Monday, December 21, 2009

Ex-Reds GM Jim Bowden Blasts Scott Rolen Pact

The restructuring and extension of Cincinnati Reds third baseman Scott Rolen's contract has come under fire from the team's former general manager, who questioned the pact on grounds of Rolen's advancing age, history of injuries and declining offense.

Jim Bowden, now co-hosting a morning baseball radio talk show on Sirrius/XM. said it was unwise to extend Rolen through 2012 at a cost of $23.63 million, after he was due $11 million in 2010. Rolen will be 37 when the contract expires.

"It's very disappointing to me committing that amount of money without knowing that Scott Rolen can bounce back," Bowden said.

Rolen will receive $6 million this season, $6.5 million per season in 2011 and 2012, plus a $5 million signing bonus.

The Reds acquired Rolen from the Blue Jays last season for third baseman Edwin Encarnacion and pitching prospects Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart.

Lee Hamilton Fans Nix National League DH

A slim majority of fans responding to a poll taken by Sirrius/XM weekend radio talk show host Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton rejected a call to introduce the designated hitter to the National League despite Major League Baseball's contemplation of doing so.

Though non-scientific, the poll rejected the rule change proposal by a 24-22 margin, results seen by Hamilton as a surprising rebuff after he had argued in favor of the DH on grounds that National League pitchers' combined batting averages last year were a paltry 0.78.

Fans would rather watch a slugger at the plate, Hamilton contended. "Isn't that an interesting question that I just posted today," Hamilton said. "The phone lines just exploded."

The American League introduced the designated hitter in 1971 to boost scoring, which had fallen to a modern low during the end of the 1960s. To undermine the dominance of pitchers at that time, both the American and National Leagues agreed to lower the pitching mound by six inches, with umpires adopting a more and more stringent strike zone over the years.

In nearly four decades, however, the National League continues to make pitchers bat, though collegiate and minor leagues largely have followed the American League lead.

"It's not just about some slugger standing at the plate and hitting a big fly into the seats," said one caller. "If that were the objective, you could just field nine defensive players and let somebody like (Cardinals first baseman) Albert Pujols take all the at-bats."

Other callers lamented the loss of strategy in the American League, emphasizing that baseball was conceived not so much as a game of action like basketball or soccer, but of decision making in which the fans must think along with the field manager.

Hamilton said he proposed the question in conjunction with Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's announcement that he would convene a panel to consider revamping playing rules and regulations. Though an official head count was not imediately available, knowledgeable observers have estimated that Hamilton has a following of up to 20,000 listeners or more per hour during his program, which broadcasts Saturday and Sunday afternoons and is replayed during the night.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Medics Cast Shadow on Mike Lowell's Career

Little wonder that the Texas Rangers backed out on the acquisition of Boston third baseman Mike Lowell, considering that a medical examination sends a fairly clear signal that not only will he need surgery but that his career is questionable.

The Red Sox can spin the story as favorably as they want, with the prediction that Lowell will be ready for Spring, but the Rangers doctors know better.

Surgical repair of the ulnar collateral ligament in Lowell's right thumb is among the most difficult surgeries for athletes, particularly baseball players. The key problem is that the ligament is isolated, it is almost the sole manipulative link to the brain, and yet is intricately tiny. Merely maintaining blood flow to the ligament during surgery is a challenge, as a drop in blood pressure can rapidly bring on necropathy.

Though Lowell can look forward to a normal and happy and more or less totally functional use of this thumb for the rest of his life as a private citizen, the question of swinging a bat is another consideration altogether. At least Lowell can take satisfaction from the fact that it's his right ligament; for the left could be even more problematic.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Kyle Drabek's Phillies Gear to Be Auctioned

How to get rid of his red No. 81 Phillies spring jersey and other Philadelphia gear is the least of his problems, but Kyle Drabek says he might as well auction it to the highest bidder as long as he's going to be playing for the Toronto Blue Jays.

"I'll put it on eBay," the hard-throwing young prospect laughingly told the Doylestown, Pa., Intelligencer.

Drabek, 22. dealt to Toronto along with fellow prospects Travis D'Arnaud and Michael Taylor when the Phillies acquired Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, will report to Blue Jays camp in Dunedin, Fla., in 60 days.

Taylor has been flipped to Oakland for former St. Louis third base candidate Brett Wallace, but Drabek and his 96-mph fastball have a shot to compete for a spot at the back of the Blue Jays rotation, though more likely Drabek will start the season at Double A New Hampshire.

"I think I'm ready," said Drabek, son of 1990 Cy Young winner Doug Drabek. "...My dad just said to make sure you go out and pitch like you know how to. Where I am doesn't change anything. It's just putting on a different jersey."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Marcus Scutaro Projected as Red Sox Superstar

In Oakland he was perceived as a limited, part-time utility player, but newly signed Red Sox shortstop Marcus Scutaro now has been projected by a former coach as having blossomed into a catalytic, minor superstar who can do it all.

"He'll draw a walk, he'll hit and run, he'll move runners along, he'll bunt, he'll hit some balls into the seats, he'll steal a base," says 2009 Blue Jays bench coach Brian Butterfield. "He's immersed with the offensive part of the game."

Speaking to sports columnist Larry Mahoney with the Bangor Daily News, which serves Butterfield's hometown of Orono, Me., Butterfield, 52, described Scutaro as "outstanding" defensively as well, having committed only 10 errors in 143 games despite leading the lead in chances under Butterfield's direction last season in Toronto, Scutaro's second with the Blue Jays.

He credited the 34-year-old Latino veteran with intelligence, skill and knowledge in positioning himself to take maximum advantage of batters' hitting tendencies and proclivities, thus re-enforcing accuracy in critical situations. "There's no panic in his hands," Butterfield said.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mark Patrick Renews Old MLB Acquaintances

Former network air personality Mark Patrick renewed old acquaintances at the annual major league general managers' meeting in Indianapolis last week, bringing them up to date on his current status and placing a few well-placed words in introducing his budding superstar son, Drew Storen.

Just exactly what he said is unknown, unless it was to ask the kid if he could borrow a couple of bucks. Storen was the No. 10 overall pick in the June major league baseball draft and signed with the Washington Nationals for a bonus of $1.6 million.

The brainy 22-year-old had a brief but shining college career at Stanford, then went on to notch a 2-1 record with a 1.95 ERA in 37 innings at AA Harrisburg and two other professional levels last year, with 49 strikeouts. The Washington Post has projected him as the Nationals closer of the future.

His father, who uses the air name "Patrick," formerly was host for Fox Radio's daytime daily sports program, and later launched XM Radio's "MLB This Morning" show with co-hosts Buck Martinez and Larry Bowa before being released after three years.

By almost any measure, he is among the most talented personalities in network radio, possessing not only an encylopedic knowledge of baseball and other sports, but also an efferfescent personality replete with an array of world class impersonations such celebrities as John Wayne, Richard Nixon and Johnny Carson.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pal Says Clemens Faces Jail Before Cooperstown

While steroid-tarnished Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte enjoys absolution as he tries to win the American League pennant, former teammate Roger Clemens remains under a cloud that will not go away until he faces the possibility of prison by coming clean as Pettitte did, a career-long friend says.

"If he wants to go to the Hall of Fame," says Clemens' college teammate Rusty Uresti, "he's going to have to go back and tell them to 'lock me up for perjury' or whatever. He should have got his story straight with Pettitte, say that he was just trying to help the team."

While Clemens has sworn under oath that he never used performance-enhancing drugs, he could face a finding of contempt of Congress or other retribution if it is proved he is lying.

Pettitte acknowledged using a banned substance, asking and receiving understanding and forgiveness. Clemens meanwhile is sticking with his story, and has filed various motions and countersuits to save his reputation.

The irony is that if Clemens took drugs it means only that he was just doing what other players were doing at that time, given the tacit standards and norms of his era, said Uresti. As soon as bans were enforced, it was over, he said.

"He never tested positive," said the former Atlanta Braves minor league catcher and Mexican League pitcher caught Clemens in his final year at University of Texas in 1983. Now residing in the Austin area, Uresti works as a professional caddy for PGA tour members, including Robert Gamez, Frank Lickliter and others.

