Opening Day: The Best Day of the Year

Opening Day in Major League Baseball is my favorite day of the year – and this one had plenty of highlights that suggest that 2011 could be as exciting a season as can be imagined.

  • Red catcher Ramon Hernandez hits a three-run, game-winning homer to beat the Milwaukee Brewers – an at bat that happened, in part, because Brandon Phillips emulated Chad Ochocinco to avoid a Casey McGehee tag two batters earlier.   (McGehee claimed that Phillips left the baseline, but replays suggest the juke was legit.)
  • Jason Heyward launched a season starting homer for the second straight season.
  • Cameron Maybin, newly acquired centerfielder for the Padres, launched a game-tying two-out homer in the ninth, allowing San Diego to trip up the Cardinals in extra-innings.  Albert Pujols didn’t help the cause, becoming the first player to ground into three double plays on Opening Day.
  • The night ended with a remarkable pitcher’s duel between two young guns.  Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw outdueled San Francisco Giant Tim Lincecum to give Don Mattingly his first managerial victory.

If you didn’t enjoy those games, then you just don’t like Baseball

Transaction Wire:

Nearly everything over the last day or two had to do with decisions on whether or not to put some player on the DL for various knicks, pulls, and injuries.  Those getting to miss the fun for at least a week or so include Jason Bay, Brandon Webb (still), J.P. Howell, Tommy Hunter, Scott Feldman, Cody Ross, Johan Santana, Aaron Cook, Scott Olsen, Brian Wilson, Clint Barmes, Corey Patterson, Brandon Morrow, Frank Francisco, Homer Bailey, Brad Lidge, Chase Utley, Dayan Viciedo, Domonic Brown, David Aardsma, Franklin Gutierrez, Jake Peavy, Johnny Cueto, John Baker, Geoff Blum, Zach Duke, Jason Kendall, Francisco Cervelli, and Andrew Bailey.  (There are plenty of others, and if you have a fantasy baseball team, you are aware of many of these guys…

A new DL move, Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand was listed for today – Rowand has a fractured cheekbone.

Ronny Paulino has a few days left on his steroids suspension, so the Mets placed him on the restricted list.

A couple of days ago, the Phillies had signed Luis Castillo as an insurance policy while Chase Utley allows his troublesome left knee to heal.  That didn’t work out (Castillo is relatively immobile these days and his bat hasn’t been healthy for at least four months now), so the Phillies signed Ronnie Belliard.  Belliard, who turns 36 next Thursday, had an unimpressive season as a utiltiy infielder and pinch hitter for the Dodgers in 2010 (2 – 19 -.216) and a weak spring for the Yankees (.136 in 22 at bats), so this may be his last couple of months in the big leagues unless he can get a few clutch hits.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, seeing that shortstop Stephen Drew wasn’t 100% for opening day, signed former Mariner glove man Josh Wilson.  Wilson isn’t a bad guy to have around, but don’t count on him to hit like Drew can.

On the MLB Drama Network

Not sure if you are following the Barry Bonds trial, but we now have a handful of players who all admitted that they used steroids provided by Greg Anderson, Bonds’ personal trainer who is sitting in jail for his unwillingness to discuss the number of needles he put in Bond’s belly and butt.  Some of them admitted that they did because of the success Bonds was having since hiring Anderson to build up his physique.  A former personal shopper for Bonds says she saw Anderson give Bonds a shot in his belly button (ouch!), something Bonds told her was “…a little something for the road.”

Not that I am plugging my book (but I am):

Today is the day that Rube Waddell died, the result of a long fight against Tuberculosis, a major killer of men and women 100 years ago.  Waddell died in 1914 while convalescing in a San Antonio nursing home.  At the time of his death, he weighed at least 60 pounds less than his playing weight, 210.

Happy Birthday!

Among those celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances are…

Ron Perranoski (1936) – Dodger pitcher and pitching coach
Phil Niekro (1939) – greatest knuckleball pitcher ever
Rusty Staub (1944) – Le Grande Orange, and one of my favorite players as a kid
Willie Montanez (1948)
Frank Castillo (1969)
Matt Herges (1970)
Will Rhymes (1983)
John Axford (1983) – who gave up that homer to Ramon Hernandez yesterday (ouch)
Daniel Murphy (1985)

Torre: Manny, A-Rod, Other PED Users are “Hall of Fame Type Players”

Joe Torre, backing the multitude of players who were using PEDs, says that Bonds, Manny, Clemens, and A-Rod were Hall of Fame type players before they used – not that he thinks that means they should get in.  Torre has no problem standing behind his players, as they helped make Torre look like a winner after years of losing in Atlanta, St. Louis, and New York (Mets).  Let me ask you this:  Is Joe Torre a Hall of Fame manager now that we know how many of his players were using under his watch? [MLB]

