Monday, May 29, 2006
Athletics DH Frank Thomas, largely unappreciated when he hit just .190 with five homers for the first two months of the season, is finally swinging that big bat of his, having hit four homers in May and batted .343 in his last 12 games before taking a day off Sunday. Thomas turned 38 the day before and had played the previous six games in a row. Eric Chavez, who also wanted to rest his legs, took the DH spot for a day while Thomas was held in reserve to pinch hit.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Ordinarily, Nationals fans might not have seen minor league OF Mike Vento no sooner than the end of June, the time by which new ownership is expected to be empowered to begin pondering a shake up of the team. But with OF Jose Guillen missing time with a hamstring injury, and struggling OF Ryan Church demoted, Vento has arrived a bit sooner than expected. Vento, a '97 40th round pick of the Yankees, was hitting .375 with six homers in 144 AB for the AAA Zephyrs in New Orleans. Vento was one of several prospects being eyed by manager Frank Robinson. With the potential trade of OF Alfonso Soriano, and a cornucopia of other possibilities, the Nationals this season might yet gain the services of speedster Bernie Castro, hitting .339 with an astonishing nine bags in just 59 at-bats, and Larry Broadway, batting .316 with five homers in 171 at-bats. Though Castro and Broadway are somewhat problematic as a place must be found for them to play, a virtual lock for a callup is reliever Bill Bray, 4-1 with four saves and a 3.52 ERA in 30 innings. Bray's ticket will be punched because Robinson covets him as a lefty.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
As reported by the CooperstownKid's MLB Rumors Clearinghouse more than three months ago, talks between the Red Sox and Angels for a trade of Boston slugger Manny Ramirez could be revived at any time. Freedom Newspapers flagship publication, The Register, questions whether the proposition to give up Scot Shields, Chone Figgins, Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood for Ramirez is actually dead now that the struggling Angels are desperate for a big bat. The deal had been hung up not only by the Angels refusal to surrender so much talent, but also by bickering over how much of Ramirez's eight-year $160 million contract Boston should pick up.
Friday, May 26, 2006
Like the last of three Rembrandts stolen from the Gardner Museum, Boof Bonser has taken his place alongside fellow Twins pitchers Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan to make up a trio of stolen masterpieces in one of modern baseball's greatest armed robberies. The Twins stole the three from San Francisco in a trade of catcher A.J. Pierzynski in November of '03, with the Giants having nothing to show for it now after cutting the unpopular Pierzynski outright at the end of '04. The 6-foot-five, 250-pound Bonser, 24, has averaged more than a strikeout per inning in 10 minor league stops, and owns a 1.50 ERA for the Twins after giving up just five hits in six innings with eight strikeouts in his major league debut against the Brewers last week. His name really is Boof Bonser, as he has legally changed it thusly. His name used to be Bons Boofer, or so broadcaster Bob Uecker would jokingly have you believe. Actually, his name was John until his mother hung the Boof moniker on him when he was a boy. Though Bonser's debut last week was brilliant, as good as he is he likely is pitching a little over his head for the time being, and may be expected to experience some rough days ahead. It's hard to understand why, but Bonser had been projected as nothing better than a back-of-the-rotation pitcher, and until the wheels came off the Twins rotation this month, was not anticipated to appear except as a late season callup to the bullpen.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Even with Gary Sheffield back from the injured reserve list, Yankees GM Brian Cashman continues an exhaustive search for additional help in the outfield, contacting various teams by telephone on an almost daily basis. The Nationals Alfonso Soriano and the Devil Rays Aubrey Huff are coveted targets, but their high pricetags make a deal difficult as Cashman has only lower level talent and marginal pitching to offer. Thus, Cashman has been forced to consider such lesser luminaries as the A's Jay Payton and the Orioles Jeff Conine, any righty who can platoon with veteran Bernie Williams, whose bat these days is most productive against lefties. Among the more attainable of such players is the Diamonbacks Jeff DaVanon, who has become all but irrelevant in the Arizona outfield with the emergence of Eric Byrnes. DaVanon is tradable because the Snakes have adequate alternatives in reserve roles. Moreover, should anything happen to the Diamondbacks starting outfielders, the team can fall back on hot-hitting Scott Hairston, batting .322 with 11 homers and 34 RBI in 174 at-bats for the Tucson Sidewinders. Hairston is playing so well that he has surpassed his outfield mate, Chris Young, a highly regarded prospect whose season has been marred by illness and injury.
Angels owner Arturo Moreno envisioned a public relations coup when the team signed young Jared Weaver, 24, to package him with big brother Jeff Weaver and package potentially one of the most high-profile pair of siblings to pitch for the same team since Dizzy and Daffy Dean appeared side by side for the Cardinals. But Jared, 6 foot 7 and 205, is not only bigger than his 6-foot-5, 200-pound "big brother," he's outplaying him. While Jeff Weaver, 30, struggles with a 2-7 record, an ERA hovering near 7.00 and has surrendered 13 homers in 10 games, Jared Weaver is 4-1 with a 2.04 ERA for Angels affiliate Salt Lake Bees and owns a record 27.3-inning scoreless streak. Moreno would rather not think about it but finds himself forced to consider Jared Weaver as a replacement for Jeff, setting the stage for the biggest public relations nightmare since Kane and Abel. The Weavers are trying to keep a positive outlook but clearly Jeff Weaver would hardly welcome his usurption in the rotation by Jared Weaver. Moreno never envisioned the potential family strife associated with that possibility when the Angels grudgingly handed Jared Weaver his $4 million signing bonus.
Another nine games and Dodgers reserve catcher Russell Martin will have played just as much as injured starter Dioner Navarro. With Navarro still unable to swing a bat because of a wrist injury, Martin still has time to take away the starter's role, though it will be difficult to do so. Navarro, 22, the more advanced of the two, had a highly satisfactory bat when he went on the DL, hitting .280 with a .372 OBP and .387 slugging average. But the right-handed batting Martin, 23, is hitting .305 with a .388 OBP and .458 slugging, and has been hitting righties better than Navarro even though Navarro can switch-hit. Both are playing well ahead of their years defensively, are calling good games and are throwing well. Martin, however, is cultivating a potential advantage as he is favorably compared to former Dodgers catcher Paul LoDuca and is a quick study under the tutelage of third-string catcher Sandy Alomar, 39. On the other hand, Navarro is Alomar's personal favorite. Alomar isn't going anyplace and it seems unlikely the Dodgers would carry three catchers. That means that eventually either Navarro or Martin will have to go to Las Vegas for regular playing time. If Navarro recovers completely within a couple of weeks or so, expect Martin to have to play like Johnny Bench to avoid being the odd man out.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
If Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was so determined to keep SP Dontrelle Willis, vehemently insisting that "we are building a team here," then why did he sign Willis to a mere one-year contract? Rather than sign him to a multi-year pact, Loria agreed to a deal that allows Willis to collect his $4.35 million at the end of the year and walk. If Loria is to be believed, then he has some Florida swamp land to sell. Loria is under mounting pressure to find value for Willis before the end of the year, and paid out just enough to keep Willis under contract until mid-year, when his value will be at an all-time high. Thus, it should come as no surprise that every time Willis pitches, the VIP boxes are packed with scouts. Among the deals supposedly under consideration is a trade to Cincinnati for young third baseman Edwin Encarnacion. The deal makes sense for the Reds, who are desperate for pitching and whose speedster Ryan Freel has no place to play. If the deal goes through, a very big IF indeed, Freel would move to third, while Brandon Phillips would lay permanent claim to second base.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Making good on his threat to shake up the Triple A Kansas City Royals, owner David Glass has put the finishing touches on his long dreaded purge. Now they'll be sorry! First, the grass will be mowed on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays instead of Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Also, no more sloppy plastic squeeze bottles of mustard at the concession stand, only handy, plastic, disposable packets. The same with that damned, messy ketchup. And, oh yes, Kaufman Stadium ticket stubs will be redeemable for a free coffee refill at Walmart, artificial non-dairy whitener not included. Moreover, a stockpile of old Reggie Jackson bobbleheads will also be distributed to the first 300 fans to buy tickets on Mr. October night, if the team by some remote possibility is still playing in October. The bobbleheads, in storage for 40 years at Mr. Glass' former place of employment in Bentonville, Ark., will be ready as soon as touch-up artists finish hand-removing the old Kansas City Athletics logo from Jackson's uniform.
