Posted on: June 20, 2011 2:25 pm
Edited on: June 20, 2011 2:49 pm

The NL Central has become injury central

I'm guessing Jonny Gomes won't be dancing around or singing. I'm guessing Ryan Braun won't be, either.

But when I talked to one Reds person a few minutes after we found out that Albert Pujols will miss the next month with a broken wrist, his reaction was exactly what you'd expect.

"You hate to see anyone get hurt," he said. "But this is great news for us."

Pujols' injury is horrible news for the Cardinals, and bad news for baseball in general -- no Pujols in the All-Star Game, for one thing -- but it's great news for the Reds and for the Brewers . . . if they can stay healthy themselves.

Seriously, has any division race in baseball been as dominated by injuries this year as the National League Central?

The Cardinals have been without Adam Wainwright all year, without Matt Holliday for two tough stretches, without other lesser-known but key pieces like David Freese and Nick Punto, and now without Albert.

The Reds were without two of their five starters (Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey) for the first month of the season, and now they're without Bailey again. Key reliever Aroldis Chapman has spent the last month on the DL, as well, although his injury is much less serious than his continuing control problems. And Scott Rolen has already been on the DL once, and plays with significant enough pain that he's always a threat to go back there.

The Brewers missed Zack Greinke for the first month, and Corey Hart and Jonathan Lucroy for most of the first month. And Shaun Marcum left his last start early with a hip problem. And key reliever Takashi Saito appeared in just two games before going on the DL, where he remains.

Every year in spring training, someone reminds us that it's often not the best team that wins, but the healthiest. Every year, some very talented team doesn't make the playoffs, and injuries are one of the biggest reasons (2010 Red Sox).

But what happens when an entire division gets hurt?

We'll see this year, in the NL Central.


As it turns out, C. Trent Rosecrans of our Eye on Baseball team was in the Reds clubhouse Sunday when Pujols was hurt, and he can confirm that neither Gomes nor any of the other Reds were singing about it.

"The only thing I heard was someone talking about being upset that he was hurt," Rosecrans said.

You might remember the minor stir in spring training, when Gomes was reported to be happily singing about Wainwright's injury (a report that Gomes stridently denied).
Posted on: June 5, 2011 8:11 pm

3 to Watch: The Jeter (and Pete Rose) edition

Pete Rose needed 2,370 games to get to 3,000 hits. Derek Jeter, 14 hits away from 3,000, has played in 2,350 games.

Pete Rose had just turned 37 when he got to 3,000 hits. Derek Jeter won't turn 37 until June 26.

We spend so much time talking about how old Derek Jeter is, how long he should play shortstop and how long he should lead off, and we forget that technically, he's still ahead of Pete Rose's pace.

"If there's one guy who could scare Pete, it's Derek," Chipper Jones said over the weekend. "If Derek can play five or so more years, he could definitely scare 4,000."

Before the Jeter-haters go crazy, this is not a prediction that Jeter is going to beat the Hit King. Rose was a .324 hitter when he got to 3,000; Jeter is at .260 after going 1-for-5 to get to 2,986 hits on Sunday in Anaheim.

But there are more comparisons than you'd think.

Here's one: Back in 1978, when Rose was chasing 3,000, the Reds considered it very important that he get there at home. Reds manager Sparky Anderson even suggested to reporters that he'd pull Rose from a road game, if necessary.

"I will not allow Pete Rose to do it anywhere but Cincinnati," Anderson said then. "I would not cheat those people. It's a must that he do it at home."

And he did.

Now Jeter and the Yankees come home, for 10 games starting Tuesday against the Red Sox. And now the pressure is on for Jeter to do it at home, too.

Obviously, it's not impossible that he will. Plenty of times in his career, Jeter has had 14 hits in 10 games.

Obviously, it's not a given that he will. Jeter hasn't had 14 hits in any 10-game span this year. And of the 14 players to reach 3,000 since Rose did it, only three -- Lou Brock in 1979, George Brett in 1992 and Paul Molitor in 1996 -- got the final 14 hits in as few as 10 games.

