April 2008

THE NEWBERG REPORT — April 15, 2008

It’s been less
than a year, but at this point the Rangers wouldn’t ask for a do-over on any of
the pitchers they drafted on Day One of last June’s draft and signed:

1 (17). Blake
Beavan, RHP, Irving
High School (area scout:
Jay Eddings)

1 (24).
Michael Main, RHP, DeLand High School (Fla.)
(area scout: Guy DeMutis)

1 Supp. (44).
Neil Ramirez, RHP, Kempsville High School (Va.)
(area scout: Russ Ardolina)

1 Supp. (54).
Tommy Hunter, RHP, Univ.
of Alabama (area scout:
Jeff Wood)

3. Evan Reed
(110), RHP, Cal Poly (area scout: Todd Guggiana)

One year ago
today, Reed, the least heralded of the group, pitched the ninth inning of a
12-0 Cal Poly win over UC Irvine.  Yesterday, Reed was summoned from Clinton to make an emergency start for Frisco in the back
end of a doubleheader, and all he did was shut Arkansas out on four hits and no walks over
five innings, fanning three.  That followed the six scoreless innings he
fired for the LumberKings on April 5, a game in which he scattered four Cedar Rapids hits,
walking two and setting six down on strikes.  That followed the 1-1, 1.91
record he posted last summer between Spokane and Clinton, yielding only 18 hits
and 16 walks in 37.2 innings, punching out 34.

Reed hasn’t
allowed a home run in two years.  Nobody took him deep in 42.1 innings
during his final season at Cal Poly, and Reed hasn’t watched anyone circle the
bases as a professional.

One year ago
today, Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s AA Mississippi Braves had the day off.  He
was hitting .333/.471/.778 and was two weeks away from an eye-opening promotion
at age 21 to Atlanta.

One year ago
today, Elvis Andrus’s Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans were rained out, giving the
18-year-old shortstop a day off from his relatively sluggish .257/.333/.371
start (which would plummet to .196/.281/.275 before moving in the right
direction). 

One year ago
today, Max Ramirez’s Class A Kinston Indians were washed out as well, giving
the catcher a break from a punchless .296/.424/.333 start that included one
extra base hit in 27 at-bats.

Today, they
are no longer Braves or Indians property, instead kicking tail in the Rangers
system and making noise that they might need a new challenge. 
Saltalamacchia is tearing Pacific Coast League pitching up, hitting
.364/.447/.667.  At Frisco, Andrus has hits in 10 of the first 11 AA games
of his career and sports a .326/.380/.391 line.  His Frisco teammate
Ramirez sits at .263/.391/.579, finding himself in the top 10 in the Texas
League in total bases and OPS.

And both
Andrus and Ramirez are bowing down to Chris Davis, back from a two-day absence
with a sore wrist and hitting .353/.371/.647 for the RoughRiders.  A year
ago today, he sat at .257/.317/.657 for High A Bakersfield.

It’s hard to
predict where Reed will be one year from today, not to mention Beavan, Main, Neil Ramirez, or Hunter. 

I have a
pretty good idea what uniform Saltalamacchia will be wearing one year from
today.  But I won’t even begin to guess where Andrus, Max Ramirez, and
Davis could be. 

 

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — April 14, 2008

My softball team lost twice Sunday morning, first by two
runs and then by one run.  We were awful
defensively, and incredibly unopportunistic with runners in scoring
position.  We got jobbed in a big way by
the umpires at a critical point in Game Two, but when you play the way we did,
you sort of make your luck, and we deserved to get beat.

I had a good day at the plate in the doubleheader (8 for
8), but was in a terrible mood heading away from the complex.  I’d rather go 0 for 5 with two errors and win
than play well and lose, even in something as inconsequential as a weekend
softball league.  I’d rather second-chair
a trial win than get to run the show but earn a disappointing result.  I hate losing.  Hate it. 
No matter how satisfied or frustrated I am about how I play is secondary
to how my team comes out.

The worst part about yesterday morning, worse than the
10-8 and 9-8 final scores, was how we lost. 
The failure to catch and throw well, the squandered opportunities on
offense. 

And the games I play don’t mean a thing.  Can’t imagine how JD and Wash and the 27 guys who have suited up to
play these first 12 for the Rangers must feel.