Chris Coste tried to send a message to Philadelphia GM Pat Gillick last year by hitting .292 with 29 homers and 89 RBI for AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre. The 33-year-old career minor leaguer wanted to prove he was finally ready for The Show. Ah, but Gillick was too smart to fall for that old ploy; you know, putting up big numbers to try to trick people into thinking you're good. Not having learned his lesson, Coste tried to fool Gillick again by hitting .463 with a .500 OBP and .slugging .805 in 41 AB during spring camp. Whom did he think he was kidding? Good thing Gillick was smart enough to cut Coste in favor of giving a roster spot to Alex Gonzalez with his splendid .243 lifetime average. Unfortunately, Gonzalez, batting .204, threw a wrench into Gillick's plans by suddenly announcing his retirement. Poor Pat Gillick. Now he has been forced to call up Coste with those deceptive, misleading, big numbers that mean absolutely nothing, nothing whatsoever. Good thing Coste will almost never get to play anyway as reserve catcher and backup to slugger Ryan Howard at first base. Abraham Nunez figures to get most of the playing time at shortstop unless another player is acquired.
Expect prized prospect Jason Kubel of the Twins to split time in left field with Lew Ford. Kubel, 24, was on track for major league playtime with spectacular numbers in 2004 when his progress was interrupted by a knee injury in the Arizona Fall League. Kubel hasn't been the same since. Though Kubel is hitting a respectable .283 with four homers for AAA Rochester, the numbers are way down from the days when he hit as high as .377 in one of several minor league stops. As soon as Shannon Stewart returns from his foot injury, Kubel will be sent back to the Red Wings for regular playing time and further work on his stroke.
Brad Wilkerson, demoted to the No. 7 hole in the Rangers batting order after a slow start, has battled his way out of manager Bucky Showalter's dog house. Wilkerson has raised his average almost 100 points by hitting .328 with a homer every 11 at-bats since the end of April. Look for Wilkerson to move up in the batting order as Showalter makes room for rookie 1B/DH Jason Botts, who has been called up from the minors. Showalter likely will move Wilkerson to the No. 2 hole, followed by Michael Young to No. 3 and Mark Teixeira to cleanup. Teixeira would be backed up by Hank Blalock and Kevin Mench, perhaps with the right-hitting Mench alternating at No. 5 versus lefties. The decision to play Phil Nevin, 37, at cleanup this year was reminiscent of Showalter's puzzling choice of aging veteran Brad Fullmer, 34, and his .233 average to bat cleanup for half a season in 2004. Expect Nevin finally to lose playing time as Showalter appears to be the last to discover that his skills are seriously eroded. Nevin's average this season fell to .226 after he went hitless in his last 14 at-bats, and was hitting just .145 with no homers since the end of April. He hit just .185 in 99 at-bats last year after coming over from San Diego. Nevin is even having trouble hitting certain lefties now despite his righthanded power stroke. The 6-foot-five Botts, like Teixeira a switch-hitter, was batting .318 with 10 homers for the AAA Oklahoma Drillers, but probably will have trouble convincing Showalter to give him every day playing time as Showalter obviously prefers broken down veterans.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Now that it is generally known that Minnesota SP Kyle Lohse was caught criticizing the Twins defense before he was punished by being sent packing to AAA Rochester, it becomes clear that Lohse has tested the limits of manager Ron Gardenhire's unwritten law against clubhouse backbiting. Gardenhire will tolerate infielders failing to stretch for grounders, routine balls making it into outfield, muffed catches, throwing errors and just about anything else except one thing: telling the truth about how poor they are playing. Oh, sure, Lohse, 27, is minding his P's and Q's now, having won his first game as the Red Wings only $4 million a year pitcher. But even after throwing 69 of his 112 pitches for strikes, walking one and striking out four in the outing, it may be too little too late. In fact, who is to say Lohse's victory shouldn't be credited to a crack minor league defense behind him, now that he has escaped Minneapolis? The Twins infield, long the foundation of the franchise, has no infielders ranked in the top 25, and is accountable not only for the collapse of Lohse, but the failure of highly regarded innings eater Carlos Silva. Silva, who won 14 games only two years ago, was demoted to the bullpen when he could no longer depend on double plays being turned behind him, and became a little too skittish in his delivery. Ironically, Lohse and Silva may never make it back to the rotation now that strikout pitchers Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser have replaced them. Liriano and Bonser don't depend as much on defense as Lohse and Silva, Liriano having given up only two hits and a run while whiffing five in five innings in his last start, and Bonser having struck out eight while allowing just one run in six innings in his.
To the limited extent that logic ever prevails in baseball, it makes little sense that the Yankees would trade for Oakland's Jay Payton, as has been suggested in various venues. Though New York needs a replacement for injured OF Hideki Matsui, Payton, 34, a righty, would merely duplicate the skills of another aging slugger, the Yankees Bernie Williams, 38, a switchhitter who, like Payton, is most effective against lefty pitching. Left-handed batters such as Tampa Bay's Aubrey Huff, 29, or Cleveland's Todd Hollandsworth, 33, would more closely match the specs, the problem being that neither Cleveland nor Tampa Bay should be in any big hurry to help New York. Tampa Bay reportedly is on the verge of consumating a deal to trade Huff, who is in the final year of his $6.5 million annual contract. No word on whether New York would be the suitor.
The Pirates are trying to reason with outfielder Chris Duffy, now on the restricted list. Duffy is in danger of being moved to the ineligible list and losing his pay if he continues to refuse his demotion to AAA Indianapolis. Though Duffy batted .341 in 126 at-bats for the Pirates last year, and at 26 should be ready for major league play, the Pirates have been dissatisfied with him because he hits what manager Jim Tracy and batting coach Jeff Manto see as an unacceptable number of fly balls. They want Duffy to hit the ball on the ground and use his speed to leg out grounders as a leadoff hitter. Duffy realizes these conflicts with Little and Manto are not going to go away, and he's right. Rather than accept Duffy for whom he is, Manto began tinkering with Duffy's swing during spring camp, interfering to the point that Duffy no longer seems to know what he's doing. The case is similar to that of Corey Patterson, now thriving in Baltimore, whom the Cubs manager Dusty Baker nearly destroyed by trying to convert him into a leadoff hitter. Duffy feels compelled to escape the Pittsburgh atmosphere, where underachievement is the order of the day. Ironically, his minor league batting averages, almost always in the neighborhood of .300, suggest Duffy should be a natural at the plate.
The hockey game that broke out during Saturday's White Sox-Cubs game can be blamed on baserunner A.J. Pierzynski. It's one thing if Pierzynski merely barreled into Northside catcher Michael Barrett to score, a so-called "clean hit." But it's hardly plausible that Barrett then punched Pierzynski without considerable provocation. Pierzynski denies it, but those in the know realize the Southside catcher deliberately slammed his shoulder into Barrett after Pierzynski scored and the play ended. The truth can be found in Pierzynski's reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the majors, having cracked the top 10 most hated athletes list, according to a survey by GQ Magazine. According to confidential insider interviews conducted by the publication, opponents and even teammates have little good to say about Pierzynski, describing him as unprofessional, immature, arrogant, obnoxious and aloof, with little sense of etiquette. "He'll step on your foot at first base, " explained one player, " and then say (sarcastically), 'Man, I didn't mean that.' " During spring training with the Giants in '04, a pitch hit Pierzynski between the legs. When trainer Stan Conte asked him how he felt, Pierzynski replied, "Like this," and viciously kicked Conte in the genitals. Pierzynski was so unpopular in the clubhouse when he played in Minnesota and San Francisco that some of his teammates all but threw a party when he left.
Sam Perlozzo keeps talking up John Halama or Kurt Birkins as the next Orioles SP, but he doesn't know anything. He's just the manager. The truth is that the Birds will call young Hayden Penn from AAA Ottawa, and he will likely stick. Despite Hayden Penn's rocky performance in eight starts for the big club last year, he remains the team's best bet to replace Daniel Cabrera, currently on the disabled list, when a fifth starter is needed at midweek. Penn likely will stay in the rotation as Bruce Chen may be demoted to the pen unless he turns his game around immediately. Perlozzo is losing patience. The pressure is so intense, in fact, that even opening day SP Rodrigo Lopez may not be safe. In Penn's most recent outing, he dropped his ERA to 1.48 with a seven-inning complete game, 2-0 shutout over the Syracuse Chiefs. Penn is right on schedule to start for the Orioles within five days.
