Posted on: April 26, 2008 1:28 am
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Look out, here comes the Big Unit

Brandon Webb is 5-0 with a 2.31 ERA, Micah Owings is 4-0 with a 2.42 ERA and Dan Haren is 3-1 with a 3.03 ERA. The Arizona Diamondbacks, with baseball's best record (17-6), already have that invincible look, that this-is-the-year feeling.

And if Randy Johnson continues his slow, steady ascent, there's no telling how high these Snakes can go.

Johnson still didn't look like his old, dominant self in his third start of 2008 Friday night, but nobody expects him to -- and he doesn't need to be that guy, anyway. In limiting the punchless San Diego Padres to a run and three hits over six innings in a 5-1 whipping, Johnson evened his record at 1-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.70.

These are solid numbers for any starting pitcher.

For a 44-year-old on a team simply looking for a consistent No. 3 or 4 starter?

Exquisite.

Johnson doesn't go 97, 98 m.p.h. like he once did, but following two back surgeries in two years, he's got enough and he's getting better. Arizona manager Bob Melvin noted one 96 m.p.h. fastball Friday, one at 95 and several at 94.

"His velocity picked up considerably," Melvin said. The skipper noted that the Big Unit's location was better, his split-finger fastball was improved and he consistently pounded the strike zone with his inside fastball as well.

"I feel like I'm getting where I want to be," Johnson said. "I'm still not happy -- I'm walking too many people (two Friday; nine in his three starts), but it's a step in the right direction."

Johnson came back tentatively against San Francisco on April 14, throwing 90 pitches over five innings, walking four and striking out seven in a no-decision. The Giants thought he looked OK, but not much more.

Johnson was marginally better six days later, throwing 104 pitches over 5 2/3 innings in a 9-4 loss Sunday, walking three and striking out seven. Though he surrendered six runs, only four were earned, and he held the Padres to one run through five innings.

Friday night? Six innings, longest outing of the season, and it took him only 94 pitches. Granted, the Padres are less dangerous than a neutered kitten right now, but Johnson pretty much kept it in cruise control. And, he sacrifice bunted in the third, singled up the middle in the fourth, sprung off of the mound in the fifth to make a play on Scott Hairston's weak chopper toward third ... in other words, he played the game.

"That was a heck of a play," Melvin said of fielding Hairston's ball. "I was thinking to myself, 'Don't even try that.'"

He did, though, despite the fact that in a very limited spring training, he did very little fielding work and not much hitting, either.

He spoke afterward of needing to make sure everything he does is constructive, done for a purpose. He doesn't need to be Rickey Henderson on the bases, he said, noting a play last year in which he slid into third base.

"My back wasn't the same after that," said Johnson, who was not able to pitch after June last year.

"There are going to have to be times when I may have to miss a start," he said while plotting for continued strength and the stamina and health to make it all the way to the finish line this year. "I don't want to, but that's the way it is."

If Johnson misses a start here or there in exchange for pitching fairly regularly for the rest of the season, it's a bargain the Diamondbacks will gladly strike.

----

While Johnson was good, San Diego's lineup right now is terrible. The Padres have managed only six runs in their past 62 innings in Petco Park, and they now have not homered in their past 86 innings at Petco. Their last homer at home came way back on April 4, when Brian Giles slammed one in the sixth inning of a game with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ouch.

Likes: Tampa Bay, four-game winning streak and 12 wins matching their most ever after their first 23 games. ... Washington outfielder Elijah Dukes spending several hours cleaning cages and mopping at a Tampa, Fla.-area zoo in the past week as part of a deal to shorten his probation from a drug charge. ... San Diego's Brian Giles having Warren Zevon's Werewolves of London played for his at-bats at home on the nights Randy Wolf starts. ... Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery giving two thumbs up to the Mudcrutch show at San Francisco's Fillmore Theater last week. Mudcrutch? Looking forward to the new disc coming out next week from the group, which is the reformation of an old Florida band and Tom Petty's current side project. And Petty is playing bass. ... Tina Fey on David Letterman the other night. ... Tyler Hansborough staying at North Carolina for his senior season. ... Friday Night Lights returning for another season next year.

