Dunn isn’t Done – Sets Homer Record

The last round of opening day games featured a couple of interesting games (Go Rays! Weaver deals for Halos, Cards pound Brewers) and another new record.  Adam Dunn – coming off of an absolutely miserable season – launched a homer on opening day.  It’s the eighth time he’s done that, tying Ken Griffey, Jr. and Frank Robinson for most homers on Opening Day in baseball history.

Okay – I admit that I watched a little of the Masters yesterday, but anyone who watched it must have felt that only Tiger Woods and the two guys he was playing with were the only ones even playing in the tournament.  That’s when I switched over to watch the Rays make that comeback and beat Mariano Rivera and the Yankees.  It seemed like the last day of the 2011 season all over again.

Visa Issues Halt Villalona

Giants Prospect Angel Villalona, a kid who has spent more time in the legal system than in the Giant’s system, was placed on the restricted list as Villalona hasn’t been able to resolve issues obtaining a work visa.

You may remember Villalona – he was a big kid signed at 16 out of the Dominican Republic who, in the off-season in 2009, got entangled in a bar fight that wound up with someone getting shot.  Villalona was jailed for two months before the family of the victim accepted a settlement and dropped the charges.  [MLB]

Aches and Pains…

The Cardinals placed pitcher Scott Linebrink on the 15-day DL with what was listed as “right shoulder capsulitis”.  To cover the roster spot, St. Louis recalled Victor Marte, a former KC Royals pitcher, who had a nice spring but hasn’t really shown to be a top prospect yet.

With Kyle Farnsworth‘s trip to the DL official, the Rays called up reliever Josh Lueke.  Lueke has a world of talent and a rap sheet that has made him expendable to the teams that have had him before (Texas, Seattle).  The Mariners used Lueke to get catcher John Jaso from Tampa.

Houston infielder Jed Lowrie sprained his thumb at the end of spring, leading to the recall of Brian Bixler.  Bixler has had MLB time before and I wouldn’t bet money that he’s on the roster in June.  He can play most infield positions though, he just hasn’t hit much.  I’ll have to check to see if he’s gotten a Topps baseball card yet…

Finally, the Mets recalled outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis to fill the roster spot vacated by the injured Andres Torres.  Nieuwenhuis has shown some power in the minors – hits a lot of doubles and a few homers – and some speed, too.  The Mets like his hustle.

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cards, cake, and remembrances include:

(1873) John McGraw, HOF Manager and great third baseman
(1874) John Ganzel
(1884) Jake Daubert
(1918) Bobby Doerr, Red Sox HOF Infielder
(1942) Tom Phoebus
(1979) Adrian Beltre

Tom Phoebus came up with the Orioles and threw shutouts in his first two major league starts.  Instead of spending a year in long relief (maybe this was what taught Earl Weaver this lesson), Phoebus was immediately put into the rotation where he was pretty good for two seasons, even tossing 240 innings in 1968.  However, something changed in 1969, his third season as a rotation anchor, and he lost his ability to strike people out.  His career degenerated pretty quickly after that.  I remember him having a brief stay in Chicago in 1972, right before his career ended.

I am reading the book 1921 – local SABR member Lyle Spatz is one of the authors – and it’s the story of the year the Yankees and Giants were on top of the baseball world, right on the heels of the Black Sox scandal.  The new world Yankees featured Babe Ruth, while the Giants were old school led by McGraw.  The book does a good job contrasting the two teams and showing how the future was going toward the Yankees.

After reading this, though, you find that McGraw is one of those angry gruff guys with a decent heart.  Hard to like – really hard sometimes, but easy to appreciate.

Marlins Open 2012 With Excitement, Ali, and a Loss

The Miami Marlins opened up the new stadium with fireworks, but couldn’t put together any hits off of Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse in a 4 – 1 loss on opening night.  Muhammad Ali delivered the game ball, which was pretty cool and very sad at the same time.  You could hear the cheers for Ali throughout the stadium, but the effects of Parkinson’s disease are painfully obvious – the tremors are very visible and Ali looked so much older (he’s 70) than the man I remember as a kid.

I met Ali when working for Sprint in Kansas City in 1992.  Even then, his voice was softened and he slurred, and there were small tremors in his hands.  I remember two or three things about that visit.  First, his hands were enormous.  When I shook his hand, his hand practically devoured mine.  Second, he still had a great sense of humor – he did this joke where he claimed he could move a briefcase with his mind.  When it didn’t move, he asked us, “Who do you think I am?  I’m a boxer, not a magician.”  Finally, what I really remember was thinking to myself that this was the closest thing to meeting God that I will likely ever experience.  I mean – it was HIM, Ali.  The Greatest.  Of all the people I have met, it was the only time I can remember being totally awed by someone’s presence.

