I accidentally Googled “naked baseball.” I will never unsee what I saw. There are people walking among us who probably shouldn’t. And it’s my fault. I got greedy. You see there are tons of sexy baseball fans out there. I figured I could whittle the results down a bit. I was right, but the results were very wrong. It seems that the type of people who like to get naked and play with bats and balls are mostly male. And I can assure you that the way they use the equipment has neither been approved nor endorsed by MLB.
Seriously, what the hell is wrong with people?
Oh well, since the ladies were so appreciative yesterday I’ll toss up one more gratuitous dude for today.
At this point I may as well. Not even a lap dance would erase those images for a while.
On the other hand it may have prepared me for the Cubs impending season. While new manager Rick Renteria says - with a straight face - that the Cubs will compete in 2014, he’s the only one doing so. Not even the front office has gone that far. And while part of me thinks it’s nice that he has hope, there’s another part of me that wonders how long his perpetual smile will last. At some point this has to take a toll. He’s worked with prospects who learned in the minors. Now he’s going to have to work with them as they get shelled, again and again, on the national stage. Make no mistake, they are going to get shelled. They only have two real starters in their rotation and both of those should be gone by July 31.
Granted the pen looks better this year but if they’re taking the mound in the 4th or 5th they’re not going to last a full season.
Chris Valaika was in New Orleans and healthy again, hitting as well as he had all year, when he got the spirit-crushing news that seems incomprehensible even 6 ½ months later.
The Marlins’ front office and field staff made the move to call him up from the minors to replace the injured Placido Polanco — only to have owner Jeffrey Loria veto the move over a grudge stemming from Loria-favorite Tino Martinez’s resignation as hitting coach a few weeks earlier.
“It was frustrating to hear that,” said Valaika, a versatile infielder trying to win a job with the Cubs this spring. “I was in Triple-A, so I don’t know all the behind-the-scenes things that go on with those decisions. After a lot of things that went on, I wanted to go somewhere else.”
Consider it the modern-day Cubs’ version of No-Money-ball, in which the franchise is starting to exploit market inefficiencies one team at a time.
In this case, they’ll take advantage of what’s widely considered the most dysfunctional ownership in baseball if they get decent value from Valaika or another guy caught up in the Martinez fiasco, Justin Ruggiano.
The Miami Herald reported that Loria overruled his baseball department on Valaika’s promotion because of the infielder’s role in the player-abuse complaints against Martinez that led to the resignation once the allegations were made public. Martinez, hired directly by Loria before the season, was involved in verbal and physical altercations with several players — including Ruggiano —according to Herald reports.
“It was unfortunate,” said Valaika, who made the big-league club out of spring training last season and stayed there until suffering a wrist injury in May. “I felt like I played well, and there were a lot of great people over there. It was just tough at the end of the year.
“Once the end of the year came I made the decision I wanted to be elsewhere, too. So my agent and I put a plan together, and I was really lucky to land here.”
Valaika, 28, who was signed as a minor-league free agent, is a natural middle infielder who also played parts of two seasons with the Reds. He has played all four infield spots.
Ruggiano, 31, an outfielder acquired in a December trade for Brian Bogusevic, has impressed so far, going 7-for-his-last-10, including 3-for-3 on Sunday with his second homer of the spring.
“I have no idea about whether that situation [with Martinez] played into the fact that we’re over here now,” Ruggiano said, “but I dealt with that situation last year. The awkwardness that it creates for the clubhouse, it’s something that can put a strain amongst the guys. That’s something I don’t really want to revisit.”
Ruggiano, who spoke to Miami media in defense of teammates, said he has since talked with Martinez and made peace.
“Tino and I, if we had our differences, we solved them,” Ruggiano said. “Tino and I, we’re fine, and I wish him nothing but the best.”
Maybe it’s no accident that Ruggiano has looked and felt unusually comfortable at the plate, compared to past springs. Looking to “erase last year” and start fresh with the Cubs, he said he hit more during the offseason than he has in 10 years.
And he’s found a strong rapport with new Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller and assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley.
“There’s something about just me being on the same page with my hitting coach this year and establishing a good routine,” said Ruggiano, who hit .222 with 18 homers — and weathered an 0-for-42 skid that fell three short of the major-league record. “[Mueller’s] very positive and energetic. So far he’s created a great work environment. As a hitter, that’s all you could ask for from a hitting coach.”
Nobody figures to get more out of a fresh start than Valaika, who just wants to know he has a chance to earn a place.
“it wasn’t meant to be there,” said Valaika, who expects “added fire” if he gets to face the Marlins. “Hopefully, it’s meant to be here.”
While it’s fun to make fun of Loria and his hand picked band of loonies, I feel compelled to remind everyone that he’s helmed more World Series champions than both Chicago teams have won in the last 20 years.
That aside, he’s still a lunatic.
Still, if Rugggiano can find a groove and Valaika can be the fourth infielder it may keep Renteria from gargling Drano.
On the South Side they too have a player that came from elsewhere. His name is Avisial Garcia and Daryl van Schouwen says he’s exactly the kind of player you want if you’re considering winning stuff.
White Sox coach Daryl Boston got an eyeful of Avisail Garcia when the budding star joined the team for 42 games last season, and like everyone else with 20/20 baseball vision, he loved what he saw.
Boston was really looking forward to seeing Garcia, though, in spring training.
“During the season we just let him play to see what we had,’’ said Boston, the first-base coach who works closely with outfielders. “When you get him here one-on-one, in drills, and see him really working hard on stuff you get to see the potential he has. We like the way he goes about his business.
“We need him to have a big year offensively but some of the stuff he adds in the outfield — he’s constantly aware of positioning, where he is — you get an idea of what he’s about and what he can do.’’