Rose, for what it's worth, needed just eight games to go from 2,986 to 3,000.

And then he needed another 1,192 games, over eight years, to go from 3,000 to 4,256.

When he got to 3,000, Rose said he wanted at least another 631, to break the National League record that then belonged to Stan Musial.

When he gets to 3,000, it's a safe bet that Jeter will not admit that he has any number in mind.

They're not the same. But for now, they are on the same pace.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The Cubs are losing so often that no one asks anymore whether they can be part of the National League Central race. Instead, the talk when baseball people meet is about who will be the next Cubs general manager (Brian Cashman? Ned Colletti?). The Reds have lost 13 of their last 18 to fall a season-high 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Cardinals, but the talk there is about how they catch St. Louis. One answer may come in Cubs at Reds, Tuesday night (7:10 ET) at Great American Ball Park. Edinson Volquez is expected to return then from his two-week exile at Triple-A Louisville, and there's little question the Reds need him to come back and succeed.

2. It's looking like the biggest day of the Rangers season came two weeks ago, when Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz came off the disabled list. The Rangers, 10-16 in their last 26 games at that point, are 10-3 in their 13 games since. The Tigers would love to think that the return of Magglio Ordonez can give them a similar boost. Ordonez could come back in Tigers at Rangers, Tuesday night (8:05 ET) at Rangers Ballpark. If nothing else, it's a good spot for Ordonez's return. He has a .377 career average in 44 career games at the ballpark.

3. According to baseball-reference.com, Jeter has faced 1,163 different pitchers in his big-league career. Tops on the list, both in terms of most plate appearances (115) and most hits (31), is Tim Wakefield, the Boston starting pitcher in Red Sox at Yankees, Wednesday night (7:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium. Jeter's career average against Wakefield is just .287, below his career average of .313. Jeter also has 21 career hits against Josh Beckett, who starts Thursday, and 12 against Jon Lester, who starts Tuesday.

Posted on: May 26, 2011 2:31 pm
Edited on: May 26, 2011 2:58 pm

DatDudeBP was DatGoat for Reds

PHILADELPHIA -- On one side, the longest game of the year was all about Wilson Valdez.

Great story.

On the other side, it was all about Brandon Phillips.

Not so great story.

Valdez is the utility man who pitched a hitless 19th inning for the Phillies in the early hours of Thursday morning, becoming (according to the Elias Sports Bureau) the first player since Babe Ruth to start a game in the field and end up winning it on the mound.

Phillips is the sometimes spectacular Reds second baseman who spent the hours after the game apologizing to Reds fans for getting picked off at a key moment in the 11th inning.

The Reds had runners at first and second, Phillies pitcher J.C. Romero was struggling to throw strikes, and cleanup hitter Scott Rolen was at the plate with a 3-1 count. Phillips, on second base, got caught talking to Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and Romero picked him off.

Reds manager Dusty Baker said Phillips apologized when he returned to the dugout.

After the game, Phillips, who tweets regularly and sometimes amusingly under the name @DatDudeBP, wrote on Twitter: "I want 2 apologize 2 all the #Reds fans 4 my mistake tonite. It was my fault 4 the loss, but I will keep my head up and get ready 4 the next game."

Asked Thursday morning if he planned to talk to Phillips about the play, Baker said: "I don't have to talk to him. The whole world is talking to him. All the great things Brandon has done, that [pickoff] could be shown for years. I still see [Jose] Canseco getting hit in the head."

Meanwhile, Valdez was back in the Phillies lineup for Thursday's day game, playing third base. He got a standing ovation when he came to the plate in the second inning.

A few other noteworthy developments on Thursday:

-- Baker said that had the Phillies not scored in the 19th, shortstop Paul Janish would have pitched the 20th inning for the Reds. He planned to put outfielder Chris Heisey at second base, move Phillips to shortstop, and insert pitcher Sam LeCure in the outfield. He said LeCure and Jay Bruce would have alternated between left and right field, depending on which hitter was at the plate.