Back to baseball…

If you are an Orioles fan, this can’t be good…  The Orioles lost a charity baseball game to the State College of Florida Manatees – a community college team – 2 – 1 in eight innings.  A couple of years ago, the Manatees beat Pittsburgh, a team that went on to lose nearly 100 games…  [Bradenton.com]

Andy Pettitte threw a scoreless inning against the Mets and hopes to get ready in time to join the Yankees in May.  If he makes it back, he’ll get a one-year, $2.5 million dollar contract.  [SI]

Torii Hunter accidentally set off the alarm in his house, leading to a visit from a couple of gun-wielding police officers.  The officers were merely following protocol and the guns were never pointed directly at Hunter.  However, Hunter’s identification was in an upstairs bedroom and he was tailed as he walked up to get his wallet.  [ESPN]

Vanderbilt pitching recruit and potential first round draft pick Stephen Gant was found dead near his Linden, TN home apparently having committed suicide by gunshot.  An investigation into Gant’s death continues.  [FoxSports]

Aches and Pains

Tampa closer Kyle Farnsworth will go on the DL with soreness in his elbow caused by a muscle strain.  He joins B.J. Upton (back) and Sam Fuld (surgery, right wrist) on the DL.  [ESPN]

Other players who found their way to the DL as the season started include:

Tim Hudson (back)
Ryan Madson (TJ Surgery)
Carl Crawford (wrist)
Grady Sizemore (back)
A.J. Burnett (eye socket)
Ted Lilly (neck)
Stephen Drew (ankle)
Charlie Morton (hip)
Andrew Bailey (thumb)
Jose Ceda (TJ Surgery)
Ryan Kalish (shoulder)
Joba Chamberlain (dislocated ankle)

and a number of players who will get 15 days after being nicked up in spring training.

Transaction Wire:

The details of the deal signed by the Reds and first baseman Joey Votto were released – 12 years and $251.5 million, the third largest contract in value and the longest in terms of years in baseball history.  The deal includes a club option in 2024 (!) when Votto would be 41 years old.  This more than doubles the contract given to Ken Griffey, Jr. – at one time the largest contract signing in Cincinnati history…  [ESPN]

The New York Mets signed Jonathan Niese to a five year extension worth more than $25 million.  Niese won 11 for the Mets in 2011.  [SI]

Washington pitcher John Lannan was optioned to AAA, and wasn’t happy about it.  Lannan was an opening day starter in 2009 and 2010, and has requested a trade.  [ESPN]

The Twins sent pitcher Scott Baker to the DL and optioned starting pitcher Jason Marquis to AA New Britain to get work since both missed time in Spring Training.  [SI]

In a late spring training trade, the New York Yankees sent pitcher George Kontos to San Francisco for catcher Chris Stewart.  Stewart was given the backup job, which meant that Francisco Cervelli was unhappily dispatched to AAA.  Kontos pitched well at AAA last season earning a cup of coffee in September.  The big right hander is a Northwestern Grad…  As for Chris Stewart, he’s a catch and throw guy – not much of a hitter even in the minors.  He must be pretty good – Cervelli has logged a lot of innings the last couple of years so it’s a bit of a surprise to see Cervelli moved to AAA.

This is the time when players are optioned to AAA or recalled to the majors having earned a spot on the roster – it’s a long list.  A couple of things caught my eye, though…

Nick Johnson made the Orioles roster
Felix Pie was released by Cleveland
Bill Hall was released by New York.

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cards, cake, or remembrances include:

(1876) Bill Dinneen – pitcher, later an umpire
(1907) Merritt (Sugar) Cain…  Today, he’d get the song Cocaine played when he came to the plate.  Shouldn’t Lorenzo Cain have the nickname “Sugar”?
(1938) Ron Hansen
(1951) Rennie Stennett – one of my favorite Pirates of the 1970s…
(1976) Ross Gload
(1985) Lastings Milledge

Injury Bug hits Hamilton, Furcal, and Zimmerman…

Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, the reigning AL MVP, slid headfirst into home plate trying to avoid a tag from catcher Victor Martinez – an aggressive play in that he was tagging on a foul pop up – and broke the top of his right arm.  Dave Anderson, who was coaching at third, noticed that pitcher Brad Penny had not covered the plate, so he sent Hamilton – who later said he didn’t want to go and was worried that something would happen.  Afterwards, Hamilton called it a “stupid play” and threw his coach under the bus.  Hamilton will miss at least six weeks and likely two months.  [Fox Sports]

Sports Illustrated’s Joe Lemire (among others) suggested that the Rangers should be protecting their oft-injured prize.  [SI]

The Dodgers lost their leadoff hitter, shortstop Rafael Furcal, to a broken left thumb – also injured while sliding headfirst into a base (third).  Furcal won’t need surgery, but was so bothered by the injury that the word “retirement” crept into his post game comments.  He will be back in about six weeks.  While Jamey Carroll and Juan Uribe will get the bulk of the playing time, infielder Ivan DeJesus, Jr. was called up to be a bench player.  Of course, I am old enough to remember Ivan DeJesus, Sr. playing short and batting leadoff for the Cubs in the middle and late 1970s.  He’s coaching for the Cubs now and STILL looks fit enough to play.  [FoxSports]

I’m late in reporting this – sorry – but one of my favorite players, Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, will miss time on the DL dealing with a strained abdominal muscle.  The Nationals, who don’t want to give fans the idea that they know what they are doing, recalled a third catcher in his place.  [FoxSports]

Start the Argument Now…

So who do you think has a tougher road out of the cellar, Boston or Tampa?  Here’s MLB’s Matthew Leach’s take. [MLB]

Proof that Winning Cures a Lot of Ills…

Michael Young no longer thinks about getting traded…  That is – until he gets traded.  With Hamilton going down, though, he’ll get more playing time.   Can he play left?  [FoxSports]

Let the Healing Begin…

It was opening day in Japan, and teams all around the country remembered those affected by the earthquake and tsumami that ravaged the northeastern islands.  In Sendai, the Rakuten Eagles won – while the aftershocks that continue weeks later were felt in the stadium during the game.  [SI]

Transactions:

The Angels activated outfielder Reggie Willits and pitcher Scott Downs from the DL.

