Posted on: April 29, 2011 12:50 am

3 to watch: The How do you know? edition

Already this year, Josh Johnson has carried a no-hit bid into the eighth inning. And another into the seventh. And another into the sixth. And another into the fifth.

In five starts, he's never given up a hit before the fourth inning.

The easiest thing to do would be to predict that Johnson is going to throw a no-hitter this year.

And I'm not going to do it.

Not after talking to Edwin Jackson, I'm not.

Jackson threw a no-hitter last year, when he was pitching for the Diamondbacks. But when I asked him to guess who will throw this year's first no-no, he politely refused.

"How do you ever know?" asked Jackson, who now pitches for the White Sox. "Because if you'd have asked me if I was going to throw one, I'd have said, 'Never.' I'd have bet my paycheck that I'd never throw one."

How do you know?

"I always said I'd never throw one," said Mark Buehrle, Jackson's White Sox teammate. "And I've got two."

Buehrle was willing to guess, though.

"Somebody like [Justin] Verlander or Josh Johnson," he said.

Verlander has thrown a no-hitter, in 2007 against the Brewers. Johnson hasn't -- yet.

Johnson gets another chance Saturday in Cincinnati.

On to 3 to watch:

1. Since the start of 2009, Tim Lincecum has at least one win over every National League opponent, with one exception. Would you guess it's the Nationals? Lincecum lost his only start against the Nationals last year, and a Bob Howry blown save cost him a potential win in 2009. He gets another chance in Giants at Nationals, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park.

2. Back in spring training, we asked when Alex White would make his debut with the Indians. We didn't guess it would be in April, and we didn't guess he'd be joining a first-place team. It is, and he is. The Indians' 2009 first-round pick is only getting a chance this soon because of two injuries to starting pitchers, but he will get a chance in Tigers at Indians, Saturday night (6:05 ET) at Progressive Field. One oddity, though: White is actually four months older than Rick Porcello, the Tigers' Saturday night starter. Porcello will be making his 63rd big-league start.

3. You wouldn't think Johnson would no-hit the Reds. The Reds haven't been no-hit since 1971 (Rick Wise) . . . unless you count that Roy Halladay no-hitter in the playoffs last year. Then again, Johnson's first major-league win came in Cincinnati, and in that game he allowed no hits . . . in three innings of relief. But no, I'm not predicting he throws a no-hitter in Marlins at Reds, Saturday night (7:05 ET) at Great American Ballpark. How do you know?

Posted on: April 10, 2011 7:30 pm
Edited on: April 10, 2011 7:31 pm

3 to watch: The most favored opponent edition

Nine games in, the Phillies have the same record they had after nine games last year. They're 7-2, the best record in the National League.

But nine games in, the Phillies have scored 10 fewer runs than they did in the first nine games last year.

Does that mean they really do miss Jayson Werth and Chase Utley? Or does it just mean that they haven't played the Nationals yet?

They do miss Werth and Utley, or at least they should miss them eventually. But it is worth noting that the Phillies played six of their first nine games against Washington last year, and that they scored 50 runs in those six games.

The only reason we're bringing this up now is that Werth left the Phillies to sign with the Nationals last winter, and this week in Washington he'll play against his former team for the first time.

And if the Phillies were off to a slow start, there would no doubt be plenty of talk about how much they miss Jayson Werth.

Instead, Werth is hitting .200 for the Nationals, and the Phils are averaging 6.6 runs a game without him.

And that's without any games against Washington, the team the Phils pounded for 107 runs in 18 games last year.

The 107 runs were the most the Phillies scored against any opponent, but they weren't the most any team scored against any opponent last year.

The Twins scored 130 runs in their 18 games against the Royals (helped by a 19-1 game), and the Brewers scored 125 in 18 games against the Pirates (helped by back-to-back 20-0 and 17-3 wins).

And this week, while the Phillies play the Nationals, the Twins will play the Royals and the Brewers will play the Pirates.

Is there any doubt about the theme for this week's 3 to watch:

1. Ryan Braun is the National League's early home run leader, with four in the first 10 games of the season. And he hasn't even faced the Pirates yet. Braun hit six of his 25 home runs last year against Pittsburgh, the team he'll face in for the first time this year in Brewers at Pirates, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at PNC Park . Braun has homered off each of the scheduled Pirates starters this week, with one in 16 at-bats against Kevin Correia (Tuesday), one in 30 at-bats against Paul Maholm (Wednesday) and two in 16 at-bats against Jeff Karstens (Thursday).

2. The Twins are off to a slow start. Joe Mauer is off to a slow start. But the Twins haven't seen the Royals yet, and neither has Mauer. Last year, Mauer hit an incredible .516 against the Royals, with 17 RBI in 15 games. He gets his first chance of 2011 in Royals at Twins, Tuesday night (8:10 ET) at Target Field .

