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Posted on: April 14, 2011 1:38 pm

Britton, Kershaw, Belt and the Texas connection

NEW YORK -- Zach Britton was in high school when he met Jake Arrieta.

And when he met Clayton Kershaw. And when he played against Brandon Belt.

So when Belt made the Giants' opening day roster, Britton texted Kershaw to reminisce. When Britton got to the big leagues with the Orioles, Arrieta was already there.

Is this the big leagues, or just a Texas neighborhood reunion?

It would be a big neighborhood. Belt grew up in Lufkin, 230 miles away from where Britton went to high school in Weatherford, just west of Fort Worth. Arrieta is from Plano, just north of Dallas, where Kershaw grew up.

But the connections are real.

Britton's older brother Clay played with Arrieta at Weatherford Junior College.

"I've known him since I was a sophomore in high school," Britton said.

Britton played summer-league baseball with Kershaw at the Dallas Baseball Academy, and the two planned to pitch together at Texas A&M before both were high draft picks and decided to sign out of high school.

"He's a good guy," Britton said. "We talk a lot."

They're not as close to Belt, but they do remember facing him.

Kershaw faced Belt again the other night, in the big leagues. He and Belt may eventually see Britton and Arrieta in an interleague game, or even in a World Series game.

"That would be something," Britton said. "We'd definitely talk about it, and about how far we would have come."

Posted on: April 13, 2011 1:07 pm

Showalter is right for O's -- at least for now

NEW YORK -- Buck Showalter thinks about everything.

Sometimes that's good.

An Orioles clubhouse that seemed unfocused and often uninterested before he arrived seems far more professional with Showalter in charge. Even many of his detractors will admit now that he was exactly the manager the Orioles needed when they hired him last summer (although they'll also point out that Showalter took over at the perfect time, when the down-and-out O's were finally getting healthy).

Showalter preached accountability, and since the players knew that he wasn't going anywhere anytime soon (unlike with predecessor Dave Trembley and interim manager Juan Samuel), they had little choice but to listen when he spoke.

He had plenty to say. Showalter is so organized and studies so much that some people who know him contend that he knows more about the Orioles' opponents than they know about themselves.

But Showalter can never limit himself to that.

He thinks about everything (everything baseball-related, anyway). He has an opinion about how everything should be done (whether he chooses to share it or not).

Take Tuesday, when Showalter met with reporters before the O's game against the Yankees was rained out.

He answered questions about his team, and about the Yankees. And then, unsolicited, he began preaching about bullpen mounds.

"In today's day and age, we have mounds on the playing surface," he said. "Imagine mounds at the free-throw line in the NBA."

He has a point. It's easy to understand why bullpen mounds can't be moved behind a fence at Wrigley Field, but it's hard to imagine why they were built to be in play (in foul territory, but still in play) at newer ballparks like Tropicana Field and AT&T Park.

A reasonable point, but it seemingly came out of nowhere. The bullpen mounds aren't in play at Camden Yards, the Orioles' home. They're not in play at Yankee Stadium, where the Orioles are playing this week. They're not in play at Cleveland's Progressive Field, where the Orioles play next.

So far as I can tell, it's not an issue anyone else in the game has been discussing this week.

But that's Showalter. That's what you get.
Category: MLB
Posted on: April 7, 2011 6:04 pm

3 to watch: The no snowing in Minnesota edition

It was cold on opening day at Yankee Stadium. It was colder, at least according to the thermometer, the next day at Citizens Bank Park.

On Thursday at Progressive Field, the game-time temperature was 38 degrees.

And now it's time for baseball in Minnesota?

Sure is, and the forecast for Friday's first pitch of the year at Target Field is a very reasonable 61 degrees.

How about we move all early-season games to Minnesota? And play them outdoors.

We all thought the Twins were taking a huge gamble with the weather, when they moved out of the Metrodome and played their first outdoor home games since 1981. We all thought they'd be playing doubleheaders all summer, to make up for all those games that would be snowed out.

Then they had one game rained out all season. The NFL's Vikings, who still play indoors, had more weather postponements than the Twins did.

Target Field became one of the best baseball stories of the entire summer, a beautiful park (maybe baseball's best) with daily sellouts and a great baseball atmosphere.

And the weather turned out to be no problem at all.