The Blue Jays placed outfielder Rajai Davis on the DL with an ankle sprain, and activated outfielder Corey Patterson from the DL.

The Padres activated Mat Latos from the DL, optioning Wade LeBlanc to AAA.

The  Brewers placed reliever Takashi Saito on the DL with a hamstring injury and recalled pitcher Brandon Kintzler from the Nashville Sounds.  Never heard of Kintzler?  He was a late round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2004, but couldn’t stay healthy enough to make any progress.  After three seasons of independent baseball, he was picked up by the Brewers and has made progress as a reliever, even getting a cup of coffee with the team last year.  He throws a low 90s fastball and a slider.  For a couple of years, he worked at a Coldstone Creamery franchise owned by his sister; I was listening to a Reds broadcast where Kintzler pitched and the color guy said he must have strengthened his forearm scooping ice cream.

Happy Birthday!

Kid Elberfeld (1875) – once had the only four hits in a game against Rube Waddell
Red Killefer (1885)
Claude Hendrix (1889)
Mark Leiter (1963)
Hunter Pence (1983)
Lorenzo Cain (1986) – doesn’t he have a name that should be the lead of some detective movie?

Manny Ramirez Ends Career Rather Than Face Suspension

Short morning – so we’ll try to do this quickly…

Manny Ramirez is Done…

Rather than face a 100 game suspension for what the NY Times reported as having been found using performance enhancing drugs (again), Manny Ramirez told MLB that he would retire.  In fact, the press release from MLB was how Manny’s team, the Tampa Rays, found out about it.

Good riddance to a self-centered cheat.

For other opinions on the subject, click here:

Joe Posnanski

Sports Illustrated News

Joe Lemire

Jayson Stark

Jon Paul Morosi

Michael Rosenburg

Other News…

The Marlins expect that Hanley Ramirez will be back in the starting lineup on Tuesday after getting bruised while being on the receiving end of a hard slide by Astros infielder Bill Hall.  If everyone agreed that Hall was just doing his job and nobody had any hard feelings, then why did Edward Mujica plunk Billy late in Sunday’s game – leading to two ejections?

I told this to my friend and former boss, Jose Gomez.  Mujica isn’t long for the majors.  He’s eminently hittable and only looked good last year because he played in San Diego.  Now that he’s somewhere where baseballs don’t always get caught, his flat fastball will be meat and his career will fade quickly.

Matt Holiday made it back to the lineup on Sunday, just nine days after an emergency appendectomy.  Modern medicine is amazing, really.

Nobody Can Retire Permanently…

Pedro Martinez is telling everyone he talks to that he’s not done and would welcome a return to the majors.  Boston tops his list of potential return cities.

Weekend Transactions…

Octavio Dotel returned to the Blue Jays, sending Casey Janssen back to Las Vegas.

Jeff Stevens returns to the Cubs from Iowa, replacing Andrew Cashner, who is on the 15-day disabled list – but not likely to return for a while…

Boston activated lefty rookie Felix Doubrant from the DL, and sent former Orioles reliever Matt Albers to the 15-day DL with a sore right lat.  Doubrant throws reasonably hard, has a nice change up, and throws a mean slider.  I think he’s going to stay a while…

The Yankees signed Carlos Silva to a minor league contract, while the Cubs – who dispatched Silva – signed Ramon Ortiz to a minor league contract.

The Twins placed Kevin Slowey on the DL with a sore right biceps muscle.  Alex Burnett was recalled from the Red Wings to take his place.  Burnett is 23, got in 41 games with the Twins last year, and hasn’t yet shown that he’s ready to go after reaching AA.

The Orioles sent Brad Bergesen back to the minors, calling up Chris Jakubaskas.

The Pirates sent Ross Ohlendorf to the DL with a shoulder strain.

The Angels sent Erick Aybar to the DL with a strained oblique, and activated pitcher Scott Downs from the DL.

The Mets recalled Jason Isringhausen (!) after a bullpen implosion this weekend.  Wow…

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:

Sam Chapman (1916)
Sid Monge (1951)
Wally Whitehurst (1964)
Bret Saberhagen (1964)
Jason Varitek (1972)
Trot Nixon (1974)
Mark Teixeira (1980)
Alexander De Aza (1984)

Sox, Rays Fall to 0 – 6; Twins Rookie 2B Out Indefinitely

The Red Sox lost, 1 – 0, to Cleveland yesterday – the winning run scored on a suicide squeeze play in the eighth, and the Red Sox had the tying run on in the ninth, only to have him picked off.  That means Boston hits today’s home opener against the rival New York Yankees at 0 – 6.

For my friend Amy Travis, here’s a link to a FoxSports article by Jon Paul Morosi saying that the Red Sox stink.