Dislikes: Shark attack off the coast of Solana Beach, a small community north of San Diego. I know a guy who knows the guy who was killed, and it's a sad, sad tale. ... The truck crashing into the train station in Chicago on Friday, killing two. Man, what an ugly day. ... Friends' reviews on Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Thought it looked like a solid flick from the previews a few weeks ago. Couple of friends saw it and now it'll be a rental.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"And all the girls walk by
"Dressed up for each other"

-- Van Morrison, Wild Night


Posted on: April 21, 2008 5:44 pm
 

Searching for the Yankees "idiot". ...

Welcome to the New York Yankees manager's chair, Joe Girardi.

Are you an idiot?

Only chip-off-the-old-block Hank Steinbrenner knew exactly the point he was trying to make when he told the New York Times that "you have to be an idiot" to "have a guy with a 100-mile-per-hour fastball and keep him as a setup guy."

The guy, of course, is Joba Chamberlain. And Steinbrenner's early frustration is understandable, given that the Yankees have been sluggish out of the gate over these first three weeks largely because Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy are a combined 0-5 with a 9.20 ERA.

When ferreting out the idiot of whom Steinbrenner spoke, here are two very important points to remember:

-- Girardi last winter signed a three-year, $7.5 million deal to manage the Yankees that runs through 2010.

-- General manager Brian Cashman is working in the final year of his contract, and the club so far appears not to have made much of an effort to re-sign him.

That doesn't mean Cashman is a short-timer as Yankees GM. Far from it.

But as this situation develops, and as the season plays out, it definitely bears watching.

During a conversation at the club's complex in Tampa this spring, Steinbrenner was complimentary of Cashman but declined to say if or when he would get around to talking with the GM about his future beyond 2008.

"I've known Cash a long time," Steinbrenner said. "He's been with our family a long time."

Steinbrenner said then that he would discuss the future with Cashman during the season, but wouldn't be pinned down on a time.

"It'll happen when it happens," Steinbrenner said then. "The big thing with Brian is the organization he's put in place. This is not going to be based on one decision. Damon Oppenheimer as the chief of scouting obviously has paid off huge. The way he's worked with Mark Newman (senior vice-president of the Tampa-based part of the Yanks baseball operations) and Joe Girardi. ..."

So ... who's the Idiot in Yankee-land?

Could it be Girardi, who left Chamberlain out of the rotation to begin the season?

Cashman, who obviously is one of the point men in that decision?

During that same conversation this spring, Steinbrenner spoke glowingly of Girardi.

"I love what he does," Steinbrenner said. "I love what he's doing. I really do. It's more a combination of things. (The players) like him and respect him, and I think there's even a little fear. He can be intimidating. He's a tough guy."

The plan all along has been to start the 22-year-old Chamberlain in the bullpen as a way of controlling his innings-pitched odometer. At three different minor-league levels and with the Yankees last season, he threw a combined total of 112 1/3 innings.

Say he opened the season as a starter and averaged six innings a start -- he'd already be at the 112-inning mark in his 19th start. And that's barely halfway through a full season. Big-league starters usually make somewhere around 32, 33 starts per summer.

Point is, the opposite of Steinbrenner's statement is true, too: You would have to be an idiot to put a still-developing Chamberlain into the rotation and expect him not to wear out before the finish line.

It was an organizational decision this spring -- not the edict of one man, like Girardi or Cashman -- to use Chamberlain as a set-up man early and then move him into the rotation later this season.

But like anything else when a fiery Steinbrenner is in charge of the Yankees, one man just may take the blame if the whole thing goes up in smoke.

Girardi? Cashman?

Perhaps neither.

We all know Johnny Damon was a self-proclaimed Idiot when he was playing for Boston in his previous life.

You don't suppose Steinbrenner was referring to him, do you?

 

Posted on: April 19, 2008 12:00 am
 

Marathon nights and long memories

Lots of baseball people have long stories.

Few can tell the tales of a 22-inning marathon such as the one Colorado and San Diego played Thursday night/Friday morning in Petco Park.

After 659 pitches, 15 different pitchers and 6 hours and 16 minutes, the Colorado Rockies finally beat the San Diego Padres 2-1.

Then the Rockies flew to Houston for this weekend's series, landed a little after 8 a.m. ... and promptly got stuck in rush hour traffic on the way to check into their hotel.

Funny. Because as word boomeranged throughout baseball of the riveting/ridiculous/incredible goings-on in San Diego, the Seattle Mariners were spending some time in traffic, too.

"We were on the bus (Thursday night) leaving Oakland when we saw the score," Mariners manager John McLaren said, referring to the aftermath of his club's 8-1 victory at Whatever They're Calling the Oakland Coliseum Now. "We picked it back up when we landed here (in Southern California).

