Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ryan Zimmerman Puts Jinx Behind Him

Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta sees nowhere to go but up for rising young star Ryan Zimmerman, 25, who in Acta's opinion has put his sophomore jinx behind him.

Zimmerman -- whose average fell to .266 with 91 RBI after hitting .287 with 110 RBI the year before -- is seen by Acta as poised to begin a gradual ascent into the stratosphere now that the Nats have escaped cavernous old Robert F. Kennedy Stadium to the team's newly built ballpark.

"I would take a sophomore year like the one Zim had last year anytime," Acta told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "...I know a lot of people made the adjustment to him, and he adjusted back to them. So I'm expecting that from now on he's just going to put (together) a streak of years of 30 homers and a lot of RBI."

Acta predicts that the team's new stadium will be reasonably friendly to hitters, though not as friendly to hitters as small parks like those of the Phillies or Reds.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Giants Let Tim Lincecum Be Tim Lincecum

Word around spring camp at Scottsdale, Ariz., is that even now in his second year, potential superstar hurler Tim Lincecum is being handled gingerly, with manager Bruce Bochy forbidding him to throw extra batting practice or participate in other unnecessary activities that might put more strain than necessary on his smallish, 5-foot-11, 170-pound frame.

Lincecum's spring appearances have been held to 13 innings, less than half that of other starters. Bullpen coach Mark Gardner told MLB News Online that the team remains concerned about the violent motion with which Lincecum strikes out more than a batter per inning with 100-mph fastballs.

Yet even with Lincecum's spring ERA at greater than 6.00, staff and trainers have refused to tinker with his delivery, as Lincecum not only can throw the ball by hitters, but practically break their necks as they try to to slow down for his 80-mph curve.

The team has determined there is little choice but to "let Tim Lincecum be Tim Lincecum," confirmed Gardner, who pitched in the major leagues for 13 years.

By not using Lincecum any more than necessary, the team has adopted a strategy to build Lincecum's endurance slowly, as it is theorized that young pitchers who have been overworked early in their careers sometimes suffer avoidable injuries later. Lincecum was held to little more than 140 major league innings out of the No. 5 hole last year, though he likely will approach 200 innings out of the No. 3-hole this year.

Rockies reserve Ian Stewart, one of the most feared hitters in the minors, calls Lincecum "the toughest pitcher I ever faced." All the more remarkable when one sees him; Lincecum looks like he just stepped out of a high school gymnasium.

Says web critic Chad Bradford Wannabe: "I'm almost too giddy in praise of Tim Lincecum. The power he can generate out of a 5-foot 10, 155-pound body is just plain ridiculous. Of course, there's injury risk. He's young, he's aggressive, and his mechanics are uncommon...I can see why some may shy away from someone like this."

Deja Vu All Over Again for John Smoltz

That same troublesome shoulder that bothered John Smoltz for the first half of last year before ultimately putting him on the disabled list, is acting up again.

But this time Smoltz is going to try to outsmart it.

Smoltz, a candidate for the disabled list again this year, indicated to Atlanta Journal-Constitution baseball beat writer David O'Brien that he would try to overcome the problem this year by thinking positively and not obsessing over it.

"... I'm gonna change that mind-set," Smoltz said.

Apparently Smoltz's strategy runs counter to the trainer's advice to rub some dirt on it and walk it off.

Hamilton's 'Stiff Back' Could Be More Serious

According to the Dallas Morning News:

"... outfielder Josh Hamilton said he was taking some different anti-inflammatory medication for a slightly stiff back and it didn't sit well with him Tuesday. He was clearly feeling better Wednesday when he hit a homer off Padre's Ace Jake Peavy ..."

We wonder what "inflammatory" condition the Rangers' outfielder is suffering from? A slightly stiff back? That's inflammation?

The lemming public are no different from athletes ponying up to various medical treatments designed to relieve various maladies from headache to fever to muscular aches and pains. These anti-inflammatory medications work because they disrupt the formation of prostaglandin, a biologic mediator of pain and inflammation, from a natural biologic substrate knows as arachadonic acid. Corticosteroids (e.g. prednisone), not to be confused with muscle-building anabolic steroids, do the same thing.

Why isn't that widely prescribed for this so-called inflammation? Because every treatment carries an inherent risk-benefit ratio. Corticosteroids work very, very well. Prolonged use can also can result in cataracts, psychosis, thinning of the bones, elevation of the blood sugar, and gastrointestinal bleeding. So they are prescribed cautiously where the benefit exceeds the risk.

Recent reports say Richie Sexson just received a corticosteroid injection in his ailing shoulder. Direct injections into the offending anatomy are believed to work better, faster, and may avoid some of the adverse systemic effects of the medication, although there is dubious scientific evidence of that.

But, back to Hamilton's apparent medication-induced stomach distress. Clearly, he is not taking oral corticosteroids but is taking one (or more) of about a dozen NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Motrin, Naprosyn, Voltaren, etc. We have such a penchant for anti-inflammatory drugs in this country that these agents produce 200,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States including 2,000 deaths due to NSAID-induced gastropathy -- gastrointestinal erosions causing severe and life-threatening bleeding.

