THE NEWBERG REPORT — JUNE 24, 2006

That was a great, great win. John Koronka battled through five, ending up with a line that looks better than he really was. He was wild in the zone and left too many pitches up.

But the offense bailed him out, with the middle of the lineup — the revamped middle of the lineup — putting together its best collective effort in a long time.

Then there was Jason Botts, delivering the Rangers’ first pinch hit of the season, absolutely raking a Scott Dohmann pitch through the box to give Texas its first lead, one it wouldn’t relinquish, in the sixth.

An inning later, Mark Teixeira destroyed a Dohmann delivery to break a 22-game homerless streak.

Two pitches later, Hank Blalock blasted a Dohmann offering to right, his 100th big league bomb. Bullpen coach Dom Chiti retrieved the ball for him, and it’s now the only baseball Blalock has kept. Now (and I know this because Max is just five days older than Trey) the key is for Dad to keep the ball out of his son’s reach.

Brad Wilkerson entered the game on a double switch in the seventh and, about four minutes later, looked like a guy who hadn’t warmed up before entering a game on a double switch, making one of the worst outfield throws I’ve ever seen — only to have Gerald Laird bail him out by chasing the throw down, recovering after muffing it himself, and firing to third to catch Todd Helton straying off the bag too far. In that instant, an 8-6 lead that looked split seconds away from disintegrating was upheld with as unconventional a double play as you’ll ever see.

Laird doubled twice and had an excellent throwing night. Michael Young (who also doubled two times), Teixeira (who added a two-bagger to his bomb), and Gary Matthews Jr. all sit in the top four among the league leaders in doubles. None doubles more frequently as Laird, who turns one in every 9.4 at-bats. The Rangers’ backup catcher is now a .341/.367/.588 hitter.

Let me repeat that.

The Rangers’ backup catcher is now a .341/.367/.588 hitter.

He’s also gunned down 52.9 percent of opponents trying to steal. And it looked like that number should have been 58.8 percent, but Cory Sullivan somehow eluded Ian Kinsler’s tag in the seventh last night.

Jeff Francis came into the game holding opponents to a .200 average in Coors Field. Texas planted eight hits on him in 5.2 innings, half of them for two bases.

Nice, uneventful eighth and ninth from Francisco Cordero and Akinori Otsuka.

Oakland scored twice in the ninth off San Francisco closer Armando Benitez to escape with a 4-3 win over the Giants, but never mind that part.

Great note from Rangers manager of baseball media relations Jeff Evans: Texas has the second-youngest roster in baseball, next only to Florida. If my math is right, Texas rookies have gone 9-6, 4.53 and have hit .273/.348/.474.

And the next wave is starting to gather steam. We’re not about to see Edinson Volquez in Texas, and we won’t see John Danks in Texas before September (if then), but it’s a beautiful thing to see those two getting better, at a responsible pace.

Volquez is in the midst of the best run of his pro career, having fired six consecutive quality starts. In that stretch, he’s posted an ERA of 1.80, yielding just 16 hits and 17 walks in 40 innings while fanning 44. His last three outings, each of which lasted seven frames, went like this: one hit and one walk, nine strikeouts; two hits and three walks, 10 strikeouts; and two hits and three walks, eight strikeouts. In those 21 innings, he allowed one run.

Bob Hersom of the Daily Oklahoman offers this fascinating note: Volquez has a 4.01 ERA in innings one through four this season, while his ERA is 2.48 from the fifth inning on. It says a lot about a pitcher’s stuff when he gets tougher the second, third, and fourth times through a lineup. Volquez has a phenomenal arsenal; we’ve all seen it. Now he’s starting to really harness it, to understand that commanding a mid-90s fastball is a lot more effective than leaving upper-90s up in the zone. And if you need a reminder of how stupid that changeup is, lefthanders are hitting just .169 off the 22-year-old righty. His 93 strikeouts are most among the 360 pitchers who have appeared in the Pacific Coast League this season.

The Rangers aren’t planning to rush Volquez back to Texas. Good.

Joining him in the RedHawks rotation is Danks, who will make his AAA debut tonight. This follows a torrid stretch in which the 21-year-old posted seven quality starts out of eight, and had a 2.16 ERA in four June starts. His 82 strikeouts were second in the Texas League at the time of his promotion, which followed a selection to the league’s All-Star Game.

Danks didn’t appear in that game, but Thomas Diamond did, striking out the side (all swinging) in his one inning of work. It’s been the one bright spot for Diamond in a poor month, as the 23-year-old has followed a 3-0, 2.12 May (in which he was named by the organization as its minor league pitcher of the month) with a 1-3, 7.71 June. Chased in the third inning last night, and ultimately getting credited with five Wichita runs, Diamond has been a lot more uneven than Volquez or Danks this year, and that All-Star Game appearance might start water cooler talk (however premature) that Diamond might be best suited ultimately in late relief. (We’ve all seen what Jonathan Papelbon has done, but he’s a unique pitcher who shouldn’t be considered a prototype for what to do with a starting pitcher who doesn’t immediately figure into a big league rotation.)

So, Diamond as a reliever? That’s a decision for later. For now, Frisco manager Darryl Kennedy wants to see more strikes, more ground balls, and fewer strikeouts so that Diamond can go deeper into games. Almost stunningly, he has yet to log more than six innings in any of his 15 starts this year, even though he’s allowed three runs or fewer in 11 of those. High pitch counts and too many walks are the culprit.

