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Mehring in Arizona: Day two

March 26, 2011
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I gotta circle back
Touch something near
Find out which way to go
To get on out of here

It is so easy to fall back into the rhythm of the season.  It was my first day at the Maryvale complex today, but it took me all of ten minutes to feel like baseball season.  This was before I heard the first crack of the bat or pop of the glove.

Of course, when Scooter is the first player from the 2010 team that you meet it is easy to feel like baseball season is here.  In short order, Kyle Dhanani, Cutter Dykstra, Del Howell, and Maverick Lasker stopped to say hello.  Then, Jeff Isom walked up to get to work.  That was when I realized I was standing on the wrong field.

New Rattlers manager Matt Erickson saw me talking to Ice and I could hear him call out "Stay over there!  Stay over there!"  Yes, it's going to be a long season.

Once I made my way to the right field, the snow question came up from just about everyone I met.  That included new hitting coach Dusty Rhodes, Ned Yost IV - who was helping out on the field today, Reid Nichols, Charlie Green, Darnell Coles, just about every rover that has been through Wisconsin in the last few seasons.  I told them all not to worry.  The snow will be gone by Opening Day.  Did you hear me, snow?

In talking with Matt - if the roster shakes out the way he thinks that it will - he really likes the speed of the team and says that they will steal a lot of bases.  There may be some pop, not a lot, some.  Pitching? I'll leave that for later on in this trip because it is still a little tough to figure out who is going to be with the Rattlers.

Daunting is the word that comes to mind when you see how many players there are working out with the team right now.  There are about 20 position players and over 20 pitchers during the morning practice sessions.  Only 25 players will make the Timber Rattlers active roster when the season starts on April 7.  Some of these guys are going to stay behind in Arizona.  Some are going home.

Chad Robinson was doing some side work on a mound in the bullpen and I talked with him a bit.  He started the season with the Rattlers in 2010 and got a ring with Helena last year, but he mentioned that he was out for the final three weeks of the Pioneer League season.  Chad said that he is fine now and hoping to head north to Appleton with the team.

That captures what everyone of these players want to do.  Yes, it is great to be in Arizona and playing baseball in warm weather.  But each player wearing a jersey down here wants to be playing somewhere that is NOT Arizona once the minor league season starts.

Later, the pitchers were working on bunt defense on one field and the infielders and outfielders went to another field to work on footwork and tracking popups.  I got over there late and it was disconcerting to see Joey Paciorek taking grounders at shortstop.

Not that Joey couldn't play shortstop.  At a later point in the morning practice session, the coaches asked for a few first basemen to help with another drill.  Joey sprinted to his equipment bag and pulled out a first baseman's mitt.  It reminded me of a line that Omar Bradley said in Patton:  George, I think if you were named Admiral of the Turkish navy, your aides could dip into their haversacks and come up with the appropriate badges of rank.  Just saying that versatility is the key.

Practice wrapped up with four rounds of batting practice.  I tweeted the groups as it happened.  But here they are in an easily readable form:

Group 1: Greg Hopkins, TJ Mittelstaedt, Carlos George, and Demetrius McKelvie
Group 2: Jason Rogers, Yadiel Rivera, Mike Walker, Nick Shaw, and Paciorek
Group 3: John Dishon, Robbie Garvey, Max Walla, and Kenny Allison
Group 4: Reggie Keen, Brent Dean, Tyler Roberts, and Tony Pechek

The team had about 75 minutes to grab lunch and get loose for the afternoon game against.  It was supposed to be Dayton, but there were a lot of Dragons from last season on the team taking on the Rattlers on Friday.  Turns out this was Bakersfield, Cincinnati's California League affiliate.  They played like they were a level up on the Rattlers.  The final score was 11-4.

There will be a fuller boxscore on Rattler Radio in the morning, so consider this part a whetting of the appetite.

Here is the starting lineup:

Keen           CF
George         SS
Mittelstaedt   LF
Rogers         1B
Hopkins        2B
Roberts        C
Dishon         RF
Paciorek       3B
Pechek         DH

Jimmy Nelson was the starting pitcher and he got off to a rough start.  He did not record three outs in the first inning.  (Remember, in minor league games during spring training teams can end an inning without the third out being recorded.  This saves on pitchers.)