You get the idea general manager Rick Hahn high-fived his staff when the Sox, whose season had blown up on them, were able to unload Jake Peavy’s salary in a three-team deal at the trade deadline that reeled in the 22-year-old right fielder from the Detroit Tigers. Here was a raw talent in a big body with a big future fitting perfectly in Hahn’s plan to build a young core aimed at sustainable success. The trade, which also brought a couple of pitching prospects, came together late, and it made all three teams happy. The Red Sox got Peavy for their pennant push and the Tigers got slick-fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias.
When first baseman Jose Abreu signed in the offseason, Hahn had two big rebuilding blocks in place. While the jury will be out on Abreu, 27, until after he sees a steady diet of major-league pitching for at least a half season, we’ve seen enough of Garcia to know that he’s got the goods.
“There isn’t a whole lot he can’t do on the baseball field, I can tell you that,’’ Boston said. “He has plus power to all fields, he has above-average speed for a big man, and an above-average throwing arm. It’s just a matter of him getting consistent at-bats. Everybody in the organization believes he has a chance to be an All-Star for a long time.’’
Abreu is big at 6-3, 245 but Garcia, even standing alongside Abreu at 6-4, 240 strikes more “just look at that guy” reactions with an imposing baseball frame.
“He’s big and strong, but you don’t notice how fast he is just running the bases,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s a big kid who could play center field. At-bat wise, he’s not just swinging as hard as he can. He can hit for average and there’s not that many people who are that big and can control that and still be able to have the kind of power he has. He’s a unique individual.’’
What’s more, Garcia doesn’t play like a prima donna. He runs hard on ground outs, even the routine ones.
“Yes, for a young kid , you like the energy he provides,’’ Boston said. “That’s one of the things we’re looking for. He plays the game hard. It remains to be seen what he can do till the games are played but the potential there is tremendous.’’
This year, Garcia has a greater comfort level in the clubhouse, which he says is now like a home, and in the city of Chicago.
“That’s very important for a baseball player,’’ he said.
In Detroit, he was a kid surrounded by stars. Here, he’s a guy the Sox the view as a centerpiece. The expectations, taken in stride, add no pressure, Garcia said.
“No. I know my game,’’ he said. “God gives you ability, so you have to work to get the most out of it and see what happens.’’
I caught a couple of games with Garcia in the line up last year. I can honestly say I understand why Prince Fielder and others bemoaned his loss. This kid’s the whole package. Above average defense, above average offense and below average ego.
And he’s just 22. This is the kind of kid who can have a long career here.
Add in Abreu and suddenly the middle of the line up doesn’t look so bad.
Several of our female stalkers have complained about my continuing use of gratuitous images of scantily clad female baseball fans. Since Jose Bautista was nice enough to pose nude for ESPN, allow me to to take the first baby steps to rectifying that problem. If you just read the blog you’d think that this site was dedicated to 10 white guys sitting around chatting. But, thanks to Facebook & Twitter, I know that our audience is pretty diverse. Astonishingly so for a Chicago based sports site. All you need to do is download our cookbook to get a better over view of our demographics. Granted we haven’t done very well in the smoking hot barely legal teen girl market but otherwise we’re pretty well represented
This site has become a destination for people to read and browse but not interact. I still have no idea why that is but last week I got another email about my cake thread. I posted that in October of 2009. So folks do seem to be paying attention. God knows why.
Of course God knows lots of stuff I don’t so I’ve learned to kind of go with the flow.
Another guy who’s going with the flow is Aaron Cunningham of the Cubs. He’s selling, Chicago themed, Strideline socks to teammates to make ends meet. No, I am not making this up. He’s planning on a life after baseball. Considering he’s been on 4 teams in 5 seasons that seems to be a good call on his part.
Or, to put it more bluntly, the Cubs were the only team interested in him so it isn’t like he’s giving up a Hall of Fame plaque or anything.
As long as we’re talking about the Cubs and the failures they’ve signed, let’s take a gander at Edwin Jackson. I’ll be the first to admit that I liked this signing. He was a an inning eating, decent ERA, guy who could shore up a rotation. “Was” being the operative word in that statement. Since coming to the Cubs he has completely forgotten how to pitch. Nevertheless, clearly inspired by Chris Sale’s attempt to throw nothing but sliders in a game, he decided to work on his fastball. I should note here that Sale’s slider got better over three innings and he had informed all of his coaches and his catcher what he was about to do.
None of those facts apply here.
As Gordon Wittenmyer reports, Jackson just went out and started hurling. And while, like Sale, he got shelled in the first inning, unlike Sale, he kept getting shelled. And no one had a clue what was going on.
Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson doesn’t exactly get the benefit of the doubt with management after recording a league-leading 18 losses, 4.94 ERA and his lowest innings total in six seasons.
Never mind that he’s the highest-paid player on the team, manager Rick Renteria plans to have a “conversation” with Jackson after the right-hander caught the staff off-guard by throwing nothing but fastballs in a command-challenged, three-inning start Friday.
How surprised was Renteria?
“Well, I saw a lot of fastballs being thrown,” he said, “and I’ll just say that I noticed it.”
Renteria speculated that Jackson might have taken the extreme approach to work on the fastball command Renteria and pitching coach Chris Bosio stress — though he noted the command wasn’t very good.
Jackson fell behind the first two batters, who singled and homered, respectively. He also hit two batters.
“I think you have to kind of allow some flexibility, I guess, in what he’s trying to do,” Renteria said. “In his mind’s eye, he had a particular idea of what he wanted to do, so he tried to go ahead and do it. He did it for three innings.”
At least there wasn’t a dugout altercation with the manager this time around (like Jackson had with then-manager Dale Sveum in Milwaukee last September over being taken out of a game).
But Renteria plans to address it.
“It’s something where I’ll probably talk to him and have a conversation about it and clarify what the process was,” Renteria said. “That doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt anybody to just talk about it.”
Jackson made the decision sound like a last-minute idea.
“It’s nothing that I’d been planning on during the week. It was one of those things where we came out and I said, I’m going to throw all fastballs today and we’ll see how it turns out,” he said.
