THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 15, 2006

Barry Bonds almost decapitated me.

And then Barry Bonds took me deep.

It wouldn’t surprise me that John Danks has those two indelibly etched moments tucked away, packaged and stored so that he can tell his kids and their kids about it when his playing days are over. For now, his playing days on the biggest stage are imminent — and the Big Stage involves, one day, facing the Cleveland lineup a third time through in a late May day game, or getting in his side work in between important September starts against Oakland and LAAA.

It doesn’t involve facing Barry Bonds in Scottsdale.

No doubt, yesterday was a bullet point day — enough of one that Mike Hindman and I got ourselves to Scottsdale, an hour away from Surprise, something we wouldn’t have done without the allure of Danks vs. Bonds. But it was just an exhibition, and judging from Danks’s comments after his day was done, he treated it that way. The screaming single through the box and the home run to right seemed not to faze the 20-year-old — which is another indication that this guy, for so many reasons, is very close to being Ready.

Danks showed Bonds and the rest of the Giants lineup a solid fastball-curve-change array, giving up two runs on four hits and two walks in four innings, fanning a pair. It wasn’t a dazzling line, but he looked like a big leaguer. In what would otherwise be his junior year in college, he looked like he belonged, pitching to Bonds and Steve Finley and Mike Matheny and Lance Niekro, with Hank Blalock and Brad Wilkerson and Phil Nevin behind him.

Rick Bauer and Jose Silva (rescued by a terrific catch by Adrian Brown just short of the wall in right center) looked pretty good. Scott Feldman and Brian Shouse were effective.

Hank Blalock, who had already singled twice with hard shots through the infield, drew a walk right as news was breaking that the Cowboys had cut Keyshawn Johnson loose. I didn’t like the Johnson news. I do like what we’re seeing out of Blalock. Two singles and a walk is more encouraging, to me, than a home run, a strikeout, and a warning track fly. The approach looks good.

Jason Botts crushed a Matt Morris pitch 425 feet to dead center — in a park that goes 430.

Rashad Eldridge continues to do something good every day.

Buck Showalter put a hold on his postgame briefing so he could go watch Kea Kometani throw in the bullpen. The 6’4" righthander has some life to his stuff. So does 28-year-old righty Chris Baker, who threw alongside Kometani.

There’s no structural damage in Josh Rupe’s elbow, fortunately. But he’ll be sidelined for a week or two, and his candidacy for the number five spot is likely finished, at least as far as the Opening Day staff is concerned.

Don’t look now, but C.J. Wilson might be right back in that mix. He pitches in a "B" game this morning.

By the way, don’t think that 94 miles an hour is where Wilson tops out. Or at least don’t tell him that that’s what you’re thinking.

Lefthander Jesse Carlson was reassigned to minor league camp.

The Dominican Republic squad is after Francisco Cordero to join them for Round Two of the WBC.

Brian Anderson is built like a shortstop.

Vicente Padilla looks older than 28, and shorter than 6’2".

Kevin Millwood walked over to Frankie Francisco during the morning stretch and toss session yesterday, shook his hand, and asked how he was feeling. The scene looked like something you would have expected from John Wetteland (if he were still here), or someone else who had been here and seen the ups and downs Francisco has gone through, who understood how important it could be to get him back. You had to see it: Millwood is a leader.

Adam Eaton looked good in the morning sim game, facing a lineup of prospects and, for the most part, commanding everything. Second baseman Jose Vallejo made a spectacular play up the middle on an Ian Gac screamer with two men on. One of the baserunners was Micah Furtado, who had singled sharply off Eaton. Great to see Furtado back in action.

Brian Valichka took Eaton deep to left.

Michael Schlact — who was interviewed last night on MLB’s XM Radio show — had a solid inning in the sim game, yielding a Gerald Laird single, and then retiring three straight, inducing two groundouts and a Vallejo strikeout.

Zach Phillips followed Schlact and faced John Mayberry Jr., punching him out on a fastball that Mayberry probably would have hit 2,000 feet if he’d connected (there’s some serious torque in that swing), a pitch Mayberry fouled off to right for strike two, and a sweeping curve that the big outfielder fanned on.

Laird, who drew a walk off Phillips after singling off Schlact, hit an impressive opposite-field blast off Jake Rasner, only to see it die on the track.

It appears that the official uniform of the Rangers’ baseball operations department is a black shirt and tan khakis. No dress code on the footwear, though, if A.J. Preller’s super-turbo-groovy kicks are any indication.

I’ve been trying to figure out what it is about Ian Kinsler that’s so different. Everything about him, between the lines and off the field, is impressive. Yesterday, watching him prepare for another day’s work, I think I figured it out.

There may not be another ballplayer I’ve been around who has such a pronounced combination of absolute confidence in himself plus a complete absence of arrogance. He believes he can do anything, but he doesn’t so much care that you know that about him.

For all the talk that there’s been over the last two years that Kinsler is a Michael Young starter kit, that’s exhibit number one. There are plenty of reasons to compare the two, lots of them valid and a couple that are a little off base (for one, Kinsler is an extreme pull hitter and Young may be the best in baseball at going with the pitch), but there’s no doubt about one similarity that they share, to the exclusion of 95 percent of the guys they play with and against: The way that they are wired.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

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