Uresti and Clemens have stayed acquainted over the years though neither Uresti nor other former teammates tend to discuss Clemens' legal troubles when they see him, Uresti said. The subject is pointless, as most players from Clemens' time understand that it used to be more or less acceptable to do whatever you could to stay productive,' Uresti said.

Uresti said he likely would have tested positive if he had been examined duringhis baseball playing days as he ocassionally used a topically applied type of horse linament that was commonly found in lockerrooms in the 1980s and more recently.

He thought little of it at the time.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Look for Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui to Sit

With the Yankees clinching, look for manager Joe Girardi to find situations in which to rest Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada and others for a game or three, or to let them hit the showers early in non-critical spots.

The rest may do them good in preparation for the fall schedule, but it will cost them plate appearances and potential production in the short term. Likewise, if and when the Angels and Tigers clinch, expect similar sitting spells for Vladimir Guerrero, Magglio Ordonez and others.

Of particular importance, will be missed starts by established pitchers in favor of aspiring youths. Most pitchers can stand a day off this time of year.

Indians Eye Michael Brantley for 2010 Outfield

Various reports coming out of Cleveland see rookie Michael Brantley surpassing 2005 first round pick Trevor Crowe for the starting spot in the Indians 2010 center field.

The problem with Crowe is not so much that he has underperformed -- which he has -- but that Brantley has excelled, hitting nearly .340 in a limited trial, with a .576 onbase percentage against lefties, even though Brantley bats left handed.

Brantley also has shown considerable potential defensively, though his performance has been marred by a few youthful gaffs.

Brantley's door opened a crack when Victor Martinez was traded to the Red Sox, and Ryan Garko to the Giants, effectively halting the experimentation with rookie Matt LaPorta in left field. LaPorta is all but assured of claiming the starting first baseman's job.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Angel Guzman Intriguing as Potential Cubs Closer

Despite Cubs manager Lou Piniella's choice of Carlos Marmol to replace Kevin Gregg as closer, bullpen stalwart Angel Guzman remains an intriguing dark horse to land the job before the end of the year.

Sure, Marmol throws hard, but the landscape is littered with hurlers whose fastballs approach 100 mph or more but can't find the plate. Look for the Marmol experiment to be short lived, then see what Guzman does when he finally gets his shot -- which he will.

Though Marmol has been effectively wild, Piniella remains concerned that he gives up nearly a walk an inning and sometimes resists coaching to stick with fastballs rather than resort to off-speed offerings when he struggles with control.

Meanwhile, a vague undercurrent favoring Guzman as closer has been detected in the Cubs clubhouse for months, to say nothing of overt public speculation that Piniella should give Guzman a try. After all, Guzman has often been regarded as the closer of the future.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Angels Robb Quinlan Stands to Gain Playing Time

Maybe he goes out for pizza. Maybe he makes a good cup of coffee. Whatever it is that Robb Quinlan does to earn his keep these last seven years with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, he certainly keeps a spot warm on the bench.

Quinlan, a right-handed corner infielder, is struggling to maintain his .281 career batting average in part because of a lack of opportunity. He has well under 100 plate appearances on the year.

However things may be looking up for Quinlan now that the Angels have had the chance to observe switchhitting starting first baseman Kendry Morales for more then 250 at-bats.

Morales has been splendid facing right-handed pitchers, as he is hitting .300 with 13 home runs, but is the most schizophrenic, power-hitting, switch batting Angel since Chili Davis. His average batting right against left-handers is so poor at .184, that he probably should consider batting left full time lest Mike Scioscia be tempted to make him part of a strict platoon.

The only problem with putting Morales in a platoon with Quinlan is that Quinlan is hitting left-handers even worse at .175.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Russell Branyan Left Naked in Mariners Lineup

Just when Mariners slugger Russell Branyan had remade himself from a swing-and-miss whiff machine into a .300 hitting power slugger -- and was on pace to hit more then 40 homers -- he has been left naked in the lineup due to the departure of third baseman Adrian Beltre for shoulder surgery.

Without Beltre's big bat behind him, Branyan will be lucky to see anything to hit for the rest of the year. It will be very telling if Branyan fails to swat any longballs during the Mariners upcoming visit to the New York City wind tunnel known as new Yankee stadium.

Pity that the Mariners front office this year was more interested in playing travel agent for Ken Griffey's feel good farewell tour and dog-and-pony show than putting a winning team on the field.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cubs Go Easy on Closer Candidate Angel Guzman

To whatever degree the Cubs are serious about moving reliever Angel Guzman to the closer's role, his move to the disabled list only seems to underscore it.

Though he has only one save, Guzman, 2-1 with a 2.53 ERA, is surreptitiously regarded as the closer of the future, given the failings of setup man Carlos Marmol and closer Kevin Gregg. Guzman will keep his closer-in-waiting status as long as the soreness in his right triceps doesn't develop into a bigger problem, and by sidelining him manager Lou Piniella is making sure it doesn't.

Guzman may be a key player in the playoff run.

In other Cubs reports, injured third baseman Aramez Ramirez spent significant time swinging a small bat off a tee in the training room at Wrigley Field over the weekend, and continues to hope for a return to action shortly after the All-Star break.

But no promises.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Wood Wonders

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Joba Chamberlain Takes Page from Sam McDowell

Yankees starter Joba Chamberlain -- with his promising form of two years ago still eluding him -- has taken a page from the life of former major league strikeout artist "Sudden" Sam McDowell.

Perhaps he should put the page back.

Under the watchful eye of pitching coach Dave Eiland, the 23-year-old Chamberlain has been expending maximum effort by heaving about a dozen, 80-yard longballs from the outfield to backup catcher Francisco Cervelli as part of his pre-start warmup throws. As demonstrated by McDowell, who played for the Yankees in 1973-'74, the practice stretches the muscles and tires the arm to help reduce overthrowing during the game.

The problem is that it worked for McDowell, but not for Chamberlain, if there's any indication in Chamberlain's last outing versus the Mets, when he he hit two batters and walked five in the process of throwing 100 pitches before being yanked at the end of the fourth inning.

Watching Chamberlain warm up from the outfield, it's a wonder he has anything left for the game. Like McDowell, however, who won 20 games for the Indians in 1970, Chamberlain was in effectively wild in the outing, giving up only one hit as the Yankees went on to win the 9-8 thriller.

Speculation continues to mount that unless Chamberlain finds himself soon, he may be found back in the bullpen, which would be a severe setback in his development but potentially a practical necessity for the Yankees if the team is to remain at the top of the American League Eastern Divison.

Phil Hughes is waiting in the wings.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Power Stroke Continues to Elude Derrick Lee

During his team's recent stopover at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Cubs first baseman Derrick Lee attempted to take advantage of the short fences to practice his power stroke.

Lee repeatedly reached the stands during batting practice, with some balls traveling well beyond 400 feet. However, once play started Lee again morphed into a six-foot-five, 200-pound singles hitter with gap power and little more.

Though Lee's average is now approaching a respectable .270 after a slow start, his home run count languishes in single figures, as he manages to hit one in only about every 30 atbats, well less than half the pace of the 30-40 annual outputs that preceded his 2007 wrist injury.

Lee has failed to hit more than 22 homers since 2005, when he belted 46. At 33, his days as a power hitter may be over.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Red Sox Petitioned to Promote Clay Buchholz

Following a recent outing in which Red Sox pitching prospect Clay Buchholz retired the first 24 batters he faced en route to a 3-0 record on the year for Triple-A Pawtucket, has launched a petition drive to urge the Boston front office to promote Buchholz to the Red Sox rotation.

Though major league teams have never demonstrated a willingness to respond to petition drives, the influence of fans cannot be entirely disregarded. And as Buchholz is demonstrably superior to Dice K and Brad Penny, and already has a major-league no-hitter to his credit, the petitioners are hopeful that they can have some bearing on the potential for Buchholz's promotion.

The petition can be signed at

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Manny Ramirez A Sucker For Big Breasts?

Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball on Thursday, becoming the latest high-profile Major League Baseball player busted by the league's performance enhancing drug policy. Ramirez denies it (naturally) said he took an agent given by a doctor that was believed to not be banned. The Dodgers dread-locked slugger says: "Recently, I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was OK to give me," he said in a statement issued by the players' union.

