Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Who's up first?

As far as controversies go, this one won’t be screaming from the back pages any time soon. Actually, it’s could hardly be called a controversy at all. It’s just a matter of writing one ballplayer’s name higher on a list and moving another one a little further down.

You know, it’s not really that big of a deal in the scheme of things.

But around here we have a way of making things a bigger deal than they really are or need to be. That’s just what we do. It’s especially the case when the brewing controversy in question has been something writers, radio-types and fans have all been talking about for the past few years and it seems as if it has finally come to a point where a decision will be made.

Will Bobby Abreu become the Phillies’ leadoff hitter? Better yet, should anyone other than Jimmy Rollins be the team’s first hitter in the batting order?

Yeah, not exactly a deep, philosophical head-scratcher when one thinks about it.

But, you know, lets just talk about it one more time right here.

As everyone who follows the Phillies closely knows, Rollins has been the club’s primary leadoff hitter since he broke into the Major Leagues in late 2000. Diminutive and as quick as fox in a hen house, Rollins grew up in Oakland, Calif. idolizing Rickey Henderson. It just so happens that Henderson was the greatest leadoff man the game as even known, who would do anything he could in order to get on base. In fact, toward the end of his career when he could no longer get the bat around on a fastball, Henderson still rated amongst the league leaders in walks, and on-base percentage.

Long before on-base percentage was the trendy statistic, Henderson knew that if he could get on base his team had a better chance to win.

But unlike Henderson, Rollins does not possess the attributes that a top-notch, top-of-the-order man needs. Rollins likes to swing the bat and put the ball in play and as a result, the amount of times he gets on base depends on whether or not he gets a hit – that’s something only the most elite players do once every three times at-bat. So because of Rollins’ penchant for swinging the bat and not drawing walks, he and his .317 on-base percentage isn’t very good. Actually, when the first guy in the batting order fails to get on base close to 70 percent of the time, the team suffers.

But manager Charlie Manuel is stubborn. Even though there is an alternative, Manuel remains loyal to writing Rollins’ name at the top of his lineup card. Why not Abreu?

"Sometimes you have to show confidence in a guy, show him you believe in him," Manuel told reporters last weekend, noting that Rollins is the team’s only legitimate base-stealing threat.

Loyalty is an admirable trait. Often, showing loyalty to another person is the best characteristic there is. Yet at the same time, loyalty can also be a detriment. It can provide one with a false sense of security and maybe even apathy when tenacity and the fear of reprisal would be more apt. This isn’t to say that Rollins has become soft or apathetic in his role as the leadoff hitter, it’s just that maybe Manuel needs an intervention to help him cutoff his devotedness.

Perhaps the manager could grow to show that same steadfastness to Abreu?

With his .455 on-base percentage – which rates right up there with the game’s elite – as well as his uncanny patience at the plate, Abreu appears to be the ideal candidate to leadoff for the Phillies.

"The reason I like Bobby third is he is hitting with runners in scoring position and puts up some big numbers," Manuel explained to reporters last weekend. "What does a leadoff hitter have to do? He has to have a good on-base percentage. He has to get on base a lot. But what does the No. 3 hitter do? He's supposed to get on base, too. He's definitely one of our best hitters in the lineup. If my best hitter hits with guys in scoring position and he's a doubles and home run hitter, am I strong enough to put him in the leadoff spot? That's it more than anything."

Manuel’s theory just might be right on. After all, a quick glance at the league leaders in on-base percentage shows that only handful of the top 40 leadoff for their teams. The top guys – Barry Bonds, Abreu, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Jason Bay – all bat in the middle of the order.

Besides, Tuesday night’s game-winning rally was sparked by Rollins – again at the top of the order after a three-game hiatus – getting things started with a single and Abreu bashing a three-run homer.

If the Phillies keep doing that there will be no controversy at all… at least not about the batting order.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Everybody's workin' for the weekend

Another weekend, another big series for the Phillies. Actually, make that two big series in a row. The reason why the three games against the Brewers and Nationals are so important -- aside from the obvious for a 24-22 club standing four games off the pace in the NL East at Memorial Day weekend -- is that after this set of games ends, the Phillies hit the road for 11 games in a row.

Either way, I'm going to miss the series vs. the Brewers, but more on that later. For now, lets chat about Bobby Abreu's defense during the series against the Mets. Or perhaps more appropriately, how about his lack of defense?

For years now, fans, commentators, and the press have been quite critical of Abreu's defense. Actually, critical would be nice. But it's not wrong.

Abreu mishandled two balls hit near the rightfield fence this week that proved to be costly to the Phillies. One play, a drive off Jon Lieber on Tuesday night, resulted in ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk to say on Daily News Live that someone on the team should confront Abreu.

Maybe that's what "Gold Glover" Abreu needs when his defense appears as disinterested as it was this week. But to suggest that Abreu should "run into the wall" is just silly. It just isn't going to happen (and who wants the best hitter on the team injured), just like Abreu hitting leadoff is not going to happen.

ed. note: Looks like it could happen based on the reports from Shea. Looks like I'm wrong and Bobby is ready to slide up the batting order.

Nevertheless, there was a time when Abreu played inspired defense. He ran down fly balls with reckless abandon and displayed a strong right arm that kept runners in check. But in July of 2000, Abreu went into the wall for a flyball at Yankee Stadium and came out of the play a little banged up. He didn't miss any games from that crash landing, but he has shied away from all contact since.

But he can still hit.

As far as the leadoff stuff goes, there was a stretch of 19 games during the 2000 season (Aug. 20 to Sept. 9) when Terry Francona put Abreu at the top of the order and just let him go. The numbers from those 19 games?

AB - 71
R -12
H- 22
RBI - 11
2B - 4
3B - 1
HR - 5
SB - 4
BB - 18
K - 13
AVG - .310
OBP - .449

Those numbers look like someone who can handle the leadoff spot. Who knows, maybe Abreu was Rickey Henderson all along?

Yeah, but can it tie my shoes?
Nike and iPod announced that it has joined forces to create a new wireless system that allows your spefically desgned Nike running shoe to communicate with your iPod to give pertinent feedback such as distance travelled, pace and calories burned. Not only will it record the information on your iPod, but also it will speak to you and tell you exactly what you are doing.

More than that, later you can hook your iPod up to Nike's web site to keep track of your workouts.

So much for the old running log or getting in the car to drive off your mileage.

The shoes ($100 to $129) and the wireless unit ($29) hit the market in July with the Nike Zoom Moire with more models to follow. There will also be other Nike+iPod accessories, too, such as spefically designed outer wear that will hold your devices and cords to keep your hands free.

Interestingly, according to business writer Darren Rovell, Nike's stock jumped up two percent after the announcement of the new products.

Needless to say, I know people who will buy this, and it's hard to deny the coolness factor of this gadget. In fact, I would hop on board if I didn't have to wear the Nikes.

Now I have nothing against Nike (aside from the reported sweatshops, of course) and as a one-time competitive runner just out of retirement (or a five-year hiatus... that sounds better) I wear Nike clothes for workouts and dare anyone to find a finer marathon racer than the steady and austere Mariah. But as long as adidas continues to make the Ozweego trainer, Phil Knight and Steve Jobs won't be able to send me any subliminal messages.

In July of 1996 I got my first pair of Ozweegos and haven't worn anything else since. This weekend I'll wear a pair of Ozweegos in the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, Vermont as I travel with friends John May and Luke Smith as they take their maiden voyage over 26.2 miles.

It will be No. 12 for me, but the first one since the 2001 Boston Marathon. So instead of Phillies vs. Brewers over a holiday weekend, we're going for self-imposed discomfort.

Perhaps we'll be able to check in at some point this weekend or at least provide all sorts of updates, if not, enjoy the weekend, the baseball, and the holiday.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Finale at Shea

The first thing that the writers noticed when they walked into that tiny visitors clubhouse at Shea Stadium was the lineup posted on the wall near the door. I guess it's easy to figure out what was so noticeable:

1.) Victorino, cf
2.) Utley, 2b
3.) Abreu, rf
4.) Burrell, lf
5.) Howard, 1b
6.) Rollins, ss
7.) Bell, 3b
8.) Ruiz, c
9.) Myers, p

Before the game manager Charlie Manuel said he had trouble deciding whether or not to move struggling Jimmy Rollins out of the leadoff spot, but really, how tough of a choice could it have been? Sure, loyalty to your players is an important thing, but Rollins has not been very good this month as evidenced by his .212 batting average and .302 on-base percentage.

Interestingly, Rollins has a modest, five-game hitting streak going -- and he started his epic, 38-gamer last August amidst similar circumstances. In fact, I recall sitting in the squalid press box at RFK writing about the beginnings of Rollins' hitting streak where his batting average actually dropped in the first dozen games or so.

But I digress.

