Tag:Washington Nationals
Posted on: June 23, 2011 5:56 pm
Edited on: June 24, 2011 1:53 pm
 

McLaren "short-term" skipper, Johnson on deck?

Caught off-balance by manager Jim Riggleman's sudden resignation, the Nationals made a rare early exit from the Manager Search Freeway even before "interim."

While searching for an "interim manager", they've named a "short-term manager": Bench coach John McLaren.

Presumably, that means that McLaren's tenure will last anywhere from ... a day, to, a weekend?

General manager Mike Rizzo said earlier Thursday that he promised the team a manager would be in place Friday, when the Nats open a series in Chicago against the White Sox, and in naming McLaren, he keeps that promise.

As for a more permanent interim following Jim Riggleman's startling resignation, sources say, the Nationals will not name that man before Friday.

The Nationals have two men in the front office working as assistants to Rizzo with extensive managerial experience: Davey Johnson, the former New York Mets and Baltimore skipper, and Bob Boone, who has managed in Kansas City and Cincinnati.

Johnson in particular could lend immediate stability and respectability to a team that has won 11 of its past 12 games, including a three-game sweep of Seattle this week.

Named a  senior advisor to Rizzo in November, 2009, Johnson managed the New York Mets to the 1986 World Series title and was the American League manager of the year in Baltimore in 1997. He is one of only six living men to have won a World Series ring as both a player and a manager, along with Alvin Dark, Joe Girardi, Lou Piniella, Mike Scioscia and Red Schoendienst.

More relevant in recent years, Johnson managed Team USA in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, has managed or coached five different Team USA clubs since 2005, including the 2008 U.S. Olympic team that won the Bronze medal in Beijing.

In recent years, he has expressed interest in managing in the majors again.

And at 68, he's 12 years younger than "new" Florida manager Jack McKeon. So he's got that going for him.

Posted on: June 23, 2011 4:22 pm
Edited on: June 23, 2011 6:55 pm
 

Riggleman shocker: Resigns as Nationals manager

Until Thursday, long-time baseball man Jim Riggleman was always viewed as a mild-mannered, cooperative guy who is a terrific organizational man.

From his days managing San Diego (1992-1994) to his stint running the Cubs (1995-1999) to taking over as interim skipper in Seattle (2008) to doing the same in Washington (2009), Riggleman always was the responsible one. Quiet.

And then on an afternoon in June that long will be remembered for its shock value, as if taking a page right out of the upcoming movie Horrible Bosses, Riggleman told the Nationals to take their job and shove it.

So Riggleman becomes the second manager in four days to resign, following Florida's Edwin Rodriguez on Sunday.

"It's getting weird," an executive with one National League club said. "There's only 30 of these jobs. I mean, come on."

Unhappy with the way he's been treated with a 2012 option hanging out there but not picked up, and low-paid relative to other managers at that, Riggleman staged a stunning showdown with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo before Thursday's 1-0 win over Seattle.

Pick up my option, Rizzo says Riggleman told him, or I'm quitting after the game.

Riggleman's agent, Burton Rocks, says Riggleman simply was demanding a personal meeting with Rizzo.

"This all came as a big shock to me," Rocks told CBSSports.com. "Jim called me today and said the following: 'I know there's been an informal dialogue between you and ownership. All I've asked is for a personal meeting with Mike on a human level without anybody in the media knowing. I've been denied that request [in the past] and I'm going to try again.'"

Rocks said it bothered Riggleman because the manager felt he is "a man of his word." The agent said Riggleman phoned him after Thursday's game against Seattle and informed him that he had resigned.

At 58, Riggleman had seen enough. A month ago, he seemed on the brink of being fired -- or, at the very least, of losing the Nationals' clubhouse -- when outfielder Jayson Werth said "changes need to be made" with the Nationals in the midst of an 11-18 month of May.

Werth insisted he was not speaking of Riggleman, and the two met and supposedly cleared the air. Maybe they did.

Clearly, issues lingered in the manager's office.

