Work Ball!

There is a well-known saying– unfortunately, I don’t know who first said it — that baseball should be fun. The saying is that “Umpires begin the game by saying ‘Play Ball!’, not ‘Work Ball!” In last night’s Tides 8-2 win over Columbus, the pitchers were working ball, not playing ball. If there was ever a game that could be described as laborious, last night’s game was it.

Pitchers who may not have overpowering stuff but nevertheless have moderate success by not walking batters and generating weak contact are sometimes described as “strike-throwers.” Norfolk starter Jake Arrieta isn’t a strike-thrower. He’s not someone like Carlos Marmol or David Hernandez, whose natural delivery is such that his pitches break unpredictably. Either Arrieta doesn’t see the strike zone accurately, or he’s aiming his pitches to not be in the strike zone, or (most likely in my mind) he’s sacrificing consistency and accuracy for increased velocity. Consequently, he throws a lot of pitches per batter and runs up a lot of two- and three- ball counts — 116 pitches for 26 batters in last night’s game. And, he gave up four walks and five hits, so he faced the 26 batters in 5 2/3 innings. With all the pitches and walks, it didn’t look like he was having fun and I wasn’t having much fun watching him.

However, Jake Arrieta wasn’t the worst or most frustrating pitcher of the game. That would go to Columbus relief pitcher Bryan Price, whose name sounds like a left wing for the Columbus Blue Jackets and who last night pitched like a left wing for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Tides had taken a 5-0 lead in the first off Columbus starter Eric Berger, but Berger settled down and kept the Tides from scoring in the second, third, and fourth. He walked the first two batters of the fifth inning, and Price was brought in to relieve. While pitching to L.J. Hoes, Price uncorked one of the wildest pitches I’ve ever seen — it bounced over the backscreen and into the seats, coming one or two rows short of the ice-cream kiosk on the concourse. Hoes then singled sharply up the middle, scoring the two runners. In the rest of the inning, Price uncorked two more wild pitches, walked two batters, and escaped when borderline 3-2 pitches to two batters were called strikes by a merciful home-plate umpire. Price then loaded the bases in his next inning, only to escape with no runs allowed.

I’m sure that every baseball player is working hard; with the exception of the occasional knuckleball pitcher, playing baseball is not easy. But sometimes the players make it seem effortless; other times, like last night, you can see the effort.

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