Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

A’s Duchscherer on tap for Minor League Start

Here’s a quick look at my story on the comeback of A’s pitcher Justin Duchscherer, which will be coming shortly on MLB.com and athletics.com:

PHOENIX
– The future is now for A’s pitcher Justin Duchscherer with only a start in a
Minor League scrimmage on Tuesday standing between him and his debut in the
Cactus League five days later.


Duchscherer
hasn’t pitched in the Major Leagues since 2008 because of various injuries.
Surgery on his right elbow cost him the entire ’09 season and he never made an
appearance in the Cactus League last spring because of the elbow injury.


Duchscherer,
who survived a bullpen session on Friday against hitters, was advised about his
schedule on Saturday by A’s pitching coach Curt Young.


“He
has me lined up for four or five starts down here,” Duchscherer told MLB.com on
Saturday. “As long as I’m ready when the season starts that’s all I care about.
I should be ready to go.”


The
A’s open the season on April 5 at the Oakland Coliseum against the Mariners.

Gwynn says he’s facing “critical” season

Here’s a peak at today’s Tony Gwynn Jr. feature, which will be posted later today on MLB.com and padres.com:

PEORIA,
Ariz. – Tony Gwynn Jr. makes no bones about what the pending 2010 season may
mean to his budding baseball career.


“It’s
a critical year, no doubt about it,” he told MLB.com before the Padres worked
out on Monday morning. “I’m 27 years old and I’m no longer in that kid mode. Even
though my big-league experience isn’t as great as your typical 27-year-old, I’ve
been around the game long enough to know that there are still things that I
need to improve. But I can’t look at it as if I’m a kid anymore.”


The
left-handed hitting Gwynn spent the offseason working on two areas: improving
his hitting against left-handed pitchers and base stealing. In his Spring
Training entrance interview with manager Bud Black and new general manager Jed
Hoyer, those were areas of primary concern, Gwynn said.

Webb on pace to make debut in the middle of Spring Training

TUSCON, Ariz. — I ran into Brandon Webb this morning munching on a bagel in the hallway outside the D-backs clubhouse at Tucson Electric Park. He said that his bullpens are getting increasingly better and that he will probably throw to live hitters in about a week.

That would put him on pace to make his debut about the middle Spring Training and place him in position to start the third game of the regular season against the Padres on April 7 at Chase Filed in Phoenix. The D-backs open their last Cactus League season in Tucson next Thursday here against the Rockies.

Webb seemed content this morning with his progress. He pitched four innings in the opener last year and then missed the rest of the season with a sore right shoulder. After trying to rehab it, he finally underwent arthroscopic clean-up surgery on Aug. 3.

He’s the team’s work horse and without him back to his usual form, the D-backs will have a hard time contending this season in the National League West. Without him vying for his usual 20-win season in 2009, the D-backs suffered through a 12-loss turnaround from 82-80 in ’08 to 70-92 last season.

Some scouts wonder whether Webb can make it back, but with his give-me-the ball attitude and inner strength, I believe Webb will throw 200 innings and make another run at the Cy Young in the NL, an award he won in 2006.

The D-backs are working the right-handed Webb back slowly this spring and manager A.J. Hinch has already given Dan Haren the nod to start the regular-season opener on April 5 against San Diego. That took the pressure off Webb and gave Haren the much-deserved start after his 14-win, ’09 season. Haren and Webb combined for 38 wins two years ago as the D-backs finished two games behind the division-winning Dodgers.

Webb is 87-62 with a 3.27 ERA in 198 starts over the course of his seven-year career, all with Arizona. He’s on the final year of his contract and would like to remain with the team. That, of course, will be contingent on his health and performance.
 

Sudden death overtime baseball

I wish I was on Commissioner Bud Selig’s Special Committee that is delving into the nuances of Major League Baseball. Sudden death overtime would be my top suggestion.

It would shorten games and take an instant edge away from the home team, which under the currents rules, has the greater advantage in extra inning games.

