Archive for the ‘Adam Dunn’ Category

Adam Dunn’s “Approach”

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Adam Dunn may well be the most guileless player in a Nationals uniform. In the wake of his two home run, four RBIs onslaught of the Arizona Diamondbacks last night at Chase Field, Dunn stood in front of his locker answering reporters’ questions. What’s your secret? he was asked. He blinked and looked away, a small smile creasing the corners of his mouth, then faced the questioner. “I just try to get a good pitch to hit and put my bat on the ball,” he said. The gathering seemed somehow unsatisfied with his answer. “On that second home run,” he was asked, “you had a 1-2 count. Were you expecting a fastball? It was a fastball, right?” He reflected for a moment, trying to be helpful. “That second at bat? Yeah, I guess so. Let me think. I’m trying to remember. Yeah, it was a fastball, right? Yeah, I think it was.” And he waited for the follow-up question, but there was none. Another reporter tried a different tack. “So what’s the secret to your recent success?” he asked and added: “You seem to be really hitting the long ball lately.” Dunn nodded. “Well, I just try to get my pitch and then I try to get my bat on it. You know, just hit it hard.”

Dunn is not exactly an apostle of Crash Davis (giving “I’m-just-happy-to-help-the-team” canned answers to the same-old-questions), but that’s hardly a reason to think that the Nats’ big first baseman and batting order centerpiece is a can shy of a six pack. Rather, you get the impression that Dunn dismisses the pseudo-science of hitting, the kind of thing made famous by now discredited BT analyst and former Mets G.M. Steve Phillips. Phillips, and his ilk, are forever windging on about “opening your hips” and “making certain that you keep your head steady” and putting your bat head “through the hitting zone” and “drawing that perfect triangle stance” and blah, blah, blah. All the great hitters follow the Phillips’ mantra except of course for Babe Ruth (and counterless others), who could have cared less about hips and triangles. In fact, the Sultan of Swat damn near had his right foot planted firmly on his left in the box every time he came to the plate. Ruth was sometimes so anxious to hit the ball that he did a mini-Fred Astaire routine, dancing in the box before rearing back and turning himself into a corksrew. He could have cared less about style. Dunn is that way: see the ball, hit the ball. The simpler the better. He was once asked whether he had adjusted his “approach” to compensate for the way pitchers were throwing to him. He smiled: I’m not sure I have an approach to adjust, he said.

We should expect this kind of thing from Dunn who, unlike the rest of us, is more interested in playing baseball than in talking about it. If that is his belief, it’s well-founded. Youth baseball coaches live in fear that their ace 15-year-old pitcher will one day wake up in the 5th inning and realize what he’s doing. This “don’t think just throw” (or, in Dunn’s case, “just swing the bat”) philosophy makes a hell of a lot more sense than demanding that your stellar starter “paint the corners” or that your top drawer banger “open his hips.” (“Hey Babe, I think you should open your hips more.”) Since the passing of the trade deadline (and even before), Dunn is hitting the ball on the screws, launching mammoth blasts against careful opponents — and hence vaulting himself back into the home run lead in the National League. His prodigous hitting has not only produced needed wins (as it did last night in Arizona), it has made him the unacknowledged leader in the Nats’ clubhouse. Granted, Dunn’s mammoth blasts will make it difficult for Mike Rizzo & Company to part with him, either now or after the season, but that’s a problem we can live with. “I really, to be honest, never scratched out a lineup on a napkin without Dunn in there,” Jim Riggleman said on Wednesday night after the Nats victory. Right. So let’s keep it that way.

Zim Corrals Ponies

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

After enduring the adventures of a shakey bullpen — which squandered a workmanlike outing from Nats starter Ross Detwiler — a Ryan Zimmerman blast in the bottom on the ninth inning propelled the Anacostia Nine to a nail-biting 7-5 walk-off win against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Zimmerman walk-off marked the seventh time “the face of the franchise” had provided the necessary difference in a key win, a major league leading mark that has baseball abuzz with talk of just how important the former Cavalier is to his team. The victim this time was Phillies’ reliever Brad Lidge, who entered the ninth inning at Nationals Park with a 5-4 lead and the game apparently well in-hand. “He has his moments,” Philllies’ manager Charlie Manuel said of Lidge in the wake of Zimmerman’s blast. That seemed an understatement: the legendary late-innings strikeout king (more than one per inning, on average) Lidge sports a 5.57 ERA and has given up 21 hits in 21 innings — never a good sign.

