief, as did Lester’s strong start against the Brewers and Quintana’s seven K’s against the Mariners.

It wasn’t such a good day for the A’s, as Mike Trout smacked a first-inning homer and the Angels prevailed 11-3 whilst Oakland made four errors to go alongside the three they coughed up the day before.

Friday might not be the last time this season that I turn to my fantasy team players to offer some crumbs of comfort following a bad day at the office for my ‘real’ team.

The scorecard

Here’s a scan of my scorecard, completed up to the middle of the seventh inning when Shelby Miller came out of the game. The ‘fch’ reference at the start of Cleveland’s seventh inning stands for fielding changes. It’s standard practice in spring games for managers to make plenty of player changes in the later innings and – knowing that this was almost certainly going to be the last half-inning I was going to keep score of – I didn’t bother to make a note of them.

You can download and print off the scorecard I used here.

Other MLB notes

For all the grief that Arizona’s front office has received this off-season, their aggressive winter could pay-off especially if the Dodgers’ terrible luck with injuries continues. It was announced this week that Andre Ethier will be out for 10-14 weeks with a fractured tibia, whilst catcher Yasmani Grandal is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day due to an arm injury and Howie Kendrick battles with a leg injury.

The New York Yankees are another big spender who go into the final week of Spring Training with some significant question marks over their roster. Ivan Nova is in a battle with CC Sabathia for a spot in the rotation that appears to be coming down to which one doesn’t look quite as bad as the other. Nova didn’t do much to help his case on Friday by giving up three home runs against the Orioles. Sabathia is a far-from-ideal candidate to move to the bullpen so that may factor into the equation.

Things are very different for the other New York team. Earlier on Friday, Noah Syndergaard was in dominating form against the Cardinals, striking out nine over six innings.  Yankee fans will be sick of hearing about the stunning starting pitcher lineup of the Mets, yet in Syndergaard’s case that may be preferable to him competing against them with the Blue Jays. Toronto wanted to win in 2013 and so gave him up in the package to acquire the 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey in 2012/13 off-season, but it’s hard not to think about the 1-2 punch they could have had with Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman.

Finally, ESPN covered the Mets-Cardinals game on Friday and there was plenty of talk about the Redbirds’ rivalry with the Chicago Cubs. You get the sense that St. Louis are charged up by everyone hailing the Cubs as the best team in MLB heading into this season. Every one of the 19 games they will play against each other during the regular season will be an event.

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