April 2009

Stuff.

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Remember that note I had yesterday that the Rangers, through eight
games, were basically Pablo Ozuna (.219/.273/.375) against opposing relief
pitchers?

 

Make that Adrian Beltre (.263/.321/.461) through nine.

 

Couple other quick things:

 

1. The second 2009 installment of my weekly ranking of the top 20
prospects in the Rangers’ farm system has now been posted on the official
Rangers website, www.texasrangers.com.
  Here’s a direct link to the column:

 

http://tinyurl.com/d95pr6

  

 

2.  Bakersfield
righthander Ryan Tatusko will be a guest on ESPN 1230 AM (“The Sports Monster”)
in Bakersfield
this morning to discuss the “Back Field Diaries” project he’s doing for the Newberg
Report this season.  You can listen to
the interview online any time after 5:30 this afternoon by going to www.espnbakersfield.com.  

 

 

3. If you’re interested in switching to DirecTV, I got an email last
night indicating that they are now doubling the discount special for new
subscribers.  Email me if you want more
information.

 

 

4. Who said this after seeing Ian Kinsler do what he did last night?

 

“It was awesome. 
It was seriously one of the coolest things I’ve seen.  I felt like a little kid.  I was jumping up and down, screaming at the
top of my lungs. . . . It’s one of those things you don’t see very often.  To hit the cycle and go 6-for-6.  Six hits is a good week for some guys.  At the same time, I’m not surprised because
Kins is one of the best hitters I’ve seen.  That’s unbelievable.”

 

a. Max Newberg

b. Erica Newberg

c. The batboy

d. Chris Davis

 


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

 

Needing some relief.

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They were rotation-mates at both Bakersfield and Frisco in 2005, one coming
off Tommy John surgery and the other a year and a half short of his own elbow
ligament reconstruction.  Four years
later, they’re probably the Rangers’ most important stories in relief at two
levels, one in Texas and the other in Oklahoma City. 

 

It might not be exactly what the Rangers envisioned for C.J .Wilson
and Thomas Diamond when they were Blaze and RoughRider teammates, but it
reinforces a reality worth pointing out, particularly with this franchise
committed to building from within, and in better shape in that effort than any
team in baseball, according to most: with prospects, even the best ones, and
especially those on the mound, past is not always prologue.

 

After his catastrophic third of an inning on Sunday, Wilson
was seen getting loose in the sixth inning last night and was summoned to pitch
the seventh, a statement move considering he’d been this team’s ninth-inning
man late in 2007 and in 2008 until his injury, and was its primary eighth-inning
weapon going into camp and coming out of it. 
Until Sunday’s disastrous eighth.

 

Wilson breezed through the seventh,
retiring Baltimore’s
eight, nine, and one hitters like he’s supposed to, needing only 14 pitches
(eight strikes) to keep the game tied and get the offense back to the bat
rack.  The eighth was once again cruel to
Wilson, as he walked
Adam Jones after getting ahead 0-2 and, after inducing a nifty 3U-6 double play
ground ball off Nick Markakis’s bat, issued another free pass, putting Aubrey
Huff on base on five pitches and surrendering the ball to Frankie Francisco.

 

But there’s a huge difference between Sunday’s results and
last night’s, in that Wilson
didn’t break the second time around, even if he bent a bit in his second inning
of work.  This bullpen has been unbelievably
bad as a whole – sporting a collective 8.17 ERA this season (the starters sit
at 5.64) – but Wilson has as much of a chance as anyone outside of Francisco to
get big outs, as long as he gets right, and not just every other time out.

 

As for Diamond, who hasn’t been a regular bullpen pitcher since
his sophomore year at the University
of New Orleans, his first two Oklahoma City relief
appearances have been sensational.  He
gave up one hit (a solo home run) in 2.2 innings in his RedHawks debut on
Friday, fanning three, and then fired a perfect eighth last night, striking out
Nashville’s four and five hitters (including momentary Ranger Joe Koshansky
swinging) and coaxing a flyout to right field to finish the quiet frame.  Eleven of his 15 pitches were strikes.