The blown save highlighted the challenge the Phillies face in their race to catch the Chops for the N.L. East crown. While Phillies’ fans (and the national media) are oohing and ahhing about the addition of Roy Oswalt, the Phillies are struggling to find some stability in the back of their bullpen. The search has become nearly interminable. The Pony bullpen is ranked 10th in the National League with a spiraling ERA and no, ah . . . relief in sight. Phils’ skipper Manuel is feeling the pressure, as evidenced by his testy answers to reporters’ questions about whether choosing to pitch Lidge over, say, Ryan Madson remains the team’s best option. “I hear you guys say that for two years,” Manuel said. “I hear this and that, this and that. What the hell? We try this guy. We try that guy. We try this guy. Then I hear you [complain] to me sometimes about their roles. ‘Guys don’t know their roles.’ I can go on all night now. Let’s just drop it right there.”

The Guzman Swap: Less than twenty-four hours after baseball’s July 31 trading deadline, the game’s pundits are weighing in on the deadline’s “winners” and “losers.” In this, at least, there seems to be a growing consensus. The Yankees (with the addition of Lance Berkman and Kerry Wood), Padres (who signed up a needed bat in Ryan Ludwick) and Rangers (who snagged Cliff Lee, Jorge Cantu and Cristian Guzman) were the winners, while the Red Sox, Tigers and Giants (who did little — or nothing) were the losers. The judgments sound about right, but only if you are attempting to calculate what moves would put a team into the post-season. Garnering less attention are those teams (like the Nats) that traded over-welcome veterans to pursue longer term strategies. In fact, it’s possible to argue that in terms of value-for-value (and in terms of strengthening a franchise), the Nats can claim to be one of baseball’s trade deadline winners. Not only did the Nationals hang onto fan favorite Adam Dunn (true: it remains to be seen whether he can be signed long-term), they obtained a needed catcher of the future in Twinkie catching phenom Wilson Ramos.

An even stronger case for a Nats “win” can be made in a cursory study of Mike “the Don” Rizzo’s decision to swap team holdover Cristian Guzman for two minor league Texas Rangers’ pitchers. While Baseball Tonight and MLBN’s late night pundits cite Guzman’s incontestable value for a surging Rangers’ squad (Guzzie made a nearly spectacular play in last night’s Rangers’ triumph over the limping Belinskys), the acquisition of Ryan Tatusko and Tanner Roark, two semi-spectacular speedballers from the Rangers AA affiliate in Frisco of the AA Texas League, can be counted as solid additions. Tatusko and Roark are keepers and, if their current arc is any indication, could be stalwarts in a Nats starting rotation in 2012 — or even earlier. Both Tatusko and Roark are rough cuts (young, but built for baseball), who were drafted by the Nolan Ryan-driven Rangers vision, which rewards fastballs, control and endurance. Ryan Tatusko’s fastball is 91-95 on the gun, while Tanner Roark is a strike-em-out fastballer who rarely gives up walks. Tatusko has been back-and-forth between the rotation and the bullpen at Frisco, but he could go either way, while Tanner is a straight starter, albeit with a history of posting higher-than-we-would-like ERAs.

There’s a growing handful of commentators who pooh-pooh the acquisitions. The genetically anti-Nats blog Bleacher Report views the two as “fringe” pitchers, plowing away through the minors, while the predictably smug SB Nation mouthes a “me too, me too” judgment. Call to the Pen’s views are far more credible. CTTB projects both Tatusko and Roark as likely to get good looks at Triple-A before any possible stint in the majors (perhaps a year away), and opines that both have plus (but not plus-plus) upsides: “The Nationals made a solid trade here.” Then too, both Tatusko and Roark have stellar records, even for the Texas League. Tatusko is 9-2 with a 2.97 ERA at Frisco while Roark is10-5 with 75 strikeouts. It’s hard to imagine the Ryan-led Rangers would draft just anybody to make a walk to the mound, or that Mike Rizzo would swap-and-pay Cristian Guzman to travel to Dallas in exchange for anyone he believes is a “fringe” prospect. And we all know: if past performance is the best guide to future production, David Clyde would be in the Hall of Fame and Gregory Alan Maddux would be coaching the junior varsity baseball squad in San Angelo, Texas.

tatuskor08.jpg Ryan Tatusko image slucas66

Not A Dunn Deal

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

The best move the Washington Nationals made before the trading deadline was the one they didn’t. As the witching hour struck 4:00 pm, the Nationals front office didn’t budge — and thereby decided that keeping a fan-popular 35-to-40 home runs per year hitter in D.C. was better than moving him to Chicago for a sometimes-very-good and sometimes just so-so righthander. The news that Adam Dunn was staying in D.C. began to circulate 60 minutes before the deadline, with a variety of sports reporters (including SI’s Jayson Stark) saying that Dunn was staying put. Even so, there seems little doubt there was a last minute attempt to land the Nats bopper: the Pale Hose dangled newly acquired righty Edwin Jackson (the Nats wanted Jackson and prospects), while the Giants inquired about Dunn but thought the price (Jonathan Sanchez) was too steep.

