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triple A tales

i still haven't written up my encounter with the memphis redbirds last week in colorado springs --- mainly because i cannot find my stupid digital voice recorder. it's probably either at the bottom of the kids' toy box or lodged in the dog's intestines; every other possible location has been explored. rather than continue the futile search, i'm just going to go off memory here; the quotes you'll read are not verbatim, but the statements are accurate.

i attended this game; give the redbirds credit for coming back from an early 4-1 deficit to make a game of it. they didn't arrive at the ballpark until less than two hours before game time --- took a commercial flight from salt lake city, bussed over to the hotel, then to the stadium, showed up at roughly 3:15 for a 5:05 start. no batting practice, no infield; just show up and play the game. the first redbird to appear on the field, pitching coach dyar miller, was eating a package of trail mix he'd purchased from a vending machine at the hotel. this is lunch, he told me.

i asked if the tight travel schedule was typical in triple A, and he answered: hell, this isn't so bad. the day this road trip started we had to get up at 4 a.m. to make our flight to salt lake city. that's something you gotta remember when you look at the stats from down here: sometimes there are circumstances. you can't always take 'em that seriously.

an example of "circumstances" might be the defense that troy cate had to pitch in front of that night. with ankiel hobbled by a bad achilles tendon, john rodriguez out with a bad hammy, and ryan ludwick playing for st louis, the redbirds had to start shortstop john nelson in centerfield and first baseman tagg bozied in left. bozied promptly hurt himself chasing a foul ball on the 2d hitter of the game and went to the dl, forcing manager chris maloney to stick ryan christiansen, a catcher, out there in left field. so: a catcher in left, a shortstop in center, and a converted first baseman (nick stavinoha) in right. there's your defense, son; now go on out there and pitch to contact.

i talked to a number of people in the redbirds' traveling party that night, both in and out of uniform. one of them gave the firm opinion that cate is not a starting pitcher --- he's a reliever. could be a damn good one, but they want him to start. i asked who he meant by "they," and he answered: the cardinals. jocketty? somebody in the organization. who? can't you tell me off the record? i'd tell you if i knew, but i don't. i just know he's starting because the cardinals want him to. . . . . the stats support this individual's opinion: cate has a 5.18 era in his 5 starts this year, vs a 1.08 era in 8.1 innings of relief. that split has held up throughout cate's minor-league career; he didn't really start to put things together until he got shifted to the bullpen in 2005.

he didn't look terrible the night i saw him; went swiftly through the order first time through, yielding only a solo homer, but started to leave his curveball up in the 4th inning and got hit hard. miller went out to talk to him after two men reached in the 5th inning; he must have noticed something about cate's delivery, because the bite palpably returned to his curve after that --- much tighter break. he finished strong and ended up with a no-decision. here are some pixs of cate's delivery; click on each image to get a full-size view.

a lot of the players didn't want to talk before the game due to the late arrival, but john rodriguez made himself available. he was working hard on his sore hammy with the memphis trainer --- ran 10 or 12 sets of stairs, from field level up to the top of the grandstand, and then spent most of a half-hour stretching on the outfield grass. he'd injured the hamstring in the middle of the salt lake city series. i told him that when his name disappeared from the box score for a couple of days, a lot of fans thought maybe he was on a flight to st louis. i wish that was the reason, he said, but i'll get back up there when it's time. how much attention do you pay to what the cardinals are doing? i asked. do you talk to any of those guys? i've talked to some of them a lot since the thing with josh, he said. they lost a teammate; they are hurting. it's been a very tough year. i asked if he felt he would get a better opportunity with some other organization, and he answered like a pro: i'm happy playing here. i'm happy god gives me the opportunity to play this game. i just need to get healthy.

nice guy, a grown-up. hope things work out for him.

randy keisler also gave me a couple of minutes; he's got a deep-south drawl to go along with that steve buscemi mug of his. when i asked how he'd liked working with dave duncan and whether he'd learned anything in particular, keisler changed the subject and said he was working on going back to his old delivery. they changed my delivery in oakland last year, he said, and when i got back down here (to memphis) i looked at some tape and saw that i was getting my arm ahead of myself. it was even worse when i got to st louis; you're pitching in the big leagues, and you've got so much adrenaline it speeds you up that much more. i'm working on correcting that now. when i repeated the original question, he said, duncan and la russa know i've got big-league pitches. very confident dude, and obviously not concerned with what the stat sheet says. the stats are about yesterday's game; keisler seems focused on tomorrow's.

somebody told me there is a bit of concern about blake hawksworth's durability. it's not that he is manifesting any signs of injury --- on the contrary, he has looked great this month (1.88 era, 1.00 whip). but some doubt exists, at least in some minds, about whether hawksworth can take the ball every 5th day over the course of a whole season. i pointed out that hawksworth didn't miss a turn last year and held up very well (he threw 163 innings over 5 months of baseball, averaged 6 innings a start); my source reiterated that hawksworth is being watched with an eye toward how well he maintains his strength over a full summer.

i got some very favorable impressions of brendan ryan in this game --- as a fielder, anyway --- but i'll save those for some other post. i'll conclude with a few more pixs. from left to right: matt pagnozzi bunts, edgar gonzalez stands in, rico washington fouls one off. click on each image to see it full-size.