When I found out that Mitch Maier was going to get his first start of the season on Friday night, I tuned in to see how ol’ Mitch was doing.
Ned Yost said on Friday that he was going to try & give Mitch and Jarrod Dyson some playing time this weekend to give each of his outfielders a day off. Now, I’m sure that this is the kind of thing that makes Cal Ripken roll his eyes, but it’s part of Major League Baseball as we know it. The unfortunate thing for Mitch was that Friday’s weather was the worst it has been yet this season. With a game time temperature of 45° F and dropping, wind blowing, and an annoying drizzle that continued through the entire game, the boys in blue took the field dressed for a blizzard. For Mitch though, a start means an opportunity to earn more playing time.
At Bat #1 – Bottom 1st – 5 pitches – Strikeout Swinging to end the inning with the bases loaded.
After starting 103 games last season and being a fixture in the Royal outfield during his first full season in the Major Leagues, the team went in a different direction. Mitch batted .263 and set career highs in AB (373), H (98), 3B (6), HR (5), & RBI (39). The trouble is, those numbers weren’t a whole lot higher than he put up in 2009. Kansas City had to beef up its outfield, and signed Free Agents Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera in December. With Alex Gordon sure to join them, Mitch found himself in the middle of a crowded group of rovers trying to make the 2011 opening day roster. Mitch answered the call, hitting .513 in 22 spring training games and driving in eight runs.
12 games into the season, Mitch Maier could have never imagined that he would only have one plate appearance. Before Friday night’s start, he had seen exactly five pitches and struck out back on April 3rd in a pinch hit situation. He also pinch ran on opening day, but that was it. Going into Saturday, the regular starting outfielders were all healthy and playing well. The result is that Maier and the speedy Dyson – and his one plate appearance – must ride the pine. When you’re losing, you fiddle with the lineup, but when you’re winning you leave it alone.
At Bat #2 – Bottom 3rd – 8 pitches – Strikeout Swinging to end the inning.
I don’t think people appreciate guys who are in Mitch’s position. After three at-bats in 2011, Mitch had struck out three times and surely there were people out there calling for his release from the team. But coming off the bench is tougher than it appears. As someone who has been a 4th outfielder, you face the challenge of not knowing when you are going to play, let alone be in the starting lineup. On the bench, you keep one eye on the guy ahead of you and one eye on your manager. As they say, you are always “one play away” from being on the field, so you have to prepare as such. During the games, you have to stay loose and pay attention – while fighting frustration and boredom. As a starter, you show up every day and know you are going to play. That’s easy.
At Bat #3 – Bottom 5th – 6 pitches – Walk – Stranded on First.
The problem is that when you do get an opportunity, it is important to stay within yourself. In a cerebral game like baseball, you have to slow your body down in order to keep your cool at the plate. It can take a while to get settled in and feel comfortable. What you want to do is hit a 700 foot home run to prove to everyone watching that you deserve more playing time. What you want to do is make everyone think Ned Yost is crazy for only giving you one at-bat in the first 12 games of the season. But you have to keep it steady – there are 149 more games this season and a lot will happen between now and October.
Another big challenge for bench guys is dealing with team success. This team is in first place and surprising folks around the country with their better-than-expected start. As a member of the team, you are happy and excited, but there is a part of you that is dying inside because you haven’t been a part of it. A little part of you wants one of them to slump, or have a nagging injury, or make a bone-head play so you get a chance to get back in the lineup. That’s why being a bench guy is not for everyone.
At Bat #4 – Bottom 7th – 6 pitches – Walk – Stranded on First.
All-in-all, it was a quiet night for Mitch and the Royals held on to win the game 6-5. While 0 for 2 with two walks isn’t going to steal a job away from anyone, it’s a good sign for the Royals that they can give Alex a rest and still come away with a victory. It could take a while for Mitch to settle into this role – but that’s what good teams have – role players. He might be disappointed that he’s not playing everyday, but his job is an important one. The Royals need to be able to count on him as a solid left-handed bat off the bench. As a 28-year old catcher-turned-outfielder with a career MLB batting average of .255, this could be his last opportunity.
I think ol’ Mitch is going to be just fine.