The White Sox returned to competitive baseballing on Monday, losing somewhat blandly 6-4 to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But it was baseball all the same; the languid yet steady pace that allows for equal parts enjoyment and reflection, the simplicity yet intense skill of every defensive play...it's all so great to see again
Or perhaps it's just the defense and atmosphere that drew the focus, because the White Sox didn't do much of tremendous interest otherwise. Gordon Beckham performing a nifty gather-n-throw in one motion on a slow roller to retire speedster Dee Gordon, and finishing up a perfect relay home were a lot more fun takeaways then his at-bats, which pretty much featured every problem that marred 2011.
But the caveat of it being the very first game of Spring Training applies, and it's pretty much all-encompassing. Everything performance-wise that isn't present yet can still be presumed to be on its way. Everything that's already here is awesome. Physical tools are probably the only thing worth trusting.
Tools, as in "Wow, Jared Mitchell sure looked fast stretching that single into a double", and not so much "Goodness gracious, breaking balls are not Jared's friend".
Nestor Molina got shelled for five runs and pretty much single-handedly lost the game in his second inning of work. While there's an urge for the guy that Sergio Santos was traded for straight-up to look like a phenom even when he still belongs in AA, but that guy Monday, wasn't Nestor Molina.
The knock on Nestor is that while he possess great control, he might not have a strong enough arsenal to overpower hitters on higher levels and be an above-average starter. So it goes without saying that when Molina falls behind hitters with reckless abandon like he did repeatedly, he's bound for disaster. He's either working the kinks out, or every scouting report about him is wrong.
Ventura let Molina twist in the wind for a curiously protracted period, but he's a rookie manager, and every rookie gets one.
Alex Rios looked different. His hands being raised were the first thing to catch the eye, but Jim Margalus noticed something he thinks might be more significant.
Fortunately, we can also look at video from 2006 and 2007. Judging from some highlights I watched from those years, it looks like he made his biggest adjustment with his lower half.
Taking screenshots of Rios' stance at two stages -- waiting for the pitcher, then loading up -- then arranging them into filmstrips, something jumped out at me: He used to have an open stance, especially in 2006.
Rios gradually closed off his stance over the next two years, and it remained varying degrees of closed until Monday's game.
Whether or not the presupposed #3 hitter in the lineup has made a career-saving adjustment is something to keep an eye on, especially since the rest of what transpires is mostly designed to be ignored.
-Adam Dunn walked, and grounded out. These are things he's always done.
-In a continuing indication that this super-utility role has few boundaries, Brent Lillibridge spent some time at 3rd base. Nothing got screwed up too bad.
-Dayan Viciedo hit a long fly to, I donno, almost the warning track on a slow breaker Chad Billingsley left up in the 1st inning. It pretty much would have been the best way to start the Spring if it left the park.
Since it is the Spring, let's just say it's totally a dinger come mid-May. Later he struck out on a slider away in a big RBI situation and looked real bad. It's still the Spring.
-Dan Johnson crushed a massive home run to right in the 9th inning, shattering the streak of all his home runs being clutch at 2. The streak lasted 11 months. This joke doesn't work if you consider minor league stats.
-Addison Reed was the most impressive contributor of the day, popping a plus fastball, and fooling Matt Kemp with an inside slider for a K in his one scoreless inning of work.
In all, eh, not so bad. The strengths--infield defense, Reed's brilliance, Mitchell's athleticism, hits for Lillibridge and Ramirez--were nice to see, and while we're all starved for a Dunn HR, or Beckham catching up to a fastball, it's still too soon for it to become a trend. It's too soon for anything.
Probably the reason why people don't write about these games much.