April 2010

Boom.

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Jamey Newberg
12.00


Jhonny Peralta.  Matt LaPorta.

 

Lou Marson.  Michael Brantley.

 

Asdrubal Cabrera.  Grady
Sizemore.

 

Luis Valbuena.  Marson
again.

 

Brantley again. 

 

Travis Hafner. 

 

Christie_1939_ten_little_indians_pb_58_1977.jpg

 

Colby Lewis struck out 10 for the first time in nearly seven
years – unless you count a 13-punchout effort against the Yokohama BayStars two
years ago.

 

Lewis’s 10-strikeout game on August 15, 2003 came against the
White Sox, whose leadoff hitter Roberto Alomar struck out looking in the first
and again in the third, after which he was ejected.

 

Alomar’s brother Sandy Jr. managed not to get tossed tonight.
 He’s Cleveland’s first base coach.

 

On that 2003 night, Lewis threw 119 pitches, 82 for strikes.

 

Tonight: 117 pitches, 74 for strikes.

 

Lewis’s ERA after the 2003 gem was 7.57.  After tonight’s: 2.19.

 

I love watching a pitcher who can locate a two-plane
breaking ball.  There haven’t been a lot
of those in this franchise’s last 20 years.

 

I love Kevin Millwood for Lewis, Rich Harden, and Chris Ray.

 

You already know how much I love opposite-field hitting,
which we saw a lot of tonight.

 

I love early night game start times.

 

I love dependable backup catchers.

 

I love watching Neftali Feliz grow.  Love you, too, John Schuerholz.

 

I had much love for Eddie Guardado, who was what he was, but
not as much I have for Darren Oliver.

 

I love the small sample size.  Remember when there were two hitters on this
entire roster hitting their weight? 
Tonight’s lineup had four players who finished the game at .414 or
higher, a fifth at .346, a sixth at .308.

 

I love that this team has developed a bend-don’t-break character.

 

And, man, I love Nelson Cruz. 

 

And he doesn’t really like pitchers.

 

Boomstick.

 

 

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A good day for Francisco and Feliz.

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So much for depressurized
situations to let Frankie Francisco get things straightened out.

 

And so much for velocity hovering between 91 and 93. 

 

As Texas loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the
ninth, with the score knotted at 2-2, Ron Washington and Mike Maddux had both
Francisco and Neftali Feliz getting loose, presumably warming the former up in
case the game remained tied and getting the latter ready in case the Rangers
scored and set up a save situation.

 

The Rangers managed not to score, and Francisco came on with
no margin for error, entering a game tied in the ninth on the road.  It was as high-pressure a situation as the
two save opportunities he failed to convert before being stripped of his job.

 

Make no mistake: Francisco gave up two hard outs to start
the ninth, and it took eight pitches for him to put Austin Kearns away on
strikes (despite getting ahead 0-2) to end the inning.  But the results were there, as were the six 95
mph readings and one that tripped the gun at 97.  That’s a good start.  And the confidence that comes from a 1-2-3
ninth in front of a sold out Opening Day crowd, extending the game and giving the
3-4-5 hitters a chance to come up and do their thing in the 10th, setting
the stage for a nice win to kick off a big road trip – that’s a good day for
the unseated closer.   

 

Jon Daniels has made some outstanding trades since taking
over as general manager in October 2005 – believe it or not, he’s now the 12th
most tenured GM in baseball – and two of his better trade acquisitions highlighted
a high-octane 10th inning: Nelson Cruz turning a Jamey Wright
fastball around 375 feet with a man on (it’s not easy to “break out” two seasons
in a row), and Feliz coming on to slam things shut with at least six of his 18
pitches hitting triple digits (including one at a reported 102 mph). 

 

It’s premature to say whether Texas has its new closer, but
that’s a good start, and if you were going to draw it up, you’d want Feliz to
get one under his belt before the New York-Boston swing.

 

A good win, the club’s first two-game win streak, and a 4-3
record (yes, that should be 6-1) that sits closer to Oakland in first than Los
Angeles and Seattle in third and fourth.

 

Rich Harden has a 2.79 ERA and is by far the most frustrating
Rangers starter to watch over the first seven games.  A new era in Rangers baseball, without a
doubt.

 

Seven games, six quality starts.

 

Julio Borbon’s throw and Taylor Teagarden’s block of the
plate to erase a thundering Travis Hafner in the sixth and keep the game tied
couldn’t have been any better.  That’s more
than just a big out in a 2-2 game.  It’s
an entry in an advance scout’s notebook, and another one or two of those from
Borbon and it might lead to a couple opposing runners being held up at third when
they might not have been otherwise.

 

Joaquin Arias has 10 hits in the last four games.  Always a player who tends to get his hits in
crazy bunches, he’s praised Clint Hurdle for helping him wait on the pitch and
go the other way – which is something I’m sure we’ve all noticed as well with
Cruz and Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton over the first week.  It’s something Michael Young has always done
(and Andrus was adept at it as a rookie as well – as was Hamilton in 2008), but
on the days when this offense has clicked, there’s been a noticeable
opposite-field approach throughout the lineup.

 

Arias’s fate will be interesting.  When Ian Kinsler returns, the utility infield
roster spot is going to be a defense-first role.  There’s no question that Andres Blanco is the
better defender, particularly making the throws from the left side of the
infield.  Neither Arias nor Blanco can be
optioned at this point, and so there’s a real risk that, whichever player Texas
decides to keep around when Kinsler returns (not an imminent move, as he’s
expected to go out on a brief rehab assignment first), the other could be lost
to another organization.

