THE NEWBERG REPORT — MAY 29, 2006

Go back as many years as you’d like, and tell me this: How many games has this team won with six or fewer hits? Not many.

And if you think the question is flawed because Texas also racked up seven walks, it’s not. While not as rare, I bet the number of times the Rangers have drawn that many free passes is freakishly low, too.

Winning a game with pitching, defense, and more walks than hits isn’t exactly the hallmark of a Rangers team. But that’s exactly what happened last night, as Texas nailed down its third win in its four-game set against second-place Oakland, coming from behind each time, and it’s starting to become apparent that this club has more than one way to beat you.

It’s been written more than once this spring that the Rangers, maybe not unlike most major league teams, might be reluctant to run an everyday lineup out there with more than one rookie. A bad thumb has been the only thing to slow Ian Kinsler down so far, but undoubtedly there will be bumps in the road this year, at some point, as he gets his big league bearings. It makes sense not to want a couple guys in the lineup who are, theoretically, having to figure it all out on the run.

And that’s why there’s some genius to the idea of having Gerald Laird playing once or twice a week in Arlington as opposed to daily in Oklahoma City. (I’d certainly have liked to see more of Laird in the first month of the season, when Rod Barajas was struggling at the plate, but that’s not the point of this discussion.) If Texas goes into the 2007 season with Laird as its starter, choosing not to compete financially with the open market to sign Barajas to his first multi-year deal, it won’t be the same as breaking Kinsler in. Laird should have 400 big league at-bats by time this season ends.

Which brings us to Jason Botts.

With Texas leading the American League West, this is no time to be experimenting, or auditioning. But Phil Nevin is in the throes of an extended rut — he’s 2 for his last 27 (though both hits left the yard) — and so it’s not as if the organization was considering having to sacrifice a steady veteran bat in order to take a look at a kid when Jon Daniels announced that Botts, on a 14-for-31 tear (.452/.500/.638) at Oklahoma, was on his way to Arlington. In past years we might have seen Chad Allen or Jason Conti or Ryan Christenson. But Daniels didn’t reach down for Adam Hyzdu to give Buck Showalter another bat. He grabbed Botts, and doing so now is going to help the organization decide whether the 25-year-old can be the fulltime designated hitter in 2007, with a couple hundred at-bats of his own as evidence.

Botts will have his ups and downs, and his playing time will probably come in spurts as Showalter is not going to give up on Nevin at this point, but as long as there are nights like that from time to time for Botts, Texas will either have found its DH or developed a very good trade chip.

Botts had two of the Rangers’ six hits. Two of the club’s three extra-base hits. Two of their seven walks. And, on his first career home run, a towering blast into the upper deck that I bet he’ll always remember happened on the same day as Barry Bonds hit number 715, Botts drove in three of his team’s four runs. It’s not a stretch to suggest that, in Sunday night’s nationally televised game, Botts was the difference.

The switch-hitter has now stepped to the plate a dozen times since his recall on May 23. He has four hits (including two doubles and a homer), four walks, and four outs. He’s seen 4.75 pitches per plate appearance, after seeing 4.80 per in his 30 times up in 2005. No major leaguer with a qualifying number of plate appearances has seen that many.

Kinsler had his fifth multi-hit game out of a dozen, singling twice and bringing Brad Wilkerson home on a sawed-off dribbler that he shouldn’t have swung at, and that Oakland first baseman Dan Johnson shouldn’t have played.

Lefthander John Rheinecker will be recalled to make tonight’s start against Seattle, and the corresponding move is likely to be the return of righthander Wes Littleton to the farm. Not unexpectedly, the sidewinder didn’t get into a game in his three days with Texas — Botts had a similar experience last July — but he’ll be back.

Southpaw Ron Mahay’s last six appearances: seven hitless innings, two walks, six strikeouts. Overall, he’s holding opponents to a line of .180/.281/.180, the first and last numbers of which indicate that he has yet to allow an extra-base hit.

Righthander Antonio Alfonseca will report to Oklahoma on a rehab assignment and pitch Wednesday.

Righthander Josh Rupe and lefthander Brian Anderson each threw one inning in extended on Saturday.

Righthander Frankie Francisco will throw one inning in extended today, after which he could head to Frisco.

Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo will reportedly return to full-time duties with the Rangers after the Seattle series that begins tonight.

Texas signed 30-year-old righthander Ryan Jensen, who has pitched in four big league seasons with San Francisco and Kansas City. Jensen, who went 13-8, 4.51 for the Giants in his first full season in 2002, had been pitching for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League when the Rangers purchased his contract. He’ll head to Frisco.

The Ducks, by the way, are considering signing former Ranger slugger Juan Gonzalez.

Texas traded Bakersfield righthander Marc LaMacchia to Florida for a different Juan Gonzalez, a 24-year-old shortstop from Venezuela who was hitting .254/.333/.310 for the High A Jupiter Hammerheads. Gonzalez spent several seasons in the Tigers system before going to Seattle in the Carlos Guillen trade prior to the 2004 season. He’s a plus gloveman who should help solidify the defense behind young Blaze starters Eric Hurley, Michael Schlact, Kea Kometani, Bannister, and Doug Mathis.

LaMacchia went 1-3, 6.32 for Bakersfield this spring, giving up 42 hits and 18 walks while fanning 27 in 31.1 innings. The Rangers’ 21st-round pick in 2003 following a high-profile career at Florida State that was stalled by Tommy John surgery, LaMacchia was sidelined in 2003 and 2004 as he rehabbed his elbow. He pitched for Clinton in 2005, going 4-2, 3.73 in 62.2 relief innings.

LaMacchia represented the Rangers on Team Italy this March, along with Vincent Sinisi, who is hitting .182/.250/.236 for AA Mobile.

