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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

March 25, 2009 at 1:31 PM

Ken Griffey Jr. and the zen of spring

When I was in Peoria recently, Ken Griffey Jr. told me the story of his former Reds’ teammate, Aaron Harang, to illustrate what he perceives as the utter meaningless of mid-spring results.

“One day, I watched Aaron Harang get his ass handed to him. But I also watched what he was doing. He threw a fastball up and away, curve up and away, slider. He threw all his pitches up and away. Then he went to the inside part of the plate, then he went down. He worked the corners. He didn’t care about his ERA and what they were doing. That wasn’t what he was worried about. We may have felt like that, because we were chasing the balls they were blasting.

“I asked him, ‘What were you thinking, what was going on?’ He said, ‘I was just working spots.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Think about what I did to such and such.’ Then I started going through all the batters and what he was doing, and I said, ‘Never mind,’ and walked away.”

The upshot is that Harang went on that year to 16-11 and lead the National League in strikeouts (216) and complete games (six). That leads into Professor Griffey’s main point about spring stats being particularly unrevealing — not exactly groundbreaking, but meaningful coming from someone who has been in 20-plus spring trainings. Jamie Moyer was another one who would use early spring games to work on certain pitches, often getting blasted in the process. But by the end of camp, he would be sharp and ready to go.

More from Griffey on the topic, speaking about eight days ago:

“At some point in spring, you just don’t play well, and then you get that second wind. At some point, everybody is going to play bad. Then all of a sudden, it’s close to the end of spring training, and you say, ‘All right, let’s go.’ ”

Perhaps that moment has come for Griffey, who had two doubles in Tuesday’s game. That raised his Cactus League average to .240 — not that spring batting average or team record has any bearing whatsoever, he said.

“It doesn’t. Because it’s not about spring. Everyone says, ‘Oh, they’ve lost all their games, they’re going to be terrible.’ No. They could be working on things. It ain’t about ERA, it ain’t about batting average. It’s not about any of that stuff that people look at. It’s about getting your work in for the season.

“You could be working on something in here and try to apply it in the game, but people at the game say, ‘You suck. Your batting average is this. You’re not hitting the ball. You’re not driving the ball.’ No. You’re trying to make a slight adjustment, improve yourself. If you’re trying to make a ballclub, it’s a little different. But when you’ve established yourself and have a track record, that’s how you do it.”

It’s always fascinating to watch the veterans step up their game in the final days of spring training — at about the same time that the early-camp phenoms often start to fade. It’s just about that time.



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