I was there

Hey, this entry begins with italics. Which must mean Evan is away again. Is that what you were thinking? If so, then, yup, you were exactly right. Which must also mean that other guy is writing for him again. Boy, you’re right on top of things. Good call.
Of all the times and places not to own a camera phone.
I mean, it’s a long story, but I don’t own a cell phone for a reason. Suffice it to say that cell phones mean instant, permanent accessibility and I don’t want to be that accessible. If I want to call you, I’ll call you. If you want to call me, you’ll get hold of me eventually, if you try hard enough. That’s my theory.
Still, there are times & places where a cell phone comes in handy. And even though I can’t really imagine myself buying a camera phone, there are times & places where a camera phone would have its uses. As I learned the hard way.
But this is all me getting ahead of myself. Getting back to the beginning of the story, I guess you’ve heard by now that Wade Miller pitched his final rehab start this Tuesday at AAA Pawtucket and is scheduled to make his first start with the Red Sox this Sunday against Seattle. Yeah. As it happened, I was off work Wednesday, and I’m only 15 minutes from Pawtucket via I-95, so I figgered hey, what the heck, might as well get a glimpse of the future, right? And I did.
Now, with Miller pitching, I thought tickets might be a problem. But I didn’t have time to reserve tickets to the game, so I went potluck and bought my ticket at the gate. When the cashier asked if I had any seating preference, all I said was, “As close as you can get me.” Again, with Miller pitching, I assumed the place would be packed, and I was quite happy just to find out that tickets were still available.
Turns out, the game was sparsely attended. McCoy Stadium holds about 15,000 people (I think) max, but there were only 3,000 fans at the game. I attribute this to the chilly weather that night. Anywho, I got my wish: I was close. My seat was almost directly behind the backstop, which is the only place to be when you’re scouting a pitcher.
Miller was matched up against young JD Durbin of the Rochester Red Wings, the AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. Durbin was consistently in the 90’s on the radar gun and touched 96 mph twice that I recall. He also features a changeup & curveball, neither of which he disguises very well. If I’m 120 feet away from the pitcher’s mound and I can read his pitches coming out of his hand, I have to think that a pitcher needs a little work on his deception. And I could very easily read Durbin’s pitches from the stands: it was no trouble for me to see him turning his hand over on the breaking ball, and his arm motion on his changeup was clearly distinguishable from that of his fastball. Basically, I don’t think he’s gonna fool too many MLB batters that way. Oh, and he needs to work on his stamina, too.
Miller was the exact opposite. He wasn’t lighting up the radar gun, but he was consistently around 86 mph. He broke 90 mph twice, once hitting 91, once hitting 94. This wasn’t too much of a surprise, I guess. Like I said, it was a pretty cool night, and of course it got much cooler after the sun went down shortly after gametime. So the velocity isn’t something I’m going to worry about.
But what was interesting was Miller’s delivery. I didn’t get to watch him pitch for the Astros, except for your odd ESPN highlight, so I don’t know how much Wade has changed his delivery, but Miller was throwing across his body against Rochester. Rather than stepping towards home plate, he stepped almost towards the on-deck circle, and he threw very much across his body. Consistently, though. That was another thing: his delivery looked very regular, very repeatable. It’s not something I’m going to worry about, just as I’m not going to worry about his velocity right now.
And what was especially interesting was his arm motion. I already gave you a scouting report on Durbin: Durbin leaves his arm flailing out there in plain sight, and because of that delivery his pitches are easy to read. Miller was exactly the opposite, like I said. The best thing I can compare it to is a pitching machine — not the kind that operates based on a spinning wheel, but the kind that has a rotating arm that flings the ball forward. The arm shoots straight over the top: that was Miller Tuesday night. Right over the top at the last possible moment, and it was impossible for me to read his pitches coming from his hand. Only as the ball approached the plate could I tell what the pitch was. And that, my friends, is a very good sign. Because Miller’s offspeed stuff is nasty. Especially the breaking ball.
So that was your pitching matchup, and it was a very low-scoring game at first. Both starters pitched very well in the first two innings, and I remained completely focused on the game. After the second inning, I stood up to stretch a little and look around.
And then I saw him.
I was there to see Wade Miller pitch. So was Theo.
