Crisp.

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A lot of things jumped out at me during the final minutes
leading up to the first pitch on Monday, many of which I’ll get to shortly, but
not among them was the thought that as a few dozen men in Indians uniforms
lined the chalk between third base and home plate for the pregame introductions,
only one of them would get the chance to trace those same steps during the
game.

 

After Kevin Millwood needed 19 pitches to get to the dugout
for the home half of the first inning (the first 18 of which produced only one
out), that possibility was the furthest thing from my mind.

 

Here’s the thing about Millwood.  He’s not a classic ace, never has been.  He doesn’t miss a ton of bats.  He gives up lots of base hits.  He doesn’t have overpowering stuff.

 

But the stuff is good enough, and belonging to a pitcher as
tough mentally as Millwood, there will be days like yesterday when, even if he isn’t
what you’d think of as an ace, he’s clearly what you want from your number
one. 

 

From where I sat, even though the fastball had life and the
curve was sharp, I’m not sure Millwood had his A game on Monday – but you
wouldn’t know it from the results.  One
walk, five hits, all singles, five strikeouts, 113 pitches over seven innings.  He seemed to have a little more tempo than
usual, and though he regularly fell behind in the count, he battled all day and
never let Cleveland
find a rhythm.  Millwood dictated the
pace.  He absolutely set a tone.  

 

Only one pitcher (Aaron Harang, with 114) threw more pitches
than Millwood in what has been 24 games started around the league, and only two
(Felix Hernandez and Derek Lowe, eight innings each) went deeper into the game.  The message that Nolan Ryan sent to the
pitching staff this off-season about conditioning and workload and swagger was
delivered by a second messenger on Monday. 
 

 

Millwood told reporters after the game that he and Jarrod
Saltalamacchia were in sync all day.  Saltalamacchia
was in sync at the plate as well.  A
career .199/.249/.304 hitter against lefthanders coming into the game, after
his first at-bat he was a career 1.000/1.000/1.000 hitter against lefthanders
who won the 2008 Cy Young Award.  With Cliff
Lee scuffling a bit in the second inning, starting Saltalamacchia off with a
pitch outside the zone to make it eight balls and eight strikes for the frame,
the 23-year-old catcher jumped on the next pitch and shot it the other way to
right field, scoring Hank Blalock and Marlon Byrd to open the game’s scoring.

 

Six innings later, batting from the left side with
righthander Jensen Lewis on the mound, Saltalamacchia destroyed a 2-1 pitch -
again going the other way – driving a ball on a line over the fence just left
of center. 

 

His last home run was on June 3.  Off of Jensen Lewis.

 

The impressive 4-6-3 double play that Elvis Andrus turned in
to finish the top half of the first not only gave us a glimpse of his fluid quickness
around the bag but also gave the 20-year-old an opportunity to get involved
before his first at-bat, which you had to like. 
When he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the second, I thought back
three years to Ian Kinsler’s first big league at-bat, when he faced Curt
Schilling on Opening Day and dumped a single to right field.

 

The difference between Kinsler using the opposite field (at
least back in 2006) and Andrus using the opposite field is massive.  Kinsler was a dead pull hitter his first two
seasons in the league.  Andrus is an
accomplished opposite-field hitter. 

 

Digging in after Saltalamacchia’s two-run single, Andrus
fouled off Lee’s first pitch, watched two offerings miss the zone, spoiled
another one, and then put a charge into a fastball up, raking it down the right
field line for a double that moved Saltalamacchia to third.  They’d both score two pitches later, as
Kinsler singled to left center, opening up a 4-0 lead that, even that early,
felt like it just might have been enough with Millwood on the hill.

 

For all the pub that Neftali Feliz’s arm speed gets, Kinsler’s
crazy bat speed doesn’t get enough.  The topspin
he naturally has may rob him of a few home runs, but it also turns a bunch of
F-7’s into doubles. 

