Friday the 13th
April 13, 2007

Minnesota Twins
Get Ramon Ortiz if you haven't already.  Before the season I said I thought he would do pretty well this season because a) Rick Anderson is a very good pitching coach, and b) because he has a very good defense behind him, singling out Torii Hunter because of Ortiz' flyball tendency.  He has been quoted as feeling great confidence in the Twins defense and that confidence has had a residual effect: extra movement on his fastball.  I've never seen his delivery so loose-limbed.  Instead of aiming the ball because he's worried about making perfect pitches all the time as he did in Washington and Cincinnati, he's just letting it fly.  The result is that his arm action is much smoother and his pitches, particularly his fastball have so much more life on them.  The fastball has been consistently 92-93 mph with tailing action in on right-handers which should mean a few more grounders to boot.   He is this year's edition of the 2003 Esteban Loaiza.  

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Sure enough, as soon as I labeled the Devil Rays' bullpen as "lights on" they throw three good innings and actually save two games.  Al Reyes has been effective so far.  I'm not going to go so far as to say he'll be Bob Wickman/Doug Jones effective as the closer, but the Ranger line-up really helped him out on Wednesday.  Both Sammy Sosa (who has looked pretty awful at the plate) and Hank Blalock helped him out immeasurably by trying to hit the ball all the way Houston.  Finesse guys like Reyes thrive when batters overswing.  Brian Stokes looked pretty good as well, so Joe Maddon has at least one and a half decent relievers.  

Cincinnati Reds
Josh Hamilton looks like a more lithe version of Geoff Jenkins when he swings.  I was impressed with how in control of the at bat he was against Micah Owings whose funky slinging delivery can't be the easiest to pick up.  In fact, everything about his game has impressed me.  If Hamilton gets 450 at bats - and I think he will - it wouldn't be surprising if he ends up with 25 homers and 20 steals.  

Matt Belisle is another guy to get - a groundball pitcher with Alex Gonzalez and Brandon Phillips behind him grabbing groundballs.... mmm, that's all good.  Belisle throws a heavy 92 mph sinker and a nice tight slider... He won't be vintage Kevin Brown good with tons of strikeouts, but he'll be at least as good as Jake Westbrook and finish with more Ks  

Chicago Cubs

I was never a big Bob Brenley fan when he was a player.  Wasn't much of a fan when he was a manager, either.  And I'm even less sure how much of a fan I am after listening to one of his stories about his playing days during Friday's broadcast.  When he wasn't starting a game, he would sit out in the bullpen waiting to warm up relievers.  Once the manager called down to warm somebody up, Brenley would still pay attention to what was happening on the field.  If he thought that the pitcher on the mound needed to either slow down or take a breath, he would check to see if the umpires were watching him.  If they weren't, he would fire a ball into the field of play to stop the game.  The umpires would just think the ball got away from the reliever warming up and would stop the game for 15-30 seconds to allow for it's retrieval.  Underhanded, but clever.  That certainly won't show up in the stats but I bet it helped his team win occasionally.

Another tidbit of trivia from today's game: Joe Montegna, who sang today's 7th inning stretch, was also the guest conductor for the seventh inning stretch when Kerry Wood struck out 20 batters.  Hopefully, one day soon Wood will get another chance to amaze us again.  Right now it doesn't look so good for either him or Mark Prior.  What might have been.

Pittsburgh Pirates

I don't know what it is about the Pirates.  Jim Colborn is a pretty good pitching coach so I don't have any problem with the job he's doing with a fairly young staff.  But  the rest of those coaches are apparently mailing it in because between the poor defensive decisions I've seen and what the hitters did Friday night, it's pretty clear the Pirates need to hire somebody who actually teaches how to play baseball.  The Giants were out to an 8-2 lead after the top of the fourth inning with Russ Ortiz on the mound.  That last detail is important because beginning with Chris Duffy with two out in the bottom of the fourth and going through the fifth and sixth innings, the Pirates line-up saw exactly 13 pitches.  Two and a third innings with Russ Ortiz on the mound.  The very same Ortiz who has topped 100 walks in a season four times and more than 90 six times. The same Ortiz that has averaged more than a walk every other inning for his career.  The same Ortiz who came into this game with nearly as many walks as innings pitched this year.  Seven outs, thirteen pitches.  Say what you will about how undisciplined the Pirates hitters are but if I was the hitting coach I would have fined every hitter $100 if he didn't see at least three pitches against Ortiz and $1000 if he swung at the first pitch.  Down by six runs to one of the most walk-prone pitchers in major league history - he's ranked 12th all-time for worst walk rate for pitchers who have thrown at least 200 innings - the hitters have to be thinking about getting on base so they don't have to try to hit 6-run homers with nobody on.  Getting baserunners is the key to overcoming big deficits.  There is simply no excuse for a systemic breakdown like the one the Pirates' hitters experienced.  This is a team in dire need of a crash course in fundamental baseball.

Also, unless Nate McLouth is simply dreadful in centerfield, the Pirates may want to consider playing him more and Chris Duffy less.  Yes, Duffy knocked his first homer of the season but it was on a grapefruit that Ortiz tossed up there after 120 pitches.  In his other four at bats, he looked pretty feeble.  He saw 15 pitches in five at bats while McLouth saw 10 in two at bats and McLouth got hits in both.  In addition to getting on base and getting into scoring position, a lead-off man should make the opposing pitcher throw as many pitches as he can, if only to get him to show his entire repertoire to his team mates.  In his defense, Duffy has drawn 4 walks in 39 at bats which isn't terrible - roughly a 60-walk pace for the season - which is about the same pace that McLouth has shown during his career.  McLouth has also approximated Duffy in the one base and slugging departments for most of his career as well and is a year younger so he probably has more upside.  Duffy is still the incumbent but will have to have a better understanding of what he needs to do at the plate if he hopes to keep it that way.

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