All kinds of stuff.

The latest step in Max’s apprenticeship as a good baseball fan came yesterday afternoon, years sooner than I expected: The kid loves a well-pitched, low-scoring game.  Well pitched, well defended, clock-friendly.  Every pitch counted.  I’m a proud Dad.

In 2004, when Dustin Nippert and Felix Hernandez were ranked by Baseball America as Arizona’s and Seattle’s number one pitching prospects, that sort of game was what was envisioned — not that one of the two would slide all the way through waivers, as Nippert did three months ago.  

Nippert was great yesterday, blanking the Mariners on seven hits and no walks in seven innings, fanning four.  He changed speeds well and located all his pitches, and was especially sharp early, throwing only two balls in the first inning, four in the second, and three in the third.  

Through four innings, Nippert had thrown 16 balls out of the strike zone.

In his Rangers debut on April 4, Nippert threw 18 balls in two-thirds of an inning.  

In the last two times through the rotation (which hasn’t included Vicente Padilla), Rangers starters are 6-2, 2.76, with seven quality starts out of 10, getting into the sixth inning every time and completing at least six all but twice (which not only speaks to their effectiveness but also boosts the health of the bullpen).  In 65.1 innings, they’ve issued six walks, fanning 38.  

Ten starts.  Six walks.

In fact, in the last time through the rotation, the current starting five issued one walk, a Scott Feldman free pass in the fourth inning on Saturday.  Since then, Rangers starters have put up 28 straight innings without a base on balls.

I’m not suggesting we’ve found our rotation for 2009, but it’s good to see guys like Brandon McCarthy (age 25) reasserting himself, Scott Feldman (25) continuing to offer proof, Matt Harrison (22) giving indications that he may not be not far away from dependability, and Nippert (27) showing flashes of what made him, not long ago, a legitimate prospect (with reports of a mechanical change prompted by Andy Hawkins and Jim Colborn, who have apparently pointed Nippert’s stride more toward the plate so that he’s throwing less across his body).  

These are all guys who project at best in the back half of a decent rotation, if not in a relief role, but things look a lot better going into 2009 if you have candidates for those roles you feel good about, lots more where they came from just a little further from being ready, and Kevin Millwood and Padilla under control.  

It’s still important for Texas to add another horse to the rotation — and maybe one of the above named will have to be traded in order to get that done — but the situation isn’t as empty as, say, the Rangers’ outfield picture was a year ago.

An effort to rein in Feldman’s workload has been thwarted by injuries to other starters, but the club is apparently intent on skipping his next start (aided by off-days tomorrow and Monday).

The timetables for a return to action this month by Ian Kinsler (who reportedly met with team doctors yesterday) and David Murphy are uncertain.

Meanwhile, Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s 2008 season is finished due to a strain and inflammation in his right elbow.  He plans to get a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews on Monday (presumably to confirm that there’s no ligament damage and no need for surgery) before starting a six-to-eight-week rehab program.  

Two of the numbers in his final .253/.352/.364 line are disappointing, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that he’s still just 23, younger not only than Gerald Laird but Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez as well, or that he was locked in offensively (and more consistent defensively) lately, hitting a robust .378/.477/.514 over the last five weeks.

I still think that he’d be the catcher I trade this winter in a deal for front-end pitching, assuming the injury doesn’t deflate the trade offers to the point at which Texas would be selling low.  Recall that the Rangers had reason to unclog the catcher position last winter but wisely decided that trading Laird after a poor season would have been unwise from a timing standpoint.  Laird has significantly more value today than he did last winter.  

Saltalamacchia still plans to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic once he completes his rehab program, and his ability to show that he’s healthy there will be important.  If he does that, he’s still a valuable commodity, as evidenced by the apparent face that there were multiple teams interested in trading for him in July — and that was before his torrid month-long streak at the plate.

If Texas can use Saltalamacchia to center a deal for a young pitcher ready to step into its rotation — and ideally to front it before long — I’m happy to go with Laird, who has two more seasons under team control before he can explore free agency, backed up by Teagarden.  There are scenarios as well under which Ramirez could make the team and get 350 at-bats as a designated hitter (depending on whether Milton Bradley returns) who can also spell a left-handed-hitting first baseman and give the club a third catcher on the roster.

