Two Princes

I was driving up the Baltimore/Washington parkway on my way to score an Orioles game when I saw an incredible sight: there was a bald eagle in the grassy median between the north- and south-bound lanes.  The median was probably close to 100 feet wide there and the bird was not so much flying as it seemed to be practicing taking off and landing.  Low level, short jumps of 20-30 feet.  It distracted me almost to the point of driving off the road; rarely does one see a bald eagle in the wild (they are on the endangered species list), especially while driving to work.  It was also unusual because these birds almost always live near water.  While DC and Baltimore both have significant waterways nearby, one wouldn't imagine that the median of a highway would yield a lot of the kind of aquatic life these birds generally live on. 

My guess was that this bird was either injured or had somehow escaped a zoo.  Seeing as how if someone accidentally ran into the avian as it was trying to fly over the road they would be subject to both a year in Federal prison and a $100,000 fine for killing our national bird, it seemed like a good idea to call someone to get it to a safer place

So I called the National Zoo on my cell phone to see if they were missing an eagle.  They weren't.  Nor were they aware of any missing from any of the other registered keepers in the area.  Still, we were in agreement that the highway probably wasn't the best place for an eagle.  So I asked, "do you guys have someone there who can take care of this?" 

"Sorry, no.  Have you tried Animal Control?"

This seemed like an odd response to me.  One of the world's most famous zoological gardens was referring me to the guy with the 6' fishnet and tazer to capture one of the rarest birds of prey on earth.  I imagined Jack Hanna administering himself a powerful tranquilizer upon hearing that news.  Or Marlin Perkins having to be restrained by Jim Fowler as the tiger Jim was in the process of hog-tying scampers away.   Sure, if you have a problem with something common like a dog or a cat or a raccoon or maybe even a bear, Animal Control are the right people to handle the job.  But an endangered species that happens to be our national symbol?  I had my doubts. 

So why do I bring this up on a baseball site?  Because I had some of the same kind of doubts that Javy Lopez would be the right guy to handle pitchers like Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera.  His pitch selection and location were awful last year and despite both Bedard and Cabrera having a world of talent, they both had to throw between 5-15 extra pitches per game due their catcher.   That may not sound like much, but it ends up being an extra inning's worth of pitches wasted each outing and that many more opportunities for an opposing hitter to capitalize on a mistake.  When you play in the same division as Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Vernon Wells and (last year) Carlos Delgado, those mistakes can be costly.   Even with the raves they drew this spring with their stuff and make-up, I had some doubts that either would ever fully develop because of who was on the receiving end of their offerings. 

I never heard anything more about the eagle, so I assume it made it to safety without incident.  As for Bedard and Cabrera, it looks like they may be headed to safely into the land of realized potential because Javy Lopez is a changed man this year.

I scored Bedard's 12-strikeout performance last week and what amazed me more than his total dominance of the Blue Jays (allowing just two hits and two walks through the first seven innings), was Javy Lopez actually setting up inside on a two-strike pitch.  And not setting up outside every time Bedard got ahead of a batter.  It was exhilarating.  Maybe someone told him about his tendency last year.  Maybe he began to notice hitters looking outside whenever his pitcher got two strikes.  Or maybe he thought he'd just try something different, just for grins.  It doesn't matter.  What does matter is that with the Orioles offense and improved bullpen, Bedard has a legitimate shot to be 20-game winner this year and Cabrera has a chance to develop into a dominating right-hander.  Some might be concerned about the 126 pitches that Bedard threw, but as long as that's not the start of a trend it doesn't seem to be too worrisome.  He's 26 years old and Mazzili/Miller have been careful with him; this was the first time this year he topped 111 and last year he topped 116 only twice.  Fire up the bandwagon, baby!

The other pitcher I was impressed with last week was Gustavo Chacin, who from now on I will refer to as "Left Luthor".  The guy really goes look like Superman's arch enemy Lex Luthor and since he's a southpaw, it seemed like a good fit for a nickname.

Anyway, I wasn't especially impressed with his stuff, but two things did stand out about the way he pitched.  The first was his delivery.  As he's readying to go to the plate, he make a little samba step back that sort of looks like you just did a half second rewind with your VCR.  However, the move is oddly hypnotic and does seem to throw batters' timing off in almost the same way Hideo Nomo's tornado delivery seemed to frustrate hitters for a couple of years.  It's just enough of a delay that they are frequently in front of a fat pitch, fouling it off instead of drilling it for extra bases. 

The second obvious note was that he appears to be oblivious to his surroundings.  Walk a guy?  Who cares, I'll saw the next batters bat in half and start a 1-6-3 double play.  It also didn't seem to matter who was at the plate; he pitched to all quadrants of the strikezone fearlessly.  He walked 5 batters while striking out only two in the seven innings he pitched last Monday but broke six bats through the first three innings.  Even when the O's finally managed to break through in the 6th inning, it seemed like they had been the lucky ones to finally get a run across, instead of him being the lucky one to have avoided a run-fest for 6 innings.

I still think the league will catch up to him and his numbers won't be as appealing as they are now, but his composure reminds me of another left-handed starter who has been kryptonite to all statistical analysis for much of the past decade: Kirk Rueter.