Among them, as Riggleman chafed regarding the option: Riggleman was making $650,000 this year, according to sources, which ranks in the lower third of manager's salaries -- and, for a man who has managed parts of 12 major-league seasons, at the bottom. His 2012 option called for a $700,000 salary.

"He's a good guy," the NL executive said of Riggleman. "I mean, shoot. Amazing."

Stunning part of it all it, the Nationals lately have turned it around. They've won 11 of 12, and they swept the Mariners. At 38-37, they haven't been one game over .500 this late in the season since the second-to-last game of the 2005 campaign.

Clearly, Riggleman, felt momentum was on his side in picking now to press his case.

"I'm 58," he told reporters in Washington after the resignation. "I'm too old to be disrespected."

Though Rizzo removed the word "interim" from Riggleman's title following the 2009 season and made him the permanent manager, that didn't change the perception that Riggleman was little more than a place-holder to help school Washington's younger players as they gained experience.

The thinking always was that Riggleman would only bring the Nationals to a certain point, and that when they were ready to win, someone else would be handed the keys to the car.

Thursday's shocking events, in which Rizzo said he just did not feel the timing was right to pick up Riggleman's 2012 option, pretty much confirmed that belief.

Another potential point of anxiety might have been the large shadow cast by Buck Showalter's managing not far away in Baltimore. Some people close to the Nationals thought that Showalter's presence as the face of the Orioles -- billboards in the area, television ads, etc. -- made Washington ownership want a bigger name, "celebrity" manager like Showalter.

Perhaps Riggleman sensed that same thing.

At any rate, the timing remains stunning. The Nationals have some good, young players in Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Roger Bernadina and closer Drew Storen, and phenom Stephen Strasburg should return next year.

And Riggleman, while not a superstar manager, has proven himself capable. Having guided the Nats to 11 wins in their past 12 games, Riggleman could have forced the Nationals to pick up his 2012 option by building on their current success.

Instead, he spectacularly blew up his career as a skipper, probably for good.

Rizzo, who professed to being "surprised and disappointed", issued a seven-paragraph statement shredding Riggleman afterward. Among other things, Rizzo's statement said, "I was always taught that one of the cardinal rules of baseball was that no individual can put his interests before those of the team."

Managing is a tough job, and anyone who questions that need only look at the wear and tear on Jim Riggleman, the quiet one, the responsible one, the man nobody would have predicted would issue ultimatums ... and then follow through.

Posted on: March 3, 2011 9:23 am
 

Stuff my editors whacked from the column

VIERA, Fla. -- Outtakes from hanging out with the Nationals and, among other things, talking Tommy John with Stephen Strasburg and wondering whether Nyjer Morgan will keep it together this summer. ...

-- One thing that heartened free agent Jayson Werth after he signed with the Nats: The club's pursuit of ace pitcher Zack Greinke before Milwaukee stepped in and acquired him from Kansas City.

"I don't feel like anybody feels we're done looking," Werth says. "I feel Riz [general manager Mike Rizzo] is still out there looking for the right pieces, like trying to get Greinke. He's an aggressive guy. This is starting to turn into a win-now situation."

-- Before there was Stephen Strasburg, there was Jordan Zimmermann. High draft pick, potential ace pitcher, Tommy John ligament transfer surgery. ...

Zimmermann, 24, is projected to start the season in Washington's rotation in what will be his first full summer back following the Tommy John procedure. Not only are the Nats thrilled that Zimmermann is about ready to pitch in, he's able to serve another purpose, too.

"It's nice to have somebody to talk to," Strasburg says. "Somebody to see if what you're feeling is the same way he felt as the process goes on."

But, Strasburg noted, "you talk to three different guys who have had the surgery, you get three different answers as to how fast you can come back.

"It's more a matter of how you're going, how your strength is."

-- A year ago, Strasburg was all the buzz. Now, it's the Nats' second consecutive No. 1 Pick of the Century, outfielder Bryce Harper. Difference is, Harper is only 18 and has as much a chance of seeing the majors this summer as Ted Williams does of managing another Washington team in D.C.

Still, he's in major-league camp because he's on the 40-man roster, and the Nationals sure have enjoyed having him so far.

