- Terry Cashman, the baseball balladeer, isn’t ready to write a song about them yet, but while A-Rod and D-Wright may not be as catchy as Willie, Mickey, and The Duke, this is beginning to shape up as a golden era for third basemen in New York, much like the 1950s were for center fielders in the Big Apple.
The Yankees‘ Alex Rodriguez and Mets‘ David Wright are both off to strong starts. Rodriguez has been nearly unconscious, as he is hitting .379/.434/1.030 with 12 homers and 31 RBI in 16 games. Wright hasn’t played all that well, but is still hitting .290/.371/.380 with no homers and four RBI in 16 games. Rodriguez has hit in all 16 games this season and 21 dating to last season, while Wright hit in 14 in a row until being held hitless Friday night by Atlanta. Going back to last season, Wright had a 26-game hitting streak, a club record.
Rodriguez’s start became one of historic proportions when he reached 12 home runs in just 15 games. The only other player ever to do that was Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt in 1976 for Philadelphia. Rodriguez also became the first player to have 30 RBI in the first 20 games of a season since another Hall of Famer, Roy Campanella, did so for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1953.
“I haven’t seen anything like it before. It’s like everything he hits is a home run,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter told the Associated Press. “I can’t relate because I can’t do it. It’s one of the waves you hope you can ride for a long time.”
All this comes after New York fans were ready to run Rodriguez out of town on a rail last October when he went 1-for-14 in the Yankees’ loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series. Matters got so bad that manager Joe Torre panicked and dropped Rodriguez all the way down to the No. 8 spot of the batting order in the decisive Game Four.
Rodriguez, though, insists he isn’t getting too excited about his hot start. “You have a good feeling you can hit the ball hard to any field,” Rodriguez told the New York Daily News. “I’m not trying to do too much. It comes from inside. There’s a saying in baseball: ‘Stay humble.'”
The fact that Wright has yet to a hit a home run is keeping him humble. “It’s not a big deal at all,” Wright told the Bergen Record before his hitting streak ended. “It’s something that, throughout the game of baseball, you go out there and then there’s so much luck involved. I’ve said it before-you go up there, you have four good at-bats, you line out four times, (and) you have nothing to show for it. You go up there, you have four terrible at-bats, you hit the ball off the end of the bat or you get jammed and bloop one to right, all of a sudden the streak continues. So it’s something that I don’t think about. It’s something that is not important to me whatsoever. And you just go out there, you play the game, if a hit comes, great. If not, then I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.”
- More than a few eyebrows were raised around baseball and in the statistical analysis community this past week when Philadelphia took right-hander Brett Myers, their Opening Day starter and clearly the ace of the rotation, and moved him into a set-up relief role in front of closer Tom Gordon. Jon Lieber, the Phillies‘ Opening Day starter in 2005 and 2006, moves back into the rotation after being relegated to the bullpen in spring training.
The Phillies signed Myers to a three-year, $25.75-million contract in the offseason, and an average annual value of over $8.5 million is a steep price to pay for a reliever who doesn’t pitch the ninth inning. However, the Phillies felt they had no choice after Antonio Alfonseca, Geoff Geary, Lieber, Ryan Madson, Francisco Rosario, and Matt Smith all failed in set-up situations in the season’s first 2 ½ weeks.
Manger Charlie Manuel denied it was a move made out of desperation. “I think this is a way of us trying to fix our pitching staff and have the best possible staff we can have,” Manuel told the Philadelphia Daily News. Added pitching coach Rich Dubee, “It was twofold. One, we think Brett will have a bigger impact on our club. We’ll be able to use him 60 to 70 games as opposed to 33 to 35. I think he’s really got a chance to help us in a lot of ways. From Jon’s standpoint and our club’s standpoint, a more familiar role will help him be the pitcher we think he can be.”
While Lieber did not hide his unhappiness about being moved to the bullpen, Myers took the news comparatively much better, and asked only that he not be shuttled back and forth between starting and relief for the rest of the season. “I’m a team player,” he said. “I’m not going to be selfish about it. If this is what it takes to get us to the playoffs, then this is what I’m going to do. If I can be part of it, that’s great.”
Myers pitched a scoreless inning in his first relief outing after going 0-2 with a 9.39 ERA in three starts to being the season. “I’m pitching like a scared dog,” Myers said after his last start. “If you pitch like Chihuahua, you’re going to be eaten by a Rottweiler.”
