Posts Tagged ‘Collin Balester’

Stammen Is Stayin’

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Planning in baseball is like planning in war: no matter how good you strategize, things never turn out the way you expected. So it is with the Nats’ starting rotation. The off-season speculators shaped a starting five that included two no-brainers (Marquis and Lannan) with three or four questions. But the fill-in-the-blank wunderkinds of the press always seemed to skip Craig Stammen. They weren’t the only ones. Let me see, there was Marquis, Lannan, Olsen, Hernandez and Mock; or Marquis, Lannan, Olsen, Martin and Mock (an “m-heavy” rotation) — oh, and there was even Marquis, Lannan, Olsen, Detwiler and Wang. But no matter what the permutations there was rarely (although, some few noticed), any mention of Craig Stammen.  But the 6-3, 200 pound righty (it appears) has won a place in the Nationals’ starting rotation after a solid Florida Spring and a little attention. He’s now on the radar — and then some.  

Granted, there’s not much to look at: while Stammen showed flashes of maturity in the forgettable 2009 campaign, his let’s-not-talk-about-it sore elbow and his 4-7 5.11 numbers were nothing to brag about. Justifiably (perhaps) Nats’ fans were more excited about the arrival of “the answer” and focused on Jordan Zimmermann’s Tommy John surgery. Then too, it didn’t help that Stammen arrived in Washington virtually unannounced — one of a bevy of slump-shouldered pitchers that included Detwiler, Mock, Balester, Martis, Zimmermann, Martin and Mock. That he waited in line behind the likes of the forgettable and embarrassing Daniel Cabrera was to be expected: this was the Bowden era, a period of time in our short history now empillared in the dictionary next to the word “nightmare.”

But Craig Stammen has not been a secret to those who have watched him. The more he’s pitched the more attention he’s earned. Despite last year’s numbers, there seemed to be a sense in the Nationals’ front office that the Ohio native could turn into something special. Stammen’s strike out numbers with the Savannah Sand Gnats of the Sally League were good, though  (as is common with the Buckeye), not quite heart-stopping: he struck out 109 in 143 innings. With a little more speed he-coulda-really-been-something. Even so, he worked his way up — to Potomac and Harrisburg and Syracuse. His arrival in Washington, therefore, was hardly a triumph. And yet … yet, here he is, a pitcher who is now slotted for the fourth (or even third) slot in the starting rotation and (at least thus far) a Nationals’ success; proof positive that the organization can develop pitchers.

That might be a pretty good front four: Strasburg, Marquis, Lannan and Stammen — even if we have to wait for June to see it. 

File:Savannah Sand Gnats.PNG

Nats Claw Orphans

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Any team can have a bad century, but the former White Stockings, Colts, Orphans and, now, Chicago Cubs are in line for a major league unprecedented 101st season without a championship. The Washington Nationals may well have put the final nail in the Cubs’ coffin for this season on Tuesday night with a 15-6 clobbering of the little bears at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. The Nats’ onslaught was led by two home runs from Josh Willingham — including a touch-em-all that landed beyond the left field wall on Waveland Avenue — and a grand slam dinger from a struggling Elijah Dukes. After the game, the usually reticent Dukes said that he was “waiting for something that moved” from Cubs reliever Aaron Heilman, a Mets castoff with a suspiciously high ERA. And he got it. Dukes, who has been taking so much batting practice that he had to sit out two games after injuring his thumb in the batting cage, accounted for five RBIs while walking twice. Dukes, whose BA has been see-sawing all season, has a fairly hefty RBI total: it now stands at 51. And it’s true — Dukes has been hitting the ball with more confidence and authority (and to the opposite field), after being recalled from the minors.

Elijah Dukes Accounts for 5 RBIs (AP/Nam Y. Huh)

Elijah Dukes Accounts for 5 RBIs (AP/Nam Y. Huh)

Washington righthander Garrett Mock pitched 5.2 innings for the win, his third of the season. Mock looked good, if not overpowering, with a snappy fastball, but was lifted by interim manager Jim Riggleman for reliever Tyler Clippard. Clippard and Saul Rivera closed out the game. Riggleman’s habit of pulling starters early was on prominent display at Wrigley — he has a history of pulling the trigger on his starters, a habit he developed when he managed in Chicago, his first managing job. Mock was clearly upset by the decision, showing his irritation on the bench. In fact, there’s no reason why the young righthander couldn’t have gotten the third out in the fifth, particularly with the Nats leading (at that point) 9-1. In all, Mock threw 89 pitches, 59 of them for strikes: hardly an elbow shattering experience.

