(Don’t forget to check out our live AL West chat on seattletimes.com today at 1 p.m. Pacific time. I’ll be joined by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, and Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register).
Everyone rhapsodizes about the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training, but that’s actually kind of boring. For the most part, the players check in, shake hands, and then leave. I’ve always been partial to the next day — the day pitchers and catchers actually pull on their cleats and break a sweat. That’s truly when the baseball season begins.
I’m here in Clearwater, Fla., today, to watch the unveiling of the Phillies’ All-World rotation. It was quite impressive to walk into the clubhouse this morning and see Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt sitting casually around a table, chatting. It seemed more like an All-Star Game than a spring-training workout. Cole Hamels was at the table, too, absorbed in his newspaper.
Pictured above is Ryan Feierabend, the Phillies’ pitcher that absolutely no one except me was interested in watching throw. And that’s no reflection on Ryan — the large media contingent was here exclusively to check out the rotation that is already being compared to the greatest in baseball history. I observed the morning’s workout, and I’m here to tell you, definitively, that Lee, Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels provided some of the best covering of first base I’ve ever seen. Historic, even.
I’ll attend their press conference later this afternoon — yeah, they’re holding a press conference, in an attempt to get all the questions answered at one time — but I had a nice chat in the morning with Feierabend, who is trying to resurrect his once-promising career, derailed in Seattle by Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago. On the surface, the Phillies’ organization seems an odd place to land — it’s not like there are many openings in the rotation — but he had an advocate in the Phillies’ system in Benny Looper, the former Mariner farm director, and thought it was a great place to learn from the best.
“Seattle let me go in early November, and I ended up signing with Philly a week or two later,” Feierabend said. “Things fell into place where it’s the right organization, not necessarily getting to the big leagues, but working with the pitching staff here. There were other opportunities available where I might have had a better chance to pitch in the big leagues, which you want to, but you want it to be the right circumstances. This year, I feel I need to get more innings under my belt. If I do happen to get to the big leagues, great; if not, I’ll throw my innings, as many as I can, if I’m a starter. And if I’m a reliever, show them what I’ve got.”
Feierabend, 25, pitched in parts of three seasons with the Mariners (2006, ’07 and ’08), and though he had far more downs than ups (he was 2-11 with a 7.22 ERA in 19 starts), the Mariners always liked his potential. But after last year’s 5-8, 5.14 mark during stops at A, AA and AAA, they took him off their 40-man roster, making him a free agent.
Feierabend spent much of the 2010 season in Tacoma, and he eagerly offered an assessment of the young talent on which the Mariners are banking so much of their hope in 2011.
“Blake Beaven came over in the trade with Josh Lueke for Cliff Lee, and both of the kids – I shouldn’t say kids, because they’re pretty much my age – have great arms. Beaven is going to be a heck of a starter for them. Lueke throws 95 to 98 with an unbelievable split-finger. I played with Dan Cortes , who got to go up in September, and I think that was awesome for him to go from Double A to Triple A and get that experience in the big leagues to get a taste of what’s to come this year for him.
“(Michael) Pineda’s a specimen. I can’t say enough good things about him. I think this year it’s going to be one of those years, a confidence builder. He goes into spring training, and as long as he does well in spring, I think the sky’s the limit for him. I think if he goes down and gets knocked around and gets his head down, they might send him back to Triple-A, but as long as he goes in with his head held high, like, ‘This is my job as a starter this year,’ he’ll do fine for them.”
I asked him if there was any comparison to a young Felix Hernandez, whom Feierabend watched as he shot through the system.
“I think there is. Pineda is obviously a lot bigger than Felix was. They both have unbelievable, unbelievable stuff. I think maturity wise, Felix is a little more mature. Not to take anything away from Pineda at all. I just think Felix was a little more mature for his age. Once Pineda gets his confidence, he’s going to be right there with Felix.
“Dustin Ackley is a phenomenal player. To make the transition to second base and do it at a high level, not the big leagues yet but Triple-A, and he did great. And the kid can flat-out hit. He’s a great hitter. He has a great eye at the plate. He never gets short-changed on an at-bat. He’s always working up there. Same thing – I think if he goes into camp thinking, ‘I have a chance at making the team,’ he’s going to do it.”
Here are a few photos I shot of the Phillies’ Big Four. The last picture is former Mariners (and Phillies) GM Pat Gillick — who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in July — chatting with Feierabend. First up is Hamels, followed by Halladay, Lee, and Oswalt.