This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: March 17-23, 2014
The Best and Worst of Spring Training What’s With All the Torn Ligaments?
Dodgers-D-Backs Recap Alex Rodriguez's Next Opponent: His Lawyers?

Spring Trained: Who’s Ready and Who’s Not for Opening Day
Every year before the start of the regular season, we gauge the spring training numbers and unmask those ready—and not ready—for Opening Day. Let us be the first to say this (actually, a lot of people have said this previously, but play along with us): Spring training performance is not an indication of how one will perform once the games get real next week. We’ve seen players looking like the second coming of Babe Ruth at camp, then lay an egg the minute they awake on Opening Day; others, meanwhile, absolutely struggle in exhibition play—and then suddenly get it right come April.

So who looks ready—and who doesn’t? (Statistics are as of Saturday, March 22.)

Ready: Robinson Cano, Seattle, hitting .500. So far, he’s worth the $240 million the Mariners signed him for.

Not Ready: Cano’s teammate Corey Hart, batting .143 with 18 strikeouts in 35 at-bats. So far, he’s not worth the $6 million the Mariners have given him. FYI: Hart complained this past week that his former mates in Milwaukee made no effort to encourage him to stay. Perhaps now we know why.

Ready: Cano’s teammate Brad Miller, whose .467 average in 45 at-bats includes four doubles, four triples and four home runs. This coming season will be Miller’s first full shot; watch him.

Not Ready; Eugenio Velez, Milwaukee. When last we heard from Velez in 2011, he was released by Los Angeles after failing to get a hit in 46 straight attempts, a major league record. Congrats to Velez this spring: He got a hit. Otherwise, he’s 0-for-17.

Ready: Mike Trout, Los Angeles of Anaheim. There was no sophomore jinx last year, and it looks as if there will be no junior jinx this season; so far this spring, he’s 20-for-47 (.426) with five homers and 16 RBIs.

Not Ready: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees. The Captain’s swan song will take a sharp, sour dip into the drink if his regular season numbers are as bad as those this spring (.122 with one extra-base hit in 41 at-bats).

Ready: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati. A .341 batting average, a .420 on-base percentage and nine steals without once getting caught. Reds fans are praying, “Please God, let this be a sign.”

Not Ready: Eli Whiteside, Chicago, Chris Stewart, Pittsburgh, Corky Miller, Cincinnati and Peter O’Brien, New York Yankees: Four catchers who are a combined 1-for-61 at the plate.

Ready: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh. With a .533 average and four homers in 30 at-bats, it appears that the reigning National League MVP’s repeat papers are in order.

Not Ready: Andrew Lambo, Pittsburgh. The Pirates have the Andrew they want in left field; they’re desperately looking for another in right. With four hits (all singles) in 42 at-bats, this Andrew does not appear to be the answer right now.

Ready: Nick Castellanos, Detroit. With Miguel Cabrera back at first to replace the departed Prince Fielder, the third base spot is the 22-year-old Castellano’s to lose. We think he’s won the assignment, hitting .373 with an exhibition season-leading 16 RBIs.

Not Ready: Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland. The Cuban émigré needs to bounce back after a subpar 2013; but a .130 average and no homers in 46 at-bats won’t muster up much confidence.

Ready: Justin Masterson, Cleveland. Five starts, three wins, two runs allowed and 20 strikeouts in 19 innings. Just how are those contract extension talks going?

Not Ready: David Ortiz, Boston. Big Papi has a double and a home run, but otherwise is 0-for-30. Just how are those contract extension talks going?

Ready: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco. Four starts, 17 innings pitched, no runs allowed. There’s a reason TGG’s Eric Gouldsberry thinks Mad Bum will win this year’s Cy Young Award.

Not Ready: Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox. The Ashen Pale Hose need to get the most out of what weak talent they carry to make any kind of mark this year. Quintana’s one of the more talented, but 20 runs allowed on 17 hits and seven walks—in just six innings—suggests otherwise. Opponents are hitting .515 against him.

Ready: Alex Wood, Atlanta. Only one earned run allowed over 20 innings and five starts. Kris Medlen, out, Brandon Beachy, out—the Braves are going to need you, Alex, so keep it up.

Not Ready: The Braves’ bullpen. Two saves—in 15 tries. We know it works a little differently in spring training because everyone basically works anywhere from one-to-three innings, but this is ridiculous.

Ready: The Miami Marlins’ starting rotation. The Fish easily have the best ERA among starters at 2.37. It ain’t just Jose Fernandez, folks.

Not Ready: Daniel Corcino, Cincinnati. The young reliever made three appearances, pitched two innings and allowed 13 runs on eight hits and seven walks. No, Danny, you will not be chosen as Aroldis Chapman’s replacement.