Down On Half Street: Bill Ladson is reporting that the Nats have signed Livan Hernandez to a major league contract. The team has sent Collin Balester to the minors to make room for Hernandez. On MASN after the conclusion of the Nats-Cubs tilt, Ray Knight described the news as “a potential coup” by Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo. Nationals pitchers can use the steadying influence of a veteran presence like Hernandez, Knight said. He added that the Nats also want to set a standard of winning, with important games coming, and Hernandez knows how to win. Hernandez was a fan favorite when he was with the Nats. The official release from the Nats reads, in part: “He will make his first start on Wednesday at Chicago (NL), while J.D. Martin (2-3, 4.76) will start Thursday’s series finale at Wrigley Field” . . .  Is “ambitioned” a word? In a column in the Washington Post this week, I thought I read Chico Harlan say that a Nats’ pitcher had “ambitioned” to be a pitcher all his life. So is it? Is “ambitioned” a word? I admit, I have efforted to find out, but I’ll be damned if I can find it in the dictionary . . .

The horror; the horror: I have gotten sliced and diced from Chicago Cubs fans, dozens of whom have written (well, okay, three of whom have written) to say that the Cubs are still young and tough and plenty fast and that they don’t need to be totally rebuilt. They point out that the North Side Drama Queens are set at shortstop (with Ryan Theriot), at second (with Jeff Baker), in left field (with Jake Fox), at catcher (with Geovany Soto) and have some new former Ahoy pitchers on the mound that will be the new guns of the future — in Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow. Yeah, okay. Gorzelanny looked particularly effective tonight, giving up only three runs in one inning of work . . . so I’ll stick with my two interlocking predictions, contradictory as they might seem: if the Cubs make the playoffs this year (and I don’t think they will) then they’ll win it all — since this will mark the first year after the end of the Merkle Curse (alright, that’s lame, but you never know) but if they don’t win it all, then the Nationals will win the world series before they do. And frankly, I think the second prediction is a pretty safe bet.

Perception and Reality — In Chicago

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

The Nationals roll out of Washington after suffering a signal defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers — another “might-have-been” in a home stand of might-have-beens, with the brewmeisters’ winning a 7-1, a veritable sudzing of the Anacostia Nine at Nats Park on Monday afternoon. In many ways this was a typical outing for Collin Balester: that is to say, it was not good. Balester was only marginally better than during his previous outing (when he couldn’t get out of the second inning versus the Rockies), because last night he actually lasted into the sixth against the Brewers. When headed for the third time throught the crew’s line-up, Balester fell apart — with the scorebook telling the tale (in order): double, home run, single (wild pitch), walk, walk, single (relieved by Bergman), single, single (relieved by Villone), fielder’s choice, strike out, strike out. The butcher’s bill? Six runs, seven hits (including a home run), two walks and a wild pitch.

It was difficult for Jim Riggleman to put flinty light on such an embarrassment, so he didn’t try: “If I had a crystal ball, I would not have sent him out there for the sixth inning,” he said. But the Nats’ bats were also to blame: the team left twenty-one on base over the course of nine (that’s more than two an inning, for those of you who are counting) and couldn’t take advantage of a less-than impressive Yovani Gallardo, who seemed (at times) almost indifferent to his fate. The big blast for the Brewers came off the bat of Ryan Braun, whose soaring 6th inning tumbler landed six rows from the plaza up in the left field stands. Excepting for that up-in-the-zone pitch, the Nats seemed to master the smooth swinging Braun, who registered three strike outs. That Nats are now off to “the city of the big shoulders, the hog butcher of the world,” where they face the other worldly Cubs, owner of an embarrassingly high salary structure to go with their embarrassing won-loss record.

Chicago

The headline of the Cubs website reads: “Zambrano returns to kick off critical homestand.” Yeah, it’s critical alright. It’s critical for those who want to have a future in Chicago next year. For the rest of us, the question of whether the Cubs will have a place in the post-season has already been answered — and the answer is “no.” When the Cubs have needed to produce the most they have flopped: they are 5-10 over the last fifteen and most recently lost an embarrassing three of four in Los Angeles. To those stinking Dodgers no less. When they most needed to gain ground on the Cardinals (and if not that, to gain ground in the wild card race) the Cubs actually lost ground — with the rest of the league racing away from them. They are eight games behind the Redbirds, and 7.5 behind the Colorado Streaks in the wild card. Their recent road trip was a disaster: they were pathetic against Colorado, horrible against San Diego (as in the San Diego Padres), and outclassed against the Trolleys. It actually looked, in the city of dreams, as if the slugs had thrown in the towel. One Cubbie’s blog notes: they now have as much chance of making the post-season as O.J. Simpson does of being a useful member of society.