3. John Lannan is 29-30 with a 3.87 ERA in 86 career starts against everyone but the Phillies. John Lannan is 0-8 with a 6.09 ERA in 11 starts against the Phillies. He gets another chance -- or the Phillies get another chance -- in Phillies at Nationals, Wednesday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park . Bad news for him: He's matched up against Roy Halladay, who allowed one run in 23 innings in his three starts (all wins) against Washington last year.

Posted on: February 18, 2011 4:52 pm

Sheffield retires, Pudge goes on

Gary Sheffield once told me he really wanted to get to 3,000 hits.

I can't say I believed him.

Pudge Rodriguez told me last year that 3,000 hits was a goal.

I did believe him.

So I can't say I'm surprised at this week's developments for either Sheffield (who announced his retirement , more than a year after he last played) or for Rodriguez (who was named by Nationals manager Jim Riggleman as the team's starting catcher).

And if Rodriguez is able to play a full season's worth of games this year for Washington, at age 39, he could get close to that 3,000-hit goal. He begins the year with 2,817, and while it's been 12 years since he had 180-plus hits in a season, even a 141-hit year like he had in 2007 with the Tigers would leave him within easy range of 3,000.

Rodriguez keeps himself in great condition, and barring a major injury, I have little doubt that he'll want to keep playing, especially if he's close to 3,000. And I'd be surprised if no team gave him a chance to get there.

Sheffield, meanwhile, told George King of the New York Post that he wanted to retire after finishing the 2009 season with the Mets, which means he wanted to retire about four weeks after telling me that he was focused on getting the 311 hits he still needed to reach 3,000. Anyone who has followed Sheffield's career can't be surprised by that contradiction.

Of course, Sheffield also once told me that 500 home runs was more impressive than 3,000 hits, because "anyone can hit singles."

Sheffield did reach 500 home runs, and when you combine that with 2,689 hits, 1,676 RBI and other numbers, he's at worst a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. He could be hurt by his inclusion in the Mitchell Report, but who knows how the electorate will feel about that by the time he's on the ballot in 2014.

Rodriguez, one of the best catchers ever, is a sure bet to make the Hall of Fame, unless enough voters lay off because of steroid rumors (he wasn't in the Mitchell Report and never failed a test, but he was in Jose Canseco's book).

Rodriguez won't be on the ballot for quite a while. He's still not ready to retire, and he may not leave for a few more years. I have no doubt he wants to.

I believe him.
Posted on: December 9, 2010 9:36 am
Edited on: December 9, 2010 11:16 am

When Lee signs, Greinke will go

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Royals arrived at the Winter Meetings ready to talk about a Zack Greinke trade. They left the meetings more convinced than ever that they'll trade their young ace this winter.

When? That's easy. The Royals almost certainly won't deal Greinke until Cliff Lee signs his new contract, because the Lee market strongly affects the Greinke market.

So where does Greinke go? That's much less certain, but officials familiar with the talks said four to five teams have been most aggressive. That group includes the Rangers, Brewers, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Nationals. Royals officials also continue to believe that the Yankees will pursue Greinke strongly if New York loses out on Lee.

In any case, it's very likely that Greinke will go somewhere, based on the offers that the Royals already received this week.

Greinke is signed for two more years, so the Royals have maintained all along that they don't need to trade him. But they've also realized that with this winter's thin free-agent market, this is the time to maximize his value. Besides Lee, Greinke is by far the best starting pitcher available.

Greinke is due $13.5 million each of the next two years, a reasonable salary for a pitcher who has already won a Cy Young Award. He has some no-trade protection, but it's believed that he would be amenable to most possible trades, because he has been frustrated by the losing seasons in Kansas City.

The Royals actually have a strong group of prospects on the way (some rival scouts feel they have more top prospects than any other team), but the ETA on those prospects doesn't fit Greinke's timetable. Thus, it makes sense for the Royals to shop him this winter and get even more prospects in return. They'll likely net four or five players in any Greinke trade.
Posted on: December 8, 2010 3:04 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2010 3:16 pm

The Lee saga moves on . . . away from Disney

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Cliff Lee free-agent chase will continue.

But not here.

Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, just left the Winter Meetings. Braunecker told CBSSports.com that he may or may not return, but that it's now very unlikely that Lee will sign a new contract before the Winter Meetings end Thursday.

Braunecker wouldn't say where he was heading.

"We're going somewhere," he said with a smile.

Regardless of how long the Lee drama drags on, the basics of the situation don't seem to have changed much. The Yankees are still considered the strong favorite to sign him, and SI.com's Jon Heyman reported today that they're prepared to offer Lee a six-year deal for between $23 and 25 million a year.

