March 2008

McCARTHY UPDATE

According to local reports, today’s MRI on Brandon McCarthy’s right arm revealed severe inflammation and some fluid in the forearm but, fortunately, no ligament damage. No word yet on how long he’ll be sidelined.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 8, 2008

Not long after Josh Hamilton hospitalized a bases-loaded Chris Capuano pitch in the top of the third inning yesterday, righthander Brandon McCarthy strolled out to the visitors’ bullpen past which the Hamilton missile had soared. Within an hour McCarthy would become an even bigger Friday story for the Rangers than Hamilton was.

McCarthy worked what appeared to be an effective, if not tremendously efficient, bottom of the fourth, facing just four Brewers and retiring three of them. The final batter he faced, Gabe Gross, registered the third flyout of the inning, but when McCarthy snapped off his third curve of the day during the Gross at-bat, he felt a flare-up of the stiffness in his right forearm that had sidelined him from game action until yesterday. Texas decided not to send him back to the mound for the fifth, ending his day after 19 pitches rather than extending him to the planned 30.

And now the inescapable reality is that McCarthy’s availability for the start of the season is in question.

Starting pitching earns some general managers Executive of the Year hardware, and costs others their jobs, because as critical as it is to a team’s ultimate success, there’s not a more fragile resource in sports. Consider the following.

John Danks, Nick Masset, and Jake Rasner.

Edinson Volquez and Danny Ray Herrera.

An argument can be made that the two packages were fairly equivalent when Texas traded them away. That’s not to say that Danks and Volquez, or Masset and Herrera, are similar pitchers, or that they were even similar assets at the time of the trades that sent them to Chicago and Cincinnati. But from a value standpoint, same ballpark.

One package netted McCarthy, a 7-9, 4.39 major league pitcher full of promise but not yet the results to match (plus baby outfielder David Paisano). The other, Hamilton, who hit .292/.368/.554 with 17 doubles, 19 home runs, and 47 RBI in basically half a season of at-bats as a rookie — a player who had finally executed on the massive promise he’d very nearly thrown away.

That Texas would pay as high a price as it did to acquire the unproven McCarthy — and that the Reds would give up what they did in order to get Volquez — proves how costly starting pitching is, even as medically unpredictable as starting pitchers are.

There are risks with Hamilton, to be sure, as we’re constantly reminded by the media. But they’re no greater than the attendant risks associated with any starting pitcher — and yes, that includes Volquez and Danks and Masset — and McCarthy’s 15 months as a Ranger prove the rule.

“This is definitely something that is kind of depressing,” McCarthy told reporters yesterday, a sentiment every Rangers fan obviously shares.

Dr. Keith Meister, the Rangers team physician, travels to Surprise today to evaluate McCarthy’s right arm. Hold your breath.

Incidentally, that Hamilton home run I flashed yesterday and led this report off with? Someone who was at the game, and the previous day’s, said if Hamilton’s traveled 75,000 feet, as I suggested, then the shot Chris Davis hit on Thursday went 75,100.

After a disappointing Reds debut, Volquez bounced back with a better effort on Wednesday, blanking Boston on four hits and a walk in 2.1 innings, and punching out four.

Righthanders Kevin Millwood and Joaquin Benoit will pitch a simulated game on Monday, a preliminary step before getting both back into game action. C.J. Wilson is throwing but probably won’t be cleared to participate in Monday’s simulated game.

The Rangers continue to keep an eye on righthander Sidney Ponson’s workouts. They’re joined by St. Louis, Arizona, Seattle, Houston, and Kansas City, at least, but to be clear, the Rangers’ interest is strictly for AAA depth. Ponson reportedly worked at 93-94 mph, offered a slider touching 88, and featured a frame carrying 20 fewer pounds than it did two years ago.

Hank Blalock is slated to DH today, his first action since February 28.

Minor league workouts officially kicked off yesterday, but they’ve been unofficially underway for weeks.

The Sioux Falls Canaries of the independent American Association released infielder Cameron Coughlan. The Laredo Broncos of the independent United League placed outfielder Orlando Cruz and first baseman Hector Lebron on the suspended list.

Asked to rank the farm systems on pitching prospects alone, Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis pegged Texas at number four, behind Tampa Bay, the Yankees, and Baltimore. Said Callis: “Eric Hurley will pitch in the majors this year, and Matt Harrison may join him, but the strength of the Texas system is very young arms. Neftali Feliz, Michael Main, Blake Beavan, Neil Ramirez, Fabio Castillo, Tommy Hunter and Wilmer Font have yet to reach full-season ball, while Kasey Kiker has advanced to low Class A and Omar Poveda has made five starts in high Class A.”