After spending the last twenty-four hours pouring over Cubs’ statistics, we here at CFG have come to the following conclusion: the Cubs are just not very good. The problem starts not on the field, but in the dugout: Carlos Zambrano spends most of the time fighting himself, Milton Bradley is a whiner, the front office decided to trade away Mark de Rosa (who was only the key to the team), Rich Harden’s reputation as “the sore armed Harden” is well-earned and the lovable free-swinging Alfonso Soriano is not so lovable when he goes into a pout and hits .194 in 67 games. Fans of the North Side Drama Queens have reacted accordingly: their blogs are filled with stories about new movies, recommendations that the front office participate in the “cash for clunkers” program and they now run tutorials on why Mark Prior is a symbol of why Cubs fans are left to wallow in their own despair. Remember Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance? Well, my friends, it’s time to relive those halcyon days.

This isn’t a ball club, it’s a novel.

So here (“Chicagoland fans”) is whatyaoughtado, but it’s painful: you clear the decks and you start over. Not like the Nats! We weren’t slow and old, but we started over anyway. That’s not true for your team. The Cubs are slow and old and they need to get young and fast. Carlos Zambrano could be a very good pitcher, but he’s worn out his welcome. He has to go. The best pitcher on the Cubs staff is Ted Lilly and he’s a gamer. Sadly, he’s 33. So he stays. But I would trade Harden. In spite of his enormous value, he’s one bad pitch from a blown shoulder and I would also cast a jaundiced eye on Ryan Dempster. He hasn’t proved he can pitch in the big games and he’ll never again be as good as he was last year. Aramis Ramirez must stay, of course, but you have to wonder if the injury he suffered this year will recur with increasing frequency. So you think I’m wrong? Well I’m not. You think you have a pitching staff? Really? Well, you don’t: you have episodes from “As The World Turns.”

Now then, on to the infield. Mike Fontenot is a good second sacker, he really is, but he’s not a .300 hitter and never will be. The Cubs need one, to team with shortstop Ryan Theriot — who’s the heart of the club. The Riot is the Cubs future. Fontenot isn’t and neither is Zambrano. Stop talking about how they teamed up at LSU. This isn’t LSU. It’s the majors. And get rid of Derrick Lee. Derrick Lee is a good hitter, but not a great hitter, no matter what you Cubs fans say, and he’s 33. He’s lost a step. Sooner or later (and probably sooner) he’s on his way to the junior circuit where fans can ooh and ahh about his value as a DH. “Oh Derrick, oh Derrick.” Listen, Derrick would look terrific in an Oriole uniform. They love guys like Derrick in Baltimore. And trading Derrick to Baltimore would clear the way for Micah Hoffpauer at first base — and it’s about time. Aramis Ramirez stays at third, of course, because when he’s hitting the Cubs win. But Aramis needs to stay healthy. Cross your fingers.

Let’s see, that leaves Kosuke Fukudome, who’s a hell of a ballplayer. Of course, when he didn’t turn into Mickey Mantle the Chicago press dumped all over him. But when you compare him with, say, this guy, you realize what you have. And fine, you can keep Soriano, so long as you realize who he is (and who, after all, would take his contract?), but understand that he only has about three holes in his swing (an outside slider, an inside slider, a high fastball). I would trade Bradley (if you can), despite the paltry return he’s likely to bring on the market — because the last thing any team needs is a head case.

And that’s the biggest problem with the Cubs. No fan, anywhere, wants to believe that their team doesn’t give a damn. And certainly that’s not the case with the Cubs. Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano want to win as much as the next guy — maybe even more. But that’s not the perception among a lot of Cubs fans, and it’s not the perception among fans of the game outside of Chicago. The Cubs-as-headcase has come to define the franchise. That’s the truth. And there’s only one way to change that perception. Clear the deck, get rid of the deadwood, the old, the slow, the head cases — and to keep the team’s youngest, toughest and most highly motivated players. No matter what their statistics. That means changing the franchise face from Milton Bradley to Sam Fuld. It means keeping a .283 hitter with no pop and no experience  — and trading a grizzled veteran with a high OBP. Because sometimes perception is reality – the kid who gives a damn is a hell of a lot more valuable than the veteran who doesn’t. And that’s always true. No matter what the stats say.

