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April 19, 2009

On the Beat

Cooper's Optimism

by John Perrotto

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It seems as if Cecil Cooper isn't sure what to make of having the oldest roster in the major leagues. On one hand, the Astros' manager worries if his team's 4-7 start might be a sign that his team is too old. "You don't expect a veteran team to start off this slowly," Cooper said. "You expect that more from a younger team still trying to get its feet on the ground."

On the other hand, Cooper figures the Astros need time to ease into the season since they have some tired old bones. "Older players don't always do well in cold weather, especially early in the season," Cooper said. "They need a little while longer to get those muscles loosened up. It might take a while for us, but we'll be fine."

While spring training is usually not a very good indicator of how a team will fare in the regular season, the Astros went just 12-20 in exhibition play, and looked terrible doing so. Yet, Cooper proclaimed late in the camp that the Astros were capable of winning 90 games this season, reasoning that this year's roster was stronger than the one that compiled a 86-75 record last year in his first full season as manager.

PECOTA certainly doesn't put any stock in Cooper's proclamation. It pegs the Astros to go 70-92.

Owner Drayton McLane does not believe in rebuilding. That's a good thing, in the sense that BP's Kevin Goldstein ranks the Astros' farm system last among the 30 major league organizations, but every organization needs to retrench at some point, and try to build its roster back up with some youth. General manager Ed Wade, though, has been put in the unenviable position of trying to hold together a team that has such stars and/or famous names as catcher Ivan Rodriguez, first baseman Lance Berkman, shortstop Miguel Tejada, and left fielder Carlos Lee in the lineup and closer Jose Valverde anchoring the bullpen, with a starting rotation that would have struck much more fear in the hearts of opponents in 1999 than 2009.

Lined up behind Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez in the rotation when the season began were Brian Moehler, Mike Hampton, and Russ Ortiz. Moehler is 37 and hasn't made 30 starts in a major league season since 1999 with the Tigers. He sprained his knee in his second start this year, necessitating a trip to the disabled list. Hampton is 36, missed the 2006 and 2007 seasons because of injury, and made just 12 starts in 2005 and 13 in 2008 with the Braves. Ortiz is 34 and hasn't made 34 starts in a season since 2004 with the Braves. His start on Thursday against the Pirates was his first in the major leagues since August 19, 2007 with the Giants, as he missed last season while recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery.

Cooper realizes the limitations of having an older starting rotation and vows to do everything he can to keep them fresh. He plans to take them out an inning earlier than normal whenever he can, and pitching coach Dewey Robinson will closely monitor their between-starts throwing sessions to make sure they don't overextend themselves. "These guys are all great competitors, which is why they're still pitching at their age, and after overcoming some serious injuries," Cooper said. "My biggest concern isn't if they will hold up for a full season, because they take pride in staying in shape. My biggest fear is that they try to overdo things and get hurt. We're going to have to keep a watchful eye on them because of that."

To this point, it has been the offense dragging the Astros down; they're last in the major leagues with an average of 2.7 runs scored per game. They're 16th in runs allowed at 4.9 per game, and 26th in defensive efficiency with a .663 mark.

Cooper insists that he is unconcerned about an offense that also has its share of age. He points out that the Astros are a team that has started off slowly a number of times in this decade before finishing fast. Last season, the Astros were nine games under .500 at 46-55 after losing on July 23, then closed 40-20 to get back into the National League wild-card race. The 2005 Astros were 44-46 after losing on July 17, but managed to win the franchise's lone NL pennant in its 47-year history. A year earlier, they were 56-60 after losing on August 14, but made it to the National League Championship Series.

"I guess we wouldn't be the Astros if we got off to a good start," Cooper said.

---

With Major League Baseball having celebrated Jackie Robinson Day on Wednesday by having all players, managers, and coaches wear No. 42 in honor of the man who broke the sport's color barrier in 1947 with the Dodgers, it reminded me of a conversation I had with New York Jets cornerback Darelle Revis a few years back when he was still in high school at Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.

Revis was both a great football and basketball player in high school, and gave the impression that he could have excelled in any sport. I asked why he didn't play baseball, and he said, "It looks like fun, and I thought about trying it, but it's a white man's game. It's not for black kids."

Mariners designated hitter/outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., who made the suggestion to commissioner Bud Selig more than a decade ago that players be allowed to wear No. 42 on the anniversary of Robinson's debut, has some interesting ideas on why African-American youth have little interest in baseball. Primarily, he believes that MLB does a lousy job of marketing the sport to the younger crowd.

"They've got to start off with better commercials," Griffey told the Seattle Times' Larry Stone. "The commercials are [bad]. Think about it. You look at the NBA, the NFL, their commercials, and they make you want to go out and play basketball, go play football. They show the excitement of the game itself. In baseball, it's come to the All-Star Game, and that's it. They don't show the excitement of the game."

