Week 1 of MLB 2013 brings thoughts on how three teams are pitching in the ninth … and the best story of the young season.
Dale Sveum's second year is off to a daunting start, with the renewed challenge of handling Carlos Marmol. Knowing the big picture goals, do you showcase your hopeful trade bait at all costs, risking the resentment of a team that reasonably wants to win its games?
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Going into Saturday, Marmol had a hold and a save. It was, in some ways if you ignored many other details, still a conceivable showcase. But Saturday night ended all fence-sitting.
We all sat there, watched it, knew it was coming. The brothers Upton in Atlanta should be the last ninth-inning batters Carlos Marmol sees for a long time, perhaps ever in a Cubs uniform.
The breaking point has arrived in just the second series of the year. A team has to be able to take its manager seriously. The Cubs' dream of finding an "out-of-town-stupid" general manager to take Marmol off their hands is inconceivable right now.
•No closer issues exist on the South Side, as Addison Reed has shown both the willingness to throw his slider and the ability to spot it as he must.
Too often last year, especially late, he became a one-pitch pitcher. Hitters are too good to beat that way, unless you're Mariano Rivera.
Reed save No. 1 on Opening Day: 9 fastballs, 6 sliders. Save No. 2: 8 fastballs, 2 sliders, and 1 changeup mixed in. And during save No. 3 Saturday: 5 fastballs and 9 sliders, including 3 devastating strikes in a row to Jesus Montero to end the game.
Keep righties fearful of the pitch tailing off that outside corner, and 94 mph heat can seem like 98.
•I'm disappointed in Detroit manager Jim Leyland. If you've read or heard me before, you probably know I resent the lazy, push-button bullpen management that is almost universally pervasive.
If you're not blessed with a true, dominant closer, as well as perfectly equipped seventh- and eighth-inning guys, why not employ a free, modern approach? Scout, research, know the splits, and go for advantageous matchups. Save stat be damned!
The Tigers were primed to be this year's experiment, helmed by an all-timer in Leyland. I looked forward to it with relish. But quickly, Leyland seems to have shown he's not interested in the true task at hand, and yearns for the easy solution.
Phil Coke got a chance against right-handed batters, which he simply does not deserve, and when he failed the Tigers immediately re-signed the deposed Jose Valverde to a minor-league deal.
They'll probably trade for a second-rate option sooner rather than later, and I'll have to look elsewhere for a manager willing to buck the standards.
•Now for the best story of the year: Atlanta's Evan Gattis.
Gattis had a baseball scholarship at 17, but his mother took him to drug rehab instead. He was self-medicating his anxiety and depression.
Gattis then traveled, hitchhiked, sought spiritual guidance from a wide array of gurus and eventually realized he wanted to try baseball again. He came home, worked harder than he ever had, got drafted last year at age 25, and played his way onto the Braves' roster this spring.
In his first game, while his father was being interviewed in the outfield stands on the Braves' broadcast, Evan Gattis homered off Roy Halladay.
It was a moment I watched again and again, drinking in the full familial joy at what they all knew was an unlikely second opportunity. Frankly, this 26-year-old rookie made my sports week.
Keep it coming, baseball.
•Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670