August 2006

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — AUGUST 21, 2006

Adam Eaton comes into the game holding his opposition to a .185 batting average in five starts, draws a Devil Rays lineup hitting .249 for the year (with only two hitters sitting above .250), and he can’t locate. Tampa Bay rips him at a .440 clip over five.

Toronto puts Oakland in an 8-0 hole after two innings. The A’s win, 12-10.

Ominous feel to this night.

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

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.

THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 20, 2006

Erica: “Go, Aki, go!”

Max: “Go, Aki, GO!!!!”

In unison: “YOSSHAA!!!!”

Their education is coming along nicely.

I have a ton more to say about this game. Tomorrow morning.

Between now and then, I’m looking forward to the local papers, both the beat writers and the columnists, to continue to tell you that the fight against the Angels was a negative…a disgrace….that it marred an otherwise successful homestand…that it was the disaster point of the season.

After I get my daily dose of such wisdom in the morning, I’ll write.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 19, 2006

Dont20walk

Nice work, Mr. Tejeda.

THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 18, 2006

Pitchers’ duel, playoff intensity, an impossible finish.

Keystone stranded. Win number one for Wakamatsu.

Über-Yosshaa.

Royals knotted in a scoreless tie with Oakland in the sixth, having drilled the A’s earlier today.

Max didn’t want a bedtime story tonight. With a big, tired smile on his face, clutching two bears and a giraffe, he said:

“Goodnight, Grover. Goodnight, Cookie Mon-stuh. Goodnight, Elmo. Goodnight, Michael. Goodnight, Mark. Goodnight, Hank.”

A good night.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 16, 2006 ADDENDUM

I’m so freakin’ pumped. Pumped that the Angels threw at three straight hitters in the eighth, missing Ian Kinsler and drilling Michael Young and Freddy Guzman. Love it. Pack your bags, Anaheims, and get out of town. You got pasted tonight, letting the Rangers catch you in the West, you fired my team up even more with the beanballs, and you face suspensions of two relievers and your starting second baseman.

Adam Kennedy? Smart move, punk. Love it.

You too, Frosty Rivera. Keep mouthing off. Seriously. Keep it up.

I’m damned proud of Scott Feldman and Mark DeRosa and every other guy wearing my team’s uniform. Freakin’ proud. I wanna get on a plane to Detroit.

Let’s rewind a couple hours.

LAAA lefty Joe Saunders came into the game with a 4-0, 1.67 record. An opponents’ batting average of .188. Six strikeouts per nine, just 3.3 walks, 15 pitches per inning, 60 percent of his pitches for strikes. One of his four 2006 starts, all quality starts and all wins, came against Texas 10 days ago: seven shutout innings, three hits, two walks, six strikeouts, 15 pitches per inning, 64 percent of his pitches for strikes.

New approach tonight. The Rangers seemed intent on making the rookie throw strikes, something that unfortunately hasn’t been seen enough this year against pitchers who had no business pitching as well against Texas as they ended up pitching.

Result? Five walks in 2.2 frames. One strikeout. Eight runs on five hits. Twenty-six pitches per inning, 54 percent for strikes.

Patience rewarded.

Brad Wilkerson is done for the season, formally thinning out an outfield corps, and maybe that means we’re going to see more of what Nelson Cruz can do. Got a good-looking glimpse of what that kid is capable of tonight.

Don’t fret over that .200 Cruz average. It’s a small sample. Patience.

As for Saturday, it looks like John Koronka will get the call, as he was scratched from tonight’s AAA start, a clear signal that he’s coming to Arlington to make what would have been Kip Wells’s next start.

For the handful of you who emailed me this morning pleading for John Danks to get the start, patience. Tap the brakes. He’ll get to Arlington soon enough, and there’s no sense in rushing things. When he does step foot on Ameriquest Field, it will be a glorious day.

(Speaking of which:

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Oakland is ahead of Seattle, 3-0, as I send this. Ideal? No.

Patience.

It’s gonna be a heckuva flight to Michigan.