Here's the thing: just like with Cole Hamels and his injuries, Jimmy Rollins will forever be plunked atop of his team's batting order even though his game doesn't suit that style. He's far too impatient -- averaging just 3.44 pitches per plate appearance -- with a .309 on-base percentage.

So rather than beat a dead horse regarding Rollins in the leadoff spot, perhaps this is the best justification for Charlie's move:

Of all the players on the Phillies -- excluding the pitchers -- only Sal Fasano, Abraham Nunez and Carlos Ruiz have a lower on-base percentage than Rollins.

That can't be your leadoff guy.

So who can?
Good question. Obviously, Bobby Abreu with his gaudy offensive numbers seems like a perfect candidate, but that's not going to happen so just get it out of your mind.

How about Aaron Rowand? He was a leadoff hitter for a time with the White Sox until they got Scott Posednick. Chase Utley? He doesn't strike out that much and he really knows how to play the game.

Anyone else? OK, anyone else other than Abreu?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I hate to say I told you so, but...

Yeah, yeah no one likes a smart guy -- especially one who rubs it in and gloats. Then again, there really isn't much need to gloat when my solid premise about Cole Hamels and his durabilty is just a few posts down. There was no way he could go an entire season without breaking down, it says.


There's no reason why he should have started the seventh inning in his last start when it took him 90 pitches to get through six.

But of course hindsight is always 20-20 and there is no pleasure taken out of another man's pain. That's especially the case when the guy in question is so much fun to watch.

Nevertheless, Cole Hamels, the Phillies' super phenom, is sitting inNew York and watching the ballgame on the newest Comcast SportsNet (shameless plug) after he felt a pop and some soreness in his left shoulder while throwing before Tuesday night's game at Shea. In fact, Hamels was probably watching last night's game on Comcast SportsNet since he went back to Philly during the game, but we'll touch on that in a moment. Let's deal with Hamels first.

To say that Hamels in injury prone or delicate would be like saying Michael Jordan was a pretty good basketball player. Yes, it's correct, but there's a lot more to it than that. The Phillies, or whomever Hamels ends up pitching for through his days in the Major Leagues, will have to just accept routine stints on the disabled list like the one Hamels is going through now.

The good news is that this injury doesn't sound too serious -- at least based on the following paragraphs from the Phillies' official statement. To wit:

The diagnosis [strained left shoulder] came following an examination by Phillies team physician Dr. Michael Ciccotti and an MRI at the Rothman Institute at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

According to Dr. Ciccotti, the MRI revealed no structural damage to his shoulder. Hamels will be treated medically and through an exercise program.

The other piece of good news is already known -- Hamels is tough. Oh sure, he looks like a movie star, and probably needs a Roger Clemens-esque workout regime (who doesn't?), but this kid has... how can we say this without being vulgar... cojones. Big ones. He is the opposite of his pal Gavin Floyd in that he pitches and plays without self-doubt or fear. In a sense, Hamels is a lot like the pitching version of Chase Utley or Aaron Rowand.

But, that's the thing... those little aches and pains and the everyday rigors of professional baseball seem to take a much harsher toll on Hamels' body.

Oh yeah, we forgot to tell you...
The local scribes sitting in the old, cramped and uncomfortable press box at good ol' Shea showed up at the park at 3:30 p.m. yesterday. No surprise there, because that's what time writers always show up at the ballpark. The thing about that was that the game didn't end until after 12:30 a.m. and they were not told about Hamels' injury until after the game.

Hamels, as everyone knows now, was injured before the game.

So in the two hours from batting practice until game time and then the five-hours, 22-minutes it took to actually play last night's game, the Phillies did not think to inform the local press (and in turn, the fans) that Hamels had left the park to return to Philadelphia, and would not be pitching on Wednesday for close to 10 hours.


Yeah, I know. The fans aren't interested in the plight of the press. Though as an aside, it always interested me before I got into the business. Actually, I always found the entire soap opera interesting and looked at the writers as just as much a part of the show as the players, but that's me. But the problem seems to be with accountability. The writers are the pipeline to the fans. That's not something to take delicately by any group.

Now I didn't make the trip to Shea this week, which is a story to come later. Besides, there are two more trips to the most difficult ballpark to get to, as well as a full slate of trips during the month of June. Nevertheless, I'm usually just an IM or call away from constant comminique with the folks in the press box, so I'm pretty plugged in.

When I heard that the Phillies didn't reveal the injury until after the game, I figured the team was trying to conceal something from the Mets. Why let them know that the Kid isn't going to pitch. But then Mike Radano set me straight -- as he often does -- and told me my thinking was a bunch of hooey.

"Did they think maybe no one would notice Jon Lieber on the mound tomorrow?" Radano said and wrote in his blog.

Here's the thing -- general manager Pat Gillick has a good relationship with the writers, and everyone really seems to like him. Actually, he really is an impressive professional and I suppose he was just trying to protect his player.

It just turned a really long night into an even longer one.

Insert whiner/crybaby noise here.

News stuff
After firing seven innings starting in the ninth inning last night, Ryan Madson will take the ball on Sunday against Milwaukee. Gavin Floyd will start on Saturday.

I'm not basing this on anything, but I bet the Mets' trade for Orlando Hernandez (for Jorge Julio) from Arizona will trigger a few more deals in the NL East.

Is this turning into the Cole Hamels blog? Geez, isn't there anything else to write about?

Hamels placed on D.L.

more to come later, but here is the press release from the Phillies:

Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels has a strained left shoulder and has been placed on the 15-day disabled listed, retroactive to May 19, when he last pitched. He is eligible for reinstatement on June 3.

The diagnosis came following an examination by Phillies team physician Dr. Michael Ciccotti and an MRI at the Rothman Institute at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

According to Dr. Ciccotti, the MRI revealed no structural damage to his shoulder. Hamels will be treated medically and through an exercise program.

Hamels was scratched from tonight’s start in New York after experiencing “a couple of pops” in his left shoulder while playing long toss in the outfield at Shea Stadium before Tuesday’s game against the Mets.

Condrey purchased

To fill Hamels’ spot on the 25-man roster, the Phillies have recalled right-hander Clay Condrey from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (AAA). Condrey, 30, appeared in 3 games for the Phillies earlier this season. He allowed one earned run in 2.0 innings.

With Scranton, Condrey was 2-0 with one save a 1.09 ERA in 15 relief appearances. He leaves Scranton in the midst of a 20.0-inning scoreless streak (12 games).

Monday, May 22, 2006

Monday randomness

Things got pretty busy as they are wont to do during a weekend series against the Boston Red Sox, so this is my mea culpa for not offering any posts for a couple of days. I really wanted to, and certainly had plenty of stuff to write, but duty kind of called.

It happens.

So what was so interesting last weekend. Well, Tito Francona was in town, which is always a treat. If anyone deserves success in this game, Francona is up there at the top of the list. He certainly has sacrificed quite a bit during a long career as a player, coach, scout and manager.

Curt Schilling was back in town, too. He's gone now and certainly the scribes are much happier, though the TV-types kind of like him. In case anyone hasn't noticed, writers and TV folk are very different. One group works for a living and the other, well... they wear makeup.

Come on, it's a joke...

Anyway, everytime I see Schilling I think back to the June, 2004 series at Fenway when I asked a former Red Sox pitcher (he'll remain nameless, though these days he pitches for the Dodgers and had a really good 2004 post-season) if he knew where the "media-friendly" pitcher was.

"Just follow the cameras," that former Red Sox pitcher said.

As an aside, that trip to Fenway was one of the most fun (in a baseball and work sense) ever. Any trip to Baltimore and Clearwater rates really high, too, but that particular weekend in Boston was really good.

As another aside, trips to Washington, my former hometown, are always a blast, too, though that has nothing to do with the baseball. Put it this way: it's hard not to have fun in Washington.

Anyway, Schilling was up to his old, teasing, preening and flirtatious ways with the local TV types last weekend. He lead them on, danced around and pretended like he had soooooooo many important things to do. But in the end, did anyone really think he was going to turn away from a rolling TV camera? Curt Schilling?

Of course not.

The writers, for the most part, ignored Schilling. That story has been told too many times, thank you very much. Besides, as erstwhile scribe Dennis Deitch suggested, perhaps it was time for a statute of limitations on Schilling stories. If a player has been out of town for seven years, it's only proper to ignore him forever. After all, that's how the IRS works, right?

So yes, Schilling was in town.

Appropos of nothing: Does anyone out there have doubts about that bloody sock?

And David Wells was in Philadelphia, too. In fact, the always chatty and round lefty was in town long enough to kind of, sort of allude to an idea that Phillies' pinch hitter David Dellucci had used steroids. From watching and listening to Dellucci speak about the comments, it was very obvious that he was very hurt and disappointed with what Wells had to say.

