Sunday Notes: Fien’s Twitchy Feeling, Baldelli’s New Gig, Pollock, more

Casey Fien has found his niche. Primarily fastball-curveball when he broke in with the Tigers, in 2009, the Twins reliever has since added a cutter and learned how to pitch. As he told me a few weeks ago, “Now I know what I can get away with and what I can’t.”

Last summer, Fien didn’t get away with a pair of misplaced pitches at Fenway Park. Protecting a 1-0 lead on a scorching afternoon, he surrendered back-to-back tenth-inning home runs. The gophers left a scar.

“It hurt a lot,” said Fien. “I think it still hurt at the end of the season. As a reliever, you never focus on your good games. Ever. You always look back at the negative ones, and I didn’t get a pitch far enough inside to David (Ortiz) and he wrapped it around the pole. Against (Mike) Napoli, I thought I made a pitch, but he popped it to dead center.”

Fien didn’t watch it go out. Knowing it was gone, he simply put his head down and walked to the dugout.

His big-league debut is a more pleasant memory. Facing the White Sox at Comerica Park, he pitched two-and-a-third scoreless innings, allowing a lone walk. The first out he recorded was an inning-ending pop-up, immediately proceeded by a startling revelation.

“When I came in, I didn’t know what the situation was until Paul Konerko came up to the plate,” explained Fien. “I stepped back and looked, and discovered the bases were loaded. I was like ‘Well, here we go.’”

Fien felt like a yo-yo as he jogged out of the bullpen.

“That was my fourth time getting ready that day,” answered Fien. “They definitely dry humped me, and yeah, I really didn’t know. I was up-and-down, up-and-down, and the last time I think I only threw five pitches. Then, all of a sudden, Boom! Boom! Boom! – I was in the game.”

Fortunately for Fien, he runs on adrenaline. He isn’t a flamethrower – his fastball averaged 92.3 mph last year – but he likes to be hyped up on the mound.

“I like that twitchy feeling, because I feel I can harness it” said Fien. “I focus on being smooth and quick, and the fast twitch gets me there. The game is quick (snap, snap, snap of Fien’s fingers). I mean, when you get up here, you realize it’s (snap, snap, snap). It’s quick, quick, boom ,boom, so if you’re amped to that mentality, you’re pacing with the game. I’m big Red Bull guy – a fast twitch guy – and I love that feeling.”

——

Dana Eveland is like a cat with nine lives. No matter how many times he’s kicked to the curb, he always finds a new home. Counting a year in Korea, the lefty has been with 10 organizations since being drafted by the Brewers in 2002. He’s currently pitching for the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox.

“I’ve been a little bit of everywhere and seen a little bit of everything.” said Eveland. “I’ve been a prospect and I’ve been a suspect. I also think there’s more to my story.”

It makes sense for Eveland to look ahead – he’s only 31 – but it’s hard not to contemplate the images in his rear view mirror. When he looks back to rookie ball, he sees a 19-year-old kid who thought he’d be buying a house in Milwaukee and raising a family there. Naively, he pictured himself a career Brewer, not a nomad who would hop from team to team.

He did reach the big leagues with his original club, and how he received the news is fitting for someone who has repeatedly defied the odds.

“I got called up from a casino in Biloxi, Mississippi,” explained Eveland. “I started the Double-A All-Star game there and after it was over, I went to the casino. I got called up from a three-card poker table. Another time I got called up from a golf course in Tucson. Actually, I’ve been called up from the same golf course twice. During the season, you answer your cell phone when you see the right area code.”

Demotions are every bit as familiar to him as promotions. Eveland has played nine MLB seasons, and seen minor-league action in all of them, so he’s careful to not get too comfortable. Even when he’s remained in one place, a shadow of doubt has loomed.

“Most of the time you kind of feel it coming,” said Eveland. “But it’s funny. Last season, with the Mets, there were numerous times I thought ‘Today’s the day.’ I didn’t even get an apartment in New York, because I figured I’d be the odd man out if we made a move. But it never happened. I stayed in the big leagues until early September, when I just couldn’t throw anymore. My arm was too banged up.”

