Posted on: June 24, 2011 9:45 pm
Edited on: June 24, 2011 9:53 pm

Nats move towards making Johnson manager

Davey Johnson has emerged as the clear frontrunner to become the Nationals' next manager, baseball sources told CBSSports.com Friday night.

The Nationals could announce a decision soon, and it's possible that Johnson could take over the team by the time the Nationals play the Angels in Anaheim on Monday night. John McLaren managed the Nationals Friday night in Chicago, but the Nationals made it clear that he would only run the team for a few days, until the next manager could be named.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters in Chicago that he had discussed the job with the 68-year-old Johnson, who hasn't managed in the major leagues since 2000, but has spent the last two seasons working in the Nationals front office.

"He would enjoy this challenge," Rizzo said, according to the Washington Post.

Later Friday, a source told CBSSports.com's Scott Miller that Johnson should now be considered the frontrunner.

Johnson managed in the major leagues for 14 years, winning the World Series with the 1986 Mets. He has an overall winning percentage of .564, with five division titles. The only active manager with a better career winning percentage is Joe Girardi, at .566.

Johnson also managed Team USA in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, when his work received less than stellar reviews.

The Nationals were forced into a move by Jim Riggleman's shock resignation on Thursday.
Category: MLB
Posted on: June 24, 2011 3:38 pm
Edited on: June 24, 2011 6:43 pm

Riggleman talks, makes things worse

Jim Riggleman isn't helping himself.

His second-day explanation of why he abruptly quit as Nationals manager makes no more sense than his first-day explanation.

Riggleman told MLB Network radio Friday morning that he didn't resign Thursday because the Nationals didn't pick up his option. He said that he resigned because general manager Mike Rizzo refused to meet with him to discuss the contract option.

Sorry Jim, that's no better.

"If you're gonna tell me that we're not even gonna talk about it, then I'm not gonna go [to Chicago]," Riggleman said, according to the Washington Post.

Riggleman made a tour of radio shows Friday, apparently in hopes of telling his side and boosting his image. But with each show, and each outburst, he ate away at that image a little bit more.

He ripped into Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell. He said that the Nationals had given him a "ridiculous contract."

Please Jim, stop.

Sparky Anderson would always tell managers about to be fired that the only thing they should do was to thank the people they had worked for.

"Don't say anything bad about them," Anderson would say. "Because the next guy thinking about hiring you is watching, and he knows that he might end up firing you, too."

With Riggleman, there won't be a next guy. If he didn't guarantee that with his actions Thursday, he's helping to guarantee it with his words Friday.

Stop, Jim. Stop now.

You're only making things worse.

Category: MLB
Posted on: June 24, 2011 10:19 am

3 to Watch: The honoring Sparky edition

The home team is honoring Sparky Anderson this weekend at Comerica Park.

So are the visitors.

The Tigers will finally, belatedly, retire Sparky's No. 11 in a ceremony on Sunday. The Diamondbacks -- the first-place Diamondbacks -- will show that baseball as Sparky taught it still works.

It's ridiculous that the Tigers waited until this year, until Anderson died in November, to do this. It's great, and perfectly fitting, that they chose to do it this weekend, with Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell and the team that they have tried to craft in Sparky's image in town to see it.

"Sparky meant the world to them," Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall said, and anyone who knows Gibson or Trammell just a little bit knows that's 100 percent true. "He was their mentor, and their idol."

In the three years Trammell managed the Tigers, with Gibson at his side as a coach, they tried hard to teach the game as Sparky had taught it to them. For various reasons, mostly a lack of talent on the field, they lost 300 games and were never in first place after April 17.

Now Gibson is in his first full year managing the Diamondbacks, with Trammell at his side as bench coach. And this time, the Diamondbacks are in first place, ahead of the World Series champions, in the final days of June.

This time, with better talent, baseball as Sparky taught it is working the way it worked all those years for Anderson.

"I think Gibby gets the majority of the credit," Hall said. "I'd also give a lot of credit to [new general manager] Kevin Towers, and to the coaching staff. They're all on the same page like I've never seen a coaching staff."