Ready: Justin Verlander, Detroit. Apparently the abdomen is feeling better these days; the Tiger ace has started three spring games and thrown 13.2 scoreless innings.

Not Ready: Matt Garza, Milwaukee. The Brewers are hoping that the free agent catch is the missing piece they need, but so far he’s not fitting the rest of the starting rotation puzzle; he’s allowed 17 runs (12 earned) on 19 hits in just 5.2 innings.

Ready: James Shields, Kansas City. The 2.63 spring ERA is not mind-boggling, but here’s what stands out for the veteran ace: 24 strikeouts, no walks.

Not Ready: J.A. Happ, Toronto. What’s Happ-ening, J.A.? Nothing right, apparently. In three spring starts, he’s pitched four innings and allowed nine runs on nine hits—and nine walks.

Midnight Oil
For those among us who are not ex-pats, it was strange to have a midnight-night doubleheader start the regular season, but at least we were spared the jet lag. The Los Angeles Dodgers began what many believe will be a championship campaign by taking both games in Sydney, Australia against NL West rivals Arizona, who officially represented the home team before near-sellout crowds at historic Sydney Cricket Grounds.

The 158-year-old venue managed to fit a baseball field into its stretched oval alignment, but there the similarities to the national pastime ceased. The spired, ancient grandstand along the right field line looked like it needed a horse racing track in front of it, and the yacht-like modern skyboxes above the top deck in the outfield seemed oddly out of place, as did the giant scoreboard situated behind the third base dugout. Other than that, it looked like a ballpark to us.

The fans seemed to enjoy it, and you can tell the uneducated among them; when the first fly balls went sailing off the bats of the players, they oohed and aahed like six-year-olds attending their first major league game.

Major League Baseball has enormous international aspirations, so you can bet this surely won’t be the last time regular season games are held on the other side of the world; recently, London has been talked about as a possible next destination. Whether the players and/or fans stateside dig all this remains a mixed bag, as the Dodgers and Diamondbacks take the long flight back home and return to humble exhibition play before the regular season “resumes” on April Fool’s Eve.

That Deflated Feeling
A bus carrying some of the Diamondbacks players and team staff developed a flat tire a half-mile from Sydney Cricket Grounds before the first game against the Dodgers. Everyone got out and walked the rest of the way.

Prices That Are Anything But Down Under
According to an online ticket site, ticket prices for the Dodgers-Diamondbacks games in Sydney ranged from $62 to $450.

Bushers Book

TJ Max: An Epidemic of Torn Ligaments
Tommy John surgery. It’s practically become a right of passage for major league pitchers. Already this spring—when everyone’s supposed to show up fresh and rested to camp—at least six hurlers have torn ligaments and have been forced to undergo TJ. One in every three pitchers in the majors today can say that they’ve had TJ at some point in their life. A number of those have had it twice.

It’s not like TJ is new; it’s been around 40 years since the man it’s named after became the first to undergo the procedure. But why does it seem that TJ has become an epidemic?

There are many factors in the theory tank. Guys throwing harder than ever before. Split-fingered fastballs. Too many pitches in one’s arsenal. Longer games. And so on and son on.

Perhaps we should ask the man himself, Tommy John. Actually, we did. TGG’s Ed Attanasio recently interviewed the winner of 288 career games—over half of which came after his historic surgery. John echoed what a lot of experts now seem to think: “I ask the parents who is the best pitcher in baseball right now and they say guys like (Justin) Verlander or (Clayton) Kershaw. Then I ask them, do these guys pitch year round? Of course not. So, if they don’t, why should your kid do it? Rest is part of training, I tell them. If you rest your arm, nature will take care of it—but these parents listen to some of these pitching coaches who tell them their sons need to pitch all the time if they want to be a first-round pick.”

Some teams seem particularly snake-bitten by TJ, suggesting that an audit is in order for their method of conditioning the pitchers. The Atlanta Braves, having watched Jonny Venters, Tim Hudson, Alex Wood and Eric O’Flaherty undergo the procedure in recent years, have now lost Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy for the season; for each, it’s their second TJ. And almost everyone thinks it’s just a matter of time before closer supreme Craig Kimbrel breaks down and concedes to TJ.

On the flip side, there’s the San Francisco Giants, who with the exception of departed closer Brian Wilson have gone virtually untouched by torn ligament issues in the last ten years. When Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News reminded Giants manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti of that last week, both practically shushed Steward out of the clubhouse for fear of jinxing it all. “No way, no way. I’m not talking about that,” Righetti deadpanned. “I’m not joking.”

Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner, said it all comes down to genetics. “Some people have sound mechanics and just have terrible luck because their body doesn’t allow it,” he told Stewart. “Some people are elastic like me and can mess up with their mechanics and still not have it hurt them.”