Ramirez went to a doctor for "...a personal health issue..."? What, he wanted to simulate pregnancy -- grow breasts -- throw-up every morning? Two sources told ESPN that Ramirez used a women's fertility drug — HCG, human chorionic gonadotropin. HCG is what is tested for in the blood or urine from a women when pregnancy is suspected. The hormone is released by a the trophoblast (early fertilized egg) and rises to maintain the pregnancy during the first trimester until adequate amounts are secreted by the placenta.

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and a recombinant formulation, called choriogonadotropin alfa (r-hCG), is a gonad-stimulating polypeptide hormone normally secreted by the placenta during pregnancy. The non-recombinant products are obtained from the urine of pregnant women. Recombinant-hCG is produced via recombinant DNA techniques in Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cells. The pharmacological actions of hCG and of r-hCG are similar and resemble those of luteinizing hormone (LH); hCG is generally used as a substitute for LH. HCG has been used to treat cryptorchidism (undescended testicle) or hypogonadotropic hypogonadism in males, sometimes in combination with menotropins or follitropin. Interestingly, hCG was introduced for the treatment of cryptorchidism in 1931, and remained the only hormonal agent available to treat the condition until the 1970's, when gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogs also became a treatment option. Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is used in controlled ovarian hyperstimulation protocols for infertility in females. Intralesional hCG has been utilized for the treatment of Kaposi's sarcoma, but further clinical trials are required to prove efficacy. Human chorionic gonadotropin is banned from use in competitive sport; some male athletes have used hCG to stimulate testosterone production or to prevent testicular atrophy resulting from the abuse of anabolic steroids and androgens. Urine-derived hCG was first approved by the FDA in 1939, and received subsequent approval for additional indications in 1973. Ovidrel®, the first recombinant hCG (r-hCG), received FDA approval for female infertility to induce final follicular maturation on September 20, 2000. Ovidrel® pre-filled syringes received FDA approval in October 2003; manufacturing of Ovidrel® vials has ceased.

The mechanism of action of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) depends upon the purpose for which it is being used, the sex of the patient, and the level of maturity of the patient to whom it is administered.

In select females with infertility , human chorionic gonadotropin has actions essentially identical to those of luteinizing hormone (LH). Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) also appears to have additional, though minimal, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) activity. By administering hCG after follitropin, menotropins, or clomiphene, the normal LH surge that precedes ovulation can be mimicked. Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) promotes the development and maintenance of the corpus lutetium and the production of progesterone. Following hCG administration, final luteinization or maturation of the oocytes occurs and either ovulation can ensue for timed insemination techniques, or oocyte retrieval can take place for assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedures such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). Once pregnancy takes place, endogenous hCG is normally secreted by the placenta to support the continued secretion of female hormones and the corpus luteum.

In adult and adolescent men with hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, hCG acts like LH and stimulates testosterone production in the Leydig cells and spermatogenesis in the seminiferous tubules. Stimulation of androgen production by hCG causes development of secondary sex characteristics in males (e.g., deepening of voice, facial hair, etc.). Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) also stimulates the Leydig cells to produce estrogens; increased estrogen levels may produce gynecomastia in some males. Once hCG is initiated, it takes at least 70—80 days for germ cells to reach the spermatozoal stage. Response to treatment is also noted by the development of masculine features and the normalization of serum testosterone levels. Induction of testicular growth and increased sperm volumes may help to restore fertility in these men after many months to years of treatment, which is then sometimes combined with the use of either menotropins or follitropin.

Human chorionic gonadotropin has no known effects on appetite, or on mobilization or distribution of body fat. It is not an effective treatment for obesity. In sport, athletes use HCG as an 'undetectable' anabolic steroid; hCG increases the body's production of testosterone and epitestosterone without increasing the ratio of the two hormones in the urine above normal values. Urinary testing is being developed which should allow for discriminate testing of hCG doping in sport.

It is difficult to imagine what "condition" Manny Ramirez was being treated for that required this peculiar hormonal agent that is going to cost him a reported $7.5M in salary benefits from the Dodgers (likely to eventually be made up by the doctor's malpractice insurance carrier). It is also impossible to imagine that this was not a malicious attempt to circumvent MLB's banned drug policy. The only source of this agent being found in a male's urine is a hormone producing germ cell tumor (e.g., testicular cancer). Manny: you better get an alfa-fetoprotein serum level and see a real doctor for a complete genital exam and testicular ultrasound.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Bernie Williams: Retired

Those of you pining for the return of former Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams - all two of you - should just give up the ghost. Bernie has. He acknowledged to ESPN Radio's "The Michael Kay Show" that, despite playing in the recent World Baseball Classic, he is retired from the major leagues.

Given that he hasn't played for the Yankees since 2006, it must feel good to get that announcement off his chest.

Here is a (partial) list of other players who will likely be following Williams' announcement of retirement with their own: Dale Murphy, Bert Campaneris, Juan Marichal, Gus Bell, Rabbit Maranville, Stan Hack, Harry Hooper, Bob "Death to Flying Things" Ferguson, Billy Sunday and George Wright. They all have decided to remain retired. As has Gen. Francisco Franco.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mark Fidrych Death Blamed on Spinning Shaft

Former major league pitcher Mark Fidrych -- who went into the trucking business nearly 25 years ago after losing his baseball career to injuries -- was likely killed instantly when his shirt became entangled in a powerful, turning mechanical shaft beheath his vehicle, his mechanic explained Tuesday.

"It was one of those 'I didn't mean to do that' mistakes that in this business will kill you," said Alan Anderson, service manager at Ballard Truck Center in Worcester, Mass., in an exclusive interview with

"It just sucked him in. It's an awful way to go," said Anderson, who sold the truck to Fidrych in 1986.

The shaft, which runs from the engine to a gearbox that hydraulically raises and lowers the dump truck box, generally should not be in operation while personnel are under the truck, Anderson said.

He described Fidrych as a close friend and remembered that he taught the former Tigers Rookie of the Year and Red Sox farmhand to drive the truck when he sold it to him new.

"I was shocked. It's a terrible loss," Anderson said.

State police, who are assisting in the investigation, withheld a statement pending results of an autopsy being awaited by the district attorney's office. The district attorney's office expected no update before Wednesday.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Stephen Strasburg: What's Not to Like? Well...

With masterful control, a 100-mph fastball and an ability to strikeout an average of two batters an inning, what's not to like about anticipated No. 1 overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg.

Well, to hear The New York Times tell it, his problem is the company he keeps.

Columnists Fred Bierman and Benjamin Hoffman -- writing in the current edition of the newspaper's weekly "Spotlight" feature -- note that the 6-foot-five, 220-pound righty is represented by agent Scott Boros, who has been known to hold out for multi-million-dollar signing bonuses.

Having a 7-0 win-loss mark and 1.49 ERA for the San Diego State Aztecs, the starting figure for Strasburg's services could approach a record $20 million, if anyone is willing to pay it, let alone the lowly Washington Nationals, who have the first selection in the June draft.

Even if Strasburg slides down the pecking order to wealthier buyers, Boros likely will continue to hold teams' feet to the fire. Bierman and Hoffman point out that Boros has gone so far as to let clients such as J.D. Drew and Luke Hochever -- to name just two -- play for independent minor league teams before allowing them to sign a contract without meeting Boros' price.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Twins C Joe Mauer Closer to Return

Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer, rehabbing from back inflammation, remains on the disabled list but is making progress toward rejoining his teammates on the field.

Mauer took batting practice and worked behind the plate Wednesday night, both firsts in his recovery from the back problems that have his sidelined. The batting and catching sessions took place at the Twins' minor-league camp in Florida.

Mauer hit one ball out of the park in the batting practice session, which was his first since September. Mauer's biggest issue remains with running, an activity that causes much pain and which he hasn't been able to do comfortably since December.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Homer Happy Hafner

Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner was warmly greeted in the dugout by manager Eric Wedge and teammates as he hit his first home run in Cactus League action, a blow that was instantly interpreted as a sign of his recovery from a more-than-yearlong slump.

Hafner, 31, whose 2008 season was virtually lost due to shoulder soreness, has said he feels 100-percent healthy, but was batting only .225 during the spring, which he attributed to lost timing.

