Tag:Ned Yost
Posted on: October 7, 2011 1:13 pm
Edited on: October 7, 2011 1:20 pm

Brewers' last playoff manager looks to go deeper

MILWAUKEE -- If Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke needs any sort of reference points for the last time the Brewers were in the postseason, back in 2008, he doesn't have to travel far to find the manager from back then.

In a testament to the family atmosphere that surrounds this fun bunch of Brewers, Dale Sveum continues his work with the organization as hitting coach, his time in charge largely forgotten in the dustbin of history.

When the Brewers nearly folded down the stretch in '08, they fired manager Ned Yost in a shocking move in mid-September, with just 12 games left in their season.

Sveum took over on an interim basis for those 12 games, then managed in the playoffs as the Brewers were eliminated in four games by the Phillies.

After that, Sveum was considered as full-time manager but didn't get the job. The Brewers instead hired Ken Macha, who ran the club in 2009 and 2010. When they didn't renew his contract, they plucked Roenicke off of Mike Scioscia's Angels staff.

So here we are, three years later, and there's Sveum, working behind the batting cage, offering this bit of advice to Prince Fielder, that bit of help to Ryan Braun.

Surely, he had to swallow some pride when he was passed over as manager. Why did he stay?

"It was a very unfortunate situation at the time," Sveum, 47, told me when we spoke here a couple of weeks ago. "I only managed for 12 days and then the playoffs. It wasn't like I was there for three months or something. It wasn't the norm where you think you deserve the job."

Given that feeling, the strange circumstances and his affinity for the young core group of players in '08 -- most of whom will play this afternoon in what could be Prince Fielder's final game as a Brewer -- Sveum never gave serious thought to leaving. Maybe others would have walked away in a huff, but not this guy.

"I've been with quite a few organizations, but the Brewers have been great," said Sveum, who played for the Brewers, Pirates, White Sox, Athletics, Mariners and Yankees during his 12-year major-league career. "I love it here. I love the city.

"There would be nothing more gratifying than winning one here. I played here. I coached here. We have a great owner [Mark Attanasio] who is not afraid to spend money and keep guys. We drew three million fans this year.

"This is not a bad place to be. And these jobs don't come around very often."

While Sveum said the run in '08 with CC Sabathia was a whole lot of fun, he said this year has been better because "we have a complete pitching staff, and whenever you have a complete pitching staff, you have a chance to go deep into the playoffs."

"The fans are not stupid," Sveum said. "They know there's a window here to go deep into the playoffs, and that's what brings electricity."

Those fans, on edge since Arizona evened this series 2-2 on Wednesday night in the desert, only hope the window to go deep into the playoffs doesn't slam shut prematurely later tonight.

Likes: Three Game 5s. How great is this? ... Fabulous Tigers-Yankees Game 5, and what a job of managing in that series by Jim Leyland. ... The folks who work for Southwest Airlines are some of the friendliest and most helpful in the business. The other day, a little portfolio-type thing I carry that has a ton for frequent-flier cards, numbers and receipts in it, fell out of my workbag on a flight. I didn't notice until I got to the baggage claim area, and a terrific lady for Southwest in the baggage claim area jumped on the case immediately, phoned the gate and had it back to me within 15 minutes. The folks cleaning the plane had found it and, phew, what a relief. ... Mo's steakhouse in downtown Milwaukee. The "McAlpine" Horseradish Crusted Prime Ribeye, white cheddar mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach ... now that's a meal. ... Culver's frozen custard, a Wisconsin staple.

Dislikes: Another week of great baseball, 75 degrees in Milwaukee today, beautiful sun, sailboats on Lake Michigan ... what's not to like?

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Reading departure signs in some big airport
"Reminds me of the places I've been.
"Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
"Makes me want to go back again.
"If it suddenly ended tomorrow,
"I could somehow adjust to the fall.
"Good times and riches and son of a bitches,
"I've seen more than I can recall
"These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes,
"Nothing remains quite the same.
"Through all of our running and all of our cunning
"If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane"

-- Jimmy Buffett, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

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: June 7, 2011 12:36 am

Royals re-insert Soria as closer

KANSAS CITY -- Exiled at his own suggestion after blowing five saves earlier this year, All-Star Joakim Soria is back as Kansas City's closer.