They play baseball the way Gibson teaches it. He teaches baseball the way he learned it from Sparky.

Is there any better way to honor a Hall of Famer?

On to 3 to Watch:

1. When he took over for Mike Hargrove four years ago in Seattle -- after Hargrove stunned everyone by quitting in the middle of a long winning streak -- John McLaren said: "I have always wanted to manager, but not on terms like this." OK, John, how about these terms? The Nationals have won 11 of 12, and Jim Riggleman just stunned everyone by quitting. Oh, and this time, the team is saying you're only the interim manager until they find a new interim manager, maybe by Monday. Have fun, and bring us a win, in Nationals at White Sox, Friday night (8:10 ET) at U.S. Cellular Field.

2. The last time Tim Wakefield pitched in Pittsburgh, Jim Leyland was the Pirates manager. And Barry Bonds was in left field. The Pirates were a playoff team. And Wakefield was pitching for them. He's appeared in 574 major-league games since then, none of them in Pittsburgh. Now he returns, in Red Sox at Pirates, Saturday night (7:05 ET) at PNC Park. As an added bonus, perhaps Red Sox manager Terry Francona will put Adrian Gonzalez in the outfield, for the first time in six years and just the second time in his big-league career.

3. Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers said that Gibson has been looking forward to this weekend's series in Detroit, but mostly because he'll get to see his family. But you've got to believe it means something to him to take a first-place team into town, and you know that the Sparky Anderson ceremony, to be held before Diamondbacks at Tigers, Sunday afternoon (1:05 ET) at Comerica Park, will mean a lot to him. You also know that Gibson's main goal this weekend is to win games. "That's the way they were brought up by Sparky," Towers said.

Posted on: June 13, 2011 12:41 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 8:10 pm

Holliday ranks top in big week for returns

Sunday night, after the Giants activated Pablo Sandoval from the disabled list, I asked on Twitter which of the five big-name players coming off the DL this week would have the biggest impact on the pennant race.

One problem: I missed two of them.

There aren't five big-name players that could come off the DL this week. There are seven.

Seven players who have combined for 17 All-Star appearances, six batting titles, one MVP and two runners-up, four Gold Gloves and 15 Silver Sluggers.

And I didn't even include Jason Heyward, who began a rehabilitation assignment with the Braves' Triple-A Gwinnett team, and could be activated as soon as Wednesday.

Anyway, I'll ask the question again: Which one will have the biggest impact on the pennant race?

And I'll try to answer it:

1. Matt Holliday, Cardinals, left quadriceps, last played May 31, could return Thursday. When Holliday missed seven early-season games with appendicitis, the Cardinals scored just 18 runs and went 2-5. He's missed the last 11 games, and they've scored 49 runs and gone 5-6. They're a first-place team that scores plenty of runs when he plays, a sub-.500 team that struggles to score when he doesn't. Fortunately for the Cardinals, it looks reasonably certain that this Holliday absence won't last much longer.

2. Travis Hafner, Indians, right oblique, last played May 17, could return late this week. Even with Hafner, the Indians may not be good enough to hold on in the American League Central race. But it's clear that without him, they've got no chance. The numbers are skewed a little by the strong pitching Cleveland has faced since Hafner went out, but it's still stunning to see that they were shut out just once with him in the lineup -- and six times in the 24 games he has missed. The Indians were hitting .271 as a team when Hafner got hurt. They've hit .224 as a team (with a .289 on-base percentage and a .346 slugging percentage) without him. The Indians will go as far as their talented young hitters can take them, but those young hitters are hurting without Hafner's presence in the lineup. Hafner is due to begin a rehabilitation assignment Tuesday at Double-A Akron. The Indians have told him they'd like him to stay there three or four days.

