THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 18, 2006

Some love for the insurance company. A day after Francisco Cordero agreed to join the Dominican Republic squad in the World Baseball Classic final four, the carrier that provides coverage for WBC injuries indicated it wouldn’t insure Cordero’s arm because of his preexisting shoulder injuries.

And that was that: Cordero won’t pitch in the WBC this weekend.

Meanwhile, righthander Luis Ayala, the Nationals’ top setup man, will have reconstructive Tommy John surgery for a sprained ligament in his throwing elbow and will miss the entire 2006 season. Doctors believe Ayala sustained the injury while pitching to Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning of Thursday’s game between Mexico and Team USA. It was only Ayala’s second appearance in the tournament, the same number that Cordero would have been able to make, at most. Ayala threw a total of just 12 pitches in the two outings.

Because Ayala had undergone a procedure to remove bone spurs from his elbow in October, Washington petitioned Major League Baseball — twice — to prevent him from pitching in the WBC. MLB denied the petitions.

And now the Nationals are without Ayala, who in three years with the club has never posted an ERA above 2.92.

So we’re entitled to a big sigh of relief, so to speak, as Cordero will continue to suit up in Surprise this weekend rather than in San Diego, where the Dominican Republic faces Cuba this afternoon and Korea takes on Japan tonight. The winners will play for the title on Monday.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told reporters that the organization supported Cordero’s decision to pitch for his country and that the determination to not allow him to play was made solely by the insurance company. Daniels added that the Rangers’ medical staff believes Cordero is healthy and on track to be ready for the season.

Can you imagine what the outlook for this team would be if Cordero threw just six pitches against Cuba today, nailing down a save, and then on his sixth pitch to Ichiro on Monday, dialing it up to try and bring a world title home to the Dominican Republic, felt a twinge and pulled himself from the game, only to learn that, blinded by adrenaline, he’d done some structural damage to his arm and would miss the 2006 season?

Here’s hoping Akinori Otsuka arrives in camp early next week safe and sound.

Facing a White Sox lineup that included eight starters, Juan Dominguez had his best outing of the spring yesterday, permitting two runs on three hits (including solo homers by A.J. Pierzynski and Jermaine Dye) and no walks in four frames, fanning Rob Mackowiak and Jim Thome.

Still, Buck Showalter and Mark Connor noted after the game that they wanted to see more consistency than Dominguez showed, and that his fastball sat at around 90 most of the day (down about four miles per hour from his peak velocity) and his changeup command wasn’t as sharp as it was last year.

Notably, Edison Volquez threw an inning in a minor league game yesterday afternoon. He hasn’t been optioned, though — this was clearly a decision made to put Volquez on the same pitching schedule as Dominguez, three weeks before the Rangers’ fifth game of the regular season.

I can’t remember the last time the Rangers’ rotation issues boiled down to the fifth spot in the rotation. As for the longshot possibility that the winner of the assignment will merely be keeping it warm until Roger Clemens arrives, the 43-year-old issued a statement after Team USA’s loss on Thursday that simply read: “For me, right now, it’s goodbye.” But his agents explained yesterday that Clemens hasn’t decided to retire, but instead plans to evaluate things and decide whether he wants to pitch again and for whom. Regardless of what he decides, he doesn’t plan to be in uniform before June.

Texas defeated the White Sox on Friday, 10-9, after the bullpen trio of John Wasdin, Erasmo Ramirez, and Rick Bauer squandered the lead that Dominguez had entrusted to the pen. But Laynce Nix hit a three-run bomb off former Ranger farmhand Agustin Montero in the top of the ninth, and Texas went on to win. Among the two hits each for Hank Blalock and Gerald Laird were home runs off White Sox lefthander Mark Buehrle.

Texas optioned Joaquin Arias (.240/.259/.400 in camp) to Oklahoma yesterday and reassigned third baseman Travis Metcalf (.188/.278/.250) and catcher Nick Trzesniak (.182/.182/.364) to minor league camp.

Outfielder Rashad Eldridge is getting into a lot of games lately, and he’s capitalizing. In seven official at-bats, he has six hits (half of which have been doubles), and he’s drawn two walks without striking out. Originally a fifth-round pick of John Hart’s Indians in 2000, Eldridge (who came to Texas in a 2002 trade for 4-A outfielder Chris Magruder) had his best season in 2005, hitting .342/.519/.526 in 38 Frisco at-bats and .294/.400/.459 in 303 Oklahoma at-bats. It was the first AAA action of Eldridge’s six-year pro career.

If Eldridge is not on the Rangers’ 40-man roster when the 2006 season ends, he’ll have the right to take minor league free agency.

Tim Olson has made the most of his occasional looks in big league camp as well. The 27-year-old infielder, chosen by Showalter’s Diamondbacks in the seventh round of the 2000 draft, has six hits (including a home run, a double, and a walkoff single) in 10 trips, adding two walks. In 99 big league at-bats with Arizona and Colorado, Olson is a .182/.302/.313 hitter.

Very quietly, non-roster lefthander Kevin Walker is having an outstanding spring. The Metroplex native has allowed one run (1.29 ERA) on two hits (.091 opponents’ average) and one walk in seven innings, punching out a sturdy nine Cactus Leaguers.

In a sim game this morning, Brian Shouse faced left-handed hitters (David Dellucci, Erubiel Durazo, Nix, and Brad Wilkerson) nine times, racking up six strikeouts, all swinging.