Manager Ned Yost told Soria after the right-hander pitched two scoreless innings and earned the win as the Royals snapped a four-game losing streak with a 3-2, 11-inning victory over Toronto at Kauffman Stadium.

Aaron Crow, who did not have a save opportunity while serving as temporary closer, will move back into his set-up role.

"That sets our bullpen up nice," said Yost, who thinks Soria needed to make a "mental adjustment" more than anything.

"Get back on the attack, get out and over on his front foot," Yost said.

Among Soria's struggles this season: His 16 earned runs allowed are three more than his season totals from both 2009 and 2010, and the five blown saves are the most of any of his five seasons.

He approached Yost following his fifth blown save of the season -- and second in two days -- on May 30.

"He's done it with a lot of class, a lot of dignity," Yost said of his two-time All-Star. "He stepped back when he felt he was hurting the team, and he stepped back when he had to make adjustments before coming back to help us."

Yost noted it was quick, "eight or nine days", but now he's again seeing "vintage Soria."

"He had two four-out innings where we made errors on ground balls when we should have made the out, and he's been fantastic," Yost said.

Entering this season, since becoming Kansas City's closer following the trade of Octavio Dotel on July 31, 2007, Soria had converted 122 of 132 save opportunities. His 92.4 conversion percentage during that time was second in the majors to the Yankees' Mariano Rivera (92.9 percent).

"I always felt good, but I'm in a better spot right now," Soria said. "I feel better in my command. I'll always be challenged in this game. I like challenges, and I put a challenge to myself to come back as quick as I can."


Posted on: June 5, 2011 7:46 pm

"Instant hero" Hosmer looks like a KC keeper

KANSAS CITY -- He is quickly becoming this year's breakout rookie, this summer's Buster Posey or Stephen Strasburg.

Rattle a couple of home runs around Yankee Stadium within a week of your major-league debut, and that'll help.

But Eric Hosmer, Kansas City's 21-year-old first baseman, it far more than just a tabloid sensation.

"He's a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman," Royals manager Ned Yost says. "And he's got as pretty a swing as I've seen since J.D. Drew."

"As mature a 21-year-old as I've seen in a long time," Kansas City outfielder Jeff Francoeur says. "I wish I had half his approach when I was 21. But I was Mr. Cave Man, just letting it go."

Hosmer is anything but. He is refined enough to change his approach from at-bat to at-bat, and he is savvy enough to hit to all fields.

His 28 hits and 12 runs scored during the month of May led all American League rookies. Impressive in its own right, but when you consider that that he wasn't even promoted from Triple-A Omaha until May 6 ... talk about hitting the ground running.

For that, Hosmer, Kansas City's first-round pick in the 2008 draft (third overall), also was named as the Royals' player of the month for hitting .283 with five homers and 17 RBI.

"Spring training helped me a lot," says Hosmer, who won the Class A Carolina League batting title last year (.354) and tied for the league lead in on-base percentage (.429). "They invited me to big league camp knowing I wasn't going to make the team. They just told me to learn as much as possible and have fun with it.

"I tried to take that to Omaha. I told myself to work harder and learn as much as possible."

By the end of his month-long run there, there was barely any more to learn: Hosmer was leading all of minor-league baseball in both batting average (.439) and on-base percentage (.525) at the time of his recall.

A big man (6-4, 229 pounds) with lots of power, what the major-league spring training invite did was not only help boost his confidence, but make him even more comfortable with Yost and his staff. That way, when Hosmer joined the Royals in Kansas City on May 6, they didn't need to waste time with introductions. He already knew everyone and the way they worked.

The New York home runs came on May 11 -- first of his career against A.J. Burnett -- and May 12. Yeah, right, if you can make it there. ...

"He became an instant hero here with that," says television analyst Frank White, who was slick enough at second base that he was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame. "That put an exclamation mark on his start."

By the time Minnesota left town after sweeping the Royals on Sunday, Hosmer was hitting .300 and carrying a seven-game hitting streak. He's hitting .400 during that streak, including five multi-hit games.

