Some Game Notes
April 11, 2007

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
The Devil Rays are unique in that they are the only team in the majors that has a "lights on" bullpen.  When opposing batters see Joe Maddon walk to the mound they are thinking, "whew, I was worried I wouldn't get a hit today".  Edwin Jackson threw a nice game against the Rangers on Monday night but you couldn't tell by the box score.  That's because after he tired in the sixth inning, the bullpen came in the game and not only allwed his two baserunners to score, but tacked on 4 more runs of their own.  

That said, if they had reliever who could consistently get people out, I'd say pick up Edwin Jackson now.  Understandably, most people were cautious about starting him against a formidable Texas offense in Texas, but after some first inning jitters he was fantastic.  Not only was he hitting 97 mph with his fastball with some consistency, but he was pitching down in the zone and was able to vary his speeds.  But with that bullpen, I'm reluctant to even recommend Scott Kazmir.  

One nice development for the starting pitchers is that Akinori Iwamura can really play defense.  The third inning of Monday's game belonged to him.  He made three excellent defensive plays - charging a dribbler, gloving a smash liner and a tricky hop grounder - to retire the side.  That defense will be huge for a pitching staff that is used to seeing most grounders to the left side find their way into the outfield.  On the other hand, Ben Zobrist didn't look nearly as good as he was last year.  He didn't show very much range laterally and didn't do a good job charging a slow roller.  Zobrist's bat is not enough to keep him in the majors.  If he can't be an above average gloveman, the Devil Rays should consider bringing up Reid Brignac from Double-A by June.  

Philadelphia Phillies
I'm not convinced that Charlie Manuel can manage a bullpen.  Ryan Madson had a tough first two appearances, giving up game-winning homers in both.  That will shake most anyone's confidence.  So smartly, Manuel got him back out there in a game against the Marlins that the Phillies were losing 6-3.  No pressure, the team is already behind.  After walking the first guy he faces, Madson gets lucky when the guy is thrown out trying to steal.  He then retired the next five batters, the top and middle of the Marlins order consecutively, picking up two strikeouts on a total of 32 pitches thrown.  For a manager who knows how to build his reliever's confidence, that's a good outing for a short reliever and certainly good enough to build on.  Give him a nice pat on the back and let someone else finish it out, right?  Not if you're Charlie Manuel.  No, Manuel is like a compulsive gambler who doesn't know how to quit when he's ahead.  He sends Madson out there for a third inning.  It was only after he walked Joe Borchard and surrendered a double to Alejandro De Aza that Manuel finally took him out.  Both runs would score.  So much for the good feelings.  Not only that, but because of the extra inning Madson's pitch total was up to 44, making him unavailable for the next couple of days when...

The Phillies had the lead going into the bottom of the eighth inning of Monday's Mets home opener.  It was pretty clear from the get-go that Geoff Geary was not the answer after he gave up singles to Moises Alou and Shawn Green.  After a bunt from Jose Valentin, Geary threw nothing but breaking pitches to Julio Franco - why not challenge the 48-year old on a cold day with a fastball? - and promptly walked him loading the bases.  After a Jimmy Rollins' error and a wild pitch, the Mets took a one run lead.  So after it was finally clear to Manuel that Geary isn't going to be able to get out of the inning, who should he bring in?  One of his regular relievers like Antonio Alfonseca or Clay Condrey?  Madson surely wasn't available.  Or how about new hard-throwing acquisition Francisco Rosario?  No, he brings in Jon Lieber, who hasn't pitched in relief since 1997.  I know Lieber will be working out of the bullpen for a while but how about letting him get his feet wet by starting an inning.  Needless to say, the game got out of hand very quickly after that and the Phillies went to the postgame clubhouse buffet thankful that the Nationals are in their division because without them they will finish last in the NL East.  Seriously, Manuel could manage the 1927 Yankees to a .500 record.  

Los Angeles Dodgers
Speaking of disappointing managers, Grady Little continues to hit Wilson Betemit eighth in the line-up.  In one respect I think the move has done some good because it has forced Betemit to be more patient at the plate.  The result is that he's got more walks than strikeouts right now.  Unfortunately he hasn't had anything to hit so his batting average is pretty terrible.  I expect that will improve as will his standing in the batting order.  If he can maintain his selectivity there really isn't any reason he couldn't be very successful hitting 5th or 6th in the line-up.  Of course that would depend on Grady recognizing what's happening on the field, something that's never been his strong suit.  FYI, coming into this season Betemit has a career .271 average with 35 doubles and 22 homers in 669 major league at bats.

