Sunday, April 30, 2006
Jeff Francoeur never saw a pitch he didn't like, enabling him to hit .341, with 31 RBI and 10 homers in the first two months of his '05 rookie campaign. But many of the numbers came when he reached out of the strike zone and slammed bad balls for hits, showing a lack of discrimination that one day would tell on him. Francoeur only walked 11 times in 257 at-bats for that season, and has yet to walk even once in nearly 100 at-bats this year. But veteran teammate Chipper Jones advised Francoeur to keep doing what he's doing, keep making contact, keep swinging because it was that type of aggressiveness that made him one of last year's top rookies. With a .216 average this year, Francoeur was beginning to doubt himself, but he went 4-5 with a homer and five RBI Sunday in the Braves 8-5 victory over the Mets, giving the young outfielder hope that with plenty of time left, he still can turn his season around.
Yankees slugger Gary Sheffield likely will return to action without missing time after Saturday's collision with Toronto first baseman Shea Hillenbrand. Sheffield, who lay on the field for several moments after the mishap, evidently had merely "lost his wind" and was soon able to walk off the field with the assistance of the trainer and manager Joe Torre. Sheffield sustained a sore and bruised shoulder, wrist and knee, and did not return to the field. Sheffield underwent a cursory examination by team doctor Stuart Hershon but left the clubhouse without bothering with X-Rays and is considered "day-to-day." Sheffield is not expected to miss much time and would be available to pinch hit. Shea Hillenbrand, who also came out of the game, underwent a CT scan for a blow to the back of his head, but the test was strictly precautionary.
The little letter after Jason Isringhausen's name in the boxscore is an 'S' but that hardly tells the story. Isringhausen got away with another save for the Cardinals Saturday as he walked the bases loaded but was rescued by his defense executing a double play. Isringhausen currently sports a 6.00 ERA with two losses and has given up three homers after surrendering only four all last year. Observers say Isringhausen's fastball has flatened out, but Isringhausen, whose past injuries are long behind him, believes that for some reason he just can't make the ball go where he wants it to go, and it often winds up splitting the plate as though he was throwing batting practice. Manager Tony LaRussa will undoubtedly stick with Isringhausen for awhile yet, but one wonders how soon it will be before necessity dictates that he starts looking at bullpen lefty Randy Flores or set-up man Braden Looper to help out from time to time in the ninth inning.
Results of an MRI examination showed no inflammation or structural damage to Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada's knee, but the joint remains tender and sore, so much so that Tejada took himself out of play in the sixth inning of Saturday's game. Tejada, who benched himself after hitting the second of his two singles on the day, was not expected to miss time, but his discomfort clearly raises questions about Tejada's durability over the long season. Also coming out of Saturday's game after being nicked up were Kevin Millar and Brian Roberts. With Javy Lopez sitting out with back spasms, and David Newhan and Luis Matos on the DL, the Orioles wound up with a very peculiar field defense by the end of the game: Jeff Conine at third base, Chris Gomez at short, Melvin Mora at second and Ramon Hernandez at first.
So-called Pirates closer Mike Gonzalez, 27, brought in to shut the door in the ninth inning of Saturday's 3-2 win over the Phillies, faced three batters, walking two, before being pulled in favor of 41-year-old Roberto Hernandez. Hernandez, 11th on the all-time saves list, notched his 326th career save and now owns two of the team's five saves. The team remains committed to Gonzalez as the closer of the future, though at this rate it would seem Gonzalez hardly can be considered the closer of the present, certainly not exclusively.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is like a nervous poker player with a pair of kings as his hold cards: he's too scared to bump the bet for fear of revealing his hand. Despite a disastrous start, Gardenhire continues to parade a ridiculous combination of players to bat cleanup. . .Ruben Sierra, Tony Batista, Rondell White. . .while not only leaving Torii Hunter in the No. 5 spot, but abandoning struggling first baseman Justin Morneau in No. 6 hole with no one behind him for protection. Gardenhire even tried batting backup catcher Mike Redmond in the No. 3 spot. At the same time, the wheels have come off Brad Radke's, Carlos Silva's and Kyle Lohse's games, yet Gardenhire refuses to move fireballing lefty Francisco Liriano into the rotation though the handwriting is on the wall with Saturday's 18-1 loss to Detroit. Fortunately for Gardenhire, the Twins are too cheap to eat his contract and hire a replacement. If years past are any indication, the Twins game usually doesn't jell until the third and fourth weeks of May. Until then, Gardenhire would do well to follow the advice of an old prospector: "If you find yourself getting nowhere in a deeper and deeper hole, stop digging."
Yankees slugger Gary Sheffield was helped off the field Saturday by manager Joe Torre after hitting a tw0-RBI single and colliding with Toronto first baseman Shea Hillenbrand. Sheffield ramained motionless on the ground for several moments before rising and being replaced at first base by reserve Bubba Crosby. Hillenbrand did not appear to be as seriously hurt, but also came out of the game and was replaced by regular first baseman Lyle Overbay. No immediate word was received on the condition of Sheffield or Hillenbrand.
Friday, April 28, 2006
The Cubs are adamantly against overspending on part-time help, but are beginning to relent to pressure for a right-handed hitter to spell lefty batters Todd Walker and John Mabry. Walker and Mabry are designated fill-ins at first base until the return of injured superstar Derrick Lee, and are performing well, Walker with a .330 average. But the team is looking at righties Carlos Pena, 27, something of a bust after kicking around Texas, Oakland and Detroit and his back porch in Santo Domingo, and 39-year-old Jeff Conine, both of whom might be acquired cheaply. Conine currently gets quite a bit of playing time for Baltimore, and Pena plays every day as a minor league property of the Yankees.
Juan Cruz, 27, the fireballing righty whose career has been marked by brilliance interspersed with mediocrity, will replace struggling veteran Russ Ortiz in the Arizona Diamondbacks rotation. Cruz, whose fastball is clocked in the high 90s, will be placed on an 80-pitch limit until his endurance can be increased as he has spent a majority of his career in a relief role. However, Cruz started 13 games for the AAA Sacramento River Rats last year, posting a 2.40 ERA with five wins and a loss. Throughout his career, even when dealing with wildness and other difficulties associated with youngsters who throw hard, Cruz has been dependable for more than a strikeout per inning. This year he has 14 Ks in 12 relief innings, but has doled out 10 free passes. He will move into the No. 2 spot in the Snakes rotation, as manager Bob Melvin wants him sandwiched between the team's best starters, Brandon Webb and Miguel Batista, so that the bullpen will likely be rested on either side of Cruz's starts when Cruz comes out early. Cruz was acquired in a trade with Oakland for lefty Brad Halsey.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Tampa Bay super prospect B.J. Upton directed a clubhouse tirade against fellow prospect Delmon Young, who has been suspended indefinitely after throwing a bat in the direction of an umpire Wednesday after the umpire ejected him during an AAA game at Durham, N.C. Upton warned Young that he was not only hurting the team but his prospects for advancement to the majors. Young, 21, is beside himself with exasperation because of the Rays decision to keep him in Durham to prevent starting his service time and advancing his contract arbitration date. Rays front office executives not only want Young to waste away in Durham, they want him to like it. But the more furious Young becomes, the more he is compared to troubled former major leaguer Albert Belle.
Todd Helton is the kind of player who could be run over by a Coors Beer truck and still be in the Rockies lineup the next day. His entire career shows a history of strength, good health and resistance to injury and illness. Helton, 32, has been on the disabled list only once before, last year with a strained calf when it cost him just 14 games. If anyone can bounce back from Crohn's Disease it would be Helton, but it's still wide open as to just how quickly Helton will be back. Crohn's Disease is primarily an intestinal disorder, but it can strike anywhere in the gastrointestinal system from the anus to the tonsils, each area being given various designations in the world of medical nominclature. In Helton's case, the affliction is known as terminal ileitis, meaning that it is manifested at the end of the intestine. Historically, those afflicted with the malady can return to near normal activity within a few weeks, while some victims are out for much longer, a rare few even requiring surgery to remove sections of intestine. Based on Helton's past, depend on the rugged first baseman to be among the more fortunate individuals, back sooner rather than later.
Howie Kendrick, hitting .386 with two homers and 13 RBI for AAA Salt Lake, has been called up by the Angels to replace injured shortstop Maicer Izturis. Though Kendrick swings a potent bat, the 22-year-old second baseman remains a work in progress defensively and cannot be expected to push veteran Adam Kennedy out the door for a good while yet. No matter what he does at the plate, depend on Kendrick to be back in Utah in a couple of weeks.
Despite batting .304 with 30 homers for Arizona last year, switchhitting first baseman Tony Clark has been left to languish on the bench in favor of rookie Conor Jackson. But Clark will NOT be traded, at least not to the Cubs. Rumors that Clark will be moved have been prompted by Cubs superstar Derrick Lee's injury, as the Cubs have resorted to primarily playing second baseman Todd Walker at first in Lee's absence. But the Cubs have no intention of trading away players or prospects, and will ride it out until Lee's return. Still, all the stirring has led Clark to tell the Arizona Republic that he would be willing to wave his no-trade clause if a team needs him.
Rookie Casey Janssen has been called to appear for the Blue Jays against the veteran Kris Benson in today's game against the Orioles. Janssen, 24, was a combined 10-1 with a 1.91 ERA in two A-level minor league stops last year, and was 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 20 innings this year for the AAA Syracuse Chiefs. The Blue Jays drafted the 6-foot-4, 200-pound former UCLA hurler in the fourth round of the '04 draft. Burnett is missing time due to ruptured scar tissue related to Tommy John surgery.
