The Newberg Report: February 26
Piecing things together, and barring injury or a Roger Clemens acquisition or something unforeseen, here’s the way the first week shapes up for the Rangers, who open the season with a weeklong homestand for the first time since 2000:
April 3: Kevin Millwood vs. Curt Schilling
April 4: Adam Eaton vs. Tim Wakefield
April 5: Vicente Padilla vs. Josh Beckett
April 6: Kameron Loe vs. Mike Maroth
April 7: Undetermined vs. Nate Robertson
April 8: Kevin Millwood vs. Justin Verlander or Joel Zumaya or Roman Colon
April 9: Adam Eaton vs. Kenny Rogers
Much has been made of Millwood’s remarks about his mindset pitching at home, about how his job is to outpitch his mound opponent, not to overcome Ameriquest Field. Millwood has six lifetime innings in his new ballpark; Schilling and Verlander and Zumaya and Colon have a combined total of zero.
Eaton and Wakefield have never teed it up.
Padilla and Beckett faced off on September 23, 2004, each getting roughed up en route to a no-decision (six runs on six hits and a walk in four innings for Padilla, five runs on five hits and six walks in five frames for Beckett).
May 31, 2005 doesn’t count as a Loe-Maroth match-up, because by time Loe came on to pitch the ninth, the Rangers had long disposed of Maroth, who allowed six runs in four and two-thirds.
Robertson’s ERA in two Ameriquest Field starts is 14.00. More on that April 7 game momentarily.
Much will be made of the Sunday afternoon tilt on the 9th, with Kenny Rogers pitching to Pudge Rodriguez in the road grays as the home fans are treated to Eaton’s second start and 20,000 Michael Young bobbleheads.
Back to Friday the 7th.
The way Juan Dominguez finished the 2005 season, he surely went into the winter with an inside track on keeping a spot in the rotation, but ever since instructs, you couldn’t read a story about the back end of the Rangers’ starting five without seeing Josh Rupe’s name and some Texas official offering a glowing comment.
We now know, based on remarks made by pitching coach Mark Connor, that there are three other candidates for the fifth spot, at least at the moment.
C.J. Wilson, whom the organization envisions ultimately as a starter, is one of them, though there is the thought that he and the club might better be served by returning him to the bullpen, where he was so good in 2005, giving him the job of facing a key stretch of left-handed hitters in the middle-to-late innings. Or maybe even resisting that temptation and sending him to AAA to pitch every fifth day to reestablish his effectiveness as a starter.
R.A. Dickey, whose transformation into knuckleballer continues, is another candidate. Connor says his knuckler has improved "immensely" since the season ended.
Those two were certainly on anyone’s list of five-deep candidates for the fifth spot. The final contestant might surprise you.
It’s not John Wasdin, who’s been a spot starter for the club the last two years and came into camp with a guaranteed deal for the first time as a Ranger.
It’s not Brian Anderson, who isn’t expected to be ready to go at the starting gun.
It’s not Edison Volquez, who finished the season in Texas (three starts and three relief appearances) while Thomas Diamond and John Danks stayed behind in Frisco.
It’s not Rick Bauer, though the former Oriole is drawing some attention from people who matter.
Make no mistake: it’s probably more likely that we’ll see Clemens introduced as a Ranger on Opening Day than the 22-year-old Diamond. That’s not an indictment of Diamond (or an overly optimistic reassessment on the Clemens front). It’s more a recognition that this February is different from almost every Rangers February in memory. There’s generally a reach, maybe two, in the Opening Day rotation for this club; this year, there might be three guys starting games in Oklahoma in April who have the right to believe they should be in the big leagues right now. And Diamond, one would think, slots behind each of them in terms of who can help Texas instantly.
So why anoint him publicly as a candidate for the big league rotation?
Maybe there’s some psychology at work. The club wants Diamond to learn from the veterans, both on the mound and off the field. The Rangers have included Diamond in workout group that includes Millwood, Eaton, Padilla, and Loe, and they’ve positioned Diamond’s locker next to Eaton’s. Connor noted that he wants Diamond simply "to be around Millwood." As much Diamond appears to be a Clemens send-up on the mound, the New Orleans native is probably a lot closer to the North Carolina-born Millwood off of it. The Rangers would be happy for Diamond, or any pitcher, to adopt Clemens’s or Millwood’s work ethic and attitude.
Consider this comment from Eaton, made to reporters about Diamond, with Diamond in earshot: "You know you’re talking to the savior here?" Diamond laughed.
It’s almost inconceivable that Adam Eaton knew Thomas Diamond from Neil Diamond before 2006. (Think Francisco Cordero knows who Philip Hughes is?) It’s pretty obvious that Eaton’s comment had a hint of sarcasm in it, and Diamond’s response to it suggests, at least in print, that he gets it.
This is a pitcher who never experienced any baseball adversity until the last couple months of the 2005 season, and the Rangers, like any organization would, probably want to be sure Diamond gets used to a situation where he’s low man on the totem pole. He needs to be prepared to deal with more adversity, to develop a tenacity that defines who he is as a pitcher, not one that he draws upon only when he finds his back against a wall.
Being around veterans for a few weeks should help. On the mound, in the clubhouse, and during beat reporter interviews with the number two starter eavesdropping.
