Big Bad.

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Way to go, Big Bad

Angels’ loss is
Rangers’ gain

Keep on impalin’

 

Remember the pall cast
over the Rangers fan base when the club elected to let Ivan Rodriguez move on, not
even offering him arbitration, sending a message through the press that his unique
skill set had begun to erode and he was never very good at working with young
pitchers anyway, and the 31-year-old proceeded to instantly lead a Marlins club
led by a young rotation to a World Series title?  Remember the hurt?

 

Imagine how much
worse it would have been if Pudge had jumped from Texas to Oakland and done it.

 

I’m not predicting a Rangers title in mid-May, but it has to
be pretty crummy for Angels fans to see their perennial MVP candidate, Vladimir
Guerrero, tuning the league up at a .328/.361/.527 rate (while his replacement,
Hideki Matsui, sits at .226/.307/.371 under roughly the same contract) for a
team they’re chasing in the division. 
With no draft pick compensation to patch the wound since Los Angeles
didn’t offer him arbitration.

 

The Guerrero-Matsui swap for Los Angeles may not sink to the
level of Steve Nash-Erick Dampier (another local roster shift with the club spinning
its departing star’s alleged signs of decline), but given the Angels’ lousy
start, and Guerrero’s insanely awesome one, I bet it’s a handy point of depression
for the Los Angeles faithful.

 

I’m sure I had as much fun watching Josh Hamilton hit in
2008 as I do watching Guerrero now, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

 

Incidentally: Hamilton through 34 games in his storybook
2008 season: .292/.346/.533.  He’d struck
out 20 times in 137 at-bats.

 

Guerrero, at the abovementioned .328/.361/.527 slash rate through
34 games played, has fanned 13 times in 131 at-bats.

 

Having won yesterday’s game, getting fantastic work out of
C.J. Wilson and Frankie Francisco (17 strikes in 20 pitches, all four batters punched
out) and Elvis Andrus (a big bag of awesomeness, though with the requisite once-a-game
brainlock of a player who occasionally does act his age), I’m going to go ahead
and question a decision, not because I want to rant and rave about its
insanity, but rather to ask what I’m missing.

 

Bottom of the ninth.  Game
locked at 1-1.

 

David Murphy singles with one out.

 

Justin Smoak singles him to third base.

 

Max Ramirez and Julio Borbon are set to hit.  A run ends it.

 

Ron Washington sends Craig Gentry out to run for Smoak.

 

I didn’t understand the move and, really, despite hearing a
couple attempts to reason it out, still don’t.

 

Here’s why:

 

1.     
The obvious: The Smoak/Gentry run doesn’t matter.  If Murphy scores, the game is over.  If, say, Murphy is cut down at the plate on
an infield grounder, putting Smoak on second and Ramirez at first with two outs,
fine – put Gentry in for Smoak at that point if you want.  I can see that.

 

2.     
If the idea is that Gentry is going to steal second base to
take away the double play opportunity (which they obviously didn’t plan, as
Ramirez took three straight balls without Gentry moving), I’d argue that would
have been bad managing.  If he gets
thrown out, you’ve eliminated the chance to win the game with a fly ball.

 

3.     
I’d have been surprised to see Washington put on a
hit-and-run at any point in the Ramirez at-bat. 
It’s not what the game asked you to do in that situation.  Not with the walkoff run at third.

 

4.     
If the idea is that Gentry is swift enough to beat out the
front end of a double play, that makes no sense to me, either.  If the force play is going to be that close
(again, assuming no hit-and-run), that probably means a slow-developing play,
which means even if the A’s get the force, they’re never going to complete the
pair, and the game ends as Murphy crosses the plate.  Stated another way, if Oakland is able to
double up Ramirez, it wouldn’t matter whether Vince Coleman or Bengie Molina
was the runner on base unless he was put in motion – and Texas was not going to
put Gentry in motion.

 

It ended up not mattering much that Smoak was lost for the
game (Ryan Garko popped out in the 11th but did make a nice 3-6 play
in the top of the 10th), but it might have, and it sure would have
been nice to keep Gentry’s availability alive for a spot when his speed tool
would have been truly usable.

 

Am I missing something?

 

Garko (3 for 33, all singles) is reportedly about to lose his
roster spot to Joaquin Arias, a move that was signaled once the Rangers began
to play Arias at first base during his rehab stint with Oklahoma City.  Gentry is expected to be optioned back to AAA
with Nelson Cruz returning, so I suppose the idea is that Arias gives
Washington the pinch-runner that Gentry’s departure was taking away from the
bench.

 

It wouldn’t have bothered me to see Gentry stick (so
Hamilton wouldn’t have to patrol center every day) and Borbon optioned.  Getting Borbon right is a big key for this season.  He drew only his second walk yesterday (113
plate appearances), an obviously unacceptable rate for any regular but
obscenely so for a player whose game is predicated on reaching base and
then
doing damage.  The only Rangers regular
seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance than Borbon is Guerrero.  Chris Davis had a better rate.  So did Taylor Teagarden.  And Arias. 
Last year’s good-looking Borbon spray chart has given way this season to
lots of lazy volleys to the left fielder.