The 26th and 27th players to appear, Luis Mendoza and
Scott Feldman, did their jobs.  Mendoza came out of
Saturday’s start with a 1.80 ERA, while Feldman threw a quality start on
Sunday.

The Rangers’ starters, in fact, have seven quality starts
in 12 games (their five non-quality starts are matched in the American League only
by the Twins), and a 3.19 ERA, which is three-hundredths of a run off the
league lead.  And yet no Texas starter has more
than one win.

No American League team has a lower fielding percentage
than the .973 mark owned by Texas,
or a lower defensive efficiency rating (.6864), or more errors (13), or more
unearned runs (11).

No American or National League team hits worse than the
Rangers’ .184 with runners in scoring position, or their .192 with runners on
base.

This time last year, Texas was 5-7, in fourth place in the West,
two games back.

Today, Texas
is 5-7, in fourth place in the West, 2.5 games back.

But for some reason, even though there are some symptoms
in common (particularly the defensive problems), things don’t feel as dire in
2008.  And I think the reason is pretty
obvious — that 3.19 starters’ ERA. 
Granted, it’s not going to remain that low, but the situational hitting
won’t remain as bad as it’s been either, and the defense will continue to get
better.  Good things start with good starting
pitching, and if you’re clicking in just one phase, from a long-term standpoint
you’d want it to be your rotation stepping up.

There’s no bigger proponent than I am of the idea that
the big picture is what’s important here. 
It’s about building a contender, a team that is positioned to compete at
the top not for a string of weeks but for a string of years, even if that
advent isn’t likely to arrive for another season or two.  It’s less about this series, or this
homestand, or this month, or this season.

But, for me, it’s still about tonight, if that makes
sense.

I can’t do anything about how I’m wired.

 

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

Guardado to the DL, Mendoza recalled

According to multiple local reports, the Rangers have placed
lefthander Eddie Guardado (shoulder soreness) on the 15-day disabled list, making
room on the active roster for tonight’s starter, righthander Luis Mendoza.  The Guardado move is retroactive to April 5.

Meanwhile, Boston
designated righthander Bryan Corey for assignment last night, after he’d posted
a 14.54 ERA in six relief appearances.  Corey
is the 34-year-old journeyman for whom the Red Sox quietly traded Mendoza to
Texas two summers ago, days after the Rangers had designated Corey for assignment
themselves.

The Rangers will make another roster
subtraction tomorrow in order to recall righthander Scott Feldman from Frisco for
the Sunday afternoon start.

  

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

THE NEWBERG REPORT — April 11, 2008

It was a banner day for a bunch of people, from Ron
Washington (sporting a winning record as a manager for the first time) to Chuck
Morgan (game 2000) to Kevin Millwood (third great start, first win) to Marlon Byrd
(whose batting average changed for the first time this year and who made a spectacular
throw to third to cut down Adam Jones trying to take an extra base in Game Two)
to C.J. Wilson (tripling his save total in the span of 18 pitches) to Ian
Kinsler and Michael Young (who came up big in key spots in both games, at the
plate and on the bases and in the field).

But what also stood out for me was that Josh Hamilton, who
does almost nothing quietly, was quietly instrumental in both ends of the
Thursday sweep.

In the Rangers’ 3-1 win in Game One, Hamilton plated Young
(who had reached on an error) on an opposite field double in the first inning
and then greeted left-handed reliever Jamie Walker with a workmanlike,
eight-pitch at-bat in the seventh that culminated with a sacrifice fly to right,
again scoring Young (who had stolen second and taken third on the catcher’s
throwing error, and then scored with a masterful slide).  Having never faced Walker, one of the most
reliable southpaw relievers in the game, Hamilton
watched the first five pitches, running the count full, before fouling the next
two off and then delivering the sac fly. 

Hamilton
never got the ball out of the infield in Game Two, going 0 for 5.  But he was responsible for two runs (in a
one-run victory) that no box score or trendy new statistical formula will credit.  Tied at 1-1 in the third, Kinsler and Young
each drew walks off Orioles starter Adam Loewen, bringing Hamilton to the plate.  Having never faced the big lefty, Hamilton let two pitches go
by, a strike and a ball, before striking what appeared to be a tailor-made double
play ground ball to second base.  Brian
Roberts fielded it cleanly, fed it to shortstop Luis Hernandez cleanly, and
Hernandez turned it cleanly, firing to first baseman Aubrey Huff. 

