May 2009

110.

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The magic number is 110.

 

And it may be 109 by night’s end.  Seattle’s Jose Lopez just
hit a three-run home run off Angels closer Brian Fuentes with two outs in the
top of the ninth, erasing a 3-0 Angels lead.  After Los Angeles failed to
score in the bottom half, the clubs are headed to extra
innings.

 

Coming off tonight’s 14-1 blasting of the A’s,
Texas can win
its 21st game of the month tomorrow, something that’s happened once
in franchise history – in September 1978.  Kevin Millwood gets the chance to
earn that victory tomorrow afternoon – in which case he’d match the club’s
leading winner, Brandon McCarthy.

 

Yeah, you figured Brandon McCarthy would be leading the
league’s best team in wins two months into the
season.

 

I thought it might be kind of entertaining to look back
on something I wrote 103 days ago, on February 16.  Courtesy of your resident
Rangers homer:

 

I’m not here to tell you that 2009
is the Rangers’ year, but since there are local columnists out there trying to
tell you that there’s nothing worth looking forward to, let me suggest that
there are plenty of realistic reasons to believe that 2009 can be meaningfully
better than 2008′s 79-win, second-place finish:

 

1. Despite all the pitching
injuries, Texas was on an 85-77 pace when Ian Kinsler
and David Murphy were last in the lineup together early in August.  Even an
average season from a team health standpoint has to be worth a few
wins.

 

2. Mike
Maddux.

 

3. Kevin Millwood is pitching to
vest a 2010 contract that he’ll never get on the open market, and if he doesn’t
reach 180 innings, he’s in the same boat as Vicente Padilla, pitching for what
should be the final multi-year contract of his career. 

 

4. A full year of Chris
Davis.

 

5. Nelson Cruz hit .356/.448/.667 in
September.  Hank Blalock hit .337/.385/.695 in September (prompting one scout to
tell
Sports Illustrated‘s
Jon Heyman that he was “the best hitter I saw in the second half”).  They had
the top two OPS figures in the American League among hitters with at least 100
plate appearances for the month.  A full season from Cruz and a healthy one from
Blalock could be big.

 

6. Guess who led the league in
batting average in September (among hitters with 100 plate appearances or
more)?  Would you believe Josh Hamilton, who local columnists decided from the
Cowboys press box had a terrible second half?  Hamilton’s home run total dropped off after his
momentous All-Star Break (22 before, 11 after), but after his explosive
.310/.367/.552 first half, he did hit a healthy .296/.376/.498 in the second
half, boosted by his .366/.443/.516 September.  That September clip was his best
monthly batting average of the season.

 

There’s probably a way to create
splits that will show what Hamilton’s output was in the 114 games that
Milton Bradley hit fourth, as opposed to the 48 games he didn’t.  I bet the
disparity was significant.  Answering the question of who will fill the cleanup
void is high on the list this camp, but if Cruz or Blalock can produce the way
he did at the end of the season, we’re talking.  (Yes, you’d prefer to go
left-right in the three-four spots, but Hamilton hit .288/.342/.459 and Blalock hit
.277/.337/.566 against lefties in 2008.  Not
terrible.)

 

As for Hamilton, a year without
all the draining road trip press conferences, without a book to write, with a
better idea of how to condition himself for the duration?  (Chances are he’ll
also have a long-term deal in place before the season starts.)  It’s reasonable
to think he’s set up to approach the production he gave this team in
2008.

 

7. The defense will be better at
first base.  I believe it will be better at second base.  I have enough faith in
Michael Young’s skill set and how he’ll attack his program for the next six
weeks to believe that Young and an Andrus/Omar Vizquel tandem at shortstop will
mean better defense on the left side than the combination of Young and eight
third basemen were in 2008.

 

8. Young at the plate?  Ten unbroken
fingers rather than eight.  Bet on the numbers bouncing
back.

 

9. Mark Teixeira, Francisco
Rodriguez, and Jon Garland out.  Bobby Abreu, Brian Fuentes, and Dustin Moseley
in.

 

10. The bullpen?  Frankie Francisco
started last season in AAA.  He starts this season coming off 13 straight
dominant appearances (1-0, 0.00, five saves in five chances, 21 strikeouts and
four walks in 12.2 innings, four hits [.093 opponents' batting average]). 

 

C.J. Wilson wasn’t healthy.  Now he
is. 

 

Does Eddie Guardado have anything
left?  It didn’t look like it a year ago, and all he did for four months was get
outs.  Derrick Turnbow?  Willie Eyre?  Don’t know, but it’s not as if Joaquin
Benoit gave this team much in 2008.

 

Worried about filling the void
created by the departure of Jamey Wright?  In two of his final three months last
season his ERA was over 8.00.  No reason Donnelly, who is here on a non-roster
deal (just like Wright was in each of his two Rangers seasons), can’t come in
and give this team as much as Wright did in the second half of 2007 and the
first half of 2008.

 

More innings out of the starters
would mean a less brutal workload than Wright and Josh Rupe were put through
last year.  That would be good news for Rupe, who was as good as anyone in
Rangers relief in May and June (2.12 ERA) but struggled in the second half (6.44
ERA).

 

Don’t rule out a surprise emergence
from someone like lefthander Joe Torres.  Ron Mahay and Brian Shouse were
longshot journeymen brought to camp on non-roster deals once upon a time, too,
and look at them now.

 

I’m not ignoring Warner Madrigal or
Dustin Nippert or Kason Gabbard.  Thomas Diamond or John Bannister could figure
in at some point as well.

 

11. I have more confidence in the
23-year-old Saltalamacchia than I did the 22-year-old version.  And I love the
idea of Teagarden growing with, and helping shepherd, the young pitchers who
have arrived or are on the way.

 

12. It can’t get worse for Brandon
McCarthy.  He’s the poster child for the organization’s new expectations of its
pitchers.

 

13. Matt Harrison in his nine wins
(over only three months): 2.75 ERA, opponents’ line of .241/.299/.382, nearly
twice as many strikeouts (33) as walks (17).  In his six losses and
no-decisions: 12.04 ERA, opponents’ line of .416/.469/.788, more walks (14) than
strikeouts (nine).  He’ll be just 23 almost all season.  Some more consistency
from the lefthander could mean big things.