Theo Epstein, sitting directly behind home plate in the section next to mine. You know, in the same place he sits when he watches the Sox at Fenway.
I was stunned.
I was amazed.
I was a little bit in awe. Yes, I felt just a little bit awed.
He was with 4 assistants. That upper half of that section of the stands was mostly empty — this, I assume, was to give Theo a little breathing space. He had one assistant sitting to either side of him, one sitting directly behind him, and one sitting directly in front of him. As the game proceeded, I continued to glance in Theo’s direction, and I saw that all of these assistants were writing frantically on notepads between pitches.
I would give a lot to know what they were writing. I found out later that one of these fellas with Theo, the one directly to his right, was Ben Cherington, who is the franchise’s Director of Player Development. OK. Cool. I can’t say I recognized the guy at the time.
But I recognized Theo. The Boy Wonder. The youngest GM in baseball. The brilliant young mind who created the first SABR world champion. The guy in charge of $120m+ of player payroll. The guy who ended 86 years of misery, if not all talk of somesuch Curse or whatnot. The guy in the Dunkin Donuts commercials with Johnny Damon. The guy who, after nearly a century, finally nixed the idea that “Red Sox” and “World Series Champs” would remain terms perpetually contradictory to each other.
And for the first time in my life, I wished I had a camera phone. Of all the times & places not to own a camera phone. Unbelievable.
Un-freaking-believable.
Anway, the game went on for a couple more innings, and finally I worked up the courage to go over there. I didn’t have a camera phone, dammit, but I did happen to have a pen & paper. If I couldn’t get a snapshot of the time I met Theo, I could at least try to get his John Hancock, right?
Well, wrong. An usher stopped me, which was predictable. But I tried.
So that was that. The game went on. Both starting pitchers were clearly a little tired by the 4th inning. Durbin was losing speed on the gun. Miller was gaining speed on the gun but his breaking ball was starting to come in flat. By the 5th, it was coming in very flat and he was having trouble commanding it. He was on a pitch count of 90, so Miller left the game after getting the 2nd out in the 5th. Not a bad line: 5.2 IP, 7 K, 4 BB, 4 R, 3 ER. Not the greatest, but not bad. One of those BB’s was the first batter of the game, whom Miller walked on 4 pitches. This was pretty funny to me, actually, because he was clearly annoyed with himself after walking the guy on 4 straight balls. He bore down after that and pitched a couple of very strong innings, but even so, his mood remained the same, muttering fiercely to himself & shaking his head at his mistakes.
A competitor’s mindset: Wade got ticked at himself for giving away the freebie. I liked that.
As for the runs scored off Miller, 3 were technically “earned,” but I’m tellin’ ya, it wasn’t like that. Miller allowed a 2-run homer, and those runs were legit, but the other runs both came off a botched play in which C Kelly Shoppach overthrew a ball that was intended for 2B. The ball flew into CF, where George Lombard was supposed to be playing. But Lombard, inexplicably, was in LF talking to LF Mike Lockwood, so the ball rolled all the way to the fence, allowing both the baserunner & the batter to score on the play. I’m not gonna blame Miller for that, and I don’t care what the official scorecard says.
So Miller came out just after 90 pitches, and semi-prospect Juan Perez came into the game. Theo left (to a standing ovation) shortly thereafter, and Perez pitched well and got the win. Nice young arm there, Perez. Lefty pitcher, delivery reminds me of Octavio Dotel’s. Perez has a fastball with good movement that ranges between 88 and 94 mph but is consistently around 91 mph. Doesn’t have a great breaking ball, and I’m told that he projects to be a decent lefty specialist.
There’s your scouting report for the week. JD Durbin: readable. Juan Perez: lacks a consistent breaking ball. And Wade Miller, soon to be with the big club: serviceable. I’m not sure he’s gonna be a difference-maker right away. I don’t like his stamina just yet, and I think he’s probably going to need to continue building his shoulder strength to get his velocity a little higher. But you heard it here first: by the stretch run, the Red Sox are gonna be happy to have this guy. At best, he’ll be a #2 starter. At worst, he’ll be an ace long reliever. Either way, his services are going to be valuable to us by the end of the year.
And Theo, if you’re reading this, it was good to see ya there. Umm, feel free to drop me a line anytime. I’d give ya the number to my cell … if I had one.