3. Joe Mauer, Twins, bilateral leg weakness, last played April 12, could return Thursday. If the Twins weren't already nine games out, Mauer would top this list. If they were still 20 games under .500, as they were a couple weeks back, he'd be farther down the list. The Twins aren't nearly the same team without Mauer, but his impact on the pennant race is limited by how bad they've been without him -- and by the continuing uncertainty about how effective he'll be when he returns.

4. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins, back inflammation, last played May 29, expected to return Tuesday. The Marlins, finishing up a brutal offensive homestand that cost hitting coach John Mallee his job, obviously need a boost. Ramirez, a one-time National League batting champ, could obviously provide it. But will he? Ramirez hit just .210 in 48 games before going on the DL. Even with that, the Marlins were just two games behind the Phillies when Ramirez last played. They're seven games out now, and he'll be back for the start of a four-game series in Philadelphia.
5. Magglio Ordonez, Tigers, right ankle weakness, last played May 10, returning Monday night. If he hits .172, as he did before the Tigers put him on the DL, he's the least important guy on this list. If he's a .300 hitter, as he has been for most of his career (including last year), he's as important as anyone, and might be enough to make the Tigers clear favorites in the AL Central.

6. Pablo Sandoval, Giants, fractured hamate bone, last played April 29, will return Tuesday. The way the Giants struggle to score runs, some will make the case that the Panda is as important as anyone. I dropped him down only because the Giants went 25-16 in his absence. Yes, Buster Posey is out of the lineup now, but the Giants are above .500 since he's been out, too.

7. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals, abdominal surgery, last played April 9, expected to return Tuesday. The Nationals without Zimmerman might be the worst offensive team in the game. The Nationals with Zimmerman could hope to escape last place by passing the Mets. It's hard to say Zimmerman will impact the pennant race, except by making the Nationals a significantly tougher opponent.

Posted on: June 7, 2011 12:45 pm
Edited on: June 7, 2011 7:13 pm

Pirates, Nats make Day 2 interesting

After the first round, the baseball draft goes from studio show to conference call.

After the first round, commissioner Bud Selig flies back to Wisconsin. After the first round, you have permission to tune out (if you even tuned in in the first place).

But stay with us for Day 2. At least stay with us for Pick 1 of Day 2, because the Pirates made it interesting.

With the first pick in the second round (via conference call), the Pirates took Josh Bell, the high school outfielder from Dallas who had sent a letter to teams saying he plans to attend the University of Texas and didn't even want to be drafted.

There was talk Monday that if teams honored Bell's request and he got as far as the 33rd pick, the hometown Rangers would take him. But they didn't, going for Georgia high schooler Kevin Matthews instead. That seemed to be an indication that even with their hometown advantage, the Rangers considered Bell unsignable.

Maybe the Pirates know something the Rangers don't. Maybe they're simply gambling on a big talent (Baseball America says Bell had the best power bat of any high-school player in the draft). Or maybe, club president Frank Coonelly (who once worked for MLB and was in charge of screaming at teams for spending too much money in the draft) is now ready to spend big.

Speaking of which, the Nationals seem to again have a big draft budget. After taking three straight Scott Boras clients on Monday night, the Nats made news on Day 2 by taking pitcher Matt Purke from TCU in the third round. Purke is one of the more interesting names in the draft, in part because he agreed to sign with the Rangers for $6 million out of high school (only to have the deal not go through, because MLB had taken over operation of the team from bankrupt owner Tom Hicks). Purke had some shoulder trouble this year, so it's not clear how much money he'll get, but it will no doubt take more than a normal third-round bonus to sign him.

As for the Pirates, they'll already be spending big on first-round pick Gerrit Cole, another player who showed no interest in signing out of high school. The Yankees drafted Cole in the first round three years ago, and he told them he had no interest in even listening to an offer. Cole went on to UCLA, became the first pick overall, and will almost command more money than the Yankees would have offered him out of high school.

Overall, the first-day picks suggest that baseball as a whole could be ready to spend big on draft picks this year. Ken Davidoff of Newsday theorized Tuesday morning that Selig will be more lenient on big bonuses this summer, because baseball strongly hopes that a hard-slotting system is in place before next year's draft. Selig renewed his call for a hard-slot system on Monday night, even though he admitted it needs to be bargained with the players' union.