Rich Harden became the second Oakland pitcher in four days to leave a game early due to back spasms, joining rotation mate Estaban Loaiza, whose appearance Sunday was shortened with the same malady. Loaiza is throwing on the side and may be ready to return to action this weekend, but Harden has been dispatched to San Francisco for an MRI with the date of his return indeterminate. Harden, 3-0 with a 3.58 ERA coming into Wednesday's 6-4 win over the Rangers at Arlington, left in the fourth inning when he wrenched his back trying to stop a ball hit off the bat of Texas cleanup hitter Phil Nevin.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Cincinnati Reds manager Jerry Narron has a hunch that young Todd Coffey is the best pitcher in his bullpen, but with David Weathers racking up saves, don't expect Narron to fix what ain't broke. Coffey, 1-0, has tallied 10 strikeouts in 12 innings and sports a 0.75 ERA. Weathers, 0-1, has 10 strikeouts too, but also a blown a save and has surrendered a pair of homers that account for his comparatively higher 2.75 ERA. Still, Weathers' six saves in seven chances loom enormously. At 35, Weathers appears to be the stopper, at least for now, at the expense of Coffey, a 25-year-old rookie. Moreover, Coffey has been superb as set-up man, and Narron likes having a dependable arm in the late middle innings no less than he likes one in the ninth.
Buck Martinez, manager of the U.S. team in the World Classic Games in March, has conceded that slow starts or unusual difficulties experienced by pitchers Jake Peavy of the Padres, Carlos Silva of the Twins, Brad Lidge of the Astros and others may be attributable to improper conditioning caused by their participation in the international games instead of spring training. Martinez made the observation Wednesday on the XM Radio morning baseball program.
With two years left on his $17.5 million contract, Arizona's Shawn Green is virtually guaranteed playing time and will be given every chance to prove that he has something left. But at 33, Green's best days are long behind him and scouts say he looks as though he's finished. Always a slow starter, Green is barely batting .200 with only one homer. In the early games in years past Green would start slow, yes, but he could be expected to hit at least .260-.270 with a half dozen longballs before his bat came to life around June 1. More and more, however, Green has a proclivity for swinging long, slow and late, as evidenced by a preponderance of little hoppers he hits down the left field line, most of which impotently dribble foul. Hard to believe that just a few short years ago this was the player who hit 49 homers playing in pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium. It would seem Green would at least be worth a minimum .260 average and 20 homers by the end of the year, but some observers predict he'll never make it.
A two-day battery of tests and subsequent laboratory analysis at Rose Medical Center in Denver has confirmed that Rockies first baseman Todd Helton suffers from exacerbations of Crohn's Disease. Crohn's Disease causes Todd Helton to suffer from an inflammation of the gastrointestinal system that can lead to various ramifications, including abdominal discomfort and fever due to infected ulceration. Todd Helton, 32, who was put on the 15-day disabled list after suffering painful stomach cramps and a high temperature last Friday, is resting comfortably at home after being treated with anti-inflammatory medication and antibiotics. Helton's diet is being modified and he has been placed on a regimen of light excercise. There is no timetable for Helton's return. Crohn's Disease is treatable but virtually incurable and in rare cases can lead to fatal complications. In Helton's case the manifestation is concentrated at the end of the lower intestine, being diagnosed as terminal ileitis, one of many variations of Crohn's Disease. Tennessee Volunteers quarterback A.J. Suggs also suffers from Crohn's Disease. Helton is also a former Volunteers quarterback.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Pittsburgh prospect Brad Eldred, the Pirates' minor league backup to acting first baseman Craig Wilson until starter Sean Casey returns from disabled status, broke his thumb playing for AAA Indianapolis and will be out indefinitely. The 25-year-old Eldred will require several weeks to recover from surgery to repair a fracture and dislocation. Eldred had been part of wide speculation in Chicago that he would be called up to Pittsburgh if the Cubs traded to acquire Wilson as a replacement for injured superstar Derrick Lee. But the point is moot as the Cubs have made it clear no trade is forthcoming.
Baseball color commentator Keith Hernandez has always stood by women in the pro sports arena whenever they were wrestling for equality. . . as long as it was mud wrestling maybe. The Mets broadcast network is resisting grumblings that the former All-Star first baseman should be suspended for making "inappropriate" remarks about women. Hernandez will bear no more than a reprimand after his on-air remarks in which he stated: "I won't say that women belong in the kitchen, but they don't belong in the dugout." Hernandez had complained that "it's a man's game" and incorrectly asserted that women are supposed to be fobidden in the dugout. Hernandez had spotted the Padres female massage therapist "high-fiveing" catcher Mike Piazza during a PetCo Field game with the Mets last week, and compared her to "Kissing Bandit" Morganna. The buxom Morganna used to dash out onto the field and plant kisses on the cheeks of such players as now Hall-of-Famer George Brett (that's Morganna and George in the photo) in the days when Hernandez was a player.
San Diego SP Chris Young had allowed only one run over his last 13 innings, but after his thumb went numb he was hammered in an 8-1 loss to the Mets. Young has been battling lost sensation and coldness in the thmb of his throwing hand all season, and it has affected his ability to feel the seams of the ball. An MRI may shed light on the problem as soon as today. The MRI will include the head, neck and spine, but the initial focus will attempt to determine whether blood vessels in the wrist are inflamed or swollen due to the repetative trauma of Chris Young's pitching regimen, or if the malady may be related to some type of blow. The team has no plans for Young to miss time, but doctors yet may prescribe rest as part of the treatment.
Monday, April 24, 2006
Rockies first baseman Todd Helton was in the process of returning to his Colorado home from Rose Medical Center to await results of a colonoscopy, a procedure in which a tiny camera is inserted into the gastrointestinal system to inspect and collect tissue samples for a biopsy. Biopsy results must await laboratory analysis that cannot be completed for another 18-36 hours, and could confirm whether the 32-year-old slugger has contracted Crohn's disease. The chronic affliction in rare cases can lead to fatal complications such as cancer, so the team is withholding information out of respect for Helton's family. Associated with abdominal pain and bowel irregularities, in the most severe manifestations the malady is associated with fever and headaches such as Helton experienced Thursday and Friday before his hospitalization and subsequent placement on the 15-day disabled list. The disease most often strikes individuals between the ages of 15-35, of Caucasion heritage, in industrialized nations in northern climates. Somewhat mysterious, it can be managed with common medications and diet modification, and commonly is not debilitating for extended periods. However, when associated with high fever, recovery can be prolonged. Frequently the disease is confused with ulcerative colitus, a less serious ailment that presumably would not cause Helton to miss extensive time.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
It's hard to argue with success when a pitcher comes within an eyelash of a complete game, one-hit shutout and sports a 1.80 ERA, but promising Astros hurler Taylor Buckholz's downside must not be disregarded. Though Buckholz, 27, was perfect through six, he must be characterized as "effectively wild" though his first three innings. Like all rookies, Buckholz tends to struggle with control, evident as he found just enough accuracy on his 95-mph fastball to shut down the first nine batters. After that Buckholz was in a zone, pitching the greatest game of his career. But it remains confusing as to where Buckholz fits in Houston's complicated rotation picture. For one thing, Brandon Backe could return from the DL in as little as six weeks, though he may be out for much longer. Another problem is that Roger Clemens may sign after May 1, and youngster Wandy Rodriguez, with a 3-0 record and 2.52 ERA, has also impressed. The Astros No. 4 and No. 5 rotation spots remain a puzzle at best.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Rockies first baseman Todd Helton was suddenly placed on the 15-day disabled list Saturday as doctors tried to determine why he is suffering from "stomach discomfort." No further explanation was given because no explanation is known. Todd Helton has been associated with various medical problems, most notably a strained calf muscle, which kept him out of action for 14 games last year, and an ongoing difficulty with one or more compressed vertebrea in his neck. Presumably, Helton's stomach issue differs from his chronic ailments of the past, and is unrelated to a clubhouse flu bug that also has sidelined Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkens. Helton, 32, has only one homer on the year, but his batting average has flirted with the .400 mark off and on this season.
Toronto starting pitcher A.J. Burnett has been returned to the 15-day DL after coming out of Friday's game in the fourth inning due to reinjuring the elbow in his throwing arm, which doctors say pains him because of broken scar tissue from Tommy John surgery.
The Cubs are unable to find a replacement for injured first baseman Derrick Lee because trades are too difficult in April, or so the team would have the public believe. But the fact is that no immediate need is seen to replace Lee. After studying X-Ray and MRI results, the front office has decided to avoid trading away Cubs players, prospects and resources to acquire someone when Lee could be verging close to recovery as soon as six weeks. Examinations prove that the two broken bones near Lee's right wrist are still perfectly aligned, meaning that they are no more than cracks and will heal themselves with no need for surgery. The tendons, ligaments and cartilage remain intact, with full articulation at the joints. The breaks, strickly limited to the bone shafts, have already been immobilized with a firm cast from Lee's fingertips nearly to his shoulder. But that cast will be replaced with a shorter variation within three weeks, and Lee will be 80-90 percent healed within a month. In as soon as six weeks Lee could be cleared for rehabilitation, then restore himself to playing strength through excercise over the course of another 12 to 16 days. Until then the Cubs will rely primarily upon second baseman Todd Walker and bench reserve John Mabry, both of whom at least have limited first base experience.