True, the vast majority of these adverse medication effects are produced in older Americans who have multiple underlying medical risk factors including taking other medications that can potentate the adverse effects. But the vast majority of NSAID prescriptions are for joint pain -- degenerative arthritis that is ubiquitous in the aging population. This is vastly contrary to inflammatory arthritis, e.g., rheumatoid arthritis which is a rare problem.

So, Josh Hamilton has a stiff back? Is there local physiologic heat, swelling, and various cellular proteins causing Mr. Hamilton's stiff back? No, he has a muscle strain not dissimilar from a superficial injury to the skin. If you suffered a paper-cut, would you run for a bottle of ibuprofen? No, you'd wash it and put on a Band-Aid and in 24 hours the skin would be healed. So it true for minor muscle strains.

Muscle strain (i.e., micro tears or small ruptures of the muscle fibers suffered from overuse) is not an inflammatory condition and bouncing around between one NSAID or another, waiting for nature to heal the injury, is preposterous. Now, as we all know, Hamilton is no stranger to using a wide variety of medicinals including those for recreational purposes. But, why would anybody want to risk a gastric or peptic ulcer when all he needed was a little rest, local heat, and some acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) for the pain?

It is just as possible that instead of reading the report that the medication didn't "sit with him," we could be reading: "Texas Rangers' outfielder Josh Hamilton will start the year on the disabled list as he is admitted to a local Dallas hospital for endoscopy in evaluation and treatment of gastrointestinal bleeding ..."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Growth Hormone Does Not Enhance Performance

There's no published evidence that growth hormone enhances athletic ability, and in fact it may hobble it, according to a systematic review published online by Annals of Internal Medicine.

Examining 44 published studies involving some 300 recipients of growth hormone, researchers found that although the substance increased lean body mass, biceps and quadriceps strength did not improve. In fact, elevated lactate levels - a measure of exhaustion and decreased stamina - were more common in those taking growth hormone.

The researchers say that the paradox of decreased exercise capacity in the face of increased lean mass may be explained by the fact that measures of lean mass may actually be capturing fluid retention and not increased muscle. They comment that the doses used in real-world settings may be much higher than those studied in the literature, and they warn about the drug's documented adverse effects, even at research-level doses.

You can read the full report here. The study authors' conclusion is worded thusly:

Conclusion: Claims that growth hormone enhances physical performance are not supported by the scientific literature. Although the limited available evidence suggests that growth hormone increases lean body mass, it may not improve strength; in addition, it may worsen exercise capacity and increase adverse events. More research is needed to conclusively determine the effects of growth hormone on athletic performance.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The New Yankee Way?

What is going through the minds of Brian Cashman and George's heirs? Have they shunned the traditional Yankee stance? Where are the Roger Clemenses, Randy Johnsons and Orlando Hernandezes who used to represent the very epitome of acquiring successful, veteran Yankees hurlers?

Why didn't Cashman go after Johan Santana as was characteristic of the Yankees' operating philosophy of the recent past (was there an unwritten agreement made with Theo Epstein)?

Yes, the Bronx Bombers still have hopes for graybeards the likes of Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte. But the Yankees starting pitching staff is now comprised of youngsters such as Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes; who will probably be joined by Joba Chamberlain by mid-June.

The New York sports media maintain that it is the firm belief of Cashman that the Yankee pitching philosophy needed change. Accordingly, Cashman needed to cultivate and/or acquire younger arms (such as the three prospects previously mentioned). But given the strength of the Red Sox and the improvement of both the Rays and Blue Jays, will 2008 be the year that the Yankees' brass forego a run to the playoffs to concentrate on developing their young, talented stud pitchers for 2009 and beyond? It's almost that time to find out and hopefully, we will soon know.

One thing is certain: The supposed Clemenses and Johnsons of 2005-7 neither lived up to expectations nor brought the Yanks to the summit of the American League championship.

Brewers Insist Ben Sheets Totally Healthy

It's the same thing the Brewers said last year about ace pitcher Ben Sheets: Sheets is 100 percent healthy.

"If he's not, we'll find out," bullpen coach Bill Castro told MLB News Online, noting that come hell or high water Sheets will be the opening day starter when the Brewers face Carlos Zambrano and the I-94 rival Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago next week.

Castro insists Sheets is completely healthy.

Though Sheets was given a clean bill of health during last year's camp, he went on to face his usual myriad of health problems throughout the season, and was unable to pitch for more than 141 innings.

Perhaps portending of things to come, Sheets camp ERA this year stands at 9.56, having just given up four homers -- two to White Sox designated hitter Jim Thome -- and nine earned runs in five innings.

They may be whistling in the dark, but Sheets' teammates say nothing is wrong.

"I'm sure he is throwing completely normally," said non-roster pitcher Chris Narveson, who has played catch with Sheets and thrown alongside him throughout camp.

Rangers Finally Keep Someone ... But Shouldn't

Having lost Carlos Pena, Chris Young, Adrian Gonzalez, Coco Cordero and Alfonso Soriano and others, and having little or nothing to show for it, the Rangers' decision to demote veteran outfielder Kevin Mench (.375/.468/.650 this spring) in favor of 27-year-old non-prospect Jason Botts (.341/.370/.455) appears to be predicated on fear rather than merit.

