May 25, 2010
Recalled UT-R Ryan Raburn from Toledo (Triple-A); optioned OF-R Casper Wells to Toledo. [5/22]
As noted before, there's nothing really shocking here, as Raburn simply slipped back onto the roster as soon as the Tigers were able to bring him back. The question now is who gets bumped once Carlos Guillen gets activated and begins the big-league portion of his copping to keystoning—three games into the minor-league portion playing for Toledo, Mudhens fans aren't mobbing up and raiding Tru-Value for the requisite pitchforks and citronelle torches, but then Guillen's been on the road in Syracuse, remote from the home-town crowd. You'd expect that it will be Danny Worth, but to his credit Worth's managed a pair of three-hit games in the past week, and he can play second, short, and third. Even so, I don't seriously think they'd consider cutting Adam Everett for failing to get on base at a .220 clip—this is the franchise that won a title with Ray Oyler on the roster, after all—but you never know. It's also possible they might bump Raburn back down, but I expect he'll stick around for starting against southpaws.
But just as the Tigers are about to see how defensively indifferent they might be once Guillen takes over at second, they've proven to be in other ways as well: even before Austin Jackson got beaned by Ramon Troncoso on Saturday, Jim Leyland had made the elective decision to start Johnny Damon in center field with fly-baller Armando Galarraga starting. Following that up with starting Damon again in Action Jackson's absence on Sunday with the more grounded Rick Porcello starting might seem more sensible in terms of adapting a defense to its starting pitcher. Disasters did not necessaril ensue, but my point is that while you can understand the tactical decision to spot Damon behind Porcello, doing so behind Galarraga can be taken as foolhardy or bold or an endorsement of the team's fifth starter of the moment.
Optioned RHP Bryan Bullington to Omaha (Triple-A); purchased the contract of INF-S Wilson Betemit from Omaha. [5/25]
Activated SS-R J.J. Hardy from the 15-day DL; optioned INF-R Trevor Plouffe to Rochester (Triple-A). [5/25]
This wasn't really that shocking. As long as they're winning, the Twins seem ready to tolerate poor performance, so Brendan Harris is safe from any internal challenges for the time being. How much longer that lasts in-season remains to be seen, but they've been far more patient with him than they were with Mike Lamb; of course, they didn't get snookered in a deal involving Matt Garza to add Lamb, so there was no face to lose with his release.
Bullpen disasters require their usual suspects, so having already gone through the unfortunate, expensive reassociations with Jeff Samardzija and John Grabow, you can admire the stubbornness involved with taking another spin with someone else who you'd think had done enough to pitch his way out of Wrigleyville forever. However, it's worth remembering that Howry did have a decent three-year run with the Cubs if you squint and observe just the final tally (5.2 WXRL, 30.2 ARP, and 3.93 FRA) and not the last year (-0.01, -4.2, and 5.34). Howry did manage a good bounce-back campaign with the Giants last year, (3.56 FRA), but SIERA's evaluation of that performance suggested that a return to the bad old days was ahead of him. Going to Phoenix to pitch in Banky-Bank Bandbox (West Campus) certainly didn't help matters. However, with the Big Z in the bullpen embroglio boiling off to its inevitable end, a veteran right-handed reliever was the order of the day, so why not pick up one of the castoffs from baseball's worst relief corps? That it makes a mockery of the decision to blow a good chunk of roster time last year on Patton, a Rule 5 pick, well, that's just sort of an added, unplanned benefit.
Placed RHP Homer Bailey on the 15-day DL (shoulder inflammation); recalled RHP Enerio Del Rosario from Louisville (Triple-A). [5/24]
The good news is that Bailey's suffered no major structural damage. Naturally, some folks are worried that he might be another Dusty Baker victim. However, to give credit where it's due, the Reds might be second in the NL in average pitches per start, but that's because Baker pushes consistently, but only up to a point—they're only eighth in the league in Pitcher Abuse Points. Now, PAP's a counting stat, not a predictor, but as a matter of how Baker's handling his charges, Bailey threw 105 or more pitches in six starts, but topped 120 just once. Bailey wasn't even egregiously pitch-inefficient—he was just under four pitches per batter, behind both Mike Leake (3.65) and Bronson Arroyo (3.67), where Johnny Cueto's at 4.04 and Aaron Harang's 4.02 involves already having hurled 1045 pitches this season.