Nationals’ G.M. Mike Rizzo was always hesitant to deal Dunn, the centerpiece of a formidable 3-4-5 line-up that features Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham. Even talk of trading Dunn caused consternation, with Zimmerman saying flatly that it would be a mistake to break-up the trio. Apparently team president Stan Kasten agreed. According to the MLB Network, Kasten (a Dunn partisan) met privately with the first baseman on Friday night to reassure the slugger that the Nats were doing everything they could to retain him. One of MLBN’s commentators described Kasten as “tearful” during his one-on-one talk with Dunn. Over at Nationals Daily News, Mike Henderson quotes Mike Rizzo as saying that the Nats “never got a deal that we thought was equal or greater value to Adam Dunn.” Good. There arn’t many every day major leaguers who can hit 35 to 45 home runs each year.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We here at CFG always attempt to respond to the flood of correspondence we receive from our dedicated readers. A recent missive upbraided us for our lack of coverage on the before game problems of what’s-his-name. “Dear editor:  Three days later, how could CFG not write a single word about the biggest Nats story of the year — Stephen SoreArm?  Are you and your staff covering the team or not?  At least offer a little commentary, or insight, or historical perspective on similar injuries . . . If nothing else, think about your foreign readers and their need-to-know…….. Sincerely, A concerned reader.” Hmmm. Point taken.

Okay, so here goes: we stayed away from “the kid’s” arm issue because, honestly, we don’t have a damn thing to add to what is already being said. Except that, oh yeah, we are attempting to sort through two conflicting views: that with a $15 million investment it’s hard to blame the Nats front office for playing it safe and (second), having said that we know that the very best way to protect “Stephen SoreArm” is not to pitch him at all. Put another way, we couldn’t decide between “phew, good move” and “oh c’mon.” Mmmmmm: whaddawegonnado? There’s an idea abroad in the land of baseball that today’s pitchers just aren’t as tough as the old codgers who used to pitch complete games and go entire careers without a complaint. The Warren Spahn-Juan Marichal game is cited as an example of this toughness.

But polemicists for this viewpoint fail to add that the era before rotator cuff surgery and bone chip removal is littered with the bodies of young hurlers who blew out their arms and had no recourse to bone marrow scoops or ligament replacement surgery. We here at CFG know one, for sure — who (designated as a power arm in the Kansas City A’s  rotation of 1959) blew out his arm and ended up coaching high school football. He had no choice. The reason we didn’t hear much about arm trouble in the good old days is that once you had arm trouble you had two choices — you could wait it out, or you could quit. Most times, you were simply finished. Which is to say: arm toughness isn’t the rule, it’s the exception and if there’s anything that can be done to save a young pitcher’s young arm early in his career, why then that ought to be done. The Nats are doing that and will continue to do that. But with this caveat: while the Nats have made an investment in Stephen Strasburg, they’ve also made an investment in winning baseball in D.C. Weighing the two is the challenge.

Duck Duck Goose

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

I thought it only appropriate that “the loyal opposition” should return at precisely the moment that my first date in Washington (here she is, and take a good look) arrived for our lovely evening. And if by “lovely evening” you mean watching the Washington Nationals and turning their victory into fake reporting then you’re right: but I have no choice but to do this in my current state. This CFG thing, this new-wave-inter-net “we’re down with the twitter blog,” is struggling, really struggling, so I just know that most of this blog’s readership revolves around my pen. And for the benefit of you all, here finally is a picture of me . . .

Tonight Roy Oswalt was out for a stroll with his new team –11 million dollars in tow — when, out of the blue: it’s a bird, it’s a plane . . . no, no, no — it’s the most interesting man in the world. Nyjer Morgan!  Nyjer who? In his first at bat, Morgan hit the ball 400 feet into the center-right gap, flipped off his helmet as he sped around second base, and went totally horizontal, belly first, into third. Nyjer Morgan? It was like watching lightning strike on a clear day. Former Astro Oswalt was so confused by the entire thing he had to pay someone to tell him who it was that just did that to him. “What the hell is going on! Who is that guy on third?” It’s Nyjer Morgan, channeling Ricky Henderson. “Naw, can’t be.”

Morgan wasn’t the only Nats superhero “lifting tall buildings” on Friday night. Adam Kennedy arrived in the clubhouse before the Phillies game to find Cristian Guzman’s assistant sitting (morose and weeping) in the Nationals’ locker room. Kennedy got the message — in the first inning (and with “Rickey” Morgan on third) he hit the ball hard enough to the right side (just as he was instructed) to allow Morgan to lope across the plate: Nats 1, Phillies 0. Oswalt was even more confused — “what the  . . .” But “The Miracle on Half Street” continued. Roger Bernadina began his night by gunning out a sprinting Oswalt at first. Oh, and Craig Stammen was lights out: hitting spots, keeping his pitch count low and quietly sauntering from the mound, as if he was Greg Maddux. Oswalt wasn’t the only one surprised. As I sat watching this team’s Friday night tidal wave I could only repeat Oswalt’s words — “Who the hell are these guys . . .”