Outfielder Michael Restovich, 28, a once highly regarded Pittsburgh prospect whom since has lost his luster, was called up to the Cubs from AAA Iowa City Friday to take the roster spot of injured first baseman Derrick Lee. Restovich played some first base during spring camp, but likely will get little time at the position behind second baseman Todd Walker, who will move over, and John Mabry, a bench reserve. Both Walker and Mabry have experience at first. The choice of Restovich makes it clear the club has little confidence in prospective slugger Brandon Sing, 25, a lumbering first baseman who hit .280 with 26 homers in 411 AB at the AA level last year.
Los Angeles shortstop Rafael Furcal's batting average had dropped to .219 before he doubled in an insurance run in the seventh inning of Friday's 5-3 victory over Arizona, and later scored. Furcal has been hampered at the plate after he strained the middle finger of his left hand on opening day. The finger has been sore and swollen since, making it difficult for him to grip his bat. His discomfort is not related to Thursday's collision with Cubs first baseman Derrick Lee, who has been sidelined for perhaps two months or more as a result of the contact.
Detroit starting pitcher Jeremy Bonderman, 1-2 with a 5.55 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 19 innings, was still experiencing soreness after being struck in the lower back Thursday by a liner off the bat of Oakland's Dan Johnson. Bonderman came out of the game after being struck, but not necessarily because of the pain. His pitch count had already reached 99. Bonderman's ability to throw remains unaffected. He will make his next start Tuesday.
Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez, 3-0 with a 2.52 ERA over three starts after notching Friday's 3-2 victory, continues to feel discomfort due to an intermittent groin twinge that prompted him to come out of the game after five innings. Though the injury is not considered serious yet, trainer Dave LaBossiere will monitor the condition until it is determined that Rodriguez is well. The team is worried not only because of the potential for Rodriguez to miss time. If the 27-year-old lefty cannot be depended upon to sustain higher pitch counts, a highly vulnerable bullpen with a total ERA exceeding 6.00 may be unable to hold leads until the ninth inning for closer Brad Lidge. Moreover, setup men will be more likely to wear down from overuse, further perpetuating the bullpen's over taxation.
Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Nomar Garciaparra went 2-5 with a double, run scored and a RBI in a rehabilitation start for AAA Fresno Friday night. Garciaparra was expected to make his debut in Chavez Revine in tonight's game against the Diamondbacks after being sidelined with an injury since the end of spring camp.
Friday, April 21, 2006
Over the first three weeks of the season OF Corey Patterson, 26, once projected as a promising blend of power, defense and speed, was given only a dozen chances to bat for the Orioles. Appearing only intermittently, Patterson had only one hit, a single. But with the veteran David Newhan, a potential .300 hitter, missing time with an injury, Patterson will find himself in the lineup more often and with a renewed chance to redeem himself. The team remains hopeful that Patterson can rediscover the talent that once made him one of the most exciting rookies in the game, and avoid whatever it was that put him in the doghouse when Patterson played for Cubs manager Dusty Baker.
Oakland 1B/DH Dan Johnson, 1-32 on the year, was given time off to try to recover his swing. Studying video images of his approach at the plate last year compared to now, Johnson observed that he has been trying to pull outside pitches instead of hitting them to the opposite field, and, after several hours of tedious practice, thought perhaps he had corrected the problem. Unfortunately, when he returned to the lineup he went 0-3. Johnson's average now sits at .031, but the team is convinced Johnson will hit his way out of his slump, and then, pitchers beware.
Seattle closer Eddie Guadardo gave up four ninth-inning bases on balls, including a walk to cleanup hitter Phil Nevin, to lose Thursday's home game against the Rangers, 5-4. It was Guadardo's second blown save in four days. However, Guadardo, 35, won a vote of confidence from manager Mike Hargrove, who declared after the game: "Eddie Guadardo is our closer. He will remain our closer." Hargrove said pitchers generally can be expected to have occasional bad games, and Thursday's was one of Guadardo's. Guadardo, who suffers from a torn rotator cuff, claimed he felt fine physically. Guadardo said: "I can't tell you want happened. I wish I had an explanation. I just could not find the damn plate...I don't know what to tell you. I've got to do something though. I've got to get (myself) right."
Thursday, April 20, 2006
San Diego's Dave Roberts, currently playing center field while the injured Mike Cameron plays rehabilitation games for single A Lake Elsinore, will move to left field full time when Cameron returns. Roberts' playing time has increased significantly with the demotion of Termel Sledge. Roberts has a pair of triples and two stolen bases while batting .286 in 35 AB. Sledge batted 25 times but could not even hit his weight.
Brandon Sing trying to field a grounder is a bit like a man trying to pick up a mouse, but there's no better place to hide Sing's glove than first base now that the position is open with Cubs starter Derrick Lee out perhaps for two months or more. Sing, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound Chicagoland native, may be asked to fill a roster spot. He would bring to the Cubs a good eye at the plate and a respectable power source. Other options might include playing Jerry Hairston full-time at second base and moving 2B Todd Walker to first base, or trading for someone known to be on the market, such as Pittsburgh's Craig Wilson. Sing, 25, was Florida State League MVP in '04, when he slugged 32 homers. At the AA level last year Sing hit .280 with 26 homers in just 411 AB. But with Sing's defensive play in question, plus his inexperienced bat, Sing can hardly be regarded as the ultimate stopgap. In 57 plate appearances, Sing is hitting only .200 with the Iowa Cubs this year, with one homer. Speculation is running rampant that the Cubs will deal for Wilson. Wilson had no place to play in Pittsburgh but has been pressed into action because of injury to Pirates first baseman Sean Casey. Wilson remains expendable in Pittsburgh because he is backed up in the minors by prospect Brad Eldred. Eldred, playing at nearby AAA Indianapolis, is something of a fan favorite. Another Cubs first base prospect, Brian Dopirak, hit .307 with 39 homers at single A Lansing last year, but has yet to be seriously tested at the AA level.
Looking at Seattle's Adrian Beltre up close, very close, one sees a man uncomfortable at the plate, ill at ease in a baseball uniform and even in his own body. Standing in the on-deck circle, arriving for batting practice or on his way to his automobile after the game, Adrian Beltre seems preoccupied, disturbed, troubled in some elusive way, like a man who has just missed a bus, or maybe has lost his wallet. Or perhaps it is the Mariners wallet he has lost. Having signed with Seattle for $64 million following his breakout year in '04 for the Dodgers, when he batted .334 with 48 homers, Adrian Beltre has disappointed ever since. Beltre hit only .256 with 19 homers last year, and at the end of last week had been dropped to No. 7 in the batting order after a poor camp and hitting only .109 with no home runs so far this season. It's early but the answer to Beltre's continued underachieving may be attributed to a physical problem associated with his banner performance two years ago, a physical problem that Beltre no longer has. Those familiar with the Dodgers trainer's room know that Beltre suffered from a lower leg strain in '04 that caused him to compensate by favoring his left foot at the plate, keeping his weight on his right foot and staying back when he swung the bat through the zone. The resulting change in his stance vastly improved his contact with the ball and his follow-through, and thus led to his radically improved numbers for that season. The injury has since passed, and Beltre now is his old self, lunging at pitches again and again and pulling grounders down the third base line because he simply cannot help it. More and more, even at the tender age of 26, Beltre seems like a player with little promise of ever living up to his long projected potential.
The Minnesota Twins, enviable with one of the best rotations in baseball, remain confident about the capabilities of their troubled No. 2 and 3 starters, Brad Radke and Carlos Silva. At the end of the first three weeks of the season, Radke, 2-1, is sporting a 6.63 ERA and Silva a 7.71 ERA. But the problem with each is not physical, complicated nor expected to be longlived. Radke, 33, who threw 200 innings last year with a 4.04 ERA, has for the moment lost command of his changeup, with opponents well aware of it and perfectly comfortable to sit on his fastball. Coaches are confident Radke will rediscover the pitch in the very near future. Silva, 26, who threw 200 innings in '04 and owned a 3.44 ERA in an injury-shortened season last year, is pitching fine and has been absolved of culpability in his last outing, in which he gave up eight runs and 12 hits in 8.66 innings. Though the team has been publicly discreet, blame for Silva's poor statistics over the course of the evening was assessed against umpire Jerry Meals, whose game calling behind the plate was so poor that Silva and manager Ron Gardenhire were ejected in the ninth inning when they could bare it no more and complained. With Silva pitching well but not getting the calls, Gardenhire saw no reason to remove him and left him in until the ejection. For the first time in the history of the team, the Twins broadcasters gave an umpire the "Player of the Game" award for being the individual who most affected the outcome of Minnesota's 8-2 loss to the Angels. Radke has rejected a surgery option to ease a problem on his left side because the issue has no effect on his ability to pitch. Silva has recovered after sustaining a torn meniscus late last season.
Seattle SP Joel Piniero, who starts today coming off a win in which he gave up only five hits in 6.33 innings while giving up no runs, remains on the trading block and may yet be exchanged for Pittsburgh 1B Craig Wilson. Now in the last of a three-year $14.5 million contract, Piniero seems to have recovered his form after elbow and shoulder injuries ruined his '04 and '05 seasons. Piniero's record this year stands at 3-1 with a 3.66 ERA, and he has struck out 12 in 19 innings. Though Piniero's outlook remains somewhat dubious due to his checkered history, if he keeps this pace he will be a hot commodity after the All-Star break when teams making pennant runs look for rotation help. Moreover, with Pittsburgh 1B Sean Casey back from the DL, Pittsburgh will be under pressure to move Wilson rather than allow him to languish on the bench. Pittsburgh would like Seattle to pick up some of Piniero's salary while Seattle would like a major league ready pitching prospect to be included in the deal for Wilson.