 

Andrus and Michael Young each made plays that should have
you very comfortable with what the left side of the infield will provide for
the next hundred years.  Millwood’s hits
allowed would have been higher yesterday if the infield hadn’t been realigned.  The thing about those two is not going to be their
flashiness, but their steadiness, their ability not only to make difficult
plays but to make them look routine.

 

Andrus finished his afternoon 1 for 4 with a strikeout but served
notice, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of watching him play before now,
that he’s one of those players whose box scores and Rotisserie league value
will never come close to matching what he brings to every game.

 

Read the feature
on Andrus
that D Magazine‘s Jeff
Miller wrote last night.

 

Maybe Blalock got the start against the left-handed Lee rather
than Andruw Jones because Blalock was a .400/.455/.800 career hitter against
Lee.  Or maybe because he’d homered in
four out of six home openers. 

 

Make that .462/.500/1.000.

 

And five out of seven.

 

I’m not sure what to make of this:

 

relaford_crop2.jpg

Maybe it was Desi himself.

 

This struck me as something new, and not just the color of
the uniforms and the ribbon panels:

 

warmups_crop.jpg

 

For years, after the Anthem and the ceremonial first pitch,
like clockwork you’d see Young and Kinsler hop onto the stretch of grass
between the warning track and the first base line, throwing for three or four
minutes, ending with Young hitting Kinsler on what amounted to a sideline out
pattern, with Kinsler hauling it in while getting both feet down on the grass
just short of the warning track sand, facing the dugout.

 

But yesterday it was Young throwing with Chris Davis.  And Andrus in Young’s old spot, throwing with
Kinsler.  Including the sideline out.

 

Other observations:

 

It occurred to me as Taylor Teagarden jogged out to the first
base line for the first big league player introductions of his career, that he
might have been on hand to watch a dozen of those in Arlington growing up.  Had to be a little surreal.

 

And maybe a little surreal for Omar Vizquel too, as he
jogged out seconds later for what might be the final player introductions of
his amazing career.

 

Does anyone realize this was Saltalamacchia’s first big
league Opening Day, too?  Not just his
first Opening Day start.  His first
Opening Day.

 

I’m digging the ribbon panels and how they’re being used.  Especially during hitter intros.

 

Who do you think had the task of leading the team out of the
dugout to take the field?  The “fourth
outfielder.”  You watch this team often
enough, read enough quotes, pay attention to how the players go about their business,
and key in from time to time on how Marlon Byrd simply carries himself, you
understand why the 31-year-old’s importance to this team goes beyond what he
does with the bat and the glove.

 

The left field data panel (just under the Diamond Club) looks
great (particularly the pitch count, broken down by balls and strikes).  It really pops.  But somewhere on that display we need the hitter’s
balls-and-strikes count posted, too.  The
only place I could find the count was on the right field video board, and not
very prominently displayed.

 

The left field scoreboard: the amount (and timeliness) of information
you get on out-of-town games in progress is great.  The batter-against-pitcher lifetime numbers,
also great. 

 

I’ve now seen a lot of photo galleries from the Ballpark
yesterday.  The best may be Joe
Siegler’s
.  Check it out.

 

Good crowd, too.  There
was a moment in the Indians seventh when most of the nearly 50,000 fans got to
their feet – without any scoreboard prompting – to get behind Millwood as he
tried to maintain a shutout with two outs in the inning.  The buzz in the building yesterday was
different.  The last time I felt the same
kind of wire-to-wire electricity in Rangers Ballpark (not counting snapshot moments
like last year’s walkoffs against the Angels and Yankees) was September 2004.

 

The two new rows of seats behind the plate and brick façade made
their first play of the year, robbing Cleveland
catcher Kelly Shoppach of a full-count F-2 with Young up in the bottom of the
second.  Young walked on the next pitch.

 

That summertime home field advantage that we have with the
Rangers bullpen getting lots of daytime shade and the visitors’ pen baked in
the sun was reversed yesterday.  It was
uncomfortably cold in the shade.

