August 2009

Yard work.

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That was a migraine loss because of the way it
happened.  There haven’t been many
late-inning losses this year, not many issues catching and throwing the ball,
not many instances when more than one of this team’s most dependable players didn’t
have it on the same day.

 

And the decision to leave three players in
particular on the bench and in the bullpen tees up an easy second-guess in an
uncharacteristic squandered lead from a club that had been 46-3 when leading after
seven – and 25-1 in such games on the road.

 

I find myself a little disappointed that we’re going
to miss Roy Halladay in the four-game set with Toronto that starts tonight in
Arlington.  Unbelievable.  And he’s got the Red Sox and Rays again in
the next few weeks.

 

That upcoming schedule exercise we went through
yesterday didn’t focus enough on the home-road situation.  The Jays are here for three days (including a
doubleheader tomorrow), and then Texas is gone for a week.  The club returns home for nine against the
West, leaves for four in Oakland, comes back for three against the Rays, and
finishes the regular season with seven in Anaheim and Seattle.

 

There are only 16 more games at home, starting with
four over the next three days.  Selfishly,
I’m hoping the crowds are strong for this Jays series, because I know the
players feed off the vibe, and that couldn’t hurt right now. 

 

I’ll be there two of the next three nights, and if
you were in the building on September 23, 2004, the Dellucci Game, you’ll never
forget the electricity that day.  A big
series against Toronto would help generate that sort of buzz again, but maybe there’s
a chicken and egg thing going on here, and with the team not back in town again
until September 11, my focus is zeroed in on taking care of home business
against the Jays and then heading out to Baltimore and Cleveland and treating
them for a week like they’re Baltimore and Cleveland – so that the seven left
with the Angels matter more than any games have in the last five years.

 

All that is a large part of why yesterday’s loss
felt like a kick where you don’t want to be kicked, and frankly, that feeling,
as much as it sucks, is OK with me.  You
can bet fans in Toronto and Baltimore and Cleveland would trade their baseball August
and September 2009 for it.

 

See you at the yard.

 

 

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Mapping out the next five weeks.

 
Scott Feldman in 2009: 14-4, 3.72, with an opponents’ slash line of .249/.315/.375.

Feldman as a starter: 14-4, 3.33, .243/.309/.355 slash.

Feldman on the road: 10-1, 2.92, .236/.309/.339 slash.

And a key set of numbers as Feldman heads into September for the remainder of his 2009 work:

6-0, 2.88, .238/.307/.276 against the American League West. 

If the Rangers stay in rotation the rest of the way, skipping no starters even for off-days, Feldman will make six starts in September, three against the West. 

If, however, the club decides to use its third consecutive Thursday off on September 17 to maximize its matchups – and by September 17 we’ll certainly have a lot better perspective on whether that’s a good idea as far as playoff possibilities are concerned – then Derek Holland can get his extra day of rest on the 18th at home against the Angels, but then the club could skip Dustin Nippert or Brandon McCarthy on the 19th, accelerating Tommy Hunter to that Saturday assignment on regular rest and Feldman to Sunday’s Angels series finale, also on regular rest.

Stated another way, if the Rangers stay in rotation (presuming no health issues) after the September 17 off-day (the club’s last), the probable starters would look like this down the stretch:

Sept. 18-20 (home, LAAA): Holland, Nippert/McCarthy, Hunter
Sept. 21-24 (road, OAK): Feldman, Millwood, Holland, Nippert/McCarthy
Sept. 25-27 (home, TB): Hunter, Feldman, Millwood
Sept. 28-Oct.1 (road, LAAA): Holland, Nippert/McCarthy, Hunter, Feldman
Oct. 2-4 (road, SEA): Millwood, Holland, Nippert/McCarthy

If Texas skips Nippert/McCarthy on the 17th:

Sept. 18-20 (home, LAAA): Holland, Hunter, Feldman
Sept. 21-24 (road, OAK): Millwood, Holland, Nippert/McCarthy, Hunter
Sept. 25-27 (home, TB): Feldman, Millwood, Holland
Sept. 28-Oct.1 (road, LAAA): Nippert/McCarthy, Hunter, Feldman, Millwood
Oct. 2-4 (road, SEA): Holland, Nippert/McCarthy, Hunter

The latter gives Feldman a start against the Angels that would have otherwise would have gone to Nippert or McCarthy.  It takes Feldman out of the series in Oakland but his replacement in that series would be Hunter, who three-hit the A’s over seven innings in their park on August 6.  It does replace Hunter with Holland in the Rays series at home, and Hunter’s had a bit more success against Tampa Bay than Holland, but here’s a goofy idea:

Maybe give Nippert or McCarthy (whichever one is working out of the bullpen) a spot start to finish the Rays series on the 27th, which is the Rangers’ final home game of the regular season.  Why?

Because it would allow Holland to pitch in Anaheim, where three weeks ago he fired a complete-game, three-single, one-walk, eight-punchout, 96-pitch, 73-strike shutout against the Angels.