This, from a guy who chucks away the user guide and never ices his arm after he’s done throwing 100-plus pitches.

Double Play of a Different Kind
They painted the Cincinnati Reds green for St. Patrick’s Day, and umpire
Brad Myers probably developed some unwelcomed green on one of his more sensitive body parts after taking a wicked Brandon Phillips line drive right in the midsection during a Cactus League game between the Reds and Cleveland.

Responding in Kind
A few weeks back, Detroit second baseman
Ian Kinsler shoved it to his former team when he publicly hoped Texas would go 0-162 in 2014, and called Rangers general manager Jon Daniels a “sleazeball.” And what does the guy who went the other way in the trade that sent Kinsler to Detroit—bulky slugger Prince Fielder—have to say about his former team, the Tigers? “I hope they win their division and have a great year,” he told Yahoo’s Jeff Passan. “Unfortunately if they play us in the playoffs, they might lose.”

But then again, maybe the Tigers won’t lose if Fielder continues his October dry spell; over 92 career postseason at-bats with Detroit, he hit .196 with a home run and just three RBIs.

Bushers (and TGG)—in Person!
If you’re in San Francisco and bouncing about following the Giants’ home opener on April 8, come to the historic Ferry Building and Book Passage for a book signing and chat with author-illustrator
Ed Attanasio and designer-writer Eric Gouldsberry—the two guys who just happen to also be This Great Game—starting at 6:00 p.m. The book, of course, is Bushers: Ballplayers Drawn From Left Field, but a little TGG will be spoken as well. Hope to see you all there!

Stranded in Paradise
Matt Harvey has certainly proven in his young major league career to date that he’s got an attitude and something to say—sometimes in ways that doesn’t leave everyone happy. This past week, Harvey—recovering from Tommy John surgery late last year—publicly lashed out at the New York Mets for telling him to rehab for the bulk of the season at the team’s spring headquarters in St. Lucie, Florida, instead of back in New York where he’d rather be with his teammates.

Harvey’s thoughts were revealed to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, whose interview with the young ace in the Mets’ spring clubhouse was broken up by team PR employee Jay Horwitz, who told Martino, “You’re causing me some problems.” Harvey repeatedly told Horwitz that his conversation with Martino was “cool,” but Horwitz persisted and Martino politely ended the interview; Harvey was then summoned to general manager Sandy Alderson for an understanding of “media rules,” and Alderson later told Martino, “My recommendation is to manage doing interviews in a way that doesn’t interfere with his day-to-day-activities.”

Harvey endured the crash course in media training and later talked to a group of reporters—the way the Mets wanted it—and gave answers that were, in Martino’s opinion, more “measured.”

The Complicated Legend of Louis Sockalexis
Amid all the useless online bytes showing spring training fans’ behavior behind the fences and Hank the Dog came this substantive, well-researched and well-written piece by
Joe Posnanski on the NBC Sports web site detailing the talented but troubled life of Louis Sockalexis, reportedly the first Native American major leaguer and maybe the man the Cleveland Indians named themselves after in 1915. It’s a good read, check it out.

Unplug the WBC
In light of some recent disagreements between MLB and the players’ union over the last few months, there is suggestion that negotiations for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2016 could be intense and lead to baseball’s first work stoppage in over 20 years. If such an event were to take place, the main casualty might be the 2017 World Baseball Classic, scheduled as always before the regular season.

Our thoughts on that scenario? Hey, knock yourselves out and go for it. We’ve never been sold on the WBC and we’re less sold on it after last year’s tournament led to the usual indifference and numerous injuries to players whose regular seasons were all but ruined. In general, the union says that the players like the WBC; yet why do so many star players balk at participating in it? If the players want to sacrifice the WBC as a first layer of protest on CBA talks, that’s fine with us. We won’t miss it.

A-Rod Gets Closer to the A-Byss
The New York Daily News reported this past week that
Alex Rodriguez is now refusing to pay his voluminous team of lawyers who defended him in his efforts to get his 211-day Biogenesis suspension overturned. That penalty was reduced to 162 games, meaning he’s out for the entire 2014 season, but the reduction apparently wasn’t satisfactory enough for Rodriguez, who still owes $3 million out of an estimated $5 million due to his lawyers. According to the report, Rodriguez not only isn’t paying, he’s not talking, refusing to answer the “pay up” phone calls from his attorneys.

Any suit against Rodriguez to recoup the $3 million could mean the end of the attorney-client privilege and the beginning of a new campaign by his lawyers—one in which they would publicly reveal all Rodriguez has confided to them over the past year. We’re sure the Daily News headline writers can’t wait for more fodder on this.