To some extent, I wonder how much of Bailey's issue is environmental. The Gap's a lousy place to pitch, but imagine you're young, wild, and trying to establish some semblance of command of your stuff and of the zone. And you have to do that in a bandbox? Consider his home/road splits; as ever, I'm not counting intentional walks, and using three runs allowed instead a scorer's decision on what an error was on any particular day in any particular place to define a quality start:
By way of explanation, PPA is Pitches per PA, and PPS is Pitches Per Start. So, surprise surprise, the environment in which it's tougher to pitch is the place where he's struggling, and throwing more pitches, and throwing more of them from the stretch, and he's more dependent on striking batters out. (Another way of stating the latter is that he's struck out 20 percent of his opposing batters at home, and 16 percent on the road.) He's being asked to do more in the tougher place to do things. Not to go all "baby seal blues" on a Red, but the kid did just turn 24. Is that really how you want to task him?
Of course, it's easy enough to fob this off with questions of causation. Struggling with his command in an unfriendly home park led to bad ballgames; how much can the environment be blamed for those struggles? Me, I'm willing to cut the kid some slack, and wonder if managing young talent in a tough environment requires an adaptive approach. Is it going to happen, in Cincinnati, on Dusty Baker's watch? Of course not.
So, now that he's broken for the moment, who will the Reds paste into the rotation in his place? Happily enough for the Reds, it's not a decision they have to make until Friday, and against the hapless Astros no less. They could always just give the turn to Micah Owings and not make any additional move, and both Sam LeCure and Matt Maloney are pitching well enough in Triple-A to merit a shot. Travis Wood has been less effective, but Friday's his next slot, so how the Reds let things play out with the Bats' starts over the next couple of days will be telling.
In the meantime, Del Rosario's a worthwhile promotion. Already showing improved low-90s velocity with a lower arm slot, he's been exceptionally effective for Louisville, with a 17/4 K/BB ratio in 24 2/3 IP, and generating nearly twice as many ground-ball outs as flies. Add in the fact that both Carlos Fisher and Nick Masset are both struggling badly with FRA marks north of seven, and this represents an opportunity for the 24-year-old Dominican to exploit.
Activated LHP Tim Byrdak from the 15-day DL; optioned LHP Gustavo Chacin to Round Rock (Triple-A). [5/24]
Optioned OF-L Adam Stern to Nashville (Triple-A); placed C-S Gregg Zaun on the 15-day DL (strained shoulder); activated CF-R Carlos Gomez from the 15-day DL; purchased the contract of C-R Jonathan Lucroy from Nashville (Triple-A); transferred RHP David Riske from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/21]
Optioned LHP Mitch Stetter to Nashville; purchased the contract of LHP Zach Braddock from Nashville; transferred 4C-L Mat Gamel from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/23]
So, the Brewers have the combined misfortune of having one of the most-used yet worst bullpens in the league, ranking 15th in reliever FRA but fourth in relief innings pitched. Of course change was due. It's a pity to see Stetter chucked aside in the midst of this mess, however much he's contributed to it this month; after last season's situational success, you'd have thought he'd have some utility. Unfortunately, between the bull-headed reluctance to get rid of Jeff Suppan already and jerking him around earlier in the year, it's no wonder that he flopped in his second brief spin.
Apparently some people—or in Suppan's case, some other people—have to pitch for their jobs, and the Brewers would rather portage their impedimenta than ship it to parts elsewhere. That's because the team's carrying two adaptive non-use relief pitchers, stretching the pen, and pushing the club into a 13-man staff. That's necessary because Trevor Hoffman is currently being treated as a national treasure, kept under glass as a relic of a historic past (including his excellent work in long-ago 2009), and pitching in just four games in almost three weeks while the team sorts out whether or not they can get some live fire instead of historical re-enactments. And Suppan is an apparently necessary embarrassment, for reasons known only to the Brewers—why sink a cost when you can let it cost you in the standings as well as the balance sheet? He's a CDO in cleats, spreading the risk of employing him to everyone he plays with and for.