San Francisco, as surmised, placed Randy Johnson on the DL with a strained throwing shoulder, a shoulder injured while batting. [MLB]

Pedro Martinez has a new suitor – the Philadelphia Phillies.  This despite reports that when other clubs scouted Pedro in June, he looked “unimpressive”.  MGR Charlie Manuel wants a horse, but may have to settle for a five or six inning guy. [MLB]

Ryan Freel’s best asset is his mobility – he gets around.  And now, Freel joins his fourth team in about 18 months – the Cubs traded him to the Royals for a Player to be Named Later.  According to FoxSports (quoting AP sources), Freel told Royals MGR Trey Hillman that he’s been bothered by a concussion (hit in the head with the ball while diving back to first on a pickoff play) and bad hamstring, which has contributed to Freel’s hitting .140 with the Cubs.  The Cubs are picking up part of Freel’s salary.  [FoxSports]

When Marc Rzepczynski makes his debut Tuesday, he’ll be the fifth Blue Jay to make his debut in 2009 – breaking the team record set when the Blue Jays entered the majors in 1977.  Rzepczynski is a lefty with skills – his K/9 rate has improved though he still needs to work on his control; he keeps the ball in the park.  Statistically, he reminds you of Kevin Brown. [FoxSports]

Tigers MGR Jim Leyland says that rookie Rick Porcello will not pitch until after the All-Star break, getting the kid some much needed rest.

Welcome Back!  Padre reliever Luke Gregerson; Rockies pitcher Franklin Morales; Cubs pitcher Angel Guzman; Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson; Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez; Royals catcher John Buck…

Hurry Back!  Padre David Eckstein goes to the DL with a pulled hammy; Red Sox 1B Jeff Bailey (high ankle sprain); Cubs pitcher David Patton (groin strain); Mets outfielder Angel Pagan starts a rehab stint, as does Brave Kelly Johnson and Phillies reliever Jack Taschner.

Ready for the Draft? Hamilton Set for Surgery, Others on the Mend

Major League Baseball readies for the draft – and you can get updates in any number of ways, including Twitter (@MLBDraft).  The MLB.com site, for which I am a shameless plug (it’s a great site, really), will have updates and commentary.  And, MLB TV (if you have a premium cable outlet) will have wall-to-wall coverage on its flagship station.

Ultimately, the top question is whether or not the Nationals want Stephen Strasburg (they do – he throws 102 with pinpoint control of at least three pitches), and whether or not they can pay for him (Scott Boros is his agent).  Jerry Crasnick (ESPN) thinks this could be one of the great wars in Player/Team negotiations.

Having thought through this, I think the Nationals should sign him.  And, at that point, babying the investment goes out the window.  Strasburg gets three starts in the minors at AA and if he wins, he goes right into the rotation.  His contract should be based on major league innings – he cannot receive the full salary if he’s not on the major league roster.  Then, once Strasburg arrives, he gets USED and ABUSED.  He pitches every fourth game, and the Nationals get every inning humanly possible out of that arm.  I’d make him throw 300 innings by his third season – the Nationals need to get moving and in a hurry, there’s no need to treat him like a prospect – especially if he’s getting established player money.  He wants ace money, he walks in and pitches like an ace.  Or he doesn’t get paid.

I think that’s a fair trade.  If Strasburg wants every penny that the Nationals can afford to give, Strasburg has to give the Nationals every inning he can afford to give.

Additionally, if he FAILS – and the annals of draft history are paved with failure at the top pick – it could set back the amount of money given to hyped draft picks, which would be good for everyone involved.  Nobody, including Boros, will be able to ask for tens of millions and get it because of the “Strasburg incident.”

Josh Hamilton will have surgery to repair a partially torn abdominal muscle – no fun – but could be back after the all-star break.  In addition to the hole in the lineup, what fun will be the Home Run Derby without the guy who set the Derby on fire last season?  No matter who  plays, there will be a loss of production – sort of – no replacement will be as good as Hamilton was last year, but Hamilton has been more than ordinary so far this season fighting off injuries.  And, Hamilton really can’t cover centerfield as well as most centerfielders.

Texas is also losing starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy to a stress fracture in his throwing shoulder – the second time this has happened since 2007.  Taking McCarthy’s spot in the rotation for at least one turn will be Doug Mathis, a Texas farmhand who has decent control but not much of an out pitch.  He’s been lights out in Oklahoma City in his last four starts, though, so he’ll get a shot.  Mathis isn’t a BAD pitcher, but he was smacked around some in 2008.  And, he’s been hurt in the minors on at least two occasions.