The Frozen Tundra of…U.S. Cellular Field?
Winter officially ended this past Friday, but don’t tell that to people in the American Northeast—especially in Chicago, where
Roger Bossard, the head groundskeeper at U.S. Cellular Field, reported earlier in the week that there are 30 inches of permafrost below the playing surface to deal with as they get the field into baseball shape for the White Sox’ Opening Day against Minnesota this coming Monday. Bossard said he has no chance of thawing everything but can at least get up to ten inches deep to warm up and allow a decent brand of baseball to be played.

Wrigley at 100
Two years after Fenway Park celebrated its 100th birthday, it’s Wrigley Field’s turn. And as with Fenway, the iconic Chicago ballpark is being celebrated with an extensive web site devoted to its entire history, courtesy of its main occupants, the Cubs. It’s image-laden, interactive and full of fun facts that provide a good resource for researchers like us, who are initiating the pre-upload process of our ballparks section.

How Dare You Trade Your Own Son
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim traded minor leaguer
Matt Scioscia to the Cubs for Trevor Gretzky. You guessed it: Both players are sons of much more famous dads, with Matt the son of Angels manager Mike Scioscia and Trevor the son of hockey great Wayne Gretzky. Neither sibling has played higher than Class A ball.

How Dare You Demote Your Own Son
San Francisco manager
Bruce Bochy informed his son, Brett Bochy, that he was being reassigned to the minors. It wasn’t done in the traditional bad news setting of the manager’s office but during a breakfast session, so pass the salt and don’t forget to put away your dishes on the way out the door.

That “Mystery Team” Bit is a Bit Old
Peter Gammons tweeted on Saturday a claim from agent Scott Boras that free agent shortstop Stephen Drew had a three-year, $39 million offer “on the table.” You’d think if that was the case, Drew would have agreed to the deal on the spot. Ask any of a number of teams who have been suckered in by Boras’ “mystery team” trick: Don’t believe him.

Getting Away With Murder?
The man who stabbed and killed a Dodgers fan last year after a game at nearby AT&T Park in San Francisco late last year will not be tried in a court of law, because prosecutors say they would have a difficult time trying to convince a jury that the assailant was not acting in self-defense.

Wounded of the Week
wounded of the weekSpace is at a premium on the Ouch Couch after an actively painful week of injurious woe in spring camps across the baseball world. Undoubtedly the most brutal moment occurred when a 99-MPH fastball from Cincinnati closer
Aroldis Chapman was returned from the bat of Kansas City’s Salvador Perez at a much faster speed—and right at Chapman’s face. This sequence put an immediate end to the Reds-Royals game as Chapman was carried off, but what was perhaps even more cringing was what doctors had to do to repair hi numerous facial bone fractures; they made an ear-to-ear incision around the top of Chapman’s head, inserted a titanium plate and literally stapled the skin back together where they went in. One looks at the picture Chapman had taken of him after the surgery and must wonder: How exactly are they going to remove those staples, and how many octaves will Chapman sound while that’s being done?

If the Reds are looking for help in replacing Chapman for the next six-to-eight weeks, they’re not going to get it from fellow relievers Jonathan Broxton or Sean Marshall, both of whom will also start the season on the disabled list. Also taking a hit to the face at upload time was Tampa Bay's Matt Moore, who was fortunate to escape major injury by having the return liner (from Boston's Xander Bogaerts) partially deflected by his glove.

As we noted high above, the number of players ordered to undergo Tommy John surgery shot up with Oakland’s Jarrod Parker and Detroit’s Bruce Rondon both going under the knife; Houston reliever Peter Moylan may soon join them after he gets his torn ligaments checked out this coming week.

Other injuries came this past week to perennially hurt pitcher Josh Johnson, who will miss the first month of San Diego’s season with a strained forearm; Texas infielder Jurickson Profar, out up to three months with a shoulder tear; Philadelphia slugger Darin Ruf, out a month with an oblique issue; and another Phillie, infielder Freddy Galvis, was placed on the DL due to a staph infection—leading team officials to order an industrial-grade cleaning of the Phillies clubhouse to prevent other players from contracting the virus.

This Week’s Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
The silver lining for the Diamondbacks’ two-and-out in Australia against the Dodgers was that star first baseman
Paul Goldschmidt racked up hits in each game, extending his hitting streak that began late last year to 21. Even MLB Network play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian opined that an asterisk should be applied should Goldschmidt reach the Yankee Clipper and hit safely in 56 straight games, because he did it over two seasons. We disagree. Strongly.

He Tweeted What?
“If I were to be Native American. Would I not get taxed? If this is true, I’m so jealy!”—Seattle’s
Logan Morrison. We're sure the Native Americans feel very privileged.

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