Eric Hinske, such a disappointment that he even began hearing boos from the Toronto faithful last year, might have thought he had redeemed himself enough this season to win the full-time right field job. His average stands .368 and his on-base percentage in nearly .500. The problem is that his platoon partner, Alexis Rios, is batting .390 with five homers, and has been given two thirds the playing time even though Rios is a righty and Hinske bats left. Hinske is batting .368 vs. righties but Rios is batting .368 against them. Management's original intent was to have either Hinske or Rios earn the full-time job, and Hinske was given the edge coming out of camp. But with both playing well the competition remains open. Hinske, 28, is a former Rookie of the Year and Rios, 25, was Minor League Player of the Year. Until now both have worn the "underachiever" mantle. Still, with Hinske able to play outfield, first and third, expect him to be given the bench role eventually as he provides diverse options for late inning substitutions. And at least for now, Hinske does not appear able to keep pace with Rios' hitting.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
San Antonio city and county officials remain suspicious that Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is talking to them simply to gain leverage. They are concerned that the Marlins are merely threatening to move the team to Texas just to pressure Florida civic leaders to build the Marlins a stadium in Miami. So San Antonio has set a May 15 deadline for the team to accept the city's proposal or else. As justification for the brinksmanship, the Bexar County Court of Commissioners have warned Loria that if San Antonio is expected to help finance construction of a $350 million stadium, preparations must begin now for a public referendum to authorize spending hotel-motel tax revenue. Another plan to move the team to Portland has lost momentum, as has the idea of moving to Las Vegas because of resistance to gambling influences. A longshot alternative in Oklahoma City is virtually out of the question because of the small television market.
Designated hitter Rondell White, 34, has been dropped from the cleanup spot to No. 7 in the Twins batting order. Third baseman Tony Batista, 32, who is swinging a hot bat but is a .240 lifetime hitter, has been switched from No. 7 to cleanup, at least temporarily. Manager Ron Gardenhire continues to pass over power hitting first baseman Justin Morneau, 24. Morneau, who struggled through a myriad of injuries last year but who has not been forgiven for flopping in the No. 4 spot, will remain hitting sixth behind Torii Hunter. Gardenhire says he wants to avoid tinkering with the batting order any more than absolutely necessary, but felt compelled to drop White, who was batting .083. Though White is one of the most injury prone players in baseball, Gardenhire plans to give White playing time in the outfield to let 40-year-old Ruben Sierra start at DH from time to time. Gardenhire says he's making the moves to keep his batters sharp. Too bad there's no moves to keep a manager sharp.
Seattle is shopping OF Matt Lawton and 1B Roberto Petagine in an effort to find help up the middle, and soon. With Jose Lopez playing second and Yuniesky Betancourt playing short, the team basically has only Willie Bloomquist to back up both positions. The Mariners would trade either Lawton or Petagine, not both. Lawton, 34, who has starting potential for other clubs, is regarded as somewhat superfluous as a backup to switchhitting Carl Everett. The team already has 26-year-old Joe Borchard as an outfield sub. Petagine, 33, is largely thought of as primarily a pinch hitter and spot starter with power potential, a valuable spare part but still just a spare part. Among others, veteran pivot man Tony Womack of the Reds will be eyed by the Mariners over the next two weeks. Womack has become expendable in Cincinnati with the Reds acquisition of one-time super prospect Brandon Phillips, formerly with Cleveland. Womack's roster spot will be taken by Ken Griffey Jr. when Griffey comes off the DL on May 28, and the Reds would like something in exchange for Womack to avoid having to release him and eat his guaranteed $1.5 million contract.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Pitching with a torn rotator cuff and well on the wrong side of 30, Seattle's Eddie Guadardo has heard the cries of doom many times before. And each year Guadardo keeps coming back with a sub-3.00 ERA and his customary 30-40 saves. Maybe Everyday Eddie can keep doing it in spacious Safeco Field, but he ran into a little bandbox called Fenway Park on Monday and, just one strike away from the save, gave up a walkoff homer to Boston's Mark Loretta and chauked up his first loss of 2006. The season is young and the statistical sample too small to project much of anything, but with an 11.57 ERA, Guadardo more than ever may begin prompting that familiar speculation that the time is fast approaching when he must surrender the closer's role to a younger, surer hand. A.J. Putz has closed when Guadardo has missed time before, but Rafael Soriano has the inside track to the job should Guadardo continue to struggle, or finally concede that he must have surgery.
Monday, April 17, 2006
He arrives by way of Cleveland with a smudged face and some spots on his collar. But Brandon Phillips is being dusted off and polished up by the Reds to resume his long lost Indians identity as second baseman of the future. And the future is now. More and more, Cincinnati manager Jerry Narron will give the 25-year-old ex-hot prospect regular playing time at second base, and perhaps occassionally at shortstop, at the expense of veteran Tony Womack, 36. With the Reds needing to carry 12 pitchers because of the team's overworked bullpen, and carrying three catchers, watch for the team to eat Womack's $1.5 million contract and send Womack packing to make room for Jason LaRue when LaRue returns from the DL. Phillips will stay as he fits into the team's rebuilding mode.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Dodgers 2B Jeff Kent was struck in the head by a pitch from San Francisco's Brad Hennessy in the 7th inning of Sunday night's game, and Barry Bonds was hit by the Dodgers Tim Hamulack in the 8th in what umpire Lance Barksdale determined was retaliation. Barksdale instantly ejected Hamulack as Bonds, apparently struck on his protective armor guard, came out of the game for a pinch runner. Bonds did not appear to be injured. During the previous inning Kent also came out of the game but was not thought to be seriously hurt. Kent had been examined on the field by trainer Stan Johnston as Kent sat momentarily stunned at the plate. Kent was lucid enough to argue with manager Grady Little that he wanted to stay in the game, but Little took him out as a precaution. Kent joined other players sitting on the bench.
Even if Dodgers 1B Nomar Garciaparra comes off the DL Tuesday, expect the team to proceed cautiously before putting him back in the lineup. Garciaparra, 32, is swinging a bat at half speed, and will try to take grounders during the week. But because of the quirkiness of his injury, the rib cage, the team wants to avoid rushing him back too soon and causing a relapse. Don't be surprised if Garciaparra doesn't play fulltime until next week, or maybe as late as the first week of May, depending on how he feels after workouts. The Dodgers are under no pressure to return Garciaparra to action. Rookie James Loney, 21, is playing respectable defense and first and hitting .265 in 30 atbats.
Some pitchers throw spitters. Some cut the seams. But Lenny DiNardo has the best trick of all, a ball on a string. DiNardo will come out of the bullpen Monday to replace injured starter David Wells for the Red Sox, and try to demonstrate why you don't have to throw 99 mph to win ballgames in the majors. DiNardo, 26, a crafty lefty in the classic sense, has three speeds to his fastball: slow, slower and drop dead slow, all thrown with more movement than a butterfly in a hail storm. Lenny DiNardo racked up 97 strikeouts in 110 innings with a 3.01 ERA to go 6-3 for AAA Pawtucket last year. When opposing batters weren't waving in the air they were usually grounding out to the infield. DiNardo gives up a few free passes, but often seems to find the right mix of pitches to escape jams. It will be DiNardo's second major league start, having come out of the bullpen seven out of eight appearances for the big club last year, being credited with a 1.84 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 14 innings. A pitcher who gets the maximum out of a limited amount of ability, his skills were among the insurance policies the BoSox relied upon when trading Bronson Arroyo.
When Brady Clark goes into the bathroom each morning, there's Ricky Weeks. When he gets in his car to drive to the park, there's Ricky Weeks. When Clark steps into the batting cage, works out in the weight room, eats his dinner, goes to the bathroom, it's always the same: Ricky Weeks, Ricky Weeks, Ricky Weeks. When Brady Clark went to bed last night, rolled over and saw Ricky Weeks, that was the last straw. Well, not the exactly the last straw. The last straw will be when Brady Clark goes to center field one day soon and Ricky Weeks will be there waiting for him, and Brady Clark will go to the bench. It may not happen this month, maybe not the next or the next, but one of these days sooner or later, expect the Brewers to move Ricky Weeks to the outfield. The more chances coaches have to observe Weeks' sometimes dazzling sometimes erratic play at second base, plus consider Weeks' type of highly productive offensive play, the sooner the switch will be made. It's just a matter of deciding whom to move where and when in a high-stakes game of musical chairs.
He hit a combined .352 with 22 homers and 100 RBI for the AAA Rochester Red Wings and AA New Britain, .343 for the Wings alone, then hit .300 in 60 atbats after a September callup to the Twins. So what does Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire have to say about '04 International League Rookie of the Year Jason Kubel? How about, what have you done for me lately, son? Gardenhire has given the 23-year-old super prospect just 14 plate appearances so far to hit his way into the lineup. Now Gardenhire will punish Kubel for his .143 average by sending him down. Kubel has not been the same since blowing out his knee 16 months ago in the Arizona Fall League, and after the resulting year's layoff hardly has been given any sort of decent shot to knock off the rust. Expect Kubel's name to reappear on the Wings roster in the next few days while Gardenhire goes to the DL to activate somebody with some real potential: .230 hitter Ruben Sierra, age 43.