"It's been great for him," general manager Mike Rizzo says. "He's going to learn a lot from this. He's a sponge. He's a student of the game. He's a baseball rat. He keeps his mouth shut and his ears open. We have some veteran leadership now, and it's a credit to Bryce that he's [soaking it up].

"It's much like with Strasburg last year. They've really embraced Bryce as one of their own."

Among others, Werth has made sure to deliver various tips and pointers to Harper.

"He's young," Werth says. "But he's a lot further along at that age than I was. He's a special talent."

-- Rizzo on Nyjer Morgan and his troubled second half of 2010: "I think those were isolated incidents, out-of-character incidents. He's a very positive person and he plays the game hard. Sure, at times last year he got himself into trouble. But in his career, now, I think the extracurricular stuff will be eliminated.

"He's a big piece for us. His defensive presence in center field, his defensive range, he's a pest at the top of the lineup and he's capable of stealing 50 bases a year."

Sunblock Day? About two hours of light rain in Florida here in the past two-and-a-half weeks. If you're coming, bring the sunblock. If you're already here, get some more.

Likes: Talking to Yogi Berra in the Yankees' dugout the other day at Steinbrenner Field. ... Talking to David Wells in the Yankees clubhouse. He's never dull. ... This beautifully done story on Mets media relations man Jay Hortwitz from Jeff Pearlman. ... Caught the last half of the PBS American Masters series on the musicians of the legendary Troubadour in Los Angeles -- James Taylor, Carole King, the Eagles, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and many others. Great documentary. Very well done. Sure hope I can catch up to the entire show in the near future. ... A new Lucinda Williams disc, Blessed. Haven't picked it up yet. Will soon. She's great.

Dislikes: The middle-aged man in the hotel workout room the other day who was using the exercise bike right next to me -- and riding barefoot. I get it, it's Florida, where bare feet and flip flops are perfectly acceptable. But come on. If you're going to work up a sweat in a workout room, have some respect for those around you. Disgusting. Thank goodness I was running on a treadmill and had no intention of using the bike.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Well in the town where I was raised
"The clock ticks and the cattle grazed
"Time passed with amazing grace
"Back where I come from
"You can lie on a river bank
"Paint your name on a water tank
"Or miscount all the beers you drank
"Back where I come from"

-- Mac MacAnally, Back Where I Come From

 

Posted on: March 2, 2011 1:50 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2011 2:00 pm
 

Nyjer Morgan: 'I'm a valuable piece of this team'

VIERA, Fla. -- Nyjer Morgan didn't so much disappoint last summer as deliver a spectacular train wreck of a disappointment.

Bad enough that his on-base percentage dropped to .310 from .360 in '09, and that his batting average plummeted 54 points, from to .253 from .307.

But what made him toxic was his whacked-out behavior on the field late in the season, from earning a suspension when he threw a baseball into the stands in Philadelphia and hit a fan in the head to the ugliness of a brawl with the Marlins that traced back to the night before, when he bowled over catcher Brett Hayes on a play at the plate that was viewed as dirty. Hayes separated his shoulder in the collision. And this came after he ran over St. Louis catcher Brian Anderson -- "unecessarily", in major league baseball's eyes.

He wound up suspended a total of 15 games in September for a combination of these incidents. After a hearing, it was reduced to eight.

In center field and in the leadoff role in 2011, Morgan will be a huge help to the Washington Nationals if he can revert to anything close to his performance when they acquired him from Pittsburgh in the second-half of '09 (he hit .351 with a .396 on-base percentage in 49 games for the Nats then).

But he will be lucky to make it out of spring training with the club if he reverts to anything close to the unbalanced outfielder he was last August and September.

"I'm a valuable piece to this team," Morgan said during a long conversation the other day. "I know what I'm capable of doing.

"If I do it right, I'm definitely one of the top leadoff hitters in the game. If I do what I did last year, I'm not going to help this organization become a winning organization."

Morgan, 30, explained that last season he "had a bunch of s--- on my table, some personal stuff. My own personal stuff. ... I had a rough stretch. I had a month that was rough. You live and learn off of your mistakes."

