THE NEWBERG REPORT — April 7, 2008

Texas is hitting .249 as a team.  The club is nearly the worst in the league in fielding percentage and defensive efficiency rating, neither of which fully accounts for costly plays unmade.  The schedule makers sent the Rangers on the road for the season’s first week, pitting them against the two teams that have earned every expert’s nod to win the West, the first of whom sent Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez to the mound.

And yet the club returns to Arlington, prepared to open the home half of the schedule, toting a 3-3 record.  All things considered, we ought to feel pretty good about that. 

Especially because the reason that Texas sits at .500 — winning two games big and playing the other four tight — is that the starting rotation has a 2.31 ERA (only Oakland and Seattle have better AL marks), twice as many strikeouts as walks, and only one non-quality start, which stands alone as best in baseball.  On average, the starters are getting midway into the seventh inning, a remarkable feat for the first week of the season (and in the Rangers’ case in recent years, noteworthy any time of the year).  Add the fact that four of the Rangers’ seven relievers to see game action have yet to be scored on (one of the other three, Joaquin Benoit, had what has to be the season’s filthiest inning of relief work in yesterday’s eighth), and it’s clear that the pitching is to credit for 3-3.

For what it’s worth, if it weren’t for one bad Jason Jennings pitch to Jose Lopez immediately after Jennings appeared to get squeezed on a two-out, two-strike pitch, Texas would probably have a quality start in every game.

Don’t forget to give some credit for the improved pitching results to the outfield, which will get some mention here every so often all season.  Those guys are getting good jumps and taking good paths, and the athleticism out there is as strong as it’s been in years.

The glass-half-full bunch, of which I’m an unabashed member, will suggest that Michael Young, Hank Blalock, Milton Bradley, Frank Catalanotto, Marlon Byrd, and Ben Broussard aren’t going to continue to hit .181 collectively, and that the infield is going to commit fewer miscues (especially once they all get past the flu).  The glass-half-emptiers will instead expect David Murphy and Kason Gabbard to come back to the pack.  All I know is that I’d rather have the veterans struggling a bit out of the gate and the young players on fire than the opposite.  It’s a better bet that the experienced players will pull themselves out of a slump.

Vladimir Guerrero went 3 for 12 in the weekend series, with three singles.  Sorry, run that by me again?

A thought for the pessimistic among you — should this thing go south by July, what we’ve seen so far from Vicente Padilla and Gerald Laird is what could make them more tradeable than either has been in a couple years, if not ever.  Broussard will need to pick his game up to get there as well, but three home runs in six games – before he even gets to Rangers Ballpark, where he’s a lifetime .509 slugger – is an interesting start.

Call me crazy:

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Murphy, whether he realizes it or not, looks like he’s smiling at the pitcher when he digs in for the pitch.  (Course, I would be too if I were hitting .352/.396/.552 as a Ranger.)

Some final observations from my day in New York City:

When the experts label a hotel as “four-star,” do they bother to leave the first floor?

The three hours I spent walking around Manhattan (as far north as 59th/Central Park, as far south as 25th, between Broadway and Lexington) on Saturday were really, really, really cool.

No exaggeration: in those three hours, I saw dozens of people, maybe hundreds, wearing Yankees caps.  Saw just one Mets cap.  One Red Sox cap.  Two Rangers caps.  And I wasn’t wearing one.

It’s almost impossible to believe how clean the streets are. 

They sure like to smoke there.

Some of the shops are barely bigger than a batter’s box.  Others are twice as long as a big league dugout, and no wider.

There are not only as many cabs on the streets as there are Starbucks in the Metroplex – there are as many Starbucks, too.

The shish kebab I had for lunch from one of those sidewalk carts was so good I wanted to curse.

So was the slice with the works at Famous Original Ray’s Pizza on Lexington.  Sort of cracked me up, too, that they were not only showing “American Gangster” on the joint’s elevated TV set (at 3:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon), but turned the volume up several times.  Graphic violence; graphic hypodermic drug use; graphic, um, intimate relations; F-bombs galore. 

It’s not the National Anthem, of course, that Ronan Tynan sings.  It’s “God Bless America.”

Alex Rodriguez isn’t featured nearly as prominently on all those two- or three-story billboards and LCD displays as David Wright, Derek Jeter, or Eli Manning.

Looking forward to going back.

Righthander Luis Mendoza threw 63 pitches during a simulated game on Wednesday, doing no damage to the blister on his right middle finger and putting him in line to make a rehab start for Oklahoma today.  Assuming he has no setbacks with his 75-85 pitches, he’ll start for Texas on Saturday against Toronto. 