But the 6’4″, 235 Hamilton shot out of the box and tore down
the line, beating the Hernandez throw, and as routine as the grounder looked,
the play at first wasn’t really even that close. 

It hardly seemed consequential at the time, but moments
later Hamilton would score (easily) behind Young
on a Milton Bradley double to left center, giving Texas a run that it wouldn’t have had if he
hadn’t legged out the fielder’s choice.  Then,
after Hank Blalock lined out to left, Byrd walked and David Murphy singled
Bradley home, extending the Rangers’ lead to 4-1.  If Hamilton
hadn’t thwarted the double play in his at-bat, the Blalock line-out ends that
inning.  Instead, Texas tacks on one more
run, making it two scores that Hamilton’s play enabled in what would be a
one-run victory.

The twinbill means that Texas will need to use a sixth
starter on Monday, and since chances are that Josh Rupe will be optioned to Oklahoma
on Saturday so that Luis Mendoza can be activated to start that night, it’s
likely that Jamey Wright will get the Monday assignment — unless Texas chooses
to dip down and recall lefthander A.J. Murray, who was sensational on Wednesday
(six innings, one run on two hits and no walks, five strikeouts, an economical
60 pitches) and would be slated to pitch on Monday anyway.

Something to keep in mind as far as Robinson Tejeda is
concerned: While Texas was able to get him through waivers this week and
outright his contract to AAA, it now gets tougher to hang onto him.  If he pitches well out of the Oklahoma bullpen and is brought back to Texas during the 2008 season, he’ll basically
be on his last run with the Rangers.  If Texas
were to drop him from the roster thereafter, as the club did in March, he’ll either
get claimed (or traded) or, if he makes it through waivers again, he’ll have
the right to decline an outright assignment at that point and take immediate free
agency (players can’t refuse an initial outright but can turn down any
subsequent outrights).

If, on the other hand, Tejeda is not added to the roster
between now and October, he’ll have the ability to leave via minor league free
agency after the season. 

The Mets had been rumored since the end of camp to be
interested to some degree in Tejeda, but instead they signed righthander
Claudio Vargas yesterday to a minor league deal.  Perhaps the key factor was that New York can get Vargas
a couple starts on the farm before throwing him onto the big league mound, something
the club could not do with Tejeda, who, since he’s out of options, would somehow
need to be stretched out on the big league level before settling back into a
rotation role.

The Commissioner’s Office suspended promising Atlanta center field
prospect Jordan Schafer 50 games for violating baseball’s minor league drug
program.  You might recall that, according
to Baseball America,
the Rangers had the choice between Elvis Andrus and Schafer in the Mark
Teixeira trade (though Baseball Prospectus suggested the Braves refused to make
Schafer available). 

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is hitting .333/.417/.571 with
eight RBI in six RedHawks games.  Andrus sits
at .345/.367/.414, has hits in all six Frisco games in which he’s played, and
has yet to commit an error.

First baseman Jim Fasano (Kansas City T-Bones) and lefthander
Broc Coffman (Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks) have joined the independent Northern League.  The Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic
League signed lefthander Scott Rice.

Toronto
purchased the contract of lefthander Jesse Carlson, who made his big league debut
last night.

Buck Showalter returns to Baseball Tonight on Monday.

Arizona
lefthander Doug Davis earned a win against the Dodgers on Tuesday, and had his cancerous
thyroid gland surgically removed yesterday. 
Holding good thoughts.

It’s never all that useful to make too much of anything
that happens on the field in April, but you might recall the stretch that Texas
had early in 2004 when the club won 5 of 6 against Anaheim and Seattle, took 2
of 3 from Kansas City, and then swept Boston at home, starting with a high-intensity
doubleheader on May 1 that featured two Francisco Cordero saves.  A week later the Rangers overcame a 10-run
deficit to beat Detroit,
16-15, in 10 innings. 