 

14. Holland will be here at some point in 2009. 
Feliz might be, too.

 

15. Ben
Sheets?

 

16. This is going to be true this
summer, and next winter, and every summer and winter in the foreseeable future:
If this club is in the hunt, or feels it’s one or two impact players away from
making serious noise, no team is better positioned to offer high-end prospects
to get a major trade done. 

 

17. I won’t put Andruw Jones on this
list, because I suggested at the top that these were realistic expectations for
improvement.  Never know, but I’m not counting on Jones making this team, or
making a big impact if he does break camp on the
roster.

 

18. This team simply has to have a
better April.  Its record through the end of the first month in the two Ron
Washington seasons is 20-33 – which is a .377 win percentage, or a 61-win pace. 

 

Why does that change in 2009? 
Several factors to consider: (1) Texas opens at home this year, after opening on
the road the previous two; (2) Texas plays more home games than road games this
April, after the opposite the previous two; (3) of the 22 games on the club’s
April schedule, three are against a team that had a winning record in 2008.  And
that team’s winter has been highlighted by the loss of A.J. Burnett and the
addition of Keith Millar on a minor league
contract.

 

But the biggest reason to
realistically believe that April 2009 will be better is that is has to be.  The
Rangers showed some character when their backs were against the wall in May last
year, with major changes reportedly imminent, and in any number of games
throughout the season when they came back to win in dramatic fashion.  In a
sense, their backs are against the wall coming right out of the gate this year. 
Another bad April will mean a new manager in May.  These guys love playing for
Ron Washington.  They know he’s got to have a good start to survive, and that’s
on the players.

 

Better defense in April is
imperative.  Better pitching is, too, obviously, and we can hope that one
offshoot of the stricter off-season conditioning programs and the more
challenging spring training regimens will be that the starting pitchers in
particular will break camp ready to roll.  Even the offense is responsible for a
better start: April was the Rangers’ worst month in terms of OPS last year, and
their second worst in 2007.

 

Hamilton is saying 90 wins is within reach.  Ryan suggests
this team should win at least 87.  But those are just numbers.  You don’t run
out of the dugout on April 6 or April 17 or June 8 thinking, “We’re playing like
an 87-win team tonight.”  You go to war with a mindset like the one Hamilton articulated this
weekend: “We know we have to start off better.  It’s about starting with
intensity from the very beginning, not wait until you get down and get the fire
in [you].”

 

Does a better April mean a better
season?  Not by definition, but it sets a tone, and forges a momentum.  In the
last seven seasons, Texas has had two winning Aprils, in 2004 and
2006.  Those were the only years in that stretch when the Rangers won at least
80 games.

 

Again, I’m not counting on a playoff
berth in 2009.  But for the four local TV sportscasts, three of which apparently
won’t even send a crew to Surprise in the next six weeks, and some of the
Metroplex’s general columnists, the Rangers are a handy punch line.  Given how
uninformed (and disinterested) those opinion-makers are, the joke to me is not
the subject matter, but the messenger.

 

Everyone who pays attention agrees
that this organization is headed in the right direction, though not everyone
agrees on the timetable.  Even if 2009 doesn’t extend past October 4, there’s a
very real chance that this season will be better than the last, and that
shouldn’t be overlooked.

 

You know this thing is cooking when even
I underestimated the
possibilities.

 

 

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

 

Nothing wrong with a little luck.

March 31, 2007:  Marlon
Byrd
(.314/.379/.451 in camp) – Designated for Assignment 

March 31, 2007:  Matt
Kata
(.382/.390/.564 in camp, more versatility) – Purchased from Minor Leagues

April 5, 2007:  Marlon Byrd
- Clears Waivers, Outrighted to AAA Oklahoma RedHawks

 

*          *          *

 

March 30, 2008:  Nelson
Cruz
(.209/.261/.395 in camp) – Designated for Assignment

March 30, 2008:  Jason
Botts
(.313/.340/.417) survives battle with Cruz for final Opening Day roster
spot

April 3, 2008:  Nelson Cruz
- Clears Waivers, Outrighted to AAA Oklahoma RedHawks

 

*          *          *

 

January 15, 2009:  Andruw
Jones
– Released by Los Angeles Dodgers ($22.1 million remaining on his
contract)

February 9, 2009:
 Andruw
Jones
– Signed by Texas Rangers to Non-Guaranteed Minor League Contract ($500,000
base)

 

*          *          *

 

It may not be better in baseball to be lucky than good, but
it doesn’t hurt at all to mix in a little luck.

 

By the way, Tommy Hunter, following a workmanlike effort today,
has been optioned back to Oklahoma City,
and righthander Guillermo Moscoso has reportedly been recalled from Frisco to
join the bullpen for Game Two, which is minutes from getting underway.  Moscoso, who would make his big league debut
if he gets any work before returning to the farm, is already on the 40-man
roster.

Thoughts on a sale of the Rangers.

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From the Newberg Report written 751 days ago:

 

Second to the elation
I’ll feel when Texas next makes the playoffs
will be the next time that New York
doesn’t.

 

Bring on the A’s.

 

Word broke yesterday that Tom Hicks is open to selling a majority
stake in the Rangers.  I don’t have much
to say about that other than (1) I hope Nolan Ryan chooses to be a big player
in this (it’s clear that Hicks wants him to be) and (2) it’s crucial that,
whatever transition takes place, the baseball operations crew is allowed to
stay on the course that it laid out two years ago and has this franchise poised
to be where we all want it be. 

 

Hicks gets far too much criticism from the mainstream media,
who choose not to recognize the guts and foresight it took to make Jon Daniels,
who at the time had less than five years in baseball, his general manager, and the
patience and lack of ego it took to authorize the plan that Daniels presented
to him in May 2007 to trade Mark Teixeira and shift focus and resources to
scouting and player development and a wholesale effort to load up on young
talent through the draft and international market and trades, a philosophy that’s
a lot less flashy and far more gradual than many owners would have signed off
on. 