“Learning to pitch off the fastball, you kind of have to get through it, and sometimes when you know you have those other [pitches] in your back pocket, it just makes you lose your aggressiveness with the fastball. So today I really wasn’t worried about results. I really wasn’t worried about runs. It was just to see where I was with just throwing all fastballs and see what happens, stay aggressive on hitters and make them hit the ball.”
Problems with this story;
- After the 10th fastball why didn’t the catcher ask what the hell was going on?
- After the 10th fastball why didn’t the pitching coach ask what the hell was going on?
- After the 10th fastball why didn’t the manager ask what the hell was going on?
Answer to all 3? Because no one gives a damn.
I’m sorry Cubs fans, you real ones, but that’s the truth.
On the South Side they also got a guy they wanted. And Daryl van Schouwen says they’re well pleased with that fact.
Jose Abreu’s entry into the major leagues, albeit at the Cactus League level, couldn’t be going better. His work ethic, demeanor, professionalism and approach to hitting have impressed White Sox management, teammates and coaches.
Through the first week of Cactus League games, he took pitches, worked counts and flashed the power the Sox are paying him $68 million over the next six years to see. Give Abreu an ‘‘A’’ on his first-quarter report card of camp.
But the test is far from over, and Abreu knows it. Spring training is an exercise in getting fit and finding a feel for pitchers, who will be better, more diversified and more astute come April. They will have figured out the best way to pitch to the 27-year-old Cuban first baseman, and adjusting will become the name of the game.
‘‘[Adjusting] is huge,’’ said Sox slugger Adam Dunn, a 13-year veteran who discovered that early in a career that has seen him hit 440 home runs. ‘‘The league is going to learn him before he learns the league, so that will be the adjustment. It’s a lot easier for everyone to learn one guy than for one guy to learn everyone. He has to learn a ton. But that swing will play anywhere.’’
The 6-3, 255-pound Abreu has strength and a good swing going for him. And he already has more than a clue about what he’s about to face.
‘‘It’s a mouse-and-cat game,’’ Abreu said through translator Lino Diaz, the Sox’ manager of cultural development. ‘‘They will find a way to get me, and I will try to find a way to get them.’’
Abreu kept his hands inside a pitch in on him and above the belt and muscled it to right-center field for a two-run double Tuesday, and he homered to the opposite field Thursday. Good signs, no doubt, but his results in Arizona won’t mean a thing come Opening Day on March 31.
‘‘You can’t define what he’s going to do specifically by what he does in spring training,’’ hitting coach Todd Steverson said. ‘‘You do like to see the approach, mind-set and plan he goes up there with to execute. You like to see the recognition quality that he has.
‘‘The biggest thing for him is learning the league. It’s different than playing in Cuba or international competition. This is the highest of the high, so he has a learning curve.’’
Before long, pitchers will be spotting the ball to the four quadrants of the strike zone in search of a weakness and of material to formulate a scouting report, Steverson said.
‘‘I tell him, ‘Stick to your game plan,’ ’’ Steverson said. ‘‘All he should do is swing at good pitches.’’
So far, so good on that front. Through his first five games, Abreu hasn’t stuck out.
In addition to baseball, Abreu is dealing with living in a new place, apart from his family, including his young son. He and his wife, Yusmary, left Cuba in the middle of a summer night for Haiti, where the process of becoming a free agent began. The Sox were something of a surprise winner in the free-agent sweepstakes that made Abreu a rich man — but at the price of being separated from family members.
‘‘It’s hard,’’ Abreu said. ‘‘Like I always say, I am thankful to God for the opportunity to be here. I am concentrating on my job, knowing they will be happy if I do my job well and do good things for them. Hopefully. we will get together soon.’’
One reason that Abreu chose the Sox over everyone else is being inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. He wanted access to Frank Thomas’ brain. Not like a zombie would or anything but you get the idea.
Also he showed up in January for s hitting camp and stayed so he could take 4 hours of batting practice every day. And his teammates have noticed he doesn’t strike out. As in freaking ever. He’ll ground out or line out or what have you but he puts that ball in play every time. You’re looking at a guy who’ll hit 35 homers with a .300 average. He’s the anti-Dunn.
And he’s just what Sox fans need.
Although if they buy the socks noted above I can forgive them. They are kind of cool.
You may have noticed that the site is now festooned with a couple of ads. There’s a reason for that. People give me money, ask politely to stick stuff up here and I say yes. Usually. I won’t accept ads from spammers or competitors. If you want to spend money foolishly and not catch a social disease feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll send your our info.
In other news you could care less about, I have lost a solid 16 inches off my waist over the last 12 months. To prove this to the nice young lady who keeps kissing me in public I showed her my infinity belt. That’s a belt with notches all the way around. So, technically, you can tighten it to infinity. Anyway, you can tell the wear and tear on each notch. When I bought it I could barely get to the first notch. Long story short, she was very impressed with my 16 inches and rewarded me with a kiss. One of these days I am going to have to learn her name. It just seems to be the polite thing to do.
Then again, why mess with success?
A quick bit of fun for you before we move on. Joakim Noah of the Bulls allegedly tried to pitch Caremllo Anthony on coming to the Bulls as a free agent. Noah has not denied talking to Anthony but he has denied breaking the league’s tampering rules. In the process he compared the media to a group of 13 year old Valley Girls, an impression he does WAY too well for my comfort. Click the link if you want to hear for yourself.
In the “you can’t make this up department” newly signed Cub, Justin Ruggiano, says he’s excited to play for the Cubs because he’ll have more time to play with his kids. Ruggiano is also the kind of hitter the Cubs covet. Despite bouncing between 3A and the majors his entire career he shows Cub-like patience at the pate. He’s walked 13 times ..... total ... in ten years.
Get those season tickets now. Good packages are still available.