"I think it was in the 14th when we left Oakland and in the 20th when we landed."

Fortunately, Colorado manager Clint Hurdle and San Diego skipper Bud Black each were able to avoid being charged with inflicting cruel and unusual punishment Friday when they gave the men who caught the marathon game a night off.

Colorado's Yorvit Torrealba and San Diego's Josh Bard each caught the entire 22-inning affair, something Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia didn't even have to do back when he was playing in 1989 in either of the Dodgers' 22-inning games.

Yep, the Padres and Rockies think they had it rough? How about the Dodgers in '89? They lost in Houston 5-4 in a 22-inning game on June 3, '89 ... then beat Montreal 1-0 in 22 innings on Aug. 23, '89.

"We couldn't score," Scioscia said Friday, cringing at the memory. "We could pitch, we just couldn't score."

Rick Dempsey started behind the plate for the Dodgers in the June 3 game, and Scioscia entered in a sixth-inning double-switch. He played the rest of the way, going 0-for-5 with two walks.

And wanna know something funny? That was on Saturday night. The next day, the Dodgers and Astros played 13 innings -- Scioscia started as the Dodgers catcher, hit a grand slam in the first and played nearly the entire game before being removed in the bottom of the 13th.

In the Aug. 23 game, Scoscia started but left in the eighth inning when Billy Bean pinch-ran for him.

His memories are vague -- he thought the Montreal game went 16 or 17 innings, not 22 -- but Scioscia distinctly remembers that after one of those games, several players remained at the stadium and slept in the clubhouse because they had a day game the next day and had to be back in the park in six or seven hours.

"A game that long, some guys start with sore hamstrings and end up healthy," Scioscia cracked.

Nevertheless, just in case, Torrealba wasn't the only Colorado player who was given the night off in Houston on Friday. First baseman Todd Helton, second baseman Jayson Nix and outfielders Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe also were awarded a night of rest. In Arizona, the Padres gave second baseman Tadahito Iguchi the night off.

Hurdle, who used eight pitchers -- Kip Wells got the win -- said he was close to using infielder Clint Barmes as his emergency pitcher. Padres manager Bud Black rode Bard behind the plate partly because his other catcher, Colt Morton, had pinch-hit in the 14th. Outfielder Paul McAnulty was Black's emergency catcher -- though the Padres skipper admitted Friday that McAnulty was blissfully unaware of that during Thursday's proceedings.

They staged a seventh-inning stretch at Petco Park in the seventh, 14th and 21st innings. And though they stopped selling beer in the seventh -- as is usually the case -- coffee and ice cream were big sellers late, Padres vice-president Richard Anderson said.

"I think that's the beauty of this game, it's unpredictability," McLaren, the Seattle skipper, said.

While talking about the Padres-Rockies game, McLaren, who grew up near Houston, recalled attending the Astros-New York Mets' 24-inning game on Monday night, April 15, 1968. He was in high school at the time, and you bet he stayed until the bitter end.

"My mom was waiting up for me, and when I got home she said, 'Don't think you're staying home -- you're going to school tomorrow,'" McLaren recalled, chuckling. "She thought we had gone someplace else after the game.

"When I got home from school the next day, she said, 'I should have known you'd stay until the final out.'"

Thursday's game was a record-setter for length, by innings, for both the Colorado and San Diego franchises. Black called it "incredible", adding that "everybody who was here will never forget it."

You would think that would be true.

Yet, Scioscia's memory on those two 22-inning games in 1989 is awfully fuzzy.

And, perhaps, there are those who were so exhausted they might even try to forget it. Detroit shortstop Edgar Renteria played in baseball's last 20-inning game, five years ago, and he even scored the winning run for St. Louis.

Yet, on Friday, as Detroit Tigers beat man Danny Knobler of the Booth (Mich.) Newspaper Group was putting together a note in the aftermath of the Padres-Rockies marathon, Renteria couldn't even recall it.

"I don't remember," Renteria said. "Not at all."

Thirty minutes later, Renteria still couldn't remember it.

"I'm serious, man," he told Knobler apologetically. "I don't remember."