 

Baseball America‘s
Jim Callis in an ESPN chat session yesterday:

 

Q: Bedard trade for
Orioles . . . best trade in baseball in 10 years?

 

Callis:  Check out the Mark Teixeira trade to the
Braves.

 

The Herschel Walker trade wasn’t Herschel Walker Trade until the Cowboys turned the Minnesota draft picks into
Emmitt Smith and Darren Woodson and Russell Maryland and Kevin Smith and three
Lombardi Trophies.  The Teixeira trade is
no Herschel Walker Trade – yet.  But
there’s no question that without it, this franchise wouldn’t be in nearly as
good a position as everyone agrees that it is. 
Hicks should get some credit for believing in, and consenting to, the
plan that Jon Daniels and his crew proposed and have now been executing for two
very good years.

 

Don’t count on the general columnists recognizing Hicks’s role
in that, however.

 

Or acknowledging in print the millions of Hicks dollars that
may not have gone to player payroll (a favorite topic of the media, rarely mentioning
Ben Sheets or Torii Hunter or Daisuke Matsuzaka or Barry Zito or Carlos Delgado
as free agent acquisitions he has consistently greenlighted even though they’d have
busted the budget) but did go to annual decisions to pay out of slot to pave
the way for the drafting and signing of the right high school and college players
(Teixeira, Derek Holland, Justin Smoak, Taylor Teagarden, Julio Borbon, Jake
Brigham, Neil Ramirez, Marcus Lemon, Robbie Ross, Clark Murphy, Johnny
Whittleman, Kyle Ocampo, Matt Thompson, and others), to outspend the
competition in Latin America (examples: Martin Perez, Fabio Castillo, Cristian
Santana, and Richard Alvarez, plus the aggregate of a Preller/Welke/Batista
class like 2006′s Wilmer Font/Wilfredo Boscan/Kennil Gomez/Carlos Pimentel/Geuris
Grullon/Macumba haul), to pay top dollar to make sure we had the hitting coach
and pitching coach we’d zeroed in on, and to hire Nolan Ryan.

 

The Ryan hiring was, of course, an inspired one that has
paid off in many ways and will continue to do so, and though the media has been
wholly supportive of Ryan’s arrival and impact, rarely is Hicks credited for
bringing him in at what had to be a significant financial investment.

 

Hicks wants to win, and though some with newspaper space
will continue to disparage the team payroll (for a roster that today maintains the
best record in the American League) and ignore all else, if Hicks wasn’t
interested in spending to win, would we have Holland and Smoak and Perez and
Mike Maddux . . . and Ryan?

 

What I’m hoping for, if Hicks does indeed sell controlling
interest in the Rangers, is continuity.  I
would have faith in a Ryan-led ownership to insist on that and to make it
happen.  So might someone coming in from
the outside, but if that’s where this is headed, I sure hope that stability is
a priority for whoever that might be. 

 

I guarantee you that the Angels and A’s and Mariners would
be thrilled to see someone come in here and push massive changes.

 

No word yet on whose roster spot Tommy Hunter will take for this
afternoon’s Game One start.  It could be
the first of multiple moves made today, possibly including the optioning of
Hunter back to AAA between games.

 

I’m no hitting coach and won’t suggest to you that I’ve
spotted a correctable flaw in Chris Davis’s swing, but to my baseball eye it sure
looks like the head of Davis’s
bat is flipping – almost flicking – through the zone, causing him to swing
through average fastballs.  The swing
looks level enough but seems like it’s not staying in the zone long enough.

 

The draft is in 11 days. 
Most mocks have Texas landing one of two high school arms from the state,
Brownwood High School righthander Shelby Miller or Klein High School lefthander
Matt Purke, when the club’s pick comes around at number 14, though others
suggest Miller will never last past the top 10 and some think Purke’s rumored price
tag could make him a very tough sign – particularly since his birthdate will
make him a rare draft-eligible sophomore in 2011 if he honors his commitment to
TCU. 

 

Jonathan Mayo’s MLB.com mock from yesterday (Purke) is here.  He’s having a draft-related chat session that’s
now underway here.

 

Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein ran a mock a week ago (Miller)
here.  He suggests Purke’s bonus demands could reach
$5 million.

 

ESPN’s Keith Law published his latest mock (Miller) here
on Wednesday.

 

As solid as the Rangers’ 2007 draft haul was (headlined by first-round
picks Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Borbon, Neil Ramirez, and Hunter, plus 17th-rounder
Mitch Moreland), imagine if Texas had managed to sign 11th-round righthander
Anthony Ranaudo and 12th-round lefthander Drew Pomeranz.  Law published a
piece a week ago
suggesting that LSU’s Ranaudo, Ole Miss’s Pomeranz, and Georgia’s
Justin Grimm project to be three of the top pitchers in the 2010 draft.  University
of Texas outfielder Kevin
Keyes, the Rangers’ 26th-round pick in that 2007 draft, is another
player whose 2010 draft potential will get lots of print a year from now.

 

John Sickels has published an updated Top 100 Prospects list,
with five Rangers showing up (Smoak at number 4 [second among hitters to
Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters], Neftali Feliz at number 6 [second among
righthanders to Atlanta’s Tommy Hanson], Holland at number 20 [third among lefthanders
to Tampa Bay’s David Price and Baltimore’s Brian Matusz], Teagarden at number
49 [fifth among catchers], and Max Ramirez at number 100 [seventh among
catchers]).  Sickels has Borbon, Main, and Kasey Kiker among 24 who just missed the
list.  No mention of Perez, the Jerry
West of the Newberg Report email banner whom I ranked in this
week’s Top 20 Rangers Prospects column
ahead of Feliz.

 

Maybe I missed it, but nowhere among the 124 players Sickels
listed could I find High A Lancaster catcher Jason Castro, the player Houston took 10th overall last June, leaving Smoak
for Texas at
number 11.

