CINCINNATI — Manager Bryan Price and his staff thought they were prepared for the debut with the Chicago Cubs of Cuban defector Jorge Soler.
They had done their research, checked their scouting reports, did all their due diligence.
Then, on Wednesday night, in his first major league at-bat, Soler exploded a 425-foot home run. And on his third at-bat he lined a single to left field that nearly knocked the cap off third baseman Kristopher Negron.
On the morning after, Price was shaking his head as he sat in his Cincinnati Reds clubhouse office sipping coffee.
"Oh, boy, the Soler kid? It’s funny with his guys who come up because between (assistant pitching coach) Mack Jenkins and (advance scout) Shawn Pender) we do a really nice job of getting information on players that we haven’t seen with our own eyes. We do a great job of reconnaissance."
Price paused to shake his head, a mystified look on his face.
"But until you get them up and see them with your own eyes, you don’t really know for sure," said Price. "The most vulnerable teams are the ones that face a new player first. Like Chicago’s Arismendy Alcantara. He was making his debut the last time we met the Cubs and he got like four hits the first series." He was hitless in his first game, but went 4 for 5 against the Reds in his second game.
The Cubs have done it repeatedly against the Reds. When Chicago shortstop Starlin Castro made his debut, it was in Cincinnati against the Reds in 2010 – he had a home run and a triple and drove in six runs.
"You see these guys in person after all the reconnaissance work and you say, ‘Geez Louise, what is it we don’t know about these guys?’ You know you’ll know more about them the next time you play them.
"But those guys are always dangerous," Price added. "They are so doggone excited to be here and you’ll get the best of what they have to offer."
Price then became philosophic about the way the game is being played these days — much less offense, fewer home runs, fewer runs scored.
"It’s interesting in that the game seems to be trending back towards what we saw in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. We no longer have these grandiose offensive numbers. When I was in Seattle for my second year (as pitching coach) we were second in the league in earned run average with a 4.50. What is there, one team in the National League that has an ERA that high (Colorado 4.95)?"
Price didn’t mention that the Steroids Era is over, although many experts believe the steroids and PEDs helped pitchers as much as the hitters.
"What’s happening is phenomenal," he said, after somebody mentioned that Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt led the league with 37 home runs last season and 37 home runs in 2000 would have tied him for 15th.
"It will be interesting to see if the game keeps moving its way back to the sacrifice bunt, the hit-and-run, the things that kind of fallen by the wayside. You can no longer count on copious numbers of runs to be scored. You can no longer say, ‘Just hold on guys, we’ll have a four or five-run inning somewhere along he way and put this game away. It is something to see."
But the strikeouts continue to pile up. It is no longer like 1941 when Joe DiMaggio put together his 56-game hitting streak and only struck out 13 times in 622 plate appearances. And that same year Ted Williams hit .406 and struck out 27 times in 606 plate appearances.
"The strikeout has become an acceptable part of the game, even with players who are not home run hitters," said Price. "That’s the part to me that is really dangerous these days, all the empty at-bats.
When told of what DiMaggio and Williams did, Price shook his head and said, "That’s unbelievable, really unbelievable. It really is. It’s phenomenal."
It is in the record books and as Casey Stengel used to say, "You could look it up."