Since I wrote it late on Saturday night when most people were out and about doing stuff or inside sleeping, here's a reprint of what went down:

Much ado about nothing?
During a pre-game conversation where he discussed everything from his upcoming minor-league rehab assignment, his age, and Barry Bonds’ 714th career home run, controversial Red Sox pitcher David Wells was his typical self. This time, though, Wells brought a former teammates and current Phillie into the mix.

While talking about baseball’s steroid controversy, Wells mentioned David Dellucci and the fact that the Phillies’ top pinch hitter has just one homer a season after stroking 29 a season ago for the Texas Rangers.

"You see a little bitty guy hitting 30 home runs, what, Dellucci, I guess?" Wells told reporters. "How many home runs did he hit last year? 29. Has he ever done that in his career? How many has he hit this year? So, the numbers have gone down tremendously since all this has come up. I know Dave, I've never suspected him of doing them."

After the game, a visibly upset Dellucci cleared his name.

“I've been tested. I've been tested this offseason. I've been tested a number of times last year,” Dellucci said. “I leave the stadium after midnight every night because I'm working out. I do that this year, and I did that in Texas.”

What Wells failed to mention is that Dellucci hit 29 homers last season in 128 games and 516 plate appearances in the hitter-friendly American League. That comes to a home run every 15 at-bats.

This season Dellucci has appeared in 34 games for 40 plate appearances primarily as a pinch hitter. If Dellucci hits a home run in his next time up, he will be averaging one home run for every 16 at-bats.

-- John R. Finger

The next day, Wells issued a kind of, sort of mea culpa through the Red Sox PR staff. Francona, in a classy move that shouldn't surprise anyone who knows him, offered an apology in person to Dellucci. Still, Dellucci was rightly still stinging from Wells' comment.

As far as the baseball stuff goes, this Red Sox club doesn't appear to be as strong as the one that stormed through Philadelphia last season, which, for me, was one of the best teams I have watched during my years on the job.

The others (in no particular order):
2001 New York Yankees
2001-02 Arizona Diamondbacks
2003 Seattle Mariners
2004 St. Louis Cardinals
2005 Boston Red Sox

Finally, Kevin Roberts of the Courier Post writes my new, favorite blog.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Observations for early Friday morning

Maybe this is just me -- and I really dislike second-guessing, but then again, that's what we do -- but I probably would have turned to the bullpen to start the seventh inning in yesterday's game vs. the Brewers.

Here's why: Cole Hamels was at 90 pitches after running a bunch of deep counts through the first six innings with a 4-1 lead. His strike to ball ratio, to be frank, was bad. Even more troubling was that Hamels' efficiency was so bad despite the fact that he had been the polar opposite during his quick run through the minors.

At the same time, after 35 minor league starts, Hamels reached the 100-pitch plateau just a handful of times. Sure, earlier this month he tossed 114 in a complete game shutout, but he was throwing strikes back then. Certainly at 90 pitches, the often delicate Hamels had put the Phillies just where they wanted to be where they could go Ryan Madson in the seventh, Arthur Rhodes in the eighth and Tom Gordon in the ninth.

That's how it was set up, right?

Of course there are reasons to allow Hamels to start the seventh, too. For one, he had been pitching well, probably felt good and 100 pitches isn't really that much. Why baby the kid -- he's in the big leagues now.

Besides, Madson, the demoted starter and now setup-to-the-setup man reliever, has looked lost on the mound in his last few outings. To use the old baseball writer cliché, Madson is a fireman whose best weapon is gasoline.

Precious, precious gasoline.

Anyway, perhaps we'll delve more into Madson's troubles tonight, because it's interesting since he is a pitcher who is pretty sharp and definitely gets it. But maybe he would have pitched better yesterday if he had started the inning instead of coming in with runners on base.

As an aside, Cole Hamels is really good.

Here come the Red Sox
This weekend is shaping up to be a pretty exciting one for baseball fans in Philadelphia. The Red Sox, one of the big-money, trendy glamor teams, have a tendency to put fannies in the seats. But more importantly, the series gives the Phillies a great opportunity to show which team they are.

You know, who they are with four months remaining in the season.

But after playing in a bunch of one-run and two-run games during the 3-3 road trip, in which the bullpen wasn't so great, clutch hits came in bunches in the late innings, Ryan Howard went to the hospital with food poisoning but still bashed a pair of homers to win a game, and Hamels made his much-anticipated debut, it should be interesting to see how this weekend shapes up.

Then they go to New York for three games against the Mets.

Thank you, sir, can I have another?
If you're like me, you drive a lot. Not because you want to, but because the office -- via the Turnpike and Expressway -- is roughly 85 miles away from home. That means money spend on gas can add up, so I refer to this site as much as possible, though some of the better (read: cheaper) gas stations are a bit out of the way.

Meanwhile, is it me or are hotel rates and airline fares up significantly this summer?

What's going on? Well, actually, it's not hard to figure out... I just don't want to say it out loud.

Those who can't do...
For the life of me, I never have been very good at fantasy baseball. I can't figure it out, either. I regularly talk to scouts and managers -- both general and field -- and think I have some pretty good insight on which players are regarded as "good" and which ones are not. Based on my insider info, I have put together a team over the past three years that looks good, at least according to traditional baseball folks, but I'm always in the second division of the league.

What's going on?

My guess is that I don't have enough statboy in me. I regard player who can actually play the game with more credence than the ones who simply post numbers. That's might be the way to build a winning baseball team, but not a make-believe one.

Just look at my roster:
P Akinori Otsuka, Tex
P Brad Lidge, Hou
P Francisco Rodriguez, Ana
P Jason Isringhausen, StL
P Trevor Hoffman, SD
P Tom Gordon, Phi
P Vicente Padilla, Tex
P Keith Foulke, Bos
P Bobby Jenks, ChW
P Noah Lowry, SF
P Roy Oswalt, Hou
P Cole Hamels, Phi

C Ivan Rodriguez, Det
1B Nick Johnson, Was
2B Jeff Kent, LA
3B Chipper Jones, Atl
SS David Eckstein, StL
OF Bobby Abreu, Phi OF
OF Torii Hunter, Min
OF Jermaine Dye, ChW
OF Jose Guillen, Was
OF Preston Wilson, Hou
2B/SS Craig Biggio, Hou
1B/3B Brandon Inge, Det
Util Wily Mo Pena, Bos
DL Jason Repko, LA

If anyone has any suggestions on how to get this club out of the cellar, send them in. I think my team might be getting old -- too many veterans, right?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Lieberthal update

It appears as if the Phillies are going to have to lean on minor-league lifer Carlos Ruiz and backup Sal Fasano a little more heavily than originally planned. The reason: an MRI revealed that Mike Lieberthal is pretty banged up.

According to the Phillies, an MRI on Lieberthal's injured left knee, suffered when he was hit by a pitch on May 4 from the Braves' John Thomson, confirmed a significant bone bruise and stable fracture of the bone. Fortunately for Lieberthal, all muscle, tendons and ligaments are in good shape. That's especially revealing since it was the ACL tear of Lieberthal's right knee that caused him to miss almost all of the 2001 season, and struggle through 2002.

Of course Lieberthal's age (he's 34, which, of course, is ancient) doesn't help him much either. Injury or not, Lieberthal's future as a catcher in the big leagues is definitely limited. Sure, he's incredibly fit thanks to a stringent workout plan and plenty of yoga, but the numbers don't lie. As catchers age and continue to squat behind the plate where they are prone to everyday dings, aches and pains, their production falls off. It's just an undeniable fact.

So while Lieberthal rejoins the team to continue his rehab plan with the hope of returning to the lineup in two more weeks, the fact is that the Phillies have a catching problem. Though the fans and certain elements of the local media are much less enamored of the two-time All-Star than his teammates, Lieberthal has always received high marks as a guy who always straps it on and plays through a lot of injuries. After his potentially career-ending injury suffered in Arizona in May of 2001, Lieberthal had never been on the disabled list until now.

Dependable, every day catchers do not grow on trees.

Neither do popular, dependable teammates. Lieberthal has always been a favorite of his teammates as well as a go-to guy for the writers, providing lots of straightforward answers and insight to the story behind the story. Plus, his teammates greatly admired the way Lieberthal took all of the slings and arrows -- fairly or unfairly -- sometimes secretly cast his way by former manager Larry Bowa and his pitching coach Joe Kerrigan in a not-so secret attempt to undermine and make a scapegoat out of the veteran.

Still, Lieberthal's skills have waned even though not as dramatically as some have advertised. In a perfect world, Lieberthal would be a perfect part-time catcher who primarily faced lefties and a few tough righties... that is if the Phillies had options other than Fasano or Ruiz.