 

Stan McNeal of the Sporting
News
writes that when Atlanta signed Elvis
Andrus in 2005, the Braves thought they’d lost him to the Rangers when the
16-year-old didn’t show up on time for Atlanta’s
morning workout a day after he’d worked out for Texas. 
But Andrus did arrive, 15 minutes late, and blew the Braves away.  Says Royals GM Dayton Moore, who was then the
Braves’ director of player personnel: “After watching him work out, we sat down.  We had $325,000 on the table.  I asked him how much he wanted.  He said $500,000.  I put out my hand to shake his.  If he had asked for $700,000, I would have
given it to him.”

 

I wrote five days ago about the role Rangers Director of
Player Development Scott Servais played in the career-changing transformation
of Nelson Cruz’s batting stance and the striking maturation in Jarrod
Saltalamacchia’s defensive game.  Add
this: According to Daniels (in a Dallas
Morning News
column by Tim Cowlishaw), Servais pushed this winter for the
plan to have Holland begin his major league career in the bullpen, something that
Feliz is also expected to do later this season.  Notably, Servais caught Roy Oswalt with both
AAA New Orleans and Houston in Oswalt’s 2001 rookie season – and Oswalt started
his big league stint out of the Astros bullpen.

 

No group has taken a greater collective step forward in the
Rangers system this season than its lefthanders, from starters Matt Harrison, Holland,
Perez, Kiker, Michael Kirkman, and Richard Bleier to relievers A.J. Murray, recent
free agent acquisition Mike Hinckley, Zach Phillips, Corey Young, Ryan Falcon, Glenn
Swanson, and the stunning Yoon-Hee Nam, whose scoreless six-inning effort last
night improved his record to 1-0, 1.06 in three starts (17 innings, five hits,
three walks, 15 strikeouts), compared to 3-1, 0.52 in nine relief appearances
(17.1 innings, eight hits, six unintentional walks, 18 strikeouts, all four
inherited runners stranded).  The
21-year-old from South Korea commands a mid-to-upper-80s fastball and a plus curve,
according to Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark, who offered
that and tons more recently in an
outstanding interview with Mike Hindman
.

 

Texas has promoted
infielder-outfielder Adam Fox from Frisco to Oklahoma City,
and infielder Renny Osuna from Bakersfield
to Frisco.

 

More Beau
Vaughan bloggy greatness
.

 

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Red Sox would
only trade righthanders Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden for “an elite hitter
under similar team control (for example, Justin Smoak or Brett Wallace).”  Rosenthal correctly notes that players can’t
be traded until a year after signing their first pro contracts (which means
August 15 in Smoak’s case), but they can be pegged as players to be named later
as long as they are conveyed within six months of the trade.

 

Cleveland
designated outfielder David Dellucci for assignment this morning.  Much like Frank Catalanotto, Dellucci is a
sure bet to clear waivers due to his contract ($4 million), and then he’ll be
able to sort through what will probably be several opportunities to upgrade another
club’s bench at minimum wage while the Indians pay off the balance of his deal.

 

Righthander Eric Gagné signed with the Quebec Capitales of
the independent Can-Am League.

 

According to Baseball America,
the Rangers have reinstated outfielder Miguel Velazquez from the inactive
list.  The 2006 19th-rounder
out of Puerto Rico is an enigmatic player who
hasn’t appeared officially since 2007, when hit .330/.381/.489 in the Arizona
League.

 

Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker reports that, according to Nikkan Sports, the Rangers dispatched
two scouts to watch Japanese high school lefthander Yusei Kikuchi work out about
a week ago.

 

For those of you who use Hotmail and have involuntarily been
bounced off the subscriber list in the past, I’m told you should be sure nmlr@listserv.tamu.edu is on your “safe
senders list.”  To be safest, you should
probably add gjsneaker@sbcglobal.net,
jnewberg@vilolaw.com, and minors@scottlucas.com, which are the
addresses from which Scott and I send the reports to the Listserv for distribution.
 

 

Based on what’s about a 10:1 ratio in the wave of emails I’ve
gotten back, it looks like we’re going to have Newberg Report Night on Sunday,
August 2 against Seattle.  More details soon.

 

 

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

 

New Top 20 rankings.

The latest
installment of my weekly ranking of the top 20 prospects in the Rangers’ farm
system was posted this morning on the official Rangers website, www.texasrangers.com

 

A little shakeup
near the top this week . . . .

 

Here’s a direct
link to the column:

 

http://dwarfurl.com/cf8fb
 

 

Also, please
note that the column is set up to allow fan comments at the bottom of the
page.

Texas 7, NYY 3.

Beating the Yankees is sweet enough. 

 

Beating them by playing their type of game – chasing the
starting pitcher early by working counts, taking advantage of opportunities, executing
without trying to do too much, playing lockdown defense, and letting the best closer
in the league shut things down – feels spectacular.

 

And man, if Chris Davis can use this game against the team that
spent a 50th-round draft choice on him in high school and didn’t
even bother making him an offer to sign, and settle into some semblance of a
groove that even hints at what he did last June, July, and September, that
changes things.  Potentially a bunch.

 

White Sox 4, Angels 2. 

 

Good night.

Brandon McCarthy.

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To follow up on my brilliantly insightful point this morning
about Brandon McCarthy:

 

McCarthy lowered his first-inning ERA today from 1.13 to
1.00, firing another scoreless frame to start a game, and whittled his
.250/.281/.250 opponents’ slash line down to .250/.278/.250.

 

Of course, he did some work on the 6.57 ERA he had outside
the first, including uncharted territory in the eighth and ninth, by carving
through the Astros lineup with a complete game shutout, his third as a pro.  His first came on June 26, 2004, when he
blanked the Hickory Crawdads (then a Pirates affiliate) for Low A Kannapolis, improving
to 8-5, 3.64 and prompting an immediate promotion to High A Winston-Salem.

 

McCarthy’s one other complete game shutout came against AAA
Richmond Braves on August 13, 2005, in a 7-0 Charlotte Knights win.  Two weeks later, he was summoned to the big
leagues for his second White Sox stint of the season, in order to make a start
in Arlington in
the back half of a doubleheader that many of us remember as Edinson Volquez’s
major league debut.  McCarthy blanked Texas for 7.2 innings
that night, scattering two hits and a walk while fanning two Rangers, earning
his first big league win.