Here’s my drift: Once the game goes into the bottom of the ninth inning tied, that’s it, the first run scored wins it. That’s the way it already is for the home team, but wait. If the visitors score in the top of extra innings, the home team gets another shot at it. Not under my new rules. If the visitors homer in the top of the 10th, it’s a walk off, that’s it. That would put added pressure on every pitch. It’s actually a fairer rule than the one in place now.

I love overtime playoff hockey. The first puck in the net wins it. The game keeps going in 20 minute increments until that happens. I’ve covered four Stanley Cup finals that have been won on overtime goals. Nothing more exciting in sports.

Imagine if a World Series game went into extra innings under the sudden death rule. Imagine the pathos while each player comes to bat in extras. One run at any time and it’s over.

I know this severally bucks tradition, but so did the three division format, so did Wild Card playoff berths in both leagues. Seventeen years after their adoption it’s common place. No one questions it. Some people are calling for more Wild Card teams, a play-in round, seven games in each Division Series. All good ideas.

But I like my idea. Sudden death overtime baseball. There would be nothing like it.   

My Hall of Fame ballot for 2010

I first met Roberto Alomar on a visit to the family household in Salinas, Puerto Rico, in 1987. He was 19 years old. He and his older brother Sandy Jr., then 21, were out in the street in front of the house playing with remote control cars. They were still in the Padres’ Minor League system and as big kids had their lives in front of them.

Sandy Jr., was always more verbose than Robbie. He was a take control kind of kid and took my wife and I on a tour of the southern coast of the island not far from Ponce, where Benito Santiago grew up. My wife, Alicia, loves to sip the milk of coconuts and Sandy took us to a road-side hut along the Atlantic Ocean shore where the owner sliced open a coconut with a machete for her. A fine catcher in his own right, he’s always been that type of guy.

Robbie was playing second base that winter for his dad, who managed Santorce in the Puerto Rican Winter League. That’s the first time I ever saw him on the field. Even at that age, playing in a dusty old stadium, it was easy to see that the kid could play. He was more than a prospect. He was the real thing.

It’s now 23 years later and Roberto has had what I call a Hall of Fame career, coming up with the Padres in 1988, winning two World Series with the Blue Jays in 1992-93, batting .300 with 2,724 hits and .984 fielding percentage. I’ve known Roberto and his family for so long that I discount the spitting incident as an aberration in a great career. After all, he spit in the face of an umpire, John Hirschbeck, who Robbie said called him a derogatory name that takes on even more significance in the Latin culture. Hirschbeck, who had lost his son at the time, wasn’t in the greatest state of mind. The two made peace. Let’s move on.

This year I filled out my ballot, using all 10 slots. Of the newcomers I voted for Robbie, Fred McGriff and Edgar Martinez. Of the returnees, I checked off Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith and Mark McGwire. I added Robin Ventura to the bunch just because he was a personal favorite. I doubt Ventura will even get the 5 percent requisite vote to carry him over. If he doesn’t at least he knows he got one vote. Mine.

Usually, I vote for three or four guys, but this year I decided to spread it out. I’ve never voted for Blyleven, Morris or Dawson, but under closer scrutiny all deserve a place in Cooperstown. Morris was the best pitcher in the American League for a decade and turned teams into World Champions, winning in Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto. Blyleven is fifth all-time in strikeouts (3,701). Of his 287 wins, 60 were shutouts. Dawson played on bad knees and with sheer guts. His numbers certainly stand up to Jim Rice, who was elected last year.

I’ve voted for McGwire every year he’s been on the ballot and will continue to do so. I’m not sure what to do with players whose careers spanned the steroid era, particularly when the use of those drugs are implied. Next year we’ll have Rafael Palmeiro on the ballot. He’s only one of four players to amass 500 homers and 3,000 hits — Eddie Murray, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron are the others. He also failed a drug test at the end of his career. What will I do about Rafi? It will all go into the mix. I have no hard and fast rules.