In any case, the Pirates quickly made sure there was something to talk about on Day 2.

For more draft coverage from CBSSports.com, click here

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.

Posted on: May 19, 2011 1:53 pm

Red Sox need a catcher, so why not Pudge?

NEW YORK -- The question has come up half a dozen times, just in the last week.

"What are the Red Sox going to do about their catching?" one scout or another asks. "They've got to go find a catcher."

No matter how many times the Red Sox say that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is getting better, scouts watching the team all come back saying the same thing. They've got to get a catcher.

How about Pudge Rodriguez?

Rodriguez is a back-up now with the Nationals, who are using Wilson Ramos as their starter. Rodriguez is hitting just .238, heading into Thursday's afternoon game against the Mets, but he has 14 RBI in 63 at-bats.

And, unlike Saltalamacchia, he's still a plus defender.

"He can really block balls in the dirt, and he can really throw," Nats manager Jim Riggleman said, echoing what rival scouts have said. "He's really at the top of his game defensively.

"He's a No. 1 catcher, who is in a backup role here."

That may be a little bit of an exaggeration, but not much.

The Nationals have suggested to people that they're not anxious to trade Rodriguez yet, but it's hard to believe they wouldn't. The Red Sox keep suggesting that the Saltalamacchia-Jason Varitek combination will be fine, but it's hard to believe it will be.

And Rodriguez?

He smiled Thursday morning when I asked him about Boston.

"That's a good park to hit in," he said. "I've always hit well there."

Nationals people rave about how willing Rodriguez has been to accept his role, and to work with Ramos. Rodriguez raved about Ramos, saying, "He's going to be great. He's a very, very good catcher, and a good hitter."

But even at 39, Rodriguez doesn't believe he's at the end of his own career.

"I've got plenty of years left," he said. "I feel great. I can probably play 2-3 more years, for sure. I still love what I do."

He's also moving closer to his goal of 3,000 hits. Rodriguez entered play Thursday with 2,832 hits.

Posted on: May 3, 2011 11:34 am

Nats starters go deep (no, not home runs)

Only one team in the majors has yet to go to the bullpen in the first five innings of a game.

No, it's not the Phillies. Or the Giants. Or the A's.

Keep guessing, and let me know when you get to the Nationals.

Yes, the Nationals.

Last year, they didn't get past opening day without an early departure by the starter. By the end of the year, they had 38, the most in the majors.

Now, they're the only team without one (every other team has at least two, led by the Pirates with seven).

It's all according to plan.

"I'm not a big stat guy, but I firmly believe that the farther the starter goes in a game, the better chance you have of winning," pitching coach Steve McCatty said by phone Tuesday morning. "You try to get guys to know they have to go farther in the game to give you a chance to win."

It's not exactly revolutionary thinking, but McCatty has prioritized limiting walks over striking out batters. Sure enough, Nationals starters have just 45 walks in 173 innings, fewer than any rotation other than the Phillies.

"We're trying to stress it in the minor leagues, too," he said. "One thing the pitch count has done is it keeps guys from going deep in games, but we're telling guys you can go seven innings with 100 pitches or less.

"I was a guy who threw 135-145 pitches every time out, but just because I did it doesn't make it right."

The Nationals have gotten innings out of their starters without running high pitch counts. No Nats starter has thrown more than 109 pitches in a game, and last Friday against the Giants Jason Marquis threw a 96-pitch complete game.

The five-inning thing, as McCatty admits, isn't the best indicator. The Nationals are only in the middle of the pack in starts of six innings-plus (they have 19 in 28 games), and the Nats have just six starts of seven innings-plus (the Rays lead baseball with 15).

But for an unheralded staff -- Livan Hernandez, John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann, Marquis and Tom Gorzelanny form the Nationals rotation -- the five-inning streak is impressive.

Especially from a rotation no one has paid attention to since Stephen Strasburg got hurt.

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