 

I’m not out on Borbon. 
Far from it.  But he’s got to get
right, and I’d have been OK if today’s ticket to Oklahoma City were given to
him rather than to Gentry.

 

As for Garko, he was a low-risk (low-salaried) add that didn’t
work out, one that wouldn’t have been necessary had Mike Lowell passed his
December physical and come to Texas for Ramirez.  Ironically, the way Ramirez has been swinging
the bat the last few days, he’s been giving the Rangers the kind of occasional
production from the right side that they were looking to Garko for. 

 

Smoak’s home run on Wednesday night was his fourth, which gave
him the lead among American League rookies – even though Smoak has been around
for barely more than half his club’s games.

 

The Rangers’ home run barrage that night was just the fourth
time in what is now 35 games that the club has gone deep more than once. 

 

Last year’s offense had 21 multi-homer games in its first 35.

 

Take it further: last year through 35 games, the Rangers were
hitting .279/.335/.500, with 201 runs, 77 doubles, 62 home runs, 101 walks, and
288 strikeouts.  This year: .259/.328/.394,
165 runs, 53 doubles, 32 home runs, 117 walks, and 244 strikeouts.

 

Texas isn’t hitting as well and isn’t slugging as much, though
a better walk rate (and a lower strikeout rate that suggests, even if not
conclusively, that a handful of deep-count pitches that might been flailed at
last season are now being taken) has the club reaching base nearly as often.

 

And yet the records and positions in the standings between the
two seasons through 35 games are about the same (21-14 and 1.5 games up in 2009,
20-15 and two games up now). 

 

The biggest reason the dropoff in offense hasn’t resulted in
a dropoff overall is obvious: The pitching got a lot better last season.  But it’s taken another huge step forward this
year.

 

Last year’s team ERA through 35 games was 4.74.  This year’s is 3.57 (the starters are at 2.96
over the last 13 games, with nine quality starts).  Opponents were hitting .262 last year, .242
this year.  Walks are up slightly this
year (119 to 137), but the increase is not as dramatic as team strikeouts (188
to 258).  Home runs are down (43 to
36). 

 

He doesn’t get all the credit (plenty should go to ownership,
the front office, coaches and scouts, and the pitchers themselves), but Mike Maddux
has been a top 5 acquisition during the Jon Daniels regime.

 

I thought about Maddux as Ben Sheets, his prize pupil in their
six years together in Milwaukee, and Wilson, his renovated ace, absolutely locked
horns for more than six-and-a-half innings. 
Winning instincts aside, Maddux had to be proud.

 

Wilson wasn’t as efficient or as sharp as he was in Friday’s
complete game, but that just underscores what kind of pitcher he’s become, limiting
the A’s to one run over seven innings of work despite not bringing his best
stuff to the mound.  That’s seven
straight quality starts for Wilson, a Rangers franchise record for the start of
a season.  He’s also thrown 69.1
consecutive homerless innings at Rangers Ballpark, another club record.  In fact, he’s allowed only four extra-base hits
(all doubles) all season.

 

Remember the guy who, eight months ago, you’d hiss at as
soon as he trotted in from the bullpen and delivered ball one to a hitter
crow-hopping out of the way of his first-pitch fastball?  Today, if you squint your eyes and try to
envision Game One on October 5, isn’t Wilson the guy whose hand you want the ball
in as soon as the Anthem ends?

 

By the way, if you’re not catching Wilson’s weekly radio
segment with Ben & Skin on ESPN Radio (103.3 FM), Tuesday mornings at
11:40, you’re doing it wrong.

 

And whether you’re doing it right or wrong, you deserve to
listen to the Wilson intro that Ben Rogers recorded, a lot of times: http://songtwit.com/2u8 

 

Wilson was called for a balk that didn’t count in yesterday’s
fourth inning.  It was nullified by the
single Jake Fox hit to center on the pitch, a rule that I would have
appreciated the home plate umpire in the 1987 Waxahachie Tournament knowing
when he wiped off my two-run homer in the first inning of a game we ended up losing
to Fort Worth Southwest, 5-0.  He ruled “no
pitch,” called me back to the plate, sent our leadoff hitter Steve Whitlow from
first base to second, and tossed our coach out of the game. 

 

Lefthander Matt Harrison threw on flat ground Wednesday and
reported no residual problems from the biceps tendinitis that forced him to the
disabled list.

 

I’m a day early, but Happy 22nd Birthday to Hickory
outfielder Miguel Velazquez, my favorite position player in the Rangers farm system
right now.  Velazquez (.331/.403/.583) has
the highest OPS (.985) among all hitters suiting up for one of the 14 teams in
the South Atlantic League. 