If the trade of a 21-year-old pitcher, a 24-year-old pitcher, and a 20-year-old pitcher for the 23-year-old Brandon McCarthy isn’t all the evidence you need that building pitching depth on the farm — quality in quantity — is hugely critical, then the fact that McCarthy, who had no health issues with the White Sox, has had multiple physical setbacks in his year-plus with Texas ought to.

I’m certainly not writing McCarthy off. I wouldn’t even rule out the possibility that he makes 30 starts this year. If that happens, we’ll all look back and commend Mark Connor for making the decision not to send him back out for a second inning of work yesterday.

But as much as starting pitchers cost, in cash and in trade assets, I look forward to the time when that army of young hurlers kicks open the door, with more behind them, providing the Rangers with enough high-ceiling, big league-ready candidates to offset the loss of those who will have had their own physical setbacks along the way.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 7, 2008

This guy just hit a grand slam to dead right, distance about 75,000 feet. 

Off lefthander Chris Capuano.   

Hamilton

Rangers up, 6-0.

Now get back to work.

– Jamey

 

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 7, 2008

With the city paralyzed by this apocalyptic wintry blast, I’ve decided I’d better not type too much this morning, for fear of spinning out. I’m debating whether to even get out of this chair and risk walking across the house.

So for now, a Newberg Report shout-out to all those in the Metroplex who dare to brave these mid-30s temperatures and virtually clear roads. If you’re quarantined and have a few minutes, pop over to http://tinyurl.com/2fhye6 — where we got a little mention in today’s Wall Street Journal.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 5, 2008

If your mind worked in numbers when you were a kid, your baseball cards probably helped you learn that batting averages like .182 and .273 and .364 are what you often get when your at-bat total is a multiple of 11.

But .636?

Josh Hamilton’s unconscious spring as a Rule 5 pick a year ago (.403/.457/.556 in a Reds-leading 72 at-bats) secured a roster spot that he turned into one of baseball’s best stories in 2007. In his first 11 trips to the plate as a Ranger, Hamilton sits at .636/.636/1.000 with hits in each of his four games, including three of his seven hits going for extra bases. Last spring, he had just seven extra-base hits among his 29 hits.

I ask this again, not as a Rangers homer but objectively: given the frenzied center field market this winter ($90 million and a surrendered first-round pick for Torii Hunter, $60 million and a forfeited second for Aaron Rowand, $36 million over two years for Andruw Jones), why didn’t someone offer more than Edinson Volquez for Hamilton?

If you’re effectively persuasive you can sell me on the idea that Cincinnati, with Jay Bruce apparently ready to play and figuring it could sell high on Hamilton a year after spending just $50,000 to acquire him, and recognizing the health risks theoretically associated with Hamilton, made a defensible decision to trade the 26-year-old. But you can’t convince me that none of the other 28 teams, particularly those who were in on Hunter or Rowand or Jones and even those who weren’t, could afford to outbid Texas in trading for him.

The Reds, incidentally, signed Corey Patterson and Jerry Hairston Jr. to minor league deals this week. Patterson will evidently compete with Ryan Freel and Norris Hopper to caddy Bruce (if not secure the starting job in the event that Cincinnati decides Bruce needs a little more farm seasoning).

Kevin Millwood will pitch a two-inning simulated game this morning, facing German Duran, Brandon Boggs, Julio Borbon, John Mayberry Jr., and Max Ramirez. If all goes well, Millwood could start on Monday.

Borbon’s pro debut in August against a bunch of 21-year-olds in Spokane and a handful of teenagers in the Arizona League: 7 for 37 (.189/.250/.216), including one double. Borbon’s work so far in big league camp, against pitchers who have earned the opportunity to compete for major league jobs: 3 for 6 (.500/.500/1.000), including a grand slam and a two-run single.

How great would it be if Borbon can become this franchise’s Jacoby Ellsbury?

Nolan Ryan spent some time with Brandon McCarthy during the latter’s bullpen session yesterday, offering some tips on McCarthy’s curve ball. The younger righthander is on schedule to start on Friday.

The first Rangers pitcher to go three innings this spring? Surely you guessed it would be Eric Hurley. The 22-year-old held Arizona scoreless yesterday, yielding just a single and registering three strikeouts and no walks with command of a good fastball and improving breaking ball.

Nobody has mentioned reliever Franklyn German’s name, but in three spring appearances the big righthander has put up three scoreless innings, permitting three hits, walking nobody, and punching out five.

Milton Bradley could see his first action, most likely at designated hitter, next week.