The anticipated return from the DL of Houston OF/IF Chris Burke, plus the long-awaited recovery of SP Brandon Backe, point to a potential shakeup in the Astros lineup and rotation. Burke, hitting .378 when he went down, is being eyed for increased playing time at the expense of Preston Wilson, hitting .244, and Jason Lane, hitting .207. Another way to find playing time for Burke would be to move superstar Lance Berkman from the outfield to first base at the expense of Mike Lamb, offering an additional opportunity for Burke to take his rightful spot as an everyday player. One more possibility, though more unlikely, would project 2B Craig Biggio returning to the outfield with Burke taking over at the pivot. SP Brandon Backe, meanwhile, who at one point was feared out for the season, is long-tossing and on target for a return from the DL by the end of next month, a move that would lead to the demotion of SPs Fernando Nieve, or Taylor Buckholz, both of whom are being hammered by lefty hitters.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Former major league pitcher Pete Harnisch, who earned some $50 million in an injury-marred career that saw stops in Baltimore, Cincinnati and other venues, plays golf almost daily in his retirement and has developed into a scratch golfer. Harnisch, who has residences in New Jersey and Puerto Rico, is so good at golf that friends are encouraging him to compete for the senior tour. Harnisch, however, does not wish to trouble himself with travel and other demands of professional competition.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
With the Washington Nationals new ownership finally established, significant player moves are anticipated in coming weeks, perhaps days. Reliever Bill Bray, 4-1, two saves with a 2.81 ERA and 39 Ks in 26 innings, is a top candidate for promotion. But what about hot-hitting slugger Larry Broadway, who is blocked at first base by Nick Johnson? When Johnson played for the Yankees in 2002, manager Joe Torre used him as a right fielder. It would seem unlikely that Washington manager Frank Robinson would do the same, but then again Broadway is pounding at the door, and Johnson's transition to the outfield would provide Broadway a place to play. Johnson, 25, a former third round pick, has hit at a constant .340 clip in the Arizona Fall League, the Venezuelan winter league and for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Nationals AAA affiliate. Broadway, a lefty, also plays solid defense, has a fine eye a the plate and hits for power, having hit nine homers last August alone despite battling injuries throughout the season. It would take some imagination to find a spot for Broadway in Washington, but Robinson never hesitated when he moved Rafael Soriano from second base to left field. At the very least, Broadway should be allowed to display his talents when the Nationals need a DH in interleague play. If Broadway performs well, there's always a chance he will stick.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Resonating an unrelated forecast by MLB Rumors Clearinghouse dating back more than two months, baseball commentator Rob Dibble has relayed an unconfirmed report from a confidential source that Tampa Bay 3B/OF Aubrey Huff will be traded by next week. Speaking on "The Show," Dibble's afternoon XM radio broadcast, Dibble predicted Huff would be traded to the Angels or Yankees. Huff has been an obvious trade candidate as he is in the last year of his $6.5 million annual contract, and the Rays want to acquire value for him before he leaves the team at the end of the season. The origin of the information was not disclosed, but was related to Dibble by his co-host, Kevin Kennedy.
After being run out of Chicago and Seattle, and being passed over by a number of other teams, Florida's Joe Borchard has hastened the end of his major league career. The absence of Jeremy Hermida, coming back from the DL any moment, had given Borchard one last chance to prove he belonged in The Show, but he failed to take advantage, striking out three times to go 0-5 in his most recent outing. Borchard's batting average stands at .217.
The surprising Cincinnati Reds 23-16 start was destined to fade, as the team's rotation is woefully shallow, the bullpen shallower. While an upstart team such as Detroit can expect the rotation and bullpen to carry the Tigers deep into the race for a playoff spot, the Reds precipitous decline has already seen the team fall from first place. The Reds have lost their fourth in a row, seven of the last 10 and eight of the last dozen.
If you traded Brad Lidge, go jump off a bridge. The mystery of the Houston closer's collapse has been solved as Lidge just learned he was tipping his pitches: placing his hands in one position when he was ready to throw a fastball, another when his slider was coming. According to Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice, since Lidge made the discovery he has thrown two innings and required only 22 pitches to retire every batter. Lidge told Justice that batters had been able to lay off his slider, watching it bounce harmlessly in the dirt, then sit on his fastball, causing Lidge to be overly careful with it. The explanation figures, as Lidge has lost none of his skills.
Barring his complete meltdown, expect to see coveted prospect Hayden Penn starting for Baltimore no later than the beginning of June. Penn might have been called up this week after starter Daniel Cabrera went on the 15-day DL, but the Orioles didn't need a fifth starter until the middle of next week so reliever Chris Britton was called up. Penn remains at the top of the list for a rotation spot and if he doesn't replace Cabrera at the first opportunity, expect him to replace struggling Bruce Chen. Penn has a 1.93 ERA for the AAA Ottawa Lynx though he was beaten by Cleveland prospect Jeremy Sowers in his last two outings. Penn's callup is virtually certain because Cabrera will not return for at least two weeks as he is on a drug regimen of anti-inflammatories and rest for his sore shoulder. Once doctors are satisfied Cabrera's shoulder has returned to normal, he will endure a weeklong excercise discipline before requiring a couple of simulated games or perhaps a rehabilitation start that could keep him out beyond June 7, depending on his strength. Cabrera leads the majors with 39 walks and is 2-2 with a 5.23 ERA.
Noting that pitcher Russ Springer received a standing ovation after being ejected for hitting slugger Barry Bonds with a pitch, ESPN talk show Jason Smith said: "I'm surprised he didn't tip his hat and stop and sign autographs." Clearly if you polled the crowd, those supporting Bonds would be in the minority. By the way, ever notice that Bonds and Popeye nemisis Bluto are never seen in the same place at the same time? Can it be that they are one in the same?
The matchup between phenom pitchers Francisco Liriano of the Twins and Justin Verlander of the Tigers marks the first of what will become a series of classic confrontations between the two division rivals in the coming decade. But while Liriano will become a permanent fixture in the Twins lineup, the pitcher he has replaced, Carlos Silva, is trying for comeback. Over the long term, the pitcher Liriano will replace will be Kyle Lohse, 2-4 with an 8.92 ERA. Pitching coach Rick Anderson has been assigned the daunting task of helping Silva, who won 14 games only two years ago, recover his form. The problem is that Silva's game is predicated on the turning of double plays. Even in good times Silva allows a lot of baserunners, but whereas in the past they were eliminated in twin killings executed by surehanded Corey Koskie, now with Milwaukee, replacement Tony Batista is so defensively challenged at third base that even routine grounders get past him.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
In the 14 games since Torii Hunter moved into the Twins cleanup spot, he's batting .382. Though it remains to be seen whether Hunter will stay in the No. 4 hole, he clearly is a better candidate than the peculiar choices of Tony Batista, Rubin Sierra and Rondell White, whom for reasons known only to manager Ron Gardenhire, were tried there first. Now if Gardenhire can only figure out that power hitter Justin Morneau belongs in the No. 5 spot. Morneau is a natural RBI producer and the threat of his big bat will force opposing teams to show Hunter better pitches. Ironically, the Twins had been playing so poorly until recently that the hole the team has dug may preclude any potential for reaching the playoffs, thus precipitating Hunter's imminent trade as he is in the last year of his contract and the Twins have no money to keep him.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Promising center fielder Chris Duffy, who electrified the fans last year when he batted .341 in 126 at-bats, has been demoted to the minors after falling flat on his face as leadoff hitter for the Pirates. Though Duffy, 26, batted .300 or better for most of his minor league career and appeared to have nothing left to prove at AAA Indianapolis, he hit a dismal .194 in 98 at-bats for the Bucs this season and must take a considerable amount of blame for the team's disappointing performance. Another so-called promising rookie, Nate McLouth, 25, likely will pick up some of Duffy's playing time as McLouth is batting nearly 40 points higher than Duffy, a robust .231.
Demands for the Cubs to fire embattled manager Dusty Baker have become so shrill that even established columinists are openly calling for Baker's head. Baker's players, laments Chicago Sun-Times writer Jay Mariotti, are "playing like dog poo. . .no fire, no soul, no purpose; hitters swinging at first pitches, pitchers not covering first base, etc." Meanwhile Baker's former projects, such as former Cubs center fielder Corey Patterson, whom Baker nearly destroyed, are thriving once they escape Baker's influence, as Patterson is playing outstanding defense, driving in runs, stealing bases and hitting for power in Baltimore. The problem with Baker is that he manages without daring, imagination or creativity, preferring to coddle his players, especially those with seniority, like campers on a Girl Scout outing rather than men on a baseball team. Anything to keep peace in the clubhouse. But despite mounting fans' displeasure, and even after the Cubs have lost 14 of the last 16, expect Baker to keep his job. Cubs ownership, the Tribune Co., is more concerned with milking the team for profits than winning ballgames, and as such has no willingness to rock the boat as long as fans keep filling the seats at Wrigley Field. Says Mariotti: "Baker is the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong point in time, looking alternately helpless and clueless in a dugout begging for leadership and life," yet GM Jim Hendry will never admit Baker's hiring was a mistake.