He declined to explain what "personal stuff" he had going that could have caused such outrageous behavior.

"I had my downs last year," Morgan said. "The year before I had my ups.

"Now I'm a little older, a little wiser. I can see things coming now instead of just reacting and being immature."

Part of what he says he can see coming is right in his own organization.

"If I don't do what I'm supposed to do, I'm going to be on the damn bench," he said. "It's a no-brainer. They don't want that s--- from last year. They want the player I was in '09.

"I got that. I'm definitely all aboard."

The Nationals sure hope so.

So far?

"He's been outstanding," manager Jim Riggleman said, noting that Morgan has been especially receptive to early instruction from hitting coach Rick Eckstein and outfield coach Bo Porter. "He's got a lot of bounce in his step and a smile on his face. He's working hard."

Morgan promises that will continue.

"My head was a little swollen last year, I ain't going to lie to you," he said.

He also feels he's in a good place because he had a full winter of workouts -- starting two weeks after the season ended -- as opposed to two winters ago, when he was limited following the broken had that ended his '09 season in August.

"I want to prove to myself and to the organization that the player in '09 is who they're going to get in '11, instead of the immature player from '10," Morgan said. "I left Tony Plush behind."

Tony Plush?

"Tony Plush," he said, grinning. "That's [an alter ego] from back in the day. Me and my friend. It's like Jekyll and Hyde.

"It got to the point where it was time to grow up. It's time to turn into a true professional. It's time to kick some ass."

 

Posted on: December 8, 2010 12:28 am
 

The Yanks, Rangers, Nats, Angels and Cliff Lee

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Late into the night Tuesday, with the Angels having become the latest team to make a move toward the top starter on the free agent market, there were more Cliff Lee rumors than ornaments on the giant Christmas tree in the lobby of the Dolphin hotel here.

With no end game yet in sight -- executives with multiple teams believe that this thing will drag out beyond the winter meetings and into next week -- four clubs appear to be serious players for the left-hander at the moment (and by Wednesday, that number could be adjusted up or down):

Yankees: Still viewed as the favorites because they intend to put on the full-court press, they've got the deepest pockets and they generally get what they want. Various reports Tuesday insisted that the Yankees would not go beyond a six-year offer for Lee and other clubs might go seven years. But it's instructive to remember that, two winters ago, CC Sabathia clearly wanted to play on the West Coast ... until New York general manager Brian Cashman's stealth, overnight flight to visit Sabathia at his Bay Area home sealed the deal.

In New York, Lee would have a chance to win every year, be reunited with his friend and former Cleveland teammate Sabathia and make a boatload of money -- likely $20 million a year or more. Cashman was scheduled to meet with Darek Braunecker, Lee's agent, again late Tuesday night.

Rangers: Still badly want Lee and are making it their No. 1 goal. Still feel they have an inside track because they got a three-month head start on him when they acquired Lee last summer, the pairing worked well, the geography works (they're close to Lee's Arkansas home), Lee pitched in a World Series and the Rangers are set up to win for the next several years.

"I'd like to think that the longer the process goes, the less news you hear about it, the more encouraged I am," Rangers president Nolan Ryan told colleague Danny Knobler on Tuesday afternoon. "There's not any earthshaking news that has come out that concerns me. We don't have anything definitive by any means, but I think they have targeted one or two places, and I think they have a feel of where it's going."

The Rangers already have met twice with Braunecker.

Nationals: Still the darkhorse, though they have grabbed their share of attention with the wild seven-year, $126 million contract bestowed upon Jayson Werth. Lee wants to play with a winner, and while the Nationals' money will be just as authentic as anybody else's, their wins total may not be for a few years.

One industry source said Tuesday that he thinks Werth is one wild-card in the Nationals' pursuit of Lee: The two played together on the 2009 Phillies team that advanced to the World Series before losing to the Yankees, and the two were said to have developed a pretty good friendship.

Angels: The late entrant, the Angels were said to have made contact with Braunecker on Tuesday and indicated their intention to stay in touch. While an Angels official stopped short of confirming that late Tuesday night, he did say, "We talk with everybody."