 

In his two outings, Diamond has allowed one hit and no walks
in 3.2 innings, getting five of his 11 outs on strikes.  Yes, Willie Eyre and Dustin Nippert will probably
get opportunities to help in Arlington
before Diamond does, but the 26-year-old is on the 40-man roster, is on his
second of three options, and is dealing. 
If he keeps anything close to this up, he’s going to be in Texas soon, as long as
the big league bullpen remains the club’s biggest issue.

 

How about this for a staggering statistic: while the Rangers’
bullpen has been absolutely terrible, Texas
hitters are doing almost no damage against opposing relievers.  The Rangers are hitting .311/.387/.649 against
starting pitchers; an anemic .219/.273/.375 against relievers.

 

Stated another way, through eight games this lineup is Alex
Rodriguez against starters, Pablo Ozuna against relievers.

 

Oklahoma City
reliever Beau Vaughan, off to just as strong a start as Diamond (one hit [a
single] and no walks in three scoreless innings, six strikeouts), is off to an
equally outstanding start with the blog he’s writing for MLB.  Check out his first entry, which includes an unconventional
interview of his roommate Derek Holland, at http://rangersprospect.mlblogs.com/.
 

 

In his first two appearances of the season, Frisco reliever
Guillermo Moscoso, like Diamond on the 40-man roster, has allowed one hit (a
double) and one walk in 4.1 scoreless innings, fanning five.  Don’t rule out the idea that he could be on a
very important watch list right now.

 

RedHawks reliever Pedro Strop has allowed a run on one hit
and two walks in two innings, fanning two. 
He’s thrown 22 strikes and 19 balls, and that, as much as his non-roster
status, puts him behind Diamond and Moscoso (not to mention Eyre and Nippert) for
now if you’re thinking about candidates to reshape the big league bullpen. 

 

Throw Brian Gordon (one run on two hits and no walks in four
innings, four strikeouts, 70 percent strikes) in the mix as well.  Not so much, at the moment, for Derrick
Turnbow (three runs on four hits and four walks in two-thirds of an inning) or Kason
Gabbard (one hit and three walks in 1.1 innings, 40 percent strikes).  Frisco righthander John Bannister, who is on
the roster, has permitted one run on three hits and no walks in 2.2 innings,
fanning two.

 

And while it’s not time yet, don’t forget Nolan Ryan’s comment
a week ago that he’d like to see Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz eased into
their big league careers as relief pitchers.

 

Few minor league clubs can boast the pitching prospect power
that Hickory does, featuring a staff that includes Martin Perez, Wilmer Font,
Wilfredo Boscan, Fabio Castillo, Carlos Pimentel, and Jake Brigham (and, before
long, Joe Wieland and perhaps Neil Ramirez), and then a guy like lefthander
Cliff Springston, who posted a 5.09 ERA last summer after signing as the Rangers’
11th-round pick, goes out there last night and does this to Greenville
in his 2009 debut (though the Crawdads ultimately fell to the Drive in 15
innings, 2-1): seven innings, two singles, an unearned run, no walks, three
strikeouts, 11 groundouts/six flyouts.  He
maintained a no-hitter until there were two outs in the fifth.

 

According to ESPN, “[s]everal sources expect the Texas
Rangers to be major players in the [Latin American] signing market this summer.”  The one name mentioned in the note as a
Rangers target was left-handed masher Guillermo Pimentel, considered one of the
best pure hitters on the market.

 

When Elvis Andrus homered on Opening Day, he became the fourth-youngest
Ranger to go deep.  The three younger
hitters?  Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez,
and Sammy Sosa.   

 

Einar Diaz will manage Baltimore’s
Appalachian League entry at Bluefield.  He coached for the Orioles’ Gulf Coast League
squad in 2008.