Though popular with a little bit of power, Fasano's defensive skills aren't that great -- base runners have an easy time when he's behind the plate. Nor can he hit inside pitches. Ruiz, 27, was slow to develop but has been a decent hitter since his breakout season in 2004 for Double-A Reading. Plus, unlike Fasano, Ruiz is good defensively with a really strong arm. At the very least, Ruiz could be a capable backup Major League catcher for a few years.

Now all the Phillies need for 2006 and beyond is a solid catcher who can play at least 120 games, hit a little bit, and not carry a $7.5 million per season price tag. Then again, doesn't every team?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Don't Ask Rowand 'For Who? For What?'

”For who? For what?”
-- Ricky Watters, following a 21-6 loss to the Buccaneers on Sept. 3, 1995

In the moment, it seemed like an eternity. A gung ho ballplayer smashes face-first into an outfield wall, crumbles to the ground like… well, a guy who just ran face first into a wall. There was the moment where the centerfielder, almost in slow-motion, gamely held the ball aloft to show that he had, indeed, caught the ball after running full speed into the inanimate, pitiless barrier.

Within minutes, Aaron Rowand rolled over to all fours, bled all over the rubberized track lining the field, and was helped from the field by some paramedics to an ambulance waiting to rush him to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Center City. In that short time, Rowand went from just the very capable centerfielder that arrived in town as part of the Jim Thome deal to a cult hero.

And all it took was a face plant into an exposed metal bar, a broken nose that required surgery, stitches for his mouth and nose, a plastic splint to protect his still-tender nose, dark violet bruises ringing his eyes and cheeks, and two weeks on the disabled list.

Certainly within the throes of the situation, Rowand thought his daredevil act was precisely what needed to be done. With two outs and the bases loaded in the first inning of last Thursday’s game against the first-place New York Mets, Rowand chased down a sure game-breaking blast from Xavier Nady. But at the last minute, Rowand reached out as far as he could with his gloved hand, pulled the ball in, took a half step and crashed – nose first – into the exposed bar beneath the green padding near the 398-foot sign.

“I knew I was going to run into (the fence),” Rowand said during a meeting with the press on Monday afternoon in the basement conference room at Citizens Bank Park. “I saw it coming. It was a situation where the bases loaded with two outs and [pitcher] Gavin (Floyd) had been prone to giving up big innings so I knew I had to catch it.

“It's one of those things that happens. I needed to catch that ball in that situation. I've run into a lot of walls in my day, never with this consequence. But I knew I was going to run into it. That's just how I play the game.”

Obviously, the ever contrarian press wondered if such a valuable player like Rowand – who smacked three home runs, 10 RBIs and .333 batting average during a stretch in which the Phillies went 9-1 – should have thought twice before running into the wall. Wasn’t he more valuable to the team on the field than rolled up in a heap on the warning track with blood leaking from his face like water dripping from a faucet?

Shouldn’t a guy who once knocked himself out running into a cinderblock wall in college and separated his shoulder colliding with a wall in Chicago consider some… ahem, restraint?

Well, Aaron?

“That’s why [the critics] are sitting behind a desk or a microphone,” he said tersely with his purple-ringed eyes narrowing. “I enjoy doing what I’m doing and my teammates enjoy it, too. I want to win. That’s how I play. People can call me stupid. I don’t care. I’m sure the fans got a kick out of it and I know my teammates did. Think what you want – I’m here to play and play hard.”

That blood-and-guts style more than wins over the fans in town that often saves its affection for players that display grit than graceful skill. But Rowand is more than a battering ram. According to the number crunchers at Baseball Prospectus, Rowand’s catch certainly did save the game against the Mets. In fact, writes Clay Davenport, “The Catch,” as it’s now known, was equal to Rowand hitting two home runs.

Had Nady gotten a double or triple on that play, the Phillies would have had just a 30.8 percent chance to win the game based on Davenport’s situational data. But making the catch gave the Phillies nearly a 60 percent chance to win, Davenport writes.

In other words, for a team that missed the playoffs by one game a season ago and has not seen post-season baseball since 1993, The Catch could have some long-term effects.

“I think it can be contagious,” Rowand said of his all-out style. “I said it before about last year (when he was with the World Champion White Sox): When you have everybody playing together and pulling on the same end of the rope, it’s easy to win. You create your own bad hops.”

More importantly, Rowand answered a burning question that has plagued the sporting public in Philadelphia since it was first asked more than a decade ago.

“For who? My teammates. For what? To win,” Rowand said without hesitation or wavering. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Two days in Cincinnati

How about this: the Reds are 3-for-44 (.068) against the Phillies' starters in the first two games of the series. Better yet, in taking a perfect game through 6 2/3 innings and handling a pretty tough lineup like the Reds for nearly nine innings , it appears as if Jon Lieber has solved the problems that plagued him through the first month of the season.

Then again, Lieber said he was throwing the ball well even though the Phillies lost his first five starts.

Check out what he said after the loss in Denver on April 16: “You look at my stats and you'd think I'd been giving it up. I'm throwing the ball fine. There are no mechanical issues. I had a rough opening day, but I haven't been hit hard the last two starts.”

Or this one following the loss to the Marlins at the Bank on April 21: “Right now, I suck. Bottom line. I'm not getting the job done and it’s no one else’s fault by mine. I'm going to leave it at that. I'm going to keep trying and I put all these losses on me.”

And this after the April 27 loss to the Rockies in Philly: “I always felt like if you got to the seventh inning, you did your job. I just have to build off that.

“I can only get better.”

After posting this line (8 2/3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K, 110 pitches -- 83 strikes) vs. the Reds, there is nowhere to go but down. But that's OK.

After walking just one hitter in 23 innings and three starts for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, I thought this was an interesting quote from Cole Hamels following his debut in Cincinnati:

"The main thing I realized is that the strike zone definitely shrinks in the big leagues. You have to make quality pitches. It was definitely frustrating, because I'm not used to walking guys. I knew that to compete I was going to have to bear down and throw strikes."

This kid gets it. At 22, he's a real pro. He was that way last year at Reading -- he doesn't shrink from the attention.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Live blog of Hamels' debut

First inning
After stretching and seemingly trying to expel some of his nervous energy in the dugout while his team was batting, Cole Hamels finally made his Major League debut and quickly fell behind his first hitter, Ryan Freel, 2-0. But Hamels came back with a bunch of fastballs to make it 2-2 before throwing his trademarked changeup to get Freel to ground out to shortstop.

He battled with Felipe Lopez for eight pitches after falling behind 1-0 to get his first Major League strikeout, and then whiffed Ken Griffey Jr. on three straight pitches, including a 0-2 changeup that froze Griffey.

Griffey's expression when home-plate umpire Jim Reynolds rung him up looked as if he was saying, "What the hell was that?!"

Strike three, Griff.

0 hits, 16 pitches -- 12 strikes

Second inning
The first time I saw Hamels pitch? How about his debut in Reading on July 6, 2005.

Austin Kearns hits the first pitch to Pat Burrell in left for the first out. It seems as if maybe the Reds are looking for the first fastball they can handle to avoid falling behind the Kid...

So of course hard-hitting Adam Dunn walks on four pitches. Hamels walked just one hitter in 23 innings and three starts. Dunn took off on the first pitch when he was sure Hamels wasn't going to pay attention to him at first. Dunn swiped the bag, but catcher Carlos Ruiz showed off the canon he has for a right arm.

Gets Edwin Encarnacion to ground a 2-2 changeup to short for the second out. Dunn moves up to third. Then he walks Brandon Phillips on four pitches -- that's twice as many walks in one inning than in three starts in Triple-A. Clearly the kid must be a bit nervous.

Hamels walks Javier Valentin on a 3-2 changeup, which sends Rich Dubee charging out of the dugout. Ryan Howard joins the party at the mound and says something that maks Hamels smile. That moment of levity must have worked because Hamels whiffed Easy Ramirez on three straight pitches. Then again, Easy's front foot was halfway to the first-base dugout before the pitch was even delivered.

0 hits, 3 walks, 40 pitches -- 22 strikes.

Third inning

Hamels looks like he can swing the bat. Has a very athletic swing despite the three-pitch whiff in his first at-bat. He kind of hits like Steve Carlton, though he appears to be more athletic. The same thing goes for his delivery, except for his kick and where he transfers the ball from his glove to his pitching hand.

One pitch and one out in the second as Freel gounds to Utley at second. He then gets Lopez to pop to Bobby Abreu to right on the second pitch of the inning. Expect Griffey to look at a few in his AB...

How about that? Griffey walks on four pitches. Finally, he gets Austin Kearns to pop to short on a 2-1 pitch.

0 hits, 4 walks, 3 strikeouts, 51 pitches -- 26 strikes.

