Tag:opening day
Posted on: April 5, 2010 7:10 pm

Jon Garland, Arizona and roofs

San Diego opening day starter Jon Garland never did like Chase Field much.

And given his outing in Arizona on Monday, he'll probably like it even less.

Sabotaged by sloppy Padres defense -- shortstop Everth Cabrera and third baseman Chase Headley committed errors behind him -- Garland surrendered six runs (two earned) in four innings. He gave up five hits and no doubt endured ugly flashbacks.

Pitching for Arizona last year, Garland was 4-5 with a 5.35 ERA during 13 home starts, and he walked 28 in 77 1/3 innings.

Garland says it isn't that he doesn't like Chase Field, it's just that he prefers to pitch there with the roof closed.

It was open as the Diamondbacks and Padres opened their season Monday.

Knowing what they know about Garland, whom they traded to the Dodgers last summer, would you have expected anything else?

Posted on: April 5, 2010 5:13 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2010 7:30 pm

The legend of Jason Heyward. ...

... started immediately on Monday in his first major-league at-bat when he ripped a three-run, first-inning homer over the right-field fence to send Atlanta's Turner Field into a frenzy.

Or, wait.

Did it start when he received the ceremonial first-pitch before Monday's game from Hall of Famer Hank Aaron?

Or, wait.

Did it start this spring, when he drilled a distant Coke truck and smashed the sunroof of assistant general manager Bruce Manno's car during one round of batting practice?

Don't look now, but it may be time to start scripting The Natural II.

"I'm not trying to do anything other than get ready for the season," Heyward, 20, told me this spring as the buzz around him grew. "I've been trying to win a job ever since I've been in the organization."

That would be all of, oh, one full professional season.

Heyward's was the most anticipated rookie debut of 2010 -- at least, until Washington recalls pitcher Stephen Strasburg -- and all he did was jack expectations even higher, if that's even possible. The Braves measured the homer at a monstrous 446 feet.

After the Aaron moment, and after outfielder Marlon Byrd had staked the Cubs to an early 3-0 lead, the kid stepped to the plate with the score 3-3 amid chants of "Let's Go, Hey-ward!" His parents, Dartmouth College graduates, were in the crowd -- on television, the Braves broadcasters said that Heyward told them he was leaving tickets for about 50 people today.

The pitch Heyward crushed wasn't a bad pitch. Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano left it over the plate, but it was down toward Heyward's knees. It wasn't like Zambrano left it up. Didn't matter, the 20-year-old phenom crushed it. Paul Sullivan, long-time Cubs beat writer for the Chicago Tribune, tweeted that Turner Field was louder than he's ever heard it as Heyward's ball went out.

Had Heyward not signed with the Braves after they made him their first-round pick (14th overall) in the 2007 draft, he would be a junior at UCLA today.

Instead, he's climbing the charts with a bullet.

Scouts this spring already were comparing him to Dave Parker and Darryl Strawberry. One former manager who knows both Parker and Strawberry told me that Heyward is far more mature at his age than Parker or Strawberry were at 20 -- another indication of impending greatness for Heyward.

"If you put in the hard work, it's reflected in the results on the field, in how everybody sees you and in you as a person," Heyward, who went 2 for 5 with four RBIs in his debut, a 16-5 Atlanta win, told me this spring. "It pays off."

One major-league at-bat in, it already is.

Posted on: April 5, 2010 4:32 pm

Welcome to Chicago, Marlon Byrd

There was all kinds of talk this winter about the Cubs upgrading by landing Marlon Byrd and dispatching Milton Bradley to Seattle.

Well, funny how those things work.

For all the talk of chemistry, harmony and camaraderie, Byrd showed in the first inning in Atlanta on Monday how this upgrade could work by blasting a three-run homer against Derek Lowe.

And that's the bottom line: Forget the chemistry talk. If Byrd hits -- something Bradley didn't do last summer in Wrigley Field -- then it will be a huge upgrade.

If he doesn't, it won't matter if the Cubs' clubhouse is a happier place. Bottom line.

Meantime, Byrd becomes the first man to homer in his first at-bat as a Cub since Henry Rodriguez against Florida's Livan Hernandez on March 31, 1998.

I have a feeling he's won over Cubs fans already.

Posted on: April 5, 2010 2:07 pm

Vicente Padilla as opening day starter? Uh-huh

This is why the groans in Los Angeles:

The Dodgers took a 2-0 lead in the first in Pittsurgh. Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, rocking and rolling just like last year.

