Newly-minted Baseball America Top 25 prospect Jake Odorizzi toed the rubber for the first time for AA - Northwest Arkansas Naturals this evening. As the ballpark is a mere 88.7 miles from my house, I elected to bypass a trip to Round Rock to see a AAA game I had no rooting interest in for the chance to see history.
For reasons not entirely within my control that I'll refrain from getting into right now, I was unable to get to Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium in San Antonio until there were two outs in the top of the third. I did not get to see Jake Odorizzi's most overpowering inning, the first, in which he struck out two and worked around a Jaff Decker single. I also missed his messy second inning where he gave up one run and got out of a bases-loaded jam by inducing a pop foul from Blake Tekotte, who had a particularly rough go against Odorizzi, striking out twice and popping out to the catcher in the first five innings. By the time I arrived at the ballpark, Odorizzi had thrown 21 pitches in the first and 30 in the second.
Clearly, he was not breezing through the Padres' AA-affiliate's line-up.
The first batter Odorizzi faced in the bottom of the third was the husky Jaff Decker. Odorizzi got up 0 - 2 with two called strikes and ended up walking Decker in an epic 11-pitch face-off in which Decker fouled off five pitches, four of them consecutively, before Odorizzi missed with his 11th pitch. Both the fifth and 11th pitches of the plate appearance were borderline pitches that just missed but reinforced a theme that seemed to permeate Odorizzi's performance: He was trying to work the edges of the plate a little too much.
He got through the rest of the inning with six pitches, one being a pitch-out, but both the recently promoted BA top 50 prospect Jedd Gyorko and Sawyer Carroll ripped pitches to right only to line into outs. They were quick outs, but each could easily have gone for extra bases as the pitches put into play caught a little too much of the plate.
After allowing the lead-off hitter Anthony Contreras to reach on a single to center field on a ball up and likely out of the strike zone, Ali Solis ripped a first-pitch liner to center that Derrick Robinson snagged to record the first out of the fourth. Missions' second baseman Dean Anna grounded to short on the second pitch of the next at-bat, only to have Jeff Bianchi fail to pull the ball from his glove cleanly botching what should likely have been an inning-ending double play. Seven pitches later, Odorizzi had induced a weak pop fly to Wil Myers in left, and struck out Blake Tekotte for the second time, successfully working out of a jam much more impressively than the one in the third.
When Odorizzi took the mound in the bottom of the fifth, the Naturals had tagged on two more runs, so he was pitching with a 5 - 1 lead. Pesky Jaff Decker led the fifth off as well and worked a nine-pitch at-bat before popping out to Christian Colon in very shallow right-center. Having decided after a laborious first at-bat that he was going to swing at Odorizzi's first offering in subsequent trips to the dish, Jedd Gyorko sent the first pitch he saw in the fifth towering over the short fence in left field. The fence in left is only 310' down the line. Without the aid of the actual measurement, the ball seemed to have traveled about 325' to left. A Padres fan tweeted at me to tell me the wind was blowing in from left at the time, which was entirely possible, I guess. For much of the later innings, however, the wind was blowing across the field from right. It definitely shifted a couple of times, but I can't speak with any certainty as to whether the Gyorko shot was wind-hindered or not. Regardless, he smacked the hell out of the ball, and Odorizzi found himself watching his second earned run of the night pass over the wall with little question.
The next batter Odorizzi faced was first baseman Sawyer Carroll, who flew out to right field (the warning track if I remember correctly) on the third pitch of his third trip to the plate. He was followed by shortstop Andy Parrino, who Odorizzi seemed intent on working up in the zone on. Parrino got the bat on four pitches before finally flying out to Wil Myers in left, and Jake Odorizzi walked off the mound at the end of the fifth having thrown 108 pitches, 68 for strikes en route to striking out four, walking two, and allowing six hits.
His fastball sat 90 - 92 and touched 94 in the three innings to which I bore witness. His off-speed offerings were sitting in the low 80s, but pitch recognition is not my strong suit, especially from the vantage point I had for the game. It seemed like his curve had good break on it and fooled hitters. He had real troubles with Jaff Decker in particular, who saw 25 pitches in his three plate appearances, working a single and a walk. Odorizzi disposed of Gyorko twice before the Pride of Morgantown took a ball on the outside quarter of the plate and pulled it into the Berm in left. Odorizzi basically threw the same ball in the same spot to Gyorko in his second and third at-bats, both one-pitch ABs. One was a fly-out to right the next was a home run. It may not be the best idea to throw to the same spot consecutively with a hitter like Gyorko.
Insofar as the other prospects looked, Salvador Perez looked solid both at and behind the plate. He fouled a ball of his foot in the seventh, but after a brief delay, muscled a double into the gap in right-center. He ended his day 2 - 4 with a walk, a double, two runs scored, and three RBI. Wil Myers was a quiet 1 - 5 with an RBI. Christian Colon was 1 - 3 with a run scored and two walks. Jamie Romak had a single, a homer, two runs scored, and two walks. Kevin Chapman came in and cleaned up Willy Lebron's mess in the bottom of the sixth. Chapman ended up going 2.1 with 3 H, 1 BB, 4 K, and 0 R. Bianchi did redeem himself with a great grab in the sixth and went 2 - 4 with a walk, steal, RBI, and pair of runs scored.
It was Odorizzi's night, and he managed to limit the damage done when he got into troubles. Judging by his post-game comments in the MiLB recap of the game, he thought he was being "too precise." He also said he was trying to bust Gyorko in on the homer he ceded. If so, he missed. Significantly. Regardless, he got the win and his first start in Double-A out of the way. Hopefully the sailing gets smoother from here.