 

Speaking of which, I really liked what I saw out of catcher Matt
Treanor on Sunday and hope Texas can keep him in the organization whenever it
is that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is ready to return.  It was just one game, but aside from the two
RBI singles he just looked like a veteran catcher out there with Scott Feldman,
Doug Mathis, and Chris Ray. 

 

Doug Melvin purchased Doug Mirabelli for next to nothing
from the Giants at the end of spring training in 2001, and then traded the
30-year-old that June to Boston for Justin Duchscherer.  Ray Olmedo for Treanor near the end of camp
this year wasn’t a huge trade, but it looks like a very good one, and not
because we can expect Treanor to be flipped for a solid pitching prospect.

 

Three walks from Andrus on Monday.  More of that, please.

 

You should read the
interview that John Sickels did with Rangers Director of Professional Scouting
Josh Boyd
.

 

We won’t find out today whether Feliz will be asked to pitch
on consecutive days because we’re instead being treated to the rare (and
unwelcome) mid-series off-day.  The bullpen
should be fully rested, though not at all set up the way we thought it might be
a month ago.  C.J. Wilson gets the start
instead of the eighth, Feliz gets the ninth instead of the seventh, and
Francisco gets something other than the ninth. 

 

The offense has sputtered, the late relief has prompted an
early bullpen shakeup, and the defense has had a couple ugly moments.  Yes, 4-3 could be 6-1 (though the first win
and the last could have just as easily been losses), but the story of the first
seven games of 2010 is that the Rangers’ starting pitchers have an ERA of 1.85,
which is now more than a full run better than the second-best rotation mark
(Oakland, 2.94), have the second-lowest opponents’ batting average (.217,
higher only than Toronto’s .216), and have the second-lowest opponents’ OPS
(.620, higher only than San Francisco’s .604).

 

It all begins with starting pitching, and there’s no
question that this team would be off to an ugly win-loss if the rotation had even
been league-average.  Solid starts do
more than keep the game in check and give the offense a chance.  They keep the bullpen rested and allow the
manager to avoid stretching relievers into higher pitch counts than he wants or
pushing them into situations they’re not equipped for, or at least not ready
for.

 

As for whether Neftali Feliz is equipped for the ninth, at
least for the time being while Frankie Francisco gets straightened out, that’s
a developing story.  But it got off to a
very good start.

 

 

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(c) Jamey Newberg

http://www.newbergreport.com

Twitter 
@newbergreport

 

The ninth inning: Feliz in, Francisco out, for now.

Apologies for going nearly dark the past couple days.  I wasn’t giving you guys the Milton Bradley Salute.  I was away at a Y Guides campout with Max.

After the kids had finally gone to bed late last night and the dads sat around the campfire, the talk swung around at one point to the Rangers.  I try (with some hope of success) to save most of my corniness for this newsletter, where I can just delete the groans, which explains why I kept my mouth shut when, already exhausted into a trance and watching the (we’re-leaving-in-the-morning-so-might-as-well-burn-through-the-rest-of-the-firewood) flames whip around and shoot sparks in every direction, my thoughts wandered (maybe because of the 1980s rock shuffle playing at the time on Gould’s iPod) to that early-’80s Topps Firemen of the Year card that had the legendary Rollie Fingers and Dan Quisenberry on it – as well as the less established Tom Hume.

Closers are rarely called firemen any more, but there’s still a Hume for every Fingers and Quisenberry, if not two or three Hume’s for every ninth-inning guy you can count on year after year.  It’s a tough job, with perhaps a shorter life expectancy than NFL tailback.

Theo Epstein was seated right behind me on Opening Day 2006, with one member of his Red Sox front office circle next to him and another two or three about six or eight rows in front of us.  Based on how old they all looked, I’m guessing that Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington and Craig Shipley were among the Boston officials sitting in those two rows.

Boston stepped out to a 5-0 lead behind Curt Schilling and extended it to 7-2 with an eighth-inning Mike Lowell solo shot off Joaquin Benoit.  Schilling’s day was done and Terry Francona sent rookie Jonathan Papelbon to the mound for the bottom of the eighth, and the top of the Rangers order.

Keith Foulke wasn’t quite a Fingers or Quisenberry but between 2000 and 2004 had been among the American League’s most dependable closers, culminating with a dominating 2004 post-season performance that included one run allowed in 14 playoff innings and the final pitch of the season, as Foulke sealed the sweep by tossing a Edgar Renteria comebacker to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz to give Boston its first title in 86 years.

Foulke struggled with a knee injury in 2005 and lost the closer’s job in June, finishing with an ERA of 5.91.

Still, he came out of spring training in 2006 having regained the ninth-inning post, despite sporadic work in camp (four innings, two runs on four hits, three strikeouts).  And on Opening Day, though it wasn’t a save situation, he was entrusted with the ninth, with Papelbon, who’d gotten a three-start, 14-relief-appearance big league look in the final third of the 2005 season, sent out to get through the eighth.

Stepping in against Brad Wilkerson, Papelbon fired strike one (called), missed with one, then got a strike swinging, a foul ball, and a rollover groundout to second.  

Next up, reigning American League batting champ Michael Young: called strike, ball, foul, swinging strikeout.  

And then reigning American League total bases leader Mark Teixeira: called strike, swinging strike, ball, flyout to left.

