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Blake Hawksworth Watch, Literal And Figurative

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Literal

It's time for Blake Hawksworth start number four!

Blake Hawksworth is like the Jeff Suppan we can all get behind. He's not all that great, and he's not all that likely to be great, but like Suppan he's been pretty decent, and unlike Suppan he's interesting to watch. With Jeff Suppan it is just a matter of putting three earned runs on the board, catching up on your DVR backlog for three to three-and-a-half hours, and flipping to Fox Sports just in time for Dennys Reyes to start the top of the sixth inning. With Blake Hawksworth there are all kinds of indicators of his effectiveness, 

First indicator: velocity. Hawksworth threw in the mid-90s one shoulder surgery ago, when he was the Cardinals' top prospect both before and after labrum repair. (It was a different time for prospects in the dark ages between the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of Future Redbirds.) In his second career as a second-tier suspect, from 2006 to 2008, he was supposed to be throwing high-80s-low-90s. 

When he joined the Cardinals' bullpen in late 2009 after a noncommital cup of coffee and began throwing 95 miles per hour—at times throwing nothing but fastballs—it could at least be explained away as the effects of moving to the bullpen. But in his two solid starts he's averaged 94 and 93 with his fastball, which is a step beyond what could have been expected of Hawksworth at his most irrelevant in 2008. His strikeout rate was trending up at AAA—maybe it wasn't just craftiness. 

But what was truly impressive in his last start was the return of his infamous plus changeup. I've been waiting a long time for a pitcher with an awesome changeup—Anthony Reyes's sinking strikeout change disappeared with his fastball, P.J. Walters's impossibly slow screwballesque couldn't fool enough major leaguers to convince them he had a fastball, and now Hawksworth seemed to thrive the most in the bullpen when he threw his changeup the least. 

But last week he threw 27 changeups against 53 fastballs, and got eight swinging strikes out of them. Most of his changeups—and swinging strikes—were low and out of the zone, the kind of ahead-in-the-count strikeouts that perfectly complement DuncanBall. 

And finally: he played DuncanBall really well! Like Suppan he aims as many fastballs as possible in each corner of the bottom of the zone. Unlike Suppan he has a fastball that might eventually allow him to get away with the mistakes that in his last start were sent out of the park. I don't expect a lot out of Hawksworth just because there's nothing except my own long-term Hawksworth fandom and two good starts to suggest we should expect a lot. But fifth starters aren't the guys you expect a lot out of; they're the guys who have room to pleasantly surprise on occasion. 

Figurative

As Literal Blake Hawksworth Watch might suggest, I am most fond of prospects that have one or more of the (also figurative, but sometimes literal) dings and dents that cause consumer goods to end up at Big Lots. Some of the prospects, like Hawksworth, are high-quality goods that fell off the truck and injured a shoulder or stayed in the minor leagues past their expiration dates. Others were never more than generic space-fillers but still have some limited major league usefulness.

This is a high attrition fandom. (Don't look at Gary Daley's June, or July.) But I was happy to see long-time VEB pet tools goof Tommy Pham get promoted to AA Springfield to replace Aaron Luna, who's off to Memphis over the weekend. Last night he walked, doubled, and stole his 14th base of the season.

Pham has had all five tools from birth, apparently, but after his strong Spring Training all that power he'd shown vanished beneath the crushing park factors of high-A Palm Beach. His .262/.377/.392 line in the FSL wasn't extremely impressive, but the league slugging percentage in the FSL this year is .364, and the league OPS .688, so it'll be good to see him in a league where he is (and we are) out of excuses.