Hafner hit the home run after a batting cage session in which he hit seven consecutive balls into the seats. He had shoulder surgery during the offseason.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Motte Set to Be Cards' Closer

Despite Tony LaRussa's demurrals on the question of naming a Cardinals closer, Jason Motte will open the season as the team's bullpen ace. That's according to Al Hrabosky, a Cardinals closer himself - "the Mad Hungarian" - back in the 1970s and since then a longtime Cardinals broadcaster.

LaRussa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch several days ago that he would not name a closer entering the 2009 season. However, during the pre-game show of the Twins-Cardinals Spring Training game today, Twins broadcaster Dan Gladden relayed his conversation with Hrabosky. Motte, Hrabosky told Gladden, will be the closer and will get most of the save opportunities, LaRussa's recalcitrance notwithstanding.

Motte has pitched very well in Spring Training, locking down saves, and posting outstanding strikeout-to-IP ratios.

Hrabosky did not disclose to Gladden his source for reporting that the closer job is Motte's.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A-Rod "Walking Normally" After Hip Surgery

Injured Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, reportedly staying in a luxury chateau near the Colorado ski resort community of Vail, has been spotted on multiple occasions throughout the Glenwood Valley, "walking normally."

Having undergone a hip labrum surgical repair by Dr. Richard "Steady" Steadman, Rodriguez appears to be heading toward a rapid recovery, though the prognosis for his return to action remains no sooner than mid-May.

Observers reported to Vail Daily columnist Davy DeChant that Rodriguez, accompanied by two women and five large, athletic-looking men, attended a concert by blues performer Taj Mahal at the Larkspur Restaurant in the Gold Peak Sea Lodge complex.

"They said it looked like he was walking fine," DeChant said. "He didn't have any crutches and he appeared to be moving normally."

While Rodriguez might be walking normally, his ability to pivot at the plate and move side-to-side in the field remain questions yet to be answered.

An independent medical opinion suggest that his return to defensive play in all likelihood could take until the All-Star break or beyond, though he may be able to appear as a designated hitter.

A clinic spokesman said no information was being released due to policies of privacy.

Curt Schilling's Retirement Comes as Anticlimax

Confirming an MLBnewsonline exclusive report from nearly a year ago, former Red Sox ace Curt Schilling finally was forced to admit he would be unable to pitch again, and announced his retirement via internet.

"...The things I was allowed to experience, the people I was able to call friends, teammates, mentors, coaches and opponents, the travel, all of it, are far more than anything I ever thought possible in my lifetime," Schillihg said in his blog: "43 Pitches."

Though some speculated Schilling might return, an independent health analysis of his condition revealedd that even the finest surgeons in the world would have vitually no chance of restoring the 23-year veteran's health or ability to throw.

Still, the three-time world champion said he has no regrets.

"The game always gave me far more than I ever gave it," he explained. "...I did everything I could to win every time I was handed the ball. I am and always will be more grateful than any of you could ever possibly know."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Andruw Jones' Career at an End?

Is Andruw Jones out of time - and out of options? The former All-Star centerfielder, who at one point in his distinguished career with the Atlanta Braves was considered by some a future Hall of Famer, has floundered badly the past several seasons. The numbers he put on the board were among the worst in the majors.

But the Texas Rangers invited him to Spring Training on a minor-league camp. Jones' contract gave the Rangers until March 20 to either put him on the 40-man roster or release him. But Friday rolled around and the Rangers showed no interest in putting Jones on the 40-man roster, so Jones and the team agreed to wait until Monday, March 23.

Jones clearly wants to remain with the Rangers, even though the team has made it clear that his best chance at making the team - which may be slim anyway - is as a backup. Jones told the Dallas Morning News:

"We've got to the 23rd to make a decision and see what's going to happen. I don't know yet. I would love to be here. All these guys are great guys. They all pull together, and I think we've got a great team."

Jones has been playing mostly in minor-league games lately, not appearing in the Rangers' past six "A" games. Manager Ron Washington sounded the only optimistic tone about Jones, saying he has looked better in batting practice of late.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Alex Rodriguez's Hip Imperils Season, Even Career

Can it really be so simple that Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez may return to action in as little as six weeks after hip surgery, as the team has claimed? In a perfect world, yes, it's possible; but realistically, no, it's probably not going to be that easy.

Mindful of a dire need to sell tickets to help finance the new Yankee Stadium, the team's front office has done its best to put the best possible face on the recent bone shaving, cystic draining and arthroscopic surgical repair of the torn labrum in Rodriguez's right hip.

But the very idea that Rodriguez will take the field as soon as mid-April and no later than June is somewhat of a long shot. A more reasonable prognosis would put Rodriguez's return closer to the All-Star break, perhaps even in August or later.

Worse, it cannot entirely be ruled out that his entire season, even his career may be at stake in the extreme case, to say nothing of the long-term outlook for his health over the remainder of his life. To project anything more optimistic while ignoring this grim disclaimer would, frankly, be misleading if not altogether dishonest.

Though Rodriguez at 33 is a finely tuned professional athlete who otherwise might be a quick healer, he faces a few distinct disadvantages in the highly problematic nature of this particular recovery process.

First, repairing the labrum -- a circular formation of fibrous cartilage surrounding the hip joint -- takes much longer to heal than other types of operations because of relatively slow blood circulation in the particularly dense tissue. Though the external incision might be well on the way to healing in as little as six weeks, the labrum in all probability will take considerably longer to heal beneath the skin, though exactly how much longer is difficult to say.

As luck would have it -- bad luck -- it's his right hip rather than the left hip that's imperiled, the hip on which the right-handed Rodriguez swivels to drive pitches to left field. If his doctor is wise, he will advise plenty of caution before Rodriguez dares turn himself loose at the plate, and that will require time.

While Rodriguez may be able to run relatively soon, he will be unable to make the violent turns and pivots needed not only to hit but to play third base. Even if he were to be used as a designated hitter, it will still take time before he can risk playing without hesitation, lest he re-tear the labrum.

As if it wasn't bad enough already, a perhaps remote yet realistic possibility of post traumatic arthritis, even hip replacement remains a possibility if not over the remaining nine years of his contract then in later years. Though this outlook is essentially pessimistic, Rodriguez should embrace it so that if it turns out to be correct he will be prepared, and if it turns out to be wrong he can be delighted.

As for the whispers of performance enhancing substances contributing to his impairment, the possibility cannot be entirely dismissed. Steroids and other such medicines have the effect of stressing joints and tendons as the result of unnatural power and exertion. One cannot help but wonder whether Rodriguez might better have sacrificed 50 extra, steroid enhanced homers to be enabled to be playing today instead of watching from the bench.

Boston's Mike Lowell Sees First Action of Spring

Boston's Mike Lowell is the DH today batting fifth against the Orioles. This is his first start of this Spring for Lowell who is re-habbing after off season hip surgery.

In two at bats so far, he has struck out swinging and popped out to first. No word yet as to when he will be playing third base. Clay Buchholz threw three perfect innings with two strikeouts. He threw 31 pitches, 24 for strikes. Buchholz is in the mix for the 5th starter slot after a disastrous season last year.

Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia are both playing well in the World Baseball Classic. Youkilis has two home runs in the tournament. The USA team next plays Wednesday at 6:30 PM Eastern time.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Disregard Reports About Twins Closer Joe Nathan

Unless Twins closer Joe Nathan was recently clubbed by a baseball bat, fell down a flight of stairs or was in an automobile accident, his complaints of shoulder soreness likely can be largely discounted.

Reports of his condition center around supposed tenderness or sensitivity at the acromioclavicular joint -- the relatively stout, swiveling skeletal connection between his collar bone and shoulder. Though his soreness is real, if it were serious it would almost have to be the result of blunt trauma.

Blunt trauma -- resulting from potentially crippling impact -- accounts for nearly all manifestations of severe joint failure regarding the "AC joint." Because no blunt trauma has been reported, Nathan's injury almost certainly is more likely attributable merely to a mild strain after the offseason layoff.

Nathan likely will respond favorably to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, cold pacts and a carefully measured regimen of rest and mild excercise, including throwing. Various camp reports indicate Nathan is throwing with a normal motion, an activity he must keep up to prevent stiffness.