Two years ago, Eveland got banged around in Korea. He “made a chunk of change” pitching for the Hanwa Eagles, but registered a 5.54 ERA and a 6-14 record. When he returned stateside, interest from big-league teams was minimal. As the clock ticked, his father became increasingly alarmed.

“My dad freaks out about everything,” explained Eveland. “My mom not so much – she’s along for the ride – but everything is dramatic for my dad. I didn’t get a job until February 15th that offseason, and for awhile it looked like I wouldn’t find one at all.’ My dad was panicking, because he thought my career might be over.”

Eveland is married with two young children, and once again drawing a minor-league salary. Considering how many times he’s been in limbo, does he ever sit down with his wife and discusses the possibility of hanging up the spikes?

“We never really have that conversation,” said Eveland. “My wife is a trouper and knows my true love for baseball. She loves the game too. For us, it’s always been: ‘I got sent down’ or ‘I’m not going to make the club’ and her telling me ‘Keep working hard. You’re going to make it back to the big leagues; you always do.’”

——

A.J. Pollock agrees with Yogi Berra – math particulars aside – that ninety percent of the game is half mental. The Diamondbacks outfielder feels it is immensely challenging to accurately project young players. Not that he doesn’t hold scouts in high esteem – he does – but they “can’t go inside a guy’s head and know what he’s thinking, or just how competitive he really is.”

Teammates understand a player’s psyche in a way scouts can’t. They’re with him behind the scenes on a daily basis, in the clubhouse, on the bus, in the hotel. They see fragility and toughness that isn’t always apparent between the white lines. Players also recognize talent when they see it, but that doesn’t mean they can out-scout scouts.

“Can I tell if a player is going to make it? Not at all,” said the University of Notre Dame product. “Coming up, there were some guys I thought had no shot, and they’re big-leaguers. Other guys I said, ‘This guy is 100% a big-leaguer,’ and they didn’t make it.

“The big leagues aren’t the most-talented players. It’s the guys who have a combination of talent and consistency. They show up and compete. There are a lot of talented players who freak out when they don’t have it for a few days. They get thrown off by adversity. Other guys make outs and it drives them to get better.”

A first round pick in 2009, Pollock performed well and made it to Arizona in three years. Even so, his first professional season – .271/.319/.376 in the Midwest League – wasn’t a walk in the park.

“A-ball was an adjustment,” admitted Pollock. “It wasn’t a freakout, but I had to find ways to deal with things. In college, there are usually five guys out there who are on another level. When you get to pro ball, there are a lot of good players and you’re just another guy. More than just talent is going to determine who makes it.”

——

At the age of 33, Tampa Bay’s Rocco Baldelli is the youngest coach in the majors. Having spent the past four seasons as a special assistant within baseball operations, he’s also among the most-tuned in to his team’s front office. The extent to which the latter influences his day-to-day duties is a matter of interpretation.

“I’ve been asked if what I’m doing is a hybrid role between the front office and coaching staff,” said Baldelli. “The answer is no. I’m a coach. But I do have a deep-rooted relationship with the guys in the front office, and I am familiar with most of the information we use at the front office level.”

Baldelli’s explanation underscores the ambiguity. His title is first base coach, and his job includes coordinating outfielders and base running, but his knowledge-base and intellect transcend that of your typical player-turned-coach. The Rhode Island native is viewed by many as a future GM.

“I’m sure there will be times I’m more familiar with something,” admitted Baldelli. “But our (front office) works really hard to educate everyone on the staff, as far as the information we use. We don’t ever want it to look like certain people are privy to certain things and others aren’t. We have an incredible line of communication and try to make everything as transparent as possible.”

——

Joe Thurston’s playing days are over. An itinerant infielder-outfielder for 16 professional seasons, the 35-year-old is now on the coaching staff of the Portland Sea Dogs. His duties with Boston’s Double-A affiliate include helping out with base running and infield defense.

He knows his way around a clubhouse. Thurston played for 11 different organizations — including Philadelphia three times – and two more in the independent Atlantic League. He spent last season in the Mexican League, and has played winter ball for multiple teams in both Mexico and Venezuela.