My other pick to make the playoffs from the AL East, the Tampa Rays, also lost to the White Sox and – like the Sox – are still winless and 0 – 6.  After the game, veteran outfielder Johnny Damon told the team to stick together.  [FoxSports/MESN/YardBarker]

Houston got it’s first win, finally, by sneaking one past the Reds – who finally lost a game.

OUCH!!!

Tsuyoshi Nishioka, rookie infielder for the Twins and recent Japanese import, stood his ground near second base and took a hard slide from Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher. Because Nish had just planted his foot on a throw (slightly striding toward Swisher instead of hopping over him), the end result was nasty – Swisher accidentally breaking Nishioka’s left leg.  Everyone is on record as saying that, while the slide was hard, it wasn’t dirty and there is plenty of remorse to go around.

Jerry White, a coach for the Twins with some Japanese experience, said that one of the differences between MLB and Japanese baseball is that you rarely, if ever, see a hard slide into a fielder to break up a double play – not that everyone does it here either.  (Unless you were a Royals fan in the Hal McRae era, that is…)  So, Nishioka would not have naturally felt the urgency to avoid the slide.  [MLB]

Coming up from AAA Rochester is Luke Hughes, a seven-year minor league veteran in the Twins chain.  An undrafted free agent in 2002, Hughes can play second or third, has a little pop in his bat, but really is just organizational depth and not a prospect.  Matt Tolbert will likely get the bulk of the starts, though.

Toronto shortstop Yunel Escobar will miss a week under the new MLB concussion policy after he was diagnosed with a mild concussion after sliding into third base and banging his head into the knee of Andy LaRoche.  MLB has to clear Escobar to play at the end of the seven day period.  [ESPN]

Phillies closer Brad Lidge’s shoulder problems should leave him not throwing until the all-star break.  Lidge told reporters that his posterior rotator cuff strain requires him to not throw for up to six weeks, after which he can resume a rehabilitation process.

The Next Great Washington National…

Bryce Harper had two hits, including an RBI single in his first at bat, and a stolen base in his first professional game.  The Hagerstown Suns beat the Rome Braves, 3 – 2, in the opening game of the South Atlantic League season.   Apparently, MLB was there to capture a number of the artifacts (bases, balls, jerseys, bats, hot dog wrappers…) for use in auctions later in the season.  [MLB]

Who Knew?

First – which among us knew that Brad Penny was engaged to Dancing With the Stars dancer Karina Smirnoff?  He is – just another reason for him to be among my favorite pitchers in baseball.  Now comes word, straight from Hugh Hefner’s Twitter account, that Smirnoff will appear nude in the May Playboy.  No WONDER Penny is off to such a rough start… [FoxSports]

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:

John Hiller (1943) – Tigers reliever
Jim (Catfish) Hunter (1946) – I miss that guy – dependable pitcher for a decade…
Carlos Santana (1986) – Indians backstop
Felix Hernandez (1986) – the King of Seattle
Jeremy Hellickson (1987) – Rays rookie starter

Of Appendectomies and Aces: Dunn, Jimenez Out

Adam Dunn became the second slugger to go under the knife to remove an appendix – Dunn’s was an emergency operation on Tuesday night.  He told manager Ozzie Guillen he’d be ready to play on Thursday, but realistically he (like Matt Holliday) will be out a week to ten days.  Both players are hoping to avoid DL stints.

The Colorado Rockies placed Ubaldo Jimenez on the DL, as feared, because of a cuticle tear on the inside of his thumb.  Jimenez, because of his long fingers, actually tucks the thumb under the ball, so as he throws it, it rolls off the top of his thumb and causes the tear.  This isn’t the first time he’s had it, but in this case he adjusted his arm action to avoid the pain, losing six miles per hour on the fast ball and leaving him with a slightly sore forearm. [ESPN/Denver Post]

In his place, the Rockies will start Greg Reynolds, a 25-year-old who was the second overall pick of the 2006 draft and a Stanford grad.  The 6′ 8″ Reynolds was rushed to the majors in 2008 – as George Frazier said in a 2008 broadcast, “out of necessity” – where he was hit around some.  In 2009, he missed most of the season dealing with elbow and shoulder injuries, but came back some in Tulsa last year and had a good spring this year.  He throws a low 90s fastball that, when last in the majors, ran up and in on right handers, a change up, a curveball, and a sinker that gets him ground balls.  Reynolds is NOT a big strikeout guy, but if he’s going to make it, he has to have a couple of good starts here.

Other Injury News…

The Cubs placed both Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells on the DL.  Cashner left Tuesday’s start with a strain in the back of his rotator cuff, while Wells felt a strain in his forearm.  Both will be shut down for two weeks before beginning rehab.  [Fox Sports]

Brian Wilson returns to the Giants, his strained oblique feeling better, while reliever Santiago Casilla heads to the DL with inflammation in his elbow.  [MLB]

Oakland reliever Michael Wuertz says his hamstring huertz, so he’s headed to the DL…

More Streaking…

Texas moved to 6 – 0, and the Reds won again, their fifth straight to open the season.  Meanwhile, Boston, Tampa, and Houston all lost again.  According to Sports Illustrated, you can pretty much write those teams off.  Cliff Corcoran writes that only two teams have ever started 0 – 5 and made the playoffs.  [SI]

40 Years Ago in The Sporting News

The Cubs were giving shots to a pair of brothers who were hoping to make it after long stints in the minors, Danny and Hal Breeden.  Neither worked out…

Happy Birthday!!!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include…

John McGraw (1874)
Jake Daubert (1884)
Bobby Doerr (1918)
Brett Tomko (1973)
Adrian Beltre (1979)

Winning and Losing Streaks

With the new season off and running, the first thing we look at in the standings is the last “0” on the board.  Texas edged Seattle last night to become the first team to five wins (5 – 0), while Cincinnati joined Baltimore at 4 – 0 last night.  The Reds are the last NL team to remain undefeated as the Mets topped Philadelphia last night.