The AAA Iowa Cubs have ordered a special uniform for injured first baseman Derrick Lee, who broke two bones in his right wrist in a fielding collision on April 21. Lee, who recently had the full cast on his arm replaced by a lighter, more durable splint, is expected to begin rehabilitation play in Des Moines with 30 days. Expect Derrick Lee to play one, probably no more than two minor league games before returning to Chicago. Lee, 6-foot-five and 250 pounds, will need a special No. 25 uniform in Iowa because the minor league club has none large enough to fit him. Lee wears size 52.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
The problem with calling up hot pitching prospect Jeremy Sowers to Cleveland is that the Indians don't have one single starter that Sowers could replace. Yeah, they don't have one, however, they do have three. With Indians starters Jake Westbrook, Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson all lugging around approximate ERAs of 6.00, pressure mounts for Sowers' callup from Buffalo for his birthday this week. If not this week, then the sooner the better, considering that the Indians just dropped a three-game series to Detroit. Presumably, Johnson would be the odd man out, either by being relegated to the bullpen or by trade. Sowers, 23 years old on May 17, has been nothing less than spectacular for the Bisons, where he is 5-1 with a 1.21 ERA after beating fellow prospect Hayden Penn of AAA Ottawa for the second consecutive time in seven days. In his last four starts, Sowers is 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA. Jeremy Sowers, who also goes by A.J. Sowers, fits the mold of a classical crafty lefty. Sowers projects as a 15-20 game winner with good makeup, composure and skill. Cleveland's top 2004 pick, Sowers is now 19-5 over his brief minor league career.
Though Atlanta 1B Adam LaRoche has been diagnosed with what his doctor describes as "attention deficit disorder," which causes LaRoche to lose concentration during games, a number of Braves fans apparently have little empathy. LaRoche was greeted with catcalls and booing when he came to the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning of an 8-1 loss to Washington. The fans were angry because LaRoche fell asleep at the wheel again and allowed a runner to reach base. It happended when Nationals slugger Nick Johnson tapped a little roller about 12 feet from the first place bag. It was about as close to an automatic out as there can be. But when LaRoche nonchalantly trotted over to field it, then dreamily walked back to the bag for the putout, he was greeted by Johnson hustling down the line to reach base safely. The out would have been the third in the inning, but because of LaRoche's screwup four more runners eventually crossed the plate, including Johnson. Responsibility has fallen to C Brian McCann, 2B Marcus Giles and right fielder Jeff Francoeur to shout at LaRoche every once in a while to try to keep his head in the game. But it's difficult for them to tell when LaRoche has drifted off. Looking at LaRoche standing there, sometimes it's as if the lights are on, but nobody's home.
The good news for Seattle 3B Adrian Beltre is that he already has had a year in which he batted .334 with 48 homers and he's only 27. The bad news is that he's half way through May and after going 0-6 in his most recent outing, his BA has fallen to .206 with only two homers. Beltre looks like a man with the case of the 'heebie jeebies.' To say he looks uncomfortable at the plate doesn't begin to describe it. Beltre swings too soon on off-speed pitches and too late on fastballs. Waiting for the ball it's as if he's trying to shrug himself out of his own clothes, as if swarm of bees just flew under his shirt. Beltre is like a weekend hacker who just came into the tee box after his golf lesson, trying to tell himself: all right remember, left foot here, right foot there, head down, etc., etc. The scariest thing is that Beltre not only looks distracted at the plate, he even looks uncomfortable coming and going to the parking lot before and after games. Ironically, while struggling teammates such as Richie Sexson and Jeremy Reed have been taking full advantage of the clubhouse video library to study their swings and correct their problems, Beltre seems to be taking his own path to recovery, calling his work habits into question. Worse, Beltre's offensive performance is so bad that he's been dropped to the No. 7 hole in the batting order, meaning he will see even fewer pitches to hit with no one behind him to protect him.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Yankees GM Brian Cashman is content with 38-year-old switchhitter Bernie Williams playing regularly against left-handed pitchers as a replacement for injured left fielder Hideki Matsui, who is out for at least three months with a broken wrist. Cashman will try to find a left-handed bat to platoon with Williams, offering marginal pitching as trade bait while trying to withhold from negotiations the club's more coveted minor league prospects.
Trainers were questioning Cubs hurler Kerry Wood on Saturday to determine how he felt following his 85-pitch, five-hit, five inning rehabilitation appearance the night before in DesMoines, IA. A crowd of 13,830, the largest ever for an Iowa Cubs game, turned out to see a Kerry Wood who for most of his deliveries appeared to have lost nearly 10 mph off the standard fastball he has been accustomed to throwing throughout his injury-marred nine-year major league career. Still, it appeared Wood will be in good enough condition to start against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday as Wood did break the 90-mph threshhold several times and topped out at 93-mph once, if you believe the gun. The gun's accuracy seems questionable as Wood appeared a sluggish, solitary shadow of his former self, struggling not only to throw hard but with his control as he walked four. Fifty-four of his 85 pitches went for strikes, however. Of course, Wood was credited with drawing the huge crowd, a record number that likely will be eclipsed Sunday when Mark Prior appears for a rehabilitation start.
The Kansas City Royals have denied a radio report that general manager Allard Baird will be fired to be replaced by ex-Mets GM Steve Phillips. The club also downplayed widespread MLB Rumors that No. 2 overall draft pick Alex Gordon is on the verge of being called up to replace struggling 3B Mark Teahen. Teahen, meanwhile, went 0-4 for his second consecutive game. Speculation that Teahen would be replaced by Gordon was fueled after Royals owner David Glass promised a team shakeup. Gordon, 22, hitting .313 with 17 RBI and seven homers in 32 games for the AA Witchita Wranglers, plays a respectable third base, runs well and hits for average and power to all fields. But many wondered whether Gordon might be being rushed if he were called up so soon. Gordon signed only last year.
Friday, May 12, 2006
With Hedeki Matsui's broken wrist taking him out of action for three months, perhaps the season, Bernie Williams has won the Yankees starting left fielder's job by default. However, GM Brian Cashman has quietly opened or renewed talks with a number of teams for an alternative to the 38-year-old veteran. Minnesota's Torii Hunter or Washington's Alfonso Soriano, both and the end of their contracts, would be ideal fits in New York. But Cashman has little to offer but somewhat marginal pitching, not much to pay for stars of such magnitude. Look for Cashman to land someone such as Kansas City's Reggie Sanders, Baltimore's Jeff Conine or Detroit's Dmitri Young.
Top Dodgers prospect Chad Billingsley, 22, warned to be ready for a sudden callup to Los Angeles, virtually collapsed in a heap in a 12-11 loss to the AAA Memphis Redbirds. Billingsley gave up three walks, six hits, six runs and two wild pitches in one and a third innings. Billingsley, who has a lively 95-mph fastball, had entered the game with a 3-0 record and 2.04 ERA, having allowed fewer than three runs in his first six starts for the AAA Las Vegas 51s. Though the Dodgers assured him he is still on track for his callup, perhaps to replace struggling No. 5 starter Jae Seo, Billingsley didn't help his chances any.
It's questionable with fewer than 50 plate appearances, but youngster Gabe Gross has hit a homer at a Ruthian clip of one every 10 at-bats for Milwaukee. Gabe Gross sports a .581 slugging average to go with his .373 OBP and .256 BA. No intentions have been announced for Gross to replace center field starter Brady Clark, at least not yet, but Gross is being trotted out to see what he can do, and to give Clark a rest. Clark is batting only .226 with a .331 OBP and .292 slugging average. Clark's stats are less than half as good as those of Gross, though Clark has had more than twice as many opportunities. Gross was only recently a prized prospect in the Toronto organization, and GM Bob Melvin is mindful that at this stage of his career Gross is not suited for his role as a reserve as he needs to play every day. Budding superstar Ricky Weeks, the starting second baseman, is also being considered over the long term as a possible solution in center field.
Despite World Classic Games manager Buck Martinez's suspicion that the games last March hurt a number of pitchers who are off to a slow start, injured Angels ace Bartolo Colon refuses to point fingers. Colon, who pitched for the Dominican Republic in the games, says his difficulties can be attributed to last August, when he experienced back pain. Because of the back pain, he likely altered his delivery and caused a shoulder tear in October. Colon has been on the disabled list since mid-April with renewed inflammation in his right shoulder. Stepping up to mound throwing now after weeks of soft tossing, Colon predicts his return to the rotation will come soon.
With more a three days drive separating the most northern from the most southern teams, the newly formed American Association will divide its game schedule by geography. The northern teams, St. Paul, MN; Sioux Falls, SD; Lincoln, NE; and St. Joseph, MO; will mostly play one another; while El Paso, TX; Fort Worth, TX; Corpus Christi-Robstown, TX; Shreveport, LA; and Pensacola, FL; will mostly play one another. The distance between Sioux Falls and Pensacola alone is more than 2,000 miles.
Cubs outfielder Juan Pierre, who reached into the stands Tuesday to rob Barry Bonds of what would have been his 714th homer, will keep the ball under lock and key. Pierre says the ball will go into his private trophy case at home. Bonds would have tied Babe Ruth had the ball gone out.
