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August 12, 2010
NL Central Roundup
Placed RHP Carlos Silva on the 15-day DL; purchased the contracts of RHP Thomas Diamond and Casey Coleman from Iowa (Triple-A). [8/2]
Optioned RHP Brian Schlitter to Iowa; recalled RHP Mitch Atkins from Iowa. [8/3]
Optioned RHP Mitch Atkins to Iowa; recalled RHP Marcos Mateo from Iowa. [8/9]
Placed C-R Geovany Soto on the 15-day DL (sprained shoulder); placed 1B-R Derrek Lee on the Bereavement Leave List; recalled 1B-L Micah Hoffpauir and C-R Welington Castillo from Iowa. [8/10]
Traded INF-L Mike Fontenot to the Giants for CF-R Evan Crawford. [8/11]
Cubs pitching in 2010 was predicated upon a balanced risk-a veteran rotation would carry the load, and a bullpen generally stocked with either young veterans, or farm produce from a system with some measure of respect for its depth as far as its burgeoning number of employable arms. Unhappily for Wrigleyville, both halves of that proposition have failed. Cubs pitching may not be a problem in the abstract, but it has contributed its share of disappointments to a veteran club's last hurrah.
Take the rotation, where matters aren't terrible, but are slowly taking a turn for the worse now that the club's initial depth has gotten tapped out. Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells have been workhorses of very different sorts, with Dempster delivering 18 quality starts in his first 24-four blown after the sixth inning, and using runs instead of earned runs. Wells' bid to remain Dempster's Mini-Me has been marred by inconsistency, as confidence in him earned by performance seems to lead to pitch counts that wear him down leading to shellackings that rest him up, giving way to good performances and confidence re-won, starting the cycle all over again; Wells either has it or he doesn't, with 14 quality starts through six overall, just one blown, but twice as many disaster starts than Dempster, four to two. To Jim Hendry's credit, Tom Gorzelanny has been exactly what you'd expect when left alone, a useful-enough alternative at the back end of anybody's big-league rotation.
The problem, especially in the wake of trading Ted Lilly to the Dodgers at the deadline, is with Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Silva. The rotation's pair of pudgy pillars seem to be mutually exclusive, where for whatever cosmic cause, one is not allowed to contribute with any effectiveness while the other's around. Losing Silva to heart-related issues is no laughing matter, but it was pretty clear that something major was wrong after 13 quality starts in his first 16 spins, because he'd failed to complete even the second inning in three of his last four. Now we know this wasn't simply a matter of his quicksilva reconversion to the beatable beefeater bemoaned by Twins or Mariners fans.
While swapping in a chastened Zambrano might create some form of closure on a season both the man and his employers might both regret, the length of Silva's absence is understandably indeterminate, creating a need to reach beyond that front six the Cubs had cause to feel good about heading into the season. So, Rangers discard Thomas Diamond winds up in the rotation longer than just a spin or two, as the third member of the once-vaunted DVD trio of Texas tyros makes his big-league debut elsewhere.* This might end up redounding to Hendry's credit, not in a huge way, but on the same level as Gorzo the Magnificent, where somebody else's faded blue-chipper winds up getting his career re-started wearing Cubby blue.
Diamond enjoyed a nice debut against the Brewers, spinning a quality start, but he took a beating at the hands of the Reds. He's probably never going to inspire all that much confidence, since he's a fly-generating pitcher even Francesco Redi's investigations might struggle with, and working with heat that tops out at 90 and not even a Krukow-grade yakker or a Nautilus-grade slider, having to settle for decidedly sub-nuclear secondary stuff.
As a retread, Diamond has certainly re-gilded his lily, but it's without replacing Ted. Which is the Cubs' quandary in a nutshell: Retreading Gorzo or Silva or even Diamond are nice little feats, but top dollar's been shelled out, and top results haven't been purchased. Helping yourself in the little things is great, but the club's shape is handicapped by its big-ticket items. Nice, little fixes remain nice and little in terms of their import as long as the big problems like Zambrano's collapse into his own gravity well or Alfonso Soriano's expensive brand of adequacy remain rooted in place.