So in the meantime the relief reinforcements so far have been limited to John Axford and now Braddock. Happily both throw well into the 90s, both have nasty breaking stuff, and either might be an eventual closer for the ballclub, although Braddock's nuclear slider seen to provide him with an additional edge for eventually claiming the job. Braddock's performance with the Sounds was remarkable, in that it involved 10 scoreless appearances, and one 41-pitch, eight-run disaster in Albuquerque where he plunked Jamie Hoffman to lead off the seventh and only left nine batters later, that after Hoffman avenged himself with a two-out, three-run shot to cap the scoring. That's pretty much the definition of a bad day at the office for a pitcher, but here's hoping it isn't a sign of a capacity to renew the old routine association of Braddocks with disaster. Outside of that one bad bit of news, Braddock was overwhelmingly dominant, allowing just five hits, eight walks, and a hit batsman to 59 batters while striking out 27 of them. He's an obvious upgrade—as Axford was—to a unit that needs to focus on quality instead of former fame.
Against all of that mound-related disappointment, there is at least the happy news that losing first Gomez and then Jim Edmonds didn't end up in more than a single Stern start in center, as Gomez arrived in time to avenge himself upon the Twins, peppering his previous patrons with five hits and a pair of extra-base hits over the weekend. No walks drawn, of course, but it's progress. Ideally, Gomez can help repair the league's worst defense, but some of the furniture on the field—like Ryan Braun in left, or Rickie Weeks at second—is nailed to the floor, while Prince Fielder can make like a tree, leaving later but rooted in place for now.
However, Lucroy's arrival ahead of schedule heralds another example that the team that the crew that made the playoffs in 2008 won't boast the same brew indefinitely. Zaun was employed as a placeholder for a reason, but he was doing his thing in terms of getting on base, and to his credit he was managing to at least keep the running game in check however much he may have lost in terms of his receiving skills to age. Lucroy certainly didn't earn the call, hitting just .238/.265/.363 for Nashville after a lovely 10-game start at Huntsville. However, because the 40-man's already full-up and Angel Salome is struggling with off-field issues that have put him on the shelf for a month, Lucroy's here because he was rostered. Besides, would you really want to pretzel up your roster moves any more than you already have to briefly add Ben Johnson? No, not that Ben Johnson, not the Ben Jonson, but the strong-armed former Huskie and refugee from the Angels organization—and someone who, pushing 30, hits about as effectively as you'd think to make giving Lucroy a multi-week cup of coffee seem like a worthwhile idea.
Placed 1B/OF-R Steve Pearce on the 15-day DL (sprained ankle); recalled UT-S Neil Walker from Indianapolis (Triple-A). [5/25]
When you're a 27-year-old first baseman trying to stick, the last thing you need is a setback, especially one that might leave you out of a job if somebody else shines in the meantime. Almost three weeks into his spin, Pearce was managing to hold up at least the platoon half of manning first base—not a big role, but at least something, and it was becoming an opportunity to do more with his drawing back-to-back starts against righties in the Bucs' last two games. Given the quality of the competition, why not? As recently as May 15 it seemed as if Jeff Clement was going to get his OBP above .250, slug better than .350, and finally cross the Mendoza line. Of course, he's gone 1-for-11 with a walk since, making sure to kill off such wild flights of fancy.
In his place, I don't we'll necessarily see Walker move directly into his place, although the former first-rounder has been moving between second, first, third, and left in his new future as a utility player. He's definitely turning into a SHINO (correct term usage alert), hammering Triple-A right-handers at a .385/.445/.664 pace with 23 extra-base hits in 137 PAs. Lefties are another matter, as he's being chopped down by southpaws, hitting just .152/.250/.283. That's an even wider disparity than last season's work for the I-Bucs: .278/.319/.527 versus RHPs, .235/.295/.387 versus LHPs. Add in his swiping 10 bags in 11 attempts, solid work in left, and better play at second than you might initially expect (Kevin Goldstein terms him, “a work in progress, but not a nightmare”), and that's a bat a team like the Pirates should be making space for.
