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April 26, 2002
April 23-24, 2002
As it turns out, Jung Bong only had to make one start. If not for Chipper Jones's drop of a two-out, bases-loaded liner (laughably ruled a double by the home scorer), Bong might have wound up with a quality start. I say might because you never know what would have happened if something else hadn't happened--maybe the Snakes score a bunch of runs in the second inning facing different pitches in a different situation. The only thing we really know is that Bong got major leaguers out and didn't do too shabby, and that Chipper Jones doesn't seem comfortable in left field just yet.
Now that Bong is back in Greenville, it appears that Albie Lopez will be activated and placed into the rotation this weekend. That creates a rotation of the Big Strike Zone Duo and Kevin Millwood, with Lopez going toe-to-toe with Damian Moss to try to win the fifth starter's job during Jason Marquis's absence. I know I prefer Moss, but Lopez is a worthwhile alternative.
Until they activate Lopez, they Braves are carrying an eight-man bullpen: John Smoltz, four veteran relievers, and a trio of rookies: Tim Spooneybarger, Kevin Gryboski, and lefty John Foster. Foster was picked in the 25th round of the 1999 draft out of Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho, often misidentified by me as the proud alma mater of America's favorite intern. (I believe that fulfills this month's Lewinsky tangent quota, so if I make an unfortunate slip of the tongue at some later point, consider it an honest stain on my...honor.) Foster isn't really an organizational soldier, considering he has less than three years and barely more than a hundred games of pro experience, but he hasn't really been shunted into a situational-relief, although he's never started a game, either. He was effective at Myrtle Beach in 2000 and at Greenville in 2001. As long shots go, stranger candidates have had careers.
There's a larger concern here, as several Atlanta readers have pointed out: why, after a spring's worth of concern over Jason Marquis's shoulder, was he asked to toss 130 pitches? Why did he have to pitch a sixth inning in his third start, after giving up seven runs in the first five frames? Leo Mazzone has a good reputation for a lot of reasons, but this is one of those troubling incidents--like the accusations of overworking of Odalis Perez in 1999 that left Perez's elbow scragged--that make you wonder how much there is to Mazzone after you get past Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Mazzone's defenders can just as easily point out that even with careful handling, some pitchers are just doomed to get hurt, and that's an argument with some merit as well; pitching is an unnatural motion that puts tremendous strain on a couple of joints and the surrounding muscles. But with the common assumption that instructional problems led to the decisions to trade Rob Bell and Bruce Chen (among others), and breakdowns through some standard of overuse in cases like Perez and Marquis, it's worth asking how much we really know about Leo Mazzone.
Calling up Brian Roberts was just a temporary move to help paper over Melvin Mora's absence to attend his brother's funeral in Venezuela. It seems unlikely that Roberts will stick, considering that the Orioles can't find a way to play Mike Moriarty during a time when Jerry Hairston, Jr. would be hard-pressed to get any colder.
I have no idea if Mora's brother's murder was related in any way to the coup attempt and the subsequent violence in Venezuela during the previous week, or was the product of everyday violence; either way, it's a tragedy and we offer our condolences to the Mora family.
The stranger problem is the question of why Erik Bedard was up at all, and why, once he was up, it made any sense whatsoever to use him to throw ten pitches in two games. Was he supposed to have learned something? If this was favoritism towards one of the organization's better prospects, it was a strange gift, sort of like the crossword puzzle books I'd get from one of my aunts well into my twenties. I mean, I appreciate the sentiment, but do I really need this?
Bedard has yet to establish himself above A ball. Calling him up now was simply another one of those little instances that make you wonder whether Syd Thrift is paying attention, or if he's still busy solving that caper about the missing quart of strawberries.
Acquired LHP Juan Moreno from the Padres for LHP Andrew Hazlett. [4/23]
After a decent couple of months to end the 2001 season, Juan Moreno has "enjoyed" the roller coaster usually enjoyed by guys like Ed Vosberg or Bill Pulsipher. He was traded by the Rangers to the Pads earlier in the month, so he's now on his third organization...in April. Who does he think he is, Dave Martinez? More basically, he's a pretty good pickup to come over in exchange for a minor-league finesse lefty. Although the Red Sox are getting good work out of Casey Fossum as the pen's lone southpaw, they're carting around Willie Banks for some reason so secret even the NSA can't figure it out. Jeff Wallace is still on the DL, so Moreno might get a chance to crack the roster as the team's second lefty.
Could Jim Parque possibly be more different than the man he's going to replace in the rotation? Jon Rauch is baseball's tallest player, while Parque is almost certainly the shortest starting pitcher in the game. Rauch is right-handed and throws hard; Parque is left-handed, and throws as hard as the power of positive thinking lets him. Rauch is likely to be pigeonholed as the lumbering gentle giant, while Parque is Thailand's answer to a Napoleonic complex, the little guy who can take on the world.