On the other side, Boston lost to Cleveland (a game I listened to on the ride home) to fall to 0 – 4, their worst start in about 15 years.   The Tampa Rays start a series with the Angels tonight hoping to avoid a fifth straight loss to open the season.  The lone NL team without a win is Houston, who faces the undefeated Reds tonight.

In  other news…

Andrew Cashner impressed Cub fans in his first start of 2011 (his fastball sits in the mid-90s and occasionally tips 98 MPH), then left in the sixth inning with tightness in his shoulder.  He was immediately shipped out for an MRI.  [MLB]

Matt Holliday will definitely avoid the DL, as will Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton who is available as a pinch hitter and expected to start by the weekend.  Stanton is nursing a tight hamstring.  [FoxSports]

FoxSports scribe Ken Rosenthal thinks that Brandon Belt may be the odd man out when Cody Ross returns to the Giants.  Aubrey Huff needs to get out of the outfield, which means first base – which would cost Belt a gig.  I watched the Giants the other night when they were playing the Dodgers.  He has a very professional approach to batting, very patient.  In the late innings of a game, he worked a walk to keep an inning alive.  Miguel Tejada, long time veteran, followed Belt and impatiently ripped at the first pitch, popping up and ending the inning.  [FoxSports/YardBarker]

Transaction Wire

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed former Marlins (and As) lefty Dan Meyer.  Meyer was effective in 2009 as a 7th or 8th inning option, but struggled through a calf injury in 2010.  He throws a low 90s fastball that tends to sink, a hard slider, and a change up that Meyer doesn’t always seem to control very well.  In his career through the minors and few stops in the majors, control has been his problem…  The Pirates could use a little depth, though, so if he fares well in a AAA stint, he may join the bullpen in Pittsburgh at some point this year.

60 Years Ago In The Sporting News

The front page story on April 4, 1951 was a feature about the Red Sox, and how everyone liked to pick the Sox as the team most likely to win the AL Pennant, only to fail.  On page three (and continuing for a couple of pages) there was a nice feature about a young Yankee centerfielder who looked like the obvious successor to Joe Dimaggio, a kid from Commerce, Oklahoma named Mickey Mantle…

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:

Smokey Joe Williams (1885)
Mickey Cochrane (1903) – Hall of Fame catcher
Ernie Lombardi (1908) – Hall of Fame catcher and Hall of Fame nose
Phil Regan (1937) – The Vulture, so named for stealing wins in relief
Marty Pattin (1943) – Pitcher, University of Kansas manager for a long time.  I still remember getting his baseball card from one of those old corner stores near my grandparent’s house in Chicago.
Bert Blyleven (1951) – Like Don Sutton, very good for a long time, but just doesn’t SEEM like a Hall of Famer.
Bret Boone (1969) – Very good second baseman who was named as a steroids user in the Mitchell Report.
Lou Merloni (1971) – Utility infielder who claimed that Boston physical trainers would give lessons in safe steroid use to players, making it seem like the Red Sox management were okay with players using PEDs in the late 1990s…

Not the Start Tampa Bay Imagined

The Tampa Bay Rays opened with a series against the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles and got swept.  Depending on how you see this (are you a Rays fan or an Orioles fan?), it was either great pitching by a young Orioles staff (they have great young arms, for sure), or a lifeless Rays offense (they lost Crawford, Pena, and Bartlett).

Let’s call it a little of both.

But the Rays certainly didn’t need this…  Evan Longoria, among the most productive players in all of baseball, was placed in the 15-day DL was a strained oblique – and while Longoria believes that he’ll be back in a couple of weeks, many times it’s a four to six week problem. [ESPN]

As an insurance policy, the Rays recalled infielder Felipe Lopez from AAA Durham.  Lopez, who turns 31 in May, is a journeyman – and the Rays are the seventh different team he’s played for since 2006.  Heck, in the last five years, he’s been in St. Louis two different times. Lopez is a career .266 hitter with medium range power but has had streaky productive runs, so you never know.  For a month, he isn’t a bad option.

Sean Rodriguez got the start there on Sunday and we’ll see how manager Joe Maddon manages around the injury.  This kind of start and injury, on the heels of losing such major contributors to the Rays playoff runs, is the type of bad karma that might take months to get past – so if Maddon gets them out of April with a record near .500, that will be quite the managerial accomplishment.

But he can take heart in the fact that the other team I picked to win this division, the Boston Red Sox, are also 0 – 3 to start the season.