Expect Nathan to be fully ready to throw without limitation before opening day.

Utley Ahead of Schedule for Return

Injured Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has given little sign of backing off his prediction that he will be ready to take the field come Opening Day.

Though the prognosis for his recovery from hip surgery has been estimated to take until June or beyond, Utley is ahead of schedule and is eyeing a coming opportunity to get into a game at Grapefruit League camp.

"It still kind of day-to-day, but it's getting to the point where we're feeling better about going out there," Utley told Sirius XM's Seth Everett, host of the afternoon baseball talk show on Channel 175. "... We'll see how it goes."

Utley said that his workouts are approaching higher intensity, indicating that he should be ready for limited action in the field.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Joe Mather Probable to Open at 3B for Cardinals

Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa once again has rummaged around in his hat full of ragtag retreads, untested prospects and walking-wounded to pull out a rabbit in the form of young power-hitting outfielder Joe "The Beaver" Mather.

Though formerly ranked well behind various other prospects -- most notably fellow outfielder Colby Rasmus -- Mather appears to have the inside track to open at third base in place of injured starter Troy Glaus, who likely will be sidelined for most of April and perhaps well into May or beyond.

It's very early to be making such judgments, but unconfirmed reports foresee Mather's conversion as a done deal unless he completely embarrasses himself at the hot corner before the end of camp.

Mather, 25, may be considered sort of a 6-foot-4, 200-pound "Troy Glaus light," in other words a younger, left-handed version of the big, swing-and-miss power hitting starter. In a limited trial cut short by a wrist injury late last year, Mather hit 8 homers in just 133 at-bats, having previously hit 17 homers in 211 at-bats for Triple-A Memphis. 

Mather's unexpected emergence casts a pall over the candidacies of third base hopefuls Brian Barden and Brendan Ryan, at least for the short term.

If Mather sticks, it will not be the first time that LaRussa has refused to let lack of imagination stand in the way of fielding a playoff contending team, having been wildly successful in pulling Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel off the scrapheap.

In other news coming out of Grapefruit League Saturday, former Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter retired six Nationals over two innings, throwing 13 strikes on 19 pitches, though he hit a batter. He is coming off the second of two elbow surgeries, plus a myriad of other injuries sustained since his 2006 career year, when he won 15 games.

To make matters more complicated, David Freese and Brett Wallace are projected to make an impact at third base by next year if not sooner.

No Lingering Effects for Mariners 3B Adrian Beltre

Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre -- coming off variety of aches, pains and various infirmities -- suffered no day-after effects following a full-day of play in the field and at the plate, but the team still denied him his request to appear for his native Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.

The team opposed his participation based on an assessment of his condition following surgery.

Beltre tested his arthoscopically repaired shoulder by deliberately swinging as hard as he could at the first pitch he saw in Friday's tilt with the Dodgers in Peoria, Ill. He missed the ball, but feeling no discomfort went on to perform without reserve as he banged out two hits, including a double plus three RBI in his team's 18-2 romp.

Though Beltre said his back was "a little stiff," he had no complaints about ailments to his injured thumb and shoulder, and especially the shoulder, over which he was most concerned, he told KONO-1000 Radio in Seattle. Though withheld from the WBC, his outlook remains excellent for opening day.

Despite Trials, Ian Stewart Sits Out for Rockies

Though at a critical juncture at 24, former top Rockies prospect Ian Stewart is expected to need a day or so of rest after stressing his left arm swinging the bat in the cage.

Perhaps he has been trying to hard.

The soreness comes at a time when Stewart finds himself under great pressure, as he must use every opportunity to prove he is worthy of a spot on a crowded roster on which he may be left with no position depending on a number of factors beyond his control.

Stewart -- a natural corner infielder who has been tried with mixed results at second base and in the outfield -- finds himself on the outside looking in as Clint Barmes has the inside track for the second base job, and Garrett Atkins plays third. Stewart's best opportunity may lie with the trade of Atkins, or if Atkins crosses the diamond to play first in the event that Todd Helton is unable to play after sustaining a number of injuries and illnesses.

Stewart's return to action was being considered for this weekend. He is being asked to be more selective at the plate, and increase contact.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Buck Martinez Back as Sirius/XM Baseball Host

Emmy-winning baseball broadcaster Buck Martinez -- former co-host of the trailblazing XM/Sirius "Baseball This Morning" program -- will return tod his familiar role alongside the empty big chair vacated by former partner Mark Patrick.

Martinez with share the microphone with Scott Graham.

Patrick continues to look for work from his home in Brownsburg, Ind. He is reported to be nearing a deal unrelated to XM.

Martinez, 59, who won an Emmy for the 1995 television broadcast of Cal Ripken's record 2,131 consecutive game, will also continue his broadcast work for TBS.

Martinez and the network had reportedly been trying to reach an agreement in recent weeks, as disclosed by network colleague Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton.

Hamilton, the familiar voice of AM radio's "Mighty 690" Southern California afternoon drivetime sports program -- recently joined the struggling network after a more than year-long, continuing network personnel upheaval which has seen the departure not only of Patrick, but Ronnie "Night Train" Lane, Mark Grey, Phil Wood, Orestes Destrade and others.

This will be Martinez's fourth year of service with XM. He formerly played 17 years as a major league catcher, making key acquaintances by sharing the same fields as such numerous baseball greats as Mickey Mantle, George Brett, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Tom Seaver, Ted Williams and Reggie Jackson, to name just a few.

Martinez managed the original U.S. team in the World Baseball Classic three years ago, earning him the nickname "Commander." He also formerly managed the Toronto Blue Jays.

In 2007 he and Patrick inaugurated XM's morning baseball program with former Phillies manager Larry Bowa, now third base coach for the Dodgers. Listeners gave them generous praise for originality, creativeness, entertainment and informativeness.

Mariners 3B Adrian Beltre Plays in Peoria

Despite being tentative over a number of aches, pains and infirmities, Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre swung as hard as he could at the first pitch he saw in Friday's Cactus League tilt at Peoria, Ariz., against the Dodgers.

Feeling no pain, Beltre said he went on to play without reservation as he went 2-for-3 with a double, one run and three RBI in the Mariners' 18-2 victory.

Though he said his back was "a little stiff," he had no complaints about ailments to his thumb and shoulder, and especially the shoulder, over which he was most concerned, he told KONO-1000 AM radio.

"However, he remained reluctant to commit himself to play for the Dominican Republic in the coming World Baseball Classic.

"(I'll) wait until tomorrow to see how my body reacts," Beltre said.

Whether Beltre plays tomorrow for a consecutive day in the field or appears as designated hitter will say much about his condition. Management opposes his participating in the WBC for fear it will put him at extra risk.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

'Skimming' No Surprise to Reds Marty Brennaman

An unsubstantiated suspicion that Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden may somehow be connected with the supposed fraudulent taking of kickbacks from young player prospects "comes as no surprise to me," says Hall-of-Fame Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman.

Brenneman -- who covered the Reds during Bowden's rocky tenure as general manager in Cincinnati -- suggested to son Tom Brennaman in a recent broadcast commentary for WLW Radio that a history of arguably dubious dealings by Bowden indicates something may be amiss.

"That guy has been such a bad guy for such a long time that what goes around, comes around," said Brennaman, who has a reputation for outspokenness if not being altogether blunt.

Brennaman has also been predicting that Bowden will never work in baseball management again, nor in broadcasting despite his media background.

Bowden -- reported by to be included in a federal investigation into the skimming of signing bonuses paid to player prospects from Latin America -- has denied any wrongdoing. No accusations against him have been substantiated, and no charges were filed against him as the result of his reported questioning by the FBI concerning related matters last year.

Bowden has become the center of a firestorm of publicity after it was revealed that Nationals player Esmailyn Gonzalez received a $1.4 million signing bonus after purporting himself to be a 16-year-old though he was actually 21. The Gonzalez rift is unrelated to a skimming probe, according to published statements attributed to Nationals president Stan Kasten, who stands behind Bowden.

A number of controversies involving trades and other personnel decisions have followed Bowden through much of his career, perhaps none greater than his firing of popular Reds manager Tony Perez after a lapse of just 44 games during the 1993 season.