"They are scared to death of another Travis Hafner," Star-Telegram columnist Randy Galloway said on his radio show last night, recalling that Hafner is the biggest of the big fish tarnishing GM Jon Daniels and previous decision-makers in the front office in Arlington. Hafner, another former Rangers property, is now a star in Cleveland.

Botts remains with the team because he's out of options and might be snapped up by a rival if the team attempted to demote him. Botts will find playing time alternating between first base and the outfield.

Giants Steve Kline Awaits Trade to Phillies

San Francisco left-handed reliever Steve Kline has confided to intimates his belief that the Giants will trade him before the year is out -- likely to Philadelphia, MLB News Online has learned.

Though it could not be learned whether Kline is privy to whatever talks may have taken place between the Giants and Phillies, Kline believes he will be dealt to a contender in need of bullpen help, and the Phillies foot the bill.

Kline, 35, who will be a free agent next year, is without a no-trade clause in his contract. But Kline likely would prefer to be traded to the Phillies as he is a Pennsylvania native and followed the Phillies when he was growing up. His father -- a former minor leaguer who played with Giants Hall-of-Famer Willie Mays -- resides in Williamsport, Pa., home of the annual International Little League championship series.

The 11--year veteran is valuable not so much for his career 3.50 ERA and 39 saves, but because he is left-handed and held left-handed hitters to a .287 average last year.

Kline and veteran Eddie Guardado of Texas are tied for 11th all-time among left-handers with 796 career appearances. They will join the top 10 this year when they pass Los Angeles coach Rick Honeycutt at 797.

Injury Analysis: Adrian Beltre

An old injury, just revealed by the Mariners, Adrian Beltre has evidence of an injury to the radial collateral ligament at the base of the left thumb. Since Beltre throws right, I suspect he suffered this injury from one or more fielding attempts where the thumb of his glove struck the ground forcing his thumb toward the index finger.

If you are paying attention, Andy LaRoche just had surgery and will miss at least a couple months (and in all probability not be right for the balance of the 2008 season) for an injury to the ulnar collateral ligament of the base of the thumb - the opposite side of the joint where the base of the thumb is attached to the bone of the hand (first metacarpal) where the mechanism of injury is the opposite of Beltre's (the ligament in the webspace between the thumb and the index finger is the ulnar collateral ligament, while the ligament on the outside of the thumb is the radial collateral ligament).

LaRoche's injury is colloquially referred to in medical parlance as a "Gamekeeper's Thumb." No, not an injury to soccer's goaltender, but an injury to bird-handlers (in old England, as a matter of fact, where the malady was first described) who raise and harvest various birds for human consumption (chickens and game hens for example) and the "Gamekeeper" would sacrifice the bird by snapping its neck with their hands. When the maneuver is performed hundreds of times, the stress on the ligament at the base of the thumb became evident because the condition was so disabling to the gamekeeper and they complained about it to observant doctors.

The injury is also called a "Ski Pole" injury which is what happens to skiers when the ski pole is violently loosened from their grip in a fall when their hand is around the handgrip of the ski pole and the wrist is fixated in the pole's strap, ostensibly as a tether so as not to lose the pole in a fall. The thumb is taken violently beyond its normal range of motion, rupturing the ligament.

It's important to recognize that the thumb (along with the index finger) is responsible for about 90-percent of the function of the hand. The ulnar collateral ligament (LaRoche's injury), clinically, is far more important to the function of the thumb than the radial collateral ligament on the opposite side of the base of the thumb (Beltre's injury - which now chronic and likely healed).

If one examines Beltre's performance both before and after this ailment is believed to have originated, which has been done elsewhere (The Fantasy Hot Sheet presented by The Roto Times: Beltre, Granderson, Rolen and more, March 25, 2008, by Rick Wilton), you'll notice that his productivity is about the same, indicating that, while he has pain and perhaps some mild disability from that old injury he can still play and still produce.

All athletes, especially professional athletes, play with some degree of pain and disability. Just because something is found on an MRI and the athlete has some discomfort in that area does not necessararily mean that that finding is the cause of the problem and certainly not one that requires fixing. One third of the population taken at random off the street, for example, on an MRI has one or more bulging intervertebral discs in their back - and no symptoms, no disability.

When somebody has back pain or a back injury and an MRI is indiscriminately ordered, select unknowing (or unscrupulous) medical practitioners will ascribe their patient's problem to the disc and recommend surgery. The results of disc surgery (discectomy and/or laminectomy) are well known postoperatively: one third get better, one third get worse, and one-third are exactly the same as before the surgery. In well-controlled studies, randomized to surgery versus no surgery, two years after the diagnosis of disc disease producing back pain is made, the outcome of patients in both surgical and conservative management groups is precisely the same - the same number are better, the same number are worse, the same number are just the same.