– Jamey

THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 16, 2006

The best thing about last night’s playoff-intensity game, as far as I’m concerned, was not Michael Young’s greatness or Matt Stairs’s contribution or Victor Rojas’s calls on Young’s and Rod Barajas’s blasts, or the resilience that the club showed.

It was the effort turned in by Josh Rupe and even by Wes Littleton, who gave up a single, double, triple, and RBI groundout after getting four outs against the first three batters he faced.

Rupe was pressed into early action after Vicente Padilla was run in the fourth for drilling Juan Rivera. Inheriting a 6-3 deficit and a runner on first, Rupe retired seven straight Angels — every one of them on a ground ball. He then issued a walk to start the seventh, turning the ball over to Littleton, who promptly induced a 4-6-3 twin-killing and another groundout to end the frame. A comebacker to start the eighth was followed by the Angels rally, which ultimately cost Texas a game, but it isn’t supposed to be as easy at this level as it had been for Littleton the last six weeks. He will grow from this.

As will Rupe. Tremendous effort from a guy who has plus stuff and plus makeup, and who has now made five of his six big league appearances this year — and nine of his 10 career appearances — against American League West clubs. The one truly bad outing of Rupe’s big league career came 10 days ago against the Angels, when he surrendered five runs in an inning and two-thirds. To see him bounce back against that club the way he did last night, in a huge, huge, huge game, was very encouraging.

Meanwhile, since C.J. Wilson returned from the minor leagues on July 18, the lefthander has pitched 10 times, allowing one run (0.87 ERA) on eight hits (.216 opponents’ average) and four walks in 10.2 innings, punching out 10.

At the same time, the Rangers have won two of the last 26 games in which Joaquin Benoit has pitched. That’s not to suggest that Benoit is costing the Rangers that greatly (he’s been credited with just one loss in that stretch), but it’s very much indicative of the level of trust that Buck Showalter has in him. In the two Ranger wins Benoit has pitched in over those 26 appearances, he (1) allowed an inherited runner to score and issued a walk to load the bases on June 18 before getting out of trouble and (2) gave up four eighth-inning runs on Saturday while getting only two outs, turning a 5-0 lead into a 5-4 nail-biter. An overworked pen was the reason in both cases that Benoit was pressed into duty, and in neither case did he make a case for being used in more high-leverage situations.

Benoit, out of options, is teetering on the edge of his Rangers career, while rookies Littleton and Rupe inch closer to making themselves go-to guys, and Wilson continues to solidify his importance.

Scott Feldman is back up, though his stay could be brief. The Rangers placed righthander Kip Wells on the 15-day disabled list yesterday (retroactive to August 12) with a sprained left foot, recalling Feldman from Oklahoma. Wells will miss at least three weeks and possibly the rest of the season, but that means Texas will need another starter, and the most likely scenario is that one will be summoned from AAA on Saturday to make the start in Detroit that night, with Feldman possibly returning to the RedHawks.

Candidates for the Saturday start include John Koronka, who was dominant in his RedHawks start on Friday (two runs on three hits in seven innings, 12 strikeouts and one walk), and Robinson Tejeda, who has gone 3-0, 1.04 in three Oklahoma starts (eight hits and six walks in 17.1 innings, with six walks and an astonishing 26 punchouts) since being activated from the disabled list at the beginning of the month. John Rheinecker has also pitched very well lately (2-1, 0.81 in three August starts, 16 hits and seven walks in 22.1 innings, 16 strikeouts) but he threw 106 pitches last night, making it clear that the Rangers weren’t considering him for Saturday.

Don’t count on John Danks or R.A. Dickey, who are pitching well but aren’t on the 40-man roster. It’s probably more likely at this point that Jon Daniels makes a trade than it is that Danks or Dickey comes up — though with Wells out for a good while, I suppose it wouldn’t be out of the question to go get Danks, who will be added to the 40-man roster anyway in the winter and who wouldn’t be optioned before then.

But with the way Koronka and Tejeda have been throwing lately, a Danks callup has to be considered a major longshot at this point.

Koronka is slated to start for the RedHawks tonight. If he does make the start, certainly it wouldn’t last any more than two or three innings if Texas intends to start him on Saturday. Keep an eye on it.