Likes: Late-night baseball. I listened to the Padres' radio broadcast Thursday night, picking it up in about the 11th or 12th inning in my car when the Angels-Royals finished. Listened on radio until about the 15th inning, when I reached my house. Then I watched until the 20th inning on my family room television. Then I took the dog out for a quick walk between innings and caught the final two innings on my bedroom television. Padres broadcasters Ted Leitner and Andy Masur were very entertaining on the car radio and Matt Vasgersian -- one of the game's most underrated television play-by-play men -- and former pitcher Mark Grant were enjoyable as always on the tube. ... Springsteen's Hungry Heart, Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Kitty's Back and You're Missing. Specifically, the organ parts.

Dislikes: Sad, sad day. Danny Federici, the E St. Band organist, passed away Thursday after battling melanoma for three years. Here's how you can help the cause, if you wish.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Now the hardness of this world
"Slowly grinds your dreams away
"Makin' a fool's joke
"Out of the promises we make
"And what once seemed black and white
"Turns to so many shades of gray
"We lose ourselves in work to do
"Work to do, and bills to pay
"And it's a ride, ride, ride
"And there ain't much cover
"With no one runnin' by your side
"My blood brother"

-- Bruce Springsteen, Blood Brothers

Posted on: April 17, 2008 11:27 pm
 

Pitching lessons from the Royals

There are several reasons why things are looking up for the Kansas City Royals, and chief among them is this: Their pitchers are throwing strikes.

Dovetailing into the fact that the Royals' 3.02 staff ERA was best in the AL and ranked second in the majors entering Thursday night's game in Anaheim was the fact that Kansas City pitchers also had the second-fewest walks in the AL.

Two years ago, while going 62-100, the Royals walked 637 batters to rank 14th in the AL.

"That started last year," third-year pitching coach Bob McClure says of his staff's honing in on the strike zone. "The free-pass thing was out of control my first year. We had guys who didn't belong -- nothing against them, they were just brought up before they should have been -- and they didn't command their pitches.

"The front office recognized it, and we made some changes."

Dayton Moore had taken over as general manager in May, 2006, and recognizing how raw that '06 staff was was one reason he offered Gil Meche $55 million two winters ago. Not only were some of the Royals' kids not ready for prime time, but Meche fit the veteran prototype for which the Royals were searching: Meche, with Seattle in 2006, had nearly a 2:1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

With McClure harping on the importance of throwing strikes throughout the spring of '07 -- and with Meche and Brian Bannister (acquired from the Mets) in the rotation -- the Royals wound up trimming their walk total by 117 from the year before. Their 520 walks -- down from that unsightly 637 in '06 -- ranked seventh in the AL.

"That huge jump started from day one in spring training before the '07 season," McClure says. "I really haven't had to mention that since then. That's something we talked about then: Pitching to contact and to your ability. If you have decent fastball command and the ability to pitch off speed, and if you have the ability to throw strikes when you're behind in the count, you can get people out."

McClure and the staff stressed that in '07, and it's really taken off in '08. Zack Greinke's 0.75 ERA leads the majors, and Bannister's 0.86 is second in the AL. One veteran AL scout I talked with the other night said Greinke's complete-game shutout over the Yankees earlier this month is the best game he's seen pitched in this young season. "He's not throwing his fastball as hard now, but it's just exploding across the plate," the scout said.

Veterans Meche and Brett Tomko have meshed well and done just what Moore hoped they would do: Provide veteran perspective and knowledge.

"It's been enjoyable to watch," McClure says. "The interaction between the pitchers themselves, whether on the bench or in the locker room, has been very good. That's something you try to create and build.

"There's a lot of down time in this game, and I'll see these guys talking about different grips and hitters. The interaction has been very good."

Other than the Meche signing -- which was roundly criticized until the right-hander made 34 starts and produced a 3.64 ERA last year -- most of Moore's moves have been under-the-radar types. One of the most important was keeping McClure as pitching coach even after manager Buddy Bell stepped down and while the Royals were searching for their next manager.

"Mac's a really, really good teacher," says that new manager, Trey Hillman. "It's a no-brainer. Dayton Moore hired Bob McClure before he hired his new manager. I told Dayton quite frankly (when I interviewed), if the new manager has a a problem with everything you've told me about Bob McClure, maybe you hired the wrong manager."

Hillman's managerial career isn't even a month old but, judging from the early returns, with Moore, Hillman, McClure and some of the players in this Kansas City clubhouse right now, the Royals finally appear to have hired a lot of the right guys.