Tonight's game is supposed to bring Rauch's turn in the rotation, but I'm a little skeptical. What are the chances that Rauch will be asked to take on the A's, when Parque would be a better bet against their lefty-heavy lineup? This exchange would also push Rauch into a long-relief role where he's likely to get regular work as long as Danny Wright and Jon Garland are trying to connect the dots, and while Parque goes through the rigamarole of re-proving himself or baking humble pies or whatever.
Rauch would also be replacing Lorenzo Barcelo in the pen, which is fine. Barcelo isn't fooling anyone, his fastball is flattened out, and he isn't setting anyone up with a working breaking pitch. He's better off being the lone prospect in Charlotte's rotation than trying to work out his problems as the last man in the big-league bullpen.
Why do they play spring training, anyway? Ron Mahay went into camp as a favorite to win a situational job in the pen, but then he had an awful camp, so he wasn't handed a spot on the Opening Day roster. Three weeks into the season and less than ten shutout innings at Iowa later, he's back.
That's all well and good, because Mahay is good enough to be a second lefty in a major-league bullpen, but what then was the point of spring training? Is it just a dinky little drama, where the all-knowing and wise organization "knows" you aren't good enough because of what you did in a couple of games in Phoenix as opposed to what you did the year before? Or is to let Don Baylor go ga-ga over Donovan Osborne, only to end up in the predictably awkward situation of having to acknowledge (yet again) that he made a bad choice for the last man in his bullpen? To put it another way, you could outright Osborne and nobody would look twice. How many people were buzzing him last winter in the first place? And who's more likely to be useful this summer, Osborne, who has trouble pitching more than twice per week, let alone twice effectively, or Mahay, who can work in long relief and spot start if Jason Bere gets to be too much to bear?
This seems like one of those moves for movement's sake, to put the fear of some deity to be named later in the guys on the roster who don't have options. Jerrod Riggan was giving up baserunners hand over fist, but he has been effective the last couple of seasons. Chad Paronto has not; he's merely big and throws hard, and while that's the kind of guy that is usually worth taking a chance on, other than his good run at Frederick in 1998, it's hard to see why anyone would do him many favors.
The Tribe already has Chuck Nagy to finish up blowouts, but with Chuck Finley and C.C. Sabathia generating lots of innings for the bullpen, perhaps the Indians felt the need to have another guy like that around. It isn't like Mark Wohlers or Paul Shuey are saying to themselves, "whoa, I could be next, they just optioned whatshisface, so we better pitch better." If sending Riggan to Buffalo simply had to be done, the Indians might not have had a better option for a 12th pitcher. Sean DePaula is struggling as a Bison recuperating from his injuries; side-armer Roy Smith is still nasty, but a situational right-hander isn't usually the sort of guy to whom you give long innings, while Paronto had a scoreless innings streak in progress.
Placed DH-L David Ortiz on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/19 (bone chip - knee); recalled C/1B-R Matt LeCroy from Edmonton. [4/23]
I've mentioned this before in this space, but whereas last year's loss of David Ortiz was a major setback, this year, while it hurts, there are options.
Between the DH and right-field slots, Ron Gardenhire can call on Brian Buchanan and Matt LeCroy and Bobby Kielty and Dustan Mohr. LeCroy and Kielty are homegrown talents who should be around for years to come, even after Michael Cuddyer arrives to stay. Mohr is a credit to the organization; he was a minor-league free agent who drew little interest, and his career took off as soon as he was out of the Indians' organization. Blame Mohr, blame Terry Ryan, blame Twins scouting or Twins instruction, but Mohr is now an asset from the scrap heap. Then you have Buchanan, who isn't a star in the making, but has turned into a useful bit player as one of the extra bodies in the Knoblauch deal.
Buchanan is a right-handed-hitting slug, LeCroy is a good pure hitter, Kielty is a switch-hitter with patience and power, and Mohr has done so much in the last two years that is unlike his previous incarnation as a Tribe farmer that he might be the best of the bunch at the moment. Ortiz may be out a month, but all of a sudden that isn't a problem any more.
I'm sure that if the Pirates suddenly go on some sort of losing streak in the next week or two, this will be pointed to as a major reason why, but compared to losing Aramis Ramirez for a week, losing Pokey Reese is nothing. Abraham Nunez is an adequate replacement afield, and his offensive contributions are about what you might reasonably expect from Reese. The real question is whether or not they can replace Ramirez; that's going to take getting Craig Wilson into the lineup.
Acquired LHP Andy Hazlett from the Red Sox for LHP Juan Moreno. [4/23]
It's almost May, and Juan Moreno was leading the team in walks allowed for a stretch. I'm guessing, but chances are that not even Mitch Williams could make that claim in any April of his career. Alan Embree is doing very well in the early going in a bullpen that's doing well overall. The real exception (other than Moreno) has been Jason Boyd, a well-intentioned addition of a minor-league journeyman reliever and sort of a poor man's Johnny Ruffin. The Padres already have Embree and Steve Reed as specialists, so running with Matt DeWitt to mop up losing efforts and Jeremy Fikac to see if he can stake a claim to be Trevor Hoffman's primary set-up man seems to make sense. If anyone is on the bubble, it's Boyd.