Doing that would mean Nippert or McCarthy would get the assignment in Game 162 in Seattle rather than Hunter, but you know my feeling about that potentially sticky situation.

Bring it on.  If the October 4 game against Seattle has everything riding on it, maybe you throw Hunter out there on short rest and ask him to give you five innings.  He’d conceivably be headed to the bullpen for the playoffs anyway.  Even if Nippert or McCarthy were to get the Mariners start, Hunter’s not going to get the nod to start Game One in New York to kick off the playoffs.

That road start would go to Feldman, of course.

Too much information, perhaps, but as a fan the greatness of having reason to take a look at things like that as the August page is about to be torn from the calendar can’t be overstated.

The Rangers have won seven straight rubber games, with a chance in a few hours to make it eight in a row.  The club has won eight of its last 11 series, tying one other.  A win today makes it nine of 12.  A victory would also lift the Rangers’ road record to 32-32.  The only two American League clubs over .500 on the road are the Yankees and Angels.

After last night’s shutout, Texas leads the American League with 10.  The staff’s 4.15 ERA is second only to Seattle’s – and no AL team has allowed fewer runs per game (Seattle, for example, has permitted 59 unearned runs, while the Rangers have yielded only 30, also a league best).  Since the All-Star Break, no team in the league has a better staff ERA than the Rangers’ 3.74. 

No Rangers staff has had a better ERA than this one since 1992, the penultimate season of Nolan Ryan’s playing career.  That staff posted a 4.06 mark (which was only good for 10th in the league). 

The Rangers not only lead the AL with 55 wins from its starting pitchers – they’ve already surpassed 2008′s total of 52. 

The bullpen – which has retired all 13 Twins it has faced in this series – leads the league with a 78.7 percent success rate in save opportunities.

The Angels are fourth in the league, but couldn’t hold a 3-0 lead at home in the seventh last night.  After six innings, Jered Weaver handed the shutout off to Jose Arredondo, who allowed the first three A’s he faced to reach and one to score on a wild pitch.  After a strikeout, he gave way to Rafael Rodriguez, who promptly served up a two-run single before ending the inning. 

In what was then a 3-3 game, Mike Scioscia curiously left Rodriguez (6.26 ERA) out to pitch the eighth – even though the rookie hadn’t pitched in five days since being struck on the hand with a line drive – and though he started the inning by issuing a walk, allowing a single, and yielding a sacrifice bunt that prompted an intentional walk to load the bases, Scioscia left him in the game.  A groundout to first gave Oakland a 4-3 lead.

The Angels wouldn’t score in their eighth or in the ninth.  Oakland 4, Los Angeles 3.  Texas is now four back in the division, 2.5 games back in the Wild Card chase.

Rodriguez was optioned to AAA this morning.

Remember the ugly inherited runners numbers we discussed here from time to time regarding Jason Jennings (29 inherited, 17 scored)?  Jason Grilli has inherited 11 runners in his 20 Rangers appearances.

None have scored.

Neftali Feliz has baseball’s lowest ERA in August (minimum 15 innings), at 0.51.  His current 15.1-inning scoreless streak is second longest in the AL.  In 17.2 innings, he’s set 22 down on strikes and issued one walk.  He leads the AL in strikeouts per batters faced (36.7 percent).  The only big leaguer with a better rate is Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton (37.2 percent) – and Broxton walks batters seven times more frequently than Feliz.

Uncle.

Feliz’s fastball velocity was down last night, and that’s a bit of a concern.  (Yes, he threw some sharp breaking balls in big spots last night, but overall his command of the curve was not very good.)  (And I know the splitter is not going to register speeds as high as the four-seamer, but even the four-seamer is sitting mid-90s the last couple times out rather than upper-90s.)  (Not that there’s anything wrong with mid-90s.)

But Chris Davis’s and Ian Kinsler’s swing velocity seems to be a tick or two down as well, and I’m digging that a lot. 

The explosion off Davis’s bat when he’s right is sort of like Feliz’s fastball: you just can’t believe how little apparent effort, how little “violence,” can create that much damage.  Davis has brought the plane of swing down, creating the deadly backspin that we saw last summer, he’s keeping the bat in the zone longer, and he’s using all fields.  He’s hitting just .250/.286/.400 since returning from AAA – but he’s about to explode.

Kinsler – hitting .308/.410/.673 since returning to action two weeks ago – is still popping up from time to time, but not
nearly as often.  He put great (less violent) swings on the ball on his two singles last night, and the way he’s been running the bases all year, singles and walks from Kinsler – even from the five or six hole – are great.  He’s still going to run into his share of two- and four-baggers. 

Kinsler has 28 home runs and 28 steals.  He’ll be the first Ranger ever to join the 30-30 club.

Josh Hamilton’s .352 average in August is in the American League top 10, but it’s not been a powerful month for Hamilton, slugging just .467 (well short of the .530 mark he posted in 2008 as a whole). 

But then there’s Michael Young, whose .628 slug since the All-Star Break is the second highest in the AL. 

Riding a 16-game hit streak, Young’s.327 batting average and .533 slug for the year both lead all big league third basemen.