Texas acquired righthander Freddy Guzman, along with young righthander Cesar Rojas, for Sinisi and righthander John Hudgins (2-0, 1.62 in three Mobile starts) on May 11. Guzman managed only three hits in his first 24 Oklahoma at-bats, but he’s been on a tear since, going 11 for 30 (.367) with four doubles and a triple, plus seven walks (.486 on-base percentage) and only four strikeouts.

Outfielder Laynce Nix is hitting .286/.336/.622 in May, with seven homers and 27 RBI in 25 games, though he’s fanned 26 times while drawing only four walks.

Somewhat surprisingly, outfielder Adrian Brown accepted an outright assignment to the RedHawks after clearing waivers.

Righthander R.A. Dickey went back onto the Oklahoma disabled list, and righthander Nick Masset was promoted to the RedHawks for a second time. Masset started for the AAA club on Saturday and allowed seven runs in two frames.

After one appearance for Oklahoma, Michael Bumstead was reassigned to Frisco.

Frisco catcher Dustin Smith has retired. A six-year Rangers farmhand, Smith came into the season as a .274/.364/.380 hitter but was sitting at .200/.234/.200 in 60 at-bats this spring, his third stint with the RoughRiders. The Rangers brought Mike Nickeas back up to Frisco to replace Smith. Nickeas, who hit .202/.263/.302 in AA last year, was hitting .297/.395/.359 for Bakersfield when promoted.

Clinton outfielder John Mayberry Jr. is quietly having a solid May, hitting .263/.351/.404 for the month.

According to Baseball America, the Rangers released righthanders Jayson Durocher and Emilio Adames. Durocher went 1-0, 7.94 in four RedHawk relief appearances before landing on the disabled list with right shoulder tendonitis. Adames missed the 2005 season due to elbow surgery and hadn’t pitched in an official game in 2006.

San Diego signed righthander Mark Roberts and outfielder Billy Susdorf, reuniting them with Grady Fuson, who drafted both for the Rangers in 2004.

Atlanta placed righthander Carlos Almanzar on the restricted list. Kansas City released lefthander Ryan Snare. St. Louis signed lefthander Matt Perisho. Florida placed infielder Edgar Gonzalez on the suspended list.

Infielder Craig Ringe signed with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the independent Northern League. Righthander Willy Espinal signed with the New Jersey Jackals of the independent Can-Am League. The North Shore Spirit of the same league released righthander Jason Andrew. Washington purchased the contract of righthander Billy Sylvester from the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League.

Righthander Juan Dominguez sits at 4-5, 6.22 for AAA Sacramento. In nine starts and one relief appearance, he’s allowed 52 hits and 27 walks while striking out 34 in 46.1 innings.

I’ve got to share this note, which Newberg Report reader Greg Tepper came up with on Saturday: Since May 15, on every day that the Mavericks have won, the Rangers have won. Whenever the Mavericks have lost, the Rangers have lost. The two teams matched results for the seventh straight time last night.

After this run is over, whether it ends against Phoenix, against the champions of the Eastern Conference, or with a parade, it’ll be time for Jerry Stackhouse to be Antawn Jamison’d into a draft pick. Maybe not a lottery pick this time, but maybe they can turn him into a mid-first. I’ve lost faith in that guy.

Just as GM Jon Daniels has earned the right not to be called 28-year-old GM Jon Daniels anymore, nine-year-old phenom Grant Schiller has pretty well earned the right not to be labeled any longer by his age.

If you’re on the mailing list, you’ve already seen that Grant pinch-hit for Mike Hindman this morning with the Farm Report. If you have any comments for Grant, whose recent interview of Thomas Diamond is now up at http://texasrangerstrades.blogspot.com/, you can reach him at grantlovesbaseball@sbcglobal.net.

Tonight is the deadline to sign 2005 draft-and-follows (unless the player’s junior college team is still in action, in which case the deadline would extend until after they finish playing, though before the June 6 draft). Daytona Beach Community College shortstop Chase Fontaine (18th round) and Columbia Basin Community College third baseman Steve Marquardt (23rd round) are reportedly atop the list of players the Rangers are trying to sign. Marquardt’s squad is still alive and so the window to sign him will extend past tonight.

Fontaine, who transferred to Daytona Beach after playing for the University of Texas as a freshman, has committed to the University of Florida for 2007 if he doesn’t sign with the Rangers today, or with whatever team drafts him a week from tomorrow. He was the Mid-Florida Conference Player of the Year this season, hitting .407 with 10 homers and 48 RBI in 41 games.

Other notable Ranger draft-and-follow candidates include righthanders Brad Barragar (eighth round) and Dexter Carter (12th round), both of whom have experienced arm problems this spring, and a couple players at Yavapai Community College in Arizona (where righthander John Bannister would have pitched had the Rangers not signed him out of high school): lefthander J.R. Murphy (10-1, 1.71 with one save in 14 starts and a relief appearance; 104 strikeouts and 15 walks in 94.1 innings) and catcher Kevin Gossage (.298-4-40 in 188 at-bats), nephew of Rich.

Yavapai remains alive in the NJCAA World Series. Murphy started the RoughRiders’ tournament opener, a 6-5 loss to Wallace State, though he pitched well, giving up four runs (two earned) on three hits and four walks in 8.1 innings, fanning nine. Gossage was hitless in four trips.

I also read this morning that last fall, the Rangers signed last summer’s 32nd-round pick, New Mexico Junior College shortstop Renny Osuna, who was the 2005 NJCAA World Series MVP. That one slipped under the radar.

The Venezuelan product was the 969th player taken in the draft last year, but you don’t rule a guy like that out just because of his slot.

If players like that had no chance, we would have long ago written off the 1,375th pick in the 1999 draft, Jason Botts.

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

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