Talking before Sunday's game, several Twins coaches were marveling about how their pitchers had thrown Hosmer everything during the first three games of the series and rarely fooled him. Hosmer, they said, makes adjustments pitch-to-pitch, within the same at-bat, something that's difficult for most veterans, let alone a kid who on Sunday played in only his 28th big-league game.

So far, Hosmer has hit safely in 21 of those 28 games, including in 15 of 17 in Kauffman Stadium.

"He's got a long career ahead of him," Royals designated hitter Billy Butler, himself a first-round pick (2004), says. "Whenever he goes through his growing pains, he's just going to get better and better.

"He's got the makings of an All-Star."


Posted on: May 13, 2010 5:20 pm
Edited on: May 13, 2010 6:50 pm

Hillman out, Yost in in Kansas City

This was Royals' general manager Dayton Moore speaking to the Kansas City Star on Tuesday about manager Trey Hillman: "Trey is a tremendous leader. ... He's exactly what our organization needs at this point in time."

This was Moore speaking to Hillman 48 hours later in Kansas City: "You're fired!"

And with that, bam, another Royals manager bites the dust.

That's three in the past six years, five in the past 13, and on and on this grisly story goes. From Tony Muser to Tony Pena (who did deliver an AL Manager of the Year season in 2003) to Buddy Bell to Hillman. Fired, fired, fired, fired.

Next up is former Brewers manager Ned Yost, who joined the Royals this year as special advisor to baseball operations ... which is not unlike a storm chaser signing on as special advisor to tornado damage.

Wreckage everywhere. And what I can't get over is the twister that blew through in that 48-hour span from "He's exactly what our organization needs at this point in time" to "Pack your bags and hit the road, Jack."

Talk about a reaching a crisis point.

The Royals look like they have no idea what they're doing.

They clearly underachieved under Hillman: At midweek, they ranked fifth in the AL in batting average, sixth in slugging percentage, seventh in on-base percentage ... yet 11th in runs scored. Only Baltimore's record was worse.

But they also are not getting any better players than they were five or six years ago, and the pitching is abysmal. Statistically, only the Angels have a worse bullpen right now, and only Detroit has a worse rotation.

For that, the spotlight now swings straight over to Moore, whose choice to replace Hillman was predictable: An old Braves connection from the days when Moore was an assistant to Atlanta GM John Schuerholz and Yost was a coach on manager Bobby Cox's staff.

Whatever. This is a team that has lost 100 or more games in three of the past six years and 93 or more games in five of the past six years. Moore replaced former GM Allard Baird (fired, too) in May, 2006, and the Brewers have lost 93 and 97 games in two of Moore's three full seasons.

This season? They're on pace to finish 56-106.

The exact same record they posted in 2005, the last full season before Moore was hired.

Progress? Or irreversible corrosion?

It is never pleasant when a man loses his job, no matter how much relief there surely is in many quarters of Royal fandom today.

"Thankfully, in 20 years of managing, last year easily was my most trying year," Hillman told me this spring. "Easily. Because each day, you want to give the great fans of Kansas City what they want, what they deserve."

The Royals owe their great fans something fierce. And it isn't Scott Podsednik getting picked off of base, Yuniesky Betancourt half-assing a routine infield fly and muffing it, or the current sorry bullpen that has sabotaged several games the Royals could have won.

And it damned sure isn't singing the manager's praises early in the week only to fire the same guy later in the week.

Posted on: November 3, 2008 11:46 pm

Notes from the GM meetings

DANA POINT, Calif. -- In the immediate aftermath of his team being eliminated from the National League Championship Series last month, slugger and impending free agent Manny Ramirez quipped, "Gas is up, and so am I."

With the price of gasoline now dropping, though ... well, the Dodgers couldn't be so lucky. Could they?

"That's a very good point," Dodgers general manger Ned Colletti said here Monday. "We'll have to check the gas market before I go to speak with him.

"I know how the fans feel. I know how we feel. I know what he did for 10 weeks. He did as good as anybody could do in the regular season and postseason."

As of late Monday afternoon, Colletti hadn't spoken formally with Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, about a deal that would keep the slugger in a Dodgers' uniform. The GM meetings here were just firing up, though Boras did walk through the lobby and, ostensibly, toward some meetings of his own later in the day.