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon last week, regarding Young: “Michael Young is setting a great example for that entire team.  He’s playing with a purpose and a mission, and they’re on his back right now.  With his example, they’re not going away.”

Ron Washington on Young: “This is his team.  If he has anything to do with it, he’s not going to let them fail.  He brings everyone else’s level of play up.”

Elvis Andrus has four errors in his last 46 games.  He’s second in the AL in sacrifice bunts, with 10.

Julio Borbon was recalled on August 7.  Giving the rest of baseball a week’s head start – and starting only 11 times in 21 games – he’s nonetheless second in the big leagues with 10 stolen bases for the month.

Texas leads baseball with an 84 percent stolen base success rate.  Can’t find it now but I saw a note a week or two ago that it would be the second-best rate of any team since 1975, and the best of any American League team. 

I’m loving the Pudge Rodriguez shot in the arm, and appreciating Washington’s willingness to give up his catcher on the bench by putting Rodriguez in at designated hitter from time to time.  That won’t be an issue in a couple days, once roster expansion brings a third catcher onto the active roster.

Would Texas activate Esteban German off the disabled list and add Ryan Freel to the roster as well?  German is two games into a rehab assignment with Oklahoma City, playing third base on Friday and left field on Saturday.  Freel DH’d for the RedHawks in yesterday’s game.

And Max Ramirez doubled and drew two walks in that game.  Man, what could have been had he been healthy this year.

(And what might be in 2010.)

Oakland shortstop prospect Josh Horton singled three times for Midland in its 4-2 loss to Frisco last night, but he was thrown out trying to steal once (on a strike-him-out-throw-him-out in the first inning) and picked off first base another time – in both instances by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  That’s obviously very good news, considering the injury that forced Saltalamacchia to the disabled list was with his throwing arm.  In his six innings of work, Saltalamacchia popped out to third, was hit by a pitch, and flied out to right.

I meant to get into a discussion today about the candidates to show up when rosters expand in a couple days, but that will have to wait.  A preview: RedHawks lefthander A.J. Murray isn’t going real well right now (runs permitted in four straight relief appearances), but here’s why we might see him in September anyway – the club’s left-handed relief situation is a bit unclear as far as 2010 is concerned, and Murray (who had a 2.37 ERA heading into August and has been tough on lefties from his new lowered slot) can leave the organization as a six-year minor league free agent in October if he’s not on the 40-man roster. 

Spots on the 40-man roster are going to be tight (especially once McCarthy is activated and Freel, presumably, is considered for addition to the roster), but I can see the Rangers considering a way to get Murray up here for some spot work to make what could be a final analysis on the 27-year-old before he goes out and Jesse Carlson’s or Kiko Calero’s for someone else in 2010.

Roy Halladay against Boston today.  Seriously, Doc.  Step up.

==================

ERRATUM:

A
good many of you get passing marks for reading comprehension today, regarding my
comment that Ian Kinsler will “be the first Ranger ever to join the 30-30 club”
with two more home runs and two more stolen bases.

 

OK,
Alfonso Soriano did it in 2005, when he went deep 36 times and stole 30
bases.  I think I’d repressed that memory
since his regular trick of standing at the plate and admiring a ball that
eventually short-hopped the fence cost him a few extra bases and not only gave
him a dozen fewer home runs than he decided on contact that he’d hit but, I’d
revisionistically decided, belied a more pedestrian actual home run count.  So, yeah, you guys are right, and I’m wrong,
and that’s my flimsy excuse.

 

As
for Bobby Bonds, sorta, but not really. 
The Rangers acquired him in mid-May 1978, and while he finished the
season with 31 homers and 43 steals, his Rangers totals were 29-37. 

 

Not
my first screw-up, but I’m asking for a mulligan and another chance, 45 minutes
before Kevin Millwood gets another chance to finally earn a win against the
Twins, against whom he’s 0-7, 6.18 in 11 career starts.

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(c) Jamey Newberg
http://www.newbergreport.com
Twitter  @newbergreport

 

Kazmir to LAAA.

If the Angels player to be named that Tampa Bay will get to complete the Scott Kazmir deal is in fact 21-year-old righthander Jordan Walden (as an Angels-centric blog is speculating), I’ll feel a little better about it.  The hard-throwing Mansfield and Grayson County Community College product is right at the top of the Angels’ pitching prospect depth chart.

If Kazmir ends up replacing John Lackey in the Los Angeles rotation the next two years, I’m OK with that.  

But those things don’t help us over the next five weeks, which include seven more games against the Angels, and probably two against Kazmir, who is 1-1, 2.92 against Texas in 2009 and 7-6, 6.29 against everyone else.  (Lifetime: 5-1, 2.28 against the Rangers, 50-43, 4.03 against everyone else.)

Then again, if we’re going to play well enough to catch the Angels, chances are fair that in the process we’ll catch Boston (2.5 games behind Los Angeles, 2.5 ahead of Texas) and hold the Kazmir-less Rays off.