Sam Fuld

Sam Fuld

Rockies Swat Nats

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

It was a lot worse than it looked. The Washington Nationals lost their second in a row at home to the resurgent Colorado Rockies Wednesday night, but the game was not as close as the 5-4 score would indicate. That the Nats were even in the game in the 8th inning has to be accounted as a kind of miracle, particularly after Nats’ pitchers gave up a total of ten walks in the game — four of them to Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. The evening began when Nats starter Collin Balester walked the first three Colorado batters — Carlos Gonzalez, Derek Fowler and Helton — before giving up a double to Rockies’ shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Balester then walked Brad Hawpe, before getting out of the inning: Ian Stewart and Clint Barmes flew out and Balester struck out Chris Ianetta.

Balester’s ineffectiveness led to his early departure (1.1 innings pitched, five walks, three hits and three earned runs), but the Colorado walk-a-thon continued. While Saul Rivera proved effective against a stacked Colorado line-up (he gave up one run in 3.2 innings of work), he walked two before being relieved by lefty Ron Villone (who also walked two).  Jorge Sosa entered the game and promptly walked the first batter he faced — third baseman Ian Stewart.  The Nats, meanwhile, were mounting a comeback, thanks to Colorado’s inability to drive stranded runners to the plate (they left an astounding 12 men on base for the game). The Nat’s fifth inning was key in the comeback, when the team was improbably sparked by a two out rally that featured a triple, single, double, and Adam Dunn infield single. But Washington couldn’t match the Colorado attack, nor reattach the wheels that had fallen off Balester. While the Nats mounted another attack in the seventh, the rally was cut short when Adam Dunn couldn’t replicate the clutch infield single that had brought runners home in the fifth. 

Rallies in the fifth and seventh fell short as the Nats fell to Colorado, 5-4 (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

Rallies in the 5th and 7th fell short; Nationals fell to Rockies on Wednesday(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

After the game, interim manager Jim Riggleman praised the bullpen and the team. “I said it before, but I love working with this group. They get after it,” he said. “They are playing hard. They are playing clean baseball. They are fun to manage. They want to win that ballgame. They enjoy playing this competition which will be playoff bound.” Riggleman has it right: if this had been May or June, the Rockies would have piled on and the Nats would have faded. It’s a different team now, and the evidence is obvious on the field. Even so,  Riggleman and McCatty have to be concerned with the walks issued on Wednesday, especially to regulars who are known as free-swingers.

Like Todd Helton, with all of 58 base-on-balls all year. If the Rockies have a franchise player, it is Helton, a genuine superstar who is probably headed to the hall of fame. But at 35, Helton’s best years are behind him: his power numbers have fallen (he has only 11 homers this year) and last year he was hobbled by injuries — the first chink in his otherwise  impregnable armor. But the Nats pitched him like he was Babe Ruth, serving up 19 balls against eight strikes and walking him in the first, second, fourth and eighth innings.

Todd Helton Three

Helton provides an interesting story. The Knoxville, Tennessee high school baseball and football star was offered $450,000 by the San Diego Padres to pass up college and start a professional career, but Helton turned them down. He was a good enough football player to play for the Tennessee Vols and was slated to take over the starting QB slot for them when their regular starting quarterback got injured during his junior year. But Helton was also hobbled (by a gimpy knee), so he gave way to a bright young freshman who, Helton remembers, everyone knew was the team’s quarterback of the future — Peyton Manning.  Helton was drafted eighth overall by the Rockies in 1995 and arrived in the majors in 1997. In 1998 he was a regular. In 2000, his best year, he led the league in hits, doubles, RBIs and batting average. He flirted for a time with the triple crown — he hit 42 home runs.

Dusty Baker’s Boys Dropkick Nats

Friday, August 14th, 2009

After losing the second of two in Atlanta (final score: 6-2), the Washington Nationals had high hopes of rediscovering their winning ways in Cincinnati, where the struggling Redlegs are trying to decide whether to wave the white flag or make one last run at the wild card. Sadly for the Nats, Thursday night’s contest was among the most lopsided defeats the Anacostia nine has suffered this year, if not in number of runs scored (or not scored, as the case may be), then at least psychologically.  This seemed a reversion to earlier times, when nothing worked. The Nats’ were held to two hits in their 7-0 loss at the hands of Redlegs, making starter Bronson “Bongwater” Arroyo look like Johnny Vander Meer. Arroyo, with a lackluster 4.74 ERA, is now 11-11. He was all smiles after the game.

