Opening Day renewal washes away shaky springs
Every spring, the reminder goes out: don't get caught up in Spring Training statistics. Every spring, we ignore it. Every April, the proof arrives. Again.
Pretty much any big leaguer would rather have one good game on Opening Day than four weeks of good games in the Grapefruit League or Cactus League, and there's really no connection between the two. With that in mind, here's a look at several players who shook off rocky springs to post solid showings in their openers.
Jhoulys Chacin: The Rockies' Opening Day starter had exactly one good Spring Training outing, and it was in February. Over his last four games in Cactus League play, he was reached for 15 runs in 14 innings. Chacinserved up four homers to boot. It wasn't pretty.
Then, when it counted, Chacin dialed it up. Against the team that led the National League in scoring last year, he pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowing a run on three hits with six strikeouts and three walks. The strikeouts may be the most encouraging thing of all. Chacin's strikeout rate has plummeted over the past two years. If he can regain it and pitch like he did in 2010, it would be a huge boost for Colorado.
Anthony Rizzo: Naturally, all Rizzo had to do was get out of the warm air and altitude of Arizona and head to Pittsburgh in early April. Wait, what?
Rizzo can hit, but he was a fairly dismal 11-for-48 with no homers in the spring. Overall it was a .229/.296/.292 (average/on-base/slugging) line for the young first baseman, who did have some nice production (but also no homers) for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. His shot for the Cubs on Monday was enormous, traveling well over 400 feet at a park where it's not always easy to hit.
Rizzo isn't just a central part of this year's Cubs; he's a core piece in their rebuilding efforts, a guy they hope will be a middle-of-the-order presence for years to come. Most likely, he just had a funky 48 at-bats this spring. It happens.
Rafael Soriano: The Nationals' closer knows what he's doing, and he wasn't worried -- even if fans of his new team were. "Spring Training is useless," the 33-year-old righty told the Washington Post on Monday, dismissing his uninspiring Grapefruit League performance (seven games, 6 2/3 innings, 10 hits, six runs, eight strikeouts, three walks). It was easy for him to say after he mowed down the Marlins.
Soriano faced three batters, striking out two of them, to nail down his first save as a National. His spring, which included a visa-related delay in arrival and a tooth infection, is already in the past. Soriano will be fine.
Dan Uggla: He's kind of an all-or-nothing player, so Uggla is going to have slumps. If he goes a couple of weeks without a ball leaving the yard, Uggla's numbers are going to look bad. Still, he had a rough spring. The Braves' second baseman batted .200 with a gruesome 25 strikeouts against three walks, and he hit just two homers in 75 at-bats.
So it had to be encouraging for Uggla, and for Braves fans, to see a homer off Cole Hamels on Monday. The player who hit .287 in 2010 probably won't be seen again, but if Uggla takes his walks and hits the ball out of the park, he remains a valuable contributor to an offense. Monday was a good start.
Shane Victorino: The Red Sox aren't dumb. Much of the front office that put together some great teams is still around. So although their signing of Victorino to a three-year deal raised some eyebrows, it's reasonable to think that Boston saw something it liked in the switch-hitting 32-year-old despite his disappointing 2012 numbers.
Then Victorino followed it up with an 8-for-45 (.178) spring and a 1-for-11 in the World Baseball Classic, and perhaps a worry or two emerged. But Victorino managed a pair of hits and three RBIs in a win against the Yankees on Monday, and straight away all was right in Sox-land. Victorino remains far from a certainty; it will be interesting to see how he handles the American League and how much he's able to rebound. But he's headed in the right direction for the moment.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.