 

His latest big league win was obviously his most impressive since
coming to the Rangers after the 2006 season. 
He didn’t necessarily overmatch the Astros, who collected nine hits -
but just one that went for extra bases (a Miguel Tejada double), but he was in
attack mode from start to finish, throwing 83 strikes among 124 pitches,
commanding the fastball, and throwing a significant number of 12-to-6 curves
that dipped into the strike zone when he wanted it to and into the dirt when he
wanted that. 

 

It was an exciting effort – the kind that I suspect convinced
whatever Rangers scouts recommended the trade with Chicago to bang their fists on the table at
the time – and one that McCarthy will get an extra day of rest to recover from
since the club has an off-day this Thursday.

 

Meanwhile, the Yankees needed 11 innings to lose today,
putting a tad more torque on their bullpen heading into the next three days in Arlington. 

 

For what it’s worth, John Danks is 3-3, 4.60 this
season.  McCarthy is 4-2, 4.67.  Means nothing, really, but it’s interesting.

 

There will be a standing-room only crowd packing Rangers Ballpark
tomorrow afternoon, and among the portion of the 50,000 who will be on their
feet will be McCarthy, leaning against the dugout rail with, I imagine, as good
a feeling as he’s probably had as a professional ballplayer . . . matching as
good a feeling as I’ve had as a Rangers fan in a long, long time. 

 

 

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

 

Notebook dump.

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Three straight losses in Detroit,
coming off one of the best stretches in franchise history, and then two
straight wins in Houston,
behind what amounts to the club’s sixth and seventh starters.  The game will drive you crazy, in a way you’d
never give up.

 

Meanwhile, the Angels built a 4-1 lead over the Dodgers behind
John Lackey last night, before Scot Shields and Jose Arredondo continued to
look nothing like their pre-2009 selves, and the Dodgers walked off with a
10-inning win on two singles and two walks. 

 

One guess: Who has the best record in the American League?

 

When Scott Feldman is locating that cutter at 94, there aren’t
three better pitches on the Rangers staff.

 

Ron Washington on going with Nelson Cruz in the cleanup spot
(where he’d had just one previous career start – on Opening Day this year) on
Saturday: “I just figured I’d try something different.  Cruz is swinging the bat well right now and
when I started putting together lineups for today, Cruz was the guy that came
to my mind for that spot.  And when I go
with my gut in that situation, usually I’m right.”

 

Washington
said that before the game. 

 

The decision not to use Frankie Francisco to close yesterday
was not so much a red flag as it was an exercise in restraint, as the righthander
had thrown 16 pitches in Friday’s night game before a day game, in his first appearance
coming off the disabled list.

 

The ball instead went to C.J. Wilson to close out yesterday’s
win.  Wilson’s 10 appearances since April
25: 1-0, 0.00 (one unearned run), three saves in four opportunities, two holds,
.242/.306/.273, nine innings, eight hits (seven singles and one double), three
walks, three strikeouts, one double play, two of three inherited runners stranded. 

 

The Rangers’ collective on-base percentage in 2009 is .329.

 

The Rangers’ collective on-base percentage in 2008 was .354.

 

Think that was all because of Milton Bradley’s contribution?

 

The Rangers’ collective on-base percentage in 2008,
subtracting Bradley’s, was .346.

 

From a Newberg Report Q&A that I did on February 3:

 

Q: If Andrus were to
play 120 games in 2009, what sort of stats do you see him ending up with? – J.

 

A: In his first 494
big league at-bats (spanning two years), Jose Reyes hit .283/.307/.407 with 32
stolen bases. In his first 196 big league at-bats (spanning two years), Alex
Rodriguez hit .224/.257/.352 with seven stolen bases. I’ll say Reyes’s on-base,
A-Rod’s slug, and split the difference in batting average and steals.

 

So I’d predicted something like .254/.307/.352 with 20 stolen
bases.  In 36 games, Andrus sits at .292/.331/.458
with six steals.  I was right on with the
swipes but, man, I didn’t expect he’d handle himself offensively like he has so
far.  He’ll slump at some point this
season, but for now, the returns are better than just about anyone could have
reasonably expected. 

 

As for those of you who were adamant that Andrus wasn’t
ready defensively, based solely on his 32 AA errors in 2008, how ya feeling
now?

 

According to John Dewan’s sophisticated “Defensive Runs
Saved” metric, the Rangers have the best defense in baseball, with 28 runs
saved.  Only two other teams (Toronto and Tampa
Bay) are above 20; Cincinnati leads the National League at 18.

 

Back to Cruz for a second. 
You’re aware of the change in batting stance that has changed his career.  Guess who opened Cruz up back in 2007?

 

The same guy who spent hours and hours outside of his job
description this winter and this spring, tirelessly working one on one with
Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the finer points of catching, another transformation that
has clearly taken hold this season.

 

Rangers director of player development Scott Servais, who
won’t be a director of player development forever.

 

Randy Galloway wrote in Wednesday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the Rangers “had a salary-dumping
deal worked out for [Kevin] Millwood just before the trading deadline” last
July.

 

Not true.

 

Says Jon Daniels of Galloway’s
note: “It’s somewhere between irresponsible journalism and pure fiction.  No truth to it whatsoever.  I’d love to hear his ‘source’ explain who the
deal was with, what we were getting in return, and why it didn’t happen.  Not the first nor last time this type of
garbage will be put out there.”

 

Acknowledging that it wasn’t a good fit, the Rangers relieved
Joe Slusarski of his duties as Frisco pitching coach on Wednesday, replacing
him with Jeff Andrews, the former Pirates pitching coach who had been hired to
serve his season as pitched coach for Short-Season A Spokane.  

 

Andrews began his coaching career as a minor league
instructor in the Rangers system in 1986, a run that included one season (1987)
with High A Charlotte (where he coached Kevin Brown and Kenny Rogers), three seasons
(1988-90) with AA Tulsa (where he coached Brown, Rogers, Robb Nen, Wilson Alvarez,
Roger Pavlik, and future big league pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal), and one
season (1991) with AAA Oklahoma City (where he coached Pavlik, Rosenthal, and fellow
future big league pitching coach Brad Arnsberg).