While Nats’ fans decry the lack of starting pitching (inaugurated by John Lannan’s blow-up on Tuesday), and the woes in the bullpen (which collapsed in the loss to the Braves on Wednesday), they can now add another factor to the list of complaints: the Nats have scored three runs in three games — and they’re lucky it wasn’t worse. That’s three up and three down: no pitching, no relief pitching, no hitting. Arroyo, a semi-rock star with his own album and a sometime guitarist with the Quincy Massachusetts-based punk rock band Dropkick Murphys, looked untouchable, while Nats’ pitcher Collin Balester looked shakey. At best. Balester, now 1-2 with an even 6.00 ERA, threw strikes: but not many of them moved. The hero for the Reds was Jonny Gomes — a light hitting part-time former Tampa Bay Ray, who hit three home runs: two off of Balester, one off of Jason Bergman. If Arroyo looked like Johnny Vander Meer, Gomes looked like Vada Pinson.

Guitarist Arroyo and groupie

Guitarist Arroyo and groupie

For the first time in two weeks, Washington manager Jim Riggleman was clearly irritated, his mouth set and voice rising during post-game interviews. The Nats played poorly and Rigglemam told them so in a clubhouse meeting after the Reds recorded the last Nats’ out. “You look flat when you get two hits and you don’t have many baserunners,” Riggleman said. “You have to create some energy. You have to be hustling down the line. You have to be running balls out. You hit fly balls, you have to round the bag hard.” The Nats face off against the Reds again tomorrow at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park.

Defanged

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

The Washington Nationals won their six straight game, coming from five runs down to beat Jon Garland and the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-6 on Friday night at Nationals Park. The Nats were keyed by Josh Willingham’s seventh inning bases-loaded single that put the Nats up 7-5. The Nats won despite another poor outing for their starter. Collin Balester started the game, but gave up five runs on eight hits to the rattlers in a little over four innings. Once again the Nationals were able to overcome the deficit because of the hot bats in the middle of their line-up; Ryan Zimmerman hit his 24th home run, Willingham went 3-4, and Elijah Dukes had three RBIs. The Nats’ bullpen had another strong outing, reversing the team’s early season trend. Returning reliever Saul Rivera — just recalled to the big club from Syracuse — pitched one-and-two-thirds solid innings and Mike “Heart Attack” MacDougal faced eight batters to get the last five outs. MacDougal, whose control seems always suspect, earned his eleventh save.

The Showboats, riding a five game winning streak, provided most of the game’s early fireworks, touching Balester for three home runs — by Mark Reynolds, Josh Whitesell and Stephen Drew. Balester admitted after the game that he was leaving the ball up in the strike zone. “The starting staff knows that it has to give the offense and the bullpen a little bit of a break,” Balester added. “The bullpen has been great and the offense has been great. John Lannan has been consistent all year, but the rest of us need to step up and go deeper in the ballgames. We know that.” Elijah Dukes had another stellar outing: with a second inning sacrifice fly to score the Nats’ first run and the doubling off the wall in the fourth inning. Dukes eventually scored on a Wil Nieves sacrifce fly.

MacDougal, who had appeared in four of the last five Nats’ games was called on early (after one out in the eighth inning) by interim manager Jim Riggleman. “I had an off day yesterday, so it was good,” MacDougal said after the game. “I was trying to get quick outs.” The hard-luck MacDougal seems to have hit his stride: the former Kansas City and Chicago White Sox reliever has thrown nearly 33 innings in 35 games for the Nats, recording eleven saves in 12 opportunities. The former Wake University star’s best year was 2003, when he registered 24 saves for the Kansas City Royals by mid-season and appeared in the all-star game. MacDougal has had to battle through some tough times in his career: he was struck by a bat and lost feeling in his right arm in 2001, lost his relief job with the Royals after battling the flu in 2004, and battled injuries while with the Pale Hose in 2006. He was released by the White Sox and signed a minor league deal with the Nationals last May.