Other Notable Transactions…

With Jair Jurrjens heading to the disabled list with a strained right oblique, the Braves recalled Mike Minor from AAA Gwinnett.  Minor is a very polished prospect, though he had mixed results in a short stint with the Braves in 2011.  He’ll be a fifth starter for the short term, and I think he can help. [ESPN]

Minor, as my friend Andy Finch will remind you, was an ace of the Vanderbilt University staff, and has moved very quickly through the minors.  He’s fanned 163 batters in 134 innings at three levels, and has great control.  Even with Atlanta, he fanned 43 and walked just 11 in 40 innings – he just got hit around a little.  Minor had a decent enough spring, though, so maybe he can stick this time around.

Grab a Screen Shot, Royals Fans…

As of this morning, your first place Kansas City Royals are 3 – 1, atop the AL Central, and it’s because of three consecutive wins in their final at bat.  Yesterday, backup catcher Matt Treanor hit a game-winning homer in extra innings to beat the Angels.

Happy Birthday…

Mickey Owen (1916) – solid catcher, started up baseball camps, that I believe are still around today…
Gil Hodges (1924) – Dodger favorite, Mets manager, late Hall of Fame addition…
Eddie Watt (1941) – Oriole reliever in the late 1960s and early 1970s…
Jim Fregosi (1942)
Ray Fosse (1947)
Tommy Herr (1956)
Brad Kommisk (1961) – long ago Braves prospect…
Scott Rolen (1975)

I’m ten years older than Scott Rolen, but in my mind, he’s older than I am.  Go figure.

100 Years Ago in The Sporting News

The April 6th, 1911 paper led with an article about Nebraska ruling in favor of Sunday baseball, and covered a number of teams as they were traveling through the south, as teams often did at the end of spring training, barnstorming through various cities to help pay for spring training expenses.

The top right corner of the first page included a small blurb about two young and bony St. Louis lefties – Harry “Slim” Sallee, who was a regular on the Cardinals, and the beanpole Thomas “Lefty” George.  The SABR Biography project has a great article about Sallee, a 6′ 3″, 150 pounder who was an awkward thrower – he would stride at a 45 degree angle between home and first, and then throw across his body back to the plate – that appears to have been written by a couple of his descendants.  Lefty George was a rookie with the Browns, having had a successful season with Indianapolis in the American Association.  Like Sallee, he barely tipped 150 pounds, but was a tad shorter at just 6′ 0″.  Sallee had the longer career, winning more than 170 games and being on the 1919 Reds team that won a fixed World Series.  George didn’t succeed in St. Louis (at that time, few did), wound up in Cleveland a year later, and then bounced around the minors for more than a decade after that – getting two short shots at the big leagues over the course of the next decade.

2011 Season Forecast: Tampa Rays

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  96 – 66 (1st AL East)
2009:  84 – 78
2008:  97 – 65 (AL Champs)
2007:  66 – 96
2006:  61 – 101

Runs Scored: 802 (3rd, AL to NYY and BOS)
Runs Allowed: 649 (2nd, AL to OAK)

2010 Recap:

The Rays got off to a great start, winning 17 of 23 in April and extending their hot play into May where, on May 23rd, they went to sleep in first place with a 32 – 12 record.  An 11 – 14 stumble in June let the rest of the league back in the race, but once July started, the Rays went back to the front of the division, going 19 – 7, followed by a 17 – 12 August.  From there, the Rays seemed to run out of steam, but played .500 ball after September 1st as the Yankees collapsed to take the division crown.

In terms of mid-season transactions, the Rays mostly unloaded parts that weren’t working.  They released Pat Burrell and Hank Blalock, for example.  They did get Chad Qualls at the trading deadline, but he wasn’t much help down the stretch.

As a team, they hit homers and drew walks, but went through stretches where they couldn’t hit.  The Rays were on the wrong end of two no-hitters despite being one of only three teams to score 800 runs.  They have pitchers who throw strikes, a rather deep bullpen, and an AMAZING team defense.  These two items, as I have written before, make their staff look stronger than it really is.

Starters:

The rotation featured David Price, who had Cy Young worthy numbers in terms of wins (19), ERA (2.72), and strikeouts (188 in 208.2 innings).  Price was backed by Matt Garza (15 – 10, 3.91), James Shields (13 – 15, 5.18), Jeff Niemann (12 – 8, 4.39), and rookie Wade Davis (12 – 10, 4.07).  However, knowing that the Rays made few errors and turned 14 balls per 1000 into outs more than the average team AND they played in a park that helped the staff, you realize that many of those pitchers aren’t quite as good as advertised.  James Shields was more than 50 runs worse than the average pitcher because he puts a lot of balls into play, and he served up 34 homers.  Niemann was 19 runs worse than the average pitcher, and Matt Garza – the new Cub – was 14 runs worse than the average pitcher.  Wade Davis was also -11.

This isn’t new – I wrote about this a couple of years ago when the Rays made the series.  A good defense can make a bunch of pitchers who keep the ball in the park and don’t walk people look very good.

Looking ahead, Matt Garza moved to Chicago where he might get to serve up 50 homers.  At least he’s durable.  The rest of the rotation returns intact, joined by Jeremy Hellickson, who looked great in his 4 starts last summer.  Assuming Shields bounces back some (he can), Davis and Niemann show more growth (possible), and Hellickson remains tolerable over 160 innings, the rotation should be 30 runs better than last year.

