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April 19, 2010

On the Beat

Monday Update

by John Perrotto

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Defense is what matters most to Mike Scioscia when it comes to catchers. That stands to reason, since he spent his entire 13-year career behind the plate with the Dodgers from 1980-92. As manager of the Angels, Scioscia's devotion to defense from his backstops was quite clear in last year's postseason. Mike Napoli started five of the nine games and Jeff Mathis was in the lineup four times, even though Napoli was clearly the better offensive player in the regular season, holding a whopping .282-.213 advantage over Mathis in TAv and out-homering him 20-5.

Mathis has been the primary catcher through the first two weeks of this season, as he has started nine of the Angels' 13 games. Mathis has also been the better hitter with a .323/.353/.484 slash line and a .309 TAv, while Napoli is hitting .133/.235/.133 with a .114 TAv. While history indicates that Napoli should be the better hitter over the course of a six-month season, as his .285 career TAv easily outdistances Mathis' .217, Scioscia doesn't seem inclined to change the present arrangement.

"It's only two weeks, but Jeff is playing well," Scioscia said. "As our pitching staff gets settled in, we'll be able to evaluate whether there are some matchups where it makes sense for one guy to catch a certain pitcher. Jeff is getting more playing time right now because he's playing at a very, very high level on the defensive side."

Scioscia says defense will be the deciding factor in which catcher gets the most playing time. That would certainly seem to favor Mathis, but Scioscia says it does not mean that Napoli is buried on the bench.

"Mike is going to catch enough to contribute," Scioscia said. "If one of these guys takes that job and runs with it, great. Mike is going to have that opportunity."

The Angels are carrying three catchers because Bobby Wilson is out of minor-league options and would have to be exposed to waivers if they tried to send him down. The presence of Wilson would seemingly make it easier to trade Napoli, who should stir a lot of interest after hitting 20 home runs in each of the last two seasons.

Scioscia won't rule out the possibility of the Angels trading Napoli for help, possibly at third base where Brandon Wood is struggling mightily to replace Chone Figgins, who left as a free agent for the Mariners over the winter. Wood is hitting .105/.128/.105 with a -.132 TAv and -6.2 WARP.

"You're always looking at your club, your depth chart and other clubs' needs," Scioscia said. "Not that anyone is out there being shopped, but (general manager) Tony Reagins is constantly in contact with other GMs to see if there are things that can help us.

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Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day last Thursday, and players on every club wore No. 42 in commemoration of the 63rd anniversary of him breaking baseball's color barrier. The day was particularly significant to outfielder Garret Anderson because the 17-year veteran is in his first season with the Dodgers, enabling to wear the same uniform as Robinson.

"What he had to go through to be a pioneer was remarkable, and that's just the stuff that we've heard about it," Anderson said. "I'm sure you could write a book about the other stuff he had to deal with. Just the little things that pick at you day by day, that's what drains you more than anything. I couldn't even fathom that or pretend I've dealt with anything even close to that."

Twins second baseman Orlando Hudson, who has been adamant in recent weeks in stating his belief that African-Americans are getting shortchanged on the free-agent market, celebrated Jackie Robinson Day in a unique way. He wore white-and-blue spikes with No. 42 on them. The shoes were specially designed for Nike's Swingman line and worn by Hudson, Angels center fielder Torii Hunter, Mariners designated hitter Ken Griffey Jr., and Rays left fielder Carl Crawford.

Hudson had to get special permission from MLB to wear the shoes, as they differed from the black ones worn by the Twins. Hudson said he was going to get children's author Sharon Robinson, Jackie's daughter, to sign the shoes and put them in his trophy case.

Perhaps the most fitting tribute on Jackie Robinson Day was that second baseman Robinson Cano led the Yankees to a 6-2 victory over the Angels by hitting two home runs. Cano was named in Robinson's honor.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi raised some eyebrows in spring training when he decided to bat Cano fifth, directly behind third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Cano has responded by hitting .340/.353/.681 to start the season with a .371 TAv.

"I think I am more mature now," Cano said. "To win the World Series last year, you want to go back again and that's why I knew it was important for me to get off to a big start. Hitting behind a guy like A-Rod and in front of (catcher Jorge) Posada, that means they think I can be there and do the job. And I want to make sure that I do it."

Posada says he thinks Cano is capable of winning the batting title. Cano says he has the confidence to do that and more now that he is 27 and in his sixth season.

"Any player wants to win a batting title or an MVP and obviously, the World Series—as many as you can," Cano said. "I would like to do all those things, and I believe I can."

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Shortstop Jose Reyes, when healthy, has spent almost his entire eight-year career with the Mets as a leadoff hitter. A total of 92 percent of his plate appearance have come from the leadoff spot in the batting order, and he has hit .285/.335/.435.

However, Mets manager Jerry Manuel wants to drop Reyes to third in an effort to spark a lineup that is devoid of power and averaging just 4.00 runs a game. Reyes has never recorded a plate appearance while batting third in his career and has hit .287/.342/.400 in his 275 trips to the plate when he hasn't been batting leadoff.

Manuel has considered this move since taking over for the fired Willie Randolph during the 2008 season. Manuel decided against trying it last year in spring training because Reyes was gone from camp while playing in the World Baseball Classic when the exhibition games began. The plan was put on hold again this spring when Reyes missed most of the exhibition season because of a hyperthyroid condition. Manuel may finally make the switch tonight when the Mets host the Cubs at Citi Field.

"If I hit there, I don't want to change anything," Reyes said. "If I'm going to hit there, everybody has to understand I'm going to be me. That's the way that I look at it. I can be aggressive, but I have to do the little stuff."

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MLB Rumors and Rumblings: ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine says that he doubts he will have a return engagement as the Mets' manager if Manuel gets fired because he believes owner Fred Wilpon would look in another direction. Indications are that Mets scout Bob Melvin is in line to succeed Manuel after stints as a manager with the Mariners and Diamondbacks. … Free-agent outfielder/designated hitter Gary Sheffield is telling friends that he is close to signing with an American League club, though he won't disclose which one. The most logical matches seem to be the Rays or White Sox. … Cubs general manager Jim Hendry vehemently denies reports that he is considering releasing left fielder Alfonso Soriano or at least having manager Lou Piniella bench him.

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Three series to watch his week with probable pitchers:

Phillies at Braves, Tuesday-Thursday, April 20-22

Kyle Kendrick vs. Tommy Hanson, 7:10 p.m. (MLB Network); Roy Halladay vs. Tim Hudson, 7:10 p.m. (ESPN); Jamie Moyer vs. Derek Lowe, 7:10 p.m.

Yankees at Athletics, Tuesday-Thursday, April 20-22

Javier Vazquez vs. Gio Gonzalez, 10:05 p.m.; Phil Hughes vs. Ben Sheets, 10:05 p.m.; CC Sabathia vs. Dallas Braden, 3:35 p.m.

Cardinals at Giants, Friday-Sunday, April 23-25

Adam Wainwright vs. Tim Lincecum, 10:15 p.m.; Brad Penny vs. Barry Zito, 9:05 p.m. (MLB Network); Kyle Loshe vs. Matt Cain, 4:05 p.m.

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

Related Content:  Robinson Cano

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