What was strangest about this All-Star break was the extra day. Over 40 years of following baseball and if there’s one thing I’m used to, it’s a three-day All-Star break. Having the extra day was, well, disconcerting. There wasn’t much of anything to write about, although some ideas for the future popped into my head. In the end, this weekend has been my All-Star break, letting a few games digest in my mind before trying to come up with anything noteworthy to write about.
As has been increasingly frustrating, the Rangers didn’t score a lot of runs in their first three games back. In fact, the 4-spot they put up on Sunday was them highest output of runs they’ve had over the past ten games. Definitely not Rangers-worthy offense. On the other hand, the pitching staff is getting ready to return to a semblance of normalcy. Derek Holland came off the DL just prior to the break and started the first game on Friday, throwing 7 2/3 scoreless innings. Colby Lewis returns on Wednesday against the A’s. In the relief corps, Alexi Ogando has been pronounced fit to go and will be in the bullpen come Tuesday. Koji Uehara could possibly join him there on the same day. That would leave just Mark Lowe and Neftali Feliz as hurlers on the DL and Feliz made his first rehab start on Sunday. Meanwhile, Matt Harrison keeps rolling along, tossing his second shutout of the season on Sunday in a 4-0 win to keep the AL lead in wins with 12.
Texas started the second half by taking two of three in Seattle and putting another game of space between themselves and the Angels, who lost two of three to the Yankees. The game they lost is the one that gets me weirded out. Texas lost the game, 7-0, as Felix Hernandez tossed a three-hit shutout. I can deal with the loss itself, even the shutout since it was King Felix on the mound. What has me weirded out is what the deal is with Yu Darvish and the Seattle Mariners.
For the season, Darvish is a fine 10-6 with 3.96 ERA. Yeah the ERA could be better, but all in all, Darvish has performed at expectations or maybe even a little better for a pitcher in his first year in the American bigs. Here’s the thing, though. Take away his three starts against the Seattle Mariners and Darvish is a pretty impressive 9-4 with a 3.09 ERA. The league as a whole is only hitting .231 against Darvish. Take away the Mariners offense and it’s a miserly .218.
Yes, inexplicably, one of the worst