I’m just glad that all these issues on the periphery matter so much.  I’d forgotten how amazing August can be when you’re in a pennant race without the nagging sense that you’d gotten there with smoke and mirrors.  This Rangers team has earned this.

Speaking of periphery issues, a sunny Saturday morning postcard to Mike Estabrook:

estabrook_call.png 

(Hat tip to MakaveliThaDon from the Newberg Report message board.)

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Twitter  @newbergreport

Elvis.

Derek Jeter hit .314/.370/.430 as a Yankees rookie in 1996, earning unanimous selection as American League Rookie of the Year and helping New York reach the playoffs for the second straight year after a 13-year post-season drought.

Elvis Andrus isn’t hitting at that level, but he’s damn near that same player since the All-Star Break (.304/.373/.455), and he’s a year younger than Jeter was in his Rookie of the Year season.

Forget the Edgar Renteria comps that Andrus came to the big leagues with.  Maybe that’s the player Andrus will turn into between the lines (though certainly not intangibly). Maybe it’s not.

But I know this: If Andrus were a New York Yankee, every national baseball voice – 100 percent of them – would be calling him the next Jeter.  

And he might be.

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Sick.

The way my stomach feels right now, I can’t talk myself out of saying the only thing that, at this moment, I can think of saying:

Worst.

Win.  

Ever.

There were so many great things about that ballgame, and I had about a dozen things in mind that I planned on writing, starting with a reference to a note buried in the middle of this morning’s report (“There have been nights this season on which the Rangers offense has stepped out of character and worked pitch counts brilliantly.  Tonight needs to be one of those nights.”).  

I wanted to talk about Chris Davis’s game.  I really did.

I had glowing things to say about Michael Young and Elvis Andrus, who turns 21 in a half hour, Eastern time.

Julio Borbon, who averaged 4.5 pitches per at-bat and repeatedly put pressure on New York in his first game in Yankee Stadium.  

Good and bad Milly, good and bad Frankie.  

Byrd’s questionable approach in the first inning.

The Neftali Show.  

But I can’t get into any of that.  My throat is closed up, my back muscles hurt, my fingers are either trembling or half-paralyzed – I’m not sure.  I can’t swear that I won’t get physically sick before the night is over.

Despite a victory that keeps us from losing ground to the Red Sox and Rays, both of whom had comeback wins tonight.  (The Angels, have squandered a 3-1 lead for the moment, as the Tigers have tied things up in the fifth inning.)

That was either the greatest demoralizing win I’ve ever watched, or the most disgusting awesomeness.

I do love how this game makes me feel, even when I feel sick to my stomach.  Can’t wait for tomorrow’s rematch . . . more than I ever imagined as little as an hour ago.

It would have been an impossible loss, and turned out to be an impossible win.

Short Attention Span Theater.

The best nicknames in sports take a while to get any footing, then gain a little traction as the player moves up the cred ladder, and one day, once the player has really arrived, the nickname becomes part of his identity.  Yogi.  Magic.  Prime Time.

Pudge.

I gave Scott Feldman a terrible nickname.  Because while MUTRIHOF still fits, before too much longer it won’t any more.  He’s not an ace, but man, what a horse.

An imminently arbitration-eligible horse.

Michael Young in 34 games since July 19, spanning 135 at-bats: .385/.436/.681 (OPS: 1.117), with 10 home runs and 26 RBI.

Since Chris Davis was optioned to Oklahoma City in the first week of July, he’s been the RedHawks’ primary third baseman.

Today the Rangers announced the signing of third baseman Travis Metcalf to a minor league deal, assigning him to Oklahoma City, whose season is likely over in two weeks.

Just sayin’.

Anyway, just another Sunday edition of Short Attention Span Theater, starring a team that doesn’t seem to ever care, or remember, that it just lost a game or two that had everyone proclaiming they were circling the drain.

pudge96.jpg 

On to New York.

===================================

. . . And there you have it.  Maybe I should have waited another 90 seconds before sending that report out.

According to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, the Rangers are expected to recall Chris Davis in time for the series opener in Yankee Stadium on Tuesday.  Davis – who hit .327/.418/.521 in 165 Oklahoma City at-bats, with 25 walks and 39 strikeouts in 44 games – will return to the lineup as the Rangers’ starting first baseman, relegating Hank Blalock to a role as part-time designated hitter or bat off the bench. 

No word on whose roster spot Davis will take.

Thumbnail image for braveheart460.jpg
 

 

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Scraps.

Some Saturday scraps:

As Taylor Teagarden stepped in against Rays closer J.P. Howell in the final at-bat of last night’s game, Josh Lewin said the following:

“No history of Teagarden facing Howell . . . introducing themselves to each other right here, with the game on the line, ninth inning.”

But there was a little added texture to the at-bat.

Howell was the ace of the University of Texas staff in 2003 and 2004, two College World Series seasons in which Teagarden split catcher duties with Curtis Thigpen.  It stands to reason that Teagarden caught Howell more than any other pitcher in college.  

