THE NEWBERG REPORT — JULY 19, 2006

It obviously doesn’t have the same importance, but this road trip was starting to
feel like October 1996, 1998, and 1999.

The 15-run explosion to kick off the second half in Baltimore was the 6-2 win in

Yankee Stadium on October 1, 1996. The Rangers had won a huge game against Johan

Santana to finish the first half, rested for a few days, and picked things right back

up with the big win against the Orioles and then a hard-fought 2-1 victory after

that, creating a vibe that they might have been poised to go on a pretty good run.

It wasn’t unlike 1996, when the club finished strong, winning six of eight, took a

day off, and then downed the Yankees in New York, 6-2. Texas had stolen the home

field advantage in its first-ever playoff series, and things looked pretty good.

But then a Dean Palmer throwing error set off a chain of events that began with a

12-inning loss in Game Two in 1996, followed by two straight losses to end the

series, a three-game sweep in 1998 in which the Yankees held Texas to a total of one

run, and another disaster in 1999, when the Rangers again managed just one run in a

three-game whitewash.

The final two games in Baltimore this weekend, Monday’s blowout loss in Toronto, and

the first seven innings of last night’s Blue Jays tilt felt like those playoff series

all over again. The lineup wasn’t hitting, the pitching wasn’t sharp, the team was

erratic catching the ball and throwing it and running the bases.

But the distinction between the past six days of baseball and the Rangers’

demoralizing playoff history doesn’t end with the magnitude of the games. An

improbable, out-of-nowhere eighth last night stopped this stunning skid, and Texas

has actually knotted up the series as well as the road trip with what Michael Young

called the “biggest win of the year.” The club has a chance to build on that with

Kevin Millwood on the mound tonight, against rookie Casey Janssen.

The Rangers name starting to pop up more than any other as far as potential July

trades are concerned is Kevin Mench, and it could be that Mench figures in whether

Texas is buying or selling, so to speak. After his unconscious stretch in late

April, his production has dropped off precipitously. In fact, these are his numbers

by month this season (going into last night’s game):

April: .342/.354/.671
May: .276/.336/.429
June: .219/.313/.301
July: .184/.262/.263

You might think that Mench’s severe down trends have emasculated any trade value he

has, but evidently not, according to media reports. T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com notes

that the Yankees scouted Mench over the weekend, and that Pittsburgh, Kansas City,

and the Dodgers have had interest in him in the recent past. Sullivan also suggests

that Washington could kick the Mench tires once they trade Alfonso Soriano (though

the Nationals did just add Austin Kearns) and are intrigued by Joaquin Benoit as

well. Houston has shown interest in Mench in the past, too.

Sullivan identifies Livan Hernandez, Jon Lieber, Freddy Garcia, Miguel Batista, and

Matt Clement as potentially available starting pitchers in whom Texas could have an

interest. The Rangers also like groundball machine Jake Westbrook, but Cleveland is

reluctant to move him.

Let’s say that Texas is five games out in 10 days. (Hey, the way I’ve jinxed this

team the last couple weeks every time I get fired up, I don’t mind working a

reverse-jinx here.) If Vicente Padilla really has made it clear that he’ll work in

2007 for whoever offers to pay him the most, and the Rangers aren’t inclined to get

into a bidding war with him, would they make him available in trade? If so, and if

he keeps this current run up (that’s five straight quality starts, and seven of

eight), he might be as valuable as any pitcher on the trade market at the end of the

month. He’s a safer bet than Victor Zambrano was two July’s ago, when Tampa Bay

shipped him to the Mets for Scott Kazmir in a four-player deal.

Don’t get your hopes up. Even if the Rangers fall out of it before the month is up

– which they won’t — there’s not going to be another Kazmir out there for the

taking.

And there’s this to consider as well: Padilla could very well be a Type A free agent

this winter. If so, the trade offers would have to be more attractive than two of

the first 60 or so draft picks next June would be — though, of course, those two

picks could cost $2 million to sign.

I’d say the chances that Padilla gets moved are extremely remote.

Whether Mench goes or not, I’m still in the camp that thinks adding a hitter is

probably the way to go right now, considering the Rangers recent struggle to score

runs, the supply of major league arms that could be close to a return to Arlington,

and the relative cost that it would take to add a position player as opposed to a

pitcher.

Another look at the Cincinnati-Washington trade proves the point, on both sides: the

price for a couple decent middle relievers right now is steep, as in Kearns and

Felipe Lopez; the price for a couple young hitters with some upside is more modest,

as in Bill Bray and Gary Majewski. Aubrey Huff for Mitch Talbot and Ben Zobrist:

same point, basically.

According to a report out of Detroit, Texas is interested in Cubs second baseman Todd

Walker. He’d be a left-handed bat off the bench, or at DH, here. I’d rather have

David Dellucci back.