Florida Marlins vs Milwaukee Brewers
Joining Bert Blyleven, Rikkert Faneyte, Robert Eenhoorn and Win Remmerswaal, Henricu "Rick" VandenHurk became just the fifth player from the Netherlands to make an appearance in the majors.  And what an appearance it was.  I can assure you it will be one of many.  Of all the rookie pitchers I've seen so far this year, including spring training, this guy has been the best.  His fastball ranged from 90-94, he had a great curve and a NICE change-up.  His confidence in his ability to throw any pitch at any time was made plain as day when he tripled-up with his change to Geoff Jenkins in the second inning.   That's something that only guys like Trevor Hoffman try.  Prince Fielder had a hard hit single in the first and Jenkins had a solid hit in the 4th... other than that, the Brewers didn't make solid contact with anything.  Very impressive for a 21-year old who had not pitched above A-ball until now.  Perhaps most impressive is that his five strikeouts did not come on any one type of pitch.  He sent guys back to the bench with each of his pitches.  If he comes anywhere close to this kind of poise in his next outing, I don't see how the Marlins will be able to send him down any time soon regardless of when Ricky Nolasco returns.  The only downside of VandenHurk's outing was that he threw 85 pitches to get 4.2 innings.  He'll have to be more efficient, but I think it's safe to chalk up some of those extra pitches to a little nervousness, seeing as how it was his debut and, along with his family having flown in, the entire northern half of Europe was watching.  

Not to be forgotten, Claudio Vargas had a pretty nice game.  I hate watching him pitch because he takes so long between pitches and the guy thinks way too much when he's on the mound anyway.  But after he gave up a double to Uggla, he kept his emotions in check and did a pretty decent job.  He still needs to be more aggressive once he's ahead in the count but I understand his reluctance to take a chance on the batters making contact because... the worst part of watching that game was undoubtedly the Brewer's defense.  JJ Hardy, Craig Counsell and Geoff Jenkins are really good, but the rest of them... oh my goodness.  I haven't seen that many iron gloves on one field since I went to the jousting tournament at the Maryland Rennaissance Festival.  Bad technique, bad footwork, bad reads, bad routes... Oy!  They're like a beer-league softball team after the first keg.  OK, I'm exaggerating, but they aren't very good with the gloves.  I'm not sure bringing up Ryan Braun will help that, but at least he will hit enough to make up for some of the mistakes. 

One final note about the Brewers/Marlins game... I'm not sure who's going to be the closer in Florida but it won't be Jorge Julio for very much longer.  It's too bad too because he's really personable and has the kind of likeable personality that people really root for.  Well, I do anyways.  Unfortunately, he still hasn't figured a way to control that potent arm of his.  My guess is that Henry Owens will get first shot but after watching him pitch for a save the other night, I'm not convinced he'll be able to keep it.  He has a short delivery which is a little deceptive, but his stuff wasn't that great.  Matt Lindstrom has better pure stuff.  Kevin Gregg and Randy Messenger might be in the mix, too.  This might be one of those situations where four or five guys will each get 5-10 saves.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Chalk up Salomon Torres' first blown save to bonehead defense on the part of the Pirates.  Sure, he didn't do himself any favors by walking Chris Duncan after giving up a single to David Eckstein.  But on Albert Pujols long fly ball to left field, Jason Bay pulled an "Evelyn" (remember A League of Their Own?).  Just like Bitty Schram's character who got the 'no crying in baseball' speech after she threw to the wrong base and allowed the tying run to get into scoring position, Bay made the same mistake by throwing to third base rather than keeping Duncan at first base by throwing to second.  Even stranger was Jack Wilson setting up along the third base line to take the throw.  What was he thinking?  Eckstein's run was meaningless so throwing to third was a huge blunder that ended up costing Tom Gorzelanny a win and Torres a save.  Had Bay done what he was supposed to, Scott Spiezio's subsequent single would have scored only one run and the ensuing Preston Wilson groundball double play would have ended the game.  Instead, it went extras and the Pirates lost the game because of something that won't show up in the box score or the stats.

Cincinnati Reds vs Arizona Diamondbacks
Congratulations to Josh Hamilton on his first big league homer.  Not that hitting a homer off Edgar Gonzales is any great feat - he will lead the majors in home runs allowed if given more than 30 starts, unless the Diamondback decide to give Yusmiero Petit 20 starts - but it was nice to see the guy get more positive reinforcement after a pretty rough last couple of years.  

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