From what I recall (and I was especially keyed in because Papelbon was on my Greater Texas Fantasy Baseball Association staff), it seems like the 25-year-old sat 95-97 and pounded the lower third throughout his 13-pitch frame (10 for strikes).  What I remember with 100 percent certainty is that whoever it was sitting six rows down – let’s say Cherington and Shipley – stood from their seats after Teixeira’s fly settled harmlessly into Manny Ramirez’s glove, turned completely around, smiled back at Epstein and (I’m guessing) Hoyer, and both started laughing.  One of them mouthed, “WOW.”  I peeked back and saw the same smile frozen on Epstein’s face.

(My own “WOW” came in the following morning’s report, in which I wrote: “The two guys from yesterday’s game who are going to have bigger years than anyone expects: Laynce Nix and the exceedingly dirty Jonathan Papelbon.”  One for two.)

After Boston went quietly in the top of the ninth, Foulke entered the non-save situation to close things out, and he made the game interesting, retiring Phil Nevin on a fly to left before surrendering a Hank Blalock single, a Kevin Mench double, a Nix sacrifice fly to deep center, and a Rod Barajas groundout to third to end the game.

After Texas won Game Two handily, 10-4, in Game Three the Rangers took a 1-0 lead two batters into their first (Wilkerson double, wild pitch, Young single).  Kameron Loe made it stand up until the seventh, when Ramirez walked and Trot Nixon homered.  Josh Beckett worked seven, and in to pitch the eighth was not Papelbon, but Mike Timlin.  Texas collected two hits in the inning, drew a walk, and advanced on a wild pitch, but could not score.  Scott Feldman threw an eight-pitch ninth to keep the score at 2-1.

Then Papelbon, not Foulke, trotted in from the bullpen for the save.  The rookie slammed things shut, needing just 11 pitches to strike Barajas out swinging, coax a Nix pop to shortstop, and set Wilkerson down swinging.  I wasn’t there that night but can only imagine the looks on the faces of Epstein & Associates, after they’d probably conferred with Francona between Monday evening and Wednesday afternoon to decide that Papelbon, who had worked only as a starter in Red Sox camp (leading the team with five starts and 21.1 innings) and hadn’t pitched all that well (5.48 ERA, .333 opponents’ average) (sound familiar?), was the better bet, right away, to save games than the established Foulke.

Foulke wouldn’t save a game all year.  Papelbon: 35 in 41 chances, 0.92 ERA, 75/13 K/BB ratio.  He hasn’t given up the job since.

The purpose of that story is not to suggest that Frankie Francisco, with fewer skins on the wall than Foulke had, is about to relinquish the closer’s job permanently to Neftali Feliz, who is generally considered a better prospect than Papelbon was (and whose 31-inning debut in 2009 was more dominant than Papelbon’s 34 innings in 2005).

The point is that Firemen of the Year are sometimes not the same the year after.  A lockdown closer can become something other than that before long, and not that infrequently.  You have to have Plan B in place, especially if you’re a team like Boston who expects to win every year – or Texas, who absolutely expects to win in 2010.

Does Ron Washington’s own situation factor in, on the theory that he might feel even more pressure to get his club off to a strong start than any of us could have appreciated a month ago?  Don’t know.  But the Rangers, like the Red Sox, look at their 162-game schedule as a step toward post-season baseball, not toward 2011, and the weekend development following a second straight Francisco blown save and an evident plunge in velocity and location and body language – that Texas would lift the 30-year-old from the closer’s position for now, elevating Feliz to the role and Darren Oliver to the eighth inning, is a move less than a week into the season that gets made by a team planning to win, and needing to fix not only the ninth inning but also the psyche of a veteran reliever who will be needed in 2010.

We can all appreciate, notwithstanding Sunday’s offensive execution (love, love, love seeing all those balls put in play to the opposite field), that, anachronistically, this franchise has become one whose strength is in its starting pitchers.  (Not only does the big league rotation have a 1.67 ERA through six games – best in baseball by more than half a run – but go all the way down through the four full-season farm clubs and the franchise’s starters have a 2.57 ERA in 21 starts, with 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings and just 2.4 walks per nine.)  

But
having a problem at closer can undo, in minutes, what a starting pitcher has done over a couple hours.  The offense showed some signs this weekend that it might be finding its rhythm.  There’s no such confidence right now with the closer.  The Rangers lost three games out of 80 last year when leading after eight innings.  They’ve already lost three (out of five) such games this season.

While Texas may not have had a decent alternative to Mike Henneman in 1996, there are backup plans here now, starting with Feliz, and possibly including other young arms like Chris Ray, Tanner Scheppers, Alexi Ogando, and Omar Beltre (and less prototypical options like Oliver and Darren O’Day), all of whom figure in only because C.J. Wilson, to his credit, no longer does.  

The problem is that, outside of Ray (three years and an elbow surgery ago), none of them has any real experience closing big league games, and no contender wants to experiment any more than necessary.

But this experiment became necessary after Saturday, and for now Francisco, pronounced physically healthy, will pitch in low-leverage situations, while Feliz will be asked, hopefully with some regularity, to pitch under more pressure than he’s ever been asked to, at least until Francisco is deemed ready to reassume his role, or until Feliz proves not to be ready for this.

Unless Feliz proves he’s more than ready for all of this.