Which might go some way toward explaining the ticky-tack turnover in the bullpen. Getting off the Schlitter to Atkins to Mateo is a matter of a lack of commitment to picking the last man in the pen, although Mateo was at least brought into a meaningful, close ballgame as opposed to yet another blowout-which he lost. Although drafted in the 15th round of the 2008 draft, Coleman is more of an organizational soldier, a starting pitcher promoted to stock the pen who relies on merely adequate velocity and a nice changeup. He may be new to the constant, unfocused search party for a kid, any kid, who might help out, but he's as much at risk for frequent kernelcy on the corncob shuttle going back and forth to and from the I-Cubs as any of the others. You might think that scouting would provide some semblance of certainty in picking between these guys, but part of the problem picking between them is their sheer number, because once you get past Andrew Cashner or the two Christophers Carpenter and Archer, there's a certain interchangeability.
All of this churn means little compared to losing Soto behind the plate for several weeks, but the Cubs have taken his absence as a none-too-subtle hint to peer even further toward the future. Last year when they lost Soto mid-season, the response was to play Koyie Hill every day, even in both halves of a double-header. This year's already about next year, however, so Castillo is getting the call to see if this year's redemptive campaign with the I-Cubs translates to the majors. Castillo hit .251/.317/.507 for Iowa as a semi-regular, good for a .253 TAv, while belting 13 homers in 260 PAs and walking just under seven percent of the time. So, he's hit for good, not great, numbers, but since catching's always looking for a few good men with the stick, Castillo rates as a prospect, especially since he's thrown out 40 percent of stolen-base attempts.
Similarly, trading Fontenot represents a pretty clear bit of page-turning. Over-exposing him in 2009 in the wake of the Mark DeRosa deal left the Cubs with a guy with discrete strengths-hitting right-handers, some positional flexibility-that become a whole lot less interesting once he reaches arbitration eligibility. Add in his redundancy in the wake of the acquisition of Blake DeWitt, and punting seemed like a straightforward bit of going younger while making space for an infield reserve who can play shortstop-reportedly Darwin Barney. Crawford is not a huge prize, but he's a college-groomed speedy guy out of Indiana University whom the Giants snagged in the ninth round of last year's draft, and he's having a filler year in his full-season debut as a 21-year-old in the Low-A Sally League, hitting .255/.319/.366 while striking out 23 percent of the time. The major benefit of the deal is the seven-figure savings if the Cubs had offered arbitration to Fontenot, with Crawford representing something more than nothing if they'd simply non-tendered him.
*: This leaves Edinson Volquez's 80 IP for the Rangers as the sum total of the big-league contributions of the DVD troika to Texas pitching. At least swapping Volquez got them Josh Hamilton, but since Danks was essentially exchanged for Brandon McCarthy while Diamond was simply lost on waivers, apparently hype is an intoxicating beverage best served with a salted rim, heavy on the salt.
Purchased the contract of RHP Russ Springer from Louisville (Triple-A); optioned RHP Carlos Fisher to Louisville. [8/2]
Placed SS-R Orlando Cabrera on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); recalled 3B/LF-L Juan Francisco from Louisville. [8/3]
Noted the loss of UT-S Drew Sutton to the Indians on a waiver claim. [8/6]
Placed RHP Russ Springer on the 15-day DL (strained hip); recalled RHP Carlos Fisher from Louisville. [8/7]
Acquired OF-L Jim Edmonds from the Cardinals for OF-L Chris Dickerson; optioned LHP Travis Wood to Louisville. [8/9]
Russ Springer's return to action might seem like yet another exercise in Jock-ular resurrection of a former associate, no different from when he imported as many working leftovers from the A's in his initial incarnation as the Cardinals' honcho, and cause for despair in Cincinnati. But not so fast, and not just because Springer has already un-sprung after being so quickly wound up into working order. While one of the apparently more disappointing developments of the deadline might have been the Reds' failure to move on adding a relief pitcher of any caliber, if you look at what their guys have delivered of late, it doesn't look like they have that much cause for regret. Consider the top pen performances since July 1:
Among the heroes beyond the usual suspects, closer Francisco Cordero and ageless set-up man Arthur Rhodes, you'll find rookie Logan Ondrusek (6.5 ARP, 0.33 WXRL) and veteran Nick Masset (5.4 ARP, .0.80 WXRL). Add in Jordan Smith's work against right-handers (.194/.254/.306), and you have a pen that's actually stocked with a number of useful parts since the Reds re-added Ondrusek and promoted Smith. Masset is a classic example of a quality reliever whose season was ruined by bad days at the office early on, with a 39/15 K/UBB ratio and 2.6 RA/9 from May 1 on, allowing just a .238/.314/.344 line to opposing hitters. In short, much like the 2003 Marlins, the Reds seem to have fixed their bullpen in-season, but in this instance, they did most of it in-house, not by resorting to the market.