Righthander Thomas Diamond, coming back from March 2007 Tommy John surgery, pitched two scoreless innings in an extended spring training game on Saturday.  He’s next slated to appear on Thursday, with plans to get three innings of work in.

Hope you’re keeping up with Scott Lucas’s minor league reports.  There were years not long ago when the daily farm report was basically checking in to see what Ian Kinsler did last night and hoping it was John Danks or Chris Young or Erik Thompson’s night to pitch.  These days are so much different.  Every morning’s report is a goodie bag full of a Marathon bar, a Shasta lemon-lime, a coupon from Bat Night to redeem at Minyard’s, those little wax bottles full of fruit punch, a couple Duncan Tournament yo-yo’s, a handful of packs of Donruss, a “Two-Minute Mysteries” book, and that elusive Randy Hughes football card from the set the Dallas Police used to hand out.  The minor league season is four days old, and already Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Scott Feldman, Doug Mathis, Evan Reed, Jarrod Salatalamacchia, Chris Davis, Taylor Teagarden, Elvis Andrus, Cristian Santana, and even Ian Gac have gotten off to buzzworthy starts.

Yes, righthander Fabio Castillo made his first appearance in relief for Clinton, rather than in rotation.  Doubt it’s anything more than an effort by the organization at this point to keep the inning count down for Castillo, who just turned 19 in February and has only 91.1 innings logged in his two pro seasons.

Check out Alex Eisenberg’s breakdown of Davis, including some video of his swing, on this page at Baseball Digest Daily:

Solid Reds debut for righthander Edinson Volquez, after a stellar spring.  He earned the win on Sunday after allowing one Phillies run on five hits and two walks in 5.1 innings, fanning eight and earning a standing ovation from the home crowd.

Seattle outfielder Brad Wilkerson is 1 for 15 with five strikeouts.

The Rangers, according to Baseball America, released righthanders Mark Alexander and Caleb Moore just as fast as they’d signed them.  Texas also signed righthander Victor Prieto (a 24-year-old from Venezuela who apparently hasn’t pitched since 2005) and catcher Justin Pickett (who spent the last two years in the San Diego system), as well as former Rangers first baseman Jason Hart, who I believe sat 2007 out.

Texas also signed journeyman lefthander Chris Michalak, whom Cincinnati had released toward the end of camp.  Michalak is working out of the Frisco bullpen.

The Yankees signed catcher Chris Stewart.  The Cubs signed righthander Andy Cavazos.  The Mets signed outfielder Michael Hernandez.  Seattle signed righthander Scott Shoemaker.

Less than two weeks after acquiring him from the Rangers, Toronto released first baseman Freddie Thon.

San Diego released outfielders Ramon Nivar and Nic Crosta.  Colorado released outfielder Ruddy Yan.  The Mets released infielder Enrique Cruz.  Washington released outfielders Juan Senreiso and Joe Napoli and righthander Sam Marsonek.  The Dodgers released righthander Alfredo Simon and lefthander Scott Rice.

Detroit placed righthander Francisco Cruceta on the restricted list due to visa issues and signed lefthander Aaron Fultz to a minor league deal.

St. Louis, needing a replacement for injured reliever Russ Springer, recalled righthander Kelvin Jimenez.

Catcher Kelley Gulledge, son of Chuck Morgan, hooked on with the Dodgers this spring and will play for their AA club in Jacksonville.

Astros AAA outfielder Nick Gorneault, who spent a month and a half on the Rangers’ roster over the winter, is hitting .538/.571/.846 through Round Rock’s first four games.  Small sample, yes, but he also hit .440/.481/.640 in 25 spring training at-bats for Houston.

Among Gorneault’s Express teammates is 29-year-old righthander Nick Regilio, who pitched for Texas in 2004 and 2005 but has been out of baseball since then.

Independent league signings: righthanders Ace Walker and Bear Bay (Winnipeg Goldeyes, Northern League); lefthander Ryan Cullen (Lancaster Barnstomers, Atlantic League); catcher Craig Hurba (Kansas City T-Bones, Northern League).

You’ve probably noticed that we upgraded the message board overnight.  Thanks to Don Titus and Ed Coffin for making that happen.

Day off today for Texas, then we finally get to break out the home whites tomorrow.  Leave early if you’re planning to be at Opening Day, not only because of expected traffic issues but also because the great Eric Nadel is being honored with the throwing out of the first pitch.

Based on what just about everyone else who has thrown the first Rangers pitch in a game has done this season, it’s probably not unfair to expect Nadel to bring it, at the knees, with late life, and go at least six.

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

1 Comment

I was wondering if anybody else had noticed David Murphy’s smile at-bat. Kind of an odd time to cheese it for the camera, but I enjoy it.

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