If their pursuit of Lee is serious, the Angels are in the midst of a misdirection play because manager Mike Scioscia repeatedly told reporters during a briefing Tuesday that improving an impotent offense is the club's top priority. Within that, the Angels have visited with free agent outfielder Carl Crawford, long said to be the club's top target this winter.

A move toward Lee would be fascinating in that the Angels, who were toppled from their AL West throne by Texas last year, could spirit him away from their biggest division rival -- Texas -- and from one of their long-running October rivals -- the Yankees.

However, their history of bidding against the Yankees is an open wound: New York out-bid them on both Sabathia and Mark Teixeira in recent winters, leaving them scrambling toward their backup plans. And, Anaheim might start with an "A" like Arkansas, but it is thousands of miles from Cliff and Kristen Lee's beloved native state.

However, by bidding on Lee, the Angels could accomplish one of two things: They could either win him in a surprise bid and block Texas from getting him ... or they could at least drive the price up to hurt the Rangers and the Yankees.

Earlier Tuesday, Scioscia said, "We need to add offensive depth. It might not be one impact guy, but it definitely needs to be guys that have an idea of what to do in the batter's box."

But he also talked about Lee.

"A pitcher of Lee's caliber makes you better," Scioscia said. "There is no doubt about that. Whether he's a fit for us or not depends on more than just the talent aspect. Obviously, a free agent, it's complicated. He's obviously commanding a lot of attention.

"But he's certainly a guy that a number of teams would look at and know that they can make you substantially better in that area."

One other thing to remember: In their recent past, the Angels have always gone for pitching: They took a hard run at Sabathia when he was a free agent. They made a serious effort to acquire Jake Peavy from San Diego a couple of years ago. They were in on the Lee and Roy Halladay trade talks before each was shipped elsewhere in the past couple of seasons. And they signed Bartolo Colon as a free agent before the 2004 season.

Stay tuned.

 

Posted on: December 7, 2010 1:02 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2010 12:41 am
 

Slow-footed Angels risk getting left behind

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Paging the Los Angeles Angels, attention Angels.

Anybody there?

Anybody?

Free agent Carl Crawford is still out there. So are free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre and free agent closer Rafael Soriano ... and, yes, free agent ace Cliff Lee.

Are you?

After getting aced out of Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia two years ago and failing to produce a leadoff hitter to replace Chone Figgins last year, the heat is on the Angels to swing and connect this winter. On something.

Crawford has been a high priority, according to sources, though late Tuesday night it was confirmed that the Angels were in contact with Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, and that that dialog is expected to remain ongoing.

As for Crawford, his price certainly will be sky-high after the Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million deal Sunday.

"I don't have a reaction," Reagins told a small group of reporters Monday night when quizzed on how the stunning Werth contract will affect Crawford's value. "We still have to conduct business with any free agent. Teams are conducting business and this is just part of the process that happens at this time of year. ...

"We're conducting business. What other clubs do doesn't affect how we operate."

Maybe that helps explain why the Angels, who took hard runs at both Teixeira and Sabathia two winters ago, have swung and missed lately. What other clubs do does affect the rest in this game, because market values are set.

Here in Florida, Crawford's market is still taking shape, and you bet the Werth contract will be a barometer.

The Angels are one of the few teams with pockets deep enough to pull up a chair at Crawford's table. One break they may have gotten in the past few days is that in acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox may be out on Crawford -- at least, at seven or eight years.

The Red Sox are said to have agreed with Gonzalez on the parameters of a seven-year deal worth between $161 and $168 million that likely will be finalized sometime around Opening Day. It's hard to see Boston signing two players to contracts that long in one winter.

Other than the Angels' interest, things have been awfully quiet here regarding Crawford.

The Angels always operate with the secrecy of a CIA spy, but until Tuesday night and the Lee revelation, there was little indication that much of anything was happening.

Beltre? The Angels currently are not taking an aggressive path there, according to a source with knowledge of the club's thinking.