Instead of lamenting any inactivity in Cincy, it looks like we should commend Sir Walter for his acting on another Reds need, by adding an ex-famous lefty-batting outfielder. Hopefully, he was going to go shopping for one who can play a bit of center, and ideally one so formerly famous that Dusty Baker might trust the guy without too many questions asked. While lots of people are getting to play, the Reds' corners still seem relatively set: lots of Jonny Gomes parked in left, and lots of Jay Bruce over in right field. Dusty is not an idiot in his mixing and matching-the lefty-batting Laynce Nix gets to spot for Gomes, while righty-swinging Chris Heisey spots for Bruce on an infrequent basis.
Which leaves the middle pasture, and it's here where Jocketty did himself some real good, by giving Baker somebody he'll use. Heisey and Nix aren't being taken seriously as options in center, and as their everyday option, the Reds have used Drew Stubbs, a plus defender as their main option there. Unfortunately, however much defense Stubbs provides, a guy hitting just .236/.306/.364 against right-handers isn't an improvement over the noisily lamented Willy Taveras. We can bemoan what was lost in dealing Dickerson, but if the Reds weren't going to commit to him now, as he came back from his injury, that's the path not only not taken, but boarded up and wiped off the roadmap like baseball's answer to Bolinas. In the abstract, yes, Dickerson, once healthy, should have been in the lineup, providing the Reds with an OBP source atop the order they need. But if that wasn't a decision they felt capable of making during the stretch, what better solution than ditching a very nice fourth outfielder for a guy who, down the stretch, they will use?
Enter a deal for Jim Edmonds, an easy enough waiver deal for a free agency-bound veteran looking to leave the team he was already with as matters stood. Now, seeing Edmonds wearing a red helmet when I was at the Gap on Monday night*, that certainly fits in with any mental image of him that I'll carry over the years to come. But seeing him in a Reds helmet? That might take some getting used to. It was sort of an amusing coincidence, in that the last time I was in the Gap was in 2004 in conjunction with SABR's annual convention, and my being in Cincinnati this week was a direct result of my being at the SABR in Atlanta.
Memory fails and I wasn't keeping score that night, but I think it was the smash to center hit by Barry Larkin in the bottom of the seventh that was the circus catch Edmonds made that left a lasting impression, the way Jim Edmonds could and did-and the way that might engender enough lingering respect from Baker to spot the former MVP-caliber center-field star for Stubbs now and again. He's walking some but not a ton, and is slugging .489 against right-handed pitching, or enough to represent a massive upgrade on Stubbs. Used in conjunction with the Reds' better grounder generators-as he was on Monday with Mike Leake on the mound-and he should make for a nice alternative in Baker's elaborately stocked mix-and-match outfield.
In the meantime, I suppose there's also the setback of losing Cabrera for however long. Notionally, this shouldn't hurt very much at all-if there's one thing Paul Janish is supposed to be good at, it's playing the field, and Janish shouldn't end up hitting any worse than Cabrera's ineffectual .238 TAv. In an exercise in cautionary tales over getting too wound up over single-game results, Janish didn't do Leake many favors on Monday. Come the fourth inning, the Reds' defense was showing heavy shifts on Albert Pujols and then Matt Holliday after Jon Jay's leadoff double, with Brandon Phillips shifted to play almost over the keystone with Albert Pujols stepping in. Result? Pujols singled into the teeth of the shift-past Janish.
Next up with batters on first and third, Matt Holliday faced the same shift, and singled through the hole to the right side, scoring Jay. After Colby Rasmus completed the all-fields plinking, plating Pujols with a single to center, Yadier Molina followed up with a grounder to the hole that Janish stopped with a slide, but looking to third at Holliday as his own momentum carried him in that direction didn't help him if he'd wanted to make a different fielder's choice and try for Molina. So instead, Janish had to munch a worm-killer and be party to a rare (for any Molina) infield single for Yadier, juicing the sacks for Skip Schumaker to set up his first career grand slam.