Clearly, it's possible that the abnormal disc that is imaged by MRI may have nothing to do with the back pain. Along with lots of things MRI imaged in MLB players, so it could be true with the radial collateral ligament of Beltre's thumb. I would like to see a study where a series of asymptomatic baseball players undergo MRI of the thumb. I suspect there would be a significant number with evidence of old functional injuries not dissimilar from Beltre's, and this could all be much ado about nothing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Not Ready For The Show?

As Opening Day draws near now is the time for managers and executives to make the tough decisions. As seen in the past few days, many players were under the impression they'd be making the team are now being sent down to the minors. Super- prospects Evan Longoria (3B TB) and Jay Bruce (OF CIN) were among those heading back to the minors.

In Tampa Bay, manager Joe Maddon had made it clear that it would be an open competition for the starting spot at the hot corner. But whether it was Longoria's inexperience or whether Maddeon did it solely for his own personal humor, the skipper decided to send down Longoria despite Spring numbers of .333/.467/.750. If the Rays want to compete with the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox, they will not be doing it with their best possible team on the field. By keeping Longoria down in Triple-A for two months they will be able to avoid going to arbitration with him until 2011 and he will not be a free agent until 2014.

Reds manager Dusty Baker is up to his old ways again. The old-school coach is not willing to push the cagey veterans aside in order to put the young guns on the field. With aging veterans tying up his outfield and infield in Ken Griffey Jr., Ryan Freel and Scott Hatteberg, it seems there is no room again for future stars such as Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. Votto has made the major-league team but is stuck in a platoon with Hatteberg. Bruce was sent down to Triple-A in order to make room for the newly aquired Corey Patterson. Baker, though, has shown some love to the rookies as Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez have cracked the starting rotaion as the third and fourth starters, respectively behind Harang and Arroyo.

Nothing should be taken for granted in Spring Training. As seen again this year, many highly touted minor-leaguers with big-league aspirations have been sent back to the drawing board. Only time will tell when the next Albert Pujols is brought to the Show ...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Patterson's "Potential" Center Stage for Reds

Does a player ever become too old - or have too much of a track record - to keep talking about his "potential"? The word "potential" has followed outfielder Corey Patterson around throughout his career. As a youngster just hitting the big leagues, he was expected to be a great-fielder centerfielder, and at the plate a combination of power, speed and high average.

None of these various "potentials" have ever turned into reality for Patterson, however. But now the Reds appear to have tabbed Patterson for the bulk of playing time in centerfield in 2008, sending down uber-prospect Jay Bruce. Bruce, at 20, is full of "potential." Patterson, at 28, is full of ... what?

After five full seasons on the big leagues, and parts of two others, Patterson's "potential" is merely to be what he is: A fair-to-middling - at best - major-league player. And the prospect of having Patterson and his career .298 on-base percentage (season best: .329) batting leadoff - while Bruce whiles away in Triple-A - is "potentially" terrifying for Reds fans.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Stephen Drew's Poor Camp Continues

Arizona shortstop Stephen Drew returned to action Friday after sitting out due to a knot in his right calf, made contact with three grounders as the Diamondbacks beat the Dodgers 9-8, but once again failed to reach base as his average fell to .187.

Drew -- brother of oft-injured Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew --has suffered a variety of ailments during the preseason, beginning with a knee injury in January, flu-like symptoms in February, and removal of his wisdom teeth in March. Last year Drew was hampered by a bruised leg, a sore back and a hamstring pull, though he managed to appear in 150 games while batting .238.

Drew, 25, was the 15th overall player taken in the 2004 draft but has yet to realize the potential scouts have projected for him.

White Sox Flu Bug Bites the Media

The flu bug that has swept through White Sox spring camp at Tucson, Ariz. -- striking pitchers Gavin Floyd and Jose Contreras among others -- has even hit the camp followers, with radio play-by-play broadcaster Ed Farmer passing it on to his whole family, and beat writer Scott Merkin being waylayed as well.

A visibly sickened Farmer -- besieged by autograph seekers as he left the clubhouse for his car -- stood back from the fans and warned them not to get too close as he signed.

At the same time new broadcast partner Steve Stone, being handed one of the fans' balls, started to write his signature when his eyes grew wide as saucers.

"Did Farmer touch this ball?" Stone suddenly asked with alarm before making a quick exit.

Morgan Ensberg Move Leaves Dodgers Flat

Dodgers Manager Joe Torre has worked with Yankees GM Brian Cashman so long that he should know what Cashman is thinking before Cashman thinks it. But if Torre was expecting Cashman to release corner infielder Morgan Ensberg, he was wrong.

With the Journal News reporting from Poughkeepsie that Ensberg has been named to the Yankees 40-man roster, Torre has been sent back to the drawing board to find a stopgap third baseman to replace veteran Nomar Garciaparra and prospect Andy LaRoche, both out with injuries.

Torre's disinterest in overpaying for Chicago's Joe Crede or Detroit's Brandon Inge leaves him with relatively few choices, and a decision on whether to use untested, 23-year-old former Dodgers first-round pick Blake DeWitt. DeWitt has never hit higher than Double A except for a brief stint in last year's Arizona Fall League in which he batted .281.