 

The Washington Wild Things of the independent Frontier
League signed lefthander Eric Evans.  The
Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks of the independent Northern League signed righthander
Josh Giles.  The Lincoln SaltDogs of the independent
American Association signed first baseman Phillip Hawke.  The Long Island Ducks of the independent
Atlantic League signed righthander Dan Miceli.

 

Want a shot at writing something that shows up in the
Rangers game program for the entire month of May?  Go to http://forum.newbergreport.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=7893.
 

 

Typically, a 3-5 stretch wouldn’t be cause for alarm or
urgency, but when it includes five straight losses and, maybe more importantly,
comes at the beginning of a month and a season in which the club knew it had to
get off to a better start than the last two years – with a schedule stacked to better
that opportunity – a sense of urgency seems like a good thing, and the Rangers reportedly
had a postgame meeting after last night’s loss. 

 

The bullpen is not solely to blame for this current skid,
but it’s certainly the part of the team most susceptible to a change in roles,
if not personnel.  Barring a dramatic
reversal of fortune, almost immediately, the relief crew is going to look different
the next time all hands gather in the clubhouse to meet after the game.

 

 

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

 

Save it.

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If you’re someone I see at work or at T-ball practice or at
soccer games or at the grocery store, or if you’re someone I trade emails with,
I’ll save you the trouble.  The answer to
your question, whichever of the four or five questions you have on your mind
right now, is: “I don’t know.”

 

I do know that I feel awful for Kevin Millwood.  That’s what a number one does.  Two straight losses?  Seven straight in Detroit (none of which were Millwood starts,
incidentally)? 

 

Give me the ball. 

 

Jump on my back. 

 

Millwood’s not just going to vest that 2010 deal; he’s going
to earn it.  He may not be a true ace,
but he’s a horse, a number one, a winner.

 

You can’t lose games like that.  Asking how that happened is rhetorical.

 

That, and all the other questions, are ones I have no answer
to.

 

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

 

Mining for bullpen help.

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For obvious reasons this may be the year I’ve looked forward
to the beginning of Scott Lucas’s daily minor league recaps more than any.  Between Thursday’s farm openers and last
night’s action, we were treated to the 2009 debuts of Neftali Feliz, Michael
Main, Martin Perez, Kasey Kiker, Wilfredo Boscan, Wilmer Font, Omar Poveda, and
Tim Murphy, not to mention Justin Smoak and Max Ramirez and Engel Beltre and
Julio Borbon. 

 

There
are handfuls of legitimate prospects on every roster in this system (check
Scott’s groovy organizational depth chart at http://rangers.scottlucas.com/site/org.htm),
and every night there’s something on the farm worth getting excited about.  If you’re not on the Newberg Report mailing
list, now’s a pretty good time to think about jumping on, if for no other
reason than to read Scott’s good news every morning.

 

Last
year there were players who came out of nowhere on the farm, led of course by lefthander
Derek Holland, who is scheduled to make his AAA debut tomorrow.  I’m going to knee-jerk after yesterday’s
Motor City Mess and suggest that among this year’s surprise breakthroughs will
be a player who, for various reasons, you won’t find in the top 20 names in any
off-season Rangers prospects lists. 

 

Ron
Washington noted after Friday’s ugliness that Dustin Nippert and Willie Eyre
are working themselves back into pitching shape on the farm, putting the
Rangers’ current middle relief corps on less-than-subtle notice that a routine failure
to command the strike zone anywhere close to what we saw yesterday isn’t
acceptable and, one way or the other, won’t last.  And yes, there’s Derrick Turnbow as well -
though his Oklahoma City
debut on Thursday was awful – and the intriguing Pedro Strop (AAA) and John
Bannister (AA) lurking as well.

 

But
I’m going to suggest that Thomas Diamond is going to figure in before long, in Arlington.  The Rangers haven’t ruled out his future as a
starting pitcher, but considering the fact that he’s now working in the RedHawks
bullpen, getting used to a reliever’s schedule, and Nolan Ryan’s comment last
week that he could see starter hopefuls Feliz and Holland breaking into the big
leagues in bullpen roles, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Diamond arriving in
Texas as a reliever.  In 2009.