"We had one rainout, and one suspended game, and other than that we never put the tarp on the field during a game," general manager Bill Smith said.

That can't happen again this year?

"Why not?" Smith said.

"I'm counting on it," Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer said with a smile. "I'm not holding my breath. But I am counting on it."

The Twins opened with a week of games away from home (one of which, on Wednesday in New York, was rained out). But Smith is not among those who believe baseball should avoid opening in cold climates.

He wants the Twins to open at home sometimes.

"You tell me whether the weather in Minnesota is going to be better this week or next week," he said. "It's one week."

There is rain in the forecast for Sunday, when the Twins are scheduled to play their third home game against the A's.

But no snow.

"We're done with that," Smith said.

On to 3 to watch:

1. Are you starting to believe in the Orioles' young pitching staff? I am, but I'm anxious to see how they do over the weekend against the Rangers. I'm especially anxious to see how Zach Britton does, when he makes his second big-league start in Rangers at Orioles, Saturday night (7:10 ET) at Camden Yards .

2. The Twins did fine with the weather last year, and opening day looks good. But aren't they tempting fate by scheduling their second home game for an evening start. Actually, the reason for the start time for A's at Twins, Saturday night (7:10 ET) at Target Field , is that a Friday home opener provided the Twins with no makeup date in the event of a rainout. If Friday's game had to be postponed -- there's no rain in the forecast -- the plan was to make it up at noon local time on Saturday, meaning that people with opening day tickets would still be able to see the opener.

3. Back in February, when I ranked baseball's most untradeable contracts , I didn't include Josh Beckett on the list. I'm beginning to think I should have, because in the year since he signed his four-year, $68 million extension, Beckett hasn't looked like a $15.75 million a year pitcher. Health was no doubt part of the reason for last year's 5.78 ERA, but Beckett wasn't good this spring and wasn't great in his first regular-season start, Tuesday in Cleveland. Add in the fact that the Red Sox are 0-6, and that the Yankees are in town, and that CC Sabathia will be his mound opponent, and there will be more focus than ever on Beckett in Yankees at Red Sox, Sunday night (8:05 ET) at Fenway Park .

Posted on: April 4, 2011 12:09 pm
Edited on: April 4, 2011 12:46 pm

Should Yanks worry about Jeter?

The biggest concern of the Yankees' opening weekend was Phil Hughes, whose startling spring training decline in velocity continued into an ugly first start of the regular season.

But what about Derek Jeter?

It's only three games, and it was cold, and everything could change a month from now, or even a week from now. But in the Yankees' first three games of the season -- and they won two of them, don't forget -- one of the most stunning sights was Jeter's lack of mobility at shortstop.

"I'm shocked," said one Northeast-based scout who has followed Jeter's career. "I know there's been a lot of talk about his range the last few years, and I didn't really buy it until last year. But [this weekend], it was really down. He didn't react to balls off the bat.

"He almost looks overmatched by the ball."

Again, it's possible this is just an early-season blip. A scout who watched the Yankees this spring in Tampa said that while Jeter's range was a little down, it wasn't shockingly bad.

Jeter didn't look good at the plate against the Tigers, either (2-for-10), but that's less of a concern now than his defense -- even if the defense is a long-term concern.

Hughes' lack of velocity is already significant.

Scouts noticed it all spring in Florida, when he was throwing his fastball 87-89 mph (as he did in Sunday's loss to the Tigers). The Yankees played it down publicly at that point, but as Joel Sherman revealed in Monday's New York Post , even during the spring Hughes and new pitching coach Larry Rothschild worked on his mechanics in an attempt to get the velocity back (Hughes regularly hit 94 mph last year).

As Hughes told reporters Sunday, "It is tough for me to pitch at this velocity."


A few other opening weekend thoughts:

-- The Giants' defense is a serious issue, enough so that it could end up being the reason they don't repeat. One scout who watched their opening weekend series in Los Angeles came away convinced that the Giants are below average defensively at almost every position in the field. "Barry Zito pitched a very good game [Sunday], and he should have won the game," the scout said. "[Zito] competes with the stuff he has. If the defense makes the plays behind him, he'll compete enough to be a fourth or fifth starter."

-- The Angels bullpen was bad against the scrappy Royals, but one scout who watched them came away talking more about how bad Scott Kazmir looked. "Terrible. No velocity. No command. No nothing," the scout said.