The removal of injured Cubs first baseman's Derrick Lee's full cast, and replacement by a less restrictive, shorter, lightweight one, greatly accellerates Lee's theraputic excercise program and hastens his recovery. Whereas the old cast immobilized Lee's arm from the shoulder to the fingertips, the new one isolates immobilization at the impact area only along the forearm. Expect Lee, who is traveling with the team, to begin rehabilitation play no later than mid June, as the two broken bones near Lee's right wrist are well along toward healing themselves with no need for surgery. Rehabilitation play will likely last for not much more than two or three games. Lee's tendons, ligaments and cartilage remain intact, giving him full articulation once the smaller cast is removed. The excercises in which Lee can now participate include one-handed lifting and even bat swinging.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
People who live in a House of Glass should not throw baseballs, but Royals owner David Glass' ongoing team shakeup will soon translate into a callup for top prospect Alex Gordon. Gordon, 22, hitting .313 with 17 RBI and seven homers in 32 games for the AA Witchita Wranglers, will push aside starting third baseman Mark Teahen within a matter of weeks, perhaps days. Glass is intensely dissatisfied with the Royals poor start. Gordon plays a respectable third base, runs well and hits for average and power to all fields. Alex Gordon was chosen Baseball America's College Player of the Year after hitting .372 with 23 bags and 19 homers for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Gordon was taken with No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 draft and inked his pact with the Royals after Glass offered him a team record $4 million signing bonus. After Gordon hit only .260 with two homers in the Arizona Fall League some might wonder whether Gordon is being rushed. However, Glass is anxious to start getting his money's worth.
Brandon McCarthy has pitched poorly in the White Sox bullpen this year -- 2-1 with a 5.21 ERA and 11 Ks in 19 innings -- but maybe the starting rotation will be more to his liking. McCarthy has been named to replace knuckleballing rookie Charlie Haeger, who was sent down after getting his head handed to him by the Los Angeles Angels. Haeger, 23, earned a callup with his 3-0 record and 0.68 ERA for AAA Charlotte, but was pulled in the fourth inning of Wednesday's game after giving up six walks and six runs. Haeger attributed his failure to overthrowing, as his so-called "fastball" was clocked in the 70s whereas he usually pitches in the 60s when he's effective. McCarthy, who will start Monday, will be held to a 70-pitch count as he has had no time to stretch his arm out. Win, lose or draw, McCarthy will go back to the bullpen when regular starter Jose Contreras returns from the disabled list next week.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
The good news is his 97-mph sinker. The bad news is he's just 22 with his only major league experience coming during the Mets spring camp. Mike Pelfrey did not get to play much, just one start. But he won, striking out six in seven innings with a 1.29 ERA before he was sent down, and manager Willie Randolph remembered where he stashed him. Ordinarily a pitcher like the 6-foot-7 Pelfrey would not be given much consideration this early in his career, but with the Mets starting rotation down to just three regulars, Pelfrey may get a look. The 2002 No. 9 overall pick has a 3.78 ERA at AA Binghamton, striking out 21 in 17 innings. In addition to his blazing fastball Pelfrey has a dependable changeup and a snappy curve, skills that bought him a signing bonus and four-year contract worth more than $6 million with incentives.
Before upstart lefty Cole Hamels is annointed as the next Steve Carlton, some sobering facts must be contemplated. Hamels, 23, who replaces Ryan Madsen in the Phillies starting rotation, has been dogged by serious injuries since high school, when he broke his throwing arm. Though it has not troubled him since, it was not for nothing that 16 major league clubs, including his hometown Padres, recognized his brilliance yet passed on him anyway, allowing him to fall to Philadelphia in the first round of the 2002 draft. He fell to No. 17 because many correctly foresaw that Hamels could not stay healthy. After the broken arm, Hamels pulled a muscle behind his shoulder in 2003, pulled his tricep during spring camp of 2004, broke his hand at the beginning of 2005, then broke his back when he returned three months later. All told, he's been limited to an average of 10 appearances a year for the last three years. Yes, Hamels has a dancing fastball he throws in the 90s, a changeup that bites like a badger and an 0.39 ERA with 36 Ks in 23 innings at triple A. For awhile at least, perhaps longer, Hamels will make even the best major league hitters look like old women trying to hang out the wash in a high wind. But before he is annointed as the next Steve Carlton, make sure he's not the next Kerry Wood.
As if he didn't have enough trouble already with two sore fingers on his glove hand, Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal now has a strained thumb as well, perhaps because the thumb has been compensating for the fingers. Furcal has suffered with the finger tenderness since the end of spring, but continues to try to play though it. Often Furcal has been seen wincing and messaging his hand after fielding a ball, and he plays with both middle fingers outside the back of his mitt. Worse, Furcal has trouble gripping his bat, as evidenced by his Mendoza Line batting average. Furcal has been playing with more ease lately, so watch to see whether he is finally returning toward normal.
Suspended minor leaguer Delmon Young, eligible to return to International League play June 19, has been privately reassured that he is no further away from a callup to the Devil Rays than he was before the suspension. In fact, Young may be even closer to a callup than before. Young, 20, playing for AAA Durham, had no chance of being called up before June 1 anyway, as the Rays are unwilling to start his service clock and hasten the approach of his contract arbitration date. Considering that Young's immaturity was one of his biggest issues blocking him from the big club, ironically, the Devil Rays regard his suspension as having a positive impact because of the sobering effect it has had on the young outfielder. Not only was Young hurt and embarrassed by a storm of bad publicity, the suspension cost him $145,000 in pay. Young, accused of throwing his bat at an umpire, admitted he lost his head and promised it would never happen again. Young demonstrated he was worthy of empathy due to his contrition, and avoided a suspension that might have topped 60 games or more.
The Phillies Randy Wolf, a classic left-handed control artist who went down with elbow surgery after just 80 innings last year, is on target for a mid-June or late June recovery as he is now throwing off the mound. Wolf's fastball now tops 80 mph, approaching his normal game speed. Even when healthy, Wolf's fastball rarely topped 90 mph. If Wolf returns on schedule, it complicates the rotation picture in Philadelphia, where Ryan Madsen and Gavin Floyd have been struggling and prospect Cole Hamels is being eyed for a promotion.
In a matchup between two potential superstars, Cleveland prospect Jeremy Sowers, 23, topped Baltimore prospect Hayden Penn, 22, Tuesday as Buffalo beat Ottawa 3-1. Sowers, something of a corner painter in the mold of a young Greg Maddux, was still bringing his 88-92 mph fastball with no sign of fatigue but came out in the eighth after giving up a homer. The victory raised Sowers record to 4-1 with a 1.40 ERA. Former Chicago Cub Jason Dubois provided all the offense Sowers would need as Dubois took Penn deep for a two-run shot that broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth. Penn came into the third with a startling 11-inning hitless streak before giving up an infield single that bounced off his back as he fell off the mound. The Orioles, experiencing pitching problems, may call Penn to Baltimore in coming weeks, but Sowers, a former No. 6 overall draft pick, is expected to languish in Buffalo unless an injury or trade creates an opening in Cleveland.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Charlie Haeger, 23, a knuckleballing rookie with a 3-0 record and 0.68 ERA for AAA Charlotte, has been named as the surprise callup to start against the Angels tonight as a replacement for injured Jose Contreras. Haeger was chosen over highly regarded future starter Brandon McCarthy, whom manager Ozzie Guillen said should stay in the pen because his arm has not been "stretched out." Had Haeger not been brilliant so far this year, the White Sox could have called upon McCarthy but would have limited him to a 60-70 pitch count. Haeger has an opportunity to win at least one more start before Contreras' return from the DL, but there was no certainty he could avoid being returned to North Carolina. However, Haeger has the team's attention, having gone 8-2 last year with a 3.25 ERA for A Winston-Salem, and 6-3 with a 3.73 ERA for AA Birmingham. Haeger developed his knuckler only two years ago. Until this year, Haeger occasionally struggled to control it, but can come back with a reliable if not spectacular mid-80s fastball when needed. The team thought enough of Haeger to protect him on the 40-man roster.
The Orioles so-called opening day ace, Rodrigo Lopez, is one of those pitchers, Like Brett Saberhagen, for example, with those inexplicable patterns of good year, bad year, good year, bad year and so on. With last year being a bad year, as Lopez surrendered 28 homers with a 4.90 ERA, observers were eager to see what would happen in Lopez's anticipated good year with the help of former Braves miracle worker Leo Mazzone. The problem, it seems, is that Lopez has made his living with a fastball that dips down and in, down and in, and down and in with equal effectiveness against both righties and lefties. Mazzone's mantra, however, is to throw low and away, low and away, low and away. Does that account for Lopez's 1-4 record and 6.75 ERA this year? Probably not. But there's one thing upon which most can agree: so far this year Lopez has been terrible, though not for lack of trying. Lopez has been pitching with great determination lately, so expect him to keep bearing down tonight with improved results against Detroit rookie phenom Justin Verlander.