Concerned that Feliz is being thrown into an unfamiliar fire?  He does have two saves as a Ranger (a scoreless two-inning, one-hit, three-strikeout effort against Boston on August 15 and a perfect 2.1 innings with two strikeouts in Baltimore three weeks later), and a couple three-inning saves in the Gulf Coast League as an 18-year-old in the Braves system, less than two months into his stateside career.

Tongue in cheek?  Maybe.  But Papelbon had only one career save before 2006, a season in which he’d make the All-Star Team as a rookie closer for the Red Sox: a three-inning effort in AAA the year before, after he’d already debuted as a starter in the big leagues.

They were both starting pitcher prospects, very good starting pitcher prospects in fact (but coming off rough rotation auditions in camp), and there’s been at least as much talk, if not more so, about Feliz eventually settling in as this team’s closer as there ever was about Papelbon in Boston.  

But Foulke had lost Boston’s confidence in 2005 and was the less effective reliever for one day in 2006 before that club made a change, giving the ball to a key starting pitcher prospect that they thought could give them some bottled lightning.  Is the same thing happening here, with Francisco having struggled since mid-August (9.00 ERA in 20 innings, .329/.389/.529) and contributing heavily to the difference between a record of 5-1 and 3-3 getting out of the gate this year?

Maybe the most fascinating part about the move to Feliz is that Texas, starting Monday, is in Cleveland for that team’s home-opening series, then in New York for three, and in Boston for three after that.  As if the pressure of being The Guy isn’t enough for a 21-year-old who was in Low Class A two years ago, this road trip will probably present the most energetic if not hostile road atmosphere Texas will encounter all season.  And he still hasn’t thrown on consecutive days in the big leagues, and in fact has done it just once as a pro – once in mid-July with Oklahoma City last summer.

But that’s the thing, I suppose.  You see Francisco sitting 91-93, nailing the center of the strike zone when that’s not what he wants to do, and exhibiting the kind of body language you never want to see out of the pitcher who jogs to the mound for those final three outs.  Maybe the Cleveland-New York-Boston gauntlet is one that’s not healthy for Francisco right now.  

The Rangers may need Francisco out of the ninth inning right now, but they’re probably going to need him in some important capacity for this season to turn out the way everyone in the organization believes it should.  There’s no telling right now whether this transition will last a few games or a few weeks or if Francisco, like Foulke with Boston four years ago, has nailed down his final save for the club, supplanted by a younger, more dominant, more reliable option.  

It’s probably too much to hope for Feliz to seize this role immediately and permanently the way Papelbon did in 2006, but Texas believes he gives the club a better chance to hold leads right now than Francisco does, and that Francisco’s season stands a better chance of recovery if he can regain his confidence in a less critical role.

It’s a gutsy move, but it had become clear this week that it would have been even gutsier, at the moment, to keep running Francisco out in the ninth inning of close games.

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

An odd night. We hope.

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“It was just an odd
night,” said Rich Harden.

 

Yep.

 

Am I concerned about
Harden, who seemed to have little more idea where his pitches were going than
the Toronto hitters who went down on strikes for an extraordinary eight of
their 11 outs while he was on the mound? 

 

Yes.

 

But not as concerned
as I am about Josh Hamilton, who looks exceptionally uncomfortable and completely
out of sync at the plate.

 

The Rangers issued 10 walks last night, after spending March
as one of baseball’s stingiest staffs as far as bases on balls were concerned. 

 

Granted, spring training statistics don’t mean a whole heck of
a lot (see: Vladimir Guerrero’s homerless camp), but the hope is that the club’s
low walk totals in Arizona were far more indicative of what to expect from this
staff than last night’s location disaster. 

 

And that Hamilton’s .373 batting average and .610 slug in
camp suggests he can be more reliable in 2010 than he was in 2009.

 

But he looks like he’s overthinking things and guessing too
much, and that makes him an easy mark at the plate, as we saw last year.

 

Hamilton may never look as locked in this season as Nelson
Cruz has for a month, and that’s OK.  But
he needs to look a whole lot better than the 2009 version of himself, and in
this admittedly tiny sample size of Games One and Two, he clearly hasn’t.

 

I’d like to see Julio Borbon drop a bunt to lead off the
bottom of the first today.  After taking
a pitch.

 

Thank goodness Monday’s game ended well.

 

Losses happen in baseball, but the real ugly losses are hard
to take.  Last night’s was a big old can
of bad ugly.  I was hoping that “O Canada”
and those plummeting temperatures might have put Harden in a good place after an
uninspiring spring.  The changeup was on
for the most part, but that sort of scattered fastball command leads not only
to gifted bases but also to lousy pitch counts and a tax on the bullpen, and while
Harden is historically not one who regularly goes deep into games, there’s
nothing acceptable about a pitch count looking like a radar gun reading in the
fourth inning.  That certainly can’t
happen every fifth day.

 

And as lost as Hamilton looks, that can’t continue to handicap
the lineup every day, particularly in the three hole.

 

It was on odd night, as Harden said.  If by that he meant “abnormal,” I sure hope
that turns out to be true.  If there was anything
normal about it, then uh-oh.

 

C.J. Wilson has the task of putting Texas in a position to
win the opening series this afternoon.  He’d
probably like for you to stop by his new
blog
but I would also recommend you check out this video (and wiffle ball BP
session) he filmed with the producers of “Lost.”
 

 

The four full-season minor league affiliates open
today.  A full season of daily game recaps
from the formidable Scott Lucas begins tomorrow morning.