In fact, the final college game Howell pitched – 19 days after Kansas City made him its supplemental first-round pick – was on June 26, 2004, the first game of a best-of-three between the Longhorns and Cal State Fullerton for the College World Series title.  Howell, who went 15-2, 2.13 with 166 strikeouts in 135.1 innings in 2004, got the assignment, and the sophomore Teagarden caught him.  (Thigpen played first base.)  

Howell, the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year and a first-team All-American, lasted five innings, giving up three unearned first-inning runs, and UT fell, 6-4, setting up the following day’s title-clincher for the Titans.  Howell’s penultimate college start had come eight days earlier, a 13-2 Horns win over Arkansas that featured eight hit batsmen – including Teagarden twice.  

I don’t know if Howell had as filthy a changeup in college as the one Teagarden swung at to end the game last night, but there might have been a some added head game action going on in that at-bat.  Lewin was correct in saying Teagarden had no history facing Howell, but the pitcher and catcher had plenty of history with each other.

As mentioned above, Howell was a supplemental first-rounder in June 2004 (and Thigpen was Toronto’s second-round pick), while Teagarden returned to Austin for his junior year in 2005, helping lead UT to a national title that culminated in a sweep of the University of Florida in the Omaha final.  Holding a comfortable 6-2 lead in the title-clincher, the Horns went quietly in their final at-bat of the season, as Teagarden (who had earlier singled, doubled, and added a sacrifice bunt, capping off a .353/.389/.588 run in the club’s five College World Series games) grounded out to third to lead off the bottom of the eighth.  Florida’s pitcher was Darren O’Day.

O’Day pitched 8.1 scoreless innings in Omaha in that College World Series, scattering three hits and no walks while fanning six.  He’d gone undrafted earlier that month (and was undrafted the following year as well, despite having another outstanding season).  Yet he reached the big leagues in 2008, blowing through the Angels system after signing as a free agent out of college in 2006.

Teagarden got to the big leagues in 2008 as well, after going to the Rangers in the third round of the 2005 draft.  

Like O’Day and Teagarden, Tommy Hunter reached the big leagues in 2008, just a year after the Rangers drafted him in the supplemental first round.

But Hunter was also drafted in 2005, 439 picks after Teagarden had been selected.  No team thought the Florida closer O’Day was worth spending one of that draft’s 1,501 picks on, but one team thought enough of Hunter to call his name in the 18th round, though it would fail to persuade Hunter to forgo his commitment to the University of Alabama.

That club was Tampa Bay, the team that Hunter faces tonight.

So, there’s that.  A lot of information you’ll never need.

A National League scout said this to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, regarding Neftali Feliz: “He’s this year’s K-Rod (who arrived on the scene late in 2002 to help the Angels win their first World Series).  No matter who it is up there, he strikes you out.  He’s got one of those arms that could throw a marshmallow through a battleship.

Feliz has 11.2 big league innings to his credit.  He’s faced 39 hitters.  Not one has walked.  

In fact, only four hitters have worked a three-ball count of any type, and the only one to start off at 3-0 (Minnesota’s Carlos Gomez) ended up as one of Feliz’s 17 strikeout victims.

The 21-year-old has allowed four hits (a home run and three singles), and he sits with an opponents’ slash line of .103/.103/.179.  The only run on his ledger was the result of the Adam Kennedy homer in his second appearance.  He’s inherited eight runners and allowed just one to score (Vicente Padilla property Mark Ellis, who was on second base when Kennedy went deep).

(K-Rod in 2002: 5.2 big league innings, no runs, three hits [all singles], two walks, 13 strikeouts.  And then another 18.2 post-season innings: five runs [four earned], 10 hits [two home runs], five walks, 28 strikeouts.)  

Since 1954, five pitchers have walked no batters in their first seven big league appearances (spanning at least one inning each).  Feliz is one of them.  

Nobody has reached eight.

Feliz was also the first pitcher in major league history to allow just one baserunner over his first four appearances with as many as seven strikeouts.  Feliz had 13.

Reliever Jason Grilli will reportedly be activated today or tomorrow.  He threw a hitless, scoreless rehab inning for Frisco on Thursday, walking one and striking one Tulsa Driller out.  

Kevin Richardson cleared waivers and has been outrighted back to Oklahoma City.

I wonder, come September 1, when there’s a third and maybe fourth catcher on the expanded roster (perhaps two of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Richardson, and Max Ramirez), whether we might start to see Ivan Rodriguez take some at-bats away from the monumentally struggling Andruw Jones.

Padilla signed with the Dodgers.  He’ll start for AAA Albuquerque today before joining the Los Angeles rotation.  

Brandon McCarthy starts tonight for Oklahoma City, as he continues his rehab assignment and works toward a possible September return to Arlington.

Joaquin Benoit threw off a mound Monday, for the first time in nearly a year.  He threw around 30 fastballs.

In a Baseball America survey of American League managers, Elvis Andrus was judged to be the league’s second-best defensive shortstop, next to Tampa Bay’s Jason Bartlett.