 

Last
night’s Diamond effort had some blemishes – he started five of the nine hitters
he faced with a ball, threw only 20 of his 35 pitches for strikes, and gave up
five flyouts without inducing a groundout – but he battled, retiring eight
straight Memphis hitters (three strikeouts [two looking], a pop to second, and four
flies to center field) before Redbird shortstop Tyler Greene took him deep to
left center to end his 2.2-inning stint in relief of Feliz.  Where the uberprospect Feliz had trouble with
the patient Memphis
lineup – he issued six walks in four scoreless innings – Diamond was equally
inefficient with his balls and strikes but still avoided any free passes.

 

Kiker
was the Rangers pitching prospect who has had the biggest 2009 debut, as Scott
has chronicled, but Diamond rises near the top of the list of pitchers whose progress
I’m most keyed in on.  Whether it’s to help
reshape this year’s bullpen, or maybe more to the point, to get him acclimated
in 2009 (like Matt Harrison and Taylor Teagarden last year, and like Elvis
Andrus and probably Holland this year) with an eye toward a bigger year in 2010,
I see Diamond, perhaps wishfully, as a pitcher who could be a developmental
star this year, forcing his way up here for a meaningful part of this season
and helping the club address what is now pretty clearly its biggest weakness.

 

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

 

Pssst.

 Shhhhh……

Foreword, march.

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From page
vi of your 2009 Bound Edition:

 

I don’t know whether to
consider this an honor or an avenue to curse Jamey for dragging me out of my
cave and back into the baseball world. 
For the past two years I have absorbed myself in my family — partially
as a means to compensate for the loss of my baseball family, but also to avoid
moving on into another career, as that would acknowledge that the Ranger
chapter of my life was officially over. 

 

Notice the
word “chapter” was modified by the word “Ranger.”

 

Three months
after he wrote that paragraph, which opened a lengthy foreword for this year’s book,
I wrote this about Jeff Zimmerman:

 

Zimmerman, who cursed me this
summer for bringing all those memories back to him with a column I wrote, those
days he’d been trying for years to forget, and who then, giving in, agreed not
only to write what I consider the greatest foreword of the 19 written for my 10
books — basically a tribute to Rangers fans and the Metroplex in general –
but also to fly in from Vancouver with his family to be at last night’s event.

 

What more is there to say
than has been said since he arrived on the scene 10 years ago?  Few have experienced greater highs or greater
lows in this organization, but Zimmerman is as even-keeled and humble and
self-deprecating and genuine as they come, and just being around him — whether
you’re a Rangers fan or, I suspect, a former teammate or a college buddy or a
family member — feels like a privilege.

 

I wrote
that the day after our book release party, at which Jeff Zimmerman sat next to Michael Young on the stage.  This very well might have been the conversation:


Jeff: “Hey, man.  Congrats
on the Man of the Year Award.  I miss
being your teammate.”

 

Michael: “I miss those days, too, Zim.  What’s next for you?”

 

Jeff: “See this little glint in my eye?  I’ve got something in mind.”

 

I just
traded texts with the 36-year-old righthander, who said this: “Please don’t
hate me.  I need to be close to my girls
and SEA was the best option.”

 

Hate?  Hate?? 
C’mon.  I can’t wipe the smile off
my face.

 

Read this.

 

Or this.

 

Or both.

 

Now.

 

 

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

 

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.

 

Focus.

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I haven’t run across anyone the last year or two who has jogged
up to share some really great financial news. 
As far as I can tell, those affected the least have still been hit pretty
hard.

