The Week That Was in Baseball: March 7-13, 2011
TGG Visits the Cactus League • Are the Teasers of 2010 Ready for 2011?
It's Nolan Ryan's Rangers Now • The "Return" of Matt Bush • So Long to the Rage
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Spring Training: Baseball's Ultimate Convention
Even before you reach Phoenix, you know it’s going to be a party; it pretty much was one already on the flight from the San Francisco Bay Area, where Giant fans showed their colors and talked up baseball and the Valley of the Sun with great fun. Once in Phoenix, the weather was fantastic, with daily high temperatures reaching well into the 80s as the sun had little competition in the skies. The ballparks seen were intimate as expected but expensive; it cost $20 just to sit on the outfield lawn at Saturday’s San Francisco-Los Angeles game which drew a record crowd of over 12,000 to Scottsdale Stadium. (At least the parking was free.) But once inside the ballparks, there was no shortage of spectacle. In one quick sweep of the Scottsdale Stadium concourse before the Giant-Dodger game, Eric passed by Hall-of-Famer Gaylord Perry (signing autographs), Giant owner Bill Neukom (relaxed in a golf shirt and shortsno bow-tie) and Giant announcers Jon Miller, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow, all conversing casually with syndicated baseball writer Peter Gammons.
Most impressive was the new Salt River Fields facility on the east end of Scottsdale, which serves as the joint spring training home for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. The wide-open complex includes a main 12,000-seat ballpark with an open concourse as wide as many you’ll see at the big league ballparks, and surrounded by 12 (yes, 12) ballfields. (If you’re going to Salt River, park in the shopping mall at the south end of the grounds; it’s free parking, there’s good pregame food options around, and it’s a short walk to the right field corner entrance.)
The nightlife was not as wild as expected, but vibrant nonethelesswith many establishments in Scottsdale showing their allegiance (or multiple allegiancesyou can’t tick off too many fans) for the visiting teams. And the best thing about coming to spring training on the second weekend in March: No losing of an hour on Saturday night. (There’s no Daylight Savings Time in Arizona.)
Above photo: First pitch of an exhibition game at the new Salt River Fields in Scottsdale between the Colorado Rockies and the Kansas City Royals on Friday, March 11. Below: TGG's Eric Gouldsberry (right) poses with friends John Pearson (left) and Rusty Shaffer (center) outside of Scottsdale Stadium, spring home of the San Francisco Giants, on Saturday, March 12 before the Giants' game with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A Heartbreaking Ocean Apart
Mitchell Page, 1951-2011
A Sober Return to Tucson
Better Late Than Never
After getting a look from other teams to no avail, Bush finally seems to have gotten back on track in Tampa Bay, where the Rays have seen actual maturity and results in spring training from the 25-year old. Perhaps even more promising than the numerous scoreless innings he’s pitched is that he showed up to camp early, hungry and in great shapesomething the Padres and other teams never got from him. Bush won’t make the Rays’ Opening Day rosterhe’s already been assigned to minor league campbut his attitude finally seems to have a major league sensibility to it.
Wounded of the Week
The most frightening moment of the week involved Luis Salazar, a minor league manager in the Atlanta system who was in the Braves’ dugout when a wicked foul ball hit by catcher Brian McCann nailed him in the face during a game. Salazar lay on the ground unconscious for 20 minutes before being airlifted to a nearby hospital; some in the dugout believed he had died. McCann was so distraught that he left the game and caught up with Salazar, who did survive and is scheduled for eye surgery.
Finally, we see that it’s not just players and coaches who are suffering from the pains of practice; even Hall of Famers brought in to lend their sage aren’t spared. At the Phillies’ spring training digs in Clearwater, Florida, Yankee legend Yogi Berra was in the visiting clubhouse when he tripped and fell back while getting a bowl of soup. Berra tried to shake it off and continue on, but others insisted he go to the hospital; four hours later, he left the medical ward with a thumb’s up. Asked what he thought of Clearwater, Berra said: “I didn’t like the soup.”
Are the Teasers of 2010 Ready For 2011?
We’re talking about the young players that make up our annual list of those who got called up late in the 2010 season and impressed. Some of these guys are big-time prospects, others just players who got the call and unexpectedly made the most of their chances. So here they are, in alphabetical order:
Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City. The speedster from Georgia hit over .300 with 26 stolen bases in 84 minor league games and kept up the pace at the big league level in Milwaukee, hitting .306 with seven more swipes. Traded to the Royals as part of the Zack Greinke deal, Cain should make the Opening Day roster; the question is whether he’ll start.
Dillon Gee, New York Mets. Here’s another one of those head scratchers; Gee struggles at Triple-A Buffalo with a 4.96 ERA, gets called to the Mets anywayand secures a 2.18 ERA in five starts. Unless Buffalo’s ballpark is a bandbox (he was 13-8 there), we don’t get it, either. But here he is, hoping to crack the 2011 rotation to at least keep the mound warm for rehabbing Johan Santana.
Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay. On eof the top pitching prospects in the nation, Hellickson made such a good impression to start his late-season call-up that the Rays were worried they would overuse his 23-year old arm, so they preserved him in the bullpen even as the team fought it out for the AL East title. That seems to show that the Rays are more concerned about the future rather than the now with this promising right-hander. He is likely to start the year in the starting rotation.
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta. Twenty innings, 40 strikeouts, and a 0.44 ERA. That’s the insane numbers put up by the 22-year old Alabaman late last year as he possibly eased the Braves’ offseason push for a veteran closer to replace the retired Billy Wagner. The job isn’t his yet, but if he keeps up with anything near the above stats, it’ll be a formality.
Michael Kirkman, Texas. Though he blew a save in a throwaway contest at the end of last season, the 24-year old southpaw was otherwise excellent, producing a 1.65 ERA in 14 relief appearances after going 13-3 as a starter at Triple-A Oklahoma City. He’s on the bubble to make the Rangers’ Opening Day roster.
Mitch Moreland, Texas. Arriving just before August, the first basemanno relation to former major leaguer Keith Morelandhit .255 but blasted nine homers with 25 RBIs in 145 at-bats; he then hit .348 in the Rangers’ postseason with a pivotal home run in Texas’ only World Series win. Moreland should finally allay Ranger fans who have grown sick of Chris Davis’ lack of progress at first.
Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees. Patiently waiting in the wings on the depth chart behind Derek Jeter, the 23-year old shortstop showed a bit of vitality late last year, hitting .280 with five steals in 30 games. Nunez is competing for a utility spot on the roster and likely will get it.
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox. It was quite a ride in 2010 for the Florida native, going from Florida Gulf Coast College to Winston-Salem to Charlotte to the big time at Chicago, all within a three-month period. Sale saved his best for the White Sox, authoring a 1.93 ERA and 32 strikeouts within 21 appearances and 23.1 innings. The tall (6’6”) southpaw is penciled in to the White Sox’ Opening Day bullpen that, oh, by the way, could probably use a new closer.
Casper Wells, Detroit. The 26-year old from Grand Rapids has a career .250 average in the minorshe hit only .233 at Triple-A Toledo last yearbut he was energized in his call-up with the Tigers, batting .323 with four homers and 17 RBIs in 93 at-bats. He has a fair shot of making the Opening Day roster as a reserve outfielder.
...And What of the Teasers for 2009?
Michael Aubrey, after a sharp cameo with Baltimore, didn’t make the roster and, after hitting .235 at Triple-A Norfolk, didn’t receive a second late-season call from the Orioles. He’s now trying to hitch on with the Washington Nationals.
Alex Avila spent his first full season at the major league level with Detroit, catching 98 games for the Tigers, but hitting only .228. With Victor Martinez now signed on, Avila will likely experience more of the 2011 season from the bench.
Justin Berg, after a 0.75 ERA in 11 appearances late in 2009, struggled in 2010 with a 5.18 figure in 41 games and found himself back at Triple-A Iowa. He’s fighting for a bullpen spot on the parent club this spring and, so far, isn’t impressing anyone.
Madison Bumgarner joined the San Francisco Giants midway through last season at age 20 and pitched as if he’d been there for years. He was 7-6 with a very respectable 3.00 ERA in 18 startsand 2-0 with a stellar 2.18 ERA in the postseason, capped by eight shutout innings in Game Four of the World Series. Just what everyone else in the NL needs to see: Another young hotshot on the mound for the Giants.
Neftali Feliz set a rookie record with 40 saves for the AL champion Texas Rangers and won AL Rookie of the Year honors. The only question this spring is whether he’ll start or close.
Brad Kilby picked up last year where he left off in 2009, impressing the A’s with a 2.16 ERA through his first five appearances before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury (what is else was new in Oakland?). The A’s will likely give him another roster spot for 2011if he stays healthy.
Randy Ruiz finally looked like he had broken through, at age 31, to supply some serious thunder for the Toronto Blue Jays. But after a dreadful start (6-for-40, one home run) in 2010, he took his act to Japan, where he hit .266 with 12 homers in 81 games.
Rusty Ryal became a serviceable bench performer for Arizona last season, hitting .261 with three homers in 104 games split between the outfield, first and third. But like Ruiz, he’s gone Japanese and is now with the Yomiuri Giants (in light of recent events, he and Ruiz might want to consider a return to the States).Josh Thole started last season at Triple-A Buffalo before being called up to New York, where he hit .277 in 73 games for the Mets while nabbing 11 of 25 would-be basestealers from behind the plate. His play was good enough for the Mets to waive bye-bye to Rod Barajas and point to him as the starting catcher in 2011. (At upload time, Thole’s hitting .448 with a pair of homers this spring.)
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