 

Andrews, who had a three-year minor league career as a
pitcher, played collegiately at East
Tennessee State,
10 years before Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark played
for the Buccaneers.

 

No word yet on who will replace Andrews as pitching coach
for Spokane, whose season begins on June 20 (and
whose roster will include a number of college players whom Texas will draft on June 9-11).

 

The Arizona League opens on June 21.  The Dominican Summer League, where the
Rangers field two squads, kicks off this Saturday.

 

Eddie Guardado has been better lately (one run in his last
6.2 innings, on six hits and three walks), but A.J. Murray lowered his AAA ERA
to 0.84 last night with another two scoreless innings (one hit, no walks, two
strikeouts), throwing an eye-opening 80 percent of his 30 pitches for
strikes. 

 

Outfielder Steve Murphy was in his third season with Frisco
before getting promoted this week to Oklahoma City,
where in his first AAA at-bat on Friday he hit a ninth-inning pinch homer to
put the RedHawks on the board in an eventual 10-1 loss to Las Vegas.

 

Murphy’s high school teammate John Mayberry Jr homered
against the Yankees yesterday, in his second big league at-bat.  Philadelphia
called the outfielder up as a roster adjustment for interleague play.

 

At Frisco, righthander Clayton Hamilton (0-2, 4.50 in four
starts and nine relief appearances) was sent to extended to make room on the staff
for lefthander Michael Kirkman, whose anticipated AA debut is this afternoon.  Outfielder Joe Gaetti was released and righthander
Jared Hyatt was placed on the disabled list. 
To replace them on the roster, lefthander Michael Ballard and
infielder-catcher Emerson Frostad were reassigned from Oklahoma City. 

 

Bakersfield righthander Blake Beavan’s last four appearances,
all quality starts: 3-0, 2.17, 25 hits and four walks in 29 innings, 16
strikeouts, 1.5 as many groundouts and flyouts, one home run, six groundball double
plays. 

 

Hickory
righthander Joe Wieland is on the disabled list with a groin strain.  Last summer’s fourth-round pick spent the
season’s first six weeks in extended spring training as the organization
manages his workload, and the 19-year-old made one Crawdads start, giving up
two Delmarva runs on four hits and no walks in 4.2 innings on Monday, fanning
five.

 

Righthander Matt Nevarez, the Rangers’ 10th-round
pick in 2005, came into the season with a career ERA of 3.36 but 56 walks in
72.1 innings.  The 22-year-old, who
missed the 2007 season due to elbow surgery, has busted out at Hickory. 
In 14.1 innings of relief, the flamethrower has allowed just four hits
(.087 opponents’ average) and seven walks while setting a staggering 22 down on
strikes.  The only two earned runs on his
ledger this season came in the second of his 12 appearances.

 

Naevarez’s Crawdads teammate Yoon-Hee Nam, a 21-year-old
lefthander signed by the Rangers out of South Korea in 2006, came into the
season with solid numbers (6-1, 3.95, 73 hits, 76 strikeouts, and 17 unintentional
walks in 73 innings), but what he’s doing right now is ridiculous.  In 28.1 innings (two starts and nine relief
appearances), Nam
has scattered 10 hits (.106 opponents’ average) and 10 walks while punching out
30 South Atlantic Leaguers.  None of the
four baserunners he’s inherited have come around to score.

 

Cristian Santana emerged from extended spring training to make
his Hickory debut
last night, singling in his first at-bat before striking out and getting
drilled in his remaining four trips as the Crawdads left fielder.

 

Interesting 18-year-old shortstop Leury “Furcalito” Garcia,
who debuted for the Arizona League squad last summer, was reassigned from
extended spring training to Hickory,
where he singled and walked in each of his first three Crawdads games.

 

To make room for Garcia’s arrival, power-hitting first base prospect
Clark Murphy was transferred from Hickory
back to extended.  Murphy, who hit .358/.435/.526
last summer in the Arizona League after Texas
took him in the fifth round, was hitting a homerless .218/.282/.273 for the
Crawdads.

 

Add to the list of teenaged Latin American prospects linked
to Texas the name of Dominican righthander Leonardo Perdomo, a “super-projectable”
prospect expected to land a high six-figure bonus when the July 2 international
signing period opens.

 

Peter Gammons writes that, according to a scout, Boston reliever Ramon
Ramirez “may be the best trade of the off-season.  He could easily close if anything happened to
Jonathan Papelbon.”

 

Ramirez, a onetime Rangers farmhand (as an outfielder), was
a guy I was hoping to get in on last summer (my idea was Saltalamacchia, Matt
Harrison or Eric Hurley, Mayberry or Cruz, Joaquin Arias, and Nevarez or Zach
Phillips or Carlos Pimentel or Miguel De Los Santos or Geuris Grullon or Julio
Santana, for Zack Greinke and Ramirez), before the Royals shipped him to the
Red Sox for outfielder Coco Crisp in November. 

 

Andrew Baggarly of the San
Jose Mercury News
reports that the Giants GM Brian Sabean is “put[ting]
feelers out to see what he could fetch for righthander Matt Cain,” who improved
to 5-1, 2.40 last night by going the distance in a 5-1 win in Seattle (10 hits
[all singles], no walks, seven strikeouts, only 111 pitches, 81 of which [73
percent] were strikes). 

 

The 24-year-old Cain is one of the pitchers (along with Florida’s Josh Johnson
and Chris Volstad) I’ve been running out there as a trade target lately. 

 

Baltimore
released Adam Eaton.

 

Laynce Nix is hitting .280/.329/.560 and is getting nearly
everyday work now as Cincinnati’s
left fielder.

 

Big start for Brandon McCarthy today, as Vicente Padilla is
nine days away from an expected activation in time for the Rangers’ series in
Yankee Stadium.  Theoretically, McCarthy
could have today and then Saturday at home against Oakland to save his rotation spot.