If Laird fetches a trade offer that’s significantly better than anything proposed for our other catchers, I’m OK moving him.  But I’m very comfortable with how Laird’s game has developed and like the idea of having him here as a steadying influence as Texas breaks in the next wave of high-ceiling starting pitchers.  

In a strange way, as unfortunate as Saltalamacchia’s injury is, having him end his season on such a good run of productivity at the plate may turn out to be a pretty good thing.

Nice moment for Teagarden yesterday, squeezing the pop-up to seal the major league shutout he’d just caught.

He’s started three games.  Two have been 1-0 Texas victories.

Teagarden also caught an Oklahoma no-hitter this year.

Thrown by Nippert.

Frankie Francisco since inheriting the closer’s job from Eddie Guardado: four games, four saves, 4.1 innings, one hit (a single), no walks, eight strikeouts.  Fifty-six pitches, 44 strikes.  Any questions?

Derek Holland was masterful once again last night, getting the starting assignment in Frisco’s playoff opener and firing 7.1 strong innings, as he held San Antonio to one run (the result of an eighth-inning ball that bounced off right fielder Dustin Majewski’s glove and over the fence) on two hits and a walk while fanning five.  Learn more about Holland’s dazzling effort and all the other action from the first night of the minor league playoffs in Scott Lucas’s morning email recaps.  

You should also read Scott’s outstanding playoff preview if you’re not already on the mailing list.  You can check it out at http://www.newbergreport.com/article.asp?articleid=1130.    

Our own Eleanor Czajka reports in her can’t-miss “Girls Don’t Know Anything About Baseball” blog (http://emcmlb.blogspot.com/) that Teagarden, Chris Davis, and Warner Madrigal, after contributing prominently in the big club’s day game, were in the Frisco stands last night, watching their former teammates take Game One of the series.  That’s a really, really cool note.

Elvis Andrus made a play deep in the hole, I’m told, that defies description.  Suffice it to say that he evidently channeled Derek Jeter on the backhand jump-throw with enough juice on it to get the out at first.

Ken Rosenthal points out in his Fox Sports column that Hank Blalock’s tradeability this winter (should the Rangers pick up his $6.2 million option for 2009) could be boosted by the weakness of the free agent market at third base.  Rosenthal notes that Blalock, still just 27, is committed to an off-season throwing program designed to
enable a return to third.

I was planning on writing about a Rosenthal note from last week suggesting that a “growing number of baseball people expect Rangers president Nolan Ryan to make sweeping changes — changes involving [Jon] Daniels, manager Ron Washington or both,” but a local reporter wrote this week that “[w]ord has come from the very top that such speculation is” an unprintable word for which the sanitized replacement was “rubbish.”

I’d be very disappointed, and very surprised, to see Daniels let go.

Davis has a .552 slugging percentage for Texas in 2008.

Mark Teixeira has a .541 slugging percentage for Atlanta and the Angels in 2008.

Weird: Teixeira is hitting a monstrous .376/.468/.641 since joining the Angels.  Yet the club was 65-40 (.619) before acquiring him, and is 19-14 (.576) since.  

I have no idea.

ESPN’s Buster Olney had the Elias Sports Bureau measure which hitters have been most productive this year against starting pitchers with an ERA of 3.75 or better and relievers with an ERA of 2.75 or better.  Kinsler (.355) was third in all of baseball as of August 19, and Michael Young (.338) was fifth.

Young needs 36 hits to reach 200 for the season.  If he were to play in every one of the club’s remaining 21 games, he’d be on pace for another 96 at-bats, in which case he’d need to hit .375 the rest of the way to get to 200.

Josh Hamilton is the second player in the last 55 years (Albert Pujols is the other) to drive in at least 120 runs in his second big league season.  Consider this quote from Hamilton, when asked about the achievement: “It helps my confidence.  It kind of reaffirms to myself that I can play at this level and hopefully do it for a while.”

Millwood (3-1, 2.76, two complete games) and Marlon Byrd (.393/.468/.607, 42 hits, 15 extra-base hits) were named pitcher and player of the month for August by the Rangers.  Millwood is also the Rangers’ nominee for baseball’s Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to the player who best exemplifies the sportsmanship and community involvement that Clemente demonstrated.