Danks has a 2.13 ERA over his last three AAA starts (10 hits and two walks in 12.2 innings, 14 strikeouts), but he’s not the hottest of the organization’s top pitching prospects. Eric Hurley, who was in the midst of the worst stretch of his Bakersfield season when Texas promoted him to Frisco three weeks into July, is on fire with the RoughRiders. The righthander, who turns 21 tomorrow, failed to put together a quality start in his final five Blaze efforts, but in five Frisco appearances, he has four quality starts and was three outs short of a fifth. He’s 2-1, 2.32 in AA, scattering 18 hits (.171 opponents’ average) and seven walks in 31 innings, fanning 27.

Kameron Loe has pitched in eight Oklahoma games over the last month (three starts followed by five relief appearances), and he’s been scored on seven times (he also pitched once for Frisco in that stretch, giving up five runs [four earned] in 4.1 frames). Loe’s RedHawks ERA is 8.47 and the Pacific Coast League is hitting .333 off him, with righthanders (.366) having more success than lefties (.294).

Frankie Francisco has pitched twice since his rehab assignment with Spokane kicked off five days ago. He’s permitted one hit in two scoreless innings of work, fanning four and walking none.

If Oakland keeps winning just about every day and continues to lengthen its lead over Texas — the Rangers have gained no ground on the A’s in this stretch of five wins in six games — maybe we’ll see Francisco in September.

Another thought: In the event that Texas does lose significant ground in the next week or 10 days, might we see the Rangers run Carlos Lee through revocable waivers at that point? Two things to keep in mind: (1) revocable waivers are available just once per player beginning August 1, so if the Rangers have already invoked the process with Lee, they can’t do it again (at least not revocably); and (2) let’s say the Angels make the prevailing claim on Lee — forgetting the issue of trading within the division, recognize that (unless the CBA eliminates draft pick compensation this winter, which is possible) Texas wouldn’t deal Lee for anything less than value equivalent to a pair of June draft picks in the top 60 or so, which is what the club would recoup under the current system if he signs elsewhere as a free agent in the off-season. (Though, to complete the analysis, a trade wouldn’t force Texas to fork over $2 million in signing bonuses like the draft picks would.)

For now, though, the Rangers won’t give up on 2006, and they shouldn’t. Cleveland designated righthander Guillermo Mota for assignment a few days ago, and Baltimore righthander LaTroy Hawkins reportedly cleared trade waivers. Those are two potential set-up men for the stretch run, should the Rangers feel they need someone in that role with more experience than Rick Bauer, who has struggled lately.

Washington triggered the trade waivers process on Alfonso Soriano yesterday.

Mark DeRosa was named American League player of the week last week.

Ranger catchers are hitting .285/.321/.476 with 33 doubles, 17 home runs, and 55 RBI, gunning down 38.6 percent of would-be basestealers.

Eric Young is hitless in his first three Oklahoma contests (eight at-bats), walking twice. Randall Simon is 2 for his first 12 RedHawk at-bats.

The Rangers made room for Young and Simon on the AAA squad by releasing outfielder Adrian Brown and placing catcher Tom Gregorio on the disabled list with an ankle injury.

Frisco righthander Jeremy Ward, also sidelined with an ankle injury, was activated. Clinton lefthander Joe Kemp, converted to the mound from the outfield at the end of July, was placed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury after two mound appearances.

Spokane lefthander Kasey Kiker, the Rangers’ first-round pick in June, is 0-5, 3.57 in 12 appearances (11 starts), but don’t sweat the win-loss record. First, you should never care about a pitcher’s win-loss record in the minor leagues, but more to the point in Kiker’s case, Texas has only allowed him to pitch five innings twice, meaning he wasn’t eligible for a victory in any of his other nine starts.

Kiker is holding the Northwest League — made up mostly of college draftees — to a .214 batting average, and he’s been getting better. In three June appearances, the league hit .308 off the 18-year-old. In six July games, Kiker held the league to a .217 clip. In three August outings, he’s limiting hitters to a .182 average. His walk rates are also diminishing, while his strikeouts continue to mount at the rate of about one per inning.