 

A thought to tuck away: McCarthy’s ERA in the first inning
this year is 1.13, by far his best inning (he’s at 6.57 thereafter).  His first inning K/BB is 5.00 (it’s 1.35 thereafter,
and in fact it’s not over 2.00 in any other inning).  Opponents are hitting .250/.281/.250 off
McCarthy in the first inning (.281/.357/.548 thereafter).  McCarthy has surrendered nine doubles and 10
home runs this year – but no extra-base hits among his seven hits allowed in
the first inning.

 

Could McCarthy be a candidate for one-inning bursts, not
just as a way to make room for Derek Holland to stay in the rotation but maybe
to get the best out of the 25-year-old? 
There’s certainly room for a righthander to emerge in the bullpen.

 

For now, McCarthy’s job is to help his team remain the
league’s best, as he faces off with Mike Hampton less than three hours from now
with a series sweep within grasp.  The bullpen,
as has been the case almost all year, is relatively fresh, but a third straight
seven-inning effort from McCarthy would be quite welcome as Texas heads toward six
at home with the Yankees and A’s, then six on the Coast against the Yankees and
Red Sox, and 10 more at home, starting with seven against Toronto, who has the
AL’s second-best record after Texas, and the Dodgers, the best team in baseball.

 

I’m looking forward to being driven extremely crazy over these
next three weeks.

 

 

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

 

Deconstructing Derek Holland.

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The first time through the Houston lineup for Derek Holland:

 

3.0 innings, one hit (a Carlos Lee roller through the
right-side hole) – erased by a subsequent double play, no walks, no
strikeouts.  Threw 29 pitches (9.7 per
inning), 17 for strikes.  Went to one
three-ball count – his first time to work from the stretch – in the Hunter
Pence at-bat that ended in the 4-6-3 double play.

 

Holland’s second time through
the Houston
lineup:

 

2.2 innings, one hit (a Michael Bourn infield single), no
walks, four strikeouts – in the span of seven batters, and all swinging.  Threw 37 pitches (13.9 per inning), a
******** 29 for strikes (in fact, no balls at all in a seven-pitch fifth).  One three-ball count, to pinch-hitter Edwin
Maysonet (his first big league plate appearance of the year and eighth of his
career).  Holland got Maysonet to fly out to center but
the eight-pitch at-bat precipitated the quick end to his night.

 

Holland’s
third time through:

 

0.0 innings (three hitters), no walks, no strikeouts, 10
pitches, six for strikes.  Specifically, following
the Maysonet F-8, the second out of the inning with nobody on base: Bourn bunt
single, Kaz Matsui dribbler single up the middle, Lance Berkman home run on a
3-1 slider that Holland
left up.  It might have been the only pitch
he left up without meaning to all night, and it was his final pitch.

 

We often look at how starters fare in certain innings when
measuring workload and stamina, but among what fascinated me about Holland’s start last night,
and how it was gameplanned with Mike Maddux and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, was how he
performed each time through the Astros lineup, which included no players that had
ever faced him.  (Humberto Quintero did a
three-game rehab stint with Corpus Christi last July
but Holland was
still three weeks short of his arrival in Frisco.) 

 

First time through (according to MLB
Gameday
):

 

Five four-seam fastballs to Bourn (93-96).  Three four-seamers to Matsui (94-96).  Two four-seamers to Berkman (94-96).  Three four-seamers to Lee (92-95).  Three four-seamers (92-93) and two changeups (84-85)
to Pence.  Two four-seamers to Miguel
Tejada (92-94).  Three four-seamers to
Jeff Keppinger (93-94).  Two four-seamers
to Quintero (93-94).  Four four-seamers
to Felipe Paulino (92-93). 

 

Summary: 29 pitches – every one of them a four-seam fastball
with the exception of two changeups to Pence, the one batter he faced with a
runner on. 

 

Second time through:

 

Three four-seamers to Bourn (92-94).  Two four-seamers (93-94) and a slider (remember,
he didn’t show the breaking ball to the lineup the entire first time through,
according to Gameday) to Matsui, who swung through the slider as it dived down
into the dirt – before tipping the third-pitch fastball (94) that
Saltalamacchia held onto for strike three. 
Three four-seamers (93-95) and two sliders (82-83) to Berkman, including
a final slider that the Ranger-killer swung through for strike three as it dipped
low and in.  Three four-seamers (93-95)
and a slider (84) to Lee.  Two
four-seamers (90-94) and a slider (81) to Pence.  A changeup (84) and two four-seamers (94-95) to
Tejada.  One four-seamer to Keppinger
(92).  Four four-seamers (92-95), two
changeups (83-84), and a slider (84) to Quintero.  Seven four-seamers (93-95) and a slider (84)
to Maysonet.

 

Holland’s
37 pitches in that sequence included seven sliders, shown to six hitters, all
for the first time.  His final three
fastballs to Maysonet, which were pitches 63, 65, and 66 of the night – he hadn’t
thrown more than 58 since his lone AAA effort (81 pitches) on April 13, and before
the 58-pitch effort on May 15 he’d thrown a total of 39 pitches over two weeks – each registered at 95
miles per hour.  He threw only three
pitches with more velocity all night, one 96 each to Bourn, Matsui, and Berkman
leading off the first inning, two for balls and one for a strike.  The three 95′s he offered Maysonet in the
sixth?  All for strikes.

 

Here’s one thing I love about Holland and his ability – his habit – of getting
better: With Low A Clinton, right-handed hitters were better against him than
lefties, not an unusual split for a southpaw pitcher.  With High A Bakersfield, Holland evened out the split.  With AA Frisco (which was not a 30-inning
stint as the mainstream media likes to point out, but instead 50 when you
include his untouchable run in last summer’s Texas League playoffs), as his secondary
pitches began to play up more against advanced competition, righties fared
worse against Holland than left-handed hitters. 

 

In the big leagues, opponents are hitting .254/.312/.451 against
Holland.  But righties? 
An anemic .184/.259/.388.

 

What we saw last night was more evidence of why, despite the
off-season coronation by Baseball America
and Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein and ESPN’s Keith Law and John Sickels
- all of whom I respect a ton, I had Holland ranked as my number one Rangers
prospect, not Neftali Feliz, who all four others had above Holland and, in two cases,
had as baseball’s number two pitching prospect (behind Tampa Bay’s David
Price).