The placement of Dmitri Young on the DL points up a critical lack of depth on the Tigers bench, bereft as it is of left-handed batters not to mention anyone who can swing a bat. None of manager Jim Leyland's options is likely to bat anything close to .300 and none for power. The one possibility to bat left, switchhitter Nook Logan, is apparently regarded so lowly that he was passed over for Alexis Gomez, who hit .310 for the Mudhens last year but was batting .148 when he was called up. Marcus Thames, another right-handed batter who likely will get a good deal of the playing time at DH, is batting .375 currently but is a .233 lifetime hitter. Other options are barely worth mentioning. Worse, Young's injury comes at time when Magglio Ordonez, Placido Polanco and Ivan Rodriguez are needing rest due to various minor ailments. It was very foreseeable that the injury prone Young, 32, who has been unable to play a full season in three years, was as likely to miss time as any player in the league. Yet GM David Dombrowski seems to have made little preparation for such a likelihood. Look for Tigers pitchers records to suffer as a result, and the team's ranking to fall.
Saturday, April 15, 2006
The best trades, so the old adage goes, are the ones you don't make. The Pirates dodged a bullet when trade talks with Seattle and other teams for outfielder/first baseman Craig Wilson stalled long enough for Pittsburgh to withdraw. The team no longer can spare Wilson now that starting first baseman Sean Casey will be out for up to two months. Wilson, playing while Casey missed action earlier because of injured ribs, was leading the team in offensive production with three homers and a .375 BA. Casey, who had just returned from his rib injury, was hurt again Friday when he fractured his lower back. Critics accused the club of rushing Casey back to action and causing him to miss more time by playing before he was ready, but the two injuries are unrelated.
It comes as no surprise to Philadelphia closer Tom "Flash" Gordon that he already has three saves in just four innings and a 1.93 ERA. Gordon, who has had arm problems in the past and underwent Tommy John Surgery six years ago, believes his new job will be easier to endure than when he set up Mariano Riviera for the Yankees last year because set-up men must pitch about 80 innings a year, while a good closer might pitch a couple of dozen fewer. Gordon was required to pitch 80 innings for New York last year and nearly 90 the year before. The 38-year-old hurler predicts that 60 innings will be his approximate limit this year, a considerably easier burden than what he has been used to.
San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds, perhaps sensing his playing days are numbered, has already foreshadowed that he will never reach Hank Aaron's 756-game homer mark. Bonds' recent announcement that the only target he really wants is Babe Ruth's 714 sets the stage for his final frontier. Bonds evidently would settle for seven more homers to pass Ruth, and consider any additional longballs a bonus. But even Ruth's mark seems more and more difficult each day. Not only has Bonds reported painful swelling due to bone chips in his elbow, his surgically repaired right knee troubles him so much that he takes every opportunity to rest it. Observers note that he uncharacteristically sits when he waits his turn in batting practice, favors his left leg when looking for someplace to lean and takes elevators or rides rather than climbs stairs or walks. His relatively modest 100-game 2006 game target may turn out to be unrealistic. Batting just .188 so far on the young season, the 41-year-old Bonds continues to take non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory analgesics to quell inflamation, plus mild, prescription narcotics help deal with pain. He has also been taking sleep-inducing sedatives to get through the night. Still, he remains one of the most feared hitters in the game, as his bat speed is still constant, indicating Ruth's mark will be his sooner or later.
Florida second baseman Dan Uggla recently responded to a broadcaster that his peculiar sounding name is of Swedish origin. Asked if the Stockholm phone book would be full of Ugglas, the promising rookie replied: "Where's Stockholm?" Uggla was born and raised in Kentucky.
He's strong, they said. He's healthy, they said. He's back to his old self, they said. But it took less than a dozen games before oft-injured Washington second baseman Jose Vidro was back to his old tricks again: his trick ankle, his trick knee, his trick hip, his trick tricks. The $7.5 million-a-year three-time All Star took himself out of Friday's game with a tight hamstring, bringing to more than 600 the number of AB he has missed over the past three years due to various ailments. It remained to be seen how soon Vidro would return to action, though he has not yet been placed on the DL. The injury, however, offers no opportunity for Alfonso Soriano. No matter how much he wants to play second, Soriano will remain in left and Marlon Anderson will start in the middle.
Sources familiar with old Sportsman's Park and Old Busch Stadium in St. Louis, now both destroyed, report that the new $365 million ballpark just opened for the Cardinals is beautiful but suffers from a critical design flaw. The elevation of the seat rows is so shallow that fans cannot clearly see the field over those seated in front of them, and must peak back and forth between the heads to view the batter, then the pitcher, because both cannot be seen together in the same view.
Kazu Tadano (left), the promising Japanese pitcher whose career was ruined in his native country after he starred in a gay porn video, has arrived just across the water from the gay capital of the world. Tadano, 26, finds himself on the shores of San Francisco Bay under contract with the Athletics after being traded from Cleveland. The former actor has been relegated to Oakland's AAA team in nearby Sacramento. Tadano was run out of Japanese baseball after the video depicted him in a graphic act with another male performer. The pitcher later described his decision to appear in the gay video as a youthful mistake for which he has apologized. He says he doesn't mind fans' catcalls because he can't understand English anyway. Tadano insists he's not really gay. Apparently, he was just acting gay.
In the tradition of Astros All-Star Craig Biggio, who moved from catcher to second base and the outfield, new infield positions are being considered for Twins backstop Joe Mauer. Long regarded as a probable candidate to play first base, Mauer is also credited with the potential to play third, second and even shortstop, and has been practicing taking infield grounders during batting practice in case he is called upon to appear in those spots as a substitute in late-inning situations.
Despite rumors that Dontrelle Willis may be shipped off to the Yankees, the Marlins have reduced annual payroll to a mere $15 million and are under no pressure to dump the 24-year-old Cy Young Award runner-up and his $4.35 million contract. Moreover, with seven rookies in the starting lineup, the Marlins need to keep Willis to project the club as a true major league team, a status that is essential as the team considers moving to San Antonio, Las Vegas, Portland or maybe even extreme longshot Oklahoma City. Expect Willis and star third baseman Miguel Cabrera to finish the year as Marlins, then be targeted to re-sign next year as the team builds for the future.
While Willy Taveras enjoyed the attention of his Rookie of the Year candidacy last year, the Astros were secretly alarmed at his lack of power. Not only did Taveras lack warning track power but he even had difficulty reaching the edge of the grass just beyond the basepaths. Taveras' .291 '05 batting average was built on 70 infield hits, many coming on bunts. And the more the year wore on, the more Taveras struggled to hit with authority. Miraculously, three times Taveras happened to be swinging where a fastball was whizzing past and he connected for three homers. The Astros have no ambitions of turning Taveras into a flyball hitter, but after tinkering with his swing are finally satisfied that Taveras is beginning to put some wood on the ball. Taveras is playing an energetic center field and has touched the .300 plateau during the short season, though he has yet to steal a base after stealing 34 last year. The outlook is favorable but it will yet be some time before the jury determines whether Taveras can live up to his promise.
In an 0-27 slump and hitless on the year, Oakland's Dan Johnson was due to luck into a single and finally did with a broken bat bloop Friday. The A's continue to remain committed to the 26-year-old first baseman, who briefly led the team in batting average last August. GM Billy Beane remains convinced that Johnson will break out any day. Barring a trade of pitching for offensive help, Beane has few other options. Nick Swisher could be moved from the outfield to first and underachiever Jay Payton from the bench to the outfield, but Beane finds unsavory the prospect of Payton playing full time after a succession of lackluster performances in recent years. Lucky for Johnson, first base prospect Daric Barton is only 20 or Beane would be eyeing Barton's .320 average at AAA Sacramento. Barton has an excellent eye at the plate, projects with 30-homer power and has batted in the .300 range in three minor league stops. However, Barton is not expected to be ready until next year at the earliest.
Friday, April 14, 2006
The Brandon Watson experiment has come to an end in Washington. Watson has been sent to New Orleans to make way for the return of Ryan Church, who impressed last year by hitting .287 with nine homers in 268 AB. Watson, who had been tried in the leadoff spot following a strong spring, failed to reach base with regularity and lost his spot despite the fact that Church was hitting only a buck thirty in the Crescent City. The Nats are 2-8, the worst record in MLB.
Hopefully Tampa Bay prospect Delmon Young likes barbeque, sweet tea and potato pie because he's going to be in North Carolina for awhile yet. Though third baseman-outfielder Aubry Huff is out of action for up to six weeks, the team shows no indication that Young, who is batting .366 for AAA Durham, has been given even the slightest consideration as a replacement. The longer Tampa Bay holds the 21-year-old super prospect back, the longer the team benefits by putting off his salary arbitration date.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
The Florida Marlins have called up prized prospect Scott Olson, a 22-year-old lefty, from AAA Albuquerque to start Saturday at Arizona. Olson was 3-1 with a 2.75 ERA in five starts during camp, but was sent down because a No. 5 starter would not be needed until this weekend. He struck out a batter an inning in a five-game tryout last September.