As they say, you can see something you've never seen before on any given night, and I'd suggest a Schumaker slam qualifies by that standard. However, as far as what wasn't seen, this shouldn't indicative of what the Reds will receive from Janish during Cabrera's absence. If he also improves upon Cabrera's batting-a low standard, but one Janish could live down to given his own weak career record as a hitter-it won't qualify as a setback for Cincinnati.
*: So where's the game story? Well that you might ask, but the idiot writing this column forgot to hydrate adequately during the course of a horribly hot day, especially stupid because she was working in a press box that wasn't air-conditioned. Said idiot got herself a nice dose of heat exhaustion for her troubles, and collapsed into a gibbering heap shortly after the game. 'Tis a pity, because I was very impressed with how much better the park looks now that center field and the hitter's back drop in particular have been zotzed up a bit, plus there's the addition of the nicest video scoreboard I've seen in the majors-not yet having laid eyes upon Kansas City's snortling Jumbovision monster yet. All in all, it makes for a much better venue than the place I remembered. Here's hoping that the Reds are playing in October, because I'll certainly make the trek down from Chicago to catch them if I can.
Activated RHP Jeff Fulchino from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Fernando Abad to Round Rock (Triple-A). [8/2]
Activated INF-S Geoff Blum from the 15-day DL; designated MI-S Anderson Hernandez for assignment. [8/3]
Outrighted MI-S Anderson Hernandez to Round Rock. [8/6]
Optioned LHP Wesley Wright to Round Rock; recalled RHP Mark Melancon from Round Rock. [8/9]
Now that just about all of the famous, ex-famous, and even the moderately noteworthy personages associated with the Astros have been offloaded in the worthy cause of keeping Drayton McLane's pockets well-feathered, it would be easy to lampoon the club's current construction as hopeless, with someone as reliably nondescript yet ubiquitous as Geoff Blum perhaps rating as the new face of a now faceless franchise.
But in point of fact, the Astros' move into inexpensive anonymity seems to have provided them with a ballclub not so much worse than the previous iteration. With an infield populated by rookies like Jason Castro behind the plate and Brett Wallace at first, or Chris Johnson at third and Angel Sanchez at short, they've managed to play .500 baseball, consistent with where they've been the last two months. In the big picture, the root of the present success the club's enjoying from Johnson or Sanchez or Wallace is transient-Sanchez's BABIP of .360 is the lowest of that trio. But once prodigious small-sample heroism gives way to more reliable quality, you've still got a better foundation than the likes of Pedro Feliz or Tommy Manzella, let alone Humberto Quintero or Kaz Matsui, to work from. And because of the club's ghastly start to their season, even a slump won't show up too horribly on the final slate-if this club finishes anywhere above last place, it's a moral victory of sorts.
There are of course complications. Wright's bid for the fifth slot in the rotation wound up involving a pair of home-and-home spins against the Cubs and the Brewers; the Cubs merely pounded him both times, while the Brew Crew had to wait until the reintroduction before showing they had his measure. Little lefties in big-league rotations being something of a rarity, you can understand why the 'Stros seem initially set on Nelson Figueroa as a temporary patch in Wright's place.
While it's always possible that Figueroa winds up as lasting a journeyman solution as Scuffy Moehler has been, events down at Round Rock suggest that Ed Wade is not placing any bets. Well-traveled pseudo-prospect Yorman Bazardo has resumed rotation work, while Jordan Lyles has been promoted there after the teen took 21 turns*, throwing 127 IP and facing an average of almost 26 batters per outing.
Could Lyles be the answer? Wade's early-season dismissiveness of a big-league debut for Lyles this season has already been dialed down toward the realm of possibility according to Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle. The pre-season consensus pick between Kevin Goldstein (on his list of top Astro prospects) and Astros AGM Rickey Bennett (from David Laurila's February interview) for the organization's top pitching prospect, he's already taken his first turn for Round Rock. Combined, he's allowed 3.9 runs per nine while giving up more than a hit per inning pitched, with 124 Ks against 34 unintentional walks in 133 total frames. While it appears that his off-speed stuff has gotten sharper this season, he's still relatively hittable, making for an odd proposition of the non-dominating teen phenom whose outstanding command of his assortment should make him a nice mid-rotation starter.