On the South Side Feklpe Paulino is a pet rehab project of Don Cooper’s. While he got lit up like a menorah on n the 8th night of Hanukkah against the Rangers he looked solid against the Reds yesterday. what amuses me is that every third word out of his mouth is excite, excited or exciting. Hopefully, as the year progresses fans can use those adjectives to describe him.
Today, just because I’m in a good mood, I’ve decided to say something nice about the Cubs.
Well, maybe I won’t go that far but I will share something nice about them. As Gordon Wittenmyer notes, despite having a starting rotation that consists of 2 pitchers and a battery that consists of three hitters (maybe), by golly that pen’s really shaping up.
Anybody tired of the slow pace of the Cubs’ rebuilding process should quit stalking A-ball prospects Kris Bryant and Albert Almora and take a look at what’s going on in the bullpen.
You want something that moves fast? Check out what Arodys Vizcaino showed off Friday in another powerful, 98 mph inning this spring. Or the mid-90s velocity of Justin Grimm, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and $3.1 million former Cuban national team closer Armando Rivero.
Whether they’ve transformed their bullpen from a weakness to a strength, the Cubs have created an area of no-speed-limits power, if not a breeding ground for their core closer of the future.
‘‘When you’ve got guys with stuff, you’ve got possibilities,’’ said pitching coach Chris Bosio, who loves what the front office has done to add young power to a bullpen that was among the worst in baseball the last two years. ‘‘That’s what you want. We’ve got those guys. We want 10 more.’’
While the Cubs continue to look for long-term solutions in their rotation and wait for core lineup kids to develop, they can at least point to the bullpen as a potential area of power and depth with a chance to compete — assuming it gets any leads to work with.
‘‘That’s something we’ve made a priority,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said, ‘‘and we’ll keep on drafting those guys and we’ll keep on trading for those guys because ultimately, you do want a bullpen with a bunch of guys that can potentially close. . . . This is the first time we enter a spring where I think we do feel we have a lot of those power arms.’’
To go with that growing stockpile of big arms, and to get the most out them, the front office brought in hard-throwing veteran Jose Veras on a one-year, $4 million deal as a closer and role model.
By next year, Strop could be the closer. Or Vizcaino. Or Rivero could be moving fast toward that job. All of them are new to the organization since a year ago.
Veras calls it ‘‘finding your path.’’
‘‘I was pushing and pushing to find my path, and then I found it last year,’’ he said of his opportunity to close with the Houston Astros before he became a playoff setup man after a trade to Detroit.
He doesn’t plan to teach classes in closing games, but he says the relief corps already has become a tight-knit group this spring. He sees a natural succession process coming behind him — a process he’s happy to help.
‘‘Veras has done it,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘He’s a veteran guy who will teach those guys quite a bit down in the bullpen. It’s hard to have a really young bullpen. You’re putting a lot of really high-leverage situations [on less-experienced kids].’’
Veras knows what’s coming. He shares the vision of the front office of a day when a young core of Javy Baez, Almora and C.J. Edwards is getting leads to a bullpen that has somebody not named Veras closing.
‘‘Yeah, it’s gonna happen,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s how baseball is. They’re going to get experience, they’re going to get opportunity, like me. That’s what everybody’s here for. To push, to try to find the path.’’
So who’s it going to be? Which one will find the path and be that core closer for this wave of kids?
Is he even in that clubhouse yet?
‘‘Quite possibly,’’ Hoyer said, ‘‘or maybe in the minor leagues somewhere.’’
Strop seems sure that guy is here now, even if he’s not certain he’s the one.
‘‘Wooo, we got talent in that bullpen,’’ he said. ‘‘Rondon has great stuff, a great arm. . . . He can close. And Vizcaino. . . . Grimm, [Tommy] Hottovy. . . . It’s crazy. But it’s a good [problem], though.’’
Veras will be watching with interest when that day comes, from whatever clubhouse he’s in, and with pride if it’s one of these teammates.
‘‘That’s the best feeling that any player can have,’’ he said, ‘‘when you leave from here to another place and then you see those guys do what you were doing.’’
The Veras signing makes complete sense if you’re pen is your only weakness. He’s playoff tested, has a ring and came damn close to getting a second.
Oh, never mind, you can figure it out. He’s going to be flipped to a contender and, until then, he gets a few months away from the pressure cooker of professional baseball.
That’s as nice as I can be.
On the South Side they too are lauding the development of their pen. Of course it helps that they have some starting pitching too so the pen won’t be up in the 4th 3 out of 5 games.
Daryl van Schouwen looks at the Sox closer situation and the pen in general.
The thinned-out White Sox bullpen will get deeper soon. Right-hander Daniel Webb returned to camp after a one-week absence because of a death in his family, and right-hander Ronald Belisario, who had been in Venezuela with visa problems, was said to be on a plane and making his way to camp Friday.
Webb, 24, is considered to be in the mix as a potential closer despite having only 11 1/3 innings of major-league pitching experience after his September call-up. He threw a sideline Thursday and, having thrown off a mound twice while he was away, is set to make his first appearance of the spring Sunday against the Oakland A’s.
‘‘Daniel looked good,’’ pitching coach Don Cooper said. ‘‘It sounded like a bowling ball hitting the glove. He was throwing kind of a heavier ball. He threw well.’’
Belisario, 30, who signed a $3 million contract as a free agent in the offseason but hasn’t been seen, has more experience as a setup man. He has four major-league saves.
Belisario pitched to a 3.97 ERA over 77 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season after a standout season in 2012 when he ranked second in National League appearances and fourth in ground-ball percentage. In 2012, he was 8-1 with a 2.54 ERA over 71 innings, and the Sox view him as an important piece at the back end of their bullpen.
‘‘The rumor is he’s going to be heading here soon,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘And he was also throwing. So when we get him here, that’s a good thing. We can start seeing where he’s at and getting him on track.’’