- Chicago White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle was already one of the more intriguing names among the list of players eligible for free agency after this season, and his stock only went up Wednesday night when he threw a no-hitter against Texas. Another lefty, Barry Zito, received a seven-year, $126 million contract from San Francisco in December after he left Oakland as a free agent.
Based on Zito’s numbers, Buerhle can make a case for a deal somewhere in the same ballpark. Both are 28 years old, and Zito has pitched in 225 major-league games while Buehrle has appeared in 232. Zito is 103-65 with a 3.57 ERA in his career, while Buehrle is 98-66 with a 3.80 ERA (pitching in the much less pitcher-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. Zito’s nine-inning averages are 7.7 hits allowed, 6.9 strikeouts and 3.5 walks, while Buehrle’s are 9.2 hits, 5.2 strikeouts and 2.1 walks. Zito also isn’t that far ahead of Buehrle in performance analysis stats, including NRA (3.71-3.87), RAA (124-94), PRAA (113-76), PRAR (502-434), and DERA (3.78-4.01).
Buehrle turned down a reported three-year, $35-million contract extension from the White Sox midway through last season, and General Manager Ken Williams says the club won’t negotiate during the season. While neither Buehrle nor Williams will comment on a possible contract now, Williams angered Buehrle with a comment he made to the Chicago Tribune in January. “With the market as it is, I don’t anticipate making that overture again,” Williams said then. “I’d rather take a (young) guy with a high ceiling than take a guy who I had to overpay to make it look like I’m trying.”
- Minnesota outfielder Jason Tyner continues to hold the distinction of having more career at-bats without a home run than any active major-leaguer. The count now stands at 1,087. However, Tyner is getting closer to getting one over the fence. On April 14 at the Metrodome, his drive to right-center off of Tampa Bays’ Ruddy Lugo hit just off the top of the baggie.
Tyner even predicted he will break his drought this season. “I really feel like I’m going to get a couple this year,” Tyner told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I don’t think I’m the same guy that got the first 800 at-bats. I think I’m a different hitter now, and I’ve learned to turn on the ball. I think I’m going to get a couple home runs this year. I might be dreaming, but I feel pretty good.”
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, a University of Texas alumnus, has promised Tyner he’d don a Texas A&M T-shirt if Tyner ever hits a homer. “That would kill him, too,” said Tyner, a Texas A&M alum. “In spring training, I hit one off the fence in Sarasota, and they said the dugout went completely quiet when I hit it, except for Gardy who was yelling ‘Get down!’ All my teammates want me to hit a home run, but I don’t think my manager does.”
- Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio figures to become the 27th player in major league history to reach 3,000 career hits later this season. He is 55 away. Biggio surpassed Frank Robinson for 30th place on the all-time hits list this past week, and next to be knocked off is Wee Willie Keeler. Earlier this season, Biggio passed Pirates legend Honus Wagner to move into eighth place on the career doubles list.
All of which is a little mind-boggling to Biggio. “Frank Robinson. What can you say?,” Biggio said. “Everybody from here on out was an unbelievable player during their day. I’m truly humbled by all this stuff. I don’t know what to say. I’m trying to be creative. And I’m trying to wing it, but it’s pretty cool stuff. I appreciate it and I respect it. I love it. (Those) guys played the game the right way.”
From the Rumor Mill: All indications are that the Chicago Cubs will give an extended look to rookie outfielder Felix Pie, which could expedite a trade of outfielder Jacque Jones … There has been much speculation in Washington that the Nationals will make a big play for Atlanta center fielder Andruw Jones if, as expected, he becomes a free agent after the season. However, it’s an extremely doubtful scenario, since Nationals President Stan Kasten and Jones’ agent, Scott Boras, have never gotten along … Though Philadelphia has gotten off to a horrendous start, Phillies General Manger Pat Gillick insists that Manuel’s job is safe … After singing a contract extension through 2008, Atlanta manager Bobby Cox is now wavering on his spring training assertion that he was leaning toward retiring after next season … Though St. Louis right-hander Chris Carpenter will begin playing catch this week, there is still a strong suspicion among the Cardinals that he will need elbow surgery, which would likely sideline him until at least the All-Star break.