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.