 

After I’d seen Velzaquez in camp this March, I wrote: “Had him at
number 25 in the book, and the number two outfielder in the system, and the
number four breakout candidate among hitters. 
Too low, in every case.”
 
I moved him from 25 to 8 when I re-ranked the system’s prospects on March
26.  If I did a new ranking today, I’d
have him higher than that.

 

Oklahoma City lefthander Michael Kirkman was number five on Baseball America‘s
Hot Sheet last week.

 

The Rangers named its minor league award winners for the
month of April: lefthander Derek Holland (Pitcher of the Month), first
baseman/outfielder Chad Tracy (Player of the Month), catcher Jose Felix (Defender
of the Month), and lefthander Zach Phillips (Relief Pitcher of the Month, a new
award).

 

Bakersfield righthander Cody Eppley, age 24, has yet to
allow a run in 18 relief innings this year, scattering nine hits (one double)
and one walk while fanning 24.  Of his 30
outs on balls put in play, 25 have come on the ground, only five in the air.

 

Hank Blalock (.349/.405/.505 for AAA Durham) has an out
clause approaching sometime in the next week, and he reportedly intends to
exercise it if Tampa Bay doesn’t activate him by that time (or within 48 hours
of his notice to opt out).  Two
interesting notes: (1) Blalock is destroying International League lefties
(.500/.538/.833); and (2) in 26 games, he’s DH’d twice and played defensively
the other 24 times – all at third base.  The
Mariners and White Sox and A’s are among the teams rumored to have some level
of interest.

 

There are some rumors, both locally and nationally, that
Texas might be a match with the struggling White Sox on catcher A.J. Pierzynski
(who gains 10-and-5 rights on June 14, enabling him to veto any trade).  Not sure I’m in love with that idea.

 

The Yankees recalled outfielder Greg Golson again.  Kansas City designated righthander Josh Rupe for
assignment.  The Mets released
pinch-hitter Frank Catalanotto.

 

Kansas City fired manager Trey Hillman and replaced him with
Ned Yost, at least on an interim basis.

 

Iowa Cubs righthander Thomas Diamond has a 2.17 ERA in seven
starts for the AAA club.

 

The Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League signed
righthander Hector Carrasco.

 

It was pointed out last night that only nine of the Rangers’
next 53 games are against teams who now have winning records, an almost
unbelievable number.  That stretch,
incidentally, ends with the All-Star Break, and if the ownership situation is
resolved by then, imagine the mid-to-late-July possibilities for improving the
roster if this club maintains its division lead, or at least has it in reach.

 

Texas got out of town yesterday afternoon with six wins out
of seven on the homestand and 12 of 16 overall, boarding a plane for Canada right
after a 12-inning survival that knocked the A’s two games back.  I’m not sure if Ben Rogers makes it a
personal rule to write songs only for players who are regular guests on the Ben
& Skin Show, but if he’s willing to swing with authority at a pitch out of
the zone, he’s got three days – after which Los Angeles comes to Arlington – to
put one together for former Angel Vladimir Guerrero, who never struck out a
minotaur-like unicorn with the head of Barry Bonds but has surely done many
things equally awesome with those bare hands, that nuclear-war-ravaged helmet,
and all that Big Badness.

 

 

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(c) Jamey Newberg

http://www.newbergreport.com

Twitter 
@newbergreport

 

1 Comment

First and foremost, I agree on three things, a couple relating to Craig Gentry. (1) I have no idea why Ron Washington put him on first. When I saw the call, I initially thought they would run with him to try to keep the slow-running Max Ramirez out of the double play possibility. But that goes against baseball logic with one out, because if he got thrown out, then it would either take a base hit or wild pitch/past ball to score the runner from third. Weird. The second thing, (2), obviously, is that I think Julio should be sent down to AAA, keep CG on the bench as a late-inning runner, and move Josh to center, spelling him occasionally for Craig. Now that Nelson is back, the lineup has few holes, but the 7/8/9 is lightyears softer to pitch to than the new 1-6 that is potentially comparable to any lineup in baseball. I like Justin Smoak’s ability to get on base, so he shouldn’t be lumped into the same net as Matt Treanor or Julio Borbon, but he still bats under .200. It would be nice to see him get on base a little more through solid hits. But it’s obviously very early for him. He’s been good for us. (3) AJ Pierzynski is someone I never want to be a Rangers player. Ever.

As far as the minors, I want to see Zach Phillips in AAA. The guy had an incredible year starting in Clinton a few years ago, and then struggled mightily in Bakersfield the year after. Last year, he was moved to the pen and was almost unhittable. He also did well in Frisco at the end. And this year, he is doing in Frisco what he did in Bakersfield last year, and I’m curious to see if he can do to OKC what he did in Frisco at the end of last season. He gets overlooked in the system, as well he should, with lefties like Martin Perez and Michael Kirkman and Kasey Kiker. But he’s always been one of my favorites.

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