The Rangers are the second pick, but sources said that they are adamantly opposed to going past five years on a pitcher who would be 37 years old at the end of that five-year deal.

The Angels have also talked to Lee, but sources said that outfielder Carl Crawford remains their top priority.

The Nationals showed some interest in Lee early, but sources said they have bowed out of the negotiations.

Braunecker wouldn't discuss any individual teams, but he said that the field has been narrowed somewhat in the last day.

It's believed that if the Rangers don't get Lee, they'll turn their attention to trying to trade for Zack Greinke, with a trade for Matt Garza also a possible fallback position. The Rangers met with Crawford's agent during the Winter Meetings, but club officials have said that getting a top starting pitcher would be their first preference.
Posted on: December 7, 2010 7:10 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2010 7:24 pm

Ryan expresses optimism on Lee

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Much of the buzz around the lobby at the Winter Meetings still has Cliff Lee likely headed to the Yankees.

Rangers president Nolan Ryan doesn't agree.

Ryan said Tuesday that he's increasingly optimistic that Lee will re-sign with the Rangers.

"I'd like to think that the longer the process goes, and the less news you hear about it, the more encouraged I am," Ryan said. "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 Nationals met with Lee's agent on Tuesday, and SI.com's Jon Heyman reported Tuesday night that Lee has two seven-year offers (with the suggestion that neither was from the Yankees or Rangers). But Ryan said he doubts Lee would go to a non-contending team, which probably leaves the Yankees and Rangers as the two possible destinations.

"He wants to be on a winner," Ryan said. "He wants to play with someone who is going to be competitive year-in, year-out. Obviously, that eliminates some organizations."

Despite his optimism, Ryan admitted that the Rangers have worked on backup plans, and he suggested that they would still prioritize starting pitching, probably in a trade (with Zack Greinke almost certainly the Plan B, and Matt Garza possibly the Plan C). Ryan basically ruled out any chance the Rangers would try to sign Carl Crawford, and came close to ruling out a run at Adrian Beltre, as well.

Ryan did admit that the Rangers have listened to trade offers for third baseman Michael Young, but it seems unlikely that Texas will move Young.

"People have asked," Ryan said.

Other people in the Rangers organization have expressed confidence this week that all things being equal, Lee prefers the Rangers over any other team.

Posted on: December 7, 2010 3:59 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2010 4:15 pm

Nationals inquire on Greinke

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The most interesting team of the Winter Meetings so far?

There's no question. It's the Nationals.

The latest big name they've inquired on: Royals right-hander Zack Greinke. And while it doesn't seem likely that the sides will agree on a deal, the mere fact that the Nationals showed real interest is the latest indication that the last-place Nats want to be considered serious players.

The Blue Jays and Rangers remain the teams most involved on Greinke, according to sources familiar with the talks. There hasn't been much movement yet, perhaps because the Royals continue to demand a hefty price (four or five players, according to an official of one team that inquired) and perhaps in part because a decision by free-agent Cliff Lee could affect some teams' motivation to make a deal (the Rangers, and possibly the Yankees).

The Nationals have also shown some interest in Lee, and Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider reported that general manager Mike Rizzo met with agent Darek Braunecker again on Tuesday. But officials familiar with the team's plans downplayed the chances of the Nats becoming serious contenders for Lee's services.

Greinke just turned 27, which makes him five years younger than Lee. The Royals have him under contract for two more years, so they don't need to move him this winter. But a favorable market, in which Lee is the only other premium starter available, makes a likely that Greinke will be dealt.

The Nationals made the first big signing of the Winter Meetings on Sunday, with their stunning seven-year, $126 million deal with Jayson Werth.

Posted on: November 11, 2010 1:49 pm

Harper makes huge fall impression

Bryce Harper has played in only seven games so far in his professional career. He has just one home run.

And scouts can't stop talking about him.

"I haven't ever seen a guy that young swing a bat that hard," said one scout just back from the Arizona Fall League, where the just-turned-18 Harper is playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions. "I could see him in the big leagues at 19 or 20."

Said another: "He's unbelievable, walking in like that and facing Double-A and Triple-A pitchers. Just to watch him in batting practice is a pleasure. He's hitting balls over the light towers."

Harper, the first pick in the June draft, signed with the Nationals on Aug. 16, so this is his first game action as a pro. Because he was a late addition to the Scorpions roster, he only plays two games a week.

In his first seven games, Harper has hit .357 (10-for-28), but also has struck out 10 times.

It's not just his bat that has impressed the scouts. Harper was a catcher in high school and college, but the Nationals have moved him to the outfield and it's apparently been a smooth transition.

"One game I saw, a guy hit a ball that was going to be a triple," one of the scouts said. "It was in the right-field corner, 340 feet away. He got there and threw a clothesline strike to third base. The ball never touched the ground."

Category: MLB
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