The guy's promoted from Iowa. "0-3 with a 2.18 ERA and 2 saves in 30 games. He has a tidy WHIP of 1.09, having pitched 41.1 innings and giving up 25 hits and 20 walks while striking out 43," according to the Herald's Bruce Miles. With Marmol struggling on command and Dempster off the active chart, opening doors to potential dump of workloads for our bullpen, will Stevens be the fresh arm we are waiting for?
So I just caught a summer Olympic game @Beijing on an internet tv thing half an hour ago. It was August 2008, last year. I wasn't planning to watch it, but I played with my remote, and tuned there, saw bottom of the 8th, semifinal... Hey, isn't that Jeff?
He was representing Team USA with honor and pride, against the King Amateuri, the Cuba National Team. It's August. Jeff Stevens, still belied the Indians system, should be in midseason form. There's no excuse of not enough warmup or mental preparation. No food poisoning--Com'on, every educated traveler knows that the Chinese love us Americans more than their anticapitalist counterparts. They'll serve us premium beef and tested with silver chopsticks for quality control like they did for the Last Emperor.
Back to the game. No man on base, and one out. I don't know what happened before that. I don't really care. You can google or wiki the boxscore. But I'm concerned with Jeff's stuffs, and that's what he'll bring to our sunny Wrigley game in... maybe in two hours.
2-2, Jeff threw a fastball. Foul. He threw a fastball again. A single.
One man on base, the next Cuban batter didn't even wait. Another single. Man on scoring position and first.
You would think a double-play situation with one out. Me too.
Then comes Alexei Bell. Now here's what I know about batters of team Cuba. Disclaimer: You may consult P.Bjarkman on Mlb.blog who's been writing about Cuban baseball since the falling of the Berlin wall, then prove me wrong. Most Cuban batters representing their national team are like Alexei Ramirez, or the other way around. The White Sox slugger can hit, can drive, can run, can turn tough plays to a webgem everyday, and sometimes bunt for fun. They are usually the whole package.
Without the plate discipline.
That means less walk, that means the anti-Pujols approach. Most Cuban hitters on their National team love the big inning and hit for the slugfest, like ol' Fonzi we Cubs fans are acquainted with. Swing at the first pitch. Swing at the breaking ball with a 3-1 count.
But make no mistake, the Cuban batters in the Olympic were closest to Major League quality, if not ready.
And what had Jeff prepared to offer Mr. Bell? He threw breaking balls, an 83-84 miles slider, around the plate. Missed the zone.
I kind of understand that approach. His fastball is a bit flat, and apparently the Cubans found it hittable. And perhaps with no other trick in his pocket, Stevens' arsenal is limited to the slider and a 93-94 fastball--that's average velocity I observed throughout the inning, if you were wondering. Beijing used the metric. I'm seeing 148 and 150 km/h on their radar gun. Assuming it being accurate, divide by 1.6 you'll get 92.5 to 94.
His slider looks "Okay," having a lot of horizontal movement away from right-hand batters. It probably didn't "bite," like a Kerry Wood slider. But it should work if Stevens can put it under command. Though in this game, Jeff couldn't find any control for it. He was too far off the zone to really make the free swing Cubans feel any deception.
Anyway, you know what's coming. After a few frugal attempts to make Bell swing, a hanging slider supposed to go outside (Alexei Bell is a RHB) turns to a three run dinger.
One out, USA trails 2 to 7 bottom of eight. That's the day for Stevens.
I don't know what this tells me. It might mean something. It might not. It's just one game. A good scout probably wants three or four games out of a relief pitcher to deduct useful info for the Whom May Concerns.
But it's an Olympic game. It's a summer game. It's a SEMIFINAL game. It's a big game. And as a professional patriot supposed to be on top of his season form, Jeff should be ready to prevent runs. He wasn't.
Maybe it's just one game. Actually, maybe not. NBColympics.com tells me in an earlier game against Cuba, Jeff completed one inning after 2 hits, a walk, no runs. But still not pretty.
I just hope he improved after a change of scene (from an AL to the Cubs farm). I hope he had found control after four more months of minor balls (since April, 2009, of course--Minor season ends early right after the Olympics). And his 2.18 ERA, 2 saves, and 1.09 WHIP are not limited to Minor batters ONLY.
I want hope. But I ain't no believer yet.
The Cubs needs the good Stevens, not the Jeff (loser) I just saw.
And Ernie be with us: May 2009 Be Divine!