Likes: Love the way Royals right-hander Brian Bannister approaches each start. You can read about that over in Short Hops. ... Nice to see clubs that have been down-and-out recently, like Kansas City and Florida, off to good starts. ... Pat Hughes and Ron Santo are really pleasant listening on Chicago Cubs radio broadcasts. Caught a few innings of Thursday's Cubs-Cincinnati game on XM radio while driving to that night's Angels-Royals game. ... The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert on location in Pennsylvania this week in advance of next week's Democratic primary. Colbert is at the top of his game right now. ... The upcoming disc from Mudcrutch, Tom Petty's old band that's reunited, sounds promising.

Dislikes: Asparagus.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"It seems like yesterday
"But it was long ago
"Janey was lovely, she was the queen of my nights
"There in the darkness with the radio playlng low
"And the secrets that we shared
"The mountains that we moved
"Caught like a wildfire out of control
"Till there was nothing left to burn and nothing left to prove"

-- Bob Seger, Against the Wind

Posted on: April 16, 2008 2:23 pm
Edited on: April 16, 2008 2:53 pm
 

Tulowitzki, Big Papi and the Lonesome Pine

Troy Tulowitzki was back in Colorado's lineup Tuesday night, which shouldn't exactly be a big deal, except for the fact that, with Tulo scuffling early this season, Rockies manager Clint Hurdle was moved to pull the plug on him Sunday.

Yep, while Boston manager Terry Francona gave slumping slugger David Ortiz a mental day off, on the other side of the country (but away from the media glare), Hurdle did the same with Tulowitzki. And nope, Hurdle and Francona didn't exactly come up with the idea while jointly attending a meeting of Slumping Team Leaders Anonymous.

"Good minds think alike," Hurdle quips. "We did not text. We did not call.

"I found it humorous that we go somewhere and someone asked me about Ortiz."

Good thing Hurdle can laugh at the situation, given Tulowitzki's .149 start and two errors. And good thing Tulowitzki has friends in the clubhouse who can help pick him up during the tough times.

Why, before Tuesday's game in San Diego, several Rockies were watching San Francisco play Arizona on the clubhouse televisions as the Giants' John Bowker rapped out two more hits, leaving him at a cool .600 (6-for-10) with seven RBI in his first three major-league games.

"You're down to the fourth-best player from Long Beach," Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins teased Tulowitzki, who played his college ball -- like Bowker, Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria and Oakland's Bobby Crosby -- at Cal State Long Beach.

They tease because they care, of course -- and also because they know Tulowitzki is too good to remain down-and-out. He emerged as the Rockies team leader as a rookie last summer, dazzled with the glove, hit 24 homers, finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, drew comparisons to Cal Ripken Jr. and pretty much set himself up to win several Gold Glove awards.

"He's done a lot of good things," Hurdle says. "He's been a good story from that standpoint. I think sometimes things are overplayed and sometimes things are underplayed.

"When all is said and done, he'll get other days off. He'll be hitting, and it won't be a story."

Tulowitzki is only 23, yet he signed a six-year, $31 million deal that will keep him in Colorado through at least 2013. A year ago, Tulowitzki became the second-youngest opening day starter in Rockies franchise history. Amazing (and utterly impressive) that a year later, it's a monumental event when he's ragged enough that he's out of the lineup.

"A lot of people have affection for the way he plays the game and swings the bat," Hurdle says. "I don't think of it as anything more than a day off."

In a perfect world, Hurdle says, Tulowitzki would play roughly 150 games a season -- which, gasp, would mean taking 12 games off.

"You'd set it up for 150, and he'd probably play in 155 without injuries," Hurdle says. "He's pretty good at playing through things, too. He's got a hockey mentality. He doesn't have to be 100 percent to take the field.

"Guys who are willing to play hurt, it's hard to take them out of the lineup when they're healthy."

Tulowitzki went 0-for-3 with a walk in Tuesday night's 6-0 loss in San Diego. Chances are he'll regain his stroke soon, and his next day off will be later rather than sooner.

And no disrespect to Bowker, whose start in San Francisco has been nothing short of amazing, and nothing against Atkins' sense of humor, which is sharp ... but in the Cal State Long Beach rankings, even a slumping Tulowitzki isn't No. 4.

Likes: The frequent use of the No. 42 by so many players on Tuesday night as baseball celebrated the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Suggestion for Commissioner Bud Selig: How about simply having every player, manager and coach wear the No. 42 every April 15 beginning next year? Robinson remains one of the game's proudest moments, a time when baseball was out in front of society as a whole in righting a longtime wrong and awarding rights to African-Americans that they should have had years earlier. Baseball should continue to trumpet the day and make everyone aware of Jackie Robinson and his everlasting meaning. ... San Francisco Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler writing that "Alex Rodriguez makes $28 million this season, while the entire Marlins' payroll is $21.8 million. What's worse, I hear A-Rod hit on all their wives." ... Steve Poltz's Traveling disc. He's the guy who wrote the smash Jewel hit You Were Meant For Me, and he's a terrific lyricist with a knack for writing catchy tunes. Check him out at www.Poltz.com.

Dislikes: Tax day. Ugh. ... The end of spring break for the schoolkids. ... Erik Bedard on the 15-day disabled list so soon. ... Cleveland closer Joe Borowski, too. ... The persistent chill in the Midwest and East. I was cold just watching games from Detroit, Cleveland and Kansas City on television the past several days.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"When they borrow your money they won't pay back
"They been borrowin' from me all way, in fact
"Now they been borrowin', boy, all of my life
"I believe one day they gonna borrow my wife"

-- Champion Jack Dupree, My Next Door Neighbor

Posted on: April 13, 2008 8:41 pm
 

Revised drug-testing: Good, now keep going. ...

So the players and owners revised the game's drug testing yet again on Friday, taking a few more steps toward a cleaner and better future.

As the kids in the back seat might ask, are we there yet?

Are we where we need to be regarding performance-enhancing drugs?

The short answer is no, for two reasons.

One, this will be an unending, unwinnable battle until scientists finally develop a reliable test that can detect the use of human growth hormone. They haven't, so we're still not completely sure of anyone in the game's guilt or innocence. The only way to sniff out HGH use is via old-fashioned detective spade work. And we already know that can help, but it can't detect everything.

Two, baseball would be better served if an independent, third-party was charged with the drug tests, as the World Anti-Doping Agency (strongly) suggests. The only way to win the trust of every fan is through greater transparency.

That said, players and owners agreed to extend the current program administrator, Dr. Bryan Smith, to a three-year term in which he can only be removed for cause and after an arbiter's hearing. That's not perfect, but it's pretty good. And at the risk of parroting the game's officials, baseball does have the strongest testing program of any of the major professional sports.

One of the best things about this latest revision is that it takes former Sen. George Mitchell's suggestion that the past is the past and grants amnesty to players named in his report. There will be no suspensions or fines levied to those Mitchell named.

Though I'm all for dirty players paying for their sins with strong suspensions, this is best done now moving forward. It's a waste of both time and money to go backwards and investigate what's done. Mitchell did that, and there is a public record now of what some players did.

Is it a thorough, exhaustive record? No. But it's pretty well detailed, provides us with a decent road map and at least has put baseball on the record in publicly acknowledging that yes, there was a Steroid Era.

Baseball has been testing for steroids for several seasons in the minor leagues, now, and the top 200 amateur players eligible for the annual June draft now are subject to drug tests as well (if they refuse, they can be deemed ineligible for the draft).
The game has reached the point with its next generation of players where drug testing is part of the way of life in professional baseball. Doesn't mean that 100 percent of the players will be clean, but it is a significant change in the culture from a decade ago.

The trick now is to remain vigilant.

Likes: That they name a "Tavern of the Game" on Milwaukee Brewers' telecasts, and that tavern (sponsored by a beer company) is awarded 40 tickets to a Friday night Brewers home game. Sunday's winner: Goodfellas Pub in Marchfield, Wis. ... The Dodgers' sound system guy playing the Who's Who Are You? when Chin-lung Hu bats. ... Sunday newspapers. ... M&M dark chocolate. ... Sneaking snacks into the movie theater to combat the ridiculous concession prices.

Dislikes: Big Papi on the bench for a Boston-Yankees game? Say it ain't so! I know David Ortiz is slumping, but wow. ... Atlanta releasing Scott Spiezio because Spiezio apparently remains ensnared in the throes of his alcohol and drug addiction. San, sad tale. ... Smart People. Saw it Saturday night and, while it's not bad, and I like just about every one of the cast members, there were just too many stretches. As a rental, maybe.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"I woke up in a Soho doorway
"A policeman knew my name
"He said, 'You can go sleep at home tonight
"If you can get up and walk away'"

-- The Who, Who Are You?