 

I love Feliz.  I love
how he’s bounced back from the first adversity of his pro career (a 5.03 ERA
and some shoulder discomfort after five AAA appearances) to throw two outstanding
starts (two runs on five hits and two walks in 11 innings, with 11 strikeouts
and the best pitches-per-inning results of his season). 

 

But while Holland yields a few miles per hour to Feliz on
the gun, Holland’s secondary offerings, his approach, his ability to field the
position and to hold runners (and hey: to switch-bunt!), and his maturity and
tenacity and savvy on the hill are what separate those two for me, at least
right now. 

 

From Maddux: “[Holland]
was on the attack the entire time.  His
poise, composure and game plan were outstanding.  He faced a very veteran team and didn’t back
down once.  He belonged out there and he
let them know that.”

 

Yep.

 

I won’t be surprised at all if Feliz is coming on to face
Vlad Guerrero in the eighth inning on August 7, if not July 6, and I couldn’t
be any more excited about the thought of the 21-year-old and 22-year-old who stand
back-to-back on the cover of the 2009 Bound Edition pitching in Rangers red when
my eight-year-old daughter is their age. 

 

But for now, Derek Holland is the first “statement” manifestation
of this organization’s ascendancy to its position of having baseball’s best collection
of high-end young pitchers, an unprecedented perch as far as this franchise goes. 

 

I can’t wait for Wednesday, as this club’s most exciting
rookie pitcher ever takes his poise and composure and game plan to the mound
against the Yankees in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

 

holland_hou.jpg

 

AP                                          

 

 

P.S. Michael Young is on
crutches, following Saturday morning X-rays to determine whether he just
sprained his right ankle on Quintero’s pickoff attempt from behind the plate in
the first inning, or if the ankle is worse.  After injuring the ankle, Young singled in
third and scored from second on an Andruw Jones single to left; singled in the
fifth; singled in the seventh; and lined out to shortstop in the ninth.

 

P.P.S. Breakout lefthander
Michael Kirkman has been promoted from Bakersfield
(4-1, 2.06, 54/18 k/bb in 48 innings) to Frisco.

 

 

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

 

Derek Holland, major league starting pitcher.

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On May 20, 2006, Derek Holland was two weeks off his final
freshman appearance for Wallace State-Hanceville Community College, pitching
six innings of relief (two runs on five hits and two walks, seven strikeouts)
in a 5-2 Lions win over the Bevill State-Fayette Community College Bears.  Whether he had it marked on his calendar or
not, he was also 18 days away from Day Two of the MLB Draft, a day on which his
name would be quietly called by Texas in the 25th round, 748th
overall, right after Arizona selected East Tennessee State University outfielder
Shane Byrne and just before the Cubs chose Hargrave High School (Huffman,
Texas) righthander Jamie Bagley. 

 

May 20, 2007 was 16 days after Holland’s
final Wallace State start (one run on four hits and no
walks in seven innings, seven strikeouts), a 5-1 win over the Calhoun Community
College Warhawks.  It was also the day Holland sat down with
Rangers scouts Rick Schroeder and Jeff Wood and signed as a draft-and-follow with
the Rangers for a reported $200,000, an amount generally appropriate for the
fourth or fifth round.

 

On May 20, 2008, Holland
pitched in his 24th pro game, improving to 4-0, 2.45 with Low A Clinton,
holding the Beloit Snappers to two runs (one earned) on five hits and no walks,
fanning three in six innings of work.

 

Holland
went to bed on May 20, 2009 as a major league relief pitcher. 

 

On May 21, 2009, one day after the two-year anniversary of
his age 20 decision to make his next stop Surprise, Arizona rather than Arizona
State University, Derek Holland was told he was a major league starting
pitcher. 

 

Even if Holland
weren’t as unassuming as he is, there’s no chance as he sat down in May 2007 to
sign a couple papers and shake hands with Schroeder and Wood to seal his
decision to go pro, that in two years he’d be a major league fixture.  Or that as he sat in the stands in May 2008 in
Alliant Energy Field in Clinton, Iowa, charting his LumberKings teammate Blake
Beavan’s fifth pro start, he’d be on the verge of making a start for the Texas
Rangers one year later.  No chance.

 

Derek_Holland(2).jpg

 

In this photo, courtesy of Paul Gierhart, Holland
is thinking about locating a warmup pitch in the bullpen, and making sure he
holds his end up as part of a Clinton
rotation that included Beavan, Neftali Feliz, Kennil Gomez, and Fabio Castillo.  It was four uniforms ago for Holland, but just one year. 

 

A storybook year that, tonight, has Holland in charge of the
decision of which Rangers uniform he and his teammates will wear, as they get
set to take on the Houston Astros and try to maintain a two-game division lead.

 

In two years, Holland
has been a Lion and an Indian and a LumberKing and a Blaze and a RoughRider and
a Redhawk and a Ranger.  It’s pretty clear
that he’s through changing team names for a while.  Tonight may be the night, as his parents Wendy
and Rick look on from their seats in Minute Maid Park, deprived of the chance
to see him toting the Pink Backpack, that Holland starts out on a yet another new
path, that of a big league starting pitcher, one that I wouldn’t bet against him
staying on for good. 

 

 

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

 

New Rangers Top 20 Prospects list.

The latest
installment of my weekly ranking of the top 20 prospects in the Rangers’ farm
system was posted this morning on the official Rangers website, www.texasrangers.com

Here’s a direct
link to the column:

http://dwarfurl.com/43371

Also, please
note that the column is set up to allow fan comments at the bottom of the
page.

And a reminder:
Rangers team physician Keith Meister will take your questions Friday morning at
10 a.m. on the Newberg Report message board.  Dr. Meister operates TMI Sports
Medicine and Orthopedic Center and TMI Sports Performance, a local
facility that specializes in biomechanics, performance enhancement, physical
training, and injury prevention.  Whether you’re a Rangers fan or a youth/high
school/collegiate sports coach or parent, this will be a pretty cool
opportunity.

I’ll send out a
link Friday morning to the message board thread where we’ll set up the Q&A. 
In the meantime, check out today’s Top 20
column
.

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