Don’t misunderstand: I’ve been watching this team with vigor, knowing that on a good day they’re only mediocre. It’s a self-inflicted baseball passion. They lallygag, throw the ball over the dugout, crash into each other, slam into outfield walls, miss the cutoff man — and their “phenom” pitcher can’t go past the All Star break. It’s fantastic fun. I expected the same on Friday against the Citizens Bank Bullies. But that’s not what happened. Instead, the Nats showed up to play and made glue of the Ponies, embarrassing Oswalt and frustrating Rollins and Howard and the rest of them. So . . .  what happened? The answer is obvious: Mike Rizzo is a psycho. The proof is this photo of Rizzo sitting in Jim Riggleman’s office as players arrived for Friday’s game.

More specifically, on Friday afternoon (just hours before Miss Iowa and the Phillies showed up in Washington), Mike Rizzo decided he’d had enough of his team’s mediocre performance, and that it was time to play “duck, duck, goose.” In “Rizzo Land” the game is not as simple as it was when I was a kid, but it’s the same concept: you line up the players (in any old order) and you raise your right hand and go down the line — “in, in, traded . . . in, in, traded . . .” You only change your tune when you get to Morgan: “in, in . . . and if you don’t hit a triple Morgan, I swear to God you’ll be spending August in Oakland.” Message received. The only player not really frightened by this show of Rizzo passion was Ryan Zimmerman . . . and “the kid.” Even Adam Dunn was included. As for the rest of them. Well, we might have seen the fear in Morgan’s eyes: Rizzo’s antics was placing his bobblehead night in jeopardy. Rizzo didn’t care: “do something Nyjer, or I swear we’ll woodchip those things.”

The Mike “Corleone” Rizzo, “Duck, Duck, Goose” is more than just a cute kids’ game — it’s like rendering someone to Burma for “questioning.” It’s more like playing in the Olympics for Iraq. Okay, I admit. It could be that the appearance of Katie Conners helped to spark Friday night’s outbreak of unusual excellence, but I really doubt it. For as this mammoth publication goes to press, the Nationals are fast becoming a new team. And it’s because of their general manager. They’re getting better, a lot better, and they’re doing it quickly.

The word in baseball is that you can always get a closer and Rizzo showed that this week as he dealt Matt Capps to Minnesota. And you can always deal, at the very last minute, a slap-hitting veteran infielder for a handful of prospects, especially if the other team’s All Star second sacker ends up on the DL. As Cristian Guzman learned. Adam Dunn may be next: or maybe not. But the truth it, it doesn’t really matter. Mike Rizzo — the Washington Nationals’ true fearless leader — is playing “duck, duck, goose” in the clubhouse. And he’s made it clear to those who are staying with the team: “play hard and play hard now  – – – or you’ll be shaking your head somewhere else a year from now and wondering where it all went wrong.

Sad But True . . .

Friday, July 30th, 2010

The biggest Nats news on Thursday was not the welcome pitching performance of Nats starter Scott Olsen, but the departure of Nats closer Matt Capps — who packed his bags for Minneapolis, where he will join the perennially in-the-hunt Twinkies. The sad-but-true baseball news cycle is likely to remain that way for at least the next 24 hours, as teams jockey to land needed pitching and hitting help before the coming of the trade deadline. Poor Scott: his more than modest triumph over the Braves (giving the Nats a series win, and a boost in confidence) was shoved down the Nats’ homepage after the announcement that Capps was no longer the Nats closer — and shoved further down the page by the appearance of an article extolling the virtues of Wilson Ramos, a Twins catching prospect with “a positive upside.” Capps was not surprised by the trade and praised the Nationals’ organization. “The Washington Nationals and everyone involved have been absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “It’s something that I will remember for a long time. I certainly enjoyed my time. Now, I have to focus on moving forward and helping the Minnesota Twins.”