Fourth inning
I still remember the day when Easy Ramirez was called up from Single-A Clearwater to joing the Phillies during the 2004 season. That game was the first big-league game he had ever seen and he spent it in the bullpen. At the time I wrote that Ramirez would have been the team's top pitching prospect if not for all the hype surrounding Hamels and Gavin Floyd.

Ramirez was and is a strike-throwing machine. He doesn't walk too many hitters and usually has a low pitch count. Easy is the perfect nickname for him, too, since he is very affable and laidback. He thought it was really funny when I tried to speak Spanish to him.

Here's the story from that day.

Nonetheless, Ryan Howard gives Hamels some runs with a long homer to left-center to make it 2-0.

Dunn smacks a 3-1 pitch just short of the warning track in left field. Perhaps Hamels is settling in the second time through the order?

So how about a five-pitch walk to Encarnacion? There you go. One thing is for sure -- Hamels works fast and when he misses it's usually high with the fastball. Next, he whiffs Phillips on a 2-2 breaking pitch.

Finally, Hamels gets Valentin on a 2-2 change on the sixth pitch. He seems to have settled in.

0 hits, 5 walks, 5 strikeouts, 74 pitches -- 38 strikes.

Fifth inning
I wonder what cards were drawn for the press-box no-hitter pool?

Hamels whiffs Ramirez for his third strikeout in a row. He then gets ahead of Freel 0-2 before getting him to ground to Howard at first on a 2-2 pitch.

He misses badly on a few pitches to Lopez before he loops a 3-1 shot into center that Shane Victorino dives for but nabs on a short hop. That's the first hit vs. Hamels.

Griffey quickly falls behind 0-2 before Hamels gets him on a 1-2 change.

1 hit, 5 walks, 7 strikeouts, 92 pitches -- 51 strikes.

Sixth inning
This very well could be Hamels' last inning since his pitch count is so high and the fact that he has only six starts above Single-A. He also has never pitched a complete season as a pro, so it might be difficult to depend much on him in late August and September -- I foresee the Phillies having to shut him down the way the Cubs did with Kerry Wood when they were making a run in 1998.

He's not going to get the chance to work in the sixth because Charlie Manuel has decided to try and cash in for some runs with two out and the bases loaded in the top of the sixth. Abraham Nunez is called upon to pinch hit.

But when Nunez whiffs to end the frame, Manuel and the Phillies turn to the bullpen for the rest of the way... and with that, Hamels' debut comes to an end.

Hamels' final line: 5 IP, 1 H, 0, R, 5 BB, 7 K, 92 pitches -- 51 strikes

Rowand update

Following his heroic catch in centerfield in which he smashed nose first into the outfield fence, Aaron Rowand was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured nose and non-displaced fractures around his left eye. He had surgery this morning at Thomas Jefferson Hospital where his nose was reduced and readjusted, according to the Phillies assistant general manager Ruben Amaro in a press release.

Rowand also received 15 stitches for lacerations to his face, but is expected to be released from the hospital this afternoon.

To take Rowand's place on the roster the Phillies called up Chris Roberson from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In the minors, Roberson was hitting .287 (39-136) with 19 runs, 10 doubles, one triple and eight RBI in 34 games.

For those who missed it, here's what happened:

Rowand, the Phillies’ blood-and-guts centerfielder who once described himself as more bulldozer than fence climber, took one for the team and then some in the rain-shortened, 2-0 victory over the New York Mets.

After starting pitcher Gavin Floyd had walked the bases loaded with two outs in the first inning, his 3-2 offering to Xavier Nady – his 28th pitch of the opening inning – was launched deep toward the far center-field fence that surely was slated to be at least a bases-clearing triple. It's also very likely that Nady's blow would have spelled the end for the reeling and delicate Floyd.

But at the last minute, Rowand reached out as far as he could with his gloved hand, pulled the ball in, took a half step and crashed – nose first – into the exposed bar beneath the green padding near the 398-foot sign. Somehow he had the wherewithal to show that he held onto the ball, then rolled over on all fours and bled all over the warning track.

"I've seen some great plays, but that one definitely ranks up there with the best of them," manager Charlie Manuel said. "That might be the best effort and determination I've ever seen."

Outfielder Pat Burrell frantically waved toward the dugout to summon help upon reaching his fallen teammate as manager Charlie Manuel and several other Phillies dashed out to the centerfield warning track to Rowand’s aid.

Finally, Rowand walked off the field with the aid of trainer Mark Andersen and several paramedics where he was taken to Thomas Jefferson Hospital.

On Tuesday Rowand had X-rays taken for his left hand after he was drilled by a pitch from the Mets' Pedro Martinez. He had spent the past few days with an ice pack tied to his hand to reduce the swelling, but did not miss any game action with that injury.

Acquired in the trade that sent Jim Thome to the Chicago White Sox, Rowand is hitting .310 with six homers and a .516 slugging percentage in 33 games. In the Phillies' last 10 games, in which they are 9-1, Rowand has been a catalyst, going 11-for-34 at the plate with three homers and 10 RBIs.
Here's the catch with Harry and L.A. from last night's broadcast on CSN:

FYI: Here's an interesting story about everyone's new favorite player in the New York Times.

Also: Here's an interesting note from Paul Hagen in today's Daily News:

When the Padres saluted the Negro Leagues on May 6 by wearing throwback uniforms, San Diego starter Jake Peavy found his own way of paying tribute. On his first pitch to Cubs leadoff hitter Juan Pierre, he went into a double-pump windup reminiscent of Satchel Paige.

"It just seemed like the right thing to do," Peavy explained. "I just wanted to say, 'I know what you guys did and who you are.' "

His African-American teammates appreciated the gesture.

"For a young guy, he's way ahead of his time," said first-base coach Tye Waller. "Jake's so aware of things. He knows history and the game. He loves the game and respects it. It was like he reached out and touched our heritage."

Recent debuts by Phillies draft picks

Gavin Floyd vs. Mets on Sept. 3, 2004: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 5 K for Win

Brett Myers at Cubs on July 24, 2002: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K for Win

Brandon Duckworth vs. Padres on Aug., 7, 2001: 6 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 4 K for Win

David Coggin at Expos on June 23, 2000: 6 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 4 K for Win

Randy Wolf vs. Blue Jays on June 11, 1999: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K for Win

Carlton Loewer vs. Cubs on June 14, 1998: 9 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 8 K for Win

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Fence 1, Rowand 0

Let's start this by saying Aaron Rowand is great. Not only is he a fun ballplayer to watch, but also he's a treat to deal with on a daily basis and is always engaging when approached to talk about any subject. Better yet, the guy loves to talk about baseball and is a real professional -- one of many on this current Phils' club.

That said, I hated watching his catch that potentially saved Thursday night's game against the Mets in the first inning. Worse, I hated watching Pat Burrell frantically wave to the dugout for help as Rowand lay on all fours in front of the center field fence as blood poured out from his broken nose like an overactive faucet. I also hated watching him walk off the field with the aid of trainer Mark Anderson and a couple of paramedics.

It just wasn't any fun.

But boy, what a catch.

For those who missed it, here's what happened:

With two outs and the bases loaded thanks to Gavin Floyd's walks in a 28-pitch first inning, right fielder Xavier Nady launched a 3-2 pitch deep toward the far center-field fence that surely was slated to be a bases-clearing triple. It's also very likely that Nady's blow would have spelled the end for the reeling and delicate Floyd.

But at the last minute, Rowand reached out as far as he could with his gloved hand, pulled the ball in, took a half step and crashed -- nose first -- into the exposed bar beneath the green padding near the 398-foot sign. Somehow he had the wherewithal to show that he held onto the ball, then rolled over on all fours and bled all over the warning track.

It was the greatest catch by a Phillies player in the six years I've been watching every day, and probably the best catch by a Phillie in a long, long time.

Now here's why I didn't like it: Rowand broke his nose on the play and has cuts all over his face. No one is sure how long he will be out, but any game without Rowand in the lineup other than a routine night off is bad, because he is clearly the heart and soul of the team.

That's why I never understood why fans are so hyped up on players running into the fence -- why? Who wants the best players to get hurt? Scott Rolen used to run into anything that got in his way and will end up having a shorter career because of it.

When it comes to players running into fences and other inanimate objects, the fence will always win.

Pre-rainout notes for Thursday

Here comes a big rambling preface, which may or may not have anything to do with the fact I'm going to write (eventually). I suppose we'll all be able to figure it out as soon as I get there, so let's get going...

Anyway, based on some research I did during spring training in 2004, it was determined that the best indicator for the amount of games a team will win is not ERA, strikeouts per 9 innings, batting average or even slugging percentage. The magical statistic? on-base percentage.