It hardly can be expected that the Dodgers would pay the price for Crede and Inge, both of whom are a poor fit in Los Angeles. But it remains a curiosity whether talks might heat up to acquire the mediocre economy model Wes Helms, believed to be available from Philadelphia.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Juan Pierre's Consecutive Streak at Risk

Dodgers outfielder Juan Pierre's streak of 443 consecutive games -- tops among active players -- unexpectedly appears at risk as manager Joe Torre threatens to make good on the unthinkable promise he made last month to upstart youngster Andre Ethier -- that Ethier can play his way into the starting left field job this spring.

Ethier -- who has hit .294 with 26 home runs in limited play over the past two seasons -- leads the Dodgers with a torrid .345 mark and five homers this spring -- compared to a mere .200 average for Pierre. Matt Kemp, who is virtually assured of starting in right field, is hitting .305 with three homers.

What once had been behind-the-scenes grumbling about Pierre's $44 million, five-year contract has turned to open hostility as a cry goes out from fandom that Ethier must be awarded the job.

Speculation reached a fever pitch as Torre benched Pierre for a game last week, looked him over as a pinch hitter, then called him in for a closed-door meeting from which Pierre emerged with his head hanging.

Unless the front office comes to his rescue, expect Pierre to receive the news Monday that he has become one of the highest paid reserves in baseball. Though Pierre still figures to receive significant playing time throughout the season, if Torre benches him it would mark a considerable comedown for the man who led the league with 668 at-bats in 2003, 678 in 2004 and 699 in 2006.

Flu Blamed in Carlos Quentin's Decline

The battle is not always to the strong -- to paraphrase Ecclesiastes -- as evidenced in the case of power-hitting White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin, who is about to lose his starting job to light-hitting speedsters, Jerry Owens, Brian Anderson and Alexei Ramirez -- uh -- lest time and chance happeneth to them all.

Quentin is beginning to look like the latest can't-miss prospect to be cast into the sea, as his bout with the flu is being blamed for holding his spring batting average to the .230-240 range. Last year it was shoulder surgery which kept him from hitting more than .214.

It will be interesting to see whether manager Ozzie Guillen moves center field starter Nick Swisher to left once Quentin is sent to Triple A, thus opening a spot in center for Owens, who claims he can steal 80 bases if given a chance.

In any event, with his spring batting average approaching .450, Owens looks like a good bet to at least nab the fourth or fifth outfielder's spot, power or no power. Ramirez stands to make the roster as an invaluably versatile infield-outfield reserve.

His flu symptoms from earlier in camp most likely behind him now, Quentin looks healthy when observed recently during games at Tucson Electric Park, but the tipoff that he has fallen from favor is that he often comes into games as a late-inning substitution rather than appearing as a starter.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Reds' Rotation Taking Shape

Look for youngsters Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez to both open the season in the Cincinnati Reds' rotation, behind stalwarts Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo. Cueto and Volquez are near-locks - as Manager Dusty Baker has acknowledged - based on very strong Spring performances.

That leaves one spot open in the rotation, and the competition is coming down to Josh Fogg and Matt Belisle. Since Belisle still has minor-league options available, and also rates as a better bullpen hurler than Fogg, Fogg appears the strong favorite to nail down the final spot. Many observers believe Belisle would have a better future as a reliever than a starter anyway, since his fastball doesn't have enough movement to keep getting by batters the second or third time around the order.

You may have noticed that super-prospect Homer Bailey is not part of this discussion. That's because Bailey is no longer part of the Reds' discussion for the season-opening rotation. Bailey is guaranteed to open the season in Triple A after a Homer pile of problems coalesced in Spring Training, resulting in poor numbers:

  • Mechanical problems with his plant foot
  • Attitude problems (resistance to coaching)
  • The possibility that he is tipping pitches

Bailey is only 21 and has a world of talent. If he works on his issues at Triple A, he will still be a very good pitcher for the Reds (or someone), and likely in 2008. But for now, he's fallen behind Cueto and Volquez in the Reds' pecking (and pitching) order.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Aaron Cook Passes His 'Day-After' Test

Word out of the Rockies clubhouse at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Ariz., has starter Aaron Cook passing the "day-after" test -- showing no lingering ill effects after his five-inning outing against San Francisco.

Pitching coach Bob Apodaca has pronounced Cook's shoulder "fine" after the No. 2 starter had been held out of action for two weeks due to a shoulder strain. The staff had been watching him closely to assure the strain did not return after his 50-pitch outing at the beginning of the week.

Backup catcher Mike Rose -- who has occasionally caught Cook on the side since he went down -- said the soft-tosser had been throwing off a mound relatively normally since it was decided he should sit out as a precaution. If it had been the regular season, he likely would have pitched.

"It was just a twinge," Rose told "He doesn't rely that much on velocity anyway."

Cook -- who induces batters to hit grounders off his heavy sinker -- retired a score batters while giving up three hits and two runs in the 10-inning, 4-2 win over San Francisco. His camp ERA stands at 5.40, with at least two more outings scheduled before the team heads north.