Hank Blalock was scratched from Monday’s game due to mild soreness in the back of his right shoulder, and later that day he and his wife and three-year-old son were involved in a car accident, when their SUV was rear-ended at a stop sign by a car that was reportedly traveling at 40 mph (and was totaled). Blalock’s neck is reportedly a little stiff and sore, but he expects to be back in action soon. Misty and Trey are OK, too. Fortunately, the Blalocks’ six-month-old son was back at their Arizona residence with their nanny.

Sad thing, that Noah Lowry effort against Texas on Monday (nine walks in 12 batters, three pitches to the screen, four strikes in his first 40 pitches). No Rangers hitter even swung until his 25th pitch. The lefthander insists there’s no mental or psychological issues; he’s fighting through tendinitis in his wrist.

Baseball America reports that Texas has loaned righthander Francisco Cordova and third baseman Jaime Trejo to the Mexican League. The Rangers drafted Cordova (AA phase) and Trejo (AAA phase) in the minor league portion of December’s Rule 5 Draft. Each played for the Quintana Roo Tigers in Mexico in 2007.

Detroit righthander Francisco Cruceta remains stuck in the Dominican Republic due to visa problems, and the Tigers are saying they have no idea when to expect him.

The Winnipeg Goldeyes of the independent Northern League signed outfielder Tydus Meadows.

I really dig the Rangers’ new TV spots. Best ad campaign they’ve come up with in years.

According to the Associated Press, Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. have turned down an $800 million offer to purchase Liverpool FC made by Dubai International Capital (whom Hicks and Gillett outbid a year ago when they bought the club for $431 million), and now Hicks is reportedly making a bid to buy all or part of Gillett’s 50 percent share of the club. The story says Hicks and Gillett each have the power to block the other from selling his share.

MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo’s book, “Facing Clemens: Hitters on Confronting Baseball’s Most Intimidating Pitcher,” is now available at http://www.jonathanmayo.net/. Mayo interviews dozens of big league hitters on their approach when stepping in against Clemens, who wrote the book’s foreword.

According to Jim Reeves of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, former Rangers communications director Gregg Elkin is the new vice president of communications with the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer.

Noteworthy from White Sox camp: in two starts, John Danks has allowed three runs (one earned: 1.80 ERA) on five hits and a walk in five innings; in a start against Arizona, Nick Masset (who is out of options and came to camp having lost 25 pounds) fired three scoreless innings, scattering three hits and a walk while fanning one; and non-roster invite Jason Bourgeois, battling for a utility infield spot, is 7 for 13 (.538/.600/.769) with three doubles, three RBI, and five runs scored.

Speaking of the White Sox, and former Rangers, Gabe Kapler made his Rangers debut on April 3, 2000, having arrived over the winter from Detroit in the Juan Gonzalez trade. In that game, which was the opener for Texas and Chicago, Kapler made a huge splash, blasting two home runs, adding a single, driving in three runs and scoring three times in the Rangers’ 10-4 win.

We all know that Kapler’s career never lived up to the promise of his Rangers debut, and what we should take from the lesson of April 3, 2000 is that we ought to tap the brakes on Josh Hamilton’s 7 for 11 start as a Ranger.

Nah. Never mind. Floor it.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 3, 2008

When I was a kid, probably closer to Erica’s age than Max’s, Nolan Ryan and Paul Molitor were on a short list of players who made me want to be a baseball player myself.

Checking this morning, I learned that Ryan and Molitor each had the best age-39 seasons in the history of the game in several categories.

Hope I’m never too old to look to the Great Game for inspiration.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 1, 2008

The Newberg Report’s number one Rangers prospect stepped up to the plate in the top of the third this afternoon, with Jason Botts measuring his lead off of third base and Jarrod Saltalamacchia off of second. As Chris Davis settled in against righthander Matt Peterson, with John Mayberry Jr. waiting on deck, maybe Jon Daniels sat in the stands imagining what things might look like in Arlington in a couple years. Maybe it crossed the minds of Eric Nadel and Victor Rojas in the booth. Or yours, as you listened at home.

Ron Washington, whose job it is to win today, tomorrow, and the next day, was probably thinking about how any number of those four guys – who together look as much like an NFL defensive line as they do four hitters who have each been considered at some point as a possible factor at first base – could help him do that in 2008, if not in one month.

When Davis turned a Peterson pitch around, going opposite field atomically and clearing the fence to open up a 5-1 Rangers lead, as he trotted home in the direction of an awaiting Botts and Saltalamacchia and Mayberry, not to mention Daniels sitting near the first base dugout, and Washington just in front of it, the look on his face was that of a man who had simply done his job. But you can bet that inside, even if disguised by his calm exterior, Chris Davis, the Longview native and childhood Rangers fan who just two years ago was hitting junior college pitching in Corsicana, was screaming “KICK ***” . . . .