I vote for Smith and Trammell every year. It baffles me why Smith (478 saves for third on the all-time list) and the great shortstop Trammell are not in the Hall. I couldn’t vote for Barry Larkin this year because Trammell is not a member. Larkin: a .295 lifetime average, 2,340 hits, 198 homers and 960 RBIs in 2,180 games, all with the Reds. Trammell: .285 with 2,365 hits, 185 homers and 1,003 RBIs in 2,293 games, all with the Tigers. What am I missing here?

McGriff and Martinez are also worthy. Fred was a great guy and a great player who’s career arch ended with him seven short of 500 homers. He was such an impact player everywhere he went, I’m not going to hold that against him. Neither should Edgar’s accomplishments be shrouded by the fact that he was a true designated hitter throughout most of his career. He played in Seattle and the American League utilizes that rule. That’s the way his managers chose to use him. He’s a .312 lifetime hitter with 2,247 hits, 309 homers, 1,261 RBIs, a .418 on-base percentage and a.515 slugging percentage. Let’s look at the numbers, not his position. That’s what I went by.

So that’s the way I did it this year, the 17th time I’ve voted for the Hall of Fame dating back to 1993. I’ll be looking forward to the announcement on Wednesday to see how my writing colleagues judged it as well.

Winter Classic was a must see; Yankee Stadium next?

Going back to the old six-team league, I am a hockey nut of the worst order. As I told my good friend and colleague Ian Browne today via Twitter as the Winter Classic played itself out at Fenway Park: Give me a hockey game and baseball game every day. Sprinkle in a few Bruce concerts. I’ll even take U2. Then I’m a happy man. He agreed on all accounts.

The Flyers-Bruins tilt ended much like a Stanley Cup finals clinching game — the wave of energy in the old ballpark reaching its crescendo just as the Bruins hit their apex, old-timer Mark Recchi scoring with two minutes left in regulation and  Marco Strum scoring less than two minutes into overtime for the 2-1 win. Both teams then lined up on the frozen outdoor pond to shake hands — a playoff series-ending custom that I’ve always thought was one of the best in all of sports.

I’ve covered or attended games in 11 Stanley Cup finals, including my Rangers win over the Canucks in 1994. I’ve seen four of them end on overtime goals. With apologies to baseball, there is no more pathos than a championship series that ends on that kind of note. Baseball has its walk-off wins, but that’s only reserved for the home team once a game reaches the bottom of the ninth.

In the hockey postseason, two teams play until one team gives and I’ve seen games that have gone on for three or four 20-minute overtime sessions. Every shot, pass and hit puts fans on the edge. The hockey playoffs goes four grueling best-of-seven rounds. You watch the players’ faces. See the bruises, grim looks and determination as one game runs into another. There really is nothing like it.

I’m not the only one who believes this. I’m not the only baseball guy who loves pucks. There are also numerous hockey guys who love baseball. I’ve had long chats about ball with Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and the Great One, Wayne Gretzsky, among others. I’ve had long chats about hockey with Angels manager Mike Scioscia and the great now retired left-hander Tom Glavine, who played the game. Sciosicia grew up outside of Philly as a Flyers fan. Fancy that.

The marriage of iconic baseball parks with the Winter Classic the last two years has brought out the best of what both sports have to offer: Like baseball, hockey relies on its history. Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford throwing out the first pitch of the World Series is mirrored by Bobby Orr and Bobby Clarke facing off on Friday as the ceremonial first puck was dropped.

It’s great winter offseason publicity for baseball and has given hockey a wonderful national shot in the arm. Next year I’m thinking Rangers-Islanders at Yankee Stadium with 50,000 fans chanting “Potvin Sucks” as the locals still do quizzically at every game played at Madison Square Garden. That would be something to behold.

In the meantime, I’ll be out in Glendale on Saturday to see the resurgent Coyotes play the Red Wings. It’s my sixth game at the very poorly named Jobing.com Arena this season.

Told you. I’m a hockey nut!

Christmas eve reports links Mets to Escobar

It may
be Christmas eve, but the baseball rumor mill never stops.