Colletti listed the Dodgers' priorities as addressing the left side of the infield (where third baseman Casey Blake and shortstop Rafael Furcal are free agents), the bullpen and adding a starting pitcher.

The Dodgers are expected to be a player in the CC Sabathia negotiations and are discussing the possibility of acquiring San Diego's Jake Peavy in trade.

Asked if he could foresee a financial scenario in which both Ramirez and Sabathia would wind up as Dodgers in 2009, Colletti said, "I think that would be difficult."


"I think it would be difficult."

The Dodgers' recent history with players such as Furcal and Andruw Jones is to offer shorter-term deals -- two, three years -- and a bit more money. Ramirez will be seeking top dollar and certainly should have some suitors. That way, both the club and the player have a chance to re-evaluate the situation.

That said, Colletti said the club wouldn't necessarily be scared off by the common thinking that Ramirez busted his butt for them last summer because he was auditioning for a new contract, and that once he obtains that contract he'll start giving half-effort at times again.

"I think the time he spent with Joe (Torre, manager), with the baseball front office and with his teammates wasn't too long," Colletti said. "Does that continue ... you can ask that questions of anybody and everybody. You're going to have to trust with that kind of commitment, what he's going to continue to do for the organization."

-- Yes, Colletti agreed, Andruw Jones needs to report to spring training in better shape. "That would be a start," the GM said.

But he is clinging to the hope that Jones has something left.

"We have two of the better people who understand hitting, Don Mattingly and Jeff Pentland," Colletti said. "Both ... believe he's still a capable hitter. He's got some fundamental things in his swing that he was having a hard time getting out. He's 31 years old. We don't doubt that there's still a lot of ability."

-- Mets GM Omar Minaya doesn't sound like a man ready to sweep Manny Ramirez off of his feet. "Pitching is our priority," Minaya said. To that end, though, he declined comment on Francisco Rodriguez, who set a new record with 62 saves for the Angels this season. "I don't want to tip my hand," he said.

-- The Mets are expected to go hard after Rodriguez, and they, like St. Louis and several other clubs, are expected to talk with left-hander Brian Fuentes.

-- Rick Thurman, the agent for Fuentes, expects to talk with Cleveland and Detroit as well, though he said Monday at midday that he had "nothing lined up." As for New York? "I think New York would be a great place," Thurman said. "(Fuentes) thrives under pressure."

-- St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak lists his priorities as middle infield and left-handed relievers. Edgar Renteria, recently cut loose by Detroit, could return to the Cardinals. As for the lefty relievers, Fuentes and Joe Beimel are possibilities.

-- Atlanta and Seattle each had scouts speak Sunday with the field manager of right-hander Junichi Tazawa, pitching for Enous in Japan's Industrial League. Tazawa is expected to sign with a major-league team and, because he's in the Industrial League, is not required to go through the posting process that others, such as Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka, have.

-- Among the first priorities for new Seattle GM Jack Zdurencik is the little ol' matter of finding a manager. Expect him to interview former Milwaukee skipper Ned Yost; former Pittsburgh manager Lloyd McClendon and Chicago White Sox bench coach Joey Cora. He could look to new San Diego bench coach Ted Simmons -- the two established a good working relationship in Milwaukee. Padres GM Kevin Towers said Monday that he would grant Simmons permission to interview for a managerial job if asked.

Posted on: September 28, 2008 8:07 pm

A toast to Yost

MILWAUKEE -- Gone but not forgotten is the man who helped lead the Brewers through their final years of darkness.

It's just too bad manager Ned Yost's expiration date hit two weeks ago, when an increasingly desperate Milwaukee fired him with 12 games to play and named Dale Sveum as the interim.

"Ned is one of my best friends," Sveum said in the aftermath of Sunday's 3-1 victory over the Cubs as the champagne sprayed. "I love Ned from the bottom of my heart."

Slugger Ryan Braun said that Yost shares in the celebration, even in his absence.

"He does, without a doubt," Braun said. "He brought this entire team to this point. I wish he was here celebrating with us.

"I'm sure he's at home right now drinking a glass of champagne. He certainly deserves it."