Nelson retired the first batter, but just missed on a 3-2 pitch to the next.  A bloop and another walk loaded the bases.  A grounder and a 2-run single put Wisconsin down 3-0.

For the day, Nelson threw 57 pitches over 3.1 innings with five hits, four runs, three walks, and a strikeout. 

There were four other pitchers to see action Friday.  All were in trouble at one point or another.

Kevin Shackelford walked the first two batters he faced after relieving Nelson in the fourth.  Then, he gave up a triple to start the fifth, but got out of that.

Thomas Keeling allowed a single and two walks to load the bases in the sixth, but allowed just one run.

Jose Sanchez allowed hits to the first five batters he faced in the seventh and gave up four runs.  It was stressed to him that he needs to get the ball down between innings.  In the eighth Sanchez allowed back-to-back doubles.  Fortunately a 7-6-5 (Allison to Rivera to Walker) putout at third retired the first batter of the inning.

Alex Jones pitched the ninth.  The defense committed two errors behind him.  Jones walked two batters.  He also hit a batter with the bases loaded to force in run.

Offensively, Keen doubled in the first but was left stranded.  George and Roberts had RBI.  The other two runs for Wisconsin scored on errors.  There were a lot of strikeouts.  Eleven Rattlers went down on strikes in the game.

As promised, there was running.  I counted three stolen bases, a couple of hit-and-run attempts, and when there was a chance, players tried to take the extra base.  The team scrapped and scratched their way to within one run after being down 4-0 early in the game.

But, there is still work to do.  I counted up seven hits for the Rattlers.  No one had more than one hit.  Only three walks were drawn.

During the game, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I'm going to have to ask you to leave, sir."  Before I could turn with the Mehring Death Stare, Erik Miller introduced himself.  Erik was a Rattlers player in 2009 and 2010, but was released at the end of last season.  He is taking classes at Scottsdale Community College, working in real estate, looking at going to Arizona State once he gets his final seven credits at SCC, and enjoying married life.  It was interesting to see a former player who is no longer playing.  Erik is adjusting well to 'civilian life'.  He has even turned down a few invitations to play in local baseball leagues.

I am not going make a prediction for the 2011 Timber Rattlers season based on the results I saw today.  That would be a serious case of using the JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS mat.  Not ready to do that yet. I need to see what the whole roster.  But, most people around here are stressing that both the Pioneer League affiliate and the Arizona League affiliate of the Brewers won championships last season.  The majority of those players are going to be with the Rattlers this year.

Pictures that were taken on Friday have been uploaded to the Timber Rattlers facebook page.  Look through them here and see if you recognize any names or faces.

There are a few pictures of three former Rattlers in Cleveland jerseys.  The Brewers were playing the Indians at the major league stadium and I took some pictures of Shin-soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Luis Valbuena.  Unfortunately, I did not get down on the field to get them.  I wound up standing by the rail with a bunch of Cleveland fans.  I did not call out for any of those former Rattlers.  I am pretty sure that my press pass would have been taken away for that...or branded me as a fan of Cleveland.  Nobody wants either of those things.

Last story of the day.  I was heading out to eat and rounded the corner to get to the elevator in the hotel.  If I had taken two or three more steps, I would have run right into Hunter Morris.

The former Timber Rattlers first baseman was pumped for the Rising Stars game.  I talked to him a little about his games up with the big league club during Cactus League play.  He mentioned that he was pretty happy to start 2-for-2 with a triple and a single.  Then, he got to face Aroldis Chapman.

He mentioned that it was the eighth inning and he knew he was going to lead off the ninth.  He saw Chapman warming up in the bullpen and went, "Oh, boy."

Morris assured me it wasn't that bad.  Chapman was only throwing 97-98 that day.

More tomorrow.  Follow me on twitter (@CMehring) for as close to 'as it happens' as you can get...Everything should kick off around 11am CDT.

Day one: Getting There