 

So I didn’t get rattled when I saw news that Hicks Sports
Group opted not to make an interest payment a week ago and, as a result, is in default
on $525 million in loans.  I take Tom
Hicks at his word that HSG is still funding all of the Rangers’ operational
costs without interruption, and that this development won’t affect the club’s
day-to-day business – does anyone really think Hicks didn’t have this maneuver in
mind in February, when he greenlighted a payroll-busting $20 million investment
in Ben Sheets, or when he funded significant, expensive Ballpark improvements
this winter, or authorized last week’s $6 million release of Frank Catalanotto?
– and I’m plenty comfortable that it won’t be on Kevin Millwood’s mind today,
or Nelson Cruz’s, or Mike Maddux’s, or Chuck Morgan’s, or on the minds of 49,000-plus.

 

If this team doesn’t win in 2009, it won’t be because of credit
lines or debt covenants or the accessibility of interest reserve accounts.  It could be because of health, or rotation inconsistency,
or another team in the division having it all click, or, more to the point,
because it’s probably still another year before the gathering momentum starts to
really come together here.  Momentum that
was set in motion, methodically and meticulously and with discipline and unified
conviction, just under two years ago, when management proposed to ownership
that this franchise put itself in a position to win – not immediately but soon
enough, and for years after that – by committing to a program of acquiring young
talent as aggressively and expertly as any franchise in the league. 

 

The aggressive part required a financial commitment from the
owner.  That commitment was made, and Jon
Daniels and his team of scouts and instructors and baseball operations officials
and advisors have done the rest, executing the long-term plan that ownership
bought into, and not only going in two years’ time from a bottom five farm
system to the consensus number one billing in the league, but also attracting
comments from experts all over the country this week that look a lot like this
one from Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus:

 

It’s very tempting to
see the Rangers as a surprise team this year, what with a confluence of young
talent on the way and a front office that is turning the team over to its
youth.  However, [there are some warts.  But t]hey’ll sort these issues out in ’09, and be my pick to win the West in 2010.  And 2011.  And 2012.

 

Whether this team wins this year, or any year, won’t be because
of Opening Day festivities and the rush that we get from being there for them.  It’s a heckuva party leading up to 1:07, but
once Millwood takes the sign from Jarrod Saltalamacchia and kicks and fires,
with Grady Sizemore waiting on the pitch, the new scoreboards won’t make a
difference like the numbers on it do.  Today
is just one of 162, but it’s a big one, not so much because of Millwood vs.
Cliff Lee or because of the fact that Game One kicks off a friendly April
schedule or because this morning’s agate type includes “Los Angeles Angels: Placed
RHP Kelvim Escobar, RHP John Lackey and RHP Ervin Santana on the 15-day DL” or because
this might be The Year.

 

It’s big because The Year is unquestionably getting closer,
not farther away.  This ownership, and
this team’s President, have endorsed the systematic plan that Daniels recommended,
and we’re all going to benefit from it.  Soon.

 

And when Step Five of the five-step plan gets here, when
Daniels goes to Hicks, maybe in the last week of some July, maybe in the first
week of some December, maybe both, and says, “We believe now’s the time to
attack.  We are in a position to acquire
Pitcher A or Hitter X.  We believe he’ll
make a significant impact, but he’ll also increase the payroll significantly.  He could be The Final Piece” . . . .

 

. . . when that conversation goes down, you can bet that
Hicks will respond the same way that he did in June, when Daniels recommended that
Texas draft either
Ethan Martin, a high school pitcher that the club’s scouts loved, or Justin
Smoak, an impact college hitter that everyone agreed would come quickly but who
would command millions above slot to sign. 

 

Hicks: “Who’s the better player?” 

 

Daniels: “We believe Smoak is.”

 

Hicks: “Take Smoak.”

 

The Rangers are where they are right now partially because
the franchise got away from the idea
that spending (in free agency) leads to winning.  Sure, that extra couple million it cost to
sign Smoak; that extra hundred thousand or two it took to land Martin Perez; those
decisions to let several free agents walk after the 2006 season so the Rangers
could have extraordinary firepower in the 2007 draft, which cost millions extra
in signing bonuses, some of which were above slot; that six-figure,
fourth-round bonus paid to 25th-rounder Derek Holland weeks before that
2007 draft, all those dollars collectively could have gone toward a 36-year-old
middle reliever for two years of work.  Thank
goodness they didn’t.