In his first sign of life in nearly a year, 3B Dallas McPherson finally appeared to recover his swing at AAA Salt Lake, prompting the Angels to call him up instantly. The Angels are desperate for offense, having been defeated 9-1 by playoff rival Chicago on Tuesday, the team's 20th loss in 34 games going back to last year. Scoring fewer than four runs per game on average, Angels rank 11th in batting and homers against the league, 12th in runs and 13th in OBP. McPherson started at first base against the White Sox after Chone Figgins moved to center to replace injured Darren Erstad. McPherson had a poor spring and had been struggling for the Salt Lake Bees until he suddenly took off on a 6-17 tear with five homers in four games. McPherson hit 40 homers in 2004 minor league action, but suffered a litany of injuries in his rookie year, and up until now, has never lived up to what has been perceived as his excellent potential. In other moves, the Angels demoted so-called catcher of the future Jeff Mathis, batting .103, and switched reserve third baseman Rob Quinlan to first base after hiding the slumping bat of Casey Kotchman, batting .152, on the 15-day DL with what a team spokesman described as a "virus." The Angels are also stepping up efforts to find an established bat.
Monday, May 08, 2006
Broadcasting on Kentucky Derby weekend, XM Radio talk show host Billy Ripken recalled a certain race horse that had a certain ... uh ... air about him. Though Ripken, the former Orioles second baseman, said he did not approve of such humor, he couldn't resist recalling a nag named "Hoof Hearted." Ripken recalled that race fans in the grandstands were stunned one day to hear the race announcer calling out phrases such as: "Hoof Hearted on the rail! Hoof Hearted on the outside!" A run for the wire might have sounded a little bit like this: "And down the stretch they come. It's Man-O-War followed by Sea Biscuit, John Henry, Secretariat, Northern Dancer and ... Who Farted?"
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Expect Chad Billingsley, 21, the Dodgers top-rated pitching prospect, to be promoted from AAA Las Vegas to Los Angeles by mid-June or sooner, no later than the end of next month. Billingsly, 21, has a 2.04 ERA and has struck out 40 in 38 innings for the Las Vegas 51s, including a no-hit bid Billingsley took into the eighth inning April 28. Dodgers GM Nick Colletti has resolved to create a roster spot for Billingsley by dealing No. 4 starter Odalis Perez if possible. Colletti has not ruled out demoting Perez to the bullpen if necessary, as Colletti has had difficulty finding a suitor for Perez because of the two years remaining on Perez's $24 million three-year contract. Perez's ERA stands at just under 7.00, but he has had three solid outings. Perez will be showcased when he returns Friday from bereavement leave in Santo Domingo, where he has been tending to his ailing mother. The powerful but portly Billingsley, who tips the scales at 240 on his 6-foot frame, is described as a mature 21, fiercely competitive but difficult to rattle. His fastball regularly hits the mid-90s and is complemented by off-speed pitches that are unusually effective for a youngster. Scouts predict Billingsley's fastball velocity will increase as he matures. Billingsley would move into the No. 5 spot in the rotation, but projects as the Dodgers opening day ace within two years.
Only last week Los Angeles Dodgers farm property Aaron Sele cleaned out his locker to try to hook on with another team. Sunday Sele was back with the Dodgers, starting his first major league game of the season and picking up the win after allowing only a run in six and two thirds innings. For the time being, Sele ranks behind Dodgers No. 4 and No. 5 starters Odalis Perez and Jae Seo, respectively. But Sele now owns a spot-starter and relief role on LA's active roster. To play in Los Angeles, Sele agreed to a guaranteed $500,000 contract plus incentives, sacrificing $400,000 of his pre-existing $900,000 pact rather than languish in the minors. Sele, 35, a 1992 first round draft pick with Boston, had walked out on the the Dodgers last week when it became clear that the parent club had no plans to call him up from AAA Las Vegas, even though his record was 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA. But no sooner had Sele left town than Sele's agent, Adam Katz, was informed that Sele was needed in Los Angeles because Perez had left the team to be with his hospitalized mother, who recently underwent surgery for stomach cancer in Santo Domingo. Perez, on bereavement leave, is expected back Tuesday. Perez is scheduled to start with nine days rest on Friday. Perez has struggled with an ERA just under 7.00, and time is running out for him to find his form. In the second year of a $24 million three-year contract, Perez is a difficult candidate to be traded, though that hasn't stopped the Dodgers from trying to move him. Perez is being pushed not so much by Sele but by top prospect Chad Billingsley. Billingsley, 21, has a 1.59 ERA and has struck out 31 in 28 innings for the Las Vegas 51s.
Brewers ace Ben Sheets, who lost nearly a dozen starts last year primarily due to shoulder trouble, reported continued pain similar to last year's difficulties and missed his start Sunday. It was not immediately clear when Sheets would return to health, but the outlook was not especially bright considering Sheets gave up nine hits and seven runs in less than three innings his last time out, and sports a 6.64 ERA. So far, however, Sheets remained listed among active players. Sheets had been rehabilitating a sore back for most of spring camp and had been held out of action for what would have been his first few starts of the season. Sheets underwent back surgery in 2004 and elbow surgery in 2001. Also avoiding the disabled list so far was Sheets' teammate, Prince Fielder, who left the game in the top of the fourth inning because of groin tightness. The 260-pound rookie first baseman was removed as a precaution, with no clear indication whether he would miss more time.
Saturday, May 06, 2006
When Andruw Jones failed to leave the batter's box after hitting into a double play in the seventh inning of Saturday's game, speculation immediately surfaced in the press box that manager Bobby Cox was punishing him for failing to leg out the grounder. To the contrary, Cox explained after the game that Jones wrenched his back swinging at the ball, and was taken out as a precaution. Cox was watching Jones closely as Jones had been uncomfortable in his first three plate appearances as a result of sliding into the plate in the Braves 14-inning loss to the Mets the night before. Because the game concluded after midnight, it was thought perhaps that Jones did not have enough time to recover for Saturday's game. Though Jones is a key team component hitting .283 with nine homers and 30 RBI at cleanup, chances are 50-50 Cox will hold him out of action for the rest of the weekend.
Giants outfielder Steve Finley, who had been agitating for more playing time, will get his wish due to a severe injury to starting left fielder Moises Alou. Alou stumbled and violently twisted his ankle Friday as he tried to field a foul liner of the bat of Philadelphia's David Bell, and lay motionless on his face for several tense moments before being wheeled off on a cart. Alou, 39, was in severe pain and unable to walk on the swollen ankle, but X-Rays showed no break. Diagnosis was a severe sprain, an injury that could keep Alou out of action for 2-6 weeks, perhaps more. Alou was immediately placed on the disabled list for 15 days. Finley, 41, the No. 4 outfielder, wanted extra at-bats so badly that he even had begun taking grounders at first base in the hope of playing there from time to time. Finley, whose game is speed, is hitting .286 with a homer and three stolen bases in 62 at-bats. Alou had been hitting at a .378 clip with seven homers in 81 at-bats. The Phillies, who won the game 8-3, also lost outfielder Pat Burrell, who came out in the fifth inning with a tight hamstring.
Veteran pitcher Aaron Sele cleaned out his AAA Las Vegas locker last week to try to find a new parent club instead of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and now his potential new suitor is: The Los Angeles Dodgers. Sele's agent, Adam Katz, had begun negotiating with several unnamed major league teams because Sele determined the Dodgers would not call him to Los Angeles. But suddenly the Dodgers have reconsidered, and have recontacted Katz. Though Sele ranks behind Dodgers No. 5 hurler Jae Seo, and even Las Vegas prospect Chad Billingsley, the Dodgers suddenly find themselves shorthanded as starter Odalis Perez has left the team on bereavement leave to attend to his ailing mother in Santo Domingo. Sele, a 1991 first round draft pick of the Red Sox, was 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA for Las Vegas. The 6-foot-five Sele, 35, allowed no runs and struck out a batter an inning in his last two starts.
Struggling Rockies shortstop Clint Barmes, who has spent his entire professional career batting No. 2 or leadoff, was demoted in the batting order Friday to No. 7, being replaced by hot-hitting reserve Jamie Carroll, who started at second base. The demotion came after Barmes swooned in a 2-for-22 slump and his average fell to .245, contributing to an intolerable number of baserunners failing to advance.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Toronto manager John Gibbons' lineup Thursday looked like the old platoon situation he used earlier this season with Eric Hinske starting in right against a right-handed pitcher. But it was just a temporary switch to give a rest to everyday right fielder Alexis Rios, who is hitting .386 with six homers on the year. Rios won the full-time job after Hinske continued to underachieve at the plate, but Hinske was back in the lineup against the Red Sox for a night because Hinske historically was 8-17 against BoSox starter Matt Clement compared to Rios at 3-12. Rios started the last five games in right field and will start Friday, even though the Jays are facing Angels righty Ervin "Magic" Santana.