Justin Smoak and Kasey Kiker (USA), Luis Mendoza (Mexico), and Mike Bianucci (Italy) have been selected to play in the 2009 Baseball World Cup, which starts September 9.  

Oklahoma City reliever Beau Vaughan interviews
teammate Brandon Boggs
.

Kansas City released Travis Metcalf.  He hit .219/.285/.345 for AAA Omaha, with nine home runs and 47 RBI in 110 games.  

The Lancaster Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League released first baseman Nate Gold, and the 29-year-old has decided to retire.  

A couple interesting signing bonuses as the deadline for draftees to sign arrived last week: 17th-round lefthander Paul Strong (a UC-Irvine commit) and 24th-round righthander Shawn Blackwell (a Kansas commit) were each reportedly paid $300,000, which is late-third, early-fourth-round money for the two high school pitchers.

Said by Rangers first-rounder Matt Purke on Draft Day: “I don’t think [signing] will be difficult.  It might take some time but I want to play baseball and I want to play for the Texas Rangers.  I think the negotiations will end up being pretty easy. . . . We’re going to work hard to get something worked out.  I told them that I would negotiate and do what I can to be in a Rangers uniform.  I think we’ll get a deal done.  I want to be wearing the red, blue and white.”

Texas reportedly offered Purke $4 million to sign (a figure that has been disputed in some stories since the August 17 deadline passed without a deal).  The first three picks in the draft (Stephen Strasburg, Dustin Ackley, and Donavan Tate) each signed for more than $4 million, as did the ninth pick (Jacob Turner, who signed for $4.7 million).  The number 12 pick, Aaron Crow, hasn’t signed and still could, as he’s in the Tanner Scheppers boat, having pitched in the independent leagues.

Purke was taken with the 14th pick.  The fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, 10th, 11th, and 13th picks each signed for less than $4 million.

The Rangers have won seven of their last nine series, splitting one and losing one.  Tommy Hunter, who beat last night’s starter, Scott Kazmir, back on July 3 to earn his first big league win, has the first opportunity tonight to make sure this series doesn’t go into the loss column.

===========================================================

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(c) Jamey Newberg
http://www.newbergreport.com
Twitter  @newbergreport

Fixes.

 
As I sit here waiting out a couple repairman service calls, here’s a few quotes on the subject of fixing things:

First, a measured, systematic fix:

Chris Davis, as told to Richard Durrett of the Dallas Morning News, regarding the adjustments he’s made since his early-July demotion to Oklahoma City:  “My stance is different.  I was a little open last year but was tall and my head was moving a lot.  It kind of made me speed things up and made a breaking ball that was low and away, if it was in the dirt, it made it look closer and that I could get there.  It’s like what they did with [Nelson] Cruz.  They opened me up more and my head isn’t moving as much and I’m seeing those pitches and walking more.  It’s a really good feeling.  It tells me I’m not seeing much to hit and I’m laying off.  I feel right now I’m as good as I’ve been maybe in my professional career.”

Looking forward to his return.  Davis sits at .327/.421/.540 with the RedHawks, sporting 24 walks and 35 strikeouts in 150 at-bats.  Even better: in August, he’s drawn 15 walks and fanned 16 times.

Second, a fix on the fly:

On Monday, in Tommy Hunter’s last start, he’d loaded the bases in the second inning and couldn’t find the plate.  In an inning and two-thirds he’d uncharacteristically thrown as many balls as strikes (19 of each), including nine balls out of his last 12 pitches.  A four-pitch walk of Denard Span loaded the bases for Brendan Harris, with Joe Mauer on deck, and up to the mound from third base jogged Michael Young.

I think I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen Young trot to the mound by himself to talk to the pitcher.  Was it because he wanted to ease the burden on Kevin Richardson, making his first big league start behind the plate?  Was it because he’d gotten a dugout signal to buy some time as someone got loose in the bullpen?  (No.)  Did it have something to do with a play or an alignment Young wanted to be sure they were on the same page about?

I was dying to know.

Hunter struck Harris out looking to end the inning, starting a string of 10 straight Twins he retired (three groundouts in the third inning, a flyout and infield pop and strikeout in the fourth, two groundouts and a strikeout in the fifth) en route to his third straight win.

What had Young said to Hunter?

According to the rookie pitcher in a postgame interview: “Mike came out to me and said, ‘You don’t have your stuff today.  You can quit, or you can come out fighting right now.’  Little words of encouragement like that get you pumped up.  Kind of sets you back in your little mode.”

(Especially when it comes from a guy who doesn’t stride to the mound every game.  Or every month.)

According to the veteran leader: “I said, ‘Tommy, this can be one of those games right now where at the end of the game, you can say, ‘It wasn’t my night.’  And no one would fault you because you’ve been dealing so much and everyone would say you get a mulligan.  But I said, ‘Don’t give into that.  Battle through that right now and start pitching like you can.’”

As Hunter said: “Little words of encouragement like that get you pumped up.”

Even if you’re just a fan.

It reminds me, though on a much different scale, of one of my favorite Rangers stories ever.