Scott Olsen is not likely to be the last Nats shoved down the page by bigger news — the Nats are reported to be interested in acquiring D-Backs starter Edwin Jackson, which would necessitate a trade of Nats power hitter Adam Dunn to the White Sox, who are willing to deal prospects to Arizona to make Jackson available. In truth, that deal may be finalized by the end of the day, as it was just reported that the Pale Hose have finalized their trade for Jackson. Which could mean, of course, that Nats starter Craig Stammen, and his appearance opposite newly acquired pony starter Roy Oswalt, would be today’s second story. The line-up for the Stammen-Oswalt tilt would give Nats fans something to talk about besides who will replace Capps (it’s going to be a committee or relievers, apparently), as Jim Riggleman would begin to shift players (like Michael Morse) into positions that would reflect how the team views its last 62 games. Bottom line? The sad-but-true events of Thursday are now likely to be followed by the even sadder departure of fan favorite Dunn — and the break-up of the 3-4-5 slots in a formidable Nats batting order.

Hudson Too Tough For Nats

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

While the rest of baseball talks about the brilliance of Ubado Jimenez, the power of Tim Lincecum, the sheer speed of Josh Johnson and the savvy of Chris Carpenter, Braves fans have consistently extolled the virtues of Tim Hudson — who they claim should be in the running for the N.L. Cy Young Award. On Tuesday night the Nats found out why. Using a mix of up-in-the-zone fastballs and well-placed sinkers, the Braves righty subdued the Nationals in pitching his team to a 3-1 victory at Nats Park. Hudson is now 10-1 in his career against Washington. “For whatever reason, I’ve been able to go out and throw the ball pretty well against these guys and make pitches,” Hudson said of his mastery of the Nats. “It’s not to say next time I pitch against these guys I won’t be backing up third all night. But it does feel good to know you have a history with some success against a team, just for your confidence.”

How good is Hudson? From July of ’08 until just two weeks ago, Hudson reeled off a string of 27 consecutive quality starts. Nats fans might remember that, in one of the best pitching match-ups of the year (at Nats Park at the end of June), Hudson and Stephen Strasburg went head-to-head, with Hudson and the Braves ending up on top. In that duel, Strasburg provided 6.1 innings of stellar hurling, throwing 92 pitches, 57 of them for strikes. Hudson was better, and a model of what everyone here thinks Strasburg could become — Hudson threw 113 pitches, 73 of them for strikes. In that game, Hudson’s two seam sinker led to 12 groundouts, which is exactly the same number that he got last night. “His sinker is so good that you have to respect it,” Adam Dunn said after last night’s loss. “When he’s throwing it down and throwing it for strikes, it’s a long day like it was today.”

Miss Iowa Asks: We don’t usually participate in these kinds of things, but what-the-heck. Since Miguel Batista’s ill-fated comment on his surprise outing against the Braves on Monday (“Imagine,” he said, “if you go there to see Miss Universe — and you end up having Miss Iowa”), we’ve come up with our own ideas on an appropriate role for the pride of Bettendorf (A Premier City and home of “The Bulldogs“) — Katherine Conners. Since Batista has been invited to be a judge at the next “Miss Iowa” beauty pagaent, it seems only appropriate that “Katie” come to Washington to throw out the first pitch in a ballgame, with Miguel catching. That might bring in a fan or two. Katie could then sit-in for Rob Dibble in the MASN broadcast booth (“spontaneous demonstrations broke out in Oceana today”) and (since she’s thrown “a pitch or two”), add her two cents on what Jim Riggleman might do to improve the team’s play. MASN could promote it as a “new segment” for their broadcast. They could call it “Miss Iowa Asks.”

Katie would undoubtedly have the same questions we do: “Now, Mr. Riggleman (ooooh, you are a handsome man), but I mean why do you insist on starting Willie Harris? I mean, gee willikers, Mr. Harris is a nice man and all (okay, a little short but anyway, nevermind, I mean, well, nevermind), but as I understand it he’s hitting below some kind of line and that’s not good. Anyway, I mean criminy you can just bet that the coach of the Bettencourt Bulldogs wouldn’t start Willy. No siree. He’d start that nice handsome boy Michael Morse, I’d just bet that that’s what he’d do. Totally. I mean, Michael is totally rad. You know, I’ve noticed, that Michael Morse can really stroke the ball (is that the phrase, I can’t remember, oh well, but he’s a way better hitter), and really Mr. Riggleman we need to do something. I mean, I like Mr. Harris and all — oh, and that reminds me: is he a relative of yours? Because this is getting grodie. He’s hitting .184. .184! I mean, duh. Because I don’t understand (and I know, I don’t really know as much as you do) why in blue blazes (oops, sorry, I didn’t mean to say that) that you’d start him. Oh well, anyway. Whatever. I mean, I don’t want to be a stressorama or anything, but you know. Why? Why start Willie Harris? You think he’s going to get better. I mean, like, no way. And that’s all I have to say — I mean, like whatever.”