Other DL trips include: Casey Kotchman (ATL), Calf; Eric Milton (LAD), Back; Luis Perdomo (SD), Knee.

On the Mend? Evan Longoria was back in the lineup for the Rays.  Hanley Ramirez plays through a sore groin for the Marlins, Miguel Cabrera is back for the Tigers.  Jose Contreras returned to the White Sox from Carolina.  Guys heading to rehab trips include: Khalil Greene (STL); Donald Veal (PIT); Pat Burrell (TB); Robinson Tejada (KC); Rich Harden (CHC) heads to Iowa.

Barry Bonds has another legal issue to deal with.  His wife filed separation papers; a divorce is imminent.

Volquez Leaves Early and Everybody Strains a Groin

That didn’t last long…  Edinson Volquez makes his return for the Reds and lasts one inning – leaving with numbness in his pinky and ring fingers of his throwing hand.  An evaluation is forthcoming.

When is nothing a news article?  When a Houston Chronicle writer blogs about the Chicago White Sox showing interest in Roy Oswalt – and then White Sox GM Ken Williams denies that rumor publicly.

The New York Yankees topped Cleveland, setting a new errorless string in the process at 18 games.  A team will make an error at a rate of about five errors every eight games – give or take.  Consider it a coin flip – so to have won that coin flip 18 straight times is pretty remarkable.  It’s also contributed to winning because unnecessary runs don’t show up on the scoreboard.

Ichiro tied his own Mariners record by hitting in his 25th straight game.  MLB.com listed the Mariners who cleared 20 games, and it’s pretty much Ichiro – a lot – with an odd Joey Cora or Richie Zisk tossed in for good measure.

The Cleveland Indians are sharing the injury bug as well as any team.  Rafael Betancourt has been placed on the DL with a strained groin (hope it’s his own), making it eight players on the DL right now.  (Victor Martinez was able to play tonight – so they got lucky there…)  Coming back is Tony Sipp.  Sipp was hurt a couple of years ago, but has those dominating strikeout numbers that makes you hope that he’ll bring the good stuff to the majors – like nearly 12Ks per nine in the minors.  He was crazy wild, though, in his first stint, so let’s hope he leaves that wildness back in Columbus (AAA).

Strained groins are the injury of choice.  The Mets placed Angel Pagan, who was called up because of injuries to every other Mets outfielder (kidding, sort of), on the 15-day disabled list with a strained groin.

I was watching the Marlins game when two Brewers outfielders left with potential injuries – Mike Cameron and Ryan Braun.  I’m guessing both are day-to-day.  By the way, as a Marlins fan, it was nice seeing Jorge Julio blow a lead for someone else this time…

On the Mend?  Houston’s Jose Valverde threw from a mound for the first time since going to the DL with a calf injury.  The fading Astros need Valverde back as soon as possible.  And, Seattle’s Kenji Johjima says his toe injury is way better than originally feared.  Ervin Santana heads to Salt Lake City for a rehab stint and the Angels are two weeks away from a healthy and solid rotation (one prays).

Anibal Sanchez is going to come off the DL and start for the Marlins on Tuesday.  His rehab start in Jupiter went well and Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez hopes to get five good innings out of him.

And, Hiroki Kuroda, who hasn’t started since opening day, came off the DL to start for Los Angeles Monday night.  His return was well timed – the guy who replaced him, Eric Stults, just went to the DL himself.  Kuroda pitched well, but his Dodgers failed to win.

Not on the Mend?  The Yankees got some bad news today – both Xavier Nady’s and Jose Molina’s rehab efforts were curtailed with those nasty twinges…  In Molina’s case, he was catching when his injured quad acted up.  For Nady, it was an elbow that balked at throwing.

Justin Duchscherer’s elbow may be ready, but we’ll never know because he’s got a bad back.

Welcome to the show, Steven Jackson – the Pirates’ choice to replace Donald Veal.  Jackson was a 10th round pick of Arizona in 2004 out of Clemson and has hung around AAA for a few years now.  He has decent control, but not a great strikeout pitch.  Sent to the Yankees in the Randy Johnson deal, he started to show progress in 2008, but didn’t get a shot.  Eventually released, the Pirates grabbed him off the waiver wire a few weeks ago and he’s been okay.  Not a prospect, but he MIGHT eat a few innings for Pittsburgh.

If you are interested in reading more about Barry Bonds and how the Feds are going to appeal decisions that would disallow various testimony in the Bonds perjury trial, click here.