Three years ago I wrote the following, about something that happened 13 years ago:

============================

On Friday I went to the Alumni Legacy Luncheon, honoring the 1996 playoff team, and I wish the room held 50,000 rather than 500.  Table number 33 was near the back of the room, but I’m certain we had the best seats in the house, because eight of us had a full hour and half with Dave Valle.  I asked him if the story Rusty Greer told on the Ticket a couple weeks ago was true — the story about Valle calling a team meeting on August 9, 1996, telling Johnny Oates that he and his staff were not excused from the meeting, and neither were the trainers or the equipment guys or the bullpen catcher.

Coming off two losses in Detroit, which cut the Rangers’ division lead over Seattle to two games, Valle told teammate Dennis Cook on the plane to Toronto that he felt like he needed to say something to the team but wasn’t sure it was his place.  “Cookie” told Valle, at the time a 12-year big league veteran with all of 62 at-bats in four months as Pudge’s backup, that he’d earned the right to speak up.

Valle got in the face of every man in that clubhouse, the players and the trainers and the equipment guys and the bullpen catcher — and the manager — and challenged each of them: “Are you willing to do what it takes to win?”

Picture a second lieutenant lining up the troops, side by side, barking the same question, the same command, at each of them.  Starting with the Senior General.  “Are you willing to do what it takes to win?”

Johnny Oates, who had just granted Valle permission to hold the meeting and asked when the coaches should vacate the room, only to be told by Valle that nobody was excused from the room, responded to his backup catcher: “Yes, sir.”

The Rangers reeled off seven straight wins.  The division lead was extended to seven games, a season high (and without checking, probably a franchise high for the 25-year-old club).

Valle talked about the lead that subsequently almost disappeared, a nine-game cushion on September 11 that shrunk to one game on September 20 when Garret Anderson hit that two-run double that I’ll never forget, that shot to left-center that turned a win into a loss in five seconds.  Mark McLemore had given Texas a 5-4 lead in the top of the 10th.  Mike Stanton got Jim Edmonds and Tim Salmon out to start the bottom of the inning, but then gave up singles to George Arias and Rex Hudler.  And then Anderson almost cost me my life.

Valle said he was the most shocked person in the clubhouse when he saw his name in the starting nine the next day.  Oates was notorious for his etched-in-granite lineups.  Valle, as he put it himself, was like a backup quarterback, “getting to play every third Sunday.”  But with eight games to go and the team reeling, seemingly about to squander its chance at a first-ever playoff berth in cataclysmic fashion, Oates sat Pudge and put Valle in the lineup to catch John Burkett.

Valle homered to left off Jim Abbott in the seventh, highlighting a 2 for 4 night and a 7-1 Rangers win.  It was the last of Valle’s 77 lifetime home runs.  And, in his words, maybe the biggest.

Texas would finish the year with six wins in those final eight games, and an invitation to the American League playoffs.  The clincher came on September 27, a surreal 15-inning loss to the Angels that was dissected by a simple flip of the out-of-town scoreboard, late in the game, from “9″ to “F,” next to “SEA 1″ that stood above “OAK 8.”  The Mariners were done, and the Rangers played on, losing the game that wouldn’t end and then hugging each other on the field as fireworks went off forever and we all heard Holtzie’s voice over the P.A. system, narrating the moment and failing to disguise that he was as overcome as any of us.  I was in the stands until 2 a.m. that night.

Dave Valle said the best moment of his baseball career was when his boys were doused in champagne on September 27, 1996 (well, September 28), during a clubhouse celebration that didn’t end until 5 a.m.

*          *          *

I don’t know what’s going to happen the next seven weeks, and neither do you and neither does Michael or Mark or Aki, or Buck or JD.

I can see Valle’s finger in my face, asking if I’m
willing to do what it takes to win.

I am.  See you at the yard.

============================

On that afternoon, at Table Number 33, as I learned more about the story that Greer had referred to on a radio show just a couple weeks earlier, Dave Valle indelibly etched a place in my personal Rangers history.  His role on that first-ever Rangers playoff club, as its 25th man, cannot be overstated as far as I’m concerned.

It took the encouragement of Valle’s teammate Dennis Cook to convince him that the time and place were right for him to speak up.

We don’t really know how often Michael Young speaks up, whether on the mound or in the dugout or in the clubhouse – and for all we know there’s been a Dave Valle moment behind closed doors with this club that we won’t hear about until some team luncheon 10 years from now – but the impression I get is that part of what gives Young’s words so much impact is that his unassailable leadership is generally less vocalized than it is demonstrated.

Like Valle said, face to face with Johnny Oates any everyone else in that Rangers clubhouse – “Are you willing to do what it takes to win?” – those same words resonate in what Chris Davis has been able to do in a month and a half in AAA, and what Tommy Hunter was able to do in an instant, motivated by a casual stroll to the mound by his third baseman.

Now, for me, back to getting some things fixed so we’re all set to take in the huge series in Tampa that starts in about five hours.