Cook, last year's opening day starter, figures to pitch out of the 2-spot behind Jeff Francis this season.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Starter Carlos Silva Hardly a Bargain at $48 million

Sure it's just one game, and maybe starter Carlos Silva was just wasting a few innings of exhibition play to try to get his newly developing cutter to cut more like a cutter. Still, he gave up a lofty 13 hits and 10 runs in the Mariners recent 17-3 loss to the Brewers at Peoria, Ariz., and has a little explaining to do.

One cannot draw too many conclusions from one spring outing, but a cloud hangs over the head of the Mariners $48 million, No. 4 starter not only because of his more than 9.00 spring ERA, but because questions linger as to why Silva was unable to re-sign with the Twins when he practically begged them for a contract renewal at a fraction of the Mariners cost.

Silva offered the Twins a sweetheart deal because he married a Twin Cities woman and only recently completed building a multimillion-dollar home in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area. But as a finesse pitcher who all too frequently has been unable to hit his spots with his sometimes shaky sinker, the Twins said thanks, but no thanks.

The Mariners willingness to spend $52 million over five years to sign pitcher Jerrod Washburn and his now 18-29 Seattle record was one thing; Silva's four-year deal is quite another considering Silva's 24-29 mark and more than 5.00 combined ERA over the past two years.

Giants Skipper Puts Steal Sign on Again and Again

Perhaps Giants bench coach Ron Wotus gave manager Bruce Bochy one of those 'are-you-sure?' looks.

"We've got to get these guys ready to run," Bochy explained to Wotus as Bochy put on a steal sign for the fifth time in four innings, only to see Emmanuel Burris and Eugenio Velez cut down by Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta during Monday's 4-2 loss to the defending National League champions at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Ariz.

But Davis -- who stole 28 bases in 53 games at Triple A last year -- later stole second off Rockies starter Aaron Cook. And Velez -- who stole 49 bases in 96 Double A games last year -- swiped one off closer Manny Corpas, Valez's 16th bag in 19 attempts this spring, including split-squad and B games. For good measure, Brian Bocock stole third.

Valez told that his goal is to steal 50 or more once the season starts, even with limited opportunities.

With Barry Bonds' big bat missing from the lineup, Bochy has made it clear that the Giants have little choice but to run, run, run and then run some more. Asked whether the Giants will run as much during official games as they have during spring, Bochy nodded affirmatively.

Jayson Nix Future Brightens with HR, 3-3 Outing

No clear concensus is apparent as to who will be the Rockies starting second baseman when the season opens, but one thing for sure: young Jayson Nix didn't hurt his chances by going 3-3 with his third homer of the spring in the team's recent 4-2 win over the Giants at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Ariz.

Complicating the issue, former top prospect Ian Stewart hit his third homer in three games, this one a 10th inning shot to right center to win the game, thus keeping his name in the mix for the job.

Nix and Stewart are among five candidates to play second, with Nix having been the early spring favorite until being overtaken by veteran Marcus Giles, then outfielder-infielder Jeff Baker.

Baker and his 6-foot-3 frame could put up a significantly different looking goal post the middle of the diamond compared to Nix and the other more diminutive but quicker rivals, plus Baker can hit for power. The problem is, Baker's bat has begun to fail him, with Nix's 3-3 performance lifting his average to the .270 range while Baker's has been fluctuating in the .230s and .240s after his hot start in exhibition and split-squad contests.

Baker no longer know where he stands, nor whether he will even make the roster.

"You know how it is," Baker told "If you can hit you can hit. If you can't you can't. (That's) baseball."

Clubhouse sources said no one -- not even the front office brain trust -- knows for sure who will come out on top in the competition to start at second. But Nix -- a defensive whiz who has hit for average in the minors -- appears to be the player that management hopes will win the job.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Rangers 2B Ian Kinsler Has Way of Sneaking Up

Common opinion holds that the Phillies Chase Utley is in a class by himself among major league second basemen, with perhaps only the Reds Brandon Phillips, the Yankees Robbie Cano and maybe a handful of others barely coming close.

Enter Ian Kinsler.

Talk about sleepers; Ian Kinsler has been sneaking up on flashier, more dominant, more highly regarded rivals ever since being taken by the Texas Rangers in the 17th round of the draft (496th overall) and going on to become the team's Minor League Player of the Year in less than 21 months.

His .303 minor league batting average, .377 on-base percentage and .500 slugging mark speaks volumes not only about who Ian Kinsler is, but whom Ian Kinsler is to become. Kinsler's minor league numbers suggest that his .263 major league batting mark and 20 homers last year only scratched the surface of his potential, especially considering that he was unable to find his rhythm all season because of a broken foot. Likewise, Kinsler broke his thumb the year before.

Even more interesting is that despite this arrested development, Kinsler still stole 22 bases in 23 attempts last year and might reach 40 bags or more this year if he stays healthy.

Remember, this is a bonafide five-tool player who is approaching his prime at age 26, and who already has told his hometown newspaper in Tucson, Ariz., that he plans to run a lot more because he expects to be on base in front of newly acquired slugger Josh Hamilton, who as a fastball hitter and major power threat will see a lot of off-speed pitches that provide stealing opportunities for the hitters on base in front of him.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

White Sox Still Shop Joe Crede, But to No Avail

The White Sox continue to start veteran third baseman Joe Crede in ahead of rising fan favorite Josh Fields, enabling scouts from the Giants, Dodgers and whomever else to look Joe over.

