Watching Paul Konerko in spring training is fun. Most of his ‘Eeyore tendencies’ are removed at the moment, be it due to the low-pressure environment or the particular groove he’s in, and he’s spending the extra time humiliating baseballs. He’s sitting in and crushing the grooved fastballs that are easy to find this time of year, but is also staying back and keeping away from the self-jamshots that marred the end of 2012.
For that, it’s easy to think that this spring has acted as an enjoyable pallet-cleanse for Konerko. Yet, if there were the slightest health concern, there would not even the most minuscule level of outrage launched at a decision to not play him. The man is 37 years old, and hasn’t even been asked to run the bases after the fifth inning yet this year.
This consideration, and the fact that it is March 12 and regular play is still three weeks off, lends a lot of credibility to Robin Ventura mentioning “We’re not concerned about his playing time down here,” when explaining why Jeff Keppinger is still sitting out for a shoulder injury that was nagging him two weeks ago. Clearly the discomfort has not just eased away with a day’s icing, but Ventura is also in a position to bench Keppinger if he said his shoulder was “too itchy” as well. The incentive to have him on is just that slight.
It’s a small seed of doubt that festers not so much on its own merits, but because every other projected starter is stacking up the professional bats and avoiding attention, and because Keppinger’s pedigree as a full-time player has yet to be proven, his list of career injuries show a player who has endured his share of pain and missed time and third base defense is not what he’s known for, or recently experienced in (340 innings last year was the first he played it since 2009).
Going 10 for 21 with a walk and no strikeouts when he has been healthy enough to bat has probably thrown off any ideas that something serious is wrong, even if he won’t be throwing till the end of the week.
In the most extended look at Chris Sale all spring versus the Rockies on Monday, he looked as good as possible considering that radar data was not made available for the public. He breezed through five innings with just a solo home run to his name and opted for pumping in fastballs over flashing his knee-breaking stuff that much, and certainly not to ‘September in Detroit’ levels. The efficiency kept his workload light and will inspire old school types to boast that he’s “learning how to pitch,” now.
The Rockies got mean and sicced left-handed reliever Rex Brothers on Jared Mitchell in the seventh inning on Monday. The resulting strikeout reminded that Mitchell whiffed 179 times in 549 plate appearances last year as a 23 year-old playing mostly in Double-A Birmingham.
That dose of cold water might be needed, since so far, Mitchell has made such good contact and power, shown so much speed on the basepaths and range in the field that the announcement that he’ll start the year back in Triple-A Charlotte was treated like a breaking development.
On Monday, Mitchell stole second base almost entirely on speed, and ranged back in left field very easily to shag some deep drives. A few of his sprints back toward the wall brought some trepidation rushing back. What day is complete without that kind of terror?
Addison Reed‘s slider
Dan Hayes nailed the summary of Addison Reed’s 2012 dead-to-rights in his Sunday post. He lost his feel for his slider during the year and all but abandoned it, but wound up improving his feel for the changeup out of necessity. In theory, if Reed found a way to get his slider back, he could be better for having gone through the struggles of his rookie year And that’s not just in the way that Gordon Beckham talks about, but because he’ll have a deeper complement.
“(The fastball) is the pitch I could throw for a strike if I needed to, but batters knew that was the pitch I could throw for a strike as well,” Reed said. “At times I could see they were sitting on it. They knew I wasn’t going to throw a 2-0 slider. That’s what I’m working toward. I want to be able to throw it in all counts.”
So maybe discerning what happened to Reed is pretty straight-forward after all.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan