Tag:Jason Isbell
Posted on: July 1, 2011 2:31 pm

Short Hops: All-Star Soria back on track (& more)

This isn't about Mariano Rivera. It's about the Royals' Joakim Soria. But as with so many other things regarding closers, it makes Old Man Rivera look even more sensational than he already is.

OK, here goes: If I were to ask you coming into this season whose save conversion rate since July 31, 2007, is second in the game to Rivera's, whom would you say?

Yes, the answer is Soria, a two-time All-Star whose 92.4 rate since that date is second among all major-league closers to Rivera's 92.9.

Now, here's just one more piece of evidence that Rivera is superhuman: In late May, Soria suddenly fell into a hole and blew five of his first 12 save opportunities. It got so bad that after he blew consecutive save opportunities in late May, he admirably went to manager Ned Yost and essentially removed himself from the role. Something that in all of these years Rivera has never had to do.

Yost handled the situation superbly: He gave Soria a few days off to clear out his mind, eased him back into non-save situations in which he could pitch two innings at a time (to work on his fastball command) and then plugged Soria back into the ninth in early June.

The results, again, have been spectacular: Soria has worked 12 shutout innings in his past 10 games and is six-for-six in save opportunities, while holding opponents to an .098 batting average (4 for 41).

"It was not a big change at all," Soria says. "It was just a mind-set, getting my confidence back. Mechanics-wise, there was nothing to change. I looked at video, and I'm not doing anything different."

Soria isn't a closer with overpowering stuff, nor does he have one lethal weapon like Rivera's cutter. Instead, he throws all of his pitches -- fastball, curve, slider and change. Because he depends on location, problems can arise if he goes four or five days between outings.

"He's a command-guy closer," Yost says. "Command guys rebound so much better from that than stuff guys do.

"I've never had stuff guys who have gone through this rebound -- Derrick Turnbow, Danny Kolb, even Eric Gagne."

Soria, 27, right now is reinforcing Yost's history.

"Bad things make you stronger," Soria says. "If you've always been good, maybe you don't realize what it takes to be good until you go bad."

As for Rivera, who mostly has been immune to slumps throughout his Hall of Fame career, Soria, like everyone else, just marvels.

"He's the best," Soria says. "He's done everything in his career, and I don't think he's ever struggled."

-- Soria and Rivera have met once, at the All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium in 2008. But they did not exchange trade secrets. "We didn't talk about the game," Soria says. "We just talked about life."

-- Though they clearly could use reinforcements for a beat-up bullpen, and manager Charlie Manuel wants a right-handed bat (the Padres' Ryan Ludwick? The Twins' Michael Cuddyer?), the Phillies are telling teams that they they're tapped out financially. They're close to the luxury tax threshold and do not want to cross it. Of course, they were also telling rivals the same thing last winter before they shocked everyone by signing free agent pitcher Cliff Lee.

-- Emphasizing Philadelphia's need for a right-handed bat: The Phillies are hitting .196 in their past 13 games against lefty starters.

-- The Red Sox, too, say they do not want to push their luxury tax any higher than it already is, which suggests no pricey mid-season reinforcements. But recent history under general manager Theo Epstein also suggests the Red Sox get what they need and, right now, their internal discussions are centering on a hitter. They're not getting much out of right field, which led to the release of Mike Cameron this week.

-- Mariners officials are scheduled to talk via conference call next week to discuss final strategy leading into the July trade deadline. Though Seattle has done a nice job of staying competitive, the recent 3-7 tailspin could spur the M's to deal Erik Bedard. Though Bedard landed on the disabled list this week with a knee sprain, he could be a very good trade chip.

-- Thanks to Milwaukee's road woes, the Cardinals are back in a tie for first place in the NL Central entering the weekend. But one scout who has watched St. Louis recently remains unimpressed. "Colby Rasmus is so inconsistent," the scout says. "Sometimes it looks like he's not even there at the plate." Then there are the times when Rasmus looks like he is there, like when he homered Tuesday and Wednesday in Baltimore.

-- In St. Louis' defense, the Cards have been so beat up this year, but while Albert Pujols is out, at least third baseman David Freese has returned from the disabled list. "Daniel Descalso was playing third base when I saw St. Louis," the scout says. "And I'm thinking, 'These are the St. Louis Cardinals?'"

-- This is the Phillies' rotation we expected: Philadelphia starters compiled a 1.96 ERA in June. Which, according to STATS LLC makes the Phils the first team since July of 1992 to go a full month under 2.00. Both Atlanta and the Chicago Cubs did it back in July, '92.

-- Quietly, Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick is resurfacing and showing why he will be in demand on the July trade market. He's at 51 RBIs in 78 games after finishing April with a .198 batting average and a .294 on-base percentage. That followed his miserable debut in San Diego last summer when he hit .211 with six homers in 59 games after his acquisition from St. Louis. There have been differences between this year and last: A calf injury nagged at him last year, while this April he was hitting the ball hard, just right at people. "I played terrible last year," Ludwick says. "I wouldn't say I've been playing great this year, but I've been doing what I've been known to do and what they brought me over to do. Drive in runs. Last year, every time I came to the ballpark I was stressed out, wondering if I was going to be able to make contact."

-- Know what's funny? The cover of Florida's media guide is a collage of small photos of historical highlights in Marlins history. And right there front and center, albeit at the bottom, is a photo of Jack McKeon in uniform. No need for updating there. Well, except he's wearing No. 15, and this time around, he's No. 25.

-- Angels manger Mike Scioscia, by the way, is still marveling about McKeon's enthusiasm for managing at 80. Scioscia and the Angels saw McKeon in his 2011 debut a couple of weeks back.

Likes: All-Star voting results coming soon, with the game soon to follow. ... Derek Jeter nearly set to resume his chase for 3,000 hits. ... Kerry Wood off of the DL and back in the Cubs' bullpen. ... From rocky NFL labor talks to rocky NBA labor talks to ... baseball labor talks still quiet and positive. ... The smell of neighborhood grills over the Fourth of July weekend. ... Modern Family boxed set, season 1. I'm just catching up to a show I haven't watched. Very funny. ... My sister's frozen key lime pie. Delicious.

Dislikes: Missed Jason Isbell coming through my town last week because of work commitments. His latest disc with his band, the 400 Unit, Here We Rest, is outstanding.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Driving in to Darlington County
"Me and Wayne on the Fourth of July
"Driving in to Darlington County
"Looking for some work on the county line
"We drove down from New York City
"Where the girls are pretty but they just want to know your name
"Driving in to Darlington City
"Got a union connection with an uncle of Wayne's
"We drove eight hundred miles without seeing a cop
"We got rock and roll music blasting off the T-top singing. ..."

-- Bruce Springsteen, Darlington County

Posted on: April 26, 2011 4:39 pm

Stuff my editors whacked from the column

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Outtakes from some time spent with Jered Weaver and his choir of Angels. ...

-- After tagging Jered Weaver with the only loss he's taken in 2011 -- an arbitration beating last winter -- Angels general manager Tony Reagins confirms Weaver's account, that it was business as usual when the right-hander came to camp this spring.

"Unchanged," Reagins says of Weaver's demeanor. "I think he knew what to expect in the process. He went through it, but he didn't let it affect him.

The Angels had offered $7.365 million. Weaver, who earned $4.265 million in 2010, countered at $8.8 million. Weaver says he arrived in spring camp with neither a chip on his shoulder or with excess motivation to prove that he should have been awarded his payday.

"Not at all," Weaver says. "Business is business. Obviously, it was the first time I've gone through anything like that. You never take the business side of baseball and bring it to the fun part of it. That gets you in trouble. I've got pretty thick skin."

-- Weaver is eligible for free agency after the 2012, season, by the way. And with Scott Boras as his agent, Angels fans are advised not to fall too deeply in love with him.

-- Weaver gives off the appearance of a quiet, laid-back guy. But there's more beneath the surface.

"I see a guy who is a leader," Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher says. "He really stepped into the role last year. He wanted to challenge himself, and he reaped the rewards. He puts in a lot of hard work. He communicates very well with his teammates. He's very open. He mingles with everybody."

Says fellow starter Dan Haren: "I'm laid back off the field, and I don't wear my emotions on my sleeve on the field. He's laid back off the field, but on the field he's competitive and fiery. I've pitched on quite a few teams, and he ranks right up there with his will to win. He'll do anything. I've seen him throw 125 pitches and then beg to go back out there.

"You don't see that much anymore. At least, I don't."

-- Weaver doesn't throw as hard now as when the Angels made him their No. 1 pick in 2004, but he's acquired the wisdom that comes with five years in the league and that's made him more dangerous.

"He understands how to pitch," Reagins says. "When we took him, he threw much harder than what he throws now. But velocity is not as important as being able to throw the ball where you want to."

Weaver's fastball averaged between 93 and 95 m.p.h. a few years ago. Now, it averages somewhere between 91 and 93.

"But I like the results better," Reagins says.

Likes: Glad to see Ryan Ludwick slam the game-winning homer in the 13th inning in San Diego the other night. Not because I was rooting against Atlanta, or rooting for the Padres. It's just that Ludwick is a good man and has been buried in such a dreadful slump all season. Cover this game long enough and that's what happens: You don't root for teams. You root for people. ... Speaking of which, a pleasant memory came floating back Tuesday when a friend was trying to recall the name of the sweet old elevator operator at Tiger Stadium. Sarah, bless her soul. ... The framed Tiger Stadium print in my home office. Takes me right back to Midwestern summer nights. We're never too old to be reminded of our youth, are we? ... Here We Rest, the new CD from Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. ... Blessed, the new CD from Lucinda Williams. ... Pipes Cafe, a great breakfast and lunch joint in Cardiff, Calif. Get the breakfast burrito.

Dislikes: The dead hummingbird I found on by back porch Tuesday morning, courtesy of my cat. At least, that's my current suspect, though CSI is still investigating and there is no proof. ... Never saw the J. Geils Band before they split up. That's probably the only band I never saw live that I really, really wish I would have (not counting groups that existed before I was old enough to go to concerts, like The Beatles). I would think there would be a ton of dough to be made with a J. Geils reunion tour. (I'm also not counting U2, which I've never seen, because they're currently on tour and, as such, they don't rank in the "Missed Chance" category. They're coming to a stadium near me in June and I figure I'll catch 'em.).

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"You talk about the junk you do
"Like you talk about climbing trees
"You live the life of a little kid
"With bruises on your knees
"You will never cop to the damage that's been done
"But you will never stop 'cause it's too much fun
"Now you want somebody to be your buttercup
"Good luck finding your buttercup"

-- Lucinda Williams, Buttercup

Posted on: April 19, 2011 7:55 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2011 8:03 pm

Love Letters: The Bonds* trial edition

The jury delivered its verdict on Barry Bonds* last week, then I rendered judgment on the both Bonds* and the jury. And now, the stage is yours. ...

FROM: Gary K.

Since you [know] nothing about baseball, you should not have a vote for the Hall of Fame anyway. If Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth belong in the Hall of Fame, then so does Barry Bonds. I suppose the Babe didn't take a drink during Prohibition or Ty Cobb was a person that we would want our children to learn their morals from. You, my friend, are an idiot!

You're the one grouping a convicted felon who dragged the game through the mud with two guys who respected the game and were never convicted. And I'm the idiot?

FROM: HSC Shooter

I totally agree with Scott. Bonds will have to wait a very long time before anyone feels he's worthy of the HOF. You let Bonds in and that opens a lot of doors. You have to let Pete Rose in, as well as Shoeless Joe Jackson. These two individuals have the numbers and, last time I checked, betting doesn't increase power numbers or cap size, or shrink testicles. Bonds knew he couldn't get the numbers without a little help. Manny knew it and a whole bunch of others yet to be caught. Baseball has a very serious problem. As does the NFL.

Thank you for mentioning the NFL. Because if people think football players grow to those dimensions naturally, then I've got mansion belonging to Barry Bonds that I'd like to sell you.

FROM: Slappman

If Bonds does not get your vote for the HOF, then you should lose your status as a voter. You holier than thou writers are a joke. If Bonds doesn't get in, then take out Ty Cobb and anyone who used amphetamines in the '60s and '70s.

That wasn't on my watch. This is. The record book has never changed so quickly as when players changed so grotesquely. If having standards makes me holier than thou, then come find me in church, big man.

FROM: Vince

Then YOU SIR should not have a vote. In a game that it is CLEAR that many players were using ... for you to say you will not vote for a guy who HAD the numbers is absurd. I guess A-Rod does not get in either? You must be MAD!

Last I checked, A-Rod is an admitted HGH user. So he's out, too. So many marquee players from this generation --  not all -- should be ashamed.

FROM: John B.

Excellent essay, Mr. Miller. It seems we have a bit in common. My twin sister has been a Crown Prosecuting Attorney for about 30 years now. Has turned downed an offer of Judgeship feeling it would be too disruptive to her family, yet has given seminars and courses to many a judge on many an occasion. Your essay rang true and clear to me, although my sister would never say it, and I think you know where this verdict ultimately came from. Thanks for scratching the surface. A loyal reader.