Soriano? No indicators there, either.

Lee? Hmmm.

Reagins, scrambling because of a flight delay Monday, was among the last GM's -- and, far as anybody can tell, the last -- to arrive at the Winter Meetings.

Owner Arte Moreno is known for being aggressive. But over the past couple of years, he hasn't been aggressive enough.

The Angels got worse last year. They looked old. They were slow.

The decision to let Figgins walk backfired when Erick Aybar did not develop into a leadoff hitter. The decision to let Guerrero walk blew up when he had a great year and Hideki Matsui was disappointing.

Suddenly, the shift of power in the AL West is becoming evident.

Texas not only won the division, but the Rangers are loaded with good, young talent. They're not going anywhere.

The A's have the kind of good, young pitching that has them poised to recapture some of the glory of old.

Seattle? Well, let's not get carried away here. Not everybody in the division is on the move.

Right now, though, in terms of forward momentum, the Angels are more Seattle than Texas.

Mike Scioscia said Tuesday that the return to health of first baseman Kendry Morales, who slammed 34 home runs and collected 108 RBIs two summers ago before suffering a season-ending broken leg early in 2010, will be a boon in 2011.

As for the rest. ...

"It's kind of like the offseason becomes fantasy baseball for the players, too," Scioscia said. "You look at who's out there and who might be in the lineup and think, 'Man, if we had this guy or that guy, we'd be a better team.'"

So far this winter? The Angels' big move was to fire head trainer Ned Bergert, who had been with the organization for 36 years.

Oh, and they fired a scout, Dale Sutherland, who had been with them for 19 years (and was primarily responsible for the club claiming David Eckstein off of waivers from Boston, and acquiring Figgins from Colorado in a trade). Oh, and scouting director Eddie Bane.

Looks like a whole lot of scapegoats. And so far, not much else.

Posted on: September 23, 2010 2:46 pm
Edited on: September 23, 2010 3:36 pm
 

Kasten resigns as Nationals president

Stan Kasten will resign as president of the Washington Nationals after the season in a surprise move, Kasten himself announced Thursday.

The move comes as the Nationals enter the final 10 days of a season that will see them finishing last in the NL East for a third consecutive summer -- and for a fifth time in six years since moving from Montreal. The Nats are 64-88 entering Thursday night's series finale at home against Houston.

President of the Nationals since May 3, 2006, Kasten took control of the club shortly after it moved from Montreal for the 2005 season, an era in which the club opened a new ballpark and made history by "earning" the No. 1 overall pick in the June amateur draft in consecutive seasons. From the beginning, Kasten said one of his chief goals was to re-stock the club's depleted farm system.

With those picks, the Nationals signed pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who briefly was the top draw in the game this summer when he was promoted from the minors in June before an elbow injury prematurely ended his season, and outfielder Bryce Harper, who is targeted to play in the Arizona Fall League this autumn.

However, industry buzz long has been that Kasten has had a difficult time with ownership, the Lerner family, and attendance at Nationals Park has declined for three consecutive seasons. With a farm system close to paying dividends, Gold Glover Ryan Zimmerman at third base and some smart moves by general manager Mike Rizzo, indications are that Kasten would like to increase the Nationals' player payroll. But indications also are that the Lerners are resisting.

"Stan Kasten will always be an important part of the history of the Washington Nationals," principal owner Theodore Lerner said in a statement. "He was vital to ownerhip winning its big from Major League Baseball and his agreement to serve as the team's chief executive for the last five years has been critical to building the Washington Nationals franchise.

"Over his tenure, he has positioned the Nationals to become one of the most exciting franchises in baseball and we thank him for all that he has accomplished."

Kasten, 57, made his name in Atlanta, mostly by running the Braves during their run of 14 consecutive division titles in the 1990s but also for simultaneously holding the presidency of the Braves, the NBA's Hawks and the NHL's Thrashers.

Kasten has not indicated whether he intends to stay in the game or where he will land next. And no word yet on whom the Nationals are targeting to replace him.

News of his resignation from the Nationals was first reported by SI.com's Jon Heyman.