Griffey said he long ago conveyed his thoughts on the matter to Selig, but was apparently ignored. "If you're going to see a drastic improvement, it has to be at the ground level," Griffey said. "That's where the love of the game starts. It doesn't start in high school or college. It starts off in tee ball. You've got to want to go out there and play. If doesn't matter whether you're black or white. The commercials are terrible. It doesn't show who we are as people. It doesn't show any of the fun stuff that goes on. It just promotes the All-Star Game or postseason."

---

Understandably, the Angels continue to have a hard time coping with the death of rookie right-hander Nick Adenhart, who was killed in an automobile accident in Fullerton, California, on April 9. The Angels, who are 4-7, have kept Adenhart's locker intact at Angel Stadium, except for a few mementos that his parents took home to Williamsport, Maryland. They're also setting up a locker with his jersey during each road stop throughout the season.

"We're human, too," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter told Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. "We're still professionals. We're trying to find it. You can tell at the plate by what guys look like. You can tell guys are trying to find it. We're better than what we're showing. You can feel the energy is kind of low in the clubhouse. I don't want to make an excuse, but it's hard, tough."

Right-hander Shane Loux had the particularly difficult task of taking Adenhart's place in the rotation this past Tuesday against the Mariners. It would have normally been a joyous occasion for Loux, who was making his first major league start since September 24, 2003, when he was with the Tigers.

"I tried to put it out of my mind, but it didn't work," said Loux. "Every inning, I thought about it. Every time I came back to the dugout, I thought about it. Every time I looked at the MLB symbol on the ball, I thought about it. Every time I looked in to [catcher Mike] Napoli, I thought about it. It was a little more difficult than I thought, but I'm glad it's over. I was able to take a deep breath and move on."

---

Rays first baseman Carlos Pena received his 2008 American League Gold Glove this past week, and was quite humbled. "It's a beautiful trophy, first of all," Pena told the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin. "It's really nice looking, but what it represents means the world to me. I've taken pride in my defense and worked really hard. To get recognized, I'm very grateful for it."

Pena became the first player in the Rays' 11-year history to win a Gold Glove. Manager Joe Maddon, though, believes a number of other Rays are capable of winning the award, including catcher Dioner Navarro, second baseman Akinori Iwamura, third baseman Evan Longoria, shortstop Jason Bartlett, left fielder Carl Crawford, and center fielder B.J. Upton. "It's something I've challenged all the infielders and outfielders to do this year, and actually the pitching staff, is to win a Gold Glove," Maddon said. "That is one of our goals, a group goal, to have several guys win Gold Gloves this year."