-- LeCure and Matt Maloney were in the Reds bullpen, but both were unavailable to pitch because of heavy workloads early in the week. The Reds put Maloney on the disabled list Thursday, and called up Daryl Thompson. The Phillies also made a roster move, sending Daniel Herndon to Triple-A and activating Jose Contreras from the DL, but that was planned.

-- Since Valdez was in the game, he didn't warm up in the bullpen before pitching. Bullpen coach Mickey Billmeyer quipped: "He's a reliever, but he's not a bullpen guy."

-- One Phillies executive joked, "We can go with 11 pitchers now, because we have Valdez." But Phils PR man Greg Casterioto admitted he missed a chance, when he didn't list Valdez in the bullpen section on his daily notes.

Posted on: May 26, 2011 2:26 am
Edited on: May 26, 2011 2:27 am

The best (19th inning) pitcher in the game

PHILADELPHIA -- Roy Halladay didn't no-hit the Reds.

Wilson Valdez did.

Roy Halladay didn't make this game memorable. Wilson Valdez did.

No one will ever forget the night Halladay no-hit the Reds in the playoffs. And no one will ever forget the night (early morning?) that Valdez no-hit the Reds in the 19th inning.

I know this much: The next time Halladay pitches against the Reds at Citizens Bank Park, I'm there. And you should be, too.

The first time he faced them, Reds starter Travis Wood took a perfect game to the ninth inning. The next time he faced them, Halladay made like Don Larsen.

And Wednesday night -- early Thursday morning -- Valdez made like . . . Roy Halladay?

Well, sort of.

Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball. He has 175 career wins, and a 3.29 career ERA.

Valdez is a utility infielder, who last pitched in some town game in the Dominican Republic, nine years ago. And he now has a 1-0 career record, and a 0.00 career ERA.

He got Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Carlos Fisher in the top of the 19th, and Raul Ibanez's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 19th made the Phillies -- and Valdez -- a 5-4 winner in one of the craziest games you'll ever see.

And Wilson Valdez was absolutely the star.

"He's wanted to pitch for a while," said Dane Sardinha, who caught him. "Now I'm sure he'll want to even more. But I'd hang it up right now if I were him. Perfect record."

Valdez was having none of that.

"Anytime they need me," he said.

And why not? He threw one pitch at 90 mph, most of the others at 88-89.

"That's better than some guys," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

Manuel hates the idea of using a position player to pitch. He said he'd never done it. But he ran out of pitchers, Danys Baez had already thrown 73 pitches (easily the most he'd thrown since he became a reliever eight years ago), and Manuel decided it would be too risky to use one of his other starting pitchers.

So Valdez it was, in the 19th inning, at 1 o'clock in the morning.

At first base, Ryan Howard told Reds coach Billy Hatcher, "If he throws anything like he throws it [across the infield] to me, he'll be nasty out there, because he throws sinkers."

Behind the plate, Sardinha put down one finger for a fastball, over and over. Valdez tried to shake him off ("I thought, what is he about to throw," Howard said), but Sardinha put down one finger again.

Votto flied out to center field, but then Valdez called his catcher to the mound. Actually, two catchers, because Carlos Ruiz was playing third base, and he joined the conversation, as well.

"He told me he wanted to throw his other pitches," a disbelieving Sardinha said. "Then he hit [Scott] Rolen with a slider."

In the stands, where a surprising number of fans remained, the crowd got as loud as it had in hours.

"Let's go Wilson!" they chanted. "Wil-son! Wil-son!"

Sardinha -- and Valdez -- went back to the fastball to get Bruce and Fisher, the final Reds pitcher, who threw 95 pitches in 5 2/3 innings and was in the game long enough to get two at-bats.

Then the Phillies scored, and the game was over, just 6 hours, 11 minutes after it began.

"It was a grind," Howard said. "But we got a new spark of life when Wilson went out there."

Valdez was the happiest Phillie around, even happier when a reporter told him he was clocked at 90 mph.

He admitted that he went to the mound with no pressure ("I just thought, throw a strike, because if [Votto] hits a home run, they're not going to say anything. He's a tough hitter.").

He said he was ready to keep pitching if the Phillies didn't score in the bottom of the 19th.