With Opening Day on March 31 drawing nearer, the pair will be a welcome sight for a bullpen whose progress has been delayed by Nate Jones’ strained gluteus and Matt Lindstrom’s minor left obique strain. Lindstrom is still out.
‘‘All the kids are in town, so it’s good,’’ said manager Robin Ventura, who was growing weary of answering ‘‘Where’s Belisario?’’ questions every day.
From having been there at a similar time in his life as a player, Cooper believes the best thing for Webb after his family’s loss is to keep his mind on work and get him into a game right away.
‘‘The bottom line is, I think, from my experience, when I was occupied, when I was on top of the stuff and focusing on the stuff of my job and my work and trying to do well, it occupied my mind and made me think about the loss less,’’ Cooper said.
Webb climbed through three levels of the minor leagues last year, posting a 1.87 ERA with 10 saves. The Sox are high on his future because of ‘‘his stuff and the way he carried himself,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘Young guy — I just believed that we are going to have another good reliever, not unlike Addison [Reed], Jones, [Hector] Santiago, the young guys we’ve brought along through the system. I think Daniel is looking like one of the next guys because he’s got the stuff.’’
I have a friend who is gifted with all the testosterone you could ask for in a manly man who used to rope bulls as a child and now works in baseball. Whenever Webb’s name comes up his eyes glaze over, his lip trembles and he looks a lot like one of those 13 year old girls Noah made fun of. It’s a man crush of epic proportions.
As Don Cooper said, it sounds like bowling balls hitting leather when this kid pitches. It isn’t so much his velocity, although that’s a big part of it, it’s also his aim. He hits the center of the mitt 90% of the time.
The good news, if we can call it that, is that the Sox seem to have gotten the injury bug out of the way early this year. You can live with delays and absences in February and March,
What? You were expecting a pic of ZZ Top? Have you been paying any attention at all? Sheesh leweez, I feel like I should issue memos and stuff.
First off goodbye and God Speed to Devin Hester. Never the brightest light in God’s chandelier he was still a class act and the greatest return man I ever saw. And, yes, I saw Neon Deion. I’m sure that Hester will break those records this year and look good doing it in a Buccaneer’s uniform.
Secondly, a big thanks to the Blackhawks for last night. I sat with friends and watched the game and saw them all put away their razors. Feel free to continue winning if you don’t mind. And, to my demented hockey fan friends I ask this again; “While anyone can beat this team at any time, have you seen anyone who can take a best of seven from them?” I haven’t.
Thirdly, DA BULLS. I surrender. There’s no way this team takes the Heat in a best of seven series in the playoffs but the playoffs is where they’re headed anyway. And since the East is Godawful, Hollywood as Hell excluded, I can see the Bulls making it through two rounds, making a lot of money on T-shirt sales and turning Noah into a demigod in Papua New Guinea. Why there? Well, why not? He’d blend there. We may as well grant him some days of normalcy and peace. God knows he’s done all he can for this team and its fans.
Lastly, to Chicago’s other, non-baseball, teams. Continued mediocrity and hostility towards fans are unacceptable. As far as I can see you have three choices; (1) sell the team to someone who gives a damn; (2), put a competitive team on the field/floor/etc.; or (3), just say screw it and turn every game into a kid friendly tourist attraction with balloon animals.
I like balloon animals.
Even when I have a sharp object I won’t pop them. They make me smile. You don’t destroy those things which make you happy.
Unless your the Cubs.
We’ve considered the Jeff Samardzija affair from every angle and keep coming back to the fact that he’s gone and the team will be set back another three years in development. That’s added to the two still pending according to Team Theo. So, think 2019 at the earliest. Now I don’t want you to get mad at me but there’s one other pitcher on the Cubs who won’t be back in 2015 and no one’s talking about him. So I will. Travis Wood has a contract for this year and this year only. In the real world he would be the team’s ace. So, naturally, he’s the #2 starter on the North Side. His contract is geared towards a trade. Reasonably priced, no bells or whistle and all of it attached to a guy who just wants to win.
Why does that sound familiar?
Anyway, Jordan Bastian of MLB.com was at Wood’s outing yesterday and was very impressed. As were the 18 scouts in attendance.
Justin Masterson took the mound at Goodyear Ballpark on Thursday afternoon amidst ongoing contract talks with the Indians. The big right-hander turned in three shutout innings to set the tone for Cleveland’s 1-0 victory over the Cubs.
“I was very distracted,” Masterson joked. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was very nervous.”
In his second Cactus League outing of the spring, Masterson ended with no runs allowed on three hits and three strikeouts against one walk. The sinkerballer worked out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the first inning and avoided further damage in the remainder of his performance.
Masterson is focusing on building up for Opening Day on the field, while his agent discusses a multi-year extension with the Indians behind the scenes. Masterson’s camp presented Cleveland with an offer—one that could pave the way for a three- or four-year deal—last weekend, but the Indians have yet to counter the pitcher’s proposal.
“We’re still talking through it,” Masterson said. “I’m sure they’re looking through it and seeing what they smartly want to counter back or just say, ‘Hey, yeah, sounds great. Let’s do this.’”
As for his outing, Masterson said there is plenty of room for improvement.
“I felt OK,” Masterson said. “Nothing over the top, but it was nice getting out there, making some pitches. I was mixing in some more sliders. We were getting around those a little bit and underneath the sinker every once in a while, but for the most part I was pretty happy.”
The Cubs gave the start to Travis Wood, who also turned in three scoreless innings and finished with three strikeouts, no walks and one hit allowed. Chicago hit a bump in the road in the fourth inning, when Justin Grimm took over on the hill.
Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis opened with back-to-back singles off Grimm, who later loaded the bases with one out by hitting Michael Brantley with a pitch. Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrerathen drew a walk with the bags full to force in a run, pushing the Indians to a 1-0 lead.
Aaron Harang and Trevor Bauer -- two of the four pitchers vying for the only opening in Cleveland’s rotation—followed Masterson out of the bullpen. Harang turned in two shutout innings with two strikeouts and one walk, and Bauer added two scoreless frames of his own. Bauer struck out four batters and avoided any runs after loading the bases with one out in the sixth inning.
