THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 21, 2006

What a yawner. Seven and two-thirds scoreless from a bullpen quartet that featured a rookie making his seventh appearance of the year, an out-of-options reliever who was in a stretch of pitching in 25 losses and two wins, a 35-year-old lefty who was outrighted a year ago when nobody claimed him off waivers, and a closer who was pitching in a high-leverage situation for the third straight day.

Ho-hum.

And then there was Deion Barajas. And Gary Matthews Jr., who is, what, a 12-tool player? And not-so-renowned lefty-killer Hank Blalock, who came into the game hitting .217/.277/.318 against southpaws, stepping in against Tigers lefthander Wilfredo Ledezma, holding left-handed hitters to a .195/.267/.244 clip this season. Line drive single to center, and a game that was 6-0 in the second was suddenly 7-6 in the sixth, the other way.

Borrrrrring.

If I didn’t know any better, I would have believed that Texas had been exiled to Detroit, going into the house of the team with baseball’s best record, reeling from a disgraceful on-field scrap against the Angels that marred what had been an encouraging homestand — wait, I think I’m supposed to view the incident as evidence of a team “self-destructing” — and just trying to hold things together long enough to survive the schedule and get to the off-season.

I was clearly too stubborn to see it that way. What a shortsighted homer I was, a Rangers fan foolish enough to be “pumped” and “proud,” so misguided that I thought the fight might have galvanized the team as it got on a plane to Michigan.

Gullibility got the best of me as I watched Rangers-Tigers for four with my kids. And watched our team win three of them. Detroit came into the series having won 12 home series this season, with only four losses and two draws.

That was something else.

Man, I want to be there for every minute of Rangers-A’s at Ameriquest Field this weekend.

I gotta tell you, when John Koronka got pulled after his effort yesterday I wondered if he was gonna nibble attacking the water cooler. After pitching himself down to Oklahoma two weeks ago, he was given the AAA ball on the 11th, and dazzled. In a seven-inning appearance against division-leading Round Rock, Koronka scattered three hits, issued just one walk, and set 12 hitters down on strikes.

Following that performance, he said to reporters, “I made sure when I went to Oklahoma that I stayed aggressive. It was a good wake-up outing for me. I’m ready to go.”

And then, wow. A day after sitting in the dugout and watching Robinson Tejeda look like a completely different pitcher than he’d been since Texas acquired him, attacking hitters and controlling the game, Koronka seemed to forget not only what Tejeda did to the Tigers lineup and how he did it, but also what Koronka himself acknowledged worked so well for him in Round Rock. That “wake-up outing,” the “aggressive” one.

It’s almost impossible to believe Texas won that game, stopping the bleeding behind Josh Rupe, Joaquin Benoit, Ron Mahay, and Akinori Otsuka, and having the bats come back like that against Jeremy Bonderman and three relievers. It felt like 2004.

The Rangers are now 13-6 in August, despite a team slugging percentage that’s the worst of any month they’ve had this season, an on-base percentage that the worst, and a batting average that’s second-worst. The key has been the best team ERA of the season.

Tejeda only factored into one of those wins, but he was huge. After failing to go more than five innings in his first five big league starts of the season, walking 17 in 19.1 innings, the 24-year-old pitched into the seventh on Saturday, holding Detroit to one run (in the seventh) on four hits and one walk (in the seventh), fanning three. He was aggressive, he was economical — he struck out the side in the first inning on just 11 pitches — and he’s going to get the ball again.

The coaching staff was quick to praise not only Tejeda for the standout effort, but Gerald Laird as well, for implementing a game plan that was centered on keeping the tempo up and not letting Tejeda get distracted. Acting manager Don Wakamatsu told reporters that “there was no inhibition in [Tejeda's] pitches.” Pitching coach Mark Connor celebrated the fact that Laird “didn’t let him up for air,” forcefully making sure Tejeda quickened the pace whenever he showed any signs of stalling.