Not only is my sister a lawyer, but she's hell on wheels in the kitchen -- steaks, pasta, cookies, you name it. I need to go visit her more often.

FROM: Twan

How can you not vote Barry in? He did not break any MLB rules. Your vote should be about a player who played the game, and not about your personal feelings toward the man. You need to keep your feelings out of it and just look at what he has done as a player within the rules he was given to play with.

I give you credit for a level-headed response. Thanks for that. A couple of things: My personal feelings toward Bonds are not negative. I've interviewed him several times, and he's almost always been cool to me. This is purely professional. And in that regard, the directive from the Hall of Fame pertaining to voting is that "voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution(s) to the team(s) on which the player played." For me, Bonds fails badly in "integrity, sportsmanship and character."

FROM: Andrew

If Bonds doesn't get your vote, then no one should. It is apparent that the media, including you especially, myopically view the period from approximately 1997 on as the steroid era. However, we know Olympic athletes were using them in the '60s and some ex-MLB players have been reported to have admitted to having tried them pre-1980. Therefore, everyone after 1960 should be deemed suspect. Your choice to exclude Bonds would appear to be based more on your dislike of him as a person, than any form of logical, reasoned judgment regarding HOF credentials. What are your qualifications to determine which of the thousands of players knowingly took steroids and which didn't, when our federal justice system was unable to divine that in the Bonds case? If you are going to vote based on who you like and dislike, disregarding baseball credentials, please turn in your voting credentials.

Make sure to read my answer to the note just above yours.

FROM: Oldnassau'67

About the cosmic unimportance of Barry Bonds, you are quite correct. Afghanistan, Iraq, the whole Middle East, budget, economy, national deficit, health care, immigration, jobs...... the list of infinitely more significant issues that the feds must deal with is endless.

And now we've got sleeping air traffic controllers on top of everything else.

FROM: Christopher B.

You over-value public sentiment. The public is spoon fed how to think, and you hold the spoon. That you vilify Bonds is not surprising. You are grand-fathered in. Perfect. Spotless. You may wear your underpants up to your neckline however, and should try loosening up some. This is what I think of you. There but for the grace of God go I.

"There but for the grace of God go I"? That works when it comes to natural disasters. Not here. We all have choices to make, and Bonds made his. And leave my underwear out of it.

FROM: Stan A.

What a bunch of worthless BS this was. So, how much was spent on this trial ... to get to the conclusion that obstruction occurred with NO lying. If a person is a celebrity, politican or of the elite super-rich class, you can get away with almost anything -- for a price. That's what our Justice system is based on, who can pay and who has to serve. Geez what a joke this trial was. Hopefully, any HOF voters with gonads will say NYET to any of the steroid superstars.

Amen, brother, amen.

FROM: Larry Y.

The real problem with steroids and baseball was not Barry Bonds. The real problem was Donald Fehr and the players union. Add Bud Selig and the owners to that list. Imagine if the NFL players union had blocked testing for steroids and Roger Goodell and the owners were OK with it. ... The poster boy for the steroid era should not be Barry Bonds. It should be Donald Fehr and it should be Bud Selig.

There's lots of guilt to go around, my friend.

Likes: If you can't get enough of the Giants' World Series title last year, make sure to check out Andrew Baggarly's book, A Band of Misfits. Andy knows the Giants as well as anyone and he worked his tail off on this book over the winter. You can check it out here. ... Fair Game, the film version of former CIA operative Valerie Plame having her identity leaked by the government when her husband wrote an op-ed piece criticizing the Iraq war for the New York Times. Not a great film, but pretty good. And Sean Penn is always excellent. ... Nicolas Cage arrested in New Orleans for publicly arguing with his wife in the street in front of a house he said they were renting ... and she said they weren't. Now that's entertainment. Great actor, messed up dude. ... Jason Isbell's new disc, Here We Rest, is really good. Many terrific tracks, none better than Codeine.

Dislikes: The Switch isn't even worth a look on DVD. Poor Jennifer Aniston. She seems like such an attractive and nice gal, but she's made awful choices in some of her film roles and men.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"If there's one thing I can't stand
"It's this bar and this cover band
"Trying to fake their way through 'Castles Made of Sand'
"Well that's one thing I can't stand
"If there's one thing I can't take
"It's the sound that a woman makes
"About five seconds after her heart begins to break
"That's one thing I can't take"

-- Jason Isbell, Codeine


The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com