Up next for Cubs: Edwin Jackson and James McDonald will each start on Friday as the Cubs play split-squad games. Jackson will be on the mound for the game at Cubs Park against the Indians, making his second spring start. Javier Baez, who leads the team with two home runs, will start at shortstop with another top prospect, Kris Bryant, starting at third. McDonald will start in the Cubs’ game in Tempe against the Angels. Mike Olt will be the designated hitter in that game with Junior Lake in center and Luis Valbuena at second. The Cubs’ game in Mesa against the Indians will be broadcast on Cubs.com.
People have asked me why I have used MLB.com writers instead of Carrie Muskat for Cubs articles. Because all I can find is her blog and it’s not clear if she’s even in Arizona. Well, she’s only been covering the team since 1981 so it isn’t like she could bring any insight to the proceedings.
In the meantime, Cubs fans should try to catch the Samardzija / Wood 2014 Goodbye Tour as early as possible, I’m not guaranteeing that either will be at Wrigley by Independence Day.
On the South Side they tossed out a rehabbing John Danks. I have already reported that initial observations said he looked better than ever. And, at his best he didn’t look too bad. Yesterday he sported a cutter that I had not seen him throw before. It did naughty things to gravity. If he can control that beast in the more humid air here I may smile in public.
Our pal Scott Merkin was at the game and has the 4-1-1. Cuz that’s how we cool sports scribes talk.
Thursday’s three-inning scoreless effort for John Danks against the Mariners simply marked the southpaw’s first 2014 Cactus League appearance, with his scheduled debut rained out last Saturday.
But Danks already noticed a significant difference in comparison to his 22 starts from 2013, when he was making a comeback from arthroscopic shoulder surgery in August 2012. That difference centers on his cutter.
“We actually worked on throwing it to both sides of the plate, and that was effective,” Danks said. “It was around the zone, had a sharp break on it. That’s where I expected to be at this point. Keep on improving, but I’m really pleased with how it was so far.”
As far as specific refinement with the cutter, Danks said it was about strengthening and “being able to get my arm where it needs to be, and have enough behind it to spin it right and make it move.”
“Last year, I had trouble spinning it, and it was backing up on me and getting hit,” Danks said. “This year, I’m able to drive the ball where I want, and that was proved being able to throw it to both sides of the plate with the sharp break on it.”
Harrelson pays tribute to Fregosi
GLENDALE, Ariz.—When White Sox television play-by-play announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson first heard about Jim Fregosi’s untimely passing, he admitted that, “I cried.”
“Jimmy and I were really close, obviously,” said Harrelson of Fregosi, who passed away on Feb. 14 after experiencing a stroke on a cruise. “But on one side of the page, I’m just glad he didn’t have to suffer loss of quality of life. That’s the good thing about it.
“Baseball is going to miss him. Everybody loves Jimmy. He always had, he had more b.s. than I did. That was one of the reasons we got along so well.”
Harrelson was general manager of the White Sox in 1986 when he hired Fregosi in-season to replace Tony La Russa as manager. One of the reasons for the hire was that Fregosi understood pitching about as well as any manager Harrelson has ever witnessed. Fregosi managed through the 1988 season with the White Sox, compiling a 193-226 record.
“He was a terrific asset to the game, and that’s the way you judge people. Was he a negative or a positive?” Harrelson said. “He was a positive. He was very instrumental in the success of the Braves. I don’t think they made a move without him. I know [Braves president John] Schuerholz adored him. So I’m just going to remember him for all the good things.”
There was a lot of good living put into Fregosi’s 71 years by his friend’s estimation.
“Let me tell you what, he did,” said Harrelson with a smile. “He put about 120 [years] into 71.”
Closer uncertainty to remain until options healthy
GLENDALE, Ariz.—Ask White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper about the team’s closer situation and he quickly features an incredulous look, as if such a question makes no sense with three weeks left in Spring Training.
“It’s a real long way to go,” Cooper said. “And we haven’t had our guys out there.”
Nate Jones, who has been sidelined since the start of camp with a moderate left glute strain, officially made the list of Cactus League pitchers for Saturday’s home game against the D-backs. Daniel Webb, who returned home because of a death in the family, is expected back in the coming days, while Mitchell Boggs allowed two runs in his one inning of work against the Mariners on Thursday.
Matt Lindstrom was shut down after aggravating a left oblique strain while playing long toss Tuesday. But Cooper pointed out what manager Robin Ventura has already mentioned in that there’s still plenty of time for Lindstrom to get healthy.
“We are taking precautionary stuff with Lindstrom,” Cooper said. “Prior to him having trouble, he was throwing the ball extremely well, but we want him out there when he’s right.”
“I just want to get them all back and get them going on a regular basis. That’s what they need, first and foremost. The naming of jobs, that’s going to come last.”
Ventura understands that there won’t be a large closing sample size to choose from because of their lack of work.
“At that point, you try to figure that out when they get healthy and they start throwing,” Ventura said. “Right now, I would say I don’t have a large sample size for everybody.”
Third to first
• Courtney Hawkins, the team’s first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, made his Cactus League debut Thursday at Camelback Ranch. Hawkins played left field and struck out looking in the eighth against Tom Wilhelmsen during the Mariners’ 7-4 victory.
• Danks threw to catcher Adrian Nieto for the first time in a game situation Thursday at Camelback Ranch and gave the Rule 5 pickup high marks.
“There were a couple of times we kind of got off-kilter together, but he’s willing to move around, willing to call anything,” said Danks. “He talked to me before the game about what we wanted to work on and made sure to keep going back to that if there was any doubt. He helped me out a lot today, and he’s a good ballplayer.”
Ventura said that Nieto looks good catching, while the switch-hitter looks a little stronger hitting from the left side at this point.