"Heart Attack" MacDougal now has 11 save

"Heart Attack" MacDougal now has 11 saves

Nats Sink Pirates

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Collin Balester pitched five-and-two-thirds innings of five hit ball and Josh Willingham homered and doubled, as the Nats took the third game of a four game set in Pittsburgh by a score of 5-3. The game gave Jim Riggleman a chance to try out a new infield set, playing Ronnie Belliard at first in place of the traded Nick Johnson. The eleven year veteran responded by going 2-4. Prior to the game, Riggleman had told Belliard he would be playing because he always hit well against Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm. Nats fans can expect to see more of Belliard at first, even though he has only played 46 of his 1278 games at the position. On Saturday, Riggleman featured a new Nats’ outfield, switching Willingham back to left, his regular position, and putting recently recalled Elijah Dukes in right. Dukes was in right again on Sunday. Since returning from Syracuse, Dukes is 1-7. While Willingham was the hero of the Sunday match-up, Balester’s solid outing solidified his place in the rotation — at least for the time being. Balester threw 85 pitches, 55 for strikes. He walked two and struck out three.

Josh Willingham celebrates with teammate Ryan Zimmerman after hitting a two-run homer of Paul Maholm in Pittsburgh(Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Willingham hits a two-run homer in Pittsburgh (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

What The Hell Is A Pierogi? Okay, for those of you who are wondering, a Pierogi is a dish of slavic origin consisting of boiled dough stuffed with various ingredients. You would know that if you were from Bulgaria, I assume, or Serbia, but for all the rest of us the PNC Park “Great Pierogi Race” is confusing. We all know who Tom and George and Abe and Teddy are, but a pierogi? The Curse of Bonds — a Pittsburgh Pirates blog — suggests that the PNC Park “Great Pierogi Race” is not so great, though it’s immensely popular. His reasoning is that a lot of Pirates’ fans leave the game right after the race because they really come to PNC to see the pierogies, and not the team. Besides, he says, by the time of the race the Pirates are already losing.

For those of you who are wondering, eastern Pennsylvania was the chosen destination (think about that for a minute) for eastern Europeans in the late 19th century. They brought their traditions with them — including their little sacks of dough filled with . . . whatever. There are four kinds of pierogies in the PNC race: green-hatted Jalapeño Hannah, Cheese Chester (in yellow), Sauerkraut Saul (in red) and Oliver Onion, in purple. Potato Pete, a once popular pierogi, is now out of the race. The Pierogies (the plural of pierogi is not pierogae) come into the game from right field and race to the visiting dugout. At the end of the year the wins and losses are tallied and a champion is declared.

Pirates fans might love the pierogies, but Pirates bloggers are much more concerned about the avalanche of trades launched by Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington over the last two years. Surprisingly, considering the depth of talent that Huntington has unloaded, Matt Bandi of “Pittsburgh Lumber” likes the deals: “I am champing at the bit to start looking at the potential 2011 and 2012 teams,” he says. But Jake over at Bucco Blog is despondent. His take on the Huntington and the Pirates reflects the impatient fanbase — which is tired of the front offices’ endless rebuilding efforts. He has a point. The Pirates haven’t won anything of consequence since 1992, the last time they were in the NLCS. Over the last two years, the Pirates have dealt the following players: Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, Xavier Nady, John Grabow and Tom Gorzalanny, Nyjer Morgan, Sean Burnett, Ian Snell, Adam LaRouche, Damaso Marte, Ronny Paulino, and Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez — among others. That’s an entire outfield, one of the best double play combinations in baseball, a starting catcher, four solid relievers, a major league starter and a first baseman.

Yikes.

Pirates GM Neal “the deal” Huntington has taken a lot of heat for the trades, and for continuing the Pittsburgh tradition of tearing down without really allowing the team to mature. The average age of those traded is 28 — just when major leaguers are starting to get their spurs. Huntington’s defense, issued after the Wilson and Sanchez “twin killings,” is that Pirates’ fans don’t want to come out to cheer for one or two good players. They want a good team. Most recently, Huntington has not taken the criticism well — he has sounded dismissive, defensive and angry. That’s probably understandable: he’s under a lot of pressure to produce. And he knows it. “We are making these difficult and unpopular decisions because we are trying to create a winner,” he said. “We don’t feel like we’ve broken up the 1927 Yankees.”

Yeah, right. And Jason Bay isn’t Babe Ruth. But the Red Sox will take him anyway.