"I could go three more, four more, whatever," he said. "This is something I'm never going to forget."

I'm with him on that. And if you saw it, I'm guessing you are, too.


Two more memorable lines from a memorable night:

Sardinha, on whether Valdez had good stuff: "I told him he did, but it was [just] all right. He had a good sinker, and that was it."

Baez, on his 16th-inning at-bat, when he struck out: "I put on the wrong helmet. I put on a helmet to hit left-handed, and I thought, 'There's something wrong.' And I forgot to put pine tar on the bat."

Manuel, on Valdez: "I put him in against the heart of the order, [to] see what he's got. I think he passed the test."

Posted on: May 25, 2011 9:11 pm
Edited on: May 25, 2011 10:35 pm

Chapman's in AAA, and Cordero's (almost) at 300

PHILADELPHIA -- Remember when Francisco Cordero was supposedly on borrowed time as the Reds closer? Remember when Reds fans were screaming for Aroldis Chapman to take his place?

Now Chapman is on a minor-league rehabilitation assignment that is designed at least as much to help him find command as it is to get him healthy.

And Cordero -- despite his second blown save of the year on Wednesday night -- is about to become the second Dominican-born closer ever with 300 saves.

It's hard to know exactly what 300 means, since Trevor Hoffman is the all-time leader at 601 and Mariano Rivera (572) is on the way to passing him.

But it is worth remembering that Bruce Sutter, one of the best closers ever, retired with 300 saves.

"[Cordero] is much-maligned, but he's about to tie a Hall of Famer," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

Cordero is off to an outstanding start this season, or at least he was until giving up Ryan Howard's game-tying home run in the 10th inning Wednesday. Even so, Cordero is 9-for-11 in save opportunities, with a 2.01 ERA, giving him 299 career saves in 365 chances over 13 seasons.

For Cordero, the significance of 300 is that Jose Mesa is the only other closer from the Dominican Republic to get there. Mesa retired with 321 saves.

Cordero plans to pitch long enough to catch Mesa. He plans to pitch long enough to add quite a few more saves.

"I feel young, even though I'm 36," said Cordero, who is in the last guaranteed year of his contract with the Reds (who hold a $12 million option for 2012 that most likely won't be exercised). "I'm going to try to pitch as long as I'm healthy. Could I go until I'm 40? Right now, I'd tell you yes."

Baker said this is the best Cordero has pitched in the four years they've been together with the Reds. He said Cordero is healthier and in better shape.

Pitching coach Bryan Price said the big difference is that Cordero, mostly a fastball-slider pitcher in recent years, is now using his changeup and curve much more.

"He's a little less predictable," Price said. "He's a four-pitch pitcher now."

Meanwhile, Chapman is at Triple-A Louisville, just trying to figure things out. Price said that while Chapman is scheduled to appear two more times for Louisville (Thursday and Sunday), it's not guaranteed he'll rejoin the Reds next week.

"It's the same as with [Edinson] Volquez," Price said. "They're down there until they're pitching the way they're capable of pitching."

Price disputes the notion that the Reds have to get Chapman back to where he was.

"We need to get him beyond that," Price said.

Meanwhile, Cordero is just focused on getting to 300 saves -- and beyond. And he's even more impressed at what Hoffman and Rivera have done.

"600 saves? That's ridiculous," Cordero said. "I'm going to get to 300 and feel like it's a big deal. And they're at 600. That's ridiculous."
Posted on: May 22, 2011 9:07 pm

3 to Watch: The Halladay (and Wood) edition

When Roy Halladay threw nine shutout innings against the Reds last July, he didn't get a win -- because of Travis Wood.

When Halladay threw his playoff no-hitter against the Reds last October, the guy who came closest to getting a hit was Travis Wood.

So how perfect is it that when Halladay goes against the Reds on Wednesday night, for the first time since that playoff no-hitter, his mound opponent that night will be . . . Travis Wood?

It's a big week at Citizens Bank Park, if only because Chase Utley will join the Phillies lineup for the first time on Monday night. But the highlight of the week's schedule comes two nights later, with Roy Halladay against Travis Wood.