Even if Lyles doesn't debut this summer or fall, you're looking at a kid who'd be 20 and heading into spring training with a good bid to wind up in the team's rotation. History's not especially cooperative when it comes to providing a lot of comparables who are really comparable for a guy with his balance of size, command, stuff, and age, in that you wind up with a weird group of not very comparable and not entirely flattering right-handed guys in big-league rotations at 20 without truly overpowering stuff, pitchers like Dave Rozema or Dan Petry, maybe even a Doyle Alexander or Bill Gullickson at the outset of their careers. (And no, I don't know why the Tigers had to wind up with all of them at one point or another.) None of which represents bad news-these guys could all pitch in the big leagues, and had their days as pretty good second bananas in big-league rotations. But it does suggest a slightly different career path as far as firing up the Expectometer for where to set your expectations, because it isn't like Lyles is Mat Latos or even Rick Porcello as far as engendering industry-wide drooling. If he's "just" a third starter someday, that's still brag-worthy for an Astros system that doesn't exactly have a lot to boast about.
*: One of Lyles' appearances was a seven-inning relief outing after a recuperating big leaguer's lone rehab inning to open the action. That's a start in real terms, just not in the GS column.
Placed CF-R Carlos Gomez on the 15-day DL (concussion), retroactive to 8/3; recalled OF-R Lorenzo Cain from Nashville (Triple-A). [8/6]
Acquired OF-L Chris Dickerson from the Reds for OF-L Jim Edmonds, and activated him from the 60-day DL. [8/9]
Remember how getting Gomez was supposed to be part of some program to get younger and better defensively and inspire hope and change and make the Brewers a better all-around ballclub? Well, maybe this is an instance where I'm crowing instead of eating it, but there isn't really that much cause for celebration, since this is an unhappy thing, but also since the grab bag Gomez's virtues wasn't something I was biting on back in November. He didn't hit, he didn't play game-changing defense, and as a result, he lost his job to the resuscitated remains of Jim Edmonds. The Brewers might have told themselves they were trading for the new Franklin Gutierrez, but they may not have even wound up with the new Henry Cotto.
Happily, they seem to be making a silk purse out of this particular sow's ear, dispatching Gomez's gray conqueror to Cincinnati to participate in a pennant race the Brewers are no longer part of, perhaps to add a younger variation on that theme. Acquiring four-plus years of Dickerson under club control for two months of irrelevant participation from the free agency-bound Edmonds is both a matter of adding something for nothing and potentially fixing their Gomez-sized hole in center field. Add in that he's an excellent bet to post an OBP of .350 or better as a semi-regular, and that he bats lefty in an otherwise all-righty starting outfield, and he's a useful addition whether Gomez comes around or not. Whether he shares the future in center with Gomez or just claims it for himself, becomes an everyday player or one of the better fourth outfielders in baseball, the Brewers are better off with Dickerson through his age-32 season than they were status quo ante.
Optioned C-S Jason Jaramillo to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [8/2]
Claimed RHP Chris Resop off waivers from the Braves, and activated him from the 15-day DL; claimed RHP Chan Ho Park off waivers from the Yankees; designated RHP Steven Jackson for assignment; transfer 1B-R Steve Pearce from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/4]
Optioned LHP Justin Thomas to Indianapolis, and activated RHP Chan Ho Park. [8/6]
Activated C-S Ryan Doumit from the 15-day DL; optioned C-R Erik Kratz to Indianapolis. [8/7]
Outrighted RHP Steven Jackson to the Indianapolis. [8/9]
Traded C-S Luke Carlin to the Indians for a PTBNL. [8/10]
Unapologetic bottom-feeders like catfish, carp, or the Pirates rarely raise their snouts out of the muck to acknowledge their lot with pride, which is perhaps just as well-you never know what they'll say. But whatever its provenance, help in any form is, first and foremost, help, because after 18 years of futility in the face of ninja-level dominance from their opponents, the universe, and everything, they can't really afford to be picky. So snarfing Resop and Park on the possibility that either might help patch up their pen makes sense. There's no rule against their regifting Park later, especially as we get closer to the end of the month, when contenders might pass out party favors after an ill-timed injury, while Resop is under club control for years to come.