Livan Tames Reds

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Backed by a ten hit and seven run attack, Livan Hernandez pitched his second complete game of the season, as the Washington Nationals notched a split of their four game series in Cincinnati. The Nats 7-1 victory compensated, at least in part, for the paucity of hits and runs the team suffered in both Miami and Cincinnati over the last seven games. Adam Dunn and Roger Bernadina homered for the Nats, as Nyjer Morgan and Willie Harris finally seemed poised to break out of their respective slumps. But the story on Thursday was the work of Hernandez, who picked up five strikeouts while holding the Reds to just seven hits. Hernandez was masterful: he threw 102 pitches, 79 of them for strikes. The complete game gave the Nats’ bullpen a needed rest, as the team now heads into Milwaukee for a three game set against the suddenly average Brew Crew.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Ralph Houk, who died on Wednesday, was once one of the giants of the game. It’s not that Houk was that good a player — he appeared in only 91 games over eight seasons, but he managed the New York Yankees in 1961, when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris made home run headlines. Houk steered the Yankees through some of their most successful campaigns. Under Houk’s leadership the Yankees won 109, 94 and 104 games — taking two world series (against the Red in ’61 and the Giants in ’62). He went on to manage the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox before becoming a vice president of the Minnesota Twins. He was renowned for his temper, though former Yankees’ testify that he knew how to handle a team. He had enormous influence on future managers Bobby Cox and Tommy Lasorda. “I remember what a tough guy he was,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said upon hearing of his death. But Houk was also a student of the game, showing up hours before the first pitch to study line-ups and statistics.

Houk’s tough guy demeanor was well earned. He had a fearsome temper and was called “the Major,” an affectionate term that also accurately described his wartime experiences. Houk was a minor league catcher in the South Atlantic League when World War Two began. He put down his mitt and was mustered into the army as a private in February of 1942. He was picked for officers’ candidate school at Fort Knox and was deployed to Europe with the 9th Armored Division. Houk was a better soldier than baseball player: he landed at Omaha Beach, served during the Battle of the Bulge and was one of the first American soldiers to cross the Remagen Bridge into Germany. “I sent him on three missions in April of 1945 and one day he returned with nine prisoners of war,” a senior American officer later recalled.  “His reports invariably had an undetermined number of enemy killed.” Houk earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart during the war. To the last day of his life he kept the helmut he had worn as a young lieutenant when he landed on Omaha Beach. It had a bullet hole in it. He died in Florida at the age of 90.

“Prying” Adam Loose

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Adam Dunn hates to talk about trades, hates to even think about them. He’s made it clear — he’s happy in Washington and would like to stay with the Nationals. And Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo agrees: Adam is good for the team, good at the plate, good in the clubhouse and is a plus, plus, plus all the way around. But it’s hard to deny the rumors that the Chicago White Sox are bidding for Dunn and would love to bring him aboard, though at a price they dictate. Rizzo doesn’t deny this. He simply says that the Nationals must be overwhelmed by any offer, which could or would or might include Pale Hose second sacker Gordon Beckham and right fielder home run hitter Carlos Quentin. Or both. The White Sox have recoiled from this, knowing that Beckham is a long term talent and that Quentin is one of the guys that led their surge into contention in the A.L. Central. They would like Rizzo to focus, instead, on accepting a much more modest package that would, could or might include young righty Daniel Hudson (above) and heavy hitting youngster Dayan Viciedo.

There are problems here: Beckham is a young guy who would solve Washington’s problem at second base for years to come, but he’s having a lousy year at the plate (.237, 4 HRs), while Quentin, after a breakout year in 2009 (21 HRs., albeit without a MLB standard BA), is having trouble finding his groove (.244 BA, .344 OBP). But shifting away from Beckham or Quentin also presents problems. Daniel Hudson has a lot of promise, but it’s really only promise and while the young righty’s “upside” (gag) seems good, the Nats know all about “upside.” They need a proven pitcher (right now) who can fill the second (or third, if you count Livan) slot behind “the kid.” Hudson would look good in that spot, or he might end up being John Lannan’s roomy in Harrisburg. Mr. Dayan Perez Viciedo has his own set of challanges: he is a freeswinging Pablo Sandoval (or “kung fu house cat” as one of our readers opined) in the making. This guy couldn’t hit the water if he fell out of a boat. Well, okay — Viciedo is a good hitter and potentially a great hitter and when he does hit it it goes a long, long ways. Translation: Dayan can really hit the ball, but he strikes out a lot. Still . . . still. The simple and blunt truth is that the more that you study Hudson and Viciedo, the more tempting they become.

