by Ben Davey
With the San Diego Padres playing in a morning road game, and the Lake Elsinore Storm hosting a home night game, what better time to go take the drive up the I-15 to the gorgeous Diamond in Lake Elsinore. Well I will answer that by saying do not leave San Diego at 4:30 pm and expect to get there before 6:40. But traffic is beside the point.
There is just something uniquely different about going to a minor league game that makes it so much different from going to a major league game. I will venture to say that it has a lot to do with the marketing. When I pulled up, almost every car in the parking lot, had either a family or a couple going to see the game. Most of them probably could not name more than a handful of players on the Storm, but they wear their gear, and they look forward to having a fun time, watching the mascots, seeing fireworks, and of course, hopefully seeing a Storm victory. If you have never been up to Lake Elsinore for a game, I highly recommend it. It is a different experience from the normal Padres games at Petco (plus its hard to beat Thirsty Thursdays)
Anyway, enough with the fluff piece, back to baseball.
Go figure, I go to a Lake Elsinore Storm game in the hitter friendly Cal League and I get treated to a pitcher’s duel… for the first 7 innings. After that, the flood gates burst open behind expert setup man Alexis Lara. A week ago Lara wowed Padre fans by pitching 2 innings in an “A” ST game, striking out the side in both innings. Tonight was a different story. Lara faced 5 batters, and 5 batters reached base. If it wasn’t for a good play on a carom by Carvajal to hold the batter to a long single, Lara would have allowed the cycle. Then, just for god measure, Schumacker came in and allowed that double to give the Mavericks a cycle for the inning. All in all the score went from 1-0 Storm to a 2-8 loss.
Before the offensive explosion by High Dessert, 1st round pick Nick Schmidt looked a WHOLE lot better than he did in Lake Elsinore last year. He got ahead of hitters, mixed his pitches well, and had hitters guessing the entire time. Making his first start of the year he was pulled after 79 pitches in 5 innings, I will not go out on a limb and say he looks like a player worthy of the lofty 1st round draft choice, but he at least is giving fans some hope that the 2007 1st round pick will not be a complete bust.
The pitcher that most impressed me though has to be Jorge Reyes. Maybe it’s because pitchers that throw a pitch and are immediately ready to throw another pitch have a special place in the hearts of fans who hate the 4 hour Steve Trachsel games. Not only did he throw one pitch right after another, I had him timed at 5 seconds between two pitches, but Reyes also had filthy stuff. Reyes pitched to the heart of the order over an inning and a third, and hitters looked anything but comfortable. Reyes retired every batter he faced, before being removed for the lefty Zack Herr.
Offensively the team is missing Padres #2 prospect Jaff Decker. I will give the hitters the benefit of the doubt that being only the 2nd game of the year, hitters are still trying to shake the rust off, and maybe the HD pitcher, Kenin Kasparek, had his stuff working for him the entire game, BUT the showing, well…looked like a Padres affiliate.
The Storm mustered only 1 run on 3 hits over the first 7 innings, and that 1 run only scored because of a passed ball and wild pitch on back to back pitches. The Storm scored their second run of the game after an excuse me swing single, an infield single (SPEED by Cumberland), and a single + error that let the run score. There were a few hard hit balls, and a couple nice plays (diving stop by the CF to rob Tekotte, and a diving stop by the 3B to rob Belnome), but as a whole the offense was not clicking the way the Tin Caps clicked last year.
Defensively there were some terrific plays and some head scratchers.
Defender of the game has to go to Cole Figureoa. In the first Cole made a nice basket catch on a flyball to RF. The RF (Carvajal) got a horrendous jump, but Cole was there to bail him out. Later in the game he made a great play on a bounding ball up the middle and flipped it over to Cumberland for the out.
Speaking of Cumberland, he did not look comfortable at all at SS. The first play of the game he pulled Dykstra off the bag, but Dykstra was able to make a swipe tag for the out. The next play resulted in Drew throwing a ball that barely got more than half way to 1st before bouncing. Later in the game he had a ball pretty much go right through his legs. Easily a forgettable game for him. After the 1st Cumberland error, the runner took off for second base. Not only did he get a huge jump on Schmidt, but Collins had one of thee worst throws I have ever seen. It nearly hit a ducking Schmidt, and ended up getting to second on a few hops.
As far as individual players, its interesting to look at their swing mechanics and listen to the type of contact they make. Dykstra for instance hits everything HARD. Each time Dykstra made contact with the ball, it flew a mile. Unfortunately for Dykstra and the Storm the mile was either foul or straight up in the air. You can tell though, that provided the timing issue is just rust, he will be a monster hitter.
Carvajal on the other hand….well what can be said that hasn’t already been said. Carvajal to me is the adult who pushes kids out of the way so he can use the batting cages and show off to whoever is watching. He has the strength, raw ability, and on paper should be able to crank one pitch after another over the wall. Instead, as it happens so often with show off guy, Carvajal fails miserably.
A few pop ups, some foul balls, and a lot of building frustration. Carvajal takes this huge swing that almost looks like a pitcher trying to square up on a Lincecum fastball, and comes up completely empty, looking horrible in the process. Finally something clicks and he shortens his swing. Unfortunately it is still Lincecum vs Latos (batting) as the shortened swing looked more like a series of jabs at the ball, each providing less and less contact. When he finally does square up on the ball, it went for an out and a foul ball, neither of which made up for the ugly swings earlier. I don’t know what it will take to get him to “click” but he has managed to quickly go from top 10 prospect, to being lucky if he is not cut in June.
I am a huge fan of both Tekotte and Robertson. They give 110% no matter where the ball is hit, and do everything they can to get on base. Of course the law of average stated that after Tekotte was denied a hit by a great diving stop by the CF, he came up to lead off the 8th and had an excuse me swing that landed over the 3B head in LF. They are tremendous defenders, and have a great head on their shoulder.
While the 2-8 drubbing looked pretty gruesome I will say this “Remain faithful Storm fans, there are quite a few reasons to be an optimistic.” Back to back starters showed us that the pitching will be there, and once Jaff Decker comes back and is added to Cumberland, Dykstra, Belnome, Tekotte, Robertson, etc… this will be a lineup to be feared in the Cal League.
And I will make a stand by my prediction that says the Storm will clinch home field advantage in the Cal League playoffs.