 

And finally, sometime later this morning the first 2010
installment of my weekly MLB.com column will turn up on TexasRangers.com.  (This week’s: Ranking the top 10 right-handed
starting pitchers in the Rangers farm system.) 
I’ll toss you a heads-up when it’s posted.

 

 

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To join the free Newberg Report mailing list so you can get
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(c) Jamey Newberg

http://www.newbergreport.com

Twitter 
@newbergreport

 

The pitch.

I’m giving myself
the day off, too.  I’m sports tired.

 

For now, check out a
few things:

 

Scott Lucas has put
together a strong
organizational depth chart
for the Rangers, top to bottom.  Great resource.

 

On the Frisco staff
you’ll find righthander Ryan Tatusko, from whom I’ll have a new Back Fields
Diary entry later this morning.

 

Also from Scott
you’ll see that we’ve replaced the eight-prospect photo rotation on the front page of the website with
action shots of eight new players who stand out in the system right now.  Scott took most of the shots a few weeks ago
in Surprise.

 

Also worth checking
out on the website is a
message that Chuck Morgan posted on the Newberg Report forum
.  It involves Rangers Ballpark, Bound Edition
cover artist Drew Sheppard, and the Wave. 
And it might make you happy.

 

Speaking of the Bound Edition, I’ve now gotten 224 responses
to last night’s invitation to guess which pitch yesterday made me think
suddenly that we were going to win that game.

 

Two got it right. 
Books will go out in today’s mail to Shawn Redd and Lonnie Wilson.

 

It was the 0-1 pitch to Nelson Cruz in the seventh that he
laid off.  The same 80-mph Shawn Marcum
change that we’d swung through probably a dozen times.  From where I sat the pitch looked maybe two
inches low, right over the plate, and Cruz patiently watched it go by for ball
one.  Served a little notice that maybe
we weren’t going to keep biting on that pitch.

 

It felt like a turning point (even if he hadn’t homered
three fastballs later).  In my head,
strange as it might be, I thought at that moment we were going to get the W.

 

Have a great two days. 
It won’t be easy for me, either, but try to patiently wait for Rich
Harden-Brian Tallet tomorrow night.

Dodging the win total question.

I could give you three reasons why the Rangers will win the American League West, and three why they won’t.

I could give you three each on the Angels, too, and the Mariners.  Maybe two and four on the A’s.

We saw win totals predicted from all corners this weekend, locally and nationally, and I suppose that in at least some cases it was at an editor’s request.  The fans demand it, right?  I guess.

Tell me in August whether you think the Cowboys are a 12-4 team, or headed toward 9-7.  I get that.  But why don’t we talk much in October about whether the Mavs are a 48- or 56-win club?  Or whether the Stars are poised for 95 points, or instead just 85?

In basketball and hockey, where they play five times as many games as in football, only the experts talk on the eve of the season about win or point totals.  Are they a playoff team?  Are they ready to lock down home court/ice?  Do they have a chance to contend for a title?  That’s what we hear about.  As it should be.

In baseball, they play 10 times as often as in football, double the number of games of their arena friends.  But for some reason we get bogged down on whether this is the year we win 92 instead of 87.

Someone who confidently chooses one number over the other before the first W or L is recorded must have a handle on when and how well Ian Kinsler will come back from his high ankle sprain – and on whether he can avoid trying to do too much like he did last summer when others were out of the lineup, on what Vladimir Guerrero has left, on whether Rich Harden can flip the switch right away, on whether Ron Washington’s situation will galvanize or distract or neither, on whether Josh Hamilton and Chris Davis will be able to lock 2008 back in, on Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz taking the next step, on how that seven-game swing through Boston and Detroit coming out of the Break will go, on what C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison and Chris Ray will be, on the way Clint Hurdle’s proposed approach will affect results, on how Julio Borbon will fare now that there’s a book out there on him, on which three Mariners starters Texas will face days after the trade deadline, on whether Scott Feldman and Neftali Feliz can repeat, on the catchers, on what sorts of contributions we’ll get from Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland and Brandon McCarthy and Alexi Ogando and Tanner Scheppers and Justin Smoak, on whether Guillermo Moscoso and Eric Hurley and Pedro Strop and Michael Kirkman and Omar Beltre will be needed and how they’ll respond, on the odds of Darren O’Day and Darren Oliver staying steady, on how many days the regular players on this club will lose to the disabled list.

I don’t expect this to be a 96-win club, or a 76-win club.  But I think it’s silly to argue whether it’s an 85-win roster, rather than a squad poised to win 88 times.

The talk last September 13, when Texas won Game One of a twinbill against Seattle, 7-2, to improve to 80-61, was whether, despite dwindling playoff chances, the team could cross that elusive 90-win plateau by putting together a winning record over the final 21 games.  Nobody saw a 7-14 collapse and 87 wins coming. 

Yet, though there are eight times as many regular season games left to play today, writers are assertively picking the number 87 or 89 or 92 out of the air and asking players and officials to weigh in.

I have no idea what the Rangers’ 2010 win total will, or should, be.  I’m not sure if Texas will win its baseball game this afternoon.  I do have a pretty good idea who will suit up for Texas and Toronto this week, though, and my focus is on Feldman-Shaun Marcum, Harden-Brian Tallet, and Wilson-Ricky Romero.  Even then, coming out of this series with three wins, two, one, or none probably doesn’t tell us much more about where this thing is headed than we believe we know today. 

Minnesota started the 2009 season 4-7, the Angels 4-8.  Both played past 162.