• Ventura joked about Jose Abreu hitting his first home run, against the Royals on Thursday, without him in attendance.
“Apparently I need to go away and he’ll hit homers,” Ventura said. “But I do plan on being at every game, so hopefully he can hit them when I’m around.”
Word among the learned, that’s a two syllable word by the way, is that Danks will earn his keep and then some this year. More importantly, give the plethora of choices when everyone returns, the Sox could be knee deep in closers in two weeks.
Sadly, one thing God has denied me is an evening listening in at a bar when Hawk & Fergosi were together. I have heard from friends that those conversations were the stuff of legends.
Well, I can’t be everywhere everywhen.
The lady on the left is Nabilla Benattia is sometimes referred to as the “French Kim Kardashian.” As such you may have deduced that the uniform she is wearing is actually nothing but body paint. As far as anyone knows she has never set foot in Wrigley. The lady on the right is Rachel Pomplun who was the first Mexican American to win Playboy’s Playmate of the Year. She accomplished that in 2013 and her clothes are real. She’s an actual Sox fan. So you can tell there are advantages to both the touristy fans of the north side and the home grown ones to the south. I got to thinking about this when Tom Ricketts was giving one of his notoriously rambling interviews and mentioned how important visitors were to the Cubs. He cited that as a main reason why there were going to be so many attractions at Wrigley, in 5 or 10 years, when they get done doing whatever it is they’re going to do. Oddly, later that day Rick Hahn, the Sox’ GM, must have said the phrase “our fans” about 50 times.
Different points of view and different goals. As a marketer I know succinctly put it, “For the Cubs baseball is one part of the picture. For the Sox baseball is the picture.” I won’t judge which is better.
That being said, the players on the field for both teams just want to win.
They really do. It is not for lack of effort that the Cubs have lost 197 games in 2 years. That fact is why I limit my barbs for the owners and management. How is it a player’s fault that he belongs in 2A and they have him on the big league field?
Anyway, the last couple of years have seen the Cubs sign guys who were damaged in one way or another. This year they may have accidentally struck gold.
Richard Justice of MLB.com has the story of Mike Olt.
Looking back on how it has all gone down these past two years, Cubs third basemanMike Olt resolutely sees the glass as half full. When he sat on the bench for days at a time, he called it a chance to watch how veterans go about their business. When Olt got hurt, he said adversity can be an important learning tool.
For a guy who surely wondered if his career might be over before it even began, that approach speaks volumes about Olt’s attitude, and it reveals why so many people are rooting for him.
“I think a lot of my years were smooth sailing,” Olt said. “To get that wakeup call probably was good for me. It was good to deal with adversity. I think it makes you a stronger player.”
Things finally appear to be working out they way they were supposed to. Still only 25, Olt is completely recovered from concussion-like symptoms that derailed his career, and he is competing for a spot in the Cubs’ Opening Day lineup.
Watching Olt now is a reminder that two short years ago he was one of the top prospects in baseball, a guy who was about as close to a can’t-miss talent as anyone. On Tuesday, he launched a towering pinch-hit two-run home run, and in that one moment, he showed the quickness, instincts and power scouts have seen in him since his first days at the University of Connecticut.
“He came in off the bench after sitting all day and put a really good swing on it,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s very confident and feels very good about everything that’s occurring with him now.”
Renteria offered one of the highest compliments one baseball guy can pay another, saying, “He doesn’t panic at the plate.”
In other words, Olt believes he belongs.
Olt hasn’t played a game at third base yet this spring because of a sore shoulder, but he is expected to be back on the field soon, perhaps by the end of the week. Regardless, he should have plenty of time to win a job.
“It’s definitely exciting for me,” Olt said. “This offseason was a little bit different. I definitely have a mindset to work as hard as I can and know there’s an opportunity out there. I wanted to make sure I gave it my all and was really prepared for the situation.
“This game is all about being healthy. All these guys, we’re all at the same talent level. It’s a matter of when you get up there, staying healthy and staying in line and all that.”
The Rangers made Olt the 49th pick of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, and he flew through their system, making his big league debut in ‘12 in just his second full professional season.
That’s where Olt encountered his first bit of adversity. Rangers manager Ron Washington, loyal to his veteran players, gave Olt just 10 starts in two months. Olt didn’t make the most of his limited opportunities, hitting just .152.
“It was tough not to play,” Olt said, “but I was able to sit back and watch our veterans and [see] how they go about their daily routine. They did everything the same every day. I really didn’t have a routine. It’s something I started to pick up on, and I think it’s going to help me.”
Things got worse when Olt went to the Dominican Winter League after the 2012 season and got hit in the head with a pitch. Concussion-like symptoms followed, then he began to experience blurred vision.
“It was very scary,” Olt said. “I didn’t know what was going on with me, and the doctors didn’t know either. I knew something was wrong. It’s scary not knowing. But when we found out exactly what could be done, it was an easy fix.”
That is, Olt needed time for the concussion symptoms to dissipate and then more time to treat the blurred vision, which doctors believe was caused by allergies.
Asked how he got through it, Olt said: “The biggest thing was getting to the field. Whenever I get to a field, I’m able to block out everything that’s going on outside. Even if I wasn’t playing, just being in the locker room with the guys, it gets you away from all the crazy things that are going on.”
Olt was still experiencing the blurred vision last season when he hit .201 for three Minor League teams. On July 22, he was included in a package of players the Rangers sent to the Cubs for veteran right-hander Matt Garza.
Now healthy again, Olt is part of a player development system on its way to becoming one of the strongest in the game. He is aware that Cubs used their top pick in 2013 on University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant, who probably won’t be in the Minors long.
First things first.
“If you start letting all the outside things bother you, you’re not going to be able to play to your potential,” Olt said. “[Bryant is] a very talented player, too. You just keep going forward, and it’ll all figure itself out. My confidence level when I’m healthy is always high. I know I can play at the highest level. It feels good to know I’m healthy. It’s just more fun now.”
