pujols' walk in the first inning was almost as encouraging as the opposite-field base hit that won the game in the 8th. after falling behind 0-2, albert took four pitches juuuuust off the outside corner at the knees --- the type of pitch on which he's been grounding out to short and third all spring. albert didn't bite on any of'm. either he's starting to see the ball better, or he's starting to have a little confidence in the guys hitting around him --- specifically, the one hitting directly behind him. a few days ago, when rolen was hitting .190 and only had 2 extra-base hits all season, maybe pujols would've chased one of those pitches and tried to do something superhuman. with rolen now at .290 and hitting the daylights out of the ball, perhaps albert felt he could allow himself the luxury of waiting for a strike.
pujols laid off the same pitch in his decisive 8th-inning plate appearance. in the hole 1-2, he protected the plate with a couple of two-strike fouloffs, the second of which came on a fastball in on the hands. on the next pitch (the 6th of the at-bat) saarloos threw one shin-high, just off the corner --- the type of bait that a messed-up anxious hitter can't resist (especially with two strikes) but a relaxed, confident one can. albert took it for ball two. saarloos tried again on the next pitch but got it into the strike zone --- pretty much had to, as he could ill afford to let the count go to 3-2 in that situation. so albert's discretion forced the pitcher to come to him --- you know, like it usually has for the last 6 years. it was a pretty good strike, didn't get too much of the plate, but albert didn't try to do too much with the pitch, just went with it and found a gap. on both those at-bats he looked more like himself --- ie, smart and patient --- than he has all spring.
to dwell on those last two pitches for a moment longer: if he swings at the low-outside bait on pitch #6, he probably hits a grounder to the left side (likely a double play). same probable result if he attempts to pull pitch #7. lots of us at VEB have observed albert committing both those mistakes all spring --- chasing outside the strike zone, trying to pull too much --- and the batted-ball numbers at fangraphs support our impressions. even after last night's game, he's hitting 47 percent of his balls in play on the ground, 7 percent above his career norm, while hitting just 13.5 percent for line drives, or 6 percent below his career norm. last night he laid off the groundball sucker-pitches, waited for one he could hit for a line drive, and put the proper swing on it. a little more of that type of hitting, and the anomalies in albert's batted-ball mix will disappear --- along with, presumably, the anomalies in his batting line.
while we are talking about patience and plate discipline: was anybody aware that rolen's walk last night was only his 3d one of the season? and it was intentional --- he's only taken 2 non-intended walks all season, or 1 per 32.5 plate appearances. his career ratio is 1 unintentional walk per 9.4 plate appearances. good to see him slugging the ball again, but apparently he, like pujols, has been chasing pitches he oughtn't. rolen's strikeout rate is perfectly normal, and he has now elevated his batting avg to its typical level; but maybe his low walk rate and low (for him) slugging pct are not unrelated. if you don't force pitchers to come into the strike zone you see fewer mistakes, fewer pitches you can clout. or maybe it's the other way around in rolen's case: when you don't slug the ball, pitchers attack you with impunity. maybe scotty's recent hot streak will force hurlers to pitch him a little more carefully, resulting in a few more bbs.
looper continues to win admirers and make his pitching coach look smart. he crossed the 100-pitch threshold for the first time in his career last night and looked strong doing it; after yielding a homer on pitch #70, he mowed down 6 of the next 7 reds without encountering anything resembling trouble. for the season, he has yielded a .242 / .324 / .424 line on the 3d time through the opponent's batting order and a .236 / .317 / .353 line after pitch #50; those of us who doubted looper's stamina appear to have doubted for nothing, at least so far. the longer-term measure of stamina remains to be taken; will looper still be able to go deep into games after he's put another 10 or 15 starts on his arm? i'm not convinced that he will, but i'm sure not going to bet against it.
while we're admiring reclamation projects, cincinnati has done a nice job with today's starting pitcher, kyle lohse. the cardinals had some interest in lohse last off-season, when it looked as if the twins were going to non-tender him. minnesota ended up making him an offer, but then traded him to the reds at deadline time after lohse put up a 7.07 era in 64 innings. lohse has benefited greatly from the league switch; his strikeout rate has jumped from 5.6 per 9 innings in the al to 7.3 per 9 innings in the nl. lohse also has achieved a mild decrease in his walk rate, so his k/w ratio has improved from a pedestrian 2 to 1 in the american league to about 3.5 to 1 in the senior circuit. he looks like the kind of pitcher who'll shred the cardinals' current lineup; i hope keisler can get the first pitch over today.
maybe it'll rain.