The other interesting development is bringing Doumit back from the DL to catch, alternating with Chris Snyder instead of moving to another position already. As platoons go, it may not rate with Mike LaValliere and Don Slaught*, rating more with Matt Nokes and whomever had to be his righty-batting caddy, but the Pirates can take a specific area of strength and enjoy it, at least up until the point that Jaramillo gets his hitting chops back and earns a recall. If that happens, they'll get to pick between Jeff Clement and Lastings Milledge for who gets to ride pine while Doumit moves to first base, with Garrett Jones shuffling back out to the outfield.
*: Ah, the good old days, with Sluggo and Spanky in bumblebee black and yellow for a team that still played for high stakes. Of course, that's not the only thing we've lost to history-long gone are the days when a grown man and professional-grade receiver could call himself Spanky, and have that be part of G-rated adult conversation without setting some faithful person's hair on fire. Do we really need more evidence over the non-linearity of progress? I think not. Sometimes a Spanky is just a Spanky, people; not everything has a subtext.
Optioned OF-R Nick Stavinoha to Memphis (Triple-A); recalled OF-R Allen Craig from Memphis. [8/3]
Placed RHP Jason Motte on the 15-day DL (sprained shoulder), retroactive to 8/3; recalled RHP Fernando Salas from Memphis. [8/4]
Placed RHP Jeff Suppan on the 15-day DL (groin), retroactive to 8/1; purchased the contract of C/1B-R Steven Hill from Springfield (Double-A). [8/11]
If there's news to note here, it's that the Cards are making little improvements. Excusing Suppan is terribly convenient, what with his pending underemployment since it looks like Kyle Lohse will be back from the Disabled List in time to make Sunday's start. That's an especially fortuitous turn of events since the Cards haven't needed a fifth starter since Suppan's last spin (and first and only win of the year, for anybody, and it was against the Pirates, as if you had to ask), while they do have other needs from the roster spot at the moment. Suppan's cooperative absence opens things up, preliminary to Lohse's resumption of his season-opening slot as the rotation's fifth man come the weekend. In the meantime, Tony La Russa has done a fine job of simply keeping his front four in turn, exploiting the Cards' multitude of August offdays.
So, what is the Cards need right now? Seemingly an extra catcher, since Jason LaRue is a bit banged up despite not starting a game in almost three weeks, getting only slightly more in-game activity than Suppan's seen of late. Despite the inactivity, it's being reported that he suffered a concussion in a bench-clearing brawl on Tuesday, which is certainly another hazard, but whether or not he too needs to make a convenient trip to the DL might depend on what Hill does in his time on the roster. A squat, sluggy organizational player with more than enough bat but who had struggled with poor footwork behind the plate in the past, the 25-year-old Hill has significantly improved his throwing this season, nabbing 37 percent of stolen-base attempts. If LaRue's chief remaining skill as a batter is an occasionally opened can of whoopass that he pulls the tab on against the odd lefty, Hill may have him beat in even that, having hammered Double-A southpaws at a .325/.395/.643 clip, against a still creditable .245/.319/.466 line against right-handers. Overall, Hill has produced 22 homers in 406 PAs, in what is already his third spin in the circuit, which adds up to a nice organizational player, certainly somebody they might be able to carry down the stretch and beyond in LaRue's place. Hill is also someone who might particularly strike La Russa's fancy for multi-positional reserves who can catch, in light of his having played almost as much first base and left field as he has catcher in his career since being selected in the 13th round of the 2007 draft out of Stephen F. Austin University.
For a more uncomplicated bit of subtraction by subtraction, losing Motte is far from good news. He's been a successful situational right-hander working in a set-up role, setting down right-handed people at a .181/.214/.295 clip on the season while striking out almost 28 percent of them. That involves his being hidden from the gaucherie of the plate, as he's faced almost half as many lefties as righties, sensible enough given that he's been battered at a .280/.410/.440 clip by those few his skipper's let him face. Although Salas has been closing for Memphis, he's showing almost as extreme a platoon split, limiting Triple-A righties to .153/.206/.254, so he might slip rather easily into Motte's slot, albeit without matching Motte's gun readings tick for tick.