A week agoSaturday, the Jays were at home facing the Cincinnati Reds.
The opposing pitcher was Hunter Greene. He threw 40 four-seam fastballs in his 84-pitch afternoon. A full 24 of them exceeded 100 miles an hour.
Greene began the year as the Reds’ No. 1 prospect and has lived up to that billing.
The very next day, the Reds offered up Graham Ashcraft, the No. 8 prospect in their chain and a guy who had never before pitched at the major league level.
Ashcraft mixed in another plus-96 mile an hour fastball with a slider that had so much 12-6 action, it looked like a curveball. His first pitch of the game to Jays leadoff man George Springer was a 99.7 mph sinker for a called strike.
Six nights later, having just finished his pre-game batting practice, Springer shakes his head when asked about the state of pitching in the game today.
“Yeah, I feel like that is the new norm,” he said when Ashcraft and Greene’s outings are brought up. “Just about everyone is throwing 95-96 and above. It’s cutting, it’s sinking, it’s running. I think the game is harder than it has ever been.
“You’re facing five or six guys on a weekly basis that are starters who are throwing 100 which is something you never seen before.”
It’s definitely not the game Springer remembers even five years ago.
“I was just telling Hudgie (Dave Hudgens), our hitting coach, that I remember when the Angels had a guy named J.C. Ramirez (in 2017) who used to throw 100 with a 90 mile an hour slider which is the craziest thing you had ever seen in your life,” Springer said. “He was the one guy down there you kind of looked at and went: ‘Oh man, here he comes.’
“Now he would be one of three guys on that staff alone that would have that kind of stuff,” Springer said.
The veteran centre fielder is not complaining. It’s clear he enjoys the nightly challenge.
“It’s a really interesting time in the game,” he said. “I think hitting is as hard as it has ever been. I mean the stuff is obviously plus, the guys are throwing as hard as has ever been done. You just got to try to do your best and navigate it and move on.”
That very night, Springer had a new challenge in front of him. Another hard-throwing newbie was starting for the Angels and making just his third start in the big leagues.
Less than a year ago, Chase Silseth was pitching in the college ranks before basically by-passing the minors, but for a handful of starts, and taking his game immediately to the biggest stage possible.
The thing about a newer face such as Silseth for a guy like Springer is he brings the added component of the lesser known to an arsenal that includes a four-seam fastball that topped out at 96.4 (again on the first pitch of the game to Springer) and a bevy of off-speed pitches and breaking balls that travel the entire area of the strike zone.
Springer said his approach with a guy he’s seeing for the first time is first and foremost to keep it simple.
Springer subscribes to the theory that his best opportunity is to stick to his strengths and not cloud the issue by over-analyzing what the pitcher might do.
“I just try to navigate it the best I can,” Springer said. “There is no real familiarity. We’ve played these guys (the Angels) a bunch so they’re pretty familiar with how I go, but obviously I haven’t had a chance to see him, but I’m just going to have to navigate it the best I can. Not really try to do too much, just see what happens.
“I’m a pretty simple person. I don’t like to dive in too much. I like to get my info in the box. What they say on a piece of paper or what you see on a video could not match up with what you see on the mound that day.
“So, I just like to kind of feel it out. I’m going to look for something to hit and then if I see it, hopefully hit it and then move on to the next one.”
Over time, Springer will build his own scouting report on a pitcher. There’s no end to the reams and reams of information out there on every man who has ever thrown a pitch in the majors, but how a particular guy approaches Springer versus how he might go at teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. can be, and most often is, very different.
You won’t see Springer pull a notebook off the bench following an at bat like Carlos Delgado would do back in the day keeping track of every pitch he ever saw, but Springer does keep track of a pitcher’s tendencies and pitch pattens.
“I will in my head,” Springer said. “I am not a guy who will write it down. I know guys who do. I can do it in my mind. I may not remember every single detail, but I can remember, you know, a lot of sequences, how he was attacking me and how he likes to move around the plate. “But every at bat and every pitch is always totally different. You just have to have that knowledge and fight.”
But the bottom line for Springer is to have a plan of attack going to the plate based on what he does best, not the man throwing the ball.
“I have to be true to myself,” is how he puts it. “I have to know what I want to do. Obviously he can throw whatever he wants to throw, but for me it’s just going to be simple, and I’ll see what happens.”