Except. And it's a big, sprawling except, one that involves grievances old and new, and the Pirates apparently don't celebrate Festivus. First, there's the question of whether or not the Pirates really want him. Last summer, Walker sounded off about the slights he perceived from the Huntington administration, what with his not being “one of their guys.” This year, he's been disciplined for not running out a popup, and has apparently sulked about it. So, there's not a lot of love between new management and the old prospect.
That said, here's hoping the two sides can bury any hatchets—not in one another—and that they both note that the Pirates need talent, and Walker just happens to be talented. With Akinori Iwamura playing about as badly as Tony Fernandez did to get off the Mets back in the '90s, it isn't like the Pirates should keep themselves chained to the idea of starting him at second, and with Bobby Crosby and the similarly roving Delwyn Young representing their fall-back alternatives to just playing Walker, a path to playing time at the keystone may seem crowded, but its with short hurdles. Or take a look at what's out there in left—Lastings Milledge is hardly earning his keep either. And of course there's still first base, where Clement decays. They could also put Walker in either outfield corner and move Garrett Jones back to first, of course.
One of the nice things about moving Walker around down in Indianapolis is that he might present a solution to any one of a number of problems, because the Pirates do have them. Let's face it, people who can slug .500 against right-handed pitching and contribute from perhaps five different positions have value. The question now is whether the organization can turn the page, and if Walker avoids charming his way out of this opportunity.
Placed RHP Brad Penny on the 15-day DL (strained lat); recalled RHP P.J. Walters from Memphis (Triple-A). [5/22]
I don't want to bang the causation gong, but a bad Penny's turned up since the man took his seventh consecutive quality start to open the season into the seventh inning against the Astros on May 11, only to be undone after a Brendan Ryan error. That was following by a Carlos Less double and plunking Geoff Blum to load the bases, after which the Astros plated four runs on four pitches, and a loss was on the Cards. He followed that up with drubbings at the hands of the Reds and Angels. The injury's considered minor and Penny should only be out around the minimum length of time. Unfortunately, it coincides with the rotation situation's additional problem, in the form of yet another Kyle Lohse forearm-related breakdown, one shorn of any of Penny's numerical symmetries, and instead marred by 80 baserunners and 39 runs allowed in just 47
It's as yet undetermined how long Lohse's going to be gone, other than that he'll miss at least a turn, with the open slots with this pair of absences coming on Thursday in Petco and on Saturday in Wrigley Field. Walters figures to take a turn in one of the two open slots, and it seems likely that he'll get to go on Thursday against the Padres in Petco, since his four-inning, 61-pitch long-relief stint on Saturday would slot in quite nicely for a start on four days' rest. Naturally, there's not a ton of advantage to committing publicly to it immediately, beyond the benefit of a public endorsement; besides, what would be the point if they end up having to use him in an emergency in either of the first two games of the San Diego series? If the rotation carries them until the weekend, it's possible but unlikely that they'd go with a pen start on Saturday—whether they led off with Mitchell Boggs (still not getting left-handed humans out) or Kyle McClellan, they have guys who can throw multiple innings.
So who else could they turn to? Because they only have 37 bodies on the 40-man roster, they can afford to add anybody if they so choose. If the news on Lohse is especially bad, they're into territory where anybody they might call up would be competing with Walters for keeping a job once Penny's back. On the other hand, if it's just a missed start for Lohse, the Birds probably won't want to add Lance Lynn to the 40-man right now this instant. Since Walters is really more of an organizational arm and utility hurler who seems unlikely to outgrow the fifth starter's lot of skippability, the potential call to Adam Ottavino or Lynn—especially if it comes against a veteran Cubs lineup that seems to struggle particularly badly against young faces—could be especially interesting in terms of potential outcomes.