Cincinnati third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, 23, was benched for Thursday's game at Wrigley Field in Chicago after committing three errors the previous day. The veteran Rich Aurilia took his place. Reds manager Jerry Narron said Encarnacion was not being punished, but was held out to give Aurilia some playing time and for fear Encarnacion would become depressed should he commit another error, a likely possibility because of dubious infield conditions. It was also rumored that two coaches were dispatched to Encarnacion's 44th-floor room at the Park Hyatt where they bolted his windows, removed a can of Drano from the kitchenette, took away his belt, the medicines at his bedside and any sharp objects. As an additional precaution the house dick was posted at the door to the roof. Hopefully Encarnacion will not fall off the excercise bicycle in the weight room or they probably will take that away from him too.
The White Sox are awaiting the impact of a major reconstruction project on the Dan Ryan Expressway section of Interstate 94, the key arterial accessing Comisky Park. The project has closed down all of the express lanes, leaving only six of the 14 lanes open. Authorities warn that the Ryan should be avoided for many weeks to come. Declining ticket sales, concessions and other lost revenue sources could impact the team's earnings and potential capital outlay if fans stay away. For further information go to www.avoidtheryan.com.
Milwaukee starting pitcher Ben Sheets continued rehab therapy Wednesday with no ill effects as the result of his most previous outing. Sheets, who began the season on the DL with a shoulder injury, threw 75 pitches with 52 strikes, nine strikeouts, and no walks while surrendering only three hits in a seven-inning rehabilitation outing the day before with the Triple A Nashville Sounds. Trainers say a pitcher's condition after such an outing is a key test in a recovery regimen, and Sheets reported no undue discomfort. The next three days will also be critical. Sheets could return to the club as soon as Sunday, and could start with a 90-pitch limit.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Alexis Rios, batting .407 with three homers, may be about to keep the right field job all for himself and relegate platoon partner Eric Hinske to the bench. Rios, 25, a righty batter, has been starting against lefties in a platoon with Hinske, 28, a lefty. Hinske has not embarrassed himself in the role, but Rios, who homered again Wednesday, may finally be living up to the spectacular potential projected for him based on his minor league stats. Until now, the Blue Jays have been particularly disappointed with the 6-foot-5, 195-pound slugger's lack of power, as he hit only 10 homers last year. But coaches have taught him to extend his left leg and "sit down" when he is at the plate, a stance that has leveled out his swing and increased his ability to hit for distance. Meanwhile Hinske, who can play the outfield, third, first and DH, may be better suited to come off the bench or spot start when regulars need a rest.
When pitching coach Leo Mazzone accepted his new job with the Orioles he was looking forward to his staff setting some career highs, but this is not what he had in mind. For the second consecutive start Daniel Cabrera has set career marks for walks in a single game, handing out free passes to seven in his first appearance and nine in his second. In Wednesday's 7-4 loss to the Devil Rays Cabrera threw 117 pitches, only 57 for strikes, with three wild pitches, a number of balls in the dirt and a hit batter in just five innings. But Cabrera struck out 10 as he escaped bases-loaded jams over the course of his final nine outs. Mazzone has been disappointed by Cabrera's performances as the objective is to teach him to throw his 99-mph fastball consistently low and away in an effort to complete seven innings and spare the bullpen.
Milwaukee rookie Prince Fielder is being warned by batting coach Butch Wynegar to stop chasing fastballs high out of the zone. So far, though, it seems Fielder can't hit them nor lay off them. When pitchers aren't taking Fielder up the ladder, they're pitching him inside to prevent him from extending his arms. Consequently Fielder is struggling raise his batting average above .250 and is swinging at air 40 percent of the time. With only one long ball, Fielder has a long way to go to reach the 30-homer plateau the team has projected for him. Scouting notes suggest, however, that Fielder has briefly struggled whenever he has advanced a level as he tries too hard to prove himself, only to recover as he becomes more comfortable. The team remains confident in Fielder's ability, but he has been dropped in the batting order from No. 5 to No. 7 behind Corey Koskie and Ricky Weeks.
At 24 and on a trajectory to follow statistical projections previously charted by Boston's David Ortiz, Wily Mo Pena may yet make Reds fans regret his trade to the Red Sox. But in Cincinnati they're thrilled for now, as newly acquired Bronson Arroyo is 2-0 with two homers and by virtually any assessment will chalk up 200 innings and double digit wins by the end of the season. The trade Reds fans are regretting is the one that resulted in the loss of Aaron Boone, who is playing strong defense at third base and batting .350 for some other team at the north end of Interstate 71. The inequity of the deal was underscored Wednesday in a 5-1 loss to the Cubs in which new third baseman Edwin Encarnacion had three errors, contributing a total of five for the day for the team. At the same time Brandon Claussen, the pitcher the Reds acquired for Boone, was credited with another loss and gave up four runs in five innings. Meanwhile, center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. came out of the game with muscle strain in his leg, was awaiting a medical report and likely was to miss time day-to-day.
Long before anybody ever heard of Mark Teixeira and his $10 million signing bonus, there was another first baseman who signed for $10 million, an astonishing sum at that time in 1996. His name was Travis Lee, and his potential was thought to be so great that the Diamondbacks reached deep, deep into their shallow pockets to get him. And so with the stroke of a pen, Lee was financially set for life. Since then Lee has been roundly criticized as unmotivated, indifferent and aloof, unwilling to work to develop his skills and disinterested in excelling. His stock fell so low that last year, even though they desperately needed a first baseman, the Yankees barely utilized him and let him walk at the end of the season. When Lee signed with Tampa Bay this spring, there was no certainty that he would make the team. Some predicted that he might be lucky merely to win a platoon spot. Now enters the new Travis Lee. At the end of the first week of the season his average topped .280 and he was among the league leaders with three homers, more big flies than he had most of last year until he hit his third in August. Have Travis Lee's ears been ringing? At 30 has he finally decided to apply himself, pull himself out of the muck, stop letting the bullies kick sand in his face at the beach? Well, uh, no, don't hold your breath.
The Yankees and White Sox stadium public address systems conclude games with the singing of the late Frank Sinatra. But even though Sinatra grew up in Hoboken, N.J., within sight of the Manhattan skyline, he was no Yankee fan. Having homes in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs, and having often been seen in the company of Dodgers players and brass, many assumed he supported the former Brooklyn Dodgers when they moved to Los Angeles. As it turns out, however, Sinatra was actually a fan of the New York Giants, and continued to follow them when they moved to San Francisco. Ironically, however, it is Tony Bennett's voice, not Sinatra's, that is played at the conclusion of Giants games. Sinatra was not offended, however. An old-fashioned saloon-style singer like himself, Bennett was the best there ever was, according to Old Blue Eyes.
Over the course of a 36-hour span numerous sources were puzzled by 27-year-old closer Mike Gonzalez's appearance in the eighth inning of Sunday's 5-3 win over the Reds while 41-year-old set-up man Roberto Hernandez appeared in the ninth for the save. But Tuesday Gonzalez was back in the closer's spot to pick up his first save in a 7-6 win over the Dodgers, confirming observations that the two had been switched on Sunday merely so that Gonzalez, a lefty, could face a succession of Reds lefty batters. Pittsburgh tried to give the closer's job to Gonzalez last year, but wound up staying with Jose Mesa, 38, who has since signed with Colorado. With Gonzalez starting out slowly again this year, he'll be on a short leash until he proves himself. Watch for dark horse Matt Capps, 22, to win a shot at the job by the end of the year should Gonzalez continue to stumble. Capps has been hit hard in three appearances this season, but registered a 1.13 ERA in camp, throws hard with good control and is a career closer in the minors.
Boston manager Terry Francona has so often repeated that Keith Foulke is his closer that even Francona may be starting to believe it. Speculation remained rife, however, that 25-year-old Jonathan Papelbon will not relinquish the job after Papelbon picked up his fourth save by pitching a 1-2-3 ninth in Tuesday's 5-4 victory over Toronto. Foulke meanwhile gave up three deep flies in the eighth, one for a single and one for a homer. Francona has insisted that Foulke will return to the closer's spot when he recovers his form, and Papelbon will set up in the bullpen to await his development as a starter.
Brad Eldred, a top prospect coveted last fall as the anticipated starting first baseman for Pittsburgh this year, hit three homers in two games for triple A Indianapolis but remained blocked from returning to Pittsburgh even as regular first baseman Sean Casey missed time for the parent club. Eldred, who until now had been having a slow start, was sent down during spring training due to the Buc's acquisition Casey from the Reds. Casey, meanwhile, was replaced in the lineup in Tuesday's game with the Dodgers after complaining of sore ribs, but was replaced by veteran Craig Wilson. Wilson, who is on the trading block, hit a towering homer off LA's Lance Carter in the sixth inning. If Wilson is traded chances are Eldred would win time in the event of another injury to Casey, though management would prefer Eldred be held back for more seasoning.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Texas first baseman Mark Teixeira swapped positions with DH Phil Nevin Tuesday after Teixeira sustained a finger injury fielding a screaming liner off the bat of Darin Erstad in Monday's game with the Angels. It was not clear how soon Teixeira would return to first base, but the injury was not regarded as serious. Teixeira reported that the ball, which he fielded in the pocket of his glove, was the hardest he had ever caught.