 

I won’t be thinking about Hicks Sports Group engaging its dozens
of lenders in forbearance talks in a few hours when I hear Chuck Morgan’s voice
and when I smell those baseball smells and when Millwood toes the rubber and
when Andrus makes his first play and when Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, and Chris
Davis turn that first 5-4-3 and when C.J. Wilson is getting loose. 

 

The massive number I’ll be thinking about today – which may
be equally overblown by the media – is not $525 million, but the reigning Cy
Young winner Lee’s 12.46 spring training ERA.  Another: Lee’s career 6.42 ERA against the
Rangers.  Another: his 8.56 ERA in
Rangers Ballpark.  Another: Young’s
.409/.458/.455 line against Lee.  Another:
Hank Blalock’s .400/.455/.800 against the lefthander.  Today it’s about pitch counts, not interest
reserve accounts; situational hitting, not syndicated bank loans.

 

Baseball is one of my dependable escapes from all of
that.  I don’t work in the financial sector,
I’m not an economics reporter, I’m not even a baseball reporter.  I’m a baseball fan, and today I celebrate
that, to exclusion of all (other than the 12-year anniversary of my marriage to
my best friend) that doesn’t fit.

 

Step Five is coming.

 

But not yet.  First,
necessarily, there are baseball games to be played.  By a franchise that, I’m happy to say, is patiently
doing things right, and spending in places and ways in which few other organizations
are keeping up.  And who knows – maybe it
will reassert its willingness to spend on Sheets in a few months.  That feeds the bigger picture, too. 

 

While the banks may be far more concerned about the
short-term – their survival sort of depends on that – the owner here has his Rangers
eye squarely on the ball, focused on building a long-term winner.  This franchise deserves that.  We deserve that.

 

This particular stage of the patience we’ve all exercised
for so long now, as Rangers fans, gets rewarded today.  There are baseball games to be played.  Starting in a few hours.

 

Have a great day.

 

 

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

 

Farm rotations.

When the Rangers’ four full-season minor league clubs kick
their seasons off this Thursday, the top three on the road and new affiliate Hickory at home, these
are the rotations they’ll go forward with out of the gate (alphabetically), according
to at least one local beat writer:

 

AAA Oklahoma City: Neftali
Feliz, Derek Holland, Doug Mathis, Luis Mendoza, and Elizardo Ramirez.  Thomas Diamond starts out in the bullpen.  I’ve seen it reported in one story that Dustin
Nippert will rehab at Oklahoma City,
in another story that it will be in Frisco. 
We’ll know soon enough.

 

AA Frisco: Jared
Hyatt, Kasey Kiker, Guillermo Moscoso, Omar Poveda, and Michael Schlact.  Presumably Tommy Hunter slides into this mix
once he’s healthy.

 

High A Bakersfield: Blake
Beavan, Kennil Gomez, Michael Kirkman, Michael Main, and Tim Murphy.  Corey Young will evidently begin his 2009
season in the Blaze pen.  (He won’t
finish it there.)

 

Low A Hickory: Unclear.  Wilfredo Boscan, Jacob Brigham, and Martin
Perez will be on the staff but their innings will reportedly be limited at
first.  Richard Bleier, Carlos Pimentel, and
Cliff Springston will be on the staff as well. 
There’s also been at least one unofficial blog suggesting Wilmer Font
will start the year with the Crawdads.

 

Neil Ramirez is being held back in extended spring training
with an elbow issue.  Joe Wieland also
starts out at extended (no apparent injury issue) but could join Hickory sometime
this month – not a surprise since he was in high school this time last year.  Texas
implemented the same plan with Kasey Kiker in 2007 and Blake Beavan in 2008,
holding them back in extended for a bit before getting their regular seasons
underway.  No word on Fabio
Castillo. 