I won’t guess what the Texas record will be in a week, let alone in six months, but I’m counting on this group to play hard and play smart and play well for three-and-a-half months, well enough to justify the addition of two impact players in July, maybe one of them in time for a huge July 22-29, seven-game set against the Angels and A’s in Arlington, the other before a three-game series in Anaheim concludes on August 1. 

No matter what the record is at that point, I won’t hazard a guess as to what it will be two months later after the Mariners and Angels come into Rangers Ballpark for 156 through 162.  And I certainly won’t pretend I’ve got a bead on that final number today.

I’m more interested in whether Texas wins a game than what the final score was.  The important thing, whether it was a pitchers’ duel or a slugfest, a blowout or an extra-inning walkoff, is that we were better than the other guys on that day.  Same with the season.  As long as we’re better than enough of the other guys to keep playing beyond October 3, it doesn’t matter to me how many games we won, or how big a cushion we had in the standings.

Predictions are fun.  So are video games, and turning double plays in your backyard (you’re Bert Campaneris, he’s Bump Wills). 

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t close our eyes and imagine the electricity of a September in Arlington that’s about more than just a football season that will end with the hosting of a Super Bowl.  This is unquestionably a year about which the players are thinking that way, management is thinking that way, an ownership group on the doorstep is thinking that way, and for all those reasons we should feel even more emboldened thinking that way.

But I look at this like I would the onset of a basketball or hockey season.  Don’t ask me for an over-under on victories.  Is this a playoff team?  Will the Rangers do enough, starting today, to win more times than 10 other teams in the league?  I don’t know, but this is about to be a year where that’s the question, not whether “progress” will be made.  The answer is likely going to depend on how many of those real player questions get answered acceptably. 

And on which of those three reasons to say yes, and three reasons to say no, will come to pass.  No formula can help us there, and just as no formula could have predicted 17 wins last year for Feldman, or 54 RBI for Hamilton, or seven wins over the final 21, trying to figure out now how many of the 162 that lay in front of us will end with daps near the mound is probably a waste of energy.

I know this much: They’re always fascinating, but this Rangers baseball season, with the engines set to start in a few hours, promises to be one that we’re going to remember for a very long time. 

Hopefully for the right reasons.

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

The efficient C.J. Wilson.

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In each of C.J. Wilson’s
last two starts in Rangers Ballpark, he threw 61 pitches.  In the first, he threw 35 strikes.  In the second, he threw 34 strikes.  Nearly identical.  In those categories, at least.  In the others?

 

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

FLYOUTS

GROUNDOUTS

2.2

9

8

8

2

0

2

13

4

5.0

0

0

0

2

4

0

3

5

 

Those two starts
were 1,701 days and worlds and worlds apart. 
As a relief pitcher, for all the positives Wilson brought to the mound,
he averaged 17.6 pitches per inning last year, 18.9 the year before, 17.2 the year
before that.  Too many for any pitcher,
totally unacceptable for someone wanting to start.

 

Last night: A dozen
pitches per inning.

 

I wrote this on
September 4 last year (and I don’t have the motivation right now to recalculate
to include the season’s final month):

 

Wilson pitching on no
days’ rest in 2009 (16 appearances): 10.80 ERA, 5.4 walks per nine innings,
slash line of .344/.417/.531.

 

On one day of rest (20
appearances) : 2.37 ERA,  6.2 walks per
nine, .147/.310/.235.

 

Two days’ rest (12
appearances): 0.66 ERA, 3.3 walks per nine, .250/.333/.354.

 

Three or more days’
rest (12 appearances): 0.00 ERA, 0.6 walks per nine, .170/.185/.189 (one walk
and one extra-base hit in 54 plate appearances).

 

It looks like Wilson is gonna dig pitching on four days of
rest, huh?

 

That was a wow effort, completing a knockout camp for Wilson.

 

A little more than a month after that final Wilson home
start of 2005, he entered the seventh inning of a 5-3 win over Felix Hernandez
and Seattle, giving up a run and getting two outs in a game that featured two
other rookie pitchers: starter Josh Rupe, who allowed two runs over five
innings in what was his big league debut, and reliever Scott Feldman, who
pitched a scoreless sixth – maintaining a perfect ERA six appearances into his
career.

 

Imagine if you knew on September 16, 2005, watching that
game, that five seasons later Rupe would be starting the year in AAA again,
that Wilson would have become the pitcher that he’s become, and that Feldman,
the former 30th round pick who had Tommy John surgery months after
being drafted and who had his arm slot changed almost as many times as his role,
would be signing a contract on the eve of the season, guaranteeing nearly $14
million over the next three years, or more than $22.5 million over four.  Almost impossible.

 

The first outward commitment that the organization showed in
camp to Feldman, who went 17-8 for this club in 2009, came a week ago when it
was announced that he, and not Rich Harden, would get the club’s Opening Day start.  The second came yesterday with the news of
the contract, a team-friendly deal if he’s anywhere near the pitcher over the
life of the deal that he was last year but also one that sets Feldman up for
life, even if he were to never replicate 2009. 
If the 27-year-old wins 35 games the next two years, don’t be surprised
to see the club to rip up the deal and offer a new, longer-term commitment.