While that string of games, during which Texas was
jockeying with Oakland and Anaheim at the top of the division, wasn’t necessarily
the key stretch in the club’s surprising 89-win season, it felt at the time like
it set a tone, like there was something different going on. 

Young and Blalock were key cogs on that 2004 team, and
Gerald Laird and Joaquin Benoit were around, too.  But that’s it.  Kinsler was in the midst of his breakthrough
season at Clinton and Frisco.  Washington was coaching
for the A’s. 

Morgan was here in 2004, as he has been every year but
one since 1983.  Millwood was in his
eighth and final National League season. 
Byrd, Millwood’s Phillies teammate, was in the midst of a hugely disappointing
sophomore season that followed a 2003 run at Rookie of the Year.  Wilson
was shut down for all of 2004, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery in Surprise
and nowhere near the radar.

Wilson
was light years closer to the radar, though, than Hamilton, who was serving a year-long
league suspension and in the middle of a three-year absence from the game.

There aren’t many people in Rangers uniforms who can use
May 1, 2004 as a rallying point for 2008, and it would be premature and foolish
for us as fans to make too big a deal of last night’s results. 

But sweeping a pair in one night feels like more than
just two wins, at least for me, and even if it was a big night for different
reasons for a manager and a P.A. man, an ace and a struggling outfielder, a
closer and the team’s two leaders, and a freak of nature who can beat you in a hundred
ways, if this team can use 3-1 and 5-4 to jumpstart a good-looking run over the
next few weeks, there might be something admittedly intangible that we’ll be
able to look back and credit April 10 for.

 

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

In Their Footsteps: The long reliever

Nobody wants to be the long man.

Almost by definition, it’s the last spot on the pitching staff.  It’s the pitcher who may go eight days between appearances.  Who often pitches when the starter has been chased early and the game has gotten out of hand, or when the team has a huge lead (or huge deficit) late and doesn’t want to send a reliever out who might be needed the next day in a critical spot. 

Sometimes it’s a rookie whose upside as a starter may be perceived as relatively limited and therefore the organization isn’t concerned with the sporadic work, at least not as much as it would be if the pitcher were a top prospect.   Other times it might be the former top prospect getting what could be a last shot at holding down a big league job.

There are those rare instances, however, in which the last man on the staff is the equivalent of the utility player on the bench, a pitcher capable of filling different roles effectively, giving the manager – and the general manager – flexibility during the game, and with the roster.

Danny Darwin was that man in 1980, his first full season in the major leagues.

Signed by Texas as an undrafted free agent out of Grayson County Junior College in 1976, Darwin staged a meteoric rise through the Rangers system, reaching Arlington in 1978.  He split the 1979 season between AAA and Texas, and in 1980, at age 24, he was in the big leagues for good, even if his job description wasn’t as sharply defined as his staffmates’ roles were.

Darwin started two games (contributing quality starts both times).  He appeared in relief 51 times, logging at least three innings 10 different times (including three outings that lasted at least five frames).  He had 14 opportunities to save games, converting eight of them, but he also entered the game five different times in the third inning.  All told, the Bonham Bullet went 13-4, 2.63, striking out 104 American Leaguers in 109.2 innings and yielding only four home runs.  He was versatile, resilient, and an invaluable member of manager Frank Lucchesi’s staff.

“Danny always wanted to pitch,” recalls Eric Nadel, the longtime radio voice of the Rangers who was in his second year with the club in 1980.  “He wanted the ball all the time, whether it was as a reliever or a starter.  And he was unbelievably tough, rock solid physically and mentally.”

Darwin’s toughness was never more evident than in June of that season.  Having started the season in the bullpen, he was moved in the rotation late in May when Steve Comer was sidelined with a sore shoulder.  Three days after his second start, Darwin fractured a knuckle on his throwing hand when coming to the defense of teammate Mickey Rivers in a brawl with White Sox fans after a doubleheader in Chicago.  Three weeks later he was back on the mound, once again working in relief.  

Pitching in every imaginable role that season, Darwin logged 94.2 of his 109.2 innings in relief, an especially formidable number in those days, when starting pitchers regularly went deeper into games.  Texas starters average 6.1 innings in 1980.  