Bullpen:

On the other hand, the bullpen was amazing in 2010.  Rafael Soriano saved 45 games, supported by Joaquin Benoit and his 1.34 ERA in 63 innings.  Dan Wheeler gave them 64 fair innings, Grant Balfour remained dependable, and even Randy Choate and Lance Cormier weren’t horrible.  Most of this staff is gone.  Right now, the closer looks to be Joel Peralta, the former Royal, Angel, and Rockies reliever who had his best season in 2010 with the Nationals last year – fanning 49 and walking just 9 (4 intentionally) in 49 innings.  In front of Peralta is journeyman fireballer, Kyle Farnsworth who has NEVER been as good as Benoit was last year.  Andy Sonnenstine, who has a very hittable fastball, is there, with a bunch of newcomers, including Ceasr Ramos and Adam Russell, who came from San Diego for Jason Bartlett.  Jake McGee, two years removed from Tommy John surgery, converted to the pen in 2010 and made it to the big leagues.  He’s a power lefty with a nice curveball.  Chris Archer is another hard thrower who might get time in the bullpen this year.  If the starters are going to improve by 30 runs, the bullpen cannot – and no matter what Manager Joe Maddon’s magic, this group will be 50 runs worse than in 2010.

Catching:

John Jaso earned his way ahead of Dioner Navarro and Kelly Shoppach by catching well enough and getting on base at a .375 clip.  Teams ran on Jaso some, and the young Jaso has much to learn, but he helps out.  Kelly Shoppach struggled at the plate, but did hit 5 homers in 158 at bats.  Navarro is gone.

Infield:

A couple of years ago, the infield was a solid Evan Longoria, Jason Bartlett, Akinori Iwamura, and Carlos Pena.  Now, only Longoria – an MVP candidate – remains.   Longoria can hit and field with the best of them and even stole 15 bases in 20 tries.  Bartlett’s bat and glove has fallen off in recent years since he injured his ankle in 2009 and will be replaced by Reid Brignac, who is younger, just as good a hitter, and more mobile.  Sean Rodriguez got a chance to play the infield and hits for some power, can run the bases, and is solid in the field.  Mr. Everywhere, Ben Zobrist, backs them both up.  Carlos Pena is gone, to be replaced by either Dan Johnson (a patient power hitter who, like Pena, failed to hit .200 last year), and possibly Johnny Damon.  I think the offense will remain solid, though it could lose 20 runs at first base overall if Johnson can’t improve in 2011.

Outfield:

Carl Crawford had an MVP-type campaign in 2010, fielding as well as any left fielder, and generating nearly 130 runs of offense with the bat (average and some power) as well as his feet (47 steals).  He’s in Boston now, with Johnny Damon taking over.  Damon is okay, but not anywhere near what Crawford can provide – and he’s going to need time off.  Options include Matt Joyce or Sam Fuld.  In center, B.J. Upton is still frustratingly productive.  He is an above average offensive performer – quick bat, power, speed – but frustrating in that he strikes out a LOT, keeping his average under .240.  Defensively, he remains above average but, again, doesn’t seem to be as good as he could be.  In right, Ben Zobrist fell off from his 2009 season in terms of average and power, but still was productive because he plays solid defense and gets on base.  (I’d let Joyce play left all year and see if he can hit 30 homers knowing he’s a better fielder than Damon, too.  Damon can DH and back up three positions, even providing some production.)

DH:

Pat Burrell couldn’t cut it and Hank Blalock wasn’t the answer.  Willy Aybar fell off last year, though Matt Joyce might have been a decent answer if they let him do it.  Looking ahead, though, the Rays took a cheap flyer on the craziest great hitter of the last two decades, Manny Ramirez.  Say what you will about him, Manny can STILL hit.  He missed a lot of time last year, but when he left Los Angeles, he was hitting .311, with a .410 OBA, and a .510 SLG.  He didn’t hit as well with the White Sox, but he had a .420 OBP.  He won’t do that in Tampa, but he could certainly go 20 – 110 – .285, with walks and doubles.  Johnny Damon could platoon some with him, letting Matt Joyce play left field.

Down on the Farm:

Jeremy Hellickson we noted – the new fifth starter for the Rays – as he went 12 – 3 with 123Ks in 117.2 innings for AAA Durham.  Desmond Jennings, a potential Carl Crawford clone, fell off in terms of his batting average, but he still gets on base and he can FLY.

Jake McGee made it from Montgomery in AA through Durham before getting a cup of coffee with the Rays.  In AA, McGee fanned 100 in 88.1 innings, showed good command (getting better, anyway), and looked awesome in 11 AAA appearances (27Ks, 3 walks, one ER in 17.1 innings).  Alex Torres and Alexander Cobb were solid for Montgomery, winning records, good strikeout rates.  Cobb has better control, but both are young and will spend 2011 in Durham.

Former #1 pick Tim Beckham finished his season with A+ Charlotte and seems to have stalled, but having watched him in the minors, he sure is the one guy on the field you can’t help but notice.  He’s still only 21, so there is time for a step forward.  The best of Charlotte is the young staff, led by Matt Moore, who fanned 208 in 144.2 innings with his powerful fastball and curveball.  Joe Cruz showed solid command, going 13 – 6 – 2.85 in his 142 innings and will start 2011 in AA.  Then you have reliever Zach Quate, who fanned 90 in 72.1 innings, saving 25 games, with great control.