Jason Bay

Nats Sting Brewers (Again)

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Nyjer Morgan led off Tuesday’s game with a home run and the Nats then added two more (on round-trippers by Adam Dunn and Cristian Guzman) to take the second of four games from the Milwaukee Brewers, 8-2. Morgan continues to swing the hot bat — despite predictions that he will eventually cool off. Morgan seems to have found his role in Washington: an overachieving sparkplug on an underachieving team, playing in a position usually reserved for power hitters and superstars. Collin Balester pitched well, if not spectacularly, to take the win: six complete innings with five hits, no walks and three strikeouts. Balester’s outing now seems standard for Nats’ starters: low strikeouts but few walks with fastballs in the low 90s. Jason Bergman, Logan Kensing and Ron Vallone went the rest of the way, holding the beer makers to just one hit over three innings. The win is the Nats fourth in a row.

Chico Harlan over at Nationals Journal gives a rundown of what the Nats might or might not do with a little over 24 hours to go until the trade deadline. The front line of Willingham, Dunn and Johnson are hitting well in July and the team is performing — and with the McCoveys and Red Sox having traded for a first baseman, the market for Nick Johnson may be dry. Harlan has published an interesting exchange with reliever Joe Beimel, who praises Jim Riggleman for instilling a new work ethic in the clubhouse. “It’s been fun coming to the field the last couple weeks,” Beimel said. “Since Riggleman took over, I think you’ve seen an attitude change in the clubhouse. Guys recognize they have to come in early and do work to get better, and they’ve been doing that. It’s been actually pretty fun. It’s been fun to come here, be in every game, and even win a few.” Beimel is rumored to be on the radar of the North Side Drama Queens, who are in talks with the Ahoys about reliever John Grabow. If the Cubs don’t get Grabow, they may work hard to get Beimel, who’s been solid out of the pen for the Nats. Wouldn’t it be nice for Mike Rizzo to get someone who could fill-in up the middle (and push the badly slumping Alberto Gonzalez)? Someone like say . . . Mike Fontenot, who is now being platooned with newly acquired Jeff Baker. Truth is, the Cubs would never part with him for Beimel, and Lou loves Fontenot, despite the former LSU star’s struggles at the plate.

Is Joe Headed to the Cubs?

Is Joe Headed to the Cubs?

A Rose By Any Other Name: During the Nats’ series with the Mets, MASN analyst Rob Dibble referred to a heater that fooled a Chokes’ batter as a “Blue Bayou.” As in — “that one blew by you.” I immediately sprinted to that handy tome on baseball phrases, but couldn’t locate Dibble’s reference. It wasn’t there. ‘Aha,’ I thought. ‘A crack in the otherwise rock solid ediface of Dickson baseball expertise.’ I wrote to the author yesterday (now officially promoted to the position of “droog”) to issue a soft comeuppance. The author informed me that a “Blue Bayou” (fastball) is referenced in his dictionary as a “Linda Ronstadt” — who sang, ah, “Blue Bayou.” Paul then referenced a “Peggy Lee fastball” – “Is that all there is?” The “Peggy Lee” was the specialty of Tug McGraw, who threw his heater and then took about 10 mph off of it . . . But having promoted Paul I am now going to demote him (from “droog” to just plain old “friend”) for reminding me that my reference to a “Bugs Bunny change-up” in a previous post was incorrect. It is not “Bugs” who swings at the pitch, but who delivers it. Well, okay. But I don’t count that as a strikeout; it’s more like a pop-up. So now, lemmeaskya, how many other baseball blogs can boast a pic of Linda Ronstadt?

Linda

Down On Half Street: Cole Hamels appears to be all the way back. The former dominant lefty faced off against the Showboats’ Dan Heren last night and, with the help of an umping call on a scorcher down the rightfield line (which should have been called foul), tamed the D-Backs. Hamels’ went eight innings and gave up only four hits . . . The Cubs and Astros have been hit by a series of unforseen injuries. Cubs’ starter Ted Lilly is on the DL after having knee surgery and “Stros” stopper Roy Oswalt tweaked his back during the Houston nine’s win against the Slugs . . . Mark Buehrle continues to dominate. Last night he set a major league record for consecutive outs — with 45 — shattering the record held by teammate Bobby Jenks and former San Francisco starter and reliever Jim Barr. While his statistics don’t show it, Barr was one hell of a pitcher. For a time in the early 1970s, his control was among the best in baseball. I remember watching him against Pittsburgh in 1973 and was stunned by his pin-point command. I could have sworn, then, that he would develop into the best pitcher in the game. It was not to be. Barr’s best year was 1974; he was 13-9 and threw eleven complete games and five shutouts. Barr developed arm problems in 1980 and was out of baseball in 1983. He has been pitching coach with the Sacramento State University Hornets since 1995.