Dodgers Jason Schmidt Abandons 98-mph Fastball

Dodgers hurler Jason Schmidt -- trying to come back from a torn labrum and other shoulder injuries -- has conceded he will no longer be able to throw his trademark 98-mph fastball, but said he can still be effective throwing in the 80s.

Readying for an outing against the White Sox on Friday, Schmidt needed only 11 pitches to retire teammates Juan Pierre, Mark Loretta and Matt Kemp during a recent intrasquad workout, though he gave up an infield hit to Casey Blake. Nine of his pitches went for strikes.

Schmidt's fastball was not clocked, but it appears as though he has lost at least 10 mph in velocity, and he indicated he has given up hope of ever being a hard thrower again.

"I just have to get it around the plate and get them to hit it on the ground," he told the Los Angeles Times at Camelback Ranch camp near Phoenix. "...I know I can do it."

The session was his first since a rehabilitative start in August. Schmidt has thrown fewer than 26 innings since signing a $47 million contract tmore than wo years ago. This is the final year of the pact.

Brewers Hitting Coach Puzzles with Corey Hart

Brewers right fielder Corey Hart has come under the tutelage of hitting coach Dale Sveum, who must figure a way to stop Hart from making a chump out of himself.

At 27, Hart should be coming into his prime, but will the Brewers see the player who hit .289 with a more than .500 slugging percentage before the All-Star break, or the sucker whose average fell below .240 after pitchers discovered he was powerless to top chasing pitches outside the zone, sometimes striking out on three pitches in a row?

With Hart's strikeouts causing his on-base percentage to fall to a paltry .263 for the second half of the season last year, any improvement should significantly boost Sveum's stated objective to instill more discipline throughout the lineup, which generally suffers from too much free swinging and too little selectivity.

Bartolo Colon Evasive at White Sox Camp

If body language, demeanor and form have anything to say about a pitcher's state of mind and readiness for play, then expect a long, long wait for White Sox starter Bartolo Colon to become productive.

The portly former Cy Young winner -- looking as though he was dragging every ounce of his 250 pounds -- has been behaving in a surly, generally disagreeable and defensive way since arriving at Cactus League camp, refusing to say anything to reporters about his condition since undergoing surgery last fall for the removal of bone chips from his elbow.

Whatever it means, it can't be good. Though projected as the No. 4 starter, he has yet to begin throwing.

Colon, 38, last pitched for the Red Sox in 2008, notching a 3.92 ERA, but his appearances came in fits and starts, as he bounced back and forth between Boston and Triple A Pawtucket, missing a number of scheduled starts. Altogether, he only pitched for 39 innings for the season and gave up a .280 opposing batting average.

Come April, if Colon can't go, it will be interesting to see what impact his disablement has on an assortment of other pitchers fighting for a spot at the bottom of the rotation, none more intriguing than six-foot-six top prospect Aaron Poreda, a 22-year-old lefty still in need of development but who can bring it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Albert Pujols' Elbow Still at Risk for Cardinals

So Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols is unable to play in the World Baseball Classic because he is unable to obtain insurance. How conve-e-e-e-nient!

Sure, the story is true that Pujols is unable find a policy underwriter, and it is true that he claims that's why he won't play in the event, but it's very questionable whether he actually would have played even if he had obtained coverage.

Though last October's elbow surgery was successful in transposing or repositioning Pujols' ulnar collateral ligament -- the so-called Tommy John ligament -- another ligament remains nearly at the breaking point, and cannot be restored to full effectiveness with surgery or casual rehabilitation.

An independent medical analysis for MLB Newsonline suggests that the only reason Pujols can play with the injury is that he is not being asked to throw excessively. Were he a pitcher -- or perhaps even an outfielder or third baseman -- the ligament in all probability would have failed by now.

Though chances remain good that the ligament will remain intact, the fact remains that it could completely rupture at any time, throwing his durability into question.

After experiencing pain, Pujols recently took a week's rest from his rehabilitative regimen, and may be limited in his plate and field appearances through the remainder of camp.

Buck Martinez Negotiating Return to XM Radio

Emmy-winning baseball broadcaster Buck Martinez -- who formerly served as co-host with the departed Mark Patrick on XM Radio's morning baseball program -- has entered into talks to return to the satellite network, according to a report from a network colleague.

Weekend and evening baseball talk show host Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton -- describing Martinez as a "free agent" -- recently disclosed that Martinez and XM-Sirius brass were trying to work out an arrangement for Martinez to return to the financially struggling network to cover the upcoming baseball season.

Martinez appeared at Tigers camp in Lakeland, Fla., Sunday while working as a commentator for TBS, a position he would maintain even if he returns to XM. It would be Martinez's fourth year of service with XM if the two sides can agree on a contract.

"I don't know whether they'll be able to get it done," said Hamilton in response to a question from a telephone listener.

In addition to his work on XM, Martinez has served as a baseball color analyst for ESPN, TBS and The Sports Network, and as game analyst for the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. He was awarded a 1995 Sports Emmy for ESPN's coverage of Cal Ripken's record 2,131st consecutive game.

Martinez -- who resides in Bellaire Beach, Fla. and Cape May, N.J. -- managed the Toronto Blue Jays in 2001-02, and was a major league catcher for 17 years, including time with the Royals and Blue Jays, before injuries to his knees forced his retirement.

He and Patrick inaugurated XM's "Baseball This Morning" program with former Phillies manager Larry Bowa in 1987, and formerly shared the program's microphone with former Yankees first baseman Orestes Destrade. All of them abruptly left the network with little explanation despite their having gained accolades from listeners for high standards in originality, creativeness, entertainment and informativeness -- achievements largely unmatched since their departure.

Bowa now serves as third base coach for the Dodgers. Estrada has served as commentator for ESPN television's "Baseball Tonight." Patrick continues to seek work from his home in the Indianapolis suburb of Brownsburg.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Athletics Seeking Backup for Ailing Eric Chavez?

Talks reportedly taking place between the Athletics and oft-injured free agent infielder Nomar Garciaparra may tell as much about the health of third baseman Eric Chavez as Garciaparra.

Though Chavez, 31, has been fielding third base grounders, he has not been cleared to make a single throw to first base since undergoing the second of his two shoulder surgeries six months ago. It remains unclear whether the A's will need to find a backup, either a part-timer like Garciaparra, or a full-time replacement such as free agent Orlando Cabrera.

Though Chavez has been hinting that he will be ready to take the field by opening day, the fact that he has chosen to sit out the first week of spring games points toward a more uncertain outcome. Having also undergone two invasive spinal procedures, Chavez ability to play a 162-game schedule appears highly remote.

Garciaparra, 35, who moved from his familiar shortstop position to corner infield positions for the Dodgers, has had a similarly dismal health outlook after it became known that he has been kept off the field in part by a hereditary condition that causes his body to build up excessive scar tissue.

Garciaparra claims he can play, however, and in addition to the Athletics, the Phillies and Twins reportedly have expressed an interest in the former Boston Red Sox No. 1 pick.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rangers Eye Andruw Jones as Cleanup Hitter

Apparently not put off by numerous reports that outfielder Andruw Jones was difficult to direct if not altogether uncoachable before being run out of town by the Dodgers, hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has made the newly acquired former superstar his personal project at Rangers camp in Surprise, Ariz. with the idea of converting him to a cleanup hitter.

Jones -- criticized as being slow and overweight while playing in Los Angeles -- has signed a minor league contract with the Rangers and reported to camp 25 pounds lighter than his playing weight last year. Key to getting Jones turned around will be rediscovering his homerun swing, which observers said seems to have been lost in bad mechanics at the plate, especially an infirm and erratically planted right shoe or "happy foot."

Manager Ron Washington recently told the Dallas Morning News that Jones is in the mix to bat behind No. 3 hitter Josh Hamilton, who reportedly tended to wilt at times last year due to lack of protection in the lineup.

"It all depends on how the team shakes out," Washington said.

Jones, 31, has been a shadow of his former self for two and a half seasons, though he hit 41 homers in 2006.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols Has Elbow 'Discomfort'

Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols recently took a week off after "experiencing discomfort" related to a lingering ligament strain and related elbow surgery he underwent in October, The St. Louis Post Dispatch said, citing an unnamed source familiar with Pujols' condition.