Posted on: April 10, 2008 5:04 pm
Edited on: April 10, 2008 5:08 pm
 

Byrd migrating south, questions abound up north

Things were moving along just fine for Cleveland pitcher Paul Byrd, right up until Game 7 of last year's American League Championship Series.

Then word leaked that Byrd had taken human growth hormone, he acknowledged he had because of a medical condition, the Indians lost Game 7 and went home and then 2008 started and Byrd is standing here with an 0-2 record and a whopping 11.05 ERA.

OK, so that's an abridged version of what's happened over the past six or so months, but however long you analyze it, the bottom line is not good for Cleveland's Byrd man.

"My fastball just doesn't have a lot of life," the right-hander was saying after the Los Angeles Angels battered him for six earned runs and five hits over just three innings in Wednesday's 9-5 wing-clipping of Byrd and the Indians. "When I miss, it's like batting practice. You can't be perfect every pitch, but if you throw batting practice and you're  not perfect, you just watch (the baseballs) go over the fence."

The uncomfortable question here is whether the aftermath of the HGH stuff from last October is having any effect.

Has it affected his concentration level?

"I feel like that's been pretty good," Byrd says. "As far as I know, it hasn't caused me to lose concentration on the mound. It's been distracting sometimes when I'm not on the mound. But on the mound, my head's been pretty clear. I'm just leaving stuff up."

Is he putting extra pressure on himself after the fact?

"Not that I know of," Byrd says. "I'm excited to help this team get off to a good start, and I've done the opposite. I'm not giving the team quality starts, which is what I usually do."

Sundials always have been more suited than radar guns to measure Byrd's slow, mid-80s fastball. For him, it is all about location.

When he struggled in Oakland last Friday (five runs, three earned, eight hits, two walks in 4 1/3 innings), Byrd thought perhaps the chilly evening air affected him adversely.

But as he noted after walking two more batters in three innings against the Angels, Wednesday was a beautiful day.

"There's 85 m.p.h. fastballs that guys foul off, that have life, cut, sink, is sneaky," Byrd says. "Then there's 85 m.p.h. batting practice fastballs with no life that don't move and look like they're on a tee, that aren't sneaking up on anybody.

"That's what I have right now."

Byrd next is slated to start Tuesday night in Cleveland against Boston in an ALCS re-match. By then, perhaps his fastball will have its sneak back. He sure hopes so. The Indians do, too. Because the longer he goes without it, the uglier it's going to get.

Likes: The MLB Extra Innings television package and XM radio. I don't mean to be a shill for other people's products here, but to be able to watch or listen to almost every game being played every night is fantastic. The technology available today to bring the home team's games to fans who have moved, or to give those who live nowhere near a big league ballpark all sorts of options, is way cool. Had they had these things when I was a kid, I might still be sitting in my parents' living room. ... Toronto having to re-think its $2 tickets because of too many fights. Listen, I'm not promoting fighting, but in the days of luxury suites, new ballparks and rising ticket costs, it's nice to see baseball isn't losing touch with its blue-collar roots. Keep the $2 seats -- and just hire bouncers instead of ushers for those sections. ... The Masters this weekend. I'm not a huge golf guy, but I do appreciate American institutions, and every time I see a TV shot from Augusta, the place looks breathtakingly beautiful. ... Two incredible Bruce Springsteen shows in Anaheim this week. Anytime you get Light of Day to start, you know anything could happen the rest of the way. Anytime you get Trapped, you know it's a great show. And when you get several different songs on night two, including Candy's Room, Brilliant Disguise, Meeting Across the River and Jungleland, well, you sure ain't going home unhappy.

Dislikes: The weekend approaching and baseball underway? You're on your own for dislikes today. I've got no grumpiness at all.

Rock 'N Roll lyric of the day:

"One love
"One life
"When it's one need
"In the night
"One love
"We get to share it
"Leaves you baby if you
"Don't care for it"

-- U2, One

Category: MLB
Tags: Paul Byrd, U2
 
Posted on: April 7, 2008 1:53 pm
 

Fenway, Cueto & One Shining Moment -- what a week

What you'll be talking about this week: Is Detroit ever going to, maybe, win a game? The only winless team in the majors at 0-6, maybe you think that's a joke. But check out this next stretch of the Tigers' schedule: At Boston for three beginning on Tuesday, at the White Sox this weekend (and Chicago, coming off of a sweep in Detroit, is playing really well), then home for two against Minnesota (ah, perhaps a breather?) then at Cleveland for two and Toronto for three.