Padres second baseman Mark Bellhorn lost his position during spring training to rookie Josh Barfield, but Bellhorn is battling his way back not up the middle but at first, occasionally third and, soon, even the outfield. Manager Bruce Bochy vows to find ways to keep Bellhorn in the lineup, even if it means having him field flies in left. So far, Bellhorn's .300 batting average has won him a spot, perhaps temporary, at first, replacing 24-year-old upstart Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez, who may be given another chance if Bellhorn cools down, was batting just .232 in the absence of $6 million man Ryan Klesko. Klesko is out until mid-July following shoulder surgery, and his spot as regular first baseman has been called into question.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
At almost 100 percent, Rockies first baseman Todd Helton has told trainers he'll be ready to start, not just pinch hit, when he returns to the team from the disabled list on Friday. Expect Helton to play for all or most of the game, perhaps coming out for a pinch hitter or defensive replacement in the seventh or eighth inning. Trainers want to take it slow to assure Helton has not been weakened by his ordeal with Crohn's Disease, an inflammation of the gastro-intestinal system. Helton expects to play the entire game, and may.
The agent for infielder Tony Womack, granted unconditional release by the Reds, has opened talks with the Mariners, Cardinals and other teams that may be looking for help up the middle. Womack, 35, is not ready to retire and is in the last year of a $2 million contract, $900,000 of which is being picked up by the Yankees. With guaranteed money, Womack can be had for the major league minimum but is angling for more. He became expendable in Cincinnati due to a glut of middle infielders, plus the emergence of rookie Brandon Phillips.
The Mariners consideration of benching stuggling center fielder Jeremy Reed and recalling Joe Borchard were dashed when the Florida Marlins picked up the unprotected ex-Stanford quarterback off waivers. The Marlins will play Borchard regularly until the return of injured outfielder Jeremy Hermida. Hermida, who was eligible to return Wednesday, will likely be out for another 3-5 days or more with an injured hip flexor. The Mariners had been contemplating recalling Borchard as a reserve after replacing Reed in center with Ichiro Suzuki and moving Matt Lawton to right.
As if the Angels didn't have enough problems already with injuries to starting pitchers Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey will soon be lost to the rotation due to his impending suspension following Tuesday's altercation with Oakland's Jason Kendall and subsequent participation in a bench-clearing brawl. The Angels can buy a little time with an appeal, but sooner or later Lackey will be gone for at least five, possibly 10 games or more. Manager Mike Scioscia has already promoted Kevin Gregg to fill one spot, now teammates are awaiting breathlessly to see whether coveted prospect Jared Weaver will be called up from Salt Lake City. Weaver has a 2-1 record with a 3.72 ERA for the Bees, but in seniority ranks behind Joe Saunders, 3-1 with a 3.57 ERA, and Dustin Mosely, 4-1 with a 3.71 ERA. However, scouts say Weaver's stuff is superior.
Veteran hurler Aaron Sele, 35, has cleaned out his AAA Las Vegas locker as his agent, Adam Katz, has begun negotiating with several unnamed major league teams looking for pitching help. Sele, a 1991 first round draft pick of the Red Sox, is 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA for the Dodgers farm club, for which he allowed no runs and struck out a batter an inning in his last two starts. Last year he was 6-12 with a 5.66 ERA for Seattle. Sele left the Vegas 51s after Dodgers GM Nick Colletti refused to call Sele to Los Angeles. Colletti let Sele go in accordance with an agreement that if Sele wasn't with the big club by May 1 Sele could go elsewhere if he could find a team that wants him. Colletti made it clear that the 6-foot-5 right-hander ranked not only behind the Dodgers struggling No. 5 hurler Jae Seo, but also hot prospect Chad Billingsley. Billingsley, 22, owns a 1.59 ERA and has struck out 31 in 28 innings for the 51s. So far, Billingsley has received not much more encouragement than Sele about his chances for a callup anytime soon, though fans are growing impatient.
The return from the DL of 3B/OF Aubrey Huff and SS Julio Lugo, both of whom should be back in Tampa Bay's lineup this week, will force the Devil Rays to make two relatively inconsequential roster moves, but sets the stage for the benching of several players with the later return of 2B Jorge Cantu and OF Rocco Baldelli. First to lose playing time will be utility man Tomas Perez, then underachieving 3B Sean Burroughs. No big deal. But when Baldelli comes back, either 3B/OF Ty Wigginton, hitting .271 with eight homers, or Damon Hollins, hitting .284 with four homers, may be forced to languish on the bench. The situation emphasizes that the team remains committed to trading Huff, who is in the final year of a $6.5 million annual contract.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Just as Hialeah, Fla., and Dade County officials are trying to decide whether to use industrial park property taxes to pay for a new ballpark for the Marlins, along comes an entourage of team executives to San Antonio. The executives supposedly are checking out proposed ballpark sites in South Texas, but this is nothing more than a shameless dog and pony show to pressure the Miami-Dade County Commission and the Hialeah City Council to build a park in South Florida. Even though county officials in San Antonio have proposed the expenditure of $200 million toward a $310 million ballpark there, it is highly unlikely that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria would trade Miami and its 17th largest television market for San Antonio and the 37th largest. San Antonio has given Loria a May 15 deadline to accept the offer. Expect Loria, who has not visited San Antonio personally, to let the deadline pass without a commitment.
Outfielder Raul Ibanez left the Mariners clubhouse with his right thumb heavily wrapped after injuring it diving for a ball during Tuesday's 5-1 loss to Minnesota. However, Ibanez predicted he would miss no time. Ibanez's thumb was struck by a ball hit off the bat of Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Ibanez dove for it but missed.
Boston starter Matt Clement, with his 2-2 record and 6.14 ERA, is hearing boos and catcalls from frustrated Red Sox fans. It's as if they are blaming Clement for the trade of Ex-BoSox starter Bronson Arroyo to the Cincinnati Reds. Arroyo, 5-0 with a 2.06 ERA, has led his new team to the top of the National League Central Division and a major league best 19-8 record. The Red Sox had moved Arroyo because Clement was virtually untradable as the Red Sox owe him just under $10 million a year for this season and next.
Observers such as Hall of Famer Cal Ripken have protested that it would be too harsh, but the scuttlebutt is that Tampa Bay prospect Delmon Young, 20, will be blocked from any advancement to the parent club this year, and may even face a season-long suspension, for throwing his bat and hitting an umpire after being ejected for arguing balls and strikes.
Rockies first baseman Todd Helton asked to stay in the game after playing six innings, but trainers asked that he be pulled to rest after his first rehabiliation start for the AAA Colorado Springs Sky Sox. Helton, having missed time due to a variation of Crohn's Disease, went 1-3, hitting a sharp single in the Sky Sox 4-2 win over the Tacoma Raniers. Helton protested that he felt well enough to continue playing, but trainers told him they want him to take it slow. Helton wanted another at-bat to help him rediscover his timing after a two-week layoff prompted by his hospitalization for fever and extreme abdominal pain related to an inflamed colon. Helton is being treated with medication and has modified his diet.
On one hand you have Marlins team owner Jeffrey Loria's vehement protests that he has no intention of trading rotation ace Dontrelle Willis, because "we are building a team here." On the other hand, you have the Marlins unprecidented two fire sales and Loria's suspicious proposal to move the team to San Antonio. Worse, there is Loria's decision to sign Willis to a mere one-year contract, meaning that Willis can collect his $4.35 million at the end of the year and walk off with any other pair of good looking legs that strike his fancy. In other words, with Willis potentially gone at the end of the season anyway, why wouldn't Loria trade him to the first place Reds for their young third baseman Edwin Encarnacion? The deal makes sense for the Reds, who are desperate for pitching and whose speedster Ryan Freel has essentially no place to play. If the deal goes through, Freel would move to third, while newly acquired Brandon Phillips would take Freel's customary position at second base.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons is trying Alex Rios in the leadoff spot against lefties instead of slow starting Russ Adams. Adams, hitting .225, was not getting on base enough while Rios is hitting .365. Expect Adams to reclaim his position if he finds his stroke, as Rios hits with power and is needed in an RBI spot.
The Houston Astros opening offer to future Hall of Fame pitcher Roger Clemens is approximately $3 million a month, the amount Clemens earned last year. But that's just a starting point. Expect Clemens to be offered a significant raise, receiving the largest prorated one-year contract in history. Astros general manager Tim Purpura and owner Drayton McLane Jr. met with Clemens agents Randy and Alan Hendricks Tuesday, learning that Clemens will not return to action before June 1, if at all. Clemens has not yet decided whether he will retire. But Clemens very likely will accept Houston's offer over those of the Yankees, Rangers and Red Sox, especially if the Astros are in playoff contention and if Purpura tempts Clemens with an offer to call up the Rocket's son, Koby Clemens, an Astros prospect. The September callup would mean that the father and son would appear on the same field together before the elder Clemens calls it quits, but would be subject to approval by the commissioner's office.