A
report out of Venezuela states that the Mets have reached an agreement to sign
former Angels pitcher Kelvim Escobar. The story made the rounds on the
blogosphere on Dec. 14 that the Mets had offered the often-injured right-hander
a Minor League deal, but the club has made no announcement about it since
then.

The
Christmas eve report was generated by Francisco Blavia, who works for Lider en
Deportes, a Spanish-language news service that has been spot-on with a couple of
other signings this winter. The 33-year-old right-hander and native of
Venezuela has made just one Major League appearance in the past two years, after
posting an 18-7 record and a 3.40 ERA in 30 starts in 2007. He has a 4.15 ERA in
202 career appearances. That one appearance came for the Angels, a loss on June
6, and though the Angels hoped Escobar might bolster the bullpen, he didn’t
pitch again this past season.

Escobar
had what many thought would be career-ending right shoulder surgery to repair a
torn muscle suffered during Spring Training in 2008, forcing him to miss that
entire season.

Merry
Christmas.

Pettitte starting to look like Hall of Fame candidate

As we entered the 2009 baseball season I never thought I’d mention the words Andy Pettitte and Hall of Fame in the same sentence. But the Yankee left-hander’s 4-0 performance in the postseason and his 2-0 exclamation point in the World Series has me starting to think in those terms.

Pettitte, now 37, hasn’t determined whether he’s coming back next season.

“I’m not sure,” Pettitte said in the din of the clubhouse celebration after the Yanks clinched their 27th World Series title by vanquishing the Phillies. “I’ll need to get home
and talk to my family. I’ll need to talk to the Yankees and find out
where they’re at, and then I can probably start trying to figure out
what I’d like to do.”

Even if he doesn’t come back, his resume after 15 seasons has to warrant some serious HOF consideration. Pettitte already has a 229-135 record for a .629 regular season-winning percentage. His 18 postseason wins — five of them in the World Series — are the most in Major League history. John Smoltz, who had 15 postseason wins for the Atlanta Braves, only recorded two of them in the Fall Classic. With 213 wins and 154 saves, Smoltz is considered a very formidable Hall of Fame candidate, although his Braves won the World Series only once in five chances.

Pettitte also compares favorably to Yankee Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, another left-hander who was elected with a record of 236-106 and a .690 winning percentage in 17 regular seasons. The man also nicknamed “Chairman of the Board” had a record 10 victories in 11 World Series. Ford played in an era when the pennant winners in each league went directly to the World Series. There were no qualifying rounds. Ford’s Yankees won six of them.

Pettitte has now played in the World Series eight times, seven with the Yankees and one with the Astros. He’s won five, all with the Yankees. That’s no mean feat, considering the fact that in his era a team must get through three grueling rounds of playoffs to be crowned champions. This year, he won the clincher in each round against the Twins, Angels and Phillies.

Ford, 10-8, in the World Series, only started 22 postseason games. Pettitte has started 40 and he’s 18-9. Sandy Koufax, one of the premier left-handers in baseball history, won 165 games in 12 seasons with the Dodgers and added four wins in eight World Series appearances, seven of them starts. Koufax is the rare exception to the rule: a pitcher who was elected to the Hall based on six great seasons, the last six of his injury-prone career.

As a Hall-of-Fame voter, it’s a no-brainer that Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera will be first ballot electees to the Hall of Fame. Barring injury, Jeter will become the first Yankee with 3,000 hits and he’s already the leading shortstop all-time in that category.  Rivera is second behind Trevor Hoffman with 526 regular-season saves. But he’s light years ahead of Hoffman in both postseason statistics and opportunities, with eight wins, 39 saves and a 0.74 ERA. Two of those wins and 11 of those saves have come in the World Series.

Of course, any discussion of Pettitte for the Hall will have to include consideration of his admitted use of human growth hormone (HGH). But Ford scuffed and doctored baseballs with the help of Elston Howard, one of his catchers. So where does a voter draw the line?

Off those great Yankees teams in Ford’s era — 1950-67 — Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra are also in the Hall of Fame. From this era, circa 1995-2009, I’m now inclined to consider Pettitte in the same breath as Jeter and Rivera.