I learned a few things when I talked to Thurston on Friday.

One of his teammates with Piratas de Campeche last year was Matt LaPorta. According to Thurston, the former first-round pick has retired. LaPorta hit .238/.301/.393 over parts of four seasons with the Indians.

I also became familiar with Chin Feng-Chen, who had 25 plate appearances with the Dodgers from 2002-2005 (and hit .283/.356/.525 with 87 home runs in Triple-A over the same period). Chen was the first Taiwanese player to make it to the major leagues. Thurston was a minor-league roommate of Chen’s, and considers him one of his favorite teammates, despite his limited English. As for the Taiwanese slugger not getting much of an opportunity with the Dodgers, communication issues weren’t a factor.

“There’s really no correct language to throw strikes or hit a fastball,” said Thurston. “You don’t have to be able to speak to play baseball.”

——

For every pitcher, there’s a hitter who has his number. In some cases, a so-so hitter becomes Babe Ruth when he faces him. Jim Lindeman was that guy for Bob Kipper.

Those of you who like Kipper stats know the lefty was effective out of the Pirates pen in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Against his nemesis, he was a fish out of water.

“When I threw the baseball, it must have looked like a beach ball coming out of my hand,” said Kipper. “I remember Lindeman hitting two home runs against me in a game at Three Rivers Stadium. That was in 1987. Lindeman was with the Cardinals and hit another one against me at Busch Stadium.

“The next year, we were in St. Louis and I was warming up when Lindeman walked into the on deck circle. The phone rang. They said, ‘Sit Kipper down.’ Rich Donnelly, the bullpen coach, told me ‘Hey, you can’t get him out.'”

A career .244/.289/.391 hitter with 21 home run, Lindeman was 4 for 9 with three home runs against Kipper.

——

Drawing conclusions based on one week of play is folly. The Tigers and Royals aren’t going to steamroll their division, and the Braves are no closer to Cinderella slippers than they are to galoshes. For those assuming the Marlins and White Sox have already traipsed into pretenderville, please reference the first sentence of this paragraph.

The same applies to players, and with a sample size this small, there’s no sense in even citing examples. Unless we’re dealing an injury issue with possible long-term ramifications, a week tells us next to nothing.

That said, a few thoughts regarding the Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto looks like the old Joey Votto, which means he could be among the best hitters in the National League. Billy Hamilton appears hell bent on stealing over 100 bases, which would energize his team and, along with Votto’s resurgence, help keep Bryan Price’s club in the hunt. Not conclusions, just observations.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS (AND AN OPINION)

Perusing an old Zander-Hollander baseball handbook, I came across the following line about Gene Tenace: “Angered Padres’ owner by not producing commensurate to his free-agent contract when he joined club in ’77.” Tenace had a .415 OBP, a 134 adjusted OPS, and 4.7 WAR in 1977. His salary was $310,000.

Dazzy Vance led NL pitchers in strikeouts seven consecutive seasons. In 1924, when he had 262, Burleigh Grimes was second in the league with 135.

Dave DeBusschere had a 2.90 ERA over 102.1 innings for the White Sox in 1962-1963. From 1962-1974, DeBusschere averaged 16.1 points and 11 rebounds for the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks.

I recently happened across a good line from former Yankees outfielder Steve Whitaker: “I didn’t care if I slept at all in New York. It’s open 24/7 and trust me, I closed it.”

Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz claims to have received a letter from MLB about stepping out of the batter’s box against the Phillies. Either Buchholz is having some fun, or the MLB office has a great sense of humor.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

newest oldest most voted
Well-Beered Englishman
Guest

If I may add a random fact to your excellent compendium:

After hitting two two-out, two-run doubles in his season debut last night, Indians outfielder Jerry Sands is now on pace for over 32 WAR this season.

Kris Bryant's Eyes
Guest
Kris Bryant's Eyes

I haven’t looked at the numbers but I suspect that would make the WPA value jump considerably as well.

tz
Guest
tz
Kris Bryant's Eyes
Guest
Kris Bryant's Eyes

Nice!