But so far there have been no takers -- or perhaps more accurately -- no reasonable offers.

"Joe Crede doesn't necessarily have to go anyplace if no one is willing to give up anything for him," broadcaster Steve Stone told

Though the Giants and Dodgers are believed to have made offers, the White Sox have refused to let Crede go without fair value in return, even though Crede is in the final year of his contract.

Therefore, the team could end up keeping Crede for the 2008 pennant run then let him go in exchange for draft picks next year, hinted Stone, who is now a clubhouse fixture on the White Sox payroll as the newly appointed radio color commentor alongside longtime play-by-play broadcaster Ed Farmer.

Though young Fields has shown capability at the plate, hitting 23 homers in just 373 at-bats in his rookie season last year, Crede is a more established, more experienced and better hitter, and far superior to Fields defensively.

In a long anticipated tilt with the Cubs at White Sox camp in Tucson, Ariz., Saturday, Crede appeared to affirm his claim that he is fully recovered from spinal surgery as he slapped a long liner for a double, advanced to third and later slid hard on his back beat the tag in a cloud of dust in a close play at the plate.

The White Sox went on to win 5-3, paced by a long homer off the bat of designated hitter Jim Thome, who played the entire game despite complaining of foot soreness earlier in the week.

Phillies Skipper to Take Hitters to Woodshed

A trip to the woodshed may be in store for several Phillies regulars, as manager Charlie Manuel has found his starting lineup a bit lackluster past the midway point of spring training in Clearwater, Fla.

With Jimmy Rollins hitting .156, Geoff Jenkins .162, Jayson Werth .174, Pat Burrell .194, Chase Utley .200, and Shane Victorino .250, Manuel hints he will have a "little chat" with some of his players, according to remarks quoted by the Philadelphia Enquirer.

"It's not like a lightbulb. You don't turn it on and off," said Manuel, worrying that the team's seemingly indifferent attitude might linger into the regular season.

The Phillies stand at 5-12 on the spring, the second worst record in major league baseball, ahead of only the Pirates. It's a small sample, of course. But then again, it is what it is.

Alfonso Soriano Struggles With Lingering Leg Injury

Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano looked uncomfortable and out of form Saturday as he struggled to make contact in the batting cage at spring camp in Mesa, Ariz., then failed to make the trip to Tucson for a much anticipated tilt with the White Sox.

Again and again Soriano was unable to make clean contact, fouling off coach Gerald Perry's soft batting-practice lobs into the overhead netting or behind the plate. Though Alfonso may have gotten past a broken finger tip earlier in camp, it appeared clear that he continues to baby his sore quadricep, in which he has diminished confidence since tearing it last season.

Though Soriano is hitting .320 in 25 appearances this spring, he has only one homer and no stolen bases. His turn in the batting cage looked all the more feeble compared to teammate Derrick Lee's swings, as Lee smacked the ball sharply to all fields and hit two moon shots, one an estimated 440-footer.

Soriano, who hit leadoff last year, likely will be moved down in manager Lou Piniella's fluctuating, experimental batting order in an effort to spare Alfonso's legs by reducing his compulsion to attempt steals or take extra bases. The move will also help the Cubs overcome Soriano's poor onbase skills.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Indians Try to Ease Pressure for 3B Andy Marte

To build his confidence, Indians backup third baseman Andy Marte has been told he will make the team out of camp even if he continues to struggle at the plate. Still, it's inevitable that Marte cannot be carried on the roster forever, and must show something soon.

A 96-at bat stint in the Dominican Winter League over the offseason seems only to have set Marte back further, as he hit only .198 against often mediocre or undeveloped pitchers. This spring Marte appears to be making better contact, but still has failed to hit with authority as his average continues to founder in the .200 range, although he has hit one homer.

Marte -- once a top prospect in the Atlanta Braves system -- has done nothing but decline since arriving in Cleveland from Boston in the Coco Crisp trade in 2006, with Indians coaches having repeatedly tinkered with his swing.

Having failed in the development of such prospects as Brandon Phillips, Josh Barfield, Jason Dubois and Jody Gerut, it would seem Coach Derek Shelton and other hitting instructors throughout the system are on trial just as much as Marte, especially since Marte is out of options and will be exposed to other teams if Cleveland tries to send him back to Buffalo again.

Would Marte rediscover himself with a change of setting, as did Phillips once he escaped to Cincinnati? The Indians cannot afford to find out.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Cash, Other Considerations Halt Trade of Joe Crede

The pending trade of White Sox third baseman Joe Crede to the Giants for prospects likely hinges on three things: More time for Giants scouts to observe whether Crede is 100 percent recovered from spinal difficulties, interest in Crede from other teams such as the Dodgers, and Chicago's willingness to pick up a portion of Crede's $7 million annual contract in this, his walk year.

Curt Schilling's Career at End; Buchholz's Begins

Confidential, speculative information emanating from the Red Sox trainer's room fortells of a grim future for former ace Curt Schilling, who at 41 will be lucky to pitch ever again, let alone be effective.