Texas recalled lefthander C.J. Wilson before yesterday’s game and optioned

righthander Scott Feldman to Oklahoma. Feldman’s ERA had gone from 4.76 in April to

5.40 in May to 6.75 in June, and while it had fallen to 2.84 this month, batters were

hitting .393 off him in July, by far the highest mark of any month in his big league

career. Wes Littleton (4.2 scoreless innings, .133/.235/.133) has been very good

since rejoining the team two weeks ago, and he survived the move while Feldman

returns to AAA.

Wilson’s been on a solid run at Oklahoma lately, throwing six straight scoreless

outings in relief. In seven innings over that span, Wilson has allowed five hits and

two walks while fanning 11. Overall, he’s got a 2.45 ERA as a RedHawk, coaxing 11

groundouts and five flyouts, though right-handed hitters (.321) have given him more

trouble than lefties (.067).

Righthander Frankie Francisco threw from flat ground on Sunday, but the chances of

him helping at the big league level this season are apparently slimming.

The Rangers have promoted Bakersfield outfielder Ben Harrison to Frisco, after the

third-year pro laid waste to California League pitching for three months. The

24-year-old out of the University of Florida hit .293/.397/.520 for the Blaze,

hitting 18 home runs (third in the league) and 19 doubles and drawing 49 walks (fifth

in the league). His slugging percentage was eighth in the circuit, and his OPS was

seventh.

Harrison pinch-hit in his AA debut last night, singling the other way in the eighth

inning of Frisco’s 5-4 win over San Antonio. Jake Blalock was cut down trying to

score from second on the play.

To make room for Harrison on the RoughRiders roster, 25-year-old outfielder Jayce

Tingler was released. After hitting .330/.432/.375 for Bakersfield in the first

half, his third straight season in High A, the minor league Rule 5 pick from Toronto

hit just .227/.306/.227 (no extra-base hits) in 97 Frisco at-bats. A phenomenally

disciplined hitter, Tingler drew 177 walks while fanning just 70 times in the Blue

Jays system in 2003-05, and compiled a similar ratio with the Blaze, walking 36 times

with only 16 strikeouts. Texas League pitchers walked Tingler eight times and set

him down on strikes nine times.

This is getting absurd (even if not out of character): Tug Hulett is now hitting

.550/.667/.700 in his first 20 RoughRider at-bats, with seven walks and just three

strikeouts.

Clinton third baseman Johnny Whittleman didn’t homer yesterday.

He didn’t play.

Righthander Armando Galarraga, out since late May, started a rehab assignment on

Monday in Surprise, pitching one inning against the Giants’ Arizona League squad.

Galarraga struck out the leadoff hitter swinging, issued a walk to the next hitter

(who was promptly cut down stealing), and induced a fly to right.

After I discussed Dominican Summer League outfielder-turned-pitcher Alexi Ogando’s

arm strength on Monday, it was reported locally that he’s been clocked several times

recently at 100 miles per hour. Ogando is now up to 9.2 scoreless innings,

scattering eight hits and punching out 14 without issuing any walks.

The results of the study conducted by the Toronto engineering firm RWDI & Co.

regarding the effects of the Gold Club on wind currents at Ameriquest Field were

inconclusive. The Rangers have requested further testing and expect a more

definitive conclusion by season’s end.

San Diego designated righthander Brian Sikorski for assignment and then traded him to

Cleveland for righthander Mike Adams.

Cincinnati released lefthander Mike Venafro.

Lefthander Clint Brannon, whom Texas traded to the Cubs for Jon Leicester this

spring, has retired. He’d undergone rotator cuff surgery since the trade and was

also suffering from back problems.

You can sign an oversized All-Star MVP card congratulating Michael Young at one of

four times and places, starting today: at Shady Oak Barbeque on Copeland Road in

Arlington from lunch through dinner today; at the RaceTrac store on Jupiter Road in

Plano tomorrow from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; at the Starbucks location in Sundance

Square in downtown Fort Worth all day on Friday; or on the concourse of Ameriquest

Field during the Monday, July 24 game against the Yankees. The cards will be

presented to Young during a special ceremony the next night, Tuesday, July 25, prior

to the second game of the Texas-New York series, which stands to be Adam Eaton’s

debut as a Ranger.

Here’s what lies ahead, between now and then:

Millwood vs. Janssen
John Rheinecker vs. Curt Schilling
John Wasdin vs. Mark Buehrle
John Koronka vs. Freddy Garcia
Vicente Padilla vs. Jon Garland
Millwood vs. Randy Johnson

I desperately want to go into next week’s Yankee series not feeling like I did during

the three Yankee playoff series, when I was worried not about the pitching but

instead about the lineup’s ability to pressure New York.

It would be a good thing, in that regard, for the offense to get busy tonight.

Janssen, the only opposing starter in that bunch who hasn’t been an All-Star since

2002, has two quality starts in the last two months. This is no time to allow him a

third.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg

at www.NewbergReport.com.

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