The surprise of the Rangers’ 2006 draft haul has been lefthander Danny Ray Herrera, the club’s 45th-round pick. A Third-Team All-American from the University of New Mexico (and Odessa Permian before that), Herrera stands just 5’7″, 145 and gets by with an array of off-speed stuff, including a dying-breed screwball change that has been labeled the “waffle.” He has followed his 10-0, 2.24 college season with an even more impressive minor league campaign.

After going 0-1, 2.08 and recording two saves in three appearances in the rookie-level Arizona League (five hits and no walks in 8.2 innings, 11 strikeouts), Herrera was promoted three levels to Bakersfield, where he has been spectacular. In 27.2 innings, he has a 3-0, 0.65 record with one save, allowing 20 hits (.202 opponents’ average) and nine walks, punching out 31. After nine relief appearances, he was elevated into the Blaze rotation, debuting as a starter on Friday and firing six strong innings in which he gave up an unearned run on three hits and a walk, striking out seven.

Righthander Alexi Ogando, converted from the outfield to the mound this summer, is now 4-0, 0.34 with two saves in 13 appearances for the Rangers’ Dominican Summer League club. In 26.2 innings, Ogando has permitted two runs (one earned) on 21 hits (.221 opponents’ average) and just three walks while setting 39 down on strikes.

Righthander Omar Beltre, who like Ogando has been unable to get visa clearance to come stateside this summer, is 2-3, 1.41 with one save in 12 DSL appearances, scattering 40 hits (.170 opponents’ average) and seven walks in 64 frames while fanning 78. Interestingly, Texas moved him out of the rotation after nine starts, making him a reliever in the last week of July, and for some reason he hasn’t pitched at all since July 31.

The independent Fort Worth Cats signed catcher Justin Hatcher days after the Rangers released the TCU product, but days later the Cats released him as well.

Texas signed lefthander Tim Gudex and assigned the 23-year-old to the Arizona League. The former University of Iowa closer doesn’t throw hard but was extraordinarily successful in college, posting a 1.11 ERA for the Hawkeyes in 2005 (beginning the season as Iowa’s number one starter before returning to the bullpen) and a 1.15 ERA for the squad in 2006, when he scattered 19 hits (.144 opponents’ average) and 15 walks in 39 innings while fanning 47. He led the Big Ten in saves with 10, after leading the conference with six in 2005.

There were reports that Gudex, as a fifth-year senior, had signed with the Cubs days before this June’s draft, but he apparently never did come to terms.

Gudex has thrown three scoreless innings thus far for the AZL club, giving up one hit and one walk while setting five hitters down on strikes.

On Sunday, converted shortstop Julio Santana punched out seven AZL hitters in three hitless innings, walking one.

Righthander Bryan Corey, designated for assignment by Boston after just one appearance, cleared waivers and was assigned to AAA Pawtucket.

Cincinnati purchased the contract of lefthander Chris Michalak and plans to start him.

Cleveland traded catcher Einar Diaz, who was hitting .218/.267/.318 in AAA, to the Dodgers for a player to be named later or cash.

Catcher Craig Hurba is second in the independent Northern League with 17 home runs. He’s hitting .291/.353/.557 for the Kansas City T-Bones.

The Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League signed lefthander Nick Bierbrodt. The Windy City Thunderbolts signed lefthander Scott Nicholson, the Rangers’ unsigned 15th-rounder from the 2000 draft.

(Wow. I need a life.)

Two eyebrow-raising non-Ranger notes: Houston got Preston Wilson (.269/.309/.405) through waivers and released him. Tampa Bay released third baseman Sean Burroughs (.214/.268/.252) from its AAA Durham club.

Frisco first baseman Nate Gold and Bakersfield righthander Doug Mathis are the Newberg Report Player and Pitcher of the Month for July. Check Eric Carter’s and Rob Cook’s features on Gold and Mathis on Eleanor Czajka’s Minor Details page.