The Tigers rank dead last in the American League -- and 28th in the majors -- in runs scored. Read all about it over in the Weekend Buzz.

What you'll also talk about: Guess what? Boston is heading home for its Fenway Park opener on Tuesday. No small statement, either -- the Red Sox have flown more than 15,000 air miles since leaving Florida what seems like two months ago to travel to Japan, California, Toronto and, finally, home again. It's been a 19-day odyssey that has covered three countries and winds up with Boston in last place in the AL East for the first time since April 10, 2005.

Granted, the Red Sox are only two games out, but still. Going into this season, it was clear that survival would be the key to the stretch the Red Sox have just finished. Last place isn't great, but it's early and a two-game deficit is nothing. But, and this is a big but: Will the past three weeks leave the Red Sox gassed for the foreseeable future, or will they recover pretty quickly once they get home? A hangover effect could open the door for Toronto -- whose pitching was terrific in the first week -- among others to establish itself early.

Most pressing thing for Boston right now is to straighten out shortstop Julio Lugo. He committed three errors in Sunday's loss to Toronto after committing another on Saturday. His throwing is nearly as out of whack as Tuesday's Fenway Park opponent, Detroit. The Red Sox get their 2007 World Series rings in a pre-game ceremony Tuesday.

Perhaps this conversation is better skipped: In the throes of a terrible start, the Giants return home for their opener Monday afternoon against San Diego. They arrive reeling with a 1-5 record. Only Colorado (10) has scored fewer than the Giants' 12 runs.

Oh, and when they get home, the Giants will see a de-Bonds-itized AT&T Park. The Giants have scrubbed nearly every reference to the Big Man. But they sure were happy to take your money the past several years through tickets, T-shirts, jerseys, caps, and anything else that could earn them a buck.

What you can't help but talk about: That speculation regarding the brown stuff on San Diego ace Jake Peavy's right hand in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's dominating performance over Los Angeles? Dirt mixed with resin and sweat? Pine tar? Faulty M&Ms that melted in his hand, not his mouth?

Well, tune in for the sequel on Friday night in Dodger Stadium, where Peavy will have a re-match with Los Angeles ace Brad Penny. Gee, what kind of reception to you think he'll get there?

What you should be talking about: Cincinnati at Milwaukee on Tuesday night. Why? Reds rookie Johnny Cueto, who was filthy on Thursday, gets his second start of the season against a very good Brewers' lineup. Cueto's fastball was sizzling in the mid-90s, his slider embarrassing Arizona hitters at 89 m.p.h. or so and from what we saw in one brief outing, this kid is a no-hitter waiting to happen.

What you really should talk about: Pittsburgh outfielder Nate McLouth hit .429 during the season's first week and banged out a base hit in his first at-bat against the Cubs on Monday morning in Pittsburgh. This guy is sizzling and giving the Pirates some hope. Let's watch how the Cubs and Cincinnati pitch him this week.

Likes: All of these day games this early in the season. Nice to have baseball to watch at home during the day -- or anywhere during the day. ... Does anybody in the game have more guts and competitive fire than John Smoltz? Answer: No. ... Will you look at this, Cincinnati is getting some pitching. Johnny Cueto was fabulous last Thursday and Edinson Volquez, the pitcher acquired from Texas in the Josh Hamilton deal, was really good Sunday. The Reds get pitching, they stay in contention. ... Nice to have Jon Miller and Joe Morgan back every Sunday night again. ... Martin Scorcese's look at the Rolling Stones in Shine a Light is terrific. Scorcese or no, there's no groundbreaking stuff on the Stones, so if you're looking for that, change your expectations. But if you like the Stones, it's a very well-done concert film/documentary in which several lesser-known tunes are featured. The blues number with Buddy Guy is great, and Mick Jagger's duet with Christina Aguilera sizzles. She's got some pipes, that girl. ...One Shining Moment -- the song, the video montage, the entire thing. The NCAA title game always makes this one of the best Monday nights of the year.

Dislikes: Aw, you hate to see Colorado open at home over this past weekend celebrating its first NL title, raising the championship banner, receiving NL champion rings ... and get swept by Arizona (Diamondbacks fans, this part doesn't apply to you!)

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey
"I ache in the places where I used to play
"And I'm crazy for love but I'm not coming on
"I'm just paying my rent every day
"Oh, in the tower of song"

-- Leonard Cohen, Tower of Song

 
 
 
 
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