 

The Rangers talked yesterday about Feldman’s history as a strike-thrower
and a winner, his versatility and his durability, but what they kept coming
back to was that they had determined early in camp, with Kevin Millwood gone,
that Feldman was the guy they believed could lead the staff going forward, not as
much in the sense of getting the ball April 5 as in providing an example to
Derek Holland and Tommy Hunter and a dozen others over the next few years.  “He represents what we want to see in our
pitchers,” said Jon Daniels, who made a point of the fact that every time management
had sat down for a similar press conference in recent years, locking up a homegrown
product who had developed into a core player, it was a hitter sitting between
the manager and general manager for the photo opportunities.  Feldman is the first pitcher in years to
occupy that seat, and he occupies a lot more than that now, if you listen closely
to what the front office is saying.

 

Ryan Garko is a lifetime .381/.438/.429 hitter in Rangers Ballpark.  And a .313/.392/.495 hitter against left-handed
pitchers for his career.  He strikes out
only 50 times for every 400 big league plate appearances.  Primarily a first baseman, he hasn’t caught
in the big leagues but came up as a catcher prospect (and in fact won the 2003
Johnny Bench Award as the NCAA’s top catcher in his final season with Stanford),
making him at least an emergency option behind the plate. 

 

Basically, he’s what Texas would love to see Max Ramirez turn
into.  And at $550,000, at only a
slightly greater cost.  There are
incremental bonuses that start to kick in if Garko reaches 325 plate
appearances.  It’s a longshot that he’ll
be needed that often.

 

So the Rangers now have Garko in Texas and Ramirez at AAA,
neither of whom would be around presumably if the club had instead traded for
Mike Lowell, who would have cost Texas $3 million, if not more.

 

Will Garko be the hitter that Lowell will be in 2010?  Maybe not. 
But maybe.  Will he be the clubhouse
factor that Lowell would have been here? 
No.  But he’s a lot less
expensive, allows Texas to give Ramirez everyday at-bats at Oklahoma City to
try and resurrect his trade value, and it’s not out of the question that at age
29 he provides Texas as much in the limited role he’ll be asked to handle as
the 36-year-old Lowell would have. 

 

You might recall that Texas was apparently hot after Garko at
last year’s trade deadline.  From last
July 28′s Newberg Report:

 

According
to [Joel] Sherman [of the
New York Post], the Rangers
“were convinced [late yesterday] they were the front-runners to get Ryan Garko
from the Indians” and “were surprised when he ended up going to the Giants
instead.”

 

By the way, Garko’s wasn’t the revocable type of waivers
that Brandon McCarthy, for example, had to clear in order to be optioned.  Seattle placed Garko on irrevocable waivers. 

 

Texas sold righthander Luis Mendoza to Kansas City for an
undisclosed amount.  Probably not much,
just a sum that allowed the Royals to secure Mendoza – who is just as out of
options for them as he was for Texas – without having to sweat the waiver claim
process.  The 26-year-old is a perennial
winter ball star whose considerable stuff hasn’t translated to big league
success – or even AAA success, really. 
He’s Kansas City’s enigma now.

 

The trade of Mendoza and outright of Ben Snyder brings the
roster down to 38 players, but that doesn’t include Alexi Ogando or Omar
Beltre, who will need to be reinstated to the roster this weekend in order to
effectuate their options to the farm. 
Joaquin Arias survives, but when Ian Kinsler returns, he’s the expected
casualty, not only from the active roster but the 40-man version as well, as he’s
also out of options.  He’ll probably pinch-run
for Vladimir Guerrero late in a game or two until Kinsler is back, after which
chances are he’ll end up with another organization.

 

Some incidentals:

 

Watching Andres Blanco take infield is a treat.

 

The cover story in this week’s Dallas Observer is an
excellent feature on Chuck Greenberg
. 
Read it.  (And note this comment: “It’s
my job to get this franchise to operate like a big-market team.  The resources are here, and it’s our job to
cultivate them.  If we do that there’s no
reason we can’t spend our money along the lines of, maybe not Boston and New
York, but what they do in Anaheim and Philadelphia.”  The Angels and Phillies both had payrolls in
the $113 million range last year, about $45 million more than Texas.)


ESPN’s Buster Olney has two Rangers on his list of 10 players “who had great
spring trainings”: Wilson (number three) and Michael Young (number five),
calling the latter “the Texas metronome.”

 

ESPN’s Keith Law projects 87 wins for Texas, enough to prevail
in the American League West – but sees the Rangers losing to the Yankees in first
round of the playoffs.  (Would we take that
in lieu of whatever’s behind Door No. 2? 
Yeah, probably.)

 

Vladimir Guerrero told the Dominican newspaper El Dia
that he thought when he reported to camp with Texas that it was possible that
the Rangers would sign righthander Pedro Martinez.

 

Frisco’s pitching staff will include Martin Perez, Tanner
Scheppers, Ogando, and Blake Beavan, among others.  The organization plans to have Ogando start
and Scheppers relieve at the outset, though the thought is that they’re being groomed
for the opposite roles.  Innings will be
carefully monitored for both.

 

Baseball
America
ranks the Rangers’ minor league talent second in baseball,
next to Tampa Bay’s.  Oakland was 11th,
Seattle 12th, the Angels 26th. 

 

Positional rankings: According to BA,
Justin Smoak is baseball’s top first base prospect, Neftali Feliz and Scheppers
check in at number two and number 10 among right-handed starters, Martin Perez
is the number two left-handed starter while Robbie Ross (17) and Kasey Kiker
(19) make the list as well, Jurickson Profar is number 13 at shortstop, and Mitch
Moreland is the number 17 outfielder.