Thank you for the support you all have shown the Newberg Report through your donations this month.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 13, 2006

I was at Ameriquest Field on Thursday night, with the Rangers back in town after a grueling (at least from a fan’s standpoint) road trip that featured a four-game win streak and a four-game skid but finished with a pasting of Barry Zito. My 2006 hopes for this team, going into that final game in Oakland, were circling the drain, but the Rangers, sitting a season-worst 6.5 games out of first, bounced back against the lefty, who came into the game with a 16-3, 3.44 career mark against them.

My hope was that Wednesday’s 14-0 explosion could serve to jumpstart this team, to inject it with a surge of confidence going into a huge six-game homestand.

It **** sure did that for me.

So I was there Thursday night, frustrated that the bats seemed to have none of the bite that they all had the day before, especially while Adam Eaton was giving us the sort of bounceback effort that he was. And then, in the sixth, Mark Teixeira did what Mark Teixeira does, and in the seventh, Michael Young was Michael Young. More to the point, Michael Young was Michael Young with the bases loaded (thanks to Mike Hargrove). And just like that, 2-0 Seattle was 8-2 Texas, as the left field scoreboard whispered that the Angels were getting pasted by the Indians, while the A’s were off.

C.J. Wilson and Rick Bauer sealed that Thursday win and looked really good doing it.

On Friday I went to the Alumni Legacy Luncheon, honoring the 1996 playoff team, and I wish the room held 50,000 rather than 500. Table number 33 was near the back of the room, but I’m certain we had the best seat in the house, because eight of us had a full hour and half with Dave Valle. I asked him if the story Rusty Greer told on the Ticket a couple weeks ago was true — the story about Valle calling a team meeting on August 9, 1996, telling Johnny Oates that he and his staff were not excused from the meeting, and neither were the trainers or equipment guys or the bullpen catcher.

Coming off two losses in Detroit, which cut the Rangers’ division lead over Seattle to two games, Valle told teammate Dennis Cook on the plane to Toronto that he felt like he needed to say something to the team but wasn’t sure it was his place. “Cookie” told Valle, at the time a 12-year big league veteran with all of 62 at-bats in four months as Pudge’s backup, that he’d earned the right to speak up.

Valle got into the face of every man in that clubhouse, the players and the trainers and the equipment guys and the bullpen catcher — and the manager — and challenged each of them: “Are you willing to do what it takes to win?”

Picture a second lieutenant lining up the troops, side by side, barking the same question, the same command, at each of them. Starting with the Senior General. “Are you willing to do what it takes to win?”

Johnny Oates, who had just granted Dave Valle permission to hold the meeting and asked when the coaches should vacate the room, only to be told by Valle that nobody was excused from the room, told his backup catcher: “Yes, sir.”

The Rangers reeled off seven straight wins. The division lead was extended to seven games, a season high (and without checking, probably a franchise high for the 25-year-old club).

Valle talked about the lead that almost disappeared, a nine-game cushion on September 11 that shrunk to one game on September 20 when Garret Anderson hit that two-run double that I’ll never forget, that shot to left-center that turned a win into a loss in five seconds. Mark McLemore had given Texas a 5-4 lead in the top of the 10th. Mike Stanton got Jim Edmonds and Tim Salmon out to start the bottom of the inning, but then gave up singles to George Arias and Rex Hudler. And then Anderson almost cost me my life.

Valle said he was the most shocked person in the clubhouse when he saw his name in the starting nine the next day. Oates was notorious for his etched-in-granite lineups. Valle, as he put it himself, was like a backup quarterback, “getting to play every third Sunday.” But with eight games to go and the team reeling, seemingly about to squander its chance at a first-ever playoff berth in cataclysmic fashion, Oates sat Pudge and put Valle in the lineup to catch John Burkett.

Valle homered to left off Jim Abbott in the seventh, highlighting a 2 for 4 night and a 7-1 Rangers win. It was the last of Valle’s 77 lifetime home runs. And, in his words, maybe the biggest.