Forecasting 2011:

I don’t see how the Rays are going to repeat winning the AL East crown in 2011, but they won’t be bad and they should take a Wild Card spot.  The rotation may be slightly better, but the bullpen will be well off from last year.  The defense will be better at short (Brignac is better than Bartlett), but worse in left (Damon or Joyce instead of Crawford) and I’m not sure Johnson is better than an aging Carlos Pena at first.  The catching might improve a touch, and more Jaso is better than more Dioner Navarro offensively.  The Rays are better at DH.

I see the offense being good, but a touch worse – maybe 770 runs.  And the runs allowed number will likely go up by 30 runs to about 680.  That puts the Rays at 91 wins, which some will see as a surprise – but not me.

Uecker On DL With Heart Surgery

Longtime Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker, whose sense of humor – especially when poking fun at himself – and colorful commentary and story telling has earned him legions of fans across the upper midwest, is scheduled for surgery to replace an aortic valve on Friday.  Uecker has known of the problem for a few months but was hoping to finish the season before needing surgery.  Instead, when the problems worsened quicker than planned, doctors told him not to wait.  [SI]

I used to listen to Uecker on a transistor radio (I know, Kelli – what’s that?), and also on occasion in the Columbia Pipe warehouse in Gurnee on afternoons when Cubs games weren’t on.  In my mind, I can hear him tell stories about Mark Brouhard, the heroes of Harvey’s Wallbangers, and even recall a handful of Lite Beer pitches.  He was the perfect voice for the Major League movies – “He throws a K-Y ball in there for a strike.”

Hurry back!

Do the Nationals Bring Strasburg Up?

Stephen Strasburg tossed five innings of no-hit ball last night – the only player reaching base actually struck out but got to first on a passed ball.  I am ADMITTING my impatience, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the ace of the AA Harrisburg Senators either got the call to join the major league club, or at least got a move to AAA soon.  [ESPN]

Rough Day Yesterday?

Justin Morneau left last night’s game against Detroit early.  According to manager Ron Gardenhire, the Minnesota first baseman felt stiffness in his upper back because, facing Justin Verlander, “…he was swinging and missing a lot…” and it was messing with his back.  [ESPN]

Oakland placed pitcher Brett Anderson on the DL with stiffness in his left forearm and swelling in his elbow.  [SI]

Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz heads to the DL with a strained hamstring.  Cruz tweaked his hammy running the bases on Monday night, and wasn’t very mobile on Tuesday.  Look for David Murphy to get a few more starts… [FoxSports]

Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal left the first game of yesterday’s doubleheader with tightness in his hamstring – though Torre wasn’t sure which leg it was.  Details.  [ESPN]

News From Behind the Mask…

Tampa’s Dioner Navarro will be suspended for two games as a result of his bumping an umpire in a game Friday night.  [FoxSports]

Chris Ianetta, once a starter for your Colorado Rockies, heads to AAA to find his batting eye.  [SI]

I can’t remember where I saw this, but I heard that Texas is giving the starting catcher job to Matt Treanor.  Both Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden were dispatched to AAA, and Max Ramirez will back up Treanor.

Oh Yeah – I forgot…

Brad Lidge also pitched in that AA game featuring Stephen Strasburg.  The erstwhile Phillies closer logged two innings, striking out four, in a rehab stint for Reading.  Lidge feels he’s just about ready to return to the parent club.  [MLB]

So How Much is Albert Pujols Worth?

Seeing that Ryan Howard inked a five year extension worth $125 million with Philadelphia, Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox suggested that Albert Pujols is worth TWICE that.  I dunno…  Howard hits about 50 homers a year, has improved at the plate and in the field, and seems committed to the Phillies.  It was an expensive contract, but there aren’t a whole lot of players who produce as many runs as Howard does.  The fact that he strikes out a lot probably gives him more chances to bat with runners on base because pitchers feel like they have a shot at getting him out.  NOBODY wants to face Pujols, though, and by my count he’s been 30 to 70 runs better than any other offensive player for each of the last five years.  If anybody is worth $30 million, it might be Albert.

Transaction Wire:

Boston dispatched infielder Kevin Frandsen (his career pretty much ended when he blew out his achilles a couple of years back), and recalled pitcher Alan Embree.

Washington recalled outfielder Roger Bernadina from AAA Syracuse.  The guy can fly.  Bernadina’s stint should be longer this time – last year he got maybe two games into his major league career when he broke his ankle leaping against the wall.

The Rockies placed two pitchers on the DL yesterday.  Jason Hammel leaves with a strained groin (hopefully his own), while Jorge De La Rosa tore a tendon in his middle finger.

Catcher Jason LaRue returns to the Cardinals after a brief DL stint.

Oakland recalled Steve Tolleson from AAA.  You might remember his dad, Wayne, was an infielder a few years back.    He’s not REALLY a prospect – he actually looks like he has the same skill set as his father, only a little faster.

Happy Birthday!

1902 – Red Lucas
1934 – Jackie Brandt
1935 – Pedro Ramos
1960 – John Cerrutti, Tom Browning
1964 – Barry Larkin
1981 – Shawn Hill