The arrow is pointing in the right direction again with regard to Dominguez. He arrived in camp weighing too much and having to limit his conditioning program due to high blood pressure, but the remarks coming out of Surprise have been positive. He’s brought his wife to Arizona and will bring her to Texas as well. That can’t be a bad thing, nor evidently is the fact that his uncle Armando Bonilla, a minister in the Dominican Republic, will visit Dominguez this summer to help keep the 25-year-old focused, which has been somewhat of an issue since his mother died in June of 2004.
Cordero, who has withdrawn from the World Baseball Classic, threw off a mound on Wednesday and didn’t feel the twinge in his right shoulder that he experienced earlier in the week.
With Cordero (Dominican Republic) and David Dellucci (Italy) withdrawing from the WBC, four Rangers will compete in the March tournament: Michael Young and Mark Teixeira (USA), Akinori Otsuka (Japan), and Erubiel Durazo (Mexico).
Meanwhile, Washington’s Alfonso Soriano, not backing off his insistence that he’s not an outfielder, is about to leave for the WBC himself, meaning he probably won’t be back in Nationals camp until there’s about two weeks before Opening Day. If the Nationals stick to their guns, their $10 million man with one foot already out the door is going to have about two weeks to get into some semblance of a rhythm playing the outfield.
Washington general manager Jim Bowden has reportedly made "preliminary trade inquiries" with other clubs in an effort to see if he can move Soriano before the season begins.
This isn’t good: Righthander Nick Regilio was headed for an MRI after feeling discomfort in his elbow, where a torn flexor tendon was operated on last season. Everyone’s hoping it’s merely scar tissue.
Catcher Taylor Teagarden, coming off November Tommy John surgery that was likely going to limit him to hitting in 2006, has a stress fracture in his back that could keep him off the field altogether this season.
Rudy Jaramillo’s prostate cancer surgery is set to take place late in March in New York, and the recovery could cost him the first month of the regular season.
Infielder Aarom Baldiris and righthander Armando Galarraga have arrived in camp from Venezuela, after clearing up visa problems.
Texas signed Laynce Nix, Frankie Francisco, and Jon Leicester on Friday, leaving no players on the 40-man roster unsigned. While pre-arbitration players aren’t paid at a lockstep rate, teams have the right to unilaterally set compensation if the two sides can’t agree to terms. With Nix in particular, negotiations failed in 2004 and 2005 to produce a mutually agreed salary, and so the Rangers renewed him both years at the league minimum ($300,000 and $316,000, respectively). Nix and the Rangers agreed on a $345,260 contract for 2006, comfortably above the $327,000 minimum.
Lefthander Jesse Carlson is another fringe candidate earning rave reviews early in camp. Of the 13 non-roster invites given to newcomers to the organization, Carlson is the one I was most excited about (along with infielder D’Angelo Jimenez); I went so far as to call Carlson, in the 2006 Bound Edition, my number three candidate for a breakout season among all pitchers in the Rangers system, behind Michael Schlact and Omar Poveda.
I was mildly surprised Carlson got no pre-draft play in the usual publications before December’s Rule 5 Draft.
Key note: while Carlson is here on a non-guaranteed deal and has never pitched in the major leagues, he can become a free agent if Texas doesn’t bring him up to the big club by June 15.
Righthander Jose Silva, a longshot to earn a spot on the big club, may be nearly as big a longshot to remain in the organization at all. While he’s set to earn $400,000 if he makes the team, his split contract calls for $10,000 a month if he’s assigned to Oklahoma. He apparently has an opportunity to make $25,000 monthly pitching in Mexico, and he’s said he won’t report to AAA unless the Rangers were to indicate that his chances of getting to Texas during the season were good.
The Rangers will scrimmage Tuesday and Wednesday.
Today, the Rangers and Royals will stage a home-run hitting contest, pitting Kevin Mench, Adam Hyzdu, and Ian Gac against Kansas City uberprospect Alex Gordon, former Ranger Chad Allen, and former RedHawk Chris Richard.
Maddox Joseph McDougall was born February 10.
There were no Ranger prospects in Baseball America’s top 50 rankings.
Outfielder Jason Romano signed a minor league deal with Milwaukee.
Ramon Nivar, who signed a minor league deal with St. Louis in November, arrived in camp with a torn knee ligament that he suffered during winter ball.
Can you name anybody in team sports, active or not, who has or had a more consistent impact in a smaller role than the Mavericks’ Darrell Armstrong? Even Steve Tasker had more cred.
Back On September 17, I made this comment about the band Live, which in their heyday was among my favorites: "By the way, I believe the percentage of Live songs that contain the word ‘river’ or ‘water’ is roughly equal to the percentage of Newberg Reports that contain the word ‘baseball.’"
This is no joke: the first single off the band’s upcoming release is called "The River."
It’s not the purest of sports, but short track speedskating is really cool, and Apolo Anton Ohno has to be a top 10 Olympic athlete to watch.
Seeing Ohno shred the track reminded me of a hypothesis I advanced several Bound Editions ago, about Deion Sanders being a more effective punt returner to his right than to his left, because of the counterclockwise motion running the bases all those years. (Try running to second base by rounding third instead of first; see which gets you there faster.)
Bet Ohno would return punts to his right, too.
R.J. Anderson, too, come to think of it.
I’ll be in Surprise in a couple weeks, spending most of my time on the minor league side of the complex to get a firsthand look at Anderson and over 100 other players that Mike Hindman and I will write about all year.
I sort of figured that, by time I got to camp, Thomas Diamond’s non-roster invite would have concluded and he’d be back on the minor league side. Not so sure now.