Sunday, June 26, 2011

Confidence dividend

Corey Luebke brought a lot of confidence to the mound today in his first start of the season. In all five of his innings, Luebke attacked the Braves with fastballs. He worked fast. He acted like he was in charge.

"He's coming at you," Chipper Jones said after San Diego's 4-1 victory, which decided the series. "He says, 'Here it is. Hit it.' "

Braves hitters appeared strangely passive. They looked confused against Luebke, taking five fastballs for called third strikes. They never scored off the lefty, who stuck out six, walked two and gave up only one hit.

"That kid must have some kind of deception to his delivery or his pitches," said Braves reliever Scott Linebrink, noting the called third strikes.

Jones, the No. 3 hitter in Atlanta's lineup, strongly implied that rookie umpire Vic Carapazza's strikezone, less so deception on Luebke's part, cued the "strike three" soundtrack.

"Not to take anything away from (Luebke),"Jones said, "(but) the strikezone for both teams was awful. When you've got a guy out there with that good of stuff and the strikezone is expanded, it makes him doubly tough."

For what it's worth, Carapazza draws praise from major league officials. He earned extra time in the major leagues this year after his promotion from Triple-A as a temporary substitute.

Praise here goes to Padres manager Bud Black and his pitching coaches for having Luebke work out of the bullpen this year. They said the urgency of relief work would spill over into starting, which seemed evident today. They said the major league life would prepare Luebke better than 10 weeks of starting in the Pacific Coast League.

Luebke showed good stamina, striking out two hitters in his final inning. Many of his fastballs clocked at 93 miles per hour. He threw 75 pitches, 50 strikes.

The Braves looked lost, despite having faced him three times this year.

Jones said Luebke's strengths today were fastball speed and aggressiveness. The fastball was straight, he said.

"When you throw that hard, you've got to take advantage of the fact that 94 is harder than a lot of people," Chipper said.

Non-Padres scouts said last year that Luebke, in time, can become better than a No. 5 starter. The tutorship of Black and his pitching coaches is improving those chances, as is Petco Park.

A starter in the minors, Luebke eventually may need to develop his changeup, a pitch that induced a leadoff groundout from Jones today.

 "His slider is really good when it's down," Chipper said. "The changeup is probably his third-best pitch but I'm sure developing. Once he gets a grasp of that, you've got the makings of a dominant reliever or starter."


Chipper Jones is near the end of his career, but health permitting, he expects to be with the Braves when they return to San Diego in 2012.

"I'm going to play next year," Jones told me. "I've already decided. Hopefully I stay healthy enough to be able to come out here another time or two. I'm cherishing all of my last opportunities in the different ballparks. But I know that I'm coming here at least one more time."

At times, Jones, 39, has talked like this season might be his last one. Frustrated by his injuries, he talked last year like 2010 might be his final season -- but if his body cooperates, he'll continue.

"I'm signed through next year," he said. "I signed it. I need to honor it. I feel like I'm producing pretty well, having a good time with these guys in here. We have a good team, it's not something I want to walk out on."

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