Based on that rudimentary research covering the 2001, 2002 and 2003 seasons, it was determined that the teams that ranked at the top of the standings often had the highest on-base percentage. In fact, it was quite uncanny how important doing something as basic as getting on base did for a team's chances. I was also quite surprised that a pitching statistic like WHIP or ERA was not as telling as the on-base percentage was. In reality, there are often teams with mediocre records that rate toward the top of the charts in team ERA.

So why am I writing this? Because Bobby Abreu is riding a 4-for-27 skid during the Phillies' last 10 games, yet has reached base safely in 26 consecutive games and has a .444 on-base percentage this season. Despite the .269 batting average, Abreu leads the National League with 36 walks -- more than Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols -- rates fifth in on-base percentage, and eighth in runs.

With Abreu bringing up the rear, the Phillies have four players (Burrell 8th, Utley 15th, Howard 17th) in the top 18 in OPS.

In other words, Abreu is the quintessential Moneyball player.

There's more, too. Close to one-third of all of Abreu's at-bats come against lefties, while nearly half of his late inning at-bats are against lefties who are specifically in the game to face him. That makes it even tougher for him to produce yet his numbers are always amongst the best in the game. In fact, throughout his career, Abreu's statistics are consistent throughout the game whether he is facing a lefty in a close game in the latter innings, or whether he's coming up with two outs in the first inning and no one on base.

Earlier this week I had a chance to ask Abreu about his two divergent streaks to which he said it was just a matter of time before the hits started falling, but that he was going to "be here for the team and do what I can to help us win. That's it. Just win."

Getting on base is a pretty good place to start if a player wants to help his team win. At least that's what the numbers indicate.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Hamels pre-game press conference

I feel really good. I think I feel more confident mentally and physically.

I don't think I'll stop my exercises for as long as I play baseball and continue living.

On nine-inning game in SWB: That was a big deal. I didn't even know what my pitch count was.

On Floyd:
We've just been contacting each other with AIM text messaging on the phone. we haven't really had any detailed conversations. Now that I'm up here, we'll definitely be able to have some time to talk and get to know each other a lot better.

Take it like I do every day. Going out there, try not to make it feel like there's a difference. I know there will be a lot more fans in the stands, a little bit better competition. But I prepare every day to go out compete at my level.

I think it's all the hard work I've done just starting to pay off

My realistic goal was eight weeks, so I accomplished something.

I plan on staying. That's my main goal. I want to be here as long as I can.

Reason for success:
Just more focus. I know that there's a lot of fun in everything out there. You can get yourself in some trouble. But you have to really set aside the other aspects of life to accomplish your goals.

I go out and try to treat every game the same.

All that matters in winning. That's what the fans of Philadelphia like.

The day I got drafted was the same type of experience.

The majority of the people I ever got to watch were right-handed. I did get to watch Tom Glavine. The other people I got to watch were Trevor Hoffman, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux.

On Phils taking a chance on him:
It's one of the keys to motivate me, but deep down, it's what I've always wanted to do.

It's always been a dream, and now it's becoming a realistic dream at that.

On how he got notified of his call-up:
Coach called me into the office, and I figured, 'OK, the only reason you get called into the office is if you're going to get yelled at or if you get good news and I didn't do anything wrong."

I felt I was executing on everything I possibly could and I needed another challenge out there.

It's a lot different up here with your competition, and things can change in a heartbeat.

The first call was to my girlfriend and the second one was to my parents. I know my mom won't like that.

On hype:
I've become more aware of it going to Scranton. In Clearwater, you average about 100 fans, so you don't experience the Hoorah that you get at the elite levels.

I'm definitely flattered by that. I'm the type of person that would definitely like to be under the radar. Being in the situation I am, I don't think that will happen, so I have to learn how to deal with it.

I don't think I'd really like to look at the scouting reports. I'm more focused on just getting out there.

Hamels called up

Uh... never mind. Just as Todd Zolecki reported in this morning's Inquirer, Cole Hamels will be activated for Friday's start against the Reds in Cincinnati.

To make room for Hamels in the rotation, Ryan Madson has been bumped back to the bullpen . To make room for Hamels on the roster, the Phillies will have to make a move before Friday's game.

Here's the official Phillies' release:


Phillies left-handed pitching prospect Cole Hamels will have his contract purchased on Friday and will make his major league debut that night in Cincinnati, Vice President & General Manager Pat Gillick announced today.

To make room for Hamels in the Phillies’ starting rotation, RHP Ryan Madson will return to the bullpen, where he went 15-8 with a 2.94 ERA in 130 appearances from 2003-05. The Phillies will make a roster move prior to Friday’s game to make room for Hamels on the 25-man roster.

Hamels, 22, is 3-1 with a 1.04 ERA this season in seven combined starts between Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (AAA) and Clearwater (A). He has 65 strikeouts in 43.1 innings and has held opposing hitters to a .168 average (26-for-155).

He began the season with Clearwater and went 1-1 with a 1.77 ERA in four starts before being promoted to Scranton. Hamels pitched 7.0 scoreless innings with 14 strikeouts in his triple-A debut and followed that up with his first professional 9.0-inning shutout, May 2 at Richmond. In his 23.0 triple-A innings, he struck out 36 batters, posting double-digit strikeouts in each of his three starts.

Hamels was originally selected by the Phillies in the first round of the 2002 draft (17th overall). In 35 minor league starts, he was 14-4 with a 1.43 ERA (31 ER, 195.1 IP). In his 195.1 innings, he allowed only two home runs and amassed 273 strikeouts, an average of 12.6 strikeouts/9.0 innings. Hamels pitched shutout baseball in 16 of his 35 professional starts and held minor league hitters to a .174 average (114-for-654).

Even more following Game 1 of Mets series

Our boy Todd Zolecki had a nice little scoop in the Inquirer this morning where he wrote that Cole Hamels could make his Major League debut on Friday night in Cincinnati. To clear space for him in the rotation, Todd wrote, either Ryan Madson or Gavin Floyd would be bumped. The likely scenario, it seems, would be for Madson to move to the 'pen where he pitched for the past two seasons. But id Floyd is moved it would likely be back to Triple-A.

Could be interesting to see how this shapes out since Hamels really doesn't have much more to prove in facing minor leaguers.

Plus, nice work out of Todd.

Late-night notes from the win over the Mets

Years from now, when they are putting together the book on Carlos Ruiz, it will show that the catcher picked up his first big-league hit against Pedro Martinez. The Pedro Martinez, as in one of those guys who goes only by a first name like Dean, Sammy, Frank, and Liza.

Just Pedro.

Let the record show it was a hard hit ball to right field in the second inning.

Meanwhile, Ruiz has a pretty strong reputation as a solid receiver behind the plate. After working with him in the past, Ryan Madson said Ruiz is easy to throw to and sets a nice target. Following Tuesday night's start where he allowed five hits and no walks in eight innings -- the longest outing by a Phillies' starter this season -- Brett Myers had nothing but praise for Ruiz.

"We were on the same page and he never caught me before," Myers said. "He's not intimidated back there."

Aaron Rowand is still hitting the ball well after his rough first week of the season -- does anyone remember that at this point? During this undefeated homestand, Rowand is 9-for-22 with four homers despite claiming that he's a notoriously slow starter. He also said he was pretty successful in losing a few bad habits he picked up late last year.

Such as?

"Leaning in over the plate."

A World Champion with the White Sox last year, Rowand said the current winning streak is especially good since the Phillies are doing it so early in the season. After all, the season is a rollercoaster ride filled with peaks and valleys and all of those other fun cliches, right?

"It's nice to get it early than later when it could be too late," he said.

Meanwhile, as his hand (the same hand he broke by getting hit by a pitch in '03) swelled up like a balloon and turned a dark shade of purple in the minutes following his plunking by Pedro in the sixth inning of the win over the Mets, Rowand refused to come out of the game. Fortunately, X-rays came back negative, but for a little while it appeared as if Rowand might have had a significant injury.

And if there is one guy the Phillies DO NOT want to lose, it's Aaron Rowand. The man is a baseball player.

Still, Rowand said his lone at-bat following getting hit was not fun and he was not looking forward to gripping the bat for another. Luckily for Rowand and the Phillies, Bobby Abreu ended the game with his walk-off E-1.

When a game is on, I do not root for one team or another. Instead, I hope for something that will be a good story. The story is what I root for. However, there are quite a few players I like to watch more than others, such as Scott Rolen, Albert Pujols, John Smoltz, Jim Thome to name a few. Of this current crop of Phillies, Aaron Rowand is a very entertaining player to watch... next time you come to the park, watch him position himself on every pitch in center field. He can really play that position well.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Here come the Mets

This time it’s a Philadelphia story. No reality TV show production. No ESPN and the 900 cameras and boom operators that come with them. No throng of writers looking for any semblance of a story so they end up staring at a tired, old ballplayer as he listens to his iPod and marks his bats on his way out to batting practice hoping to find some nuance or something like that.