 

Presumably (and not surprisingly), Carlos Melo, Robbie Ross,
and Richard Alvarez will begin the season in extended, and we may not see them
in official game action until the short-season leagues get underway in June.

 

As for the big league roster, it occurred to me that Texas could add Elvis
Andrus, Omar Vizquel, Andruw Jones, Jason Jennings, and Eddie Guardado today,
filling the 40-man roster, and wait until Friday to purchase Kris Benson’s contract,
but it appears that Benson has now been added already.  So someone is going to have to come off the
roster today. 

 

Once that move is announced, I’ll send out a flash.

 

I’m pleased to report that Ron Washington plans to have
Nelson Cruz (hitting fourth), Hank Blalock (hitting fifth), and Chris Davis (seventh)
in tomorrow’s starting lineup against Cleveland
lefthander Cliff Lee.  Andruw Jones will
be introduced with everyone else before gametime, but then he’ll watch the game
from the dugout, at least until Elvis Andrus is set to face Rafael Perez in the
seventh or eighth.

 

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

 

Dim the lights.

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Not surprisingly, catcher Adam Melhuse has requested and was
granted his release.  Next stop for the 37-year-old:
another big league roster or retirement, apparently.

 

The Rangers’ roster is down to 35 members, with six non-roster
players to add.  Still one move to go
before Monday.

 

Brandon McCarthy will start Game Three against Cleveland, and Kris Benson will start Game Four, which
will be Detroit’s
(chilly) home opener on Friday. 

 

ESPN’s Peter Gammons polled 60 general managers and scouts and
asked, based on what they saw in spring training, which players they thought
were on the brink of a breakout season. 
Chris Davis got the fifth-most votes.

 

And the best young arm – big league or otherwise – the 60
saw this spring?  Derek Holland was
number three.

 

Lots to share from the current issue of Baseball America.  Next time.

 

Former big league righthander Brad Holman is the new
pitching coach for Low A Hickory.

 

Former Rangers lefthander Tony Fossas is the new pitching
coach for Low A Dayton, in the Reds chain.

 

Texas
released catcher Brandon Harrigan and first baseman Dennis Guinn.

 

Milwaukee got righthander Wes
Littleton through waivers and outrighted him off the roster (which preceded
other moves but helped clear a 40-man roster spot for first baseman Joe
Koshansky, claimed by the Brewers off waivers from Texas).

 

Philadelphia
optioned outfielder John Mayberry Jr.

 

The White Sox signed righthander Kelvin Jimenez to a minor
league deal.

 

Minor league releases: lefthander Erasmo Ramirez (White
Sox), lefthander Aaron Fultz (Cincinnati),
outfielders Jason Romano and Jason Tyner and second baseman David Newhan (Houston), second baseman Chase Fontaine (Tampa Bay),
and righthander Rick Bauer (Toronto).

 

The Chico Outlaws of the independent Golden Baseball League signed
lefthander Jesse Hall.

 

My weekly MLB.com column will return this week (probably posting
each Thursday), and we’re sticking with last year’s subject matter: an evolving
top 20 Rangers prospects list, updated each week, with commentary on each
player. 

 

I’m getting emails on this every day, so I’ll post it here again:
My Twitter account is @Newbergreport. 
Not sure how I’ll be utilizing it, but at the very least that’s where
breaking news will likely show up.

 

When we go to the movies, I get into the previews.  They’re good for getting settled in, and from
time to time there’s a trailer that gets me fired up to see the film.

 

But that’s not why we go to the theater, of course.  The previews just make you hungry.

 

When those lights dim, especially for the films you’ve spent
months waiting for, that feeling takes over. 
You’re focused.  Your adrenaline kicks
in.  You’re right where you want to be.

 

The previews are over. 

 

The lights are dimming. 

 

I’m locked in.

 

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

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