THE NEWBERG REPORT FROM SURPRISE, AZ: March 19, 2008

THE NEWBERG REPORT

With no visit from the Tooth Fairy to delay the day’s start, and only
the minor issue of my inability to plug iPhoto files into my SBCGlobal
emails gumming thing up, we got to the fields at 9 a.m. on Tuesday,
early enough to see Ron Washington and Art Howe working exclusively
with Kevin Mench around the first base bag on Field 7, which is
basically nothing more than an infield with a fence fringing it.

We walked by the Mench Crash Course and caught up with a handful of
players just before their morning stretch, with Erica showing off her
missing tooth and Max energetically exchanging high fives.

That is, except when Max’s favorite player tried to strike up a
conversation with him, and he went into a shell that almost never
surfaces when he’s cloaked in baseball pants, a Rangers cap, and his
trusty Wilson A2291.  It was pretty cool, though, when he posted up and
threw a ball to his hero, who then flipped it to Ginger, who tossed it
back to Max to complete a crisp 6-4-3.

Moments later, as I was tossing grounders to Max on the grass, Wash
emerged from Field 7 and headed toward a spot nearby, where the few
beat writers and columnists in town were waiting for his morning
briefing.  T.R. Sullivan addressed the manager first, 10 feet before
he’d arrived: “Wash, right there is the only player in camp you haven’t
hit ground balls to.”

Wash drops his glove but keeps the baseball that was tucked inside.
Lifts his fungo.  Without so much as a word or a gesture toward Max, he
slaps a solid two-hopper from about 20 feet away, and a thousand
thoughts rushed through my head (one of which was not
to grab the camera or ask Ginger to, though there was no time for that
anyway): How badly would Max be scarred if he booted the ball with that
sort of rapt audience?  Would he earn a “Pickin’ ma-CHINE!” shout-out?
Would he earn a split lip? 

Knees bent, both hands properly outstretched, feet at an appropriate width, Max gathered the Wash bouncer perfectly. 

“There.  I’ve hit grounders to everybody now.”

Funny thing is, Erica is more proud of losing a tooth than Max was
making the play on a fungo off the bat of the Rangers manager and one
of the game’s premier infield instructors.  But the moment wasn’t lost
on me.

One run on two hits and no walks over five innings for Luis Mendoza
yesterday pretty much solidified a rotation spot for the 24-year-old.
He not only became the first Rangers starter to go five innings this
spring, but he did it in just 61 pitches, which included an array of
dirty changeups that held left-handed hitters to a 1 for 11 day.

Kason Gabbard makes a start in a minor league game this afternoon, as
the big club is off.  His rotation spot is reportedly not in any
jeopardy despite poor numbers this spring, but the Rangers would
obviously like to see the lefthander locate his fastball more
effectively than he has so far.

Milton Bradley will make his official spring training debut Friday
night, serving as the designated hitter, which he’ll also do so
Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, if all goes well.  Texas had planned to
have him travel to Tucson for tomorrow’s game against Arizona, but the
Diamondbacks have told the Rangers that they are opting to having
pitchers hit in that game, as is their right as the home team.

Every few days a Chicago newspaper revisits the idea that the Cubs
continue to covet Marlon Byrd.  I understand the positive clubhouse
factor that Byrd offers, but with the way David Murphy is backing up
his breakthrough summer with a massive spring, as long as Texas holds
firm on its insistence that it would take more than Matt Murton to get
him, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Byrd moved.  It would take a bit of
a leap of faith on the ability of both Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley
to avoid the disabled list all year, but Murton would address the depth
situation (he’s not a center fielder but Murphy certainly can be), and
if Chicago added a pitcher like Sean Gallagher or Donald Veal or Jose
Ceda to its offer – a longshot but it’s the Rangers who have the
leverage here – Texas can capitalize on a great non-roster signing (and
another Rudy Jaramillo success story) from a year ago.

Typical day for Engel Beltre yesterday.  Leads off the game with a
no-doubt home run on the first pitch he saw, drops a drag bunt late in
the game that the Royals third baseman had to eat.

Watch out when Wilfredo Boscan and Kennil Gomez start to fill out.

I would have had a big smile on my face, too, if I were Scott Servais
having a conversation with Neftali Feliz, Wilmer Font, and Martin Perez
on the back fields yesterday.

It’s a scary thing whenever a prospect gets hurt, but in righthander
Michael Main’s case, the stress fracture in his rib cage is easier to
cope with considering (1) it’s not an arm injury, (2) he should be back
on the mound two months into the season, and (3) it’s likely that the
first-rounder was going to be held back in extended at the outset of
the season to keep his workload down anyway, much as lefthander Kasey
Kiker was last year, his first season in the system.

The St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association released infielder Matt Brunson.

Day off today for the big club, a welcome break for lots of people,
including the skipper, who certainly earned a day to regenerate after
managing to slap a ground ball to the last kid in camp he hadn’t done
so to yesterday.

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

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