This one is straight ahead from the jump. Phillies vs. Mets. Billy vs. Everybody.

Better yet, the Red Sox-Yankees series at the Stadium likely diverted some of the New York media from making the trip down the Turnpike.

It might be the second-best series in New York, but it’s a pretty big one in Philadelphia where the Phillies and Mets meet for the first of 19 times in what is already shaping up to be a dogfight in the NL East.

This series definitely presents a great chance for the Phillies to show all of the doubters just how good they are… at least for now.

After Tuesday’s game there are still 130 games to go.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A final word on Bonds in Philly

Road weary and worn out as the clock closed in on midnight and the prospect of yet another all-night, cross-country flight loomed, the 41-year-old ballplayer sat in a room full of people he didn’t really want to talk to following another losing ballgame.

He didn’t want to, but his life has become a bunch of have to things these days. Obligatory kinds of things that normal people have to deal with everyday, only his are a little more high profile, to say the least. Have to fly across the country after midnight; have to pander to the sycophants producing your “reality” show; have to put in the work just to make it through the grind of a season; have to listen to total strangers scream unpleasantries at you ever time you show your face in public; have to answer questions from a grand jury investigation; have to go to work and chase some guy named Babe.

Have to.

"It's draining," he said. "It is. It's a little bit draining. But I have to stay focused for my teammates."

So there he was, fulfilling another have to. Tersely answering the inane questions from a few while almost lighting up and becoming engaging at a few queries that seemed interesting. Like the one about which ballplayer has the chance to be chasing the Babe or Hank some day?

"Alex Rodriguez. I don’t know about Albert (Pujols)," he said. "Albert’s going to have to deal with a lot of walks. He’s going to get walked a lot, unfortunately. He’s that good. Unfortunately, he plays in the National League, and when you’ve got pitchers coming up, and in a different league, it’s a little bit different. If he was in the American League, we might be saying something different, but in the National League, if he keeps going the way he’s going, he’s going to be walked a ton."

That was his longest answer in the 19-minutes and 51-seconds give-and-take with the press that was beamed worldwide on live television from the tiny conference room in the basement of Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. But there was more, too. Like the part about the chat he and his mother Pat had before Sunday night’s nationally televised game. For a little while, at least, the conversation rejuvenated him. Made him feel good and forget about have to, and the shouting, accusations, big signs with asterisks and others calling him a fraud and worse. The books and the grand juries and the investigations all went away for a little bit.

"It helped me get my head twisted back on," he said about talking to his mom, adding that he was missing his dad, Bobby, a lot these days.

"I wish he was here," he said.

Hearing that and watching his world seem to implode all around him and bear down, like an anvil, onto his coat-rack shoulders and softening eyes and face, makes it easy to feel sympathy for him. Human emotion is a difficult thing to ignore when it is truly genuine. It’s hard to judge someone so harshly when they glowingly talk about their mom and want to be able to talk to their dad, who is no longer on this earth.

But then reality steps in and delivers a cold, hard haymaker to the solar plexus. You remember who it is – who it is that has seen his world turned into something he can no longer control the way he once did an at-bat in a baseball game or turned a crowd of people into slack-jawed wonderment.

Sometimes people have to reap what they sow.


So after a weekend filled with yelling and screaming, where signs made of old bedsheets were waved for all to see and the anticipation for a milestone in which the regular folks hoped to one day say "I was there," the old, tired ballplayer answered one more question, posed for one more picture, forced a smile, and walked as fast as his creaky knees would carry him to a bus that would take him to a chartered flight waiting at the airport.

Barry Bonds was on the way out and it doesn’t look like he’s ever coming back.

Quotable Bonds
Bonds on Ryan Howard:
"Strong as hell. That kid is going to be good. He’s strong as a tree. And he’s in a good hitters’ ballpark, a really good hitters’ ballpark. For some of us."

Best hitter growing up?
"I always thought of Hank Aaron. Always. Ever since Hank Aaron passed him. When you pass someone, it makes you better. Babe Ruth was I guess the Willie Mays of his era, you could sit there and say that he could do a lot of things. But so many people forget about Frank Robinson. I mean Frank Robinson was freakin’ great. We always talk about these other hitters and other players, and you’re talking about a triple-crown guy [who’s] done everything. I don’t know how he gets missed in all of this. I’d have to say him and Willie are the two best all-around players in the game period."

Do you view yourself as a home run hitter... ?
"Well it’s 713, I don’t have a freakin choice."

Will you think of yourself as better than Babe?
"I don’t know yet. But the numbers speak for themselves."


Sunday, May 07, 2006

One circus leaves another one coming to town

As Barry Bonds and his traveling sideshow get ready to move out of town, another one is moving in, and this one, well, let's just say it's kind of personal with this one.

According to Jim Salisbury's story in the Inquirer this morning, Billy Wagner said he did not feel very well liked by his teammates, who were overly sensitive to criticism and afraid of media scrutiny.

It all in the story, including the part where Pat Burrell apparently called Wagner a "rat." But better yet, the story simply shows how good a reporter Salisbury is. If there was ever anyone with tons of fascinating baseball stories it's Jim. He's definitely one of the best.

He can write a baseball story the way regular people can rack up out-of-control, spiraling credit debt.

On another note, I imagine there will be a few extra security folks stationed along the visiting bullpen for the Mets series, which starts on Tuesday.

Fun. Fun. Fun.

Hey look... writers!
There's nothing like a slow zoom past the press box during a sporting event. Better yet, there's nothing like knowing someone who recorded the scanning shot, put it on YouTube and then sends you the screen shot. So thanks to Dan McQuade, here's a view of the press box from last night's game. It also looks as if I'm hard at work and very busy... now you just have to figure out which one is me.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

More Bonds all the time

A live update of all of Barry Bonds' plate appearances in Saturday night's game at Citizens Bank Park.

First inning
Amidst cascading boos, Bonds strolled to the plate with two outs in the first to face starting pitcher Ryan Madson, though it was hard to tell whether the fans were greeting the star-crossed slugger or letting right fielder Bobby Abreu have it for allowing Pedro Feliz's soft fly ball to drop in for a single.

With a sprinkling of boos, Bonds trotted to first after drawing a five-pitch walk. The fans couldn't have been that angry, though. The flashbulbs from cameras popped like lightning bugs as Madson delivered every pitch.

As Bonds led off first base, he likely heard the "Barry cheated!" chant that made it through three rounds before running out of steam.

Not surprisingly, Bonds was booed as he settled into his position in left field. A small pocket of fans shouted "Cheater!"but there were no banners like on Friday night, and the crowd is relatively behaved. Even the loud chorus of boos from when Bonds robbed Jimmy Rollins from an extra-base hit weren't very heartfelt.

Then again, steroid accusations or not, Bonds was probably the best fielding left fielder in baseball history. Those days have passed, though.

Inning highlights: Carlos Ruiz, in his first ever inning of Major League ball, threw out Randy Winn attempting to steal second base for the second out of the inning.

Between Bonds AB press-box banter: Cole Hamels gets called up after Sunday's start. Geoff Geary heads down. Ryan Madson moves to the 'pen and Hamels first start is next Saturday at Cincinnati.

Third inning
Guess what? Bonds gets booed as he walks to the plate. The umps stop the game to put special, authenticated balls in play. Madson promptly throws one of them and gets Bonds to ground into a 6-5-3 double play with Pedro Feliz on first.

Between Bonds AB press-box banter: Who is the Kansas City Royals' All-Star right now?

Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

Fifth inning
Before the top of the fifth started, Aaron Rowand had some very harsh words for home-plate umpire Greg Gibson after he grounded out to third base to start the bottom of the fourth. In fact, Rowand was so incensed that he dashed out of the dugout to take up his case -- filled with curse words, of course -- with the ump.

Not shockingly, Rowand was ejected. It will be interesting to hear what the loquacious center fielder has to say about his ouster following the game.

Back to Bonds:

Boos for Bonds. No signs, though. New, authenticated balls, too.

First pitch fastball for strike one... breaking pitch inside for ball one... high and outside with flashbulbs popping for ball two ... changeup a little high, but Bonds seemed to swing late and sent a high fly just short of the track in left field where Pat Burrell catches it. Third out.

Bonds should get at least one more at-bat, but the national media horde chasing the slugger around is preparing to send their stories about how the chase for Babe Ruth's mark will have to wait at least another day.

Eighth inning
Charlie Manuel says that it appears as if Bonds does not have his timing down yet. Battling injuries and other sideshow-type things -- if one wants to call a federal grand jury inquiry a "sideshow" -- Bonds' swing isn't where he wants it to be, Manuel said.

He's close though.

"His timing is off. He needs to play a bit more," Manuel said. "He's close though. He can get it back as soon as he leaves here."

