A small sampling of things we observed last night: (1) Neftali Feliz not being impervious to the blown save in a game which came dangerously close to slipping away, (2) Justin Smoak (0-for-2, 2 BB) already looking like an asset on both sides of the ball, drawing the ninth-inning walk that eventually proved the game-winning run, (3) Elvis Andrus, in his second-ever ultra-high-leverage (>5.0 LI) at-bat, atoning for his failure in the first such situation by smoking an 0-2 fastball for the walk-off single on "Elvis Night," and (4) Joaquin Arias -- who clearly expected to be greeted by a throng of teammates as he scored the winning run -- looking very confused as he realized that nobody was there to greet him because the entire team was converging upon Andrus some 90 feet away:
● It's rather ironic, in a way: the spring hand-wringing over C.J. Wilson not being able to suppress his pitches-per-inning count as a starter has proven completely unfounded to date, but "staff ace" Rich Harden is being thoroughly victimized by that very problem, to the extent that his viability as a rotation option is eroding a little biit more with each passing start. The earned-run and strikeout components of his latest pitching line (4.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 99 pitches) belie the actual quality of the pitching; his command was yet again erratic both laterally and vertically, and by the fifth inning he was consistently teeing up his fastball at 88-89 mph. A very unaethestically pleasing start.
I don't know exactly what's wrong with Harden, and even if I did I wouldn't be telling you because I'd be trying to monetize that information, but it seems more and more as though the pre-season observations of ESPN.com's Keith Law -- including the statement that Harden was "visibly favoring his right shoulder, reducing his velocity and his command" -- were right on the money, in which case ... well, is he physically in pain and doing a poor job of compensating for it? Or is he just a mechanical mess?
Whatever the answer, he may have only one more start to show something positive before being jettisoned to the disabled list; Derek Holland is the sexy pick to be the Rangers' de facto No. 6 starter, but various sources have emphasized the importance of Holland remaining at Triple-A Oklahoma City and polishing his secondary pitches in a lower-pressure environment, which could ultimately render Brandon McCarthy the more appealing choice from the standpoint of wanting to effectively balance pitcher development and immediate major league run prevention.
● Hall of Fame-enshrined manager Earl Weaver once famously observed that "on offense, your most precious possessions are your 27 outs." Ron Washington does not appear to share this viewpoint, a reality which most recently manifested in him calling for Elvis Andrus to lay down a sacrifice bunt with the fleet-footed tandem of Julio Borbon and Andres Blanco on first and second base, respectively, and no outs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Andrus succeeded in this endeavor, bringing up Michael Young with runners on second and third base and one out; he summarily grounded into a run-scoring fielder's choice, and Josh Hamilton grounded out to end the frame. Total runs scored: one.
The sacrifice bunt is a sensible strategic gambit in certain situations (most notably, in late-and-close situations where you're gunning for just one run to tie/win the game), but I cannot fathom why you would take the bat out of the hands of one of your most productive/patient hitters to date, sacrifice an out and effectively diminish your chances of creating the big offensive inning in the fifth inning of a game which you lead by only one run. It's contradictory to the goal of maximizing run production, and it's emblematic of a manager trying to do too much to influence the game ... or, looking at it a different way, trying harder to not lose than to actually win. And it's really not smart baseball.
● Vladimir Guerrero's .400-plus wOBA entering Friday evening's series opener was all well and good, but many of us were still looking for some indication, some sign, some reason to believe that his power stroke was still intact; after all, good offensive production largely contingent on maintaining a high batting average is already dicey enough, but even more so when you have the slow, deliberate gait of someone afraid that they're going to land funny and blow out their knee for good. Understandable, of course, but the point is still there.
In any event, rumors of Guerrero's imminent demise may have been exaggerated, as he launched a two-out, two-run missile to Greene's Hill in the bottom of the first inning with a contact-to-landing time under four seconds and an estimated distance of 411 feet. An encouraging sign, given that his only other homer thus far this season was a high-arcing sub-400-foot shot hit back on April 7th, which hardly conformed with the customary Guerrero power profile; last season, his home runs averaged 411 feet, and six of his 15 homers carried more than 420 feet. Home run distance isn't a perfect proxy for raw power, of course, but it has some utility when applied in this way, and it would be nice if this denoted the beginning of vintage-era Guerrero coming out of his shell.