So rather than joining Volquez and Danks in AAA, Diamond likely about to be joined in Frisco by Bakersfield righthander Eric Hurley, who was drafted in the 2004 first round along with Diamond but is two-and-a-half years younger.

On Tuesday, Hurley gave up more than two earned runs for just the second time in his last 11 starts. His strong first half (5-3, 2.92) has included a phenomenal home record of 5-0, 1.39 in seven starts, in which the 20-year-old allowed just 25 hits (.157 opponents’ average) and 14 walks in 45.1 innings while setting 54 down on strikes.

Chances are that by time Hurley appears in the Futures Game in Pittsburgh on July 9, he’ll be a Frisco RoughRider.

In the meantime, Hurley will appear in the California/Carolina League All-Star Game on Tuesday, joined by late addition Jesse Ingram, who is having a remarkable season out of the Bakersfield bullpen. In 18 appearances, the 2004 36th-rounder has gone 5-0, 1.64 with five saves, scattering 20 hits (.133 opponents’ average) and 18 walks in 44 innings while setting 72 down on strikes. He hasn’t allowed an earned run since May 5, a span of 12 appearances.

Outfielder Jayce Tingler was selected to appear in the game as well, but he’s already been promoted to Frisco.

Outfielder Anthony Webster earned his own promotion from Frisco to Oklahoma, having hit .310/.364/.463 for the RoughRiders this spring (including a .400/.423/.590 May). Dating back to June 2005, Webster has been a .328 hitter in 548 at-bats between Bakersfield and Frisco. He went 1 for 3 in each of his first two RedHawk games.

Oklahoma outfielder Will Smith was released to make room for Webster. The 24-year-old, acquired in 2003 from Florida in the Ugueth Urbina trade, was hitting .280/.351/.402 in 132 RedHawk at-bats. He would have been able to leave the organization on his own accord this winter since he’ll have six-year free agency rights, and there’s no chance Texas would have added him to the 40-man roster to prevent him from doing so.

Frisco outfielder Jake Blalock (broken nose) was activated from the disabled list.

When Danks makes his AAA debut tonight, it will be in place of righthander Robinson Tejeda, who will be recalled by Texas to start in Kameron Loe’s slot tonight in Colorado. Tejeda is 3-0, 1.72 in his last six Oklahoma starts, giving up fewer hits than innings pitched each time out and striking out roughly a batter per inning. He has pitched in Coors Field once before, holding the Rockies to three runs (two earned) on five hits and three walks in 5.1 innings last July, fanning four.

Righthander Frankie Francisco was supposed to pitch for Frisco last night, the first time he would have worked on consecutive days (perhaps the final box to check off on his rehab punch list), but the Rangers scrapped the plan due to minor muscle soreness in the elbow area. He should pitch tonight.

Lefthander Kasey Kiker, the Rangers’ first-round pick three weeks ago, made his pro debut on Tuesday, giving up one run on no hits, a walk, and a wild pitch in one inning of work for Spokane, fanning one. He then made his first pro start last night, yielding four runs (all unearned) on one hit (a three-run home run) and a walk in 1.2 innings. The 18-year-old went through the Salem-Keizer lineup one time before his night was over, and it appears that his abbreviated effort was simply due to a strict pitch count: he actually retired the first two batters of the second inning before manager Mike Micucci came out to get the ball.

Seventeen-year-old Dominican shortstop Johan Yan, whom Texas signed last summer for a reported $250,000-$400,000 (amidst scouting whispers that he would have been a first-round or sandwich pick had he been eligible for the draft), made his pro debut yesterday, contributing a single, a double, a walk, and a run driven in as the Arizona League squad bested the Giants, 9-7.

Tingler was one of three players Texas selected in the AAA phase of the Rule 5 Draft in December. One of the others was A’s outfielder Alexi Ogando, whom Baseball America considered Oakland’s number three prospect going into the 2005 season. But the 6’4″ slugger with a cannon for a right field arm missed the 2005 season due to visa problems and didn’t make it to Surprise for spring training this March, evidently for the same reason.

And now it appears that the Rangers are bringing that cannon in from right field and placing it on the mound. Ogando appeared in relief for the Rangers’ Dominican Summer League squad on Thursday, throwing a scoreless inning in the club’s opener. He allowed two hits and fanned a pair.

Righthander Omar Beltre got the start in the game, permitting one earned run on six hits and no walks in six frames, fanning seven.

Rice was eliminated from the College World Series, meaning Texas can now negotiate with its 11th-round pick, righthander Craig Crow.

Tampa Bay signed hometown product Jason Romano to a minor league contract.

The Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association released catcher Dustin Smith.

I’ve been a fan of the rock band Live since they debuted in the early 1990s, but it’s always been because of the melodies, the drums, and the occasional moments of musical genius that defy convention. Not so much on the lyrics, though. I’ve railed on them in the past for the fact that the words “water” or “river” seem to pop up in half their songs. And one thing I realized after my first listen to their new CD, “Songs from Black Mountain,” is that they may rely on the simile more than any band ever has. Metaphors are one thing; every songwriter writes in metaphor. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Simile count on “Songs from Black Mountain”: 10 songs with, two without.

We now have an eStore up and running on NewbergReport.com. Later this weekend I’m going to introduce a couple new specials that I think might interest you.

Twelve spots left for Newberg Report Night. Check your email for the latest details, which I sent Thursday night at about 11 p.m. Central. If you’re interested in one (or more) of the final 12 spots, please let me know quickly.

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

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