He gets to test his timing against lefty Arthur Rhodes following Pedro Feliz's leadoff single, but falls in the hole, 0-1, after Rhodes drops a fastball on the inside corner... a breaking pitch misses outside for ball one ... big swing from the slugger for strike two... another huge swing sends a high fly into center. Shane Victorino settles under it and then gives chase. The winds wreaks havoc with it and sends it to short left field where it oddly drops in for a single.

The hit brings the tying run to the plate with no outs.

That very well could occur now after Steve Finley's hot grounder heading toward Ryan Howard at first for a probable double play, strikes Bonds on the leg for the first out. It could have been unintentional, but Bonds thwarted a potential rally-killing double play.

The smart play is greeted with some halfhearted boos when Bonds casually walked off the field.

So aside from a few "Barry Sucks!" chants (yes, we know... lame), the evening ended without incident. Based upon last night's post-game I'd say it's a better than 99.9 percent chance that Bonds skips out without talking to the press.

Oh well. Let's do it again tomorrow night.

A Night of Bonds

As far as circuses go, this one was hardly any fun. In fact, when I asked Larry Shenk, the Phillies’ vice president of public relations, if the there was going to be a big top installed, all I got was a terse, “No.”

That doesn’t mean there weren’t moments of levity. For instance, upon arriving in the Phillies’ dugout after listening in with the media throng in Giants skipper Felipe Alou’s office and checking out the scene in the visitor’s clubhouse, some wise writers staying along the fringes asked me what was happening on the other side.

“It’s just a whole bunch of guys over there watching another guy listen to his iPod and mark his bats,” I answered.

“Yeah, and you were one of them,” hooted Jimmy Rollins.

“No, it was worse than that – I was watching other guys watch him,” I shot back.

That’s the way Rollins and I talk to each other sometimes. But I digress.

Him, of course, is Barry Bonds, and what everyone was watching and making all sorts of clever remarks about was the wild and wacky atmosphere around the star-crossed slugger’s parade toward Babe Ruth’s career home run total of 714.

Will he hit the two he needs this weekend in Philadelphia? Well, there are about 250 extra writer-types hanging around for the three games thinking he has a shot.

But surely, there has to be some inconvenience to anything worthwhile. I bet the number of media credentials for the Gettysburg Address numbered in the thousands. Think of how crowded the press box must have been for Nixon's farewell.

“It’s history,” Ryan Howard said. “This kind of stuff doesn’t happen that much.”


“I bet it’s kind of a pain for you guys,” said Howard in as close to commiserating tone an athlete will ever get with the press.

Just to show it was a two-way street, we let Howard know that we felt bad about all of asinine questions he has to field nearly everyday from folks who don’t show up at the park everyday. It was especially bad after he smacked that home run over the batter’s eye against the Marlins a few weeks back.

Nonetheless, in the time that I have written about the Phillies, which dates back to the middle of 2000, I have never had the chance to see playoff baseball in person nor a real media throng. There was a time when I went to Yankee Stadium to write about Scott Rolen soon after he departed for St. Louis, but what I saw as a media frenzy was a regular old Saturday afternoon in New York City.

They do throngs for lunch. We just wonder what it’s like to go to a playoff game.

Anyway, I’m one of those expect-the-worst, but hope-for-the-best kind of guys, so I did my best to get to the ballpark as early as possible to see if I had been bumped out of my regular seat (thankfully no) or just how wild the circus was (not that bad, actually).

In a nutshell, Friday night’s game was kind of like a convention for the Baseball Writers Association of America. You name him, he was here.

OK. Without further ado, here’s the day in Barry excluding the nightmare of a drive to the park on the Schuylkill Expressway.

4:32 – Enter Giants clubhouse to find that everyone has camped out in the rare hope that Bonds might say or do something. Quickly, word trickles out that Bonds will say and do nothing. Everyone leaves the sauna that is the visitor’s clubhouse for the apron of the field. Highlights include Marcus Hayes hijacking a package of Certs from Rob Maaddi, and Dennis Deitch offering $100 for anyone who chooses to take a drink from the industrial-looking faucet in the hallway in the basement of the stadium.

4:46 – The first of many Jack McKeon references is flung toward Jim “Stansberry” Salisbury.

5:00 – Meeting time in Felipe Alou’s office where the Giants’ writers have to deal with the Philly and national guys (as well as a camera crew from ESPN – a faux pas in normal times) hoping for a nugget about Bonds. Because the room is so crowded, it gets pretty warm and unbearable. Upon walking into the hallway to chat up the Giants’ PR guy, I catch a glance of the man himself less than 10-feet away. Dressed in workout gear with black headphone buds in his ears attached to a black iPod on his right arm, Bonds quietly marks his Sam Bats with a Sharpie. Just from a cursory view, Bonds looks like a veteran baseball player – nothing more, nothing less.

5:01 – PR guy says: “It would have been nice if [Bonds] would have done something in a big room beforehand so everybody could have gotten something in about 10 minutes. Sometimes logic doesn’t always win out.” It’s no big deal, I tell him. Besides, what can Bonds be asked or what can he say that he hasn’t been thrown out there already? Besides, isn’t a media frenzy fun by itself?

An aside: 12 years ago I nearly went to work for the Giants PR staff. The problem was that they wanted me to start before the semester was over and like a fool I stayed in school. Let that be a lesson to all you kids out there.

5:06 – Hey, there’s Tim Worrell!

5:11 – Back over to the Phillies’ dugout where Phil Gianficaro, Ken Mandel and Deitch are sitting with Rollins and Howard. They ask me what’s happening on the other side. I tell them. Rollins makes his crack.

5:17 – Decide to go to press box and get myself together and figure out what to write. Once there, Mike Radano asks me if I want to eat. Having had only two Power Bars and a banana to eat all day, I’m ready to swallow my computer bag.

5:22 – Chicken, green beans, a little macaroni, a salad with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, chick peas (no dressing), and the worst crab cakes in the free world. That’s a shame, too, because crab cakes are my favorite and the press dining room at Camden Yards has some of the best anywhere.

5:34 – Bonds! Live! TV! He spits! Turns around! Warms up before batting practice! Oh my!

5:37 – Bonds swing a bat! He takes BP!

5:40 to 6:00 – TV cameras follow ever move Bonds makes. He smacks some really long batting practice home runs all over the park, but they don’t count. There is no sound on the TV so we can’t here the

6:02 – Marcus Hayes appears on the TV screen. We scream. The others indulge me while I tell them what a good guy Marcus is. That gentle rant morphs into a general announcement of how much I enjoy the company of the other baseball writers. Mike Radano rolls his eyes and then repeats a funny story for Dennis Deitch.

6:11 – Comcast SportsNet's Marc Caputo comes by and says something funny and then leaves. If only it were that easy...

6:14 – Another McKeon reference for Salisbury.

6:20 – Time to start writing. Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun is assigned the seat to my left. He’s from York, Pa. so we exchange some general baseball information and stories and discuss our South Central Pennsylvania-ness.

7:01 – Anthem.

7:07 – First pitch.

7:10 – Here comes Bonds. The crowd boos with some cheers sprinkled in, but not many. How weird would it be to get booed? Such an odd custom, but it gets it point across.

7:11 – Bonds swings at a first-pitch fastball from Gavin Floyd. He hits it straight up into the air in center field where Aaron Rowand waits for it and catches it.

7:15 – Bonds heads for left field where a big banner reading “Babe Ruth did it on hotdogs and beer” is unfurled. That’s probably true, but it isn’t exactly too healthy, either. Just think how good Ruth would have been if he did it on plenty of rest, a good diet, weight training and extra batting practice.

7:50 – Bonds draws an intentional walk from Floyd. People boo, but I’m not sure if they are booing Bonds or the intentional walk. A man holds a sign that says, “Pitch to Bonds.” After the game, Charlie Manuel says it will be hard to pitch to Bonds if first base is open.

8:03 – Moises Alou rolls his ankle in the right-field corner while chasing a foul ball. It doesn’t look too bad on the replays, but Alou gets carted off the field.

8:31 – Dan Connolly says Bonds is going to hit one this inning.

8:32 – Bonds taps into a 3-5-4 double play. Yeah, the old 3-5-4.

9:22 – Bonds strikes out on a nasty change up from Aaron Fultz. After the inning he stays in the dugout.

That’s pretty much the Night of Bonds. The mass media went into the Giants clubhouse following the game only to find that the slugger had left for the night. Meanwhile on the Phillies side, everyone is happy about the sixth win in a row. Ryan Howard was happy to hit two homers, win the game and meet Bonds. Charlie Manuel was cracking jokes at Mike Radano’s expense.

It’s now 12:01 a.m. I’m going to drive home to Lancaster, wake up for a 7 a.m. workout and come to the park in the afternoon ready to do it all over again.

© 2006 - John R. Finger - all rights reserved