Darwin exemplified what you’d want out of your long man if you could draw it up.  Though just 24, he was effective regardless of whether you needed a save, an emergency start, or six innings of rescue work when a teammate didn’t have it on the mound that day.

But Darwin’s success as a long man led to a 21-year career that for the most part was in higher-leverage situations.  He made 371 big league starts, and of his 345 relief appearances, the vast majority came in the final third of the game, including 57 save opportunities.  The long relief role is generally a young pitcher’s stepping stone to something more pivotal, as in Darwin’s case, or else a landing place for an older pitcher who didn’t quite make himself indispensable as a starter or late reliever.

So how do you project a prospect into that role?  By suggesting a young pitcher is suited to be the final man on a pitching staff, isn’t that essentially lowering his ceiling?  

Not necessarily – not if the idea is that a pitcher can break into the big leagues that way, building stamina by way of long relief appearances, if not a spot start or a save opportunity from time to time.  Darwin did it.  So did Johan Santana, in his Rule 5 season with Minnesota.  And Dave Stewart and Storm Davis and Scott McGregor.

I’m not about to sentence Oklahoma righthander Doug Mathis or Frisco righthander Michael Schlact to a career as a long reliever.  Both are on paths that could make them reliable inning-eaters in the middle or back of the big league rotation.  But they offer some things that could work well in long relief.  Both are groundball machines, a style that helps keep pitch counts down and inning counts up.  And when I look at Nadel’s description of Darwin – “unbelievably tough, rock solid physically and mentally” – that’s an equally perfect portrayal of Mathis and Schlact.  Bakersfield Tommy Hunter potentially fits the profile, too.

Santana is the premier starter in baseball today.  Stewart and Davis and McGregor had very good careers as starting pitchers, and Darwin did, too.  Each had at least one 15-win season.  But before doing so, each of them worked out of the back of a big league bullpen, which isn’t necessarily a condemnation.  It can be a launching point for the pitcher, while potentially giving the club a flexible, dependable arm that can impact games in any number of ways.

Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com.  A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger.  He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com.  This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tejeda clears

Pleased
(and a bit surprised) to report that RHP Robinson Tejeda has apparently gone
through waivers unclaimed.  Texas
has outrighted him to AAA.

 

THE NEWBERG REPORT — April 8, 2008: Game Seven

Jack Morris.  Joaquin
Andujar.  Johnny Damon. 

Bill Mazeroski. 
Enos Slaughter.

Willis Reed.  Bill Russell. 

Mark Messier.

Let’s face it.  There’s
nothing in sports like a Game Seven.

Have fun today.

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

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:

meatloaf.jpg

 

broussard.jpg

 

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.

My trip to Yankee Stadium.

The New York City forecast called for an 80 percent chance of rain, but even Mario Mendoza hit four home runs in the big leagues, and so you can never bet against the 20 percent.  My first and probably only visit to original Yankee Stadium was perfect: completely dry, a balmy 48 degrees, and the Yanks got absolutely pounded.

The trip got off to a frustrating start, as the captain of our flight begged off shortly before departure due to a case of “blocked ears.”  We were delayed by about two hours, effectively costing us a chance to visit Monument Park and take in BP.  

We arrived at about 30 minutes before the first pitch, time enough for me to stand in a 30-deep line to get a Carl’s Cheesesteak (provolone, grilled onions, sweet peppers).  Best sandwich I’ve ever had.  Ever.

Then the game began (stamping away my disappointment that Ronan Tynan doesn’t perform the Anthem every night).  It was a stunning affair, featuring a Rays club that, with the exception of a 15-minute stretch in the third inning, dominated in every phase.  

Observations:

1. Took the D train to the game.  I bet 60 percent of the folks on the subway were asleep, and not just the ones on the back end of their Friday commute.

 
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[Hope you’ll forgive the goofy photo formatting.  Still trying to figure out the new MLBlogs setup.]

2. The stadium blew me away — because of how raw and stripped down everything is.  It’s cold, colorless, dank.  Not very clean.  The concession areas look like the State Fair if it stayed open until 3 a.m.  There’s very little music played as part of the game presentation.  The video elements look like something you’d see if you tuned into a 1978 Yankees-Royals game on ESPN Classic, the scoreboard font a weak, sickly yellow that might have been created on a TRS-80.  Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco is exponentially more well appointed.