 

The wall advertisement for The Dump needs to be moved from
in front of the Rangers bullpen to another part of the fence.

 

Love the return of the red. 
Love it.

 

Tuffy Rhodes.  Felipe Lopez.

 

I remember hearing, either last year or the year before
that, that there were relievers in our bullpen who actually didn’t want the
ball.  Who were hoping when the bullpen
phone rang that their name wasn’t spoken. 
Jason Jennings had exactly the opposite look yesterday as he warmed in
the seventh. 

 

I like the veteran leadership and looseness that Eddie
Guardado brings, and the swagger that Frankie Francisco and C.J. Wilson add, but
I think we’re going to benefit in a big way from Jennings and Scott Feldman sitting in those
chairs that peek over the right center field fence.  Aside from the ability they’ll have to save
wear on the bullpen on nights that the starters don’t go deep, those are two
guys who want the ball, have had success as starting pitchers, and, I bet, will
throw down some infectious workhorse attitude.

 

I heard Ryan say in a radio interview before the game that
he’d like to see Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz eased the big leagues this
year in the Rangers bullpen.  Interesting.

 

There’s a 95 percent chance you’ve been pronouncing Feliz’s
first name wrong.  If for no other reason
than that, pay attention to the Newberg Report Feliz feature that will run on
the video board later during this series. 
Not sure if it will always run after the top of the second, but that’s when
yesterday’s Justin Smoak package ran.

 

Frank Catalanotto cleared waivers and was officially
released.  He’ll find work soon.

 

Texas
released righthanders Kendy Batista, Josh Giles, and Alfredo Gonzalez and
outfielder Grant Gerrard.

 

Thwarted in its effort to outright Joe Koshansky, Texas signed former Atlanta
first baseman Scott Thorman to play for Oklahoma
City.  The
27-year-old is a lifetime .273/.334/.454 minor league hitter, with 415 big
league at-bats that came in 2006 and 2007 with the Braves (.222/.260/.407).

 

Jimmy Gobble signed a minor league deal with the White Sox.  Brad Wilkerson accepted an assignment to Boston’s AAA club in Pawtucket.

 

Laynce Nix and Danny Ray Herrera made the Reds roster.  Jesse Chavez and Edwin Moreno made the Pirates
and Padres bullpens, respectively.  Ryan
Roberts earned a spot on the Diamondbacks bench, and Andres Torres is a backup
outfielder for the Giants.

 

Pittsburgh
released lefthander Daniel Haigwood.  Florida released first
baseman Phillip Hawke.

 

The Windy City ThunderBolts of the independent Frontier
League signed catcher Brandon Harrigan. 
The Kalamazoo Kings of the same league signed infielder Kyle Higgins.  The Winnipeg Goldeyes of the independent Northern
League signed righthander Jordan Stewart.

 

If you’re on the mailing list, you got Scott Lucas’s flashes
yesterday detailing the full Oklahoma City and Hickory rosters.  Frisco and Bakersfield to follow.

 

Wilson
needed 10 pitches to get through a quiet eighth, Francisco 11 to close it out in
the ninth, each retiring the side in order. 
If we get the Good C.J. and the Good Frankie this year, that’s huge.

 

Wilson
had this to say after the game, assessing what Millwood had done to the Indians’
lineup: “By the time Frankie and I got out there, they were demoralized.”

 

I hope Ben Sheets was able to take some time out from his
rehab work down the road to watch that.

 

One game doesn’t make a month, of course, but Millwood and
the defense behind him and the offense supporting him set a tone
yesterday.  Everything about that game was
as crisp as the weather.  As a fan, I hate
baseball off-days, but this one’s going to feel pretty good. 

 

The Rangers acknowledge that getting out of the gate fast takes
on added importance this year, for a number of reasons, and yesterday seemed
like somewhat of a statement win, if there can be one of those with 161 to go.

 

 

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

 

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