Category: MLB
Posted on: August 27, 2010 3:15 pm
Edited on: August 27, 2010 3:15 pm
 

3 to watch: The dwindling off days edition

Off days are precious in late August, and not just for players headed for the September fires of the stretch run.

The Giants moved into the lead in the NL wild-card chase this week before taking a break Thursday, which surely made the coaches as happy as the players at this point. Not long ago, a couple of their coaches calculated how many ground balls they hit to infielders in need of work each season.

I don't know the exact formula used, but the number they came up with was 44,000 ground balls a year.

"Then you go, 'How many years?'" third-base coach Tim Flannery says.

He's been coaching 15 years, so, multiply that by 44,000, and by this baseball math, Flannery figures he's slapped 660,000 or so fungoes during his career. He's had six or so cortisone injections in each elbow. Thanks to ulnar nerve issues, his right pinky and ring fingers currently are numb.

"Some might argue that my head is, too," Flannery jokes.

Giants bench coach Ron Wotus has hit so many fungoes he's had surgery to re-attach a tendon to his elbow.

"Thought it was tendinitis at first," Wotus says.

Flannery was wearing an elastic compression brace on each elbow after first smearing them with Tiger Balm.

"A lot of Advil, a lot of ice," he says.

Which pretty much is the prescription for everybody at this point in the season. There aren't many off days left. The Yankees have just three (Sept. 9, 16 and 30). Trying to catch the Twins, the White Sox have just three as well (Sept. 2, 13 and 23). The Twins have four -- one on Monday, then identical dates with the Sox.

First-place San Diego has the biggest grind, with only two remaining the rest of the season -- Sept. 2 and 20. The Giants have four (Sept. 2, 13, 20 and 27). In the NL Central, Cincinnati has three (Sept. 2, 13 and 27) and the Cardinals, having slipped to four games behind the Reds in the NL Central, have only two (Sept. 2 and 20).

On to 3 to watch:

1. In a place they never thought they'd be after having swept three in Cincinnati Aug. 9-11, the Cardinals enter the weekend looking to make up some serious ground before getting one last shot at the Reds head-to-head in St. Louis next weekend. Trailing the Reds by four games, right-hander Jaime Garcia takes the ball first in Cardinals at Nationals, Friday night (7:05 p.m. ET) in Nationals Park and, when he does, maybe it'll hearten Washington fans blue over Stephen Strasburg's impending elbow surgery. Garcia is a Poster Boy survivor of Tommy John ligament transfer surgery, to the point where he's a leading contender for the NL Rookie of the Year award. It's a weirdly busy weekend in D.C. -- not only will this series be played under the Strasburg pall, but Cards manager Tony La Russa and slugger Albert Pujols are scheduled to appear Saturday at  Glenn Beck's highly controversial rally in Washington.

2. Last time out, Tampa Bay's Matt Garza hooked up with Oakland's Dallas Braden in a battle of pitchers who have thrown no-hitters this summer (a perfect game, in Braden's case). Now, in Red Sox at Rays, Saturday night (7:10 ET) in Tropicana Field, Garza faces another pitcher with a no-hitter on his resume, Boston's Clay Buchholz, who did it in September, 2007. Being that Buchholz's 2.26 ERA leads the AL, the middle game of this series should sizzle as the Rays work toward holding Boston off in the playoff race. Tampa Bay enters the weekend tied with the Yankees for the AL East lead, and the Red Sox, clinging to playoff hopes despite missing Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis (among others), are 5 1/2 back. Boston has six games left against Tampa Bay heading into the weekend and three remaining against the Yankees.

3. The Giants offense bludgeoned its way back to life against the Reds this week (38 runs, 53 hits over three games), but if Bruce Bochy's club is going to hang on to the NL wild-card lead, Tim Lincecum is going to have to become The Man again. Loser of four consecutive starts for the first time in his big-league career, the two-time Cy Young winner pitches the opener of Diamondbacks at Giants, Friday night (10:15 ET) at AT&T Park. Lincecum hasn't won in a month, since July 30. Now is a good time to start.

 
 
 
 
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