 

Texas released minor league righthanders Kelvin Arendell, Reinier
Bermudez, Jared Hyatt, Jorge Quintero, Jae-kuk Ryu, Jared Schrom, and Bobby
Wilkins; lefthanders Keith Campbell and Winston Marquez; catcher John Otness;
and outfielders Santo DeJesus (once known as Juan Polanco), Kyle Rhoad, and Tim
Rodriguez.

 

Boston righthander Junichi Tazawa, whom the Red Sox signed
after the 2008 season despite offering the 22-year-old less than Texas did,
will miss the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery.

 

Outfielders John Mayberry Jr. and Justin Maxwell failed to
win jobs in Philadelphia and Washington, and both were optioned. 

 

Pittsburgh traded righthander Virgil Vazquez, like Mayberry
and Maxwell a former Rangers draft pick, to Tampa Bay, but he’ll go to AAA as relief
insurance, as will righthander Joaquin Benoit, who lost his competition with
righty Mike Ekstrom for the Rays’ final bullpen spot.


Hank Blalock was beaten out by Reid Brignac for the final spot on Tampa Bay’s
bench.  Will Blalock stick with his
declaration that he’s not interested in being a AAA player?  He reportedly has until Sunday to accept his
minor league assignment (according to the
St. Petersburg Times),
and has semi-retracted his Wednesday comments, saying he has no plans to retire.  We’ll know soon enough if he’ll be Durham
Bulls teammates with Benoit.

 

Oakland reassigned righthander Jason Jennings to minor
league camp.  Cincinnati released
righthander Kip Wells.  Arizona
outrighted Jose Marte.

 

Jon Daniels and his crew of pro scouts don’t get enough
credit for the trade on the eve of the 2008 season that sent Marte, a decent
prospect at best, to the Diamondbacks for righthander Dustin Nippert, who was
out of options.

 

Philadelphia released outfielder Brad Wilkerson.  Kansas City released righthander John Bannister.  The Angels released lefthander Daniel Haigwood.  Washington released lefthander Mike Venafro. 

 

Righthander Jamey Wright made the Cleveland staff.

 

The Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association once
again signed lefthander Joel Kirsten.

 

More importantly:

 

Elvis Andrus missed last night’s exhibition and will miss
today’s due to inflammation on the outside of his left wrist, but he’s expected
to be ready for Monday’s opener.

 

Nelson Cruz was scratched last night with a bruised right
thumb he suffered in Thursday’s game but should be in Monday’s lineup – and he might
play today.

 

And Darren O’Day was pronounced ready to go (assuming no residual
discomfort today) after testing his right elbow bone bruise in a 26-pitch, simulated
game effort yesterday. 

 

The timetable on Ian Kinsler’s return remains uncertain, but
the other timetable, the one we’ve been talking about for a couple months (that
have felt a lot longer), is quite clear:

 

Two sleeps.

 

 

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e-mail deliveries of every edition of the newsletter, daily minor league game recaps,
and frequent Newberg Report News Flashes, go to
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and click the “Mailing List” link on the top menu bar.

 

 

(c) Jamey Newberg

http://www.newbergreport.com

Twitter 
@newbergreport

 

Texas trades Escobar for Snyder.

The Rangers, having gotten Rule 5 lefthander
Ben Snyder through waivers, have reached an agreement with San Francisco to allow
them to keep the 24-year-old reliever.  Texas
has traded 17-year-old lefthander Edwin Escobar to the Giants for the right to
retain Snyder in the minor leagues.

 

Here’s what I wrote about Escobar in this year’s
Bound Edition, in which I’d ranked him as the system’s number 43 prospect:

 

Pitching in the Arizona League at age 17, lefthander
Edwin Escobar had an outstanding unveiling in 2009, giving up one run on five
hits and four walks in eight innings over his first three appearances, fanning
10.  Thereafter, first-inning troubles
(.345 opponents’ average, 8.25 ERA) would dog him, and he’d finish his debut
season with a 2-5, 5.00 mark.  But several
aspects of his season, including a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (48 strikeouts
and 16 walks in 45 innings), were impressive enough to land Escobar just
outside the league’s top 20 prospects list compiled by
Baseball America.

 

A relative of Angels righthander Kelvim Escobar and
Brewers shortstop Alcides Escobar, the young Venezuelan sits in the low 90s and
may not project for much more, given his thick 6’1″ build.

 

Two weeks ago, after seeing him again on the
back fields, I wrote: “
I may be coming
around on lefthander Edwin Escobar a bit. 
Would I have written Francisco Liriano off because I didn’t like his
frame?  Rich Harden?  (Caveat: I’m not making a Liriano or Harden
comp.)
  My reservations about him stem from the lack
of projection in his stocky, six-foot-ish frame, but he’ll pitch most of the
2010 season at age 18 and already touches the low 90s.  Even if he doesn’t project for much more,
there’s something there.  He’s a
prospect.

 

But there are a couple dozen pitchers ahead of Escobar
on the Rangers’ prospect depth chart.  This
trade is a good example of the significance of having not only as many blue-chip
prospects as any franchise in the game, but also as much depth as any system.  Escobar may turn out to be a dependable big
league starter in four or five years, or he may never reach AA, which is where
Texas will send Snyder in hopes of further developing him as a left-on-left
weapon for the bullpen.

 

We won’t know for a few years whether this was
a good trade, but we know this now: the Rangers’ depth can be credited for
making the deal palatable enough to get done.

 


 

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