Redbirds Swamp Nats

Friday, July 24th, 2009

The St. Louis Cardinals dominated the Washington Nationals in a rain-shortened contest at Nationals Park. The six inning 4-1 loss snapped the Nats’ two game winning streak in a game that was postponed on May 3. Collin Balester, pitching for the injured Jordan Zimmermann (placed on the 15 day disabled list for precautionary reasons), lasted just three innings before being relieved by a surprisingly ineffective Tyler Clippard. Clippard, who had pitched well in three previous relief appearances, gave up three hits and walked two in two innings, before giving way to Ron Villone. Surprisingly, the Nats outhit the Cardinals, 8-6, but were only able to account for one run before the game was called. The game will go into the books as a six inning St. Louis win. The game was delayed twice, for two hours and forty-six minutes, before being ended. Redbirds’ starter Adam Wainwright posted his eleventh win against six losses.

Rained Out At Nats Park (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Rained Out At Nats Park (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

More On Buehrle’s Masterpiece: MLB Network commentators parsed White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle’s perfect game, estimating that he faced twenty-seven Tampa Bay Rays’ batters in 32 minutes in a game that lasted a total of two hours and three minutes. That means that the Rays were on the field nearly three times as long as the Pale Hose. Buehrle is among the league’s fastest workers on the mound. In Thursday’s game he threw first pitch strikes nearly 70 percent of the time. Normally a flyball pitcher, Buehrle mixed his fastball with his change-up, registering eleven groundouts and ten flyouts. He threw 116 pitches, 76 of them for strikes and faced nine batters, each of them three times. The lefthanded Buehrle was particularly effective in spotting his pitches on the outside half of the plate. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Buehrle spent less than thirty seconds in retiring eight batters that he faced and spent just two minutes and thirty seconds on only two batters that he faced. Put another way, Buehrle dominated a hot Tampa Bay Rays team that ranks third in the American League in batting average and runs. Almost forgotten in Buehrle’s performance was the fact that the White Sox won, with John Fields plating a grand slam.

MBCWS

“I never thought I’d throw a no-hitter, never thought I’d throw a perfect game and I never thought I’d hit a home run,” Buehrle said. “Never say never in this game because crazy stuff can happen.” Buehrle threw his first no hitter against the Texas Rangers in 2007 and hit a home run against the Brewers in June. Buehrle’s first no hitter against the Rangers was nearly a perfect game: in April of 2007 he pitched to 27 Rangers, but walked Sammy Sosa, whom he then picked off. “I can’t believe I did it,” Buehrle said at the time. “Perfect game would have been nice, too.” Oddly, the 2007 Texas game registered the same game time as the perfect game Buehrle pitched on Thursday — two hours and three minutes. But Thursday’s perfecto would not have registered as “perfect” (or even a no hitter or shutout) if it had not been for Dewayne Wise’s ninth inning over-the-fence grab of a  Gabe Kapler drive. Randy Johnson, then with the Arizona Diamondbacks, pitched the last MLB perfect game, on May 18 2004.

There has been one other perfect game thrown by a White Sox pitcher. On April 30, 1922, slow curveball specialist Charlie Robertson blanked the Detroit Tigers, 2-1, in Detroit. Robertson was the fifth major league pitcher to throw a perfect game and the first to throw one on the road. The Tigers complained to umpires that Robertson, an otherwise ineffective pitcher (he never won more games than he lost) doctored the ball while on the mound. Tiger players insisted on submitting several game balls to the major league front office after Robertson’s masterpiece, claiming they showed evidence of tampering — but the charges were never proved. The Tigers, like the Rays, had a powerful line-up, which included Ty Cobb and Harry Heilman (an outfielder-first baseman and lifetime .342 hitter). Robertson pitched his perfect game in Tiger Stadium (then Navin Field) before it was enclosed by outfield bleachers, with fans along the outfield grass roped off from the field of play. This led to a number of disputed calls, which went in Robertson’s favor. Robertson’s arm was never the same after he threw his perfect game, though he went on to pitch another seven years in the majors. Robertson died in his native Texas at the age of 88.