Pujols, who swung a bat in the cage for several reps after arriving in camp on Sunday, told the newspaper that his elbow has favorably responded to an aggressive hitting and workout program, but that he likely will be unable to buy insurance that would allow him to participate with the Dominican Republic team in the coming World Baseball Classic competition.

Pujols has not played since the surgery, in which his ulnar collateral ligament was replaced, the so-called "Tommy John" procedure. Because he has not played since that time, he cannot be insured by a standard policy, the newspaper said.

The newspaper also pointed out that in addition to the surgical procedure, Pujols suffers from "a high-grade ligament strain" in the elbow.

An independent sports medicine consultant familiar with the procedure told MLB Rumors that a "high-grade strain" would suggest fraying so severe as to pose a potential catastrophic breakdown of the ligament, but that the chances are not great that Pujols would be in jeopardy of such a failure as long as he is merely swinging the bat or playing first base rather than pitching or throwing from the outfield.

It appears that Pujols took a 7-day break merely because he overexerted himself during rehabilitation, the MLB Rumors source theorized. "If they were worried about it, there would be no way he would be doing anything in spring training," the source said.

The newspaper report hinted, however, that Pujols may be limited to as little as one at-bat per game during spring training.

Durability Issues Linger for Cubs OF Milton Bradley

Questions continue to linger over the durability of newly acquired Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley, who despite All-Star caliber productivity last season may be forced to sit out occasionally as the result of an ugly onfield scuffle a year and a half ago.

Bradley -- set to bat fourth or fifth for manager Lou Piniella after signing a $10 million, annual, three-year contract -- missed some 200 plate appearances for the Rangers last year and frequently had to appear as a designated hitter when he could not take the field.

Refusing to answer questions about the strength of his injured right knee when questioned recently by The Chicago Tribune, Bradley claimed he would play in every single game without taking any time off.

"I wouldn't count him out" general manager Jim Hendry told the newspaper, but conceded the team will be satisfied if he appears in a projected 135 of the 162 regular season games.

Bradley, 30, who has not had a healthy season for five years, is thought to be battling residual effects of a 2007 knee injury that resulted from being tackled by Padres manager Bud Black as Black attempted to keep him from attacking umpire Mike Winters over a questionable call on the basepaths.

Having undergone anger management training -- Bradley has reported he has since begun to overcome his problems with authority figures. Associates have blamed his personality problems on the alleged difficulties between his father and mother when he was a boy.

Reds Closer Francisco Cordero Feels Discomfort

Reds closer Francisco Cordero -- coming off surgery last September to remove bone spurs from his foot -- threw off a mound briefly and experienced lingering discomfort, according to WLW Radio in Cincinnati.

Though Cordero has targeted readiness by opening day, at the moment he is "less than 100 percent," he said.

Cordero notched 34 saves with a 3.33 ERA last year, but has exhibited a downward trend since recording 44 for the Brewers in 2007. A discernible decline in his strikeouts and rise in his walks likely can be attributable to his secretly pitching with plantar difficulties for all or most of last season.

Setup man David Weathers is waiting in the wings.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Indians Groom Josh Barfield for Utility Role

Expect the Indians to give former top prospect Josh Barfield plenty of reps in the outfield and at shortstop.

Barfield, 26, the son of former major league slugger Jesse Barfield, was projected to be the Indians' starting second baseman when he came over from San Diego. But he has been unable to shake off mysteriously tenacious slumps and petty injuries.

A utility role would keep him from yet another demotion to Buffalo, though he remains in the hunt for a starting middle infield position with the prospective move of Jhonny Peralta from shortstop to third base.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Transaction Report - 2/14/09

Los Angeles Angels: Agreed to terms with pitcher Ervin Santana on a four-year contract. Santana is the youngest pitcher in the majors with at least 50 wins. He's 26 and coming off a 16-7 season with a 3.49 ERA. The deal is for four years and $30 million and keeps the Angels and Santana out of arbitration.

New York Mets: Signed pitcher Livan Hernandez to a minor league contract. A minor-league deal for the veteran whose ERA in 2008 was 6.05, and who gave up 257 hits in 180 innings. As long as the Mets are signing pitchers just for laughs, they should go get Orlando Hernandez, too.

Red Sox Will Go Slow with John Smoltz

No, that old guy in the red sweats isn't part of the grounds crew. That's future Hall-of-Famer John Smoltz.

The 42-year-old former Brave -- bald, a bit scraggly and unshaven and with just a hint of a tummy -- arrived at Red Sox camp in Fort Myers, Fla., without missing a beat, taking part in conditioning drills with other players young enough to be his sons, never giving a hint that he was anything but his familiar, indomitable, unrestrainable, competitive old self.

"I don't doubt that there's going to be times when we have to sit on him, and we will," manager Terry Francona told The Boston Globe.

Francona envisions Smoltz returning to action by June 1, coming along slowly as he recovers from shoulder surgery. How Smoltz feels and performs -- and how the Red Sox rotation and bullpen is doing -- likely will help determine whether he will start or come out of the pen.

Ozzie Guillen Will Have White Sox Running

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has intimated to Chicago media that he plans what he calls a "run-and-gun offense."

Translation: Baseball Venezuelan style.

Look for the White Sox come out of the gate fast this year, slapping the ball through the infield, bunting, sacrificing, squeezing, hitting and running and best of all -- stealing.

Twins Inspect Joe Crede's Damaged Goods

Having so far spurned a low-ball offer from the San Francisco Giants, free agent third baseman Joe Crede now is marketing his wares for the Minnesota Twins.

So far, Crede looks good in workouts, but buyer beware!

Crede's declaration to Twins manager Ron Gardenhire that he is 100 percent healthy sounds all too familiar. Suffering from chronic spinal problems for much of the past three seasons -- Crede made the same claim to the White Sox last year when he arrived at camp in Tucson, and backed it up with limber workouts and energetic play, including violent slides at the plate during spring games.

The White Sox broke camp with a supposedly healthy Crede at third, only to see him miss some 300 plate appearances when he went down during the season.

Crede, 30, has accomplished little since his career year in 2006, when he hit .283 with 30 homers. If he seriously thinks one good year out of four will bring him anything close to the supposed $8 million annual contract he is seeking, he should prepare himself for the shock of receiving half that -- if he is lucky -- from the Twins.

Then the amount should be halved again, with the total being attainable only with 50 percent incentives. Times are tough. Teams must protect themselves.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Frank Viola Fiddling with Jeremy Sowers' Motion

Retired Twins ace Frank "Sweet Music" Viola arrived in Cleveland Indians camp with the express purpose of revitalizing the career of the once-promising Jeremy Sowers.

Sowers, like Viola a left-hander, formerly was a top prospect but has spent the last few seasons bouncing back and forth between Cleveland and Buffalo. Most recently, he turned in a dismal 4-9 record with a 5.58 ERA and nearly 1.5 WHIP in 22 games with the Tribe.

Sowers remains in the mix for the No. 4 or No. 5 rotations spot, but will be kept on a very short leash. The Indians are very serious about a playoff berth this season, and if Sowers is to help the team, Viola must help him find the plate.

Cards Updates: Glaus, 2B

An AP spring training preview for the Cardinals includes some tidbits:

  • 3B Troy Glaus is not expected to be ready for Opening Day. A return in May is more likely.

  • After the release of 2B Adam Kennedy, outfielder Skip Schumaker has been mentioned as a leading candidate to take over the second sack position. But Schumaker hasn't played the infield in years. He is now, however, taking ground balls in Florida. But he doesn't sound too optimistic about the experiment: "There's a reason why I'm in the outfield, I think. Obviously, if Tony wants to throw me in that fire I’ll try it, but I don’t know how realistic that is."

  • The team has considered using onetime ace Chris Carpenter in the bullpen as Carpenter attempts a comeback from another surgery. Kyle McClellan, a middle reliever as a rookie in 2008, could step into the rotation if Carpenter begins the season in relief.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Griffey In the Dark on Mariners Talk

Ken Griffey Jr. is playing golf this week in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. According to various reports, his agent and the Seattle Mariners are in stepped-up discussions about Griffey returning to the place where his career began.