I think the decision on what to do with Rule 5 pick Fabio Castro is going to be very difficult. There’s no chance that he’ll clear waivers (to set up a possible trade), so he’ll have to make the Rangers’ Opening Day staff or else he’ll be with another organization in two weeks. In six exhibition innings, Castro has fanned eight hitters, but he’s permitted six runs on eight hits and six walks.

The stuff is unquestionably there. It’s a question of command, not to mention how comfortable the Rangers would be using one of their bullpen spots on a pitcher they probably wouldn’t trust yet to get important outs.

Detroit reassigned righthanders Colby Lewis and Tim Crabtree to minor league camp. Lewis has had an outstanding Grapefruit League run, scattering two runs (2.25 ERA) on five hits (.172 opponents’ average) and two walks in eight innings, fanning five.

The Rangers and Adam Eaton have tabled discussions regarding a multi-year contract extension, though leaving open the possibility that they could resume talks during the season. Eaton and Vicente Padilla are entering their final season before eligibility for free agency.

Righthander Dexter Carter, taken in June in the 12th round out of Greenbrier Christian Academy in Virginia, fired a no-hitter a week ago today for Louisburg College, the alma mater of his good friend Josh Rupe.

In the back end of a doubleheader, Carter blanked the University of South Carolina-Salkehatchie in a game that lasted seven innings, walking two and punching out eight Indians. The Rangers can sign Carter, who improved to 4-0, 2.25 with the win (32 strikeouts and 12 walks in 24 innings), up until one week before this June’s draft, as his enrollment at Louisburg, a two-year school, gives Texas draft-and-follow rights.

I’m reading a really cool book called “The Last Nine Innings,” by Charles Euchner. Using Game Seven of the emotional 2001 World Series, the book gets into the heads of the managers and players, explaining why certain strategic decisions were made, and also delves into subjects like sports psychology, the use of statistical analysis, pitching and hitting mechanics, and the globalization of the game. Good stuff.

Back in Dallas, hoping Texas and Arizona get today’s afternoon game in so I can tune into Eric and Victor, here are the images from my week in camp that will stick with me . . . .

Seeing Kevin Millwood walk over to Frankie Francisco to tell him how much the team needs him, and hearing about the time Millwood spent with Michael Schlact and C.J. Wilson and Johnny Whittleman, all of which made a bigger impression on me than the four innings I saw Millwood throw. And he was good in those four innings.

Barry Bonds’s statue bunt.

The increasingly familiar look on Alex Rodriguez’s face as cameras trained on him seconds after Mexico eliminated Team USA.

Travis Metcalf on defense.

Jose Vallejo on defense.

John Mayberry Jr. on offense.

Seeing Whittleman rifle a single to center field . . . and not believing my eyes seven or eight seconds later when I saw him slide headfirst into second, beating the center fielder’s throw.

Believing everything else about Whittleman. He’s got it.

Charley Pride’s unique workout regimen.

Craig Hurba working up a sweat in the batting cage before anyone else had even emerged from the clubhouse. Two mornings in a row.

Alex Gordon. Wow.

A.J.’s shoes, on loan from J.D.

German Duran, getting the call.

The schlubby prophet at Kona Grill. Sad.

How much bigger Nix and Jason Botts look, somehow, and how good it is to see both of them healthy.

How clear it is that Volquez and John Danks have taken the next step.

Schlact, too.

Watching Juan Senreiso throw in drills. Still takes your breath away.

Grandpa the Umpire.

Trying to remember a Rangers pitcher as physically imposing as Jose Silva.

Micah Furtado, creating havoc on the field like I remember from a couple years ago.

A conversation with John Hudgins, which is always time well spent. So smart.

Jon Wilson’s velocity.

Phillip Hawke looking more like Bob Hamelin than I imagined he would, and Ian Gac looking less like Hamelin than he did a year ago.

Kea Kometani and Chris Baker throwing in the bullpen . . . in Scottsdale . . . in front of Showalter and Connor and Andy Hawkins.

That moment walking by Clint Brannon and saying hello, not learning until a couple minutes later it might have been more appropriate to say goodbye.

Having to remind myself that Ian Kinsler has never played a big league inning. There are six-year veterans who have less of a look in their eyes that they belong.

Jack Gordon Teixeira.

Zach Phillips facing Laird in a sim game, and imagining they could be playing catch in about three years.

Mike Kirkman’s efficiency.

An illuminating talk with Howard Kinsler.

Wishing I saw more of Johnny Lujan and Edwin Vera, Fabio Castillo and Jose Marte, Steve Murphy and R.J. Anderson.

Imagining what had to be going through Ronnie Anderson’s mind as he settled in, a good 2,200 miles from home, to watch R.J. go through morning drills in his first spring training . . . only to see R.J. rolling his bat over his left hamstring between batting practice reps.

John Hart, looking happy.

The Air Force flight drills every morning while driving toward Surprise.

My argument with T.R. and Jan and Hate and Josh, making a case for Ben.

Nick Regilio and his Taylor Teagarden send-up.

Schlact and Kometani and their Kyle Rogers send-up.

How little time it took for teenaged catchers Cristian Santana and Billy Killian to make an impression.

Drew Meyer taking reps in center field and at third base in the same round of defensive drills. His technique and arm strength are amazing.

Hearing the Whittleman’s describe Draft Day.

Trying to imagine C.J. Wilson not making it. He will succeed, and probably excel. First at baseball, and then at something else.

Watching with envy yesterday as Nadel and Grieve deplaned.

I’ve got my eye on Weather.com right now, hoping it’s wrong about those afternoon showers in Surprise. KRLD is on, ready to go.

I’m already in baseball withdrawal.

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

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