The Devil Rays just learned the downside of playing hard-to-get with suitors for 3B/OF Aubrey Huff. Awaiting an MRI after straining his knee in a collision with 2B Nick Green, Huff has been on the trading block since last summer as Tampa Bay seeks to find value for him before losing him at the end of Huff's $6.5 million annual contract. But the strategy has been to hold back as long as possible, figuring the more potential suitors wait the more they will be willing to pay. But the longer the team waits, the more the plan could backfire as Huff is continually exposed to the jeopardy of injury that could wipe out his value. Fortunately for the Rays, preliminary indications point to Huff's prompt return from the knee injury, as the MRI is regarded as precautionary. Another Tampa Bay trade nugget, SS Julio Lugo, is also missing time after straining his groin during the first game of the season. Lugo has reported a strong recovery and predicts he will be able to play when he is elibible to return April 19. Perhaps Tampa Bay has been spoiled after stealing budding superstar Scott Kazmir from the Mets in a trade for Victor Zambrano.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Some say when he pulls his left ear lobe, expect a fastball. Some say expect a curve if he scratches his groin. But most hitters agree, when Johann Santana raises his arm to throw, chances are you're going to make an out. Santana's second consecutive bad performance, however, which brings him to 0-2 for the season with an ERA over 5.00, has fueled rumors that have been circulating for nearly a year that the Minnesota ace is somehow tipping his pitches, at least to those hitters who know how to read him. Twins coaches scoff at the assertion, but they have not addressed a concern that hurlers are so paranoid about the limitations of third baseman Tony Batista that the pitchers are limiting their repertoire to try to avoid hits down the left field line.
Atlanta 3B Chipper Jones tried to field a grounder and slipped on wet grass in Sunday's game with San Francisco, coming up clutching his surgically repaired right knee. Trainers, however, were quoted as saying the injury was not to the knee but to his ankle, which merely sustained a sprain. The 33-year-old Jones was able to gingerly place weight on his leg as he limped off the field, perhaps indicating he had not aggravated his sensitive anterior cruciate ligament. Jones' ACL was surgically repaired after he tore it running to first base when he was 21. Last year Jones missed time with a strained rotator cuff, a torn foot ligament, a strained oblique and other ills, being limited to just 358 AB. Jones is not expected to miss excessive time due to his latest complaint.
The official reason for Pittsburgh's signing of free agent Roberto Hernandez, 16th on the all-time career saves list, was to set up closer Mike Gonzalez. But the real reason was for Hernandez to take over in case Gonzalez falters, which Gonzalez has in three consecutive outings. Bringing Gonzalez into Sunday's game in the eighth makes it abundantly clear that the left-throwing Gonzalez already has earned a significant no-confidence vote. Thus the 41-year-old Hernandez earned his first save by pitching a scoreless ninth to preserve Pittsburgh's 5-3 victory over the Reds. Despite his advanced age and a succession of rocky performances in recent years, Hernandez still throws hard and rebounded in '05, when he recorded a 3.52 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 69 innings. Still, it remains to be seen whether Gonzalez will earn another chance or ultimately become part of a committee with hard-throwing Solomon Torres.
St. Louis starting 2B Aaron Miles is a likeable, pleasing sort of chap whose calm, cooperative demeanor has opened doors for him throughout his career, and saved him from having to find work as a sideshow midget. But at 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, the 29-year-old Miles is somewhat physically challenged in a game that more and more each year becomes a contest of giants. Though Miles has owned a batting average in the range of .300 for most of his minor league stops, his brief periods in the majors have been marred by excellent play followed by prolonged periods when he somehow seems to lose his form. Though Miles is off to a good start after a strong spring, look for him to sputter soon and run the risk of becoming the next Bo Hart. If the past is any indication, he'll slump to the point that he'll be threatened with being benched, and then and only then will he find enough concentration to stay in the lineup. Then watch for the pattern to continue until ultimately the Cardinals find another Bo Hart to take his place.
The plate umpire must have called everything possible in Mark Hendrickson's favor during his complete game shutout last week, and not even warned him you're not allowed to do it with mirrors. All that glitters is not gold is an expression that should be kept in mind as numerous internet monitoring services show thousands of fantasy leaguers rushing to pick up the 6-foot-9 Tampa Bay lefty. Though Hendrickson gave up only three hits and a walk in his remarkable victory over Baltimore, it should be noted that the Orioles are packed with solid fastball hitters and Hendrickson depended almost entirely on a curve that was working exceptionally well for him for the day. Also, Hendrickson's fastball barely topped 88 mph for the whole game. Hendrickson has had some success against lefties over the years, perhaps accounting for the 11 victories that led the Devil Rays last year. But the 30-year-old veteran projects as an end-of-the-rotation starter at best, and won his job this spring with no better than a 5.14 ERA. Though Hendrickson's ERA sits at 0.00 for now, it very likely could top 5.00 by the end of the season and Hendrickson will be considered fortunate if it falls anywhere below 4.50.
Athletics GM Billy Beane is resigned to squeezing out every last drop of value from his $7.9 million-a-year ace, Barry Zito, even if it means losing Zito and receiving nothing back. The Athletics can neither afford to re-sign Zito, who is in the last year of his contract, nor trade Zito, because the prized lefty and his deadly curveball is critical for Oakland's pennant run. Once Zito signs elsewhere after '06, Beane will be left with a sold big three in Rich Harden, Dan Haren and Joe Blanton, plus a stable of five other potential starters from which to fill out his rotation: Joe Kennedy, Esteban Loaiza, Brad Halsey, Juan Dominguez and Kirk Saarloos.
Boston manager Terry Francona has made it unequivocally clear: Keith Foulke, not Jonathan Papelbon, is the Red Sox closer, and will return to the job as soon as Foulke is ready. Yes, Keith Foulke is Francona's closer, Nomar Garciaparra is his shortstop, Bronson Arroyo is his No. 4 starter, Andy Marte is his top prospect and Richard Nixon is his president.
Saturday, April 08, 2006
Tampa Bay starter Scott Kazmir continued to try to develop a changeup as he prepared for Sunday's game, but his complementary third option eludes him. Waiting for Kazmir's fastball or slider, hitters have at least a 50-50 chance of guessing correctly when they sit on the heater. Worse, if either of Kazmir's pitches isn't working on any given day, Kazmir is in big trouble, as evidenced by his 9.24 spring ERA, and his surrendering of six earned runs, eight hits and three walks before being knocked out after four innings on opening day. No matter how good a fastball is, many hitters know how to catch up to it if they know it's coming. Ironically, the Mets, who traded the 22-year-old lefty to the Rays for veteran Victor Zambrano, 30, have been mercilessly criticized for dealing the hot young prospect. And yet the Mets sit pretty, so deep in pitchers that the experienced Aaron Heilman, 27, has been relegated to the bullpen while 25-year-old Brian Bannister has claimed the No. 5 starter spot. Bannister, son of former Baltimore pitcher Floyd Bannister, put up a 0.95 ERA for spring and not only has a fastball and slider, but a changeup, curve, slurve, sinker and a variety of other pitches he learned under the tutelage of his father.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Toronto hurler A.J. Burnett, on the DL retroactively since March 24 and eligible to come off April 8, threw approximately 60 pitches for single A Dunedin, Fla., Thursday night and struck out two, walked two and hit a batter. Burnett, who recently sustained broken scar tissue in his throwing arm associated with Tommy John surgery two years ago, reported he was feeling strong, had an effective curve and changeup, and was optimistic about his return to the big club. Coaches, however, are not expected to rush him back into action as long as the team has alternatives, although nothing has been ruled out. Burnett, who was 12-12 with a 3.44 ERA last year for Florida, signed a five-year $55 million contract with the Blue Jays to plug the No. 2 spot in the rotation behind Roy Halladay.
The House that Steinbrenner Tore Down continues on a collision course with its 2008 demolition deadline. A New York City landmark since 1923, Yankee Stadium will be destroyed with the acquiescence of the best reporters money can bribe. For more than three years George Steinbrenner has been rolling out the buffet table for the New York media and other opinion makers during "backround only" junkets that featured chummy elbow rubbing with Yankee VIPs and their conspiratorial sale of what was once an unthinkable idea. Unlike the New York media, most Big Apple fans want to keep the original stadium, but have been going along with the plan rather than opposing it and thus risking Steinbrenner's enmity and manifestation of his implied threat to move the Yankees to New Jersey. Money interests tried to pull the same stunt in Boston but the fans would not permit the destruction of their beloved park.
The chance of 21-year-old B.J. Upton being called to Tampa Bay to back up injured shortstop Julio Lugo are nil, as are the hopes of 20-year-old Delmon Young of appearing any time soon. Lugo, suffering from a strained oblique, was awaiting a doctor's exam today to determine whether he would need to serve time on the disable list, which seemed unlikely. But in any event both Upton and Young will remain in the minors at least until June 1 to prevent starting their service-time clock and march toward arbitration eligibility with the Rays. Likely as not Upton and Young will remain in the minors longer to assure they are ready offensively and defensively. Neither Upton nor Young distinguished themselves in about 30 appearances apiece in camp, Upton batting .272 and Young .250, and Upton was a butcher in the field. Young's callup could hinge on the trade of OF/3B Aubrey Huff, whose $6.5 million contract must be dumped in its final year and who is being showcased at third base to enhance Huff's versatility and trade value.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Jonathan Papelbon, the 22-year-old rookie who formerly closed in college at Mississippi State, upstaged fellow reliever Keith Foulke by coming into close for Boston in Wednesday's hotly contested 2-1 win over the Rangers at Arlington. Papelbon methodically retired the side 1-2-3 with two Ks to record his first major league save. Foulke remains the team's closer for now but prompted rampant speculation he might be about to lose the job when he didn't even warm up as the game drew toward its conclusion. Foulke, who was rocky in his first outing Monday after missing much of camp because of a series of lubricant injections into his arthritic knees, said he continues to work to recover his form. Foulke has lost sharpness off his fastball resulting in a fading of contrast from his changeup. Foulke, who clearly was disappointed that he could not come in, could not confirm whether he would keep the job. "You know, I don't go to the grocery store every day and say, 'Hey, I'm the closer.' " However, manager Terry Francona said even though Papelbon is the most effective pitcher on the Red Sox staff, Foulke would return to the closer's job as soon as he is ready.