What does Griffey have to say about it all? He's in the dark. He told the Association Press:

"We don't know what we're doing next year with respect to Seattle. It's all rumors," Griffey said Thursday after finishing his round at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in California.

... Griffey said he was in the dark on where the talks now stand.

"I really don't even know. My agent is handling," he said moments after stepping off the Poppy Hills course.

When asked if he still wants to play despite knee surgery last October, Griffey said: "As long as it's still fun, I want to keep playing."

Transactions Report - 2/12/09

Colorado Rockies: Signed pitcher Randy Flores to a minor league contract. The lefty was 1-0 with a 5.26 ERA in 43 games for the Cards in '08.

Houston Astros: Agreed to terms with pitcher Chris Sampson, infielder Drew Sutton and catcher J.R. Towles on one-year contracts. Sampson pitched in 54 games for the Astros in '08 with a 4.22 ERA.

Los Angeles Angels: Agreed to terms with outfielder Bobby Abreu on a one-year contract.

Milwaukee Brewers: Claimed pitcher Nick Green off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels; designated pitcher Luis Pena and catcher Vinny Rottino for assignment; signed pitcher Braden Looper to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2010. Green is the player the Angels waived to make room for Abreu.

Minnesota Twins: Agreed to terms with outfielder Delmon Young on a one-year contract.

St. Louis Cardinals: Agreed to terms with outfielder Rick Ankiel on a one-year contract. Split the difference of their arbitration figures at $2.8 million.

Tampa Bay Rays: Signed pitcher Brian Shouse to a one-year contract with a club option for 2010; designated pitcher Juan Salas for assignment.

Washington Nationals: Signed first baseman-outfielder Adam Dunn to a two-year contract. $8 million in 2009 and $12 million in 2010, who said he's willing to play first. Manager Manny Acta says he'd like Dunn and Nick Johnson in the lineup together, but with a glut of outfielders Dunn may take most of Johnson's ABs and sent Johnson onto the trading block.

(MLB Rumors publishes the Transactions Report every evening, a rundown of the day's official, finalized, formally announced deals. Readers are invited to share their insights on the impact - or lack of impact - of the transactions in comments.)

Looper to Brewers, Shouse to Rays

Pitchers Braden Looper and Brian Shouse have new homes, Looper signing with the Brewers after spending last season with the Cardinals, and Shouse leaving the Brewers for the Rays.

Looper, 12-14 with a 4.16 ERA in St. Louise in 2008, signed a 1-year deal with Milwaukee worth $5.5 million in 2009 with an option for 2010. GM Doug Melvin called Looper a workhorse who can eat up some of the inning lost by the departures of C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets from the Milwaukee rotation.

Shouse was a part of the Brewers' bullpen in 2008, but he signed a contract - also a 1-year deal with an option for 2010 - with Tampa Bay. Last season, the lefty appeared in 69 games in Milwaukee, limiting left-handed hitters to a .180 batting average.

The Rays designed pitcher Juan Salas for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster; the Brewers designated catcher Vinny Rottino.

Red Sox Cautious - Cautiously Optimistic - with Baldelli

Outfielder Rocco Baldelli was once a young pup who played hard on the field, full-speed all the time. Now he's a bit older, a bit wiser, and diagnosed with a mitochondrial disorder that can sap his strength and energy when he's not careful enough in managing his outputs.

The Red Sox signed him to a free-agent deal knowing they'll have to carefully manage his time and practice habits in order to keep him ready when needed. And that's something manager Terry Francona says the team can do.

Francona told The Providence Journal that the Red Sox will be careful with Baldelli during spring training that the team will "back him off enough" to keep Baldelli fresh.

The ProJo's Joe McDonald further quotes Francona:

"We got him at a time when he's not a 22-year-old kid who thinks he has to be the first one in the rundowns, and (thus tires himself out so that) when the games start he can't do what he can do," said Francona. "We're going to be very supportive of him and hopefully make it easier for him to help us win games."

Francona called it a partnership and the club has done its homework to understand Baldelli's situation.

"Just like a new player coming into camp, we're going to have to help him fight the urge to want to do everything," said Francona.

Baldelli is expected to back up at the corner outfield positions and provide a bat off the bench.

Heyman Maneuver: Pudge, Orlando(s)'s Jon Heyman passes along a few tidbits in today's Daily Scoop:

  • Catcher Ivan Rodriguez is drawing looks from the cash-strapped Astros and Marlins. Pudge's power is pretty much gone (it went with the steroids?), although is batting average remained respectable - at least until he got to the Yankees (.219 in 33 games) last year.

  • The possibilities for 2B Orlando Hudson look to be the Dodgers or Nationals. But Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times earlier claimed in a column that Hudson was more interested in the Dodgers than the other way around.

  • The Athletics want to sign shortstop Orlando Cabrera, but for no more than $5 million and preferably closer to $3 million.

Joel Zumaya Laying Claim to Tigers Closer Role

Manager Jim Leyland has probably all but pencilled in Brandon Lyon to replace retiring Tigers closer Todd Jones, but that's not stopping fireballer Joel Zumaya from laying claim to the job.

Zumaya -- coming back from a career threatening fracture -- has been cleared to resume play in a second opinion sought from sports surgeon James Andrews, and has announced he not only will be ready by opening day, but already is throwing at 100 percent and plans to vie against Lyon and Fernando Rodney to be the go-to guy out of the pen, according to a recent Detroit News report.

Zumaya -- who historically has thrown in triple digits -- told the News that he is developing a mid-80s splitter or changeup combination to keep hitters from sitting on his fastball.

Roberto Alomar Suit Fails to 'Out' Gay Mets Player

It was in 2002 that The New York Post quoted Mets manager Bobby Valentine as saying the major leagues were ready to accept a gay player in the clubhouse, leading to speculation that he was testing the atmosphere for one of his players to come out of the closet.

If it was a ploy to affirm that the liberal East Coast establishment was tolerant, forgiving, open-minded and understanding, it fell short, as a firestorm of speculation compelled Mets catcher Mike Piazza to confess that, no, he was not the player, and more emphatically, he was NOT gay.

Now comes former Mets second baseman Roberto Alomar, sued in U.S. District for a minimum of $15 million by an ex-girlfriend Ilya Dall allegedly exposing her to the AIDS virus, which she asserts the 39-year-old Puerto Rican contracted a number of years ago. So far she has tested negative for the virus, but medical authorities say it could manifest later.

True, the AIDS virus always has been, is now and perhaps for the foreseeable future will be largely associated with single gay men, but one need look no further than the example of late Tennis star Arthur Ashe, who was universally recognized as being exclusively heterosexual when he succumbed to the disease due to a blood transfusion. To suggest anything to the contrary would be beyond reckless. Homosexuality and AIDS are not interchangeable.

Ashe is hardly the only case of a straight man becoming HIV positive, but is the most well known one. Another who comes to mind is Magic Johnson, who acknowledges contracting the virus as the result of numerous liaisons with women. And Alomars troubles, after all, are with a woman, a woman has made no assertions about him being bisexual.

That has failed to stop certain Chicago media types (670 The Fan) from trying to connect the dots, however erroneously.

Though the suit is virtually meaningless attempting to identify Alomar as the gay player in the seven-year-old Post report, it may serve to explain a few other things about Alomar, if it confirms the allegation that he truly has what it describes as "full-blown AIDS."

Alomar unwaveringly denies the accusation, but it remains to be explained how the best second baseman in the game in Cleveland instantly morphed into a plodding, clumsy shadow of himself not only in the field but at the plate in New York.

For his career, Alomar hit .300 with 210 home runs and 1,134 RBI. His first year with the Mets he hit just .266 with a .376 slugging average and 53 RBI. It was downhill from there. It later came to light that he was experiencing double vision.

Dall, who shared a high-rise luxury apartment in the Queens Borough community of Long Island City when Alomar played with the Mets, said Alomar subjected her to unprotected copulation even though he suffered from sores on his mouth and throat, a constant cough, an infected voice box and constant fatigue, pointing to them as potential symptoms of AIDS, for which he refused to be tested.

Ultimately, his skin turned purple, he began foaming at the mouth and occasionally required a wheel chair to navigate airports, her suit contends. Observers, however, reportedly say Alomar appears normal.