Arizona is firmly in the rear-view mirror, and the White Sox couldn't be happier. Nor could I, for I actually have some positive things to write for what seems like the first time this spring.
Mark Buehrle will not be as bad as '06 Post-ASG Buehrle
I didn't post anything about his last outing, but Buehrle looked much more like the Buehrle of old than the cut-rate version we saw in the second half of '06. His velocity was in the 86-88 range and he was really working the ball inside on right-handers. He didn't get the best results, surrendering double-digit hits, which is probably why I held off declaring him "back." But after Friday's outing, I feel safe in saying that we won't feel the need to call Mark "the worst starting pitcher in baseball," as I did nearly every start after August last year.
His velocity was once again in the high-80's on Friday as he held most of the Braves lineup in check. Chipper Jones crushed two consecutive Buehrle offerings, one of which was fair for a 2-run HR, and there were a number of hard hit outs, but I still feel better about Buehrle right now than I did yesterday. I'd say he's at around 90% of his pre-ASG self, which might be the best we can hope for anymore.
Bobby Jenks is still fat, but he's starting to pitch better
Like Buehrle, Jenks closed the season in slump, posting a 5.85 ERA to go along with a K/BB Ratio under 2 after July 4th last year, compared to a 2.41 ERA and K/BB of nearly 4 before the holiday. Also like Buehrle, Jenks was getting lit up this spring. He had been topping out in the low 90's and featuring spotty control, prompting the Sox to have him throw some longer, 3-inning outings in some "B" games, which helped him overcome a similar problem in spring training last year.
The fix seems to be working. I've seen each of Jenks last three outings, and it's pretty clear to me that he's improved in each trip to the mound. His velocity was consistently 94-95 of Friday night, and more importantly, his control seemed about as good as we can expect from Bobby. He also showcased a changeup -- a pitch I've heard that he's been tinkering with, but had never seen live -- which has promise to be another out pitch for the big man. It dove straight down like a splitter at 82 on the CSN gun. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it was more like Contreras' forkball than a true changeup.
Matt Thornton is throwing a major league breaking ball
If he's able to consistently throw the pitch we saw on Friday night, well, I'll never be as wrong about another player as I was about Mr. Thornton.
Fausto Carmona might be the best 5th starter in the AL Central
He might have some great stuff, but that wasn't really meant as a compliment. -- I once thought of the 2007 AL Central as the undisputed toughest division in baseball, but injuries and poor roster decisions have put a seed of doubt in my mind about each of the top 4 teams. I now view the division as having 4 85-90 win teams, which is still very good, but I don't think any of these teams, as currently constructed, are worth a play in Vegas to win the division.