With Schilling's rehabilitation going painfully slow, his anticipated demise opens the door for 23-year-old Clay Buchholz, who despite some rough going in the early spring stands a good chance to hold off John Lester, 24, and veteran Bartolo Colon, 34, for the fifth starter's spot.

Ordinarily, Buchholz would be headed for Triple A Pawtucket, with no chance for a big-league shot until later in the year. But Schilling's two failed shoulder surgeries -- plus his holding off on a recommended third such operation -- potentially finishes his status as a front-line starter, and likely may end his career altogether, secondary sources close to the Red Sox medical staff and trainers told

Expect these projections to be affirmed by August 1 or earlier, and no later than the end of September.

LaRoche Injury Ends Nomar Garciaparra Experiment

Dodgers manager Joe Torre's considerations to move third baseman Nomar Garciaparra to second base and other positions have been ended -- at least for now -- with an injury to 24-year-old third base prospect Andy LaRoche.

Garciaparra, 34, had been under consideration to become a multi-position, substitute utility infielder playing not only third base and second, but shortstop and occasionally first, as Garciaparra has significant experience at all of the positions except second base.

But LaRoche -- who was to have been eased into the starting third base job -- tore the ulnar collateral ligament of his right thumb, and has undergone surgery to reconnect the ligament and repair a chip in the first metacarpal bone. LaRoche will be out until at least mid-May, and likely will be unable to resume normal play until June 1 or later.

That virtually assures that Garciaparra will open as the sole, full-time third baseman.

Speculation had been rife that Torre would favor Garciaparra over the talented young LaRoche, but many forget that it was just a dozen years ago that Hall of Famer Wade Boggs fell from favor when he played for Torre on the Yankees. Garciaparra may have been headed for a similar fate, as he would have been demoted to stopgap sixth infielder substituting intermittently for shortstop Rafael Furcal and second baseman Jeff Kent, veterans who have struggled due to injuries.

The 40-year-old Kent -- who has failed to reach the 500-at bat plateau since 2005 -- already is experiencing hamstring problems this spring. Furcal, 30, lost 30 points off his batting average last year after dealing with ankle and spinal trouble.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Jeff Baker Offers Power for Rockies at Second Base

In an attempt to find playing time, Rockies outfielder Jeff Baker for the past three years has been asking the team to try moving him to second base. Finally, the Rockies may have to start taking Baker seriously.

To increase his lateral quickness over the winter, the 27-year-old former Clemson shortstop and third baseman went on a rigid diet and workout program to shed 20 pounds from his 220-pound, 6-foot-3 frame, and continues to take infield practice up the middle rather than in left field. Though he may not be the slickest middle infielder on the roster, improvements are evident and Baker is the only second base candidate to offer legitimate 20 home run power.

Speculation has Baker overtaking defensive minded former first round pick Jayson Nix for the starting second base job, along with fading candidates Clint Barmes, Omar Quintanilla, Ian Stewart and veteran Marcus Giles. Except for Baker, none has stepped forward to take the job with only three weeks remaining in spring training.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Dontrelle Willis Will Benefit from Detroit Backdrop

As Yogi Berra said "90-percent of the game of baseball is half mental." Whether Dontrelle Willis' precipitous decline can be blamed on a psychic collapse is anybody's guess. But one thing is for certain: Escaping the Marlins' horrible defense can't do anything but help. Willis' ERA may never return to his 2.53 2005 mark but it can't do anything but improve from last year's 5.33 record with players such as Carlos Guillen playing first base, Edgar Renteria at shortstop, Curtis Granderson in centerfield and Placido Polanco at second base.

The Marlins last year had the worst defensive play in baseball, committing 137 errors, compared to the Tigers' 99.

The Tigers ranked 7th best defensively in the American League last year and loook to improve on that mark this season. Further, Willis should benefit from pitching out of the No. 5 spot, in which he will face only mostly the poorest competitors.

Nolan Ryan Blocked from Signing Barry Bonds

Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks has repeatedly defended his hiring of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan as team president, insisting the former superstar pitcher will be much more than a figurehead, as he has been empowered to make all his own baseball decisions -- except one.

What if Ryan decides to sign embattled free agent Barry Bonds? "I might have to overrule him on that one," Hicks said to reporters trailing him as he walked from the field area last week at Rangers camp in Surprise, Ariz.

Though surveys indicate a narrow majority of Rangers fans would be agreeable to signing Bonds as designated hitter -- Hicks said flatly that Bonds would not be a welcome addition to the team and that no contract talks were under way. Asked about Ryan choosing to sign Bonds, the 6-foot-6 Texan said Ryan "would never do it."

Ryan, 61, has agreed to serve as team president through 2011, but remained at the Rangers executive offices in Arlington, Texas, last week until joining Hicks and General Manager Jon Daniels when the three watched games from Hicks' box next to the Rangers dugout.

Hicks' statement effectively closes one more door for Bonds, who has been rumored to be seeking playing opportunities not only in Texas but in Oakland, Baltimore and Japan. Not all observers agree, but many believe the former Giants slugger will be unable to find work.