Giants slugger Barry Bonds, whose reality TV show is about to begin on ESPN, reportedly is concentrating on some television entertainment of a different ilk. Because steroids are known to shrink testacles and develop men's breasts, "you knew it was time to clamp down when...Bonds began watching Desperate Housewives to see what kind of shoes they were wearing." -- From Sportsyndicate.blogspot.com
James Loney, a 21-year-old prospective first baseman for the Dodgers, batted .438 in the Grapefruit League this spring, almost 200 points higher than rival Nomar Garciaparra, 32. But Garciaparra is an established superstar and is under contract for $6 million so Loney was sent down and Garciaparra kept the 1B job. Now Loney has been called back to Los Angeles due to Garciaparra's placement on the DL with a strained ribcage muscle. Though Garciaparra has a .320 lifetime batting average, he has missed about half the season because of injuries in each of the past two years. Loney has had no official major league appearances but is expected to remain in uniform in Los Angeles until Garciaparra returns in less than two weeks.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
As President Bush was staging his appearance at Great American Ballpark Monday to throw out the first ball in the Cincinnati Reds opener, Secret Service and Treasury agents flew into position from extended duty at Richmond, Va., where the president's twin daughters Barbara and Jenna Bush, 22, had secretly entered the Ukrop Monument Avenue 10K Run in support of the VCU Massey Cancer Center. The sisters remained out of sight as much as possible, shunning the media. Both ran side by side in the watchful eye of agents and completed the course in under 55:00. The president, meanwhile, was enroute to Cincinnatti and arrived less than 12 hours later to throw his patented perfect strike to catcher Jason LaRue.
The initial prognosis has been confirmed that SP C.C. Sabathia of Cleveland has a strained oblique muscle. Sabathia could miss significant time, almost certainly a month and perhaps five weeks or more, depending on the seriousness of the injury. The muscle is located between the groin and ribs, and is critical to a power pitcher's ability to kick, pivot, spin, turn and twist to generate torque. Jayson Werth, an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, strained an oblique in '04, missed 50 games and perhaps consequently set the stage for other injuries and hasn't been the same since.
Many scoffed at the assertion that Mike Piazza would benefit perceptibly by San Diego's decision bring the right center field fence about 10 feet closer to the plate. But that's exactly where Piazza's power lane is located, and sure enough, in his first official appearance as a Padre he knocked one just over the 402 sign there, a ball that likely would have been catchable when the sign was 411 feet.
The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., for years a second rate daily despite its status as the newspaper of the state capital, has upgraded its baseball coverage considerably. Not content to compete with regional rivals in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Pittsburgh, the Patriot News baseball coverage now rivals all coverage nationally, including the Arizona Republic, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Kansas City Star, Dallas Morning News, Rocky Mountain News and other strong newspapers that place a premium on baseball coverage. The Patriot News web address is Pennlive.com.
Twenty-one-year-old Prince Fielder was perfect in his first career appearance as a major league regular, going 0-4 with four strikeouts for Milwaukee against Pittsburgh, and this despite winning the No. 5 spot in the batting order in front of Ricky Weeks.
Sunday, April 02, 2006
Doctors have forecast a potential two month sidelining of Cubs pitcher Mark Prior due to discomfort in his throwing arm...A.J. Burnett will miss at least two weeks for Toronto because of broken scar tissue associated with Tommy John surgery...Mike Gonzalez is a lock to keep the closer's job for Pittsburgh...Scott Podsednik's sore groin will prevent him from stealing effectively...The trade of OF David Dellucci from Texas to Philadelphia gives the Phillies a backup lefthanded bat in case righty Pat Burrell goes down to injury while the deal provides Texas with 3B Hank Blalock's little brother Hank and fills the Rangers need to replace injured SP Adam Eaton with promising hurler Robinson Tejeda.
Dan Micelli, a 35-year-old veteran whose best year was '04, when he struck out 83 in 77 innings with a 6-6 record and 3.59 ERA for Houston, has won the closer's job for Florida. Fernando Rodney, 29, who struck out eight in six innings with a 3.00 ERA for Detroit this spring, will get a chance to close at least for a minimum of 15 days with the sidelining of regular Todd Jones, 37, because of a sore hamstring. It remains to be seen who will pick up the majority of saves for San Francisco while Armando Benitez spends at least a couple weeks on the DL.
Saturday, April 01, 2006
When 38-year-old closer Tom 'Flash' Gordon skipped a few appearances early in camp, it was attributed to mild discomfort in his throwing arm and frame. But coaches say the former Yankees setup man has no injuries, that he was merely overeager to show his stuff and impress his new teammates, and excessively exerted himself before he was ready. With a little rest, Gordon is now described as being 100 percent healthy and fully ready to begin the new season.
The acquistion of Juan Dominguez from Texas brings to nine the number of starting pitchers that GM Billy Beane has stockpiled in Oakland. When he added his sixth and seventh starters two months ago, speculation was rampant that the additions were being made to accommodate the trade of former Cy Young winner Barry Zito. Beane, however, insists Zito will stay but has yet to explain why he thinks he needs nine starters. In addition to Zito and Dominguez, the Athletics roster includes starters Rich Harden, Joe Blanton, Danny Haren, Esteban Loaiza, Kirk Saarloos, Joe Kennedy and Brad Halsey.
Good things come in small packages for the Cardinals as diminutive Aaron Miles, 5 foot 8, 160, who this spring batted 100 points higher than his nearest competition, Junior Spivey, has won the starting second base job. Miles, 29, has flirted with a .300 batting average at every level he's played, though he has no power. He moves well and plays solid defense, but does not use his quickness to steal.
The stage is set for Philadelphia's Chase Utley to become potentially the most productive middle infielder in baseball with his move to the cleanup spot, where he will hit with Bobby Abreu in front of him and Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard behind him. His new position in the lineup primes him to knock in well over 100 runs with 30-35 homers while batting .300 with another 100 runs scored.
If Mike Lowell's first homer of the spring signals he has finally broken out of his 12-month slump, it comes none too soon. Though Lowell, 32, appears to have had a discriminating batter's eye as he reached base more than 40 percent of the time this spring, coaches noted his sluggish bat speed and continuation of the power loss that plagued him all last season. Lowell's homer, which he followed up with a pair of sharply hit singles, was a screaming liner to left off Phillies starter Gavin Floyd on Saturday. Though Lowell averaged 25 homers for the previous five years before last, '05 saw his longballs fall to just eight and his average drop to just .236. This year the Red Sox have dropped him to No. 7 in the batting order.
When one door closes, so the expression goes, another opens, and it has opened wide and high for 6-foot-6 lefty hurler Sean Marshall of the Cubs. Though the team for now has lost the services of starting pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, both on the outside looking in from the DL, Marshall has surprised coaches by pitching 10 scoreless innings this spring and winning the No. 4 starter's spot. Marshall's sparkling form helped him vault over youthful veteran Jerome Williams, who becomes the bullpen's long man and No. 5 starter. Just 23, Marshall had not been projected to make the club until September of '06 at the earliest, but he has rapidly advanced after tallying 14 wins with a 2.64 ERA in double A last year. It remains to be seen how Marshall will be used if and when Prior or Wood return to the starting rotation.
When Cubs manager Dusty Baker speaks of Todd Walker being his "primary second baseman," beware that's Baker speaking code for plans to have Walker split time with Jerry Hairston and Neifi Perez. Though the 33-year-old lefty batter may get most of the plate appearances, there likely will not be enough playing opportunities for any of the three to pile up standout statistics.
It seemed like such a good thing to do at the time, that idea of bringing speedster Juan Pierre and his .350 daytime batting average to the Cubs and the team's day-game ladened schedule. But Pierre's poor spring, batting only .217 with two stolen bases in 70 AB, recalls that he has been in a decline for a full year now. Though Pierre stole 57 bases last year, he would have stolen many more if only he could have stolen first base. Pierre's struggles at the plate were so pronounced that Florida manager Jack McKeon dropped Pierre from leadoff to the No. 7 spot in the batting order, as Pierre's average fell 50 points from .326 in '04 to a respectable but hardly spectacular .276 in '05. Still, at 28 it's hard to imagine Pierre would allow himself to decline into just another contact hitter who depends solely on speed for his production.
Milwaukee ace Ben Sheets' soreness will cause him to miss at least two starts...Ryan Klesko's placement on the Padres DL opens the door for former No. 1 draft pick Adrian Gonzalez at first base...Rangers starter Adam Eaton will miss a month with an injured finger, but could miss half the season or more if doctors determine surgery is required...Rookie Chris Duncan's position as a reserve outfielder for St. Louis was solidified with the injury of Johnny Rodriguez, who joins fellow outfielder Larry Bigbie on the DL...The Dodgers acquisition of former Tampa Bay closer Danys Baez has turned out to be crucial with Eric Gagne having loss 6-8 mph off his fastball...Houston ace Roy Oswalt is contemplating retirement at the end of the year.