Bottom of the first, Padilla gives it right back. He left a belt-high fastball over the plate to the always dangerous Garrett Jones, who promptly deposited it into the Allegheny River for a two-run, game-tying homer.

Padilla knew it immediately, jerking his head down in disgust and making a waving, snapping motion with his arm.

See, the difference between an ace and others is that an ace specializes in slamming the door in innings after his team scores to give him a lead. Granted, it doesn't always happen that way. But it does more often than not.

Maybe Padilla winds up slamming the door more often than not as 2010 rolls along.

But he didn't in the first inning on opening day, and first impressions are, that's only going to reinforce the questions surrounding the Dodgers' sketchy rotation.
Posted on: April 5, 2010 1:41 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2010 7:20 pm

Halladay the Phillie

Roy Halladay had barely set foot into the National League on Monday when the Nationals sent him a tell-tale sign that he's no longer in the AL East.

Then, Halladay sent word that he really could care less, thank you very much.

On Halladay's first two pitches, Nats speedster Nyjer Morgan poked a single  -- and then swiped second base. Five pitches after that, Ryan Zimmerman boomed an opposite-field, RBI double. And two batters later, Halladay walked Josh Willingham.

For a pitcher who sets a goal of fewer walks than games started each year, it was rough waters.

Which just goes to show you: Even the best pitcher in the game isn't invincible. Whether it was Opening Day, President Obama's appearance or the Nationals' approach -- maybe a bit of all of the above -- Halladay's Philadelphia debut was memorable after only one inning. 

Not surprisingly, though, by the end of Philadelphia's 11-1 rout of the Nationals, he made it memorable for all the same reasons he made so many nights in Toronto memorable.

That noise in the first was the last anybody heard from the Nationals. Halladay breezed through seven innings, holding the Nats to that one run while scattering six hits. He fanned nine and walked two, and his ERA after one NL start stands at a tidy 1.29.

That already miniscule ERA will be worth watching. Facing weaker lineups than he faced in the AL, there is every reason to believe that Monday's start will be step one for Halladay toward winning his second Cy Young award.

Posted on: April 5, 2010 1:30 pm

Significant home runs miles apart

St. Louis MVP Albert Pujols and Mets third baseman David Wright each said hello to 2010 with a first at-bat home run, each dramatic for its own reason.

It took Pujols, who battled a bad back for part of the spring, about 10 minutes to become the clubhouse leader for another NL MVP award. (OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea).

As for Wright, his power diminished noticeably last year -- from 33 homers in 2008 to 10 last year.

Worse for Wright and the Mets, of those 10 homers in '09, only five came at Citi Field.

You can't judge a season on one at-bat, but for Wright to smash an opposite-field homer in Citi Field to greet 2010 ... if he can regain his power game, you can't underestimate how important that will be for both Wright and the Mets.

Posted on: April 5, 2010 1:11 pm

Obama's first pitch: Classic

Not the pitch itself -- President Obama's ceremonial first pitch before the Phillies-Nationals game Monday was brutal. Very high and very outside. It would have sailed over a left-handed batter's head.

But what was classic was this: He took the mound in a Nationals jacket, holding his glove in his hands. As he reached the mound, he took a cap out of the glove and, with a great flourish, snapped it open and placed it on his head.

And it was a black White Sox cap.

Posted on: April 5, 2010 12:37 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2010 4:08 pm

Beckett: Four more years (in Boston)

Fresh from their Opening Night pounding of the dreaded Yankees, the Red Sox this afternoon formally will announce a contract extension for ace Josh Beckett, $68 million over four years.

As colleague Danny Knobler chuckled when we talked not long ago, not bad for a pitcher with a 9.64 ERA. That's where Beckett's stands now after the Yankees clubbed him for five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings Sunday night.

In all seriousness, though, the larger meaning of this beyond New England's boundaries is that it continues to emphasize the most important thing in today's game: You'd better build your team with young pitching, because less and less of it is available on the free agent market. At least, fewer impact pitchers are getting out there.

Beckett and Roy Halladay each was supposed to be a free agent next winter. Not now: The Sox have locked up Beckett, and the Phillies over the winter acquired Halladay from Toronto then signed him to a three-year, $60 million deal.

Two other key pitchers had their free agency delayed over the past several months, too, with Detroit signing Justin Verlander to a five-year, $80 million extension and Seattle signing ace Felix Hernandez to a five-year, $78 million deal in January.

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