Thursday, August 23, 2007

Next 10 Days Key for Phillies Chase Utley

Injured Phillies second baseman Chase Utley's rapid healing testifies to his superb physical condition at the time he was sidelined by a pitch that broke his hand, but while he already has begun hitting, it remains to be seen how quickly he can return to full strength.

Utley not only will have to stand up to intense pain resulting from the concussion of swinging a bat against speeding fastballs, but must restore strength and stamina to his wrist, which had been immobilized along with his fractured fourth metacarpal after a pin was inserted to stabilize it following the break.

Utley is not content to return to action Sept 1, he wants to come back now. But don't be surprised if he continues to be held out for the better part of three weeks. Even if he comes back in 10 days, how quickly can he be expected to rediscover his timing and power?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Just Up Justin Upton Needs to Live Down 'Bad Rep'

Former No. 1 overall pick Justin Upton -- hitting .310 with 13 homers in limited time at Class AA Mobile -- has stunned the baseball world with his sudden appearance in a major league uniform, but now must prove his maturity is on par with his playing skills.

Upton, 19, arrives in Arizona with a reputation for egotism and surliness. More than once during the early part of his career Upton had been observed squabbling with coaches and managers over protocol or lack of hustle, creating a feeling that he might be uncoachable.

But if Upton remains self-absorbed he has managed to hide it more recently, with no major issues reported this year. Still, Upton will be watched closely for issues of attitude.

Upton -- younger brother of Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton -- won his chance to join the Diamondbacks by a combination of circumstances: starting outfielder Carlos Quentin was injured, fourth outfielder Jeff DaVanon failed to find his stroke after coming off the injured list, and -- most importantly -- the Diamondbacks' kiddie corps unexpectedly was found not only to be contending for a playoff berth, but actually leading the pack.

If Upton follows a familiar pattern common among young, inexperience players, he will struggle and be sent back down at least a time or two before establishing himself. But this stunning package of speed and power sooner or later will lay claim to full-time playing status, maybe as quickly as now.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Seattle Outfield Crowded with Adam Jones Arrival

The long-anticipated arrival of minor league slugging prospect Adam Jones to the Mariners creates a crowd in the outfield, likely pushing established veterans to the bench from time to time in an unhappy game of musical chairs.

Designated hitter Jose Vidro has been seen as a likely candidate to go to the bench, not because he cannot hit but because he can, with a better than .300 average and an ability to swing from both sides of the plate in key situations.

But that means more playing time would go to outfielder-first baseman Raul Ibanez or first baseman Richie Sexson, both of whom are performing poorly and hardly can be expected to be seen by Vidro, Jose Guillen, Ben Broussard or other teammates as deserving of extra at-bats.

As if the Mariners didn't already have enough trouble coming down the stretch, now the team must contend with what likely will amount to a potentially unhappy clubhouse.

Cardinals Tony La Russa Motivates Albert Pujols

The public will never know unless Cardinals manager Tony La Russa one day acknowledges it, but the master motivator apparently crafted a solid dose of shame, humiliation and embarrassment to motivate his star slugger Albert Pujols.

La Russa -- as manager of the the National League All-Star team last month -- deliberately humiliated his own player by leaving Pujols on the bench for the entire All-Star game, later offering implausible explanations that Pujols was being held in reserve as a pinch hitter.

Pujols -- who had been playing anemically all year -- was put to shame not only before his teammates, fans and the public at large, but even family members whom he had flown to St. Louis to watch him.

Pujols -- proud as only a Dominican can be proud -- was obviously shamed and shocked. The result: Since the All-Star break Pujols is hitting .351, with a .449 on-base percentage and .784 slugging.

Ervin Santana's Struggles Hamstring Angels Trading

Former 16-game winner Ervin Santana continued to struggle at Triple A Salt Lake, giving up 13 hits and six earned runs over six innings in a 13-7 victory over Albuquerque in which Santana was credited with the win.

Santana's difficulties have hamstrung the Angels ability to trade young starter Joe Saunders for a big bat, as Saunders cannot be spared because former ace Bartolo Colon's injuries have left him questionable for the remainder of the season, while Santana remains utterly unworthy of a return to Los Angeles any time soon.

Meanwhile the Angels are so desperate for offense that the team has been reduced to occasionally batting 30-year-old utility infielder-outfielder Robb Quinlan in the cleanup position.

Yankees to Introduce Joba Chamberlain to Bullpen

Though the Yankees long-term plans continue to envision Joba Chamberlain as the team's future No. 5 starter, expect the prized prospect to soon be quietly eased into the majors as a member of the bullpen.

The Yankees will follow a strategy successfully used by the Twins, who have traditionally worked young hurlers into the rotation gradually. As such, Chamberlain's arrival from the minors is widely thought to be imminent, though he may not appear as a starter until next spring.

Such players in the past would have found themselves on the trading block, but general manager Brian Cashman has resisted offers to trade Chamberlain for immediate help for the team's playoff run.

Cashman's estimations of Chamberlain's potential are so high that he spurned Rangers offers to trade veteran closer Eric Gagne for him, even though the decision meant Gagne would go to the arch rival Red Sox.

The 20-year-old, 2006 supplemental round pick (46th overall) throws a high-90's fastball that can hit triple digits. He also throws a natural slider, curve and changeup. Chamberlain eventually will move to the top of the rotation if he can overcome a history of injury difficulties.

Chamberlain has the potential to develop into the best American Indian player in the major leagues since Jim Thorpe.

Fans fear not; Twins Owner Carl Pohlad Has a Plan

It couldn't have been uglier than if it had been a scene out of Frankenstein: an angry mob of townsfolk converging on the Edina, Minn., mansion of Twins owner Carl Pohlad, waving torches, pitch forks, sickles and clubs.

Fools! Don't they know Carl Pohlad has a plan?

Yes, Pohlad failed to improve his team prior to the non-waiver trade deadline; and yes, he traded away .300-hitting infielder Luis Castillo and has little to show for it. But the aging tycoon didn't acquire his vast wealth by being stupid.

Word about Pohlad's plan has yet to be announced, but sources close to the venerable chain saw manufacturing magnate hint that he believes he is close -- very, very close -- to a special, ingenious, arrangement whereby upon his death, he will miraculously be enabled to take his money with him!