3. Everywhere you turned: fathers and sons, granddads and fathers and sons, groups of four or six buddies from college or work or the bowling league.  Very few women.  I bet the female count was about five percent, and just about every woman there was wearing a Yankees jersey.  I think I saw one who wasn’t sporting the pinstriped flannels — she had on a Yankees hoodie instead.  Another was bragging about her fantasy league team.

4. Two balls, two strikes, two outs in the top of the first, and the crowd surged into a roar to spur on starter Ian Kennedy with the type of passion you’d expect to hear if your team had just gunned a runner out at the plate.  Impressive.

And the crowd reaction after a big play?  A really cool, unified, “Yarrrrr!!!” that you might hear from William Wallace’s men as they mount a charge.

5. However, it’s not only in Texas that a routine fly in the bottom of an inning elicits a collective scream and leap from the seats by the crowd.  Yankee fans misjudge fly balls, too.

6. One beer vendor’s sales pitch: “Who’s ready fuh Cousin Brewksi?!?”  It was perfect.

7. There were 49,000+ announced, but this is what the stands looked like after LaTroy Hawkins set the game on fire in the eighth:

PIC-0024.jpg

 
8. Watch Out for Derek Holland.  (Pardon the aside.)
 
(Oh yeah.  Scott Feldman.  Interesting.)

9. That girl who stars in “Life With Derek” on The Disney Channel is obviously a Rays fan.  As the game ended, she appeared to be extremely happy while signing autographs. 

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That’s not a photo from the game itself (she was as bundled up as everyone else), but that’s pretty much the look she had on her face.  Didn’t see too many beaming smiles otherwise after Scott Dohmann breezed through the ninth on 11 pitches, the last of which cut Jorge Posada down on strikes.

10. This unexpected reaction I had is not an exaggeration: Attending a Yankees game almost felt like going to a minor league game in a small town that really cares about its team.  The ballpark features are modest, if not dilapidated.   But it has a ton of character, a culture, a vibe.  Everyone there was there for the baseball game. 

And that’s the deal, of course.  The game is the thing.  I respect that a ton.

Tampa Bay 13, New York 4 finished up just around the time that the Rangers and Angels were starting their series opener on the other coast.  When I got back to Times Square and headed over to ESPN Zone to find a televised feed of the game, the Rangers were already up, 5-0, on the strength of a Ben Broussard grand slam and some brilliant work out of Kason Gabbard, who finished with seven scoreless innings and a misprint-y ratio of 16 groundouts to one flyout (including double plays in three of the first four innings).  Considering the spring those two had, it was a happily surprising effort by both, ending a pretty cool day full of surprises, from blocked pilot ears to a 20 percent chance of dry to a revered stadium that’s really not that impressive until you feel the energy generated by the fans to a tastefully embarrassing pasting of the Yankees by a team that hasn’t ever sniffed a meaningful game in the last third of a season.

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

Cruz clears

According to multiple local reports, Texas
has gotten outfielder Nelson Cruz through waivers, outrighting his contract to Oklahoma.  Since the 27-year-old has not previously been
outrighted, he doesn’t have the right to decline the assignment and he’ll join
the RedHawks.  The chances of him
returning to Arlington
at some point are probably dependent on an injury to someone on the big club, since
it’s not as if he has anything left to prove in AAA (and everything to prove as
a big leaguer).

This will be Cruz’s fifth straight season to play in AAA,
with these past numbers:

2004: .231/.286/.538

2005: .269/.382/.490

2006: .302/.378/.528

2007: .352/.428/.698

He’ll probably destroy Pacific Coast League pitching
again, but unless there’s a need at the big league level, he’s probably not
going to force his way back into the picture here.

If not added back to the 40-man roster before
mid-October, Cruz will have the right to leave this off-season via six-year minor
league free agency.

No word yet on the fate of righthander Robinson Tejeda,
who like Cruz was designated for assignment on March 30.  Chances are the Rangers are waiting another
couple days before putting him on waivers, in hopes that they can first find a
trade partner (perhaps one dealing with an unanticipated pitching injury).  It’s hard to imagine Tejeda would clear
waivers, so one way or another his Ranger days are likely over.

Jamey

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