-- When I wrote last week about teams that benefit from fast starts, I really should have mentioned the Orioles as a team that would be interesting to watch this year. It's going to be hard to do in the AL East, but the O's have the good young pitching that can help carry the momentum when a team starts strong (e.g. Padres 2010). One thing to remember about the O's: If they somehow stay in the race through midseason, you can count on them to be aggressive in the July trade market. "We'll be all-in," one O's person said.

-- One more thing about the O's. Scouts who watched them this spring were not surprised to see Zach Britton pitch so well Sunday against the Rays. One scout said Britton was the Orioles' best pitcher this spring, and two more said that they liked Britton ahead of Yankees superprospect Manuel Banuelos, who got more attention. Britton only started Sunday because Brian Matusz was hurt, but there's already speculation that he'll stay in the rotation even when Matusz returns.

Posted on: April 3, 2011 8:47 pm

3 to watch: The fourth starter fallacy edition

We talk about rotations as if they match up one-against-one, ace against ace, No. 5 starter vs. No. 5 starter.

But they don't.

Not even in the first week of the season.

You know how many opening day starters are going to face off against another opening day starter in their second start? Only 16 out of 30.

Barely half of them.

The schedules don't always match up. Rainouts get in the way. Guys get hurt. Some teams are skipping the fifth starter this week, some aren't.

So instead of CC Sabathia against Carl Pavano, you've got Sabathia vs. Brian Duensing. Instead of Josh Johnson against Livan Hernandez, you've got Johnson vs. John Lannan. And so on.

And that's just for the second start of the year. By the end of the month, the chances that one team's ace will match up against another's will basically be the same as the chances he matches up against the No. 5 starter.

That's how the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo could have the fifth-best run support in baseball last year, even though he started on opening day. The Brewers didn't score all those runs off other teams' aces.

That's how CC Sabathia could have the second-best run support among Yankee starters last year.

So if you're one of those saying Cole Hamels is going to have a great year because he's the Phillies' fourth starter, I'm going to disagree. I don't doubt Hamels will have a great year, but it won't be because he's going to have it easier than if he had started one of the first three games of the season.

Hamels will face Mets fourth starter Chris Young on Tuesday night, in the season debut for both pitchers. And maybe that's why I didn't include that game on this week's 3 to watch:

1. Josh Beckett was an opening day starter last year, and the year before that (and for three years with the Marlins, too). So is he a No. 4 starter, now that he's starting the fourth game of the season, in Red Sox at Indians, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at Progressive Field ? Beckett had a poor 2010 season and a poor 2011 spring training, but now the Red Sox hope he can deliver them their first win, after a season-opening sweep in Texas. Teams do rebound after beginning a season 0-3. Six 0-3 teams in just the last 20 years have gone on to win a division title, most notably the 1998 Yankees who began 0-3, then won 114 of their next 159 games. Even 0-4 teams aren't dead. The 1999 Diamondbacks began 0-4 and went on to 100 wins. The 1995 Reds won their division despite starting 0-6, but they did it with just 85 wins. You can bet it will take more than 85 to win the American League East this year.

2. In three games started by Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz (combined career record: 206-129), the Rangers hit 11 home runs and scored 26 runs. Now the Rangers face a fascinating trio of Mariner pitchers, beginning with Erik Bedard (first start since July 25, 2009), continuing with Michael Pineda (major-league debut) in Mariners at Rangers, Tuesday night (8:05 ET) at Rangers Ballpark , and continuing with Felix Hernandez (2010 Cy Young winner) in Wednesday's daytime series finale. The 21-year-old Pineda's debut has been much anticipated, as he is one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. It's an interesting matchup, too, because Rangers right-hander Alexi Ogando will be making his first big-league start.

3. Three games in, we know that the Orioles rotation has pitched 20 innings while allowing just one run on six hits. What we don't yet know is if that means that the Orioles young starters are ready to shine, or whether Rays (without Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, and with Evan Longoria getting hurt) are going to be a bad offensive team. We should know a little more by the time Chris Tillman makes his second start, in Tigers at Orioles, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Camden Yards . Tillman is the guy who held the Rays hitless for six innings on Saturday, getting pulled from the game because he had thrown 101 pitches. No matter how this week goes, it's safe to say the Orioles pitching doesn't get talked about enough. Some scouts in Florida this spring said the O's Zach Britton is even better than the Yankees' Manuel Banuelos, but it was Banuelos who got all the attention.