Nelson Cruz had the highest slugging percentage (.695) in the minor leagues this year.  He was also tied for fourth in home runs (37) and 10th in both hitting (.342) and reaching base (.429).  Renny Osuna was fourth in hits (178), sixth in runs (100), and 14th in hitting (.338).  Julio Borbon was sixth in hits (175) and tied with Andrus for ninth in stolen bases (53), but Borbon was also fifth in times caught stealing (18).  Ian Gac was fifth in RBI (109) and tied for eighth in home runs (32), but third in strikeouts (170).  Jose Vallejo was tied for 12th in hits (166), Johnny Whittleman was sixth in walks (89), and high school teammates John Mayberry Jr. (65) and Steve Murphy (64) were tied for ninth and 13th, respectively, in extra-base hits.

Neftali Feliz had the highest strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate (10.8) of any starting pitcher in minor league baseball, was sixth among starters in opponents’ batting average (.201), and was 15th in total strikeouts (153), while Derek Holland was 10th in three categories: strikeouts (157), ERA (2.27), and opponents’ batting average (.209).  Elizardo Ramirez was tied for seventh in hits allowed (193).

The minor league leader in total bases and extra-base hits (and runner-up in home runs) was High A first baseman Chris Carter, whom Oakland acquired from Arizona in this winter’s Dan Haren trade.  The reason I note this is that, two weeks before the Diamondbacks sent Carter to Oakland in mid-December, they’d acquired him from the White Sox for Carlos Quentin — shortly after Chicago was reportedly prepared to trade Carter to Texas for Akinori Otsuka, before the White Sox reviewed Otsuka’s medical records and withdrew the offer.

In a BA survey, Class A managers and scouts ranked Vallejo as the California League’s best defensive second baseman in 2008 and Clinton manager Mike Micucci as the Midwest League’s best manager prospect.  Those polled in the Texas League called Max Ramirez the league’s best batting prospect, ranked Davis as having the best power, recognized Michael Ballard as having the best change-up, honored Teagarden as the best defensive catcher and Andrus as the best defensive shortstop, and touted Scott Little as the best manager prospect.

The Oklahoma RedHawks will become the Oklahoma City RedHawks next year, and will feature a new color scheme and logo.

Texas extended its player development contract with Spokane two years through the 2010 season.

There are reports that Bakersfield Blaze owner D.G. Elmore intends to move the franchise to the Carolina League after the 2009 season.  I’m pretty sure the Rangers’ player development contract with the Blaze goes through 2010.

Kelley Gulledge, the son of Rangers P.A. announcer Chuck Morgan, had an excellent second half with AA Jacksonville in the Dodgers system, moving from behind the plate to play first base and DH for the Suns and hitting .286/.383/.557 in 70 at-bats.  He also made a cameo pitching appearance on Friday, working the eighth inning of a 7-2 loss to Montgomery and retiring the Biscuits in order, one on the ground and two on strikes.  It was apparently the first time that the 29-year-old had pitched since Little League.

In its ranking of the top prospects in the various summer collegiate leagues, Baseball America judged University of Texas outfielder Kevin Keyes as number one in the California Collegiate League and Cal Poly righthander Kevin Castner as number five.  The Rangers drafted Keyes in the 26th round in 2007, and Castner in the 10th round in 2008, not signing either.

Cincinnati righthander Nick Masset was involved in a minor auto accident on Monday, bruising his hand.  He’ll be OK.

Jason Jennings, sidelined since a month into the season, will start throwing in two weeks.  He’ll be a free agent again this winter.

According to local reports, Rangers equipment manager Zack Minasian says the team will increase the red in their uniform look in 2009, and included could be a solid red alternate jersey and red hat.

Maybe it will call back the look of the Rangers’ three playoff teams from the late ’90s, which would suit me fine.  Maybe it will bear some resemblance to the Diamondbacks jersey that Dustin Nippert wore last year, or the Team USA jersey that Taylor Teagarden wore last month, or the Frisco RoughRiders jersey that Derek Holland wore last night.  

I’m not sure who my money would be on among Nippert, Teagarden, and Holland to be wearing Rangers red when this team is next playing playoff baseball — I might bet on them in reverse order — but there are lots of steps, some little, some big, some aesthetic, and some essential, being taken right now to continue moving this thing in the right direction.

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

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