Seattle closer Eddie Guadardo has struggled all season, but has maintained his sense of humor. When millions of Latinos walked off the job to protest U.S. immigration policy this week, Guadardo led a contingent of his Spanish speaking teammates into manager Mike Hargrove's office to explain that they would not be able to play because they were leaving to join the protest marchers. They had Hargrove going for a moment, then they cracked up and told him it was a gag. Hargrove ". . .was getting red, like he was ready to pop a fuse," Guardado told the Seattle Times. The week before that Guadardo took all the bullpen pitchers and their wives to dinner and, after desert, called the waitress over to explain that according to custom, the player with the least seniority, 24-year-old Bobby Livingston, would pick up the tab. Guadardo, a multi-millionaire, then had the waitress run Livingston's credit card as all the other pitchers watched Livingston sweat. Livingston had yet to draw a single major league paycheck, and the bill came to more than $500. Guadardo finally broke down laughing and paid the bill.
The Phillies have always had a high regard for pitcher Ryan Madsen, whom they promoted from the bullpen to starter this season, and former prospect Gavin Floyd, who has been awarded the No. 5 spot in the rotation. But even though Madsen and Floyd are struggling so far, manager Charlie Manuel wouldn't demote them, would he? Certainly not for a 22-year-old prospect at AAA Scranton Wilkes Barre named Cole Hamels. Still, Cole Hamel's most recent performance, a 114-pitch, two-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts, has won the young fireballer some attention. Cole Hamels. Cole Hamels. Cole Hamels. Yeah, the name has a kind of a ring to it, doesn't it?
Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Shawn Green, pronounced dead at 33 by many critics during Green's recent slump, went 4-4 with a homer and a walk in Tuesday's 10-8 victory over the Dodgers. Shawn Green appears to have shortened his swing, recovered his bat speed and has a new outlook on the game after raising his batting average over the .300 mark. Always a slow starter, Green finds himself with a renewed vigor evident not only in the energy he projects in the batting cage, but even in his eagerness as he stalks to the plate at gametime. The veteran slugger remains a feared presence with a bat in hand while playing decent defense as well.
Author Gay Talese's autobiography "A Writer's Life," newly released by publisher Alfred A. Knoph, recounts Talese's chance meeting with Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster Jerry Coleman during a Yankees Old Timer's Game day at Yankee Stadium. Talese at the time was a reporter for The New York Times and, thinking he would amuse the former decorated Marine pilot with an anecdote from the days of Talese's service in the Army, recalled that he once used Coleman's name to check into a motel with a stewardess he met on a flight. Rather than be amused, Coleman's face flushed, he grimmaced and stomped off, leaving Talese puzzled. What Talese failed to realize is that Coleman is a straight shooter who later became devoted to his wife Maggie, and would not want to be thought of as being in an unseemly situation with a strange stewardess. Moreover, Coleman most certainly would not want to be mistaken for Gay.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
With an urgent need for hitting, the Twins are shopping veteran starter Kyle Lohse in the hope of acquiring an inexpensive bat for an outfield spot, or perhaps even the DH spot if Rondell White continues to struggle. The ramifications are manifold but one scenario could project fireballer Francisco Liriano staying in a relief role as the bullpen's only lefty, while strikeout artist Boof Bonsor is called up from the AAA Rochester Red Wings. The Twins have never been a team to rush youngters but desperate times call for desperate measures. All Boof Bonsor did last year was win 11 games with five losses to become the first Wings pitcher to lead the International League in strikouts, racking up 168 Ks to rank 12th in the minors. The 24-year-old Bonsor's overall record since 2002 stands at 58-46 with a 3.72 ERA and 833 strikeout in 799 innings.
Giants manager Felipe Alou is taking a long look at 41-year-old outfielder Steve Finley as Finley takes grounders at first base. Finley, batting .280 with four triples and three stolen bases, would cut into the playing time of right-handed first baseman Lance Niekro, 27, who has only one homer while batting .228. Finley bats left and therefore would see more favorable matchups against the more numerous right-handed opposition pitchers. However, even though Finley is thought to be in good physical shape despite his age, he would still be regarded as no better than a reserve even with increased time at first.
Matt Lawton, the former Indians left fielder who was booed in Cleveland for "dogging it" when playing routine grounders and flies, is being given a shot. . .a long shot. . .at a fulltime center field gig for the Mariners. Lawton, 34, batting .385 in little over a dozen AB, for now has replaced 24-year-old center field regular Jeremy Reed, batting .185. Reed is being given time off to gather himself and is likely to win the job back, but Lawton has a legitimate opportunity to keep it. Lawton's fielding woes in Cleveland, when he hit .277 with 20 homers in 591 AB in '04, have been attributed to physical limitations related to various aches and pains about which Lawton remained stoic at the time. Ironically, Lawton has been quietly shopped this year as the Mariners seek middle infield help, and may be being showcased. Lawton took extra fielding practice Monday to reacquaint himself with the lights and white ceiling in the Metrodome in Minneapolis, where Lawton used to roam as a Twin and where he was once hit in the face by a ball as he tried to field a fly during practice.
Toronto slugger Troy Glaus, coming into Monday's game with six homers on the year, hit an additional pair of longballs and two doubles in going 4-5 to raise his average to .289 in the Blue Jays 9-7 triumph over the Orioles. Glaus' production is all the more remarkable considering that he remains on an injection regimen for pain related to his shoulder separation two years ago, and is still something of an injury risk as the season wears on.
Nine games out of first place, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire finally moved Torii Hunter from No. 5 to the cleanup spot, and dropped Rondell White at DH to No. 8 in the batting order. Hunter, hitting .202, responded with a pair of hits, but the Twins lost to the Mariners 8-2, and it wasn't really that close. Twins pitchers gave up 20 hits. Monday was German night at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, and while fans wore their lederhosen, the players continued wearing pantyhosen. The Twins have lost four in a row, eight of their last 10 and are 3-12 on the road. If the Twins are unable to dig out of their hole, expect Hunter to be traded, perhaps as soon as the All-Star break.
Colorado first baseman Todd Helton, out of action with a variation of Crohn's Disease, begins a rehab start at AAA Colorado Springs today. Helton missed time with acute terminal ileitis, an inflammation of the end of the intestine which is incurable but treatable with diet modification and common medicines. Helton is restricted from eating spicy and certain other types of foods. Helton is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list Friday.
This from The Roto Times weekly notes column: "Just for fun, let’s take a look at Adrian Beltre’s 2004 April and April of this year. 2004: .353 BA, seven HR, 20 RBI. 2006: .189 BA one HR, 6 RBI. If only the Mariners had kept the receipt when they gave him that $64 million deal."
Monday, May 01, 2006
San Diego backstop Doug Mirabelli, heartbroken when the Padres acquired Mike Piazza and reduced Mirabelli's playing time, is agitating the team's front office to return him to the Boston Red Sox. Doug Mirabelli wants to come to the aid of Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, whose record stands at a disappointing 1-4 despite Wakefield's more than respectable 3.90 ERA. Mirabelli and Wakefield were a winning combination when Mirabelli played for Boston and served as Wakefield's personal catcher. Now Wakefield is struggling with catcher Josh Bard, who has 10 passed balls and has thrown out only one of 13 base stealers during Wakefield's starts. Padres executives have quietly acquiesed to Mirabelli's stirrings, opening talks with Boston. However, if San Diego's price is too high, the Red Sox have recently acquired former Mariners catcher Corky Miller and parked him in Pawtucket. Without a trade for Mirabelli, expect to see Miller replace Bard soon.
Manager Mike Hargrove launched a scorching tirade during a closed meeting with his players after Friday's 5-2 loss to Baltimore. Hargrove was as angry as anyone has ever seen him. Players were mum on whether Hargrove threatened anyone's jobs or spots in the lineup, but they seemed to respond Saturday and Sunday, winning 8-6 and 4-3 respectively. It remains to be seen whether the players can maintain the weekend performance level, or whether Hargrove's other foot will fall.
Promising rookie Howie Kendrick, penciled in as the Angels second baseman of the future, may find a home a third base due to the offensive collapse of fellow rookie Casey Kotchman. With Kotchman hitting an anemic .162, the Angels are trying to be reassuring but are rapidly approaching the point where Kotchman must be sent back to the Salt Lake Bees for more seasoning. That would move center fielder Darren Erstad back to first base, move third baseman Chone Figgins to center, and open a spot for Kendrick at third. Kendrick has a .386 average with 13 RBI and two homers for the Bees and has greatly improved his defensive play, but is blocked at his natural second base position by veteran Adam Kennedy. Dallas McPherson, who fell flat after being projected as a potential top rookie last year, has swung a hot bat very recently for the Bees but his overall performance in spring camp and at Salt Lake has been lackluster. He is hitting .221.