 

===========================================================

To join the free Newberg Report mailing list so you can get e-mail deliveries of every edition of the newsletter, daily minor league game recaps, and frequent Newberg Report News Flashes, go to http://www.newbergreport.com and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

 
(c) Jamey Newberg
http://www.newbergreport.com
Twitter  @newbergreport
 

2009.

Neftali Feliz:

Closer, at some point?

Derek Holland:

Stopper, right now.

Nice Twin-killing tonight, in every phase, but it’s the two cover boys from the 2009 Bound Edition whose efforts I can’t stop thinking about.

Holland’s record in starts following a Rangers loss: 4-2, 2.91 in nine games pitched, 43 strikeouts and 17 walks in 55.2 innings.  Money.

Holland’s record since July 30, when it became public that Texas wouldn’t include him in any trade for Roy Halladay: 4-1, 1.85 in five starts, with all four wins over contenders (Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston, Minnesota).

Halladay since July 29: 2-3, 3.41 in five starts, with losses to Seattle, New York, and Boston.

The Rangers didn’t make Holland available because they didn’t want to sacrifice the future.  As it turns out, incredibly, had they capitulated and parted with Holland they might have actually sacrificed some of the present.

As for Feliz, let me just say this: If you haven’t been in the building to experience him entering a game first-hand, watch his usage patterns and get yourself out to the Ballpark when things set up for it to be his night to pitch after the Rangers come back home.  The entrance of a relief pitcher is a fairly unique thing in sports in terms of its impact on the crowd.  The Neftali Feliz jog in from the bullpen – even if it’s in the sixth inning – is unique among reliever entrances, at least in Rangers history.  It borders on frenzied.

My report last night, after a second straight gut-punch loss, ended this way:

All that said, this team is a game out of a playoff slot.  It’s been an entertaining, energizing, sensational season.

But man, I can’t wait for 2010, as this club continues to grow.  Some roster spots will get younger and better, and the young players already playing key roles will be more experienced.

An important aspect of that experience, the experience of battling through a pennant race in the season’s final fourth, will be invaluable.

Some of you understandably misunderstood my unclear point.  I wasn’t saying that I’ve given up on 2009 – only suggesting that things should get even better going forward, and the extra experience gained this season could help this club win games in 2010 and beyond that are ending up as losses this year.

One reader who took exception with my words wrote something that I wanted to share here, because I thought it was right on target:

Most people spend their lives sifting through memories or anticipating some future event.  The here and now generally gets short shrift.  There are 6 weeks left and we are on the brink of the stretch grind . . . . 

What we have is today and then tomorrow and then the next day.  We have September 2009.  That is the one and only focus.

I love the prospects for 2010 and beyond as much as anyone but I’m going to wait for February 15, 2010.  Your report today has the faint aroma of a requiem.  “It’s been an entertaining, energizing, sensational season” employs the wrong tense.

I have never gotten the impression that those guys in the dugout have ever cast their eyes toward 2010.  Neither should we.

Yep.

===========================================================

 

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(c) Jamey Newberg
http://www.newbergreport.com
Twitter  @newbergreport

Sixth flags.

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Ron Washington regularly talks about how crucial the sixth inning
is in a big league baseball game.  It’s
generally when hitters are getting to see the starting pitcher for the third
time, and if it’s a night on which the starter doesn’t make it that far, you’re
getting into the soft underbelly of the opposing bullpen. 

 

As far as good teams are concerned, if you can get through
the sixth with a lead, you generally feel good about your chances to shut
things down in the final three frames, assuming a solid bullpen is part of what
makes you a contender.

 

Going into tonight’s game, the sixth inning has been the
Rangers’ pitching staff’s worst in almost every category: .284 batting average,
.371 on-base percentage, .477 slugging percentage, 20 home runs, 85 runs (19
more than in any other inning), and 59 walks (10 more than in any other inning).

 

Of course, the sixth-inning futility, relative to other
innings, only got worse after tonight’s disaster in that frame.

 

As for the Rangers’ offense, its OPS in the sixth inning is
lower than it is in the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth.  Not a great fact considering how things have
gone in the other half of the sixth.

 

But the Rangers’ team OPS is lower in the seventh than in
the sixth. 

 

And lower in the eighth than in the seventh. 

 

And lower in the ninth than in the eighth. 

 

There have been too many nights in 2009 on which a late one-run
deficit has felt like a five- or seven-run gap, and this was one of them. 

 

All that said, this team is a game out of a playoff
slot.  It’s been an entertaining,
energizing, sensational season.

 

But man, I can’t wait for 2010, as this club continues to
grow.  Some roster spots will get younger
and better, and the young players already playing key roles will be more
experienced.

 

An important aspect of that experience, the experience of battling
through a pennant race in the season’s final fourth, will be invaluable.

 

 

===========================================================

 

To join the free Newberg Report mailing list so you can get
e-mail deliveries of every edition of the newsletter, daily minor league game
recaps, and frequent Newberg Report News Flashes, go to www.newbergreport.com and click the
“Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

 

 

(c) Jamey Newberg

http://www.newbergreport.com

Twitter 
@newbergreport

 

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