Chalk that one up to the coaching staff figuring out what buttons to push with Tejeda (include RedHawks pitching coach Andy Hawkins in that), to Tejeda getting it, and to Laird executing the plan, and managing the game.

As for Koronka, don’t get me wrong. Without his seven wins — only Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla have more — and John Rheinecker’s four, this season is long gone. But this run of nine wins in 11 games has Texas hanging in there, and it’s no time to nibble.

Mark Teixeira was the only Ranger starter not to get a hit on Sunday — while on Saturday, he was the only Ranger to hit safely. His single and home run were all that Texas managed off of Nate Robertson and Fernando Rodney, but with Tejeda dealing and four relievers one-hitting the Tigers over the final two and a third, the Rangers prevailed.

The Rangers bullpen allowed one Tigers earned run in 16.1 innings in the series, punching out 18 and issuing three walks.

Where was Joel Zumaya on Saturday and Sunday? I can understand resting him on Friday, after he threw 36 (spellbinding) pitches on Thursday, but why did Jim Leyland keep him caged up during the weekend? He’d thrown at least 35 pitches seven other times this year; only once did he get three days of rest afterwards.

Texas optioned outfielder Freddy Guzman to Oklahoma to clear space for Tejeda on Saturday. Scott Feldman was optioned to the RedHawks on Sunday to make room for Koronka.

The Feldman move effectively means that he won’t have to serve his six-game suspension (or whatever it’s reduced to on appeal) until after September 1, when rosters expand and his unavailability won’t be as difficult to deal with. I go into more depth about the strategic decisions facing Feldman, Padilla, and the three Angels who were suspended as they evaluated whether or not to appeal in this week’s “Going Deep” column for MLB.com, which will be posted on TexasRangers.com today.

A recap of the punishments: Feldman was suspended for six games and is appealing the length, largely because two of the games were tacked on because of fighting, despite Feldman’s contention that he was merely defending himself. Padilla got five games, which effectively pushed his day to pitch from yesterday to tomorrow. Angels Adam Kennedy, Kevin Gregg, and Brendan Donnelly each got four-game suspensions; Donnelly (whose penalty is set to begin tomorrow) is the only one appealing. Read the “Going Deep” column to understand why.

John Lackey and Frosty Rivera were fined undisclosed amounts.

Buck Showalter’s four-game suspension cost him the Detroit series. Mike Scioscia served his three-game sanction Thursday through Saturday, and bench coach Ron Roenicke had to sit out yesterday’s Angels game. None of the three could appeal. (Why? See “Going Deep.”)

Outfielder Brad Wilkerson will have season-ending surgery on his right (non-throwing) shoulder tomorrow.

According to Jon Daniels, the club probably won’t call lefthander John Danks up to the big leagues when rosters expand in September, as long as the Rangers remain in contention.

You can listen to Adam McCloskey’s recent interview of Danks for the Newberg Report here. You might be surprised who Danks believes the best player in the Rangers minor league system is.

How bad are the Rangers’ daytime woes? They not only pitch better at night (4.57 ERA, .273/.336/.418) than they do during the day (5.04 ERA, .286/.356/.434) — they also hit considerably better at night (.291/.353/.471 vs. .250/.311/.394). No wonder the club is 11 games over .500 under the lights and six games under .500 in daylight.

Righthander Frankie Francisco has been activated from his rehab assignment and assigned to Frisco, replacing righthander Ryan Jensen, whose shoulder forced him onto the disabled list. Since returning to the RoughRiders, Francisco has allowed three runs on five hits and two walks in 1.2 innings, fanning three.

Oklahoma catcher Miguel Ojeda went on the disabled list with a hip flexor injury, and catcher Tom Gregorio was activated.

Bakersfield catcher Emerson Frostad has departed for a couple weeks to compete with Team Canada in the Olympic qualifying tournament in Havana, Cuba. Catcher Alberto Martinez was promoted from the Arizona League to the Blaze to fill in for Frostad.

