Pat Neshek reported to the Twins’ spring training complex early to get back on the mound and face live hitters again 14 months after Tommy John elbow surgery. And because he’s a blogger in addition to being a side-arming setup man, Neshek wrote an interesting update on his progress:
On Tuesday I faced hitters for the first time and things went great. One of the hitters I faced back in November … said that I had a lot more zip on the ball this time around. … On Friday I faced hitters again. It took me a couple days to get over the soreness, normal soreness I should say from pitching a couple innings worth of hitters.
My velocity felt good but I felt like it still wasn’t where I was at during my peak. On the other hand my slider was a ton better and got some remarks from the hitters. I asked both guys what they thought my velocity was and they said I was sitting most likely around 88-89 on my fastball. … With this injury you slowly get your velo back by doing more and more mound work and feeling comfortable with mechanics. I was really happy because in November my fastball high speeds were 85 & 86.
Prior to the injury Neshek had a 2.91 ERA, 143 strikeouts, and .188 opponents’ batting average in 121 innings while averaging just 89.9 miles per hour with his fastball, so it sounds like most of his velocity has already returned. Minnesota has made a bunch of nice moves this offseason, but getting Neshek back at something resembling his old self could push the Twins over the top in the AL Central.
Oh, and speaking of Neshek, he gets some pretty amazing “fan” mail.
On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”
Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”
Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.
The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.
When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.