Texas would finish the year with six wins in those final eight games, and an invitation to the American League playoffs. The clincher came on September 27, a surreal 15-inning loss to the Angels that was dissected by a simple flip of the out-of-town scoreboard, late in the game, from “9” to “F,” next to “SEA 1″ that stood above “OAK 8.” The Mariners were done, and the Rangers played on, losing the game that wouldn’t end and then hugging each other on the field as fireworks went off forever and we all heard Holtzie’s voice over the P.A. system, narrating the moment and failing to disguise that he was as overcome as any of us. I was in the stands until 2 a.m. that night.

Dave Valle said the best moment of his baseball career was when his boys were doused in champagne on September 27, 1996 (well, September 28), during a clubhouse celebration that didn’t end until 5 a.m.

Having been at the ballpark Thursday night and the luncheon on Friday afternoon, and watching (from my couch) the Rangers pounce on Seattle for another 14 runs Friday night, I knew where I wanted to be last night. We called some friends and took the kids to the game, getting there early enough to see the 1996 team honored on the field. There were Valle and Rusty and Nuschler and Mickey and Mac and Burkett, Hamilton and Ken Hill and Pavlik and Henneman and Brandy, wearing Ranger blue and hugging each other, and then looking up at the Jumbotron as the ceremony ended, seeing themselves wearing Ranger red and hugging each other, as fireworks exploded and Holtzie narrated the moment, failing to disguise that he was as overcome as any of us.

And then Edinson Volquez got out of trouble early, got stronger as the night wore on, and ended up with the most impressive performance of his eight big league appearances, throwing seven scoreless frames, finishing with a strikeout of Ichiro Suzuki, the ninth-toughest hitter to fan in the league. Gerald Laird and Gary Matthews Jr. elicited “hit-the-firewooks-the-sky!!” shouts from Max. Joaquin Benoit melted down but Bauer and Akinori Otsuka held on, and Texas survived, 5-4, its fourth straight win. Erica, it should come as no surprise, chanted, “Go, Michael, go!” as Otsuka got set to face Richie Sexson in the game’s final confrontation. (She did, however, issue a “Yosshaa!!” as Matthews squeezed the final out.)

It’s been a very cool Rangers weekend. I want to go out there again tonight and Tuesday and Wednesday. The fact that Texas is off tomorrow will undoubtedly be the only disappointment of Max’s second birthday.

Our baseball history isn’t Yankees history or Cardinals history or Cowboys history, but its best moments still mean everything to a lot of us. The Rangers are four games back but a lot can change in a week, as we learned 10 Septembers ago, and they can certainly change over 44 games.

Michael Young was a junior at Cal Santa Barbara that long-ago September. Wouldn’t surprise me if he was jumping off his couch, waving Arias and Hudler home as Anderson hit that 10th-inning double on the 20th. A guy who counts Don Mattingly as his favorite baseball player, Young probably loved it two weeks after that when the Yankees, in their first season in 15 without Donnie Baseball, came back from having lost Game One to the Rangers and falling behind, 4-1, in Game Two, to win the series and move on.

But you didn’t need to see the look on Young’s face Thursday night as he trotted home on the error that turned his three-run double into a four-run play to know that his belief in the Texas Rangers is as strong as anyone’s, and that he believes this team isn’t done.

But if you did see the look on his face, you just might join him, if you had given up on this season before that moment.

You might be back on board after seeing what Volquez, who was 13 years old 10 Septembers ago, did last night.

Maybe you haven’t given up because of Mark Teixeira, who leads the American League in OPS (1.146) since the All-Star Break, is hitting .343/.489/.657 in that span, and has reached base in 36 straight games.

Maybe Carlos Lee (.333/.373/.507 as a Ranger) has you pumped.

Or Mark DeRosa and Matthews rebounding from brief slumps to revive their breakthrough seasons.

Or Eaton or Wes Littleton or Kip Wells, who weren’t around a couple months ago.

Maybe the signing of Eric Young to a minor league deal on Friday afternoon reminded a few of you of the Mavs’ signing of Avery Johnson on September 30, 2004, a month before he retired. And if so, you’re pretty happy about the move, which may not translate into much on the field but could be a very good move off of it. You probably understand why moves like that can matter.

Or maybe the reason you haven’t given up is that baseball fans never have to. Even if the local columnists have.