Posted on: December 8, 2010 2:33 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2010 7:15 pm

Red Sox focused on Ordonez

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Red Sox appear to be focusing on Magglio Ordonez in their search for another outfielder.

The Tigers are also interested in keeping Ordonez, and the interest in the free agent is significant enough that there is some chance he could get a multi-year contract. Agent Scott Boras has suggested to some teams that Ordonez could get $18 million for two years, according to sources. Tigers officials insist that they won't give Ordonez any more than one year, and the Red Sox may feel the same way.

The Phillies are also among the teams most interested in Ordonez. Earlier today, a source had suggested that the Orioles were involved, but one official said later that they had pulled out of the bidding, and general manager Andy MacPhail then told that they weren't interested.

Ordonez missed time last year with a broken ankle, and some teams have expressed concern that he won't be able to play a full season in the outfield. If he returns to the Tigers, he would play every day but would likely be used as a designated hitter a couple of days a week, on the days when Victor Martinez catches. The Red Sox have a full-time DH in David Ortiz, but they also have a large group of outfielders who could give Ordonez some days off.

Ordonez worked out for the Tigers today. Boras said the workout was designed "to show he's 100 percent. He's ready to go."

The Red Sox talked to the Mets about a possible trade for Carlos Beltran, but sources said that Beltran is farther down their list right now because of injury concerns.

Posted on: December 6, 2010 2:14 pm
Edited on: December 6, 2010 2:18 pm

Reynolds deal could help both teams

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Diamondbacks had too many guys who strike out, and not enough pitchers. The Orioles had too few guys who hit home runs, and a couple of pitchers they could spare.

So yes, Mark Reynolds to the Orioles was a natural, even if it's not a deal that's going to immediately turn around either of these last-place teams.

Reynolds "should hit a ton of home runs in Baltimore," one scout said today. "This definitely helps Baltimore. And Arizona had to break up all those strikeouts."

Reynolds hit 76 home runs the last two years combined, and he should find Camden Yards to his liking. But he's also working on a streak of three straight years with 200-plus strikeouts.

The two pitchers heading to the Diamondbacks, David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio, have good arms but have yet to really establish themselves in the big leagues. But new Arizona general manager Kevin Towers understands that he needs to add as many good arms as he can, as he attempts to rebuild one of the worst bullpens ever.

Posted on: October 27, 2010 11:35 pm

No offense? Giants take down Lee in Game 1

SAN FRANCISCO -- Believe it or not, there were three other times this season that Cliff Lee gave up seven or more runs.

Believe it or not, the three teams he did it against were the Padres, Orioles and Royals.

Hard to believe?

No more so than Wednesday's Game 1 of the World Series, when the Rangers handed Lee an early two-run lead and then watched him give up seven runs to the offensively-challenged Giants, handing San Francisco an 11-7 win.

So the most successful postseason pitcher we've ever seen just got destroyed by one of the weakest World Series lineups we've ever seen?

Yeah, that's exactly what happened in Game 1. Believe it or not.

In his first eight postseason starts, Lee never lost. Not only that, but he never gave up anything bigger than a one-run lead.

In their first 10 games this postseason, the Giants only once scored more than four runs. In fact, even going back to the regular season, the Giants topped four runs just once in their last 17 games.

And they pounded Cliff Lee.

They knocked him out in the fifth inning -- first time that's ever happened to him in a postseason game, and first time it's happened to him in any start since the end of August.

They spotted him the two early runs, tied the game in the third with the help of a Michael Young error, then took control with a six-run fifth. Lee left trailing 5-2 with two out and two runners on base. Darren O'Day gave up a three-run home run to Juan Uribe, and that was that.

Lee gave up eight hits, and five of them went for extra bases. He gave up three doubles to Freddy Sanchez.

Then again, maybe we shouldn't be surprised. When Lee faced the Padres back in May, he gave up three doubles to Adrian Gonzalez and another three to Nick Hundley.

Maybe there's something about the National League West. Maybe there's something about offensively-challenged NL West teams.

Who knows?

All we know for sure is that what happened Wednesday night wasn't what any of us expected to see.

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