In getting Andy Hazlett, the Padres add a lefty who doesn't have to be on the 40-man roster who might be good enough to add to it at some future point. He doesn't throw hard, but he's done well in trials as a reliever, and might turn into a useful second lefty. Plus, acquiring him gives the Portland Beavers another arm they sorely need; he could either start or let them keep Jason Kershner in the rotation. Since that would probably happen at John Snyder's expense, that's a very good thing.
Activated 1B-L Damon Minor from the DL. [4/23]
Kurt Ainsworth pitched well enough to stick, but so had Ryan Jensen, his real competition for the last slot in the rotation. We could split hairs and point out that Jensen had the benefit of getting a couple of starts against the Dodgers, but they've both done a good job in a rotation where everyone is off to a good start. The good news is that if anything happens, whether Schmidt breaks down again or Livan Hernandez tuckers out or Kirk Rueter implodes or Jensen starts struggling or whatever, the Giants can be reasonably confident that they have a good replacement handy.
As for getting Damon Minor back, it's clearly a good thing, as he is the most dangerous lefty power source the club has off of the bench. The problem is figuring whether or not he should be starting ahead of J.T. Snow. Snow isn't a great regular, and Minor isn't a great prospect, which is why it's a question with no right answer. They're both useful, but they're not complementary players: they both bat left-handed. Snow is just slightly more patient, and Minor has just slightly more power. It's generally acknowledged that Snow is an asset defensively, even if he might not be as much of an asset as a couple of Gold Gloves might lead you to believe. Given choices like these, the Giants can afford to not rock the boat.
The creeping danger is that settling for a pair of decent options prevents them from doing anything that might help them improve an offense that needs all the help in can get from the five regulars beyond Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent, and Rich Aurilia.
Tom Martin is probably gone for the year, which whittles down the Devil Fishies' list of alternatives for left-handed relief help. The league is catching up to Rule 5 pick Steven Kent, so when the time comes and he has to go on the DL for being unprepared for the big leagues or for a flummoxed gag reflex or whatever excuse comes handy, the Rays are left with somebody like organizational soldier Cedric Bowers to call on.
Meanwhile, Travis Harper may get pressed into the rotation despite a lousy opening to his year at Durham (his ERA was pushing seven, and he gave up more than 30 hits in 19 1/3 innings). Joe Kennedy has been struggling with his command, and Delvin James has a hip injury that might hinder him in his start this weekend. Harper is really only up as insurance, but a few good innings might inspire yet another one of Hal McRae's sudden inspirations.
Placed C-R Ivan Rodriguez on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 4/15 (herniated disc - back); transferred RHPs Jay Powell and Jeff Zimmerman from the 15- to 60-day DL; optioned RHP Francisco Cordero and CF-R Jason Romano to Oklahoma; recalled LHP John Rocker from Oklahoma; purchased the contract of LHP Randy Flores from Oklahoma. [4/23]
This was a straight three-for-three swap to reshuffle the roster yet again, with extra spicing to add the space to the 40-man roster to make room for the newly acquired Calvin Murray and to purchase the contract of Randy Flores. Why the Rangers need to suddenly carry three lefties in their pen is not explained, but Flores has value after a nice minor-league career in the Yankees chain, in the same way that Chris Michalak has value after a not-quite-as-nice career in the Jays chain. Frankly, Flores might be the best lefty they've got. He throws harder than Michalak, if not as hard as Rocker, but he'd be hard-pressed to be as wild as Rocker always has been, or as hittable as Michalak always will be.
I guess the more important question to some people is whether Rocker's non-assignment to the minor leagues will help him. He spent his time away with ex-pitching coach Tom House, probably throwing footballs or whatever it is that House considers his latest positive visualization exercise. I don't expect good things; I'm not a big Tom House fan, but even if I was, I'd wonder about how much faith Rocker will inspire in Jerry Narron to be able to get to show off his new approach to any advantage.
More basically, this is another year in which the Rangers have to adapt to Pudge Rodriguez's latest devastating injury. For those of you counting at home, this is the third consecutive year that will see Pudge miss significant time. Coming on the heels of four years in which he caught between 144 and 153 games, I don't know if we should be surprised.
The Rangers, either to their credit or because they're desperate for space on the 40-man roster, aren't going to haul up a veteran caddy to back up Bill Haselman. On a certain level, they can't: Carlos Hernandez is already on the DL in Oklahoma. So Mike Lamb gets to be Bill Haselman's backup. Lamb can't really catch, and has a lot to learn about the job, but this is sort of a similar situation to what the Phillies confronted in 1986 after Darren Daulton broke down. They had Ronn Reynolds, who wasn't ever going to be much more than a career backup, and John Russell, a converted outfielder. Manager John Felske ended up playing Russell a lot, and while he was an awful catcher, he contributed a bit offensively, and nobody on the Phillies' pitching staff seemed to be any worse off for not having a veteran catcher around. Lamb may have some ugly days at the office, but there's also no better way to learn than by doing, and the Rangers have nothing to lose by taking Lamb seriously as a catcher right now.