The White Sox end of this, at least according to Chicago Sun-Times baseball guru Mike Cowley, is that Rizzo is asking for way too much — he’s dangling Dunn like he’s Ryan Howard. The White Sox are hesitant. They’re willing to pay a good price for Dunn, but Chicago G.M. Kenny Williams is simply not willing to part with a package of top prospects and major pieces. He is countering with a package of minor leaguers (probably Hudson and Viciedo), that would keep Beckham and Quentin in Chicago. Pale Hose partisans apparently agree with this strategy, as does the White Sox clubhouse. Williams is just unwilling to trade away parts of a surging squad that has put together one of the more astonishing June and July winning streaks in recent memory. And Rizzo’s attitude? Well, Mike seems to be standing firm. In truth, he’d like to have them all — and much as we love Adam Dunn, we have to agree. We would love to have them all too. But let’s be realistic. A package that would include Hudson, Viciedo and just one of Beckham (which would be our preference) or Quentin is tempting. Very tempting.

“One Long, Losing Slog”

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

The Nats 7-2 loss in Cincinnati on Monday night might have been averted — of only the Nats had hit, pitched and fielded like a major league team. The defeat stretched the Nats losing streak to three games and means that the Nats have now lost six of their last eight. Reaching the .500 mark, which might have been hoped for in April and even in May, now seems a distant and fantastical dream, as the team struggles to find its legs. The losing spiral sparked Washington Post sportswriter Adam Kilgore to describe the Nats season of hope as “one long, losing slog.” That seems about right. So too the team itself seems infected by frustration: “We do have a great lineup. We just can’t get everyone hot at the same time,” Adam Dunn said after he loss. “It seems like we haven’t had two guys hot at the same time. If Guzzie is hot, then me and Zim aren’t hot. And then if Zim is hot, we are not. It’s bad timing, really. I don’t know how else to put it.” Luis Atilano is set to face Cincinnati rookie sensation Mike Leake tonight at The Great American Ballpark.

It’s Not A Motorcycle Baby, It’s A Chopper: On this day in 1958, Tiger’s ace Jim Bunning threw a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox, clinching a victory in a 3-0 contest. Bunning seemed to have Boston’s number — he once struck out Ted Williams three times in one game (also in 1958), spurring “The Splendid Splinter” to rip off his jersey (buttons popping) and throw it to the clubhouse floor: “I’ll get you Bunning,” he said and began searching for a schedule to determine when he’d face him again. Baseball legend has it that Williams hated Bunning so much that he would use him as a foil during batting practice, leaning into the ball and swinging as he yelled “here comes Jim Bunning. Jim F — ing Bunning and that little shit slider of his.” Williams little trick didn’t seem to work: Bunning struck out Williams more than any other player.

The key to Bunning’s success was a sidearm slider, a pitch he could control from nearly any angle. It fooled Williams, as it did nearly everyone else. Bunning led the league in strikeouts in 1959 and 1960 (with 201 each year), while gaining a reputation as one of the most durable pitchers around (he was regularly in the top five in the A.L in innings pitched). He never seemed to get injured. The oddest thing about Bunning’s career came after his greatest success: in 1963, the Tigers trades Bunning to the Philadelphia Phillies for veteran outfielder Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton, a fireballing reliever with a lot of promise. It was a forgettable trade, one of the worst in Detroit history. Demeter was just okay, while Hamilton was slowed by arm injuries. While never living up to his promise, Hamilton became a kind of legend: in 1967 he threw a pitch to Boston’s Tony Conigliaro that shattered the upper left side of Conigliaro’s face and ended his career. It also ended Hamilton’s. The fireballer lost his speed after the incident, as well as his willingness to pitch inside. He left baseball and now runs a restaurant in Missouri.

Bunning’s fate was quite different. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1964 as the great new hope — the pitcher who would put the perennial losers at the top of the National League. He damn near did. The Phillies had a great line-up in ’64, led by power hitters Dick Allen and Johnny Callison and a slick defense centered on catcher Clay Dalrymple, second sacker Tony Taylor and slap hitting expert Bobby Wine (another one of those obnoxious little “pepper pots”). Bunning was complemented by starter Chris Short (a pitcher of almost unbelievable promise), Art Mahaffey and Ray Culp. The Tigers might have gotten a hint of the mistake they’d made when Bunning pitched a perfect game against the New York Mets on June 21, and the big righty went on to notch a remarkable 19-8 record.

But if Bunning was a success, his team wasn’t. 1964 was the year of “The Foldin’ Phillies” — as the ponies lost ten in a row and a seven game lead with 17 games to play. Phillies manager Gene Mauch panicked in the midst of this debacle — pitching Bunning in three games in seven days: Bunning lost all of them. Philadelphia dog-paddled its way into second place, while St. Louis passed them at a full sprint. It was the worst fold in major league history, until the Mets eclipsed it in 2007. The Phillies ’64 cataclysm seemed to unhinge the team in the years that followed, haunting Dick Allen’s successors who struggled, and struggled and struggled. But “Big Jim” Bunning continued to thrive, accounting for 70 wins over the next four years. Never mind: the Phils sputtered along, never quite putting it together again until 1980 — when they won a World Series. Their first.

