April 15th, Bradenton Marauders 10, Palm Beach Cardinals 1
The Marauders broke out the bats and pounded a rather weak Palm Beach Cardinals club, which did not feature even one of Baseball America’s top 30 Cardinals’ prospects. Even so, I was impressed by Hunter Strickland, who – admit it – you had forgotten was in the Pirates’ organization. That’s understandable, given the fact that Strickland had not thrown a pitch since 2010, and did not really have great numbers or elite prospect status in his Red Sox days.
Strickland, who came to the Bucs in the Adam LaRoche trade, underwent rotator cuff surgery that caused him to miss all of the 2011 season. Apparently he was throwing the ball well this spring, and was assigned to Bradenton ahead of a few other more prestigious candidates. The first thing you notice about Strickland is that he fits the Greg Smith/Neal Huntington mold for right-handed starting pitchers – he is listed at 6.5, ’200 but may have filled out a bit.
Strickland overpowered the Cardinals with his fastball; where he once sat in the upper 80s to low 90s, he was throwing 92-94 during this game and reached back for a bit more than that on occasion. He mixed in an average slider and a workable changeup, but focused almost exclusively on his fastball. He was able to miss bats with it consistently, striking out 7 in 6 innings of work, walking 2 and allowing 7 hits. Strickland dealt with base-runners in every inning but was able to get key strikeouts when he needed to, and induced three double plays to help his cause as well.
In the meantime, the Marauders put up a five spot in the 3rd, courtesy of some sloppy defense on the part of the Cardinals which allowed Carlos Paulino to come to bat and line a three-run homer over the left field wall. Evan Chambers drew two walks and added a double as well. Chambers remains a bit intriguing to me as he has an almost surgical approach to his at bats; if the pitch ain’t a strike, he ain’t swinging. This is a bit refreshing for a Pirates’ fan who has had to endure the hacktastic major league club this year; a bit of his plate discipline would be welcome. Chambers still has a chance but he has to take better advantage of his pitch recognition and look to drive pitches when he is up in the count.
Everyone in the Marauders’ lineup got at least one hit, but the story of this game was Strickland. He now has a K/9 of 6.9, which is considerably higher than what he put up prior to his surgery. He is certainly worth following, although he had to be removed from his subsequent start after being hit by a line drive in the second inning. If he remains healthy and can maintain his velocity, he has a shot to move up to Altoona before the year is out, although the Pirates will no doubt watch his pitch counts very closely.