 

Stuck in elevator at Yankee Stadium, we survive

NEW YORK — I’m 57 years old and I’d never been stuck for even a minute in an elevator, until today. It happened in the press elevator at the new Yankee Stadium. Myself and six colleagues were on our way to the Twins off-day media conference this morning when the elevator hit a bump, bounced like it had struck an iceberg, and stopped dead just above the clubhouse level.

Three of us from MLB.com were in the group: myself, Kelly Thesier, the Twins beat writer, and Scott Merkin, who covers the White Sox, and is on our terrific team blanketing the Yanks and Twins in their American League Division Series.

We were stuck in the elevator for 25 minutes, cracking jokes all along the way. It wasn’t a tragic experience. The press conference started without us and when Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was told about it, he quipped: “What are they doing, chewing their arms and legs off?” That sounds about right for a group of sportswriters.

I felt sorry for the elevator operator. He had switched with another guy just as we boarded on the press level. It was less than a minute later when we came to that bumpy halt. I have to thank the Yankees service people, who worked quickly to spring us out. The elevator halted about six feet above the clubhouse level and when the front door was finally pried open from the outside we all had to step on low wrungs of a wooden ladder to get out. This was hardly the Titanic.

But as I said, I’ll be 58 on Oct. 26 and this is something I’d never experienced. So now I can add it to my resume: stuck in an elevator, in the new Yankee Stadium, of all places; 10 minutes from the apartment where I grew up in the north Bronx and my parents still live, and survived.

Towers went out like the class act he is

SAN DIEGO — There’s no crying in baseball and even though Kevin Towers sounded for a time like he was about to choke back a few tears on Saturday, he held his own.

“It took 47 years for them to get me, but they finally did today,” KT, the now former Padres general manager, said after reciting a litany of jobs in and out of baseball he had kept without being cut, fired or released until the grim reaper finally arrived.

When John Moores purchased the Padres in 1995, he stated bluntly that there was going to be stability on the field and in the front office on his watch. And he has held true to his word. In 15 years there have only been two managers and and a pair of GMs. For 11 of them — 1996-2006 — Towers and Bruce Bochy were together. And for the past three, it’s been Towers and Bud Black.

“That’s incredible, considering this day and age of baseball,” Black said.

Now Moores, who still owns 66 percent of the franchise, is phasing out. He’s handed the reins to Jeff Moorad, the most recent of six chief executives or club presidents who have held that job under his watch. Moorad, though, is the only one who heads a group that now owns a third of the team and is in line to buy it all during the next four seasons.

“It’s never a good time to make a move like this,” said Moorad, who disclosed that Moores certainly was part of the decision to change GMs. “I’m hoping that KT and I will remain good friends.”

Change is an essential part of life, a notion that Towers endorsed as he went out as the class act he is. New owners come in and they want their own people. Moorad has a vision of the future of Padres baseball operations that Towers isn’t evidently a part of. And he made the move full-knowing that he must pay Towers $1.4 million next season, perhaps just to sit around.

To Towers’ credit, he has no desire to rest on his laurels. He wants to take three weeks off and then see what’s out there in 2010. The Blue Jays just parted ways with J.P. Ricciardi.  Surely there will be other GM posts that will open after another curtain falls on another season Sunday. Towers said he’s already heard from more than a half-dozen GMs who want him to work as an area scout for their clubs next season.

“I want to stay in the game,” Towers said. “There will be a job. I’m 47 years old. I don’t expect to sit around.”

For now, Towers said he’ll hang around PETCO Park and say good bye to the Padres players in the clubhouse on Sunday. Moorad has set up a meeting in the club’s offices for Towers to address the staff on Monday. Until the time Towers is hired elsewhere, he’ll be able to maintain a ballpark office.

Being the gamer and the veteran he is, Towers said on Saturday he wasn’t quite sure if that was a good idea.

“I told them to use me if I can help them with anything,” Towers said. “But they need to move forward and turn the page.”

Another page of Padres history was turned on Saturday. And the guy who’s page was turned couldn’t have handled the situation with any more aplomb.

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