After his stint in Philly, Bunning went on to Pittsburgh and Los Angeles before ending up in the Hall of Fame (it was a vote of the veterans committee that finally confirmed his entry)  and the U.S. Senate, where he now serves as a controversial and conservative voice from Kentucky. He retains the reputation he gained from his years on the mound, as a head hunting foul-mouthed lug whose stock-in-trade was a quickie under the chin — he led the N.L. in hit batters all four of his years in Philadelphia and was widely loathed for his beanball habits. Bunning’s critics say he hasn’t changed: he remains a ramrod straight, if somewhat embarrassing figure. When asked to describe Bunning’s legislative prowess, the late Senator Robert Byrd thought for a minute before issuing his praise: “a great baseball man.” But the people of Kentucky seem to love him, voting him back to his Senate seat every six years. Then too, even if Bunning is as controversial now as he was in Detroit and Philly, there is little doubt that he once threw one of the best, if not the best, slider in the game. At least that’s what Ted Williams thought.

Miami Vice: Nats Can’t Score

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

The Washington Nationals succumbed to their own lack of production, falling to the Florida Marlins 1-0 on Sunday in Miami. The loss squandered the team’s opportunity to back the stellar pitching of starter Craig Stammen, who held the Marlins to one run in six innings of work. The inconsistent Stammen, who seems to be on-again and off-again, put in one of his best pitching performances of the year, keeping the ball down in the zone against the befuddled Marlins’ hitters. Stammen threw 98 pitches, 62 of them for strikes. His only trouble came in the 5th, when he gave up successive doubles. Joel Peralta finished out the game, providing his by-now usual in-the-strike-zone relief effort. But as was the case on Saturday, Nationals’ hitters could not seem to solve Florida’s pitching: Washington rapped out eight hits, but their celebrated middle of the line-up heavyweights were a combined 2-9, stranding an embarrassing 11 runners. The Nats now head to Cincinnati to face the surging Reds. Duck.

Those Are The Headlines, Now For The Details: MASN play-by-play man, Bob Carpenter, informed his viewing audience on Sunday that he’d been told by Marlins’ beat reporters that ex-Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez was “absolutely not” fired because of his troubles with Hanley Ramirez. According to Carpenter’s discussions, Gonzalez was fired because Marlins’ owner Jeff Loria knew that Fredi was headed to Atlanta to take over for the dearly departing Bobby Cox at the end of the season. So (we are led to believe) Loria thought for a minute and decided ‘why not make a change now?’ Moreover, Carpenter added, the reason that Bobby Valentine (lined up to be the new Marlins’ manager), wasn’t hired is because he insisted in bringing his own set of coaches to Miami — while Loria wanted him to retain the Gonzalez crew. The deal fell through.

I don’t doubt that Carpenter was told by the Miami press that Fredi Gonzalez was not (“absolutely not,” as Carpenter emphasized) fired for benching Hanley Ramirez (as we speculated, here), and I don’t doubt for a minute that Marlins beat reporters actually believe that. And, in fact, it may well be that Gonzalez wasn’t fired over the Ramirez incident. That’s quite possible. But we (we here at CFG) will insist on this: anyone who believes that Gonzalez was fired (suddenly, surprisingly, and summarily) because he planned to go to Atlanta (news to me) during the off season is simply buying Jeff Loria’s line. Or defending Hanley Ramirez. Or something. That said, the other part of the story (that Valentine wasn’t hired because he wouldn’t retain the Marlins coaching staff), makes sense. But it’s the only part of the story that does . . .

We’ve had a bit of this lately. When Omar Infante was named to the All Star team, fans were a more than a little puzzled. But not the “MLB Network” cheering section, or the guys at “Baseball Tonight,” who spent their time telling us what a great player Omar is — despite not having the requisite number of at-bats to be taken seriously. Infante shoved aside Joey Votto, Ryan Zimmerman, Dan Uggla, Rickie Weeks and Adam Dunn (whose home run totals led the NL), who actually play every game. Infante doesn’t. He’s a utility man, pinch hitter and filler. When he got the call from Atlanta GM Frank Wren that he’d made the team, he expected the worst: that he’d been tradedto Toronto. Never mind: the guys at BT and MLB Network were in the bag for Infante, telling all of us morons what a terrific ballplayer he is. Listen, Tim Kurkjian is right, no one should blame Infante for getting picked, but please, please, don’t try to sell us the line that Omar Infante (good family man, nice guy and all that) is a really good player who deserved it. If that was really true (if Infante deserved to be on that field instead of — say –  Adam Dunn), there wouldn’t have been any controversy . . .