---

News and Notes

  • Tom and Brian Gorman became the second father/son pair to umpire a combined 6,000 major league games when Brian worked Monday's Orioles/Rangers game. Shag and Jerry Crawford had worked 7,281 games between them coming into this season.
  • Cardinals pitcher Kyle Lohse retired 24 consecutive Astros batters last Sunday after allowing a leadoff single to Kazuo Matsui in the first inning. Lohse became the first NL pitcher to retire 24 straight hitters since Randy Johnson pitched a perfect game for the Diamondbacks against the Braves on May 18, 2004.
  • Longoria became the first Rookie of the Year to hit five home runs in the first six games of the ensuing season. The only Rookie of the Year with as many as four homers in the first six games of the following season was Jim Lefebvre with the 1966 Dodgers.
  • The Tigers scored six runs in the bottom of the eighth to rally from a 4-0 deficit and beat the Rangers 6-4 last Sunday. It marked the first time the Tigers had rallied from at least four runs down in the eighth or later to win since another 6-4 victory over the Rangers on July 2, 1993.
  • The Mets' Johan Santana had 13 strikeouts against the Marlins last Sunday, but suffered a 2-1 loss. He became just the second pitcher in the last 35 years to lose a game in which he struck out at least 13 and did not allow an earned run. The other was Pete Smith, who had 13 strikeouts for the Braves in a 1-0 loss to the Giants on April 15, 1989.
  • Last Monday, the White Sox's Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko hit their 300th career home runs in consecutive at bats in a 10-6 win over the Tigers. They became the first teammates to hit century milestones of at least 300 homers in the same game. There have been just four instances in which two players hit homers of that kind on the same day: Mark McGwire (400) and Andres Galarraga (300) on May 8, 1998; Albert Belle (300) and Rafael Palmeiro (300) on July 17, 1998; Juan Gonzalez (400) and Jim Thome (300) on June 5, 2002; and Thome (500) and Todd Helton (300) on September 16, 2007.
  • Orlando Hudson hit for the cycle and Andre Ethier hit two home runs Monday in the Dodgers' 11-1 win over the Giants. In the last 20 years, just four players have hit for the cycle in the same game in which a teammate hit two homers: The Nationals' Cristian Guzman (cycle) and Elijah Dukes (two homers) in 2008; the Tigers' Carlos Guillen (cycle) and Brent Clevlen (two homers) in 2006; the Rangers' Gary Matthews Jr. (cycle) and Carlos Lee in 2006; and the Mets' Eric Valent (cycle) and Mike Cameron (two homers) in 2004.
  • Nick Swisher set a franchise record by having nine extra-base hits in his first eight games with the Yankees, surpassing the seven by Roger Maris in 1960. Swisher's nine RBI in his first three starts were the most by any player with a new team since Calvin Pickering had 11 for the Royals from August 22-24, 2004. Swisher also became just the third position player since divisional play began in 1969 to both hit a home run and pitch in the same game, which he did on Monday against the Rays to join the Pirates' Keith Osik on May 20, 2000, and the Rangers' Jeff Kunkel on May 20, 1989. Swisher was also the first Yankees position player to pitch since Wade Boggs on August 19, 1997 against the Angels, and the first Yankees player to homer and record a strikeout as a pitcher in the same game since Lindy McDaniel on September 28, 1972 against the Tigers.
  • Braves left fielder Garret Anderson committed two errors against the Marlins on Tuesday. He had committed a combined total of two errors in his previous 298 games in the field, dating to July, 2005.
  • Yankees closer Mariano Rivera recorded a save in the same game that shortstop Derek Jeter drove in the winning run in the ninth inning or later for the first time Wednesday against the Rays. They have been teammates since 1995.
  • Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler became the first player in modern history (since 1900) to have a six-hit cycle in a nine-inning game on Wednesday against the Mariners. The Tigers' Bobby Veach had one in a 12-inning game in 1920, and the Expos' Rondell White had one in a 13-inning game in 1995. The last six-hit cycle in a nine-inning game was by Bill Weaver for Louisville against Syracuse on August 12, 1890 in the American Association.
  • Clayton Kershaw, 21, struck out 13 Giants on Wednesday to become the youngest Dodgers pitcher to have that many strikeouts in a game since Sandy Koufax fanned 14 Reds as a 19-year-old in 1955.
  • Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield lost a no-hitter in the eighth inning against the Athletics on Wednesday. Wakefield has taken no-hitters into the eighth four times in his career, the most of any active pitcher who has not thrown a no-hitter. Wakefield became the oldest Red Sox pitcher to pitch a complete game at 42 years, 256 days, breaking the record of 42 years, 107 days by David Wells in 2005 against the Orioles.
  • Griffey hit his 400th home run with the Mariners on Wednesday. He is the first player in history to have 400 homers with one franchise and 200 with another (the Reds).
  • Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis became just the seventh player since 1954 to have multiple hits in seven of his first eight games of a season, joining Barry Larkin (eight for the 1990 Reds), Ray Knight (seven for the 1987 Orioles), Garry Maddox (seven for the 1973 Giants), Bobby Murcer (seven for the 1969 Yankees), Bob Allison (seven for the 1960 Senators), and Hank Aaron (seven for the 1959 Braves).
  • Rivera and Wakefield are the 16th and 17th AL pitchers to spend at least 15 years with one team, joining Walter Johnson (Senators, 21 years, 1907-27), Ted Lyons (White Sox, 21, 1923-42, 1946), Red Faber (White Sox, 20, 1914-33), Mel Harder (Indians, 20, 1928-47), Jim Palmer (Orioles, 19, 1965-67, 1969-84), Bob Feller (Indians, 18, 1936-41, 1945-56), Tommy Bridges (Tigers, 16, 1930-43, 1945-46), Whitey Ford (Yankees, 16, 1950, 1953-67), Hooks Dauss (15, Tigers, 1912-26), Red Ruffing (Yankees, 15, 1930-42, 1945-46), Hal Newhouser (Tigers, 15, 1939-53), Jim Kaat (Senators-Twins, 15, 1959-73), John Hiller (Tigers, 15, 1965-70, 1972-80), Mike Flanagan (Orioles, 15,1975-87, 1991-92), and Dave Stieb (Blue Jays, 15, 1979-92, 1998).
  • The Tigers and Rays became the 12th and 13th major league teams to score at least 15 runs in their home openers, as the Tigers beat the Rangers 15-2 and the Rays beat the Yankees 15-5. The last club to do so was the 1998 Yankees, who beat the Athletics 17-13. The 1993 Tigers hold the record for most runs in a home opener, beating the Athletics 20-4.
  • With the debuts of the Orioles' Koji Uehara and Braves' Kenshin Kawakami, the Reds, Diamondbacks, and Marlins are the only remaining major league teams who have never had a Japanese-born player on their roster.
  • When the Blue Jays' Roy Halladay won on April 11, he joined Lefty Grove (300-141), Whitey Ford (236-106), and Pedro Martinez (214-99) as the only major league pitchers since 1900 with at least 133 victories to win twice as many games as they've lost, as he improved to 133-66.
  • Omar Vizquel became the first player in major league history to play shortstop in 21 seasons when he made his Rangers' debut on April 9.
  • On Monday, left-hander Jon Lester became the first Red Sox' pitcher since Bill Lee in 1975 to pick off consecutive runners at first base.
  • Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano became the 19th player in major league history to have 250 home runs and 250 stolen bases in his career when he stole a base last Sunday.
  • John Buck broke the Royals' record for most career multi-homer games by a catcher with his fifth on Tuesday, surpassing Darrell Porter and Mike MacFarlane.

---

Three series to watch in the early part of the week with probable pitching matchups:

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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