LIkes: Seeing ities starved for good baseball news finally get some. ... The fact that they still play Roll Out the Barrel following Take Me Out to the Ballgame in Milwaukee during the seventh inning, and the fact that many fans sing along with gusto. ... Gilles Frozen Custard. It's Milwaukee's oldest -- it's been around since 1938, and the Heavenly Chocolate I had the other day was superb. ... I also like the fact that St. Pius X High School is right next to Gilles. Sat next to a table full of boys who obviously just finished with their school day the other day. Like going back in time.

Dislikes: Construction on I-94. ... Summer beginning to disappear.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Hey, little girlie in the blue jeans so tight
"Drivin' alone through the Wisconsin night
"You're my last love baby you're my last chance
"Don't let 'em take me to the Cadillac Ranch"

-- Bruce Springsteen, Cadillac Ranch

Posted on: March 16, 2008 7:25 pm

Bonjour, Mr. Gagne

MARYVALE, Ariz. -- Brewers manager Ned Yost has learned to say "good morning" in French to Quebec native Eric Gagne, but other than that, Yost mostly is hands-off. And truth be told, is paying closer attention to folks other than his new closer.

Mostly, Gagne has been honing his skills on the back fields while preparing for the season. He's worked in only two "A" games so far, and three "B" games.

"He's a different animal," Yost says. "He's been in the game for quite awhile. He knows what it takes to be successful. The main thing that kicks in with guys like him is adrenalin, and you're not going to see that with Gagne until the season starts."

Yost is completely dismissing Gagne's struggles in Boston last summer when he went 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA and practically was booed out of town.

Instead, he points to the 16 saves and 2.16 ERA earlier in the year in Texas.

"Two different jobs," Yost says.

Gagne also is a different animal in that he essentially missed two seasons, 2005 and 2006, with injuries, then did well in Texas for part of last season and then was terrible in Boston. Plus, he was named in the Mitchell Report as a suspected steroids user.

So how can a manager be completely confident that Gagne will become Mr. Dependable Closer? Blind faith?

"Absolutely he's ready to go, and it's not even blind faith," Yost says. "It's solid faith."

Gagne says he is throwing "awesome. I'm feeling good. No pain. No stiffness. I'm throwing free and easy."

He's got no restrictions physically, and he's thrown all of his pitches -- including his nasty change-up -- in each of his past two outings. Before that, he says, he only threw his fastball while working on arm strength and location.

"That's why I like 'B' games," he says.

Meantime, the man who signed a one-year, $10 million deal is very happy in his new home.

"They're young here," Gagne says. "They've got a lot of energy.

"It's pretty cool."

Likes: Prince Fielder mimicking batting stances from other players -- both Brewers and non-Brewers -- in the Milwaukee clubhouse, and outfielder Mike Cameron nearly doubled over in laughter. ... Justin Upton ready to start in right field for Arizona at 20. ... Barry Zito winning a Cactus League game despite surrendering seven runs and seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. The ball flies in the thin desert air. ... Monti's Steakhouse in Tempe. ... Chatting with former Oakland skipper Ken Macha in Tempe the other day. Macha, entering his second season after being fired by Oakland, is itching to get back into uniform. ... Butler in the NCAA tournament, but not playing South Alabama in Alabama. Come on, the Bulldogs deserve better.

Dislikes: The Mets' Carlos Delgado needing stitches after getting speared by a broken bat. Forget, for a minute, base coaches now being forced to wear helmets. Talk to anybody in uniform over the past few years, and one of the greatest fears is a jagged, broken bat doing some serious damage, and possibly killing someone. Thank goodness Delgado got out of it with only four stitches. ... Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur getting beaned in the lip by St. Louis pitcher Todd Wellemeyer. If the situation was reversed, why do I have the feeling that Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa would be starting World War III, and going on about how it's never an accident when a pitch sails near somebody's head? ... Arizona coach Kirk Gibson turns 51 in May? When did he turn 50?

Sunblock day? We avoided the predicted thunderstorms -- at least, in the Phoenix area -- and got a mix of sun and clouds. But the temperature dropped toward the 50s. More long pants and jacket day than sunblock day.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"This old heart of mine been broke a thousand times
"Each time you break away I feel you're gone to stay
"Lonely nights that come, memories that flow
"Bringin' ya back again, hurting me more and more"

-- The Isley Brothers, This Old Heart of Mine

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