And I’m guessing Daniels was too, and so was Washington, maybe even as much as a lot of us were.

Chris_davis_1

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The future’s getting enticingly closer.

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 1, 2008

Josh Hamilton made his Rangers debut on Wednesday and played again on Thursday, going 3 for 6 with a double and triple in the two games, driving in three runs.

He sat out on Friday, which incidentally is when Edinson Volquez debuted for Cincinnati 2,200 miles away, getting the assignment to pitch the third and fourth innings in Sarasota against Tampa Bay, a club he’s never faced (and whom he won’t face when it counts in 2008 unless the Reds and Rays hook up in the World Series). He retired his first five batters but, one out away from finishing his day perfectly, he failed to get any of the next four Rays out, drilling Jonny Gomes, serving up an Evan Longoria double, walking Jason Bartlett, and yielding a Shawn Riggans single, which prompted manager Dusty Baker to come get the ball.

Volquez was charged with three runs in his inning and two thirds. Does the effort (or the fact that he wasn’t assigned the start) put him behind in the race for a Reds rotation spot, when competitors Matt Belisle (two scoreless innings), Homer Bailey (two scoreless innings), Josh Fogg (two scoreless innings), and Jeremy Affeldt (two innings, one run) have gotten off to better starts?

Not really, and this whole discussion is sort of gratuitous, of course, a mere three days into exhibition play.

As a Rangers fan, it’s premature to get too amped up about the very early results of the trade.

But you can bet there are Reds fans who caught wind of Hamilton’s opposite-field double off the wall on Wednesday and triple down the right field line on Thursday and, after Volquez’s red zone meltdown yesterday, are making too much of what’s happened so far, particularly since Volquez appears to have a job to win, rather than one to lose.

And make no mistake: I’m not at all suggesting you shouldn’t be excited about Hamilton. I can’t remember the last Rangers acquisition I was this pumped about. It was probably Alex Rodriguez (2000), and Julio Franco (1988) before that.

Still, don’t run around the neighborhood soliciting Edinson Volquez high fives just yet. Not unless you’re the type who draws conclusions when Cardinals outfielder Juan Gonzalez goes deep on the first pitch he sees from Mets lefthander Johan Santana — in February.

As good as Hamilton and Ian Kinsler — who is looking more and more like the everyday answer atop the lineup, rather than only against lefthanders — have looked in the top two slots in the order, between Kinsler’s ability to pile up doubles and get into scoring position with his feet if he merely singles or walks, and Hamilton’s and Michael Young’s ability to do all kinds of things with the bat behind him, it’s probably not a bad bet to expect a healthy Kinsler could threaten to score at least 115 times, which would give him one of the top 10 run-scoring seasons in franchise history.

T.R. Sullivan has been around long enough that it’s safe to say he didn’t mistype his note that Rudy Jaramillo insists Hamilton has more power than Gonzalez or Sammy Sosa.

Lefthanders Matt Harrison and C.J. Wilson were impressive yesterday.

Kevin Millwood (sore right hamstring), Brandon McCarthy (tender right forearm), and Joaquin Benoit (bruised velocity) have each resumed throwing to some degree and are all slated to throw bullpens tomorrow.

Head to Scott Lucas’s blog for what has to be one of the first three or four articles that have ever discussed Jason Botts, Nelson Cruz, and binomial probability distributions all in one place.

It’s cool stuff.

Righthander Jesse Ingram told Jason Cole of LoneStarDugout.com that he’s retiring. The 25-year-old, a three-time Pac-10 All-Academic honoree from Berkeley, saved 26 games in 27 chances for Frisco in 2007 and held the Texas League to an anemic .191/.288/.373 line. His unspectacular 4.21 ERA obscured the fact that it was 2.10 in the second half. The Rangers’ 36th-round pick in 2004, he finishes his four-year pro career with a 16-6, 3.77 record and 46 saves, fanning 240 hitters in 179.2 innings.

The Lincoln SaltDogs of the independent American Association traded righthander Kyle Ruwe to the Sussex SkyHawks of the independent Can-Am League for righthander Ryan Dittfurth.

The Yankees’ short-season club at Staten Island added Vic Valencia to its coaching staff.

Eric Nadel kicked off his 30th year in the Rangers booth with yesterday’s radio broadcast. Eric and Victor Rojas are back on the air today at 2:05 (KRLD 1080 AM) and tomorrow at the same time, as the Rangers play a (literal) home-and-home against Trey Hillman’s Royals. Today’s lineup includes Botts, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Chris Davis, and Elvis Andrus, and among the just-in-cases are righthanders Omar Poveda and Tommy Hunter.

This one’s going to be fun. Settle in for a little healthy, acceptable overreaction.

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

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