The Rangers signed lefthander Eric Knott out of the Mexican League and assigned him to Oklahoma. The 31-year-old briefly appeared in the big leagues in 2001 (Arizona) and 2003 (Montreal), having been drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 24th round in 1996, when Showalter helped run the club’s draft. Knott was 9-7, 3.48 for Pericos de Puebla when the Rangers signed him, after going 14-4, 3.25 for the same club in 2005.

Milwaukee called Laynce Nix up after he hit a robust .412/.452/.824 in 68 at-bats for AAA Nashville, blasting seven home runs in 18 games. He debuted for the Brewers yesterday, singling in four trips from the five hole against Roger Clemens.

ESPN’s Keith Law reports that Toronto outfielder Vernon Wells has told Blue Jays management that he doesn’t intend to sign an extension of his current deal, which expires after the 2007 season, and that he and his family would like to move closer to his Arlington home. Interestingly, Law spent four and a half years with the Jays as a Special Assistant to General Manager J.P. Ricciardi before joining ESPN in May. Ricciardi reacted to the article by telling a reporter that Law “is officially an idiot.” I’m serious.

Let me just say this: After watching what the Yankees did this weekend against Boston, it made me think — the first thing I’m going to do when next year’s schedule comes out is see whether we’ve got New York in the season’s final two months. It seems they’re stronger every year after July 31, partly, I’m sure, because their roster gets stronger every year late in July, when they go out and buy a player or two that nobody else can afford. Sickening.

ESPN’s Peter Gammons was at Fenway Park on Saturday for the middle game of the five-game set between Boston and New York. Uplifting. It was his first visit to a major league stadium since his brain aneurysm on June 27, which was followed by a three-week hospitalization.

Oakland outrighted infielder D’Angelo Jimenez to AAA Sacramento, but he’s not sure whether he’ll accept the assignment or exercise his right to take immediate free agency.

Bonderman, Carlos Pena, and Franklyn German for Ted Lilly, Jason Arnold, and John-Ford Griffin. Tim Hudson for Charles Thomas, Dan Meyer and Juan Cruz. Lilly for Bobby Kielty. Aaron Harang, Joe Valentine, and Jeff Bruksch for Jose Guillen. Gerald Laird. Andre Ethier. Cory Lidle. Nelson Cruz.

Are we sure Billy Beane is a genius?

A’s closer Huston Street has landed on the disabled list with a strained right groin. He’ll miss the Rangers series in Arlington this weekend but will be eligible to return when Texas arrives in Oakland the day after Labor Day.

San Diego purchased the contract of infielder Manny Alexander from AAA Portland.

The reason the Fort Worth Cats released catcher Justin Hatcher days after signing him was that the Padres came calling. Hatcher singled and walked twice in four plate appearances in his debut for AA Mobile, where his teammates included Vincent Sinisi, Jeremy Cleveland, and Paul Abraham.

Max’s birthday party on Saturday was a major success, featuring a baseball cake, Texas Rangers balloons, pizza and apple juice and Jumpin Jax slides and tubes and nets, with Cracker Jacks and baseball cards as party favors. His first day of preschool is today, which I suppose could impact which he achieves first: reciting the alphabet or reciting the Rangers lineup.

(He’s getting close on both. Lately he’s begun shouting “Mark DWOSA!!!!” after Hank Blalock has taken his turn.)

Thank goodness Max doesn’t read yet. Sure would hate for him to find out from the local sports pages that he’s no longer supposed to be excited about the way the Rangers are playing.

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

1 Comment

A fan knows by his (or even her) gut that there is a reason to get excited about a team’s chances. I get that gut feeling with this team, and, after 20 years of being a Rangers fan, I’m as excited as you and your kids are. And, if you want to get scientific about the team’s chances, just check out the recent expanded standings. If the Rangers keep it up, the Angels and A’s days on top are numbered. Here’s hoping that that brawl lit a fire that will burn in these guys well into October. Thanks for your dedication to this team, Jamey. I sense that there just aren’t enough of us out there these days (though I’m expecting more to come around before all is said and done this season). Happy birthday, Max!

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