When they met in that game last July 10, Wood took a perfect game into the ninth inning, when Carlos Ruiz broke it up with a leadoff double. Halladay allowed five hits that night, in the first game since 2002 where both starting pitchers carried a shutout through nine innings (it happened again earlier this month, with Seattle's Jason Vargas and Baltimore's Zach Britton).

It was a little shocking to see a pitcher come that close to a perfect game against the Phillies.

And it was truly shocking to see a pitcher throw a no-hitter in the playoffs, against a Reds team that had scored the most runs in the National League last year.

Or maybe it wasn't, given how good Halladay looked that night.

"It's not fun being up there trying to hit nothing," Joey Votto said.

And, yes, Wood was the guy who came closest to a hit. Right fielder Jayson Werth had to slide to catch Wood's sinking line drive in the third inning.

Wood didn't start that game for the Reds. He took over for Edinson Volquez in the second inning. And just as he did in that game in July, he held the Phillies without a run and gave up just one hit (in 3 1/3 innings).

Wednesday, he and the Reds get another chance.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Does it surprise you that a year after hitting 54 home runs, Jose Bautista is actually ahead of his 2010 pace? Does it surprise you that Curtis Granderson is second in the major leagues in home runs, behind only Bautista? OK, well does it surprise you that Granderson has hit more home runs on the road than at home, at the famous Yankee Stadium bandbox? Or that Bautista has hit more home runs at Target Field than at Yankee Stadium, in a lot fewer games? Maybe Granderson and Bautista can do something about that this week, starting with Blue Jays at Yankees, Monday night (7:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium. And, speaking of surprises, Bartolo Colon is the Yankees starter.

2. When the Red Sox got swept in Cleveland the first week of the season, we were shocked that the Sox could be off to such a bad start. And we totally ignored the possibility that the Indians were good. Maybe they're not, but seven weeks later, the Indians still have a better record than the Red Sox -- and everyone else in the game. And now here we are again, with Red Sox at Indians, Monday night (7:05 ET) at Progressive Field. We'll notice the Indians this time, especially if Justin Masterson beats the Red Sox again. He's 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA against them since going to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez trade.

3. On that night that Wood carried a perfect game into the ninth inning, the Reds lost to the Phillies, 1-0 in 11 innings. No surprise. The Reds have lost their last eight games in Philadelphia, and 13 of their last 15, heading into the series that includes Reds at Phillies, Wednesday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. Halladay didn't start all of those games -- but he will start this one.

Posted on: May 19, 2011 9:54 pm
Edited on: May 20, 2011 11:05 am

3 to Watch: The Finally in Fenway edition

I love that the Cubs are visiting Fenway Park this weekend for the first time since the 1918 World Series. I love that the teams will wear 1918 replica uniforms on Saturday night (although I hate that Fox will insist that 68 percent of the country can't watch that game, no matter how much we pay for the MLB cable package, the MLB iPad app or the MLB iPhone app).

I love that Bill Buckner is going to call Friday night's Cubs-Red Sox game on WGN television. I love that some people, including Evan Brunell of our own Eye on Baseball team, are speculating that the Cubs threw that 1918 World Series.

I just think it's ridiculous that it took this long.

Way back in 1997, interleague play was sold as a way for fans in all the game's cities to see all the game's stars. Once every six years, we were told, you'd get at least one chance to see every team in baseball.

It's so long ago that people in Detroit were actually looking forward to seeing Barry Bonds in person.

So now here we are, in Year 15 of interleague play, and the Cubs are finally getting to Boston? Now here we are, in Year 15 of interleague play, and this weekend the Astros are going to Toronto for the first time?

And now here we are, in Year 15 of interleague play, and the Twins still haven't been to Atlanta -- and won't go there this year, either?

Baseball contends very forcefully every year that interleague play is a huge success. A press release this week claimed that since 1997, interleague games have drawn 11.8 percent more fans than intraleague games.

I don't doubt their arithmetic. I do question the value of the numbers, which are skewed by the continuing popularity of the Subway Series in New York, the City Series in Chicago and the Bay Series in Oakland and San Francisco. They're also skewed because interleague games are disproportionately played on weekends, and none of them are played on school nights, the lowest-drawing nights for all teams.