If you aren’t one to buy into the potential impact of the E.Y. signing (and I’ve had to respond by email to several of you), then you probably don’t believe the 35,000-plus at last night’s game could possibly have factored in. But I think baseball is a game of feel, not as much as it is a game of execution but a lot more than in most sports. I think when Young joins the clubhouse by September 1, it’s going to have an impact. And I think the crowd the first three nights of this homestand was part of the dynamic, and that it has helped.

I don’t know what’s going to happen the next seven weeks, and neither do you and neither does Michael or Mark or Aki, or Buck or JD.

I can see Valle’s finger in my face, asking if I’m willing to do what it takes to win.

I am. See you at the yard.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 11, 2006

Adam Eaton threw an impressive 73 percent of his pitches for strikes. None behind anyone’s back, and not many out of the strike zone. Outstanding effort. Outstanding.

(Though I can’t remember a game with so many rifled outs early on. Lots of line drives – for both teams – that went for naught.)

Don’t you have to be able to count on one finger the number of times that a team has intentionally put a Ranger hitter on base to get to Michael Young? The second that Kenji Johjima stood to call for the first of four wide ones to Gary Matthews Jr., I turned to one of my buddies at the game and said: “Slump over.”

First pitch to Young: Slump over.

Thank you, Grover.

Mark Teixeira saw 26 pitches in five trips. Hit a number of them very, very hard.

He’s locked in.

That C.J. Wilson is going to have a long, successful career pitching baseballs.

When Rick Bauer updates his baseball résumé, he, unlike many others, can add, no matter what happens with the rest of his rejuvenated career: “Made Ichiro look silly.”

Carlos Lee has reached base 10 times in his last 12 trips. You can almost overlook the virtual lack of extra-base hits (two) if he’s going to do that.

That speeding ticket I got on the way home, I assure you, was not my tribute to Matthews blowing through Steve Smith’s stop sign.

Although I was just about as close to home when it happened as GMJ was. Maybe I should have told the officer I was just trying to force him to make a play.

Or maybe I made the better choice.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 9, 2006

We’ve seen only two movies in the last few months, both in the last few days.

Saturday we saw "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby." Tuesday night we caught "Without Limits," a 1998 film about Steve Prefontaine starring my childhood friend Billy Crudup.

Quote from the former: "If you ain’t first, you’re last."

Quote from the latter: "I don’t want to win unless I know I’ve done my best, and the only way I know how to do that is to run out front, flat out until I have nothing left."

When "Without Limits" ended, we flipped to the Ranger game, and Texas was up, 4-0.

Five minutes later, the game was tied.

Demoralizing.

The fourth inning basically told the story, as both Texas and Oakland put their first two men on. The Rangers left their pair stranded on first and second. The A’s scored four times.

The ninth was pretty telling, too. Wow.

The difference between the minor leagues and major leagues is executing consistently. The difference between major league teams that don’t make the playoffs and those that do is capitalizing consistently.

The A’s capitalize. They play loose. They catch the ball. They get ahead in the count, they hit and run, they exploit your mistakes.

They’re missing one of the league’s best young starting pitchers and have one of baseball’s most pedestrian lineups, and yet they’re playing like they know they’re going to win.

The Rangers, on the other hand, are making lots of mistakes lately. In every phase.

I hate seeing a defeated look in the eyes of the guys who play for my team. It’s one of the worst feelings in sports.

Edinson Volquez came up, John Koronka went down, Kip Wells will start on Friday. Robinson Tejeda is pitching well against AAA hitters, Kameron Loe is not. Thirty-one-year-old Randall Simon is playing for the Rangers’ Arizona League club, as is 22-year-old Taylor Teagarden. Erubiel Durazo was let go from Minnesota’s AAA squad, and the River City Rascals traded righthander Shawn Phillips to the Washington Wild Things.

Francisco Cordero and Fabio Castro and Brian Shouse are pitching really well, and Laynce Nix is raking ever since switching PCL clubs. Surely Carlos Lee will find a run-producing groove soon.

Maybe I will, too.

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

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