If it all works out, who’ll remember that he lost a year of his career? Maybe Olt will always see it as part of the growth process.
Olt, when healthy, is the kind of player that you could trade straight up for a Matt Garza. And maybe get a prospect too. He’s great on defense and projects to hit around .280.
Yeah, I know. He’ll be flipped in July for some stunning left fielder who may be able to shave in 2020.
Oh well, if you’re a Cubs fan, and not a tourist, I strongly suggest you catch him live if you can.
On he South Side the must-see player is Chris Sale. Yesterday, against the Padres, he decided to enjoy Spring Training. He simply said “I’m going to work on my slider today. Hit it if you can.”
He got shelled.
He gave up 6 runs on 6 hits in under 3 innings. But, and this is the important part, as the time wore on the hits decreased and were less productive. Even knowing it was coming they couldn’t hit it any more.
Still, I bet Sale doesn’t do that again.
Scott Merkin took some time out of his day to anoint Sale the new face of the franchise.
Sale was having none of that.
The area in front of Chris Sale‘s locker at Camelback Ranch has been a popular stopping point during the first three weeks of Spring Training.
It doesn’t hurt that Sale’s is situated on the same bank as Paul Konerko, Gordon Beckham, John Danks and Adam Dunn, who are frequent interview topics themselves. But people want to know about the White Sox ace on a daily basis.
Sometimes two or three times daily.
Cy Young-caliber performances during the 2012 and 2013 seasons coming at the top of the White Sox rotation, coupled with an intelligent, outgoing demeanor, have thrust the 24-year-old into the spotlight. Overwhelmed doesn’t quite describe how Sale has felt during his fourth stint in Arizona, although it’s part of the descriptive picture.
Sale readily admitted to noticing the change when he sat down recently for a conversation with MLB.com.
“You come and bother me a little bit more now,” said Sale with a laugh. “My first two springs, I was over in the corner, minding my own business, getting my shoes laced up and going to work.
“Now, everyone wants to know what I’m doing, how I’m doing, how I tie my shoes or whether I’m playing golf or not. This Spring Training was a little overwhelming the first week or so. The first day I walk in and there’s a bunch of people lined up. It’s overwhelming, but it’s something that comes with the territory.
“Obviously leaning on guys like Paul and Adam, they’ve done that kind of stuff before,” Sale said. “Just handle it the way I’ve always handled it. Try to be the same person and not change at all with this and that. Play the game the way I’ve always played it.”
Let’s move away from the baseball side of Sale for a moment, because to be honest, people have grown familiar with his high level of accomplishments in just a short time. Here’s a quick refresher for those who have forgotten.
Two All-Star appearances. A sixth- and fifth-place finish in Cy Young voting. A fourth- and second-place standing among American League WAR for pitchers at 5.9 in ‘12 and 6.9 in ‘13. In 405 1/3 innings as a starter, Sale has fanned 417, walked 96, allowed 350 hits and produced a 3.06 ERA.
That’s certainly nothing to overlook for a southpaw with one of the funkiest but effective deliveries in the game. So what about Sale the person?
Married to Brianne and with a son, Ryland, this native of Florida also is devoted to his alma mater, Florida Gulf Coast University, which won its opening game of the Atlantic Sun conference tournament on Tuesday. That devotion runs so deep that when Sale was asked to pick between taking a perfect game into the seventh and finishing with a one-hitter on May 12 against the Angels last year or FGCU men’s basketball stunning NCAA Tournament run, Sale easily picked FGCU basketball.
“FGCU without a doubt. That was so out of the blue. You are talking about even a bigger underdog story than anything that ever happened to that school,” Sale said. “What that brought to our community, what that brought to our school. You are talking about enrollment going through the roof.
“People trying to get into that school and the community growing. You are talking about selling out our arena now, and we couldn’t have sold that out six or seven years ago if we gave away tickets. It’s fun and exciting and something that was great for our community.
“Everyone is like, ‘Where did you go to school? Where is that? Where’s Ft. Myers?’” said a smiling Sale. “That will be a fun story to tell down the road to my kids or grandkids.”
FGCU’s underdog status first belonged to arguably its most famous athlete.
There was no Draft selection out of high school for Sale. He carved a niche at a small, unknown institution baseball-wise that ultimately left him as the 13th overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft and in the Majors as a reliever two months later.
His talent caught the eye of scouts. His desire has made him one of the game’s best pitchers. It’s a desire even seen in hobbies such as ping pong, video games and golf.
Jesse Crain humorously talked about Sale’s anger over losing a ping-pong battle between the two at the end of the ‘12 season. Sale won’t deny reports of his need to succeed.
“Without a doubt. There have been a couple of times where there’s almost been an Xbox controller through the TV playing Call of Duty,” Sale said. “Getting quick sniped or something stupid like that, they throw some C4 on me.
“John [Danks], playing ping pong, there’s a lot of competitive heat going on there, a little bit of trash talking. It’s always fun.”
Ryland understands that dad plays baseball, and loves the clubhouse, according to Sale. He just doesn’t understand the grand scheme of things, such as the White Sox moving from Konerko’s team to Sale’s team in the estimation of many.
That point in particular evokes a laugh from Sale, who knows what Konerko has meant to the franchise and knows he has just begun. Ten years from now, he just wants to be part of a championship like the captain.
“This is a sports city,” Sale said. “You are talking about the Bulls in the ‘90s, the Blackhawks now. Holy cow. The history with the Bears.
“We won’t talk about the North Side. But with the history of the White Sox in ‘05, it would be nice to almost do our city a service and do it justice and bring another championship back with baseball.”
There you go. Look how neatly he associated himself, and his team, to legendary winners. Why care about history if history is riddled with defeat? I mean, sure, he cherry picked specific teams and eras, but that’s just his way of saying “I want that.”
And, as a Sox fan, I want it for him too.