But the matchups are by far the bigger problem.

First off, they're unfair, because teams in the same division don't face the same interleague opponents. This year, while the Red Sox play the Pirates and Astros, the Yankees get the Reds and Rockies.

Second, they make no sense. Can anyone explain why the Red Sox will be making their ninth visit to Philadelphia this year, while they've been to Cincinnati and St. Louis only once? I know fitting a 14-team American League with a 16-team National League is tough, and I know that baseball has admitted that it allows Fox and ESPN to pick some interleague matchups, but none of that explains the great disparity.

Finally, interleague play was sold under a false premise. Fans in Boston had to wait 15 years to see the Cubs, and even after this year fans in Kansas City still won't have seen the Braves.

That's just wrong.

For the record, the matchups that are being played for the first time in 2011 are Cubs at Red Sox, Reds at Orioles, Astros at Blue Jays, Rays at Brewers and Cardinals at Orioles.

The matchups that haven't yet been played, and won't be played this year, are Braves at Royals, Cubs at A's, White Sox at Mets, Cardinals at Angels, Dodgers at Yankees, Rays at Dodgers, Twins at Braves, Padres at Blue Jays and Rangers at Cardinals.

Oh, and one more thing. We still have no idea what interleague play will look like after 2011, because it's going to come up as part of this summer's negotiations between the players and owners.

Some people have been pushing for realignment into two 15-team leagues (which would require interleague games every night). Others have been pushing for more limited interleague play.

Me? I just like the idea of the Cubs visiting Boston.

And I wonder why it took 15 years of interleague play to get it.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. No one has ever accused the Reds of throwing a World Series to the Indians, or vice versa. Maybe that's because Ohio's two teams have never met in the World Series. Chances are, it won't happen this year, either, but at least the Indians are in first place and the Reds are close. Speaking of close, the Ohio interleague series stands at 18 wins apiece, heading into Reds at Indians, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Progressive Field. Oh, and for those who think interleague play only matters in New York, Chicago, Southern California and the Bay Area, on Saturday night the Indians will have their first sellout in three years.

2. The best series of the weekend is in Philadelphia, but it sure would have been better if Josh Hamilton and Chase Utley were going to play. Instead, both may be activated from the disabled list after this weekend. And it sure would have been better if Cliff Lee was returning to Texas, rather than pitching at home in Rangers at Phillies, Saturday night (7:10 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. Lee faces Colby Lewis, who has more wins (four, to Lee's two), more complete games (two, to Lee's one) and just as many shutouts (one apiece).

3. The Cubs still have rotation issues, which is why Doug Davis is opening the series against the Red Sox on Friday night. The Red Sox also have rotation issues, which is why Alfredo Aceves is their scheduled starter for Cubs at Red Sox, Saturday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. Aceves has made just five big-league starts, none since 2009. But one of those starts was at Fenway for the Yankees, who beat the Red Sox that night 19-8. Not that Aceves can take much credit, as he went just four innings and allowed four runs. Oh well. At least Aceves and Carlos Zambrano should look good in those 1918-style uniforms.

Posted on: May 19, 2011 2:19 pm

Werth: Utley means 'everything' to Phils

NEW YORK -- Some day very soon, Chase Utley will rejoin the Phillies lineup.

What will that mean?

"Everything," Jayson Werth said Thursday. "He's that type of player."

Werth and Utley were teammates for four years, before Werth left as a free agent to sign with the Nationals.

"He's a game-changer," Werth said. "They are not too many like him. He brings a mentality and work ethic to the workplace that's unparalleled from anyone I've ever played with."

Utley missed all of spring training and the first six week of the season with a knee injury, but he is six games into a rehabilitation assignment at Class A Clearwater.

He played nine innings Wednesday night, and the Phillies said he is scheduled to play nine innings again Thursday night. It doesn't appear that he'll be back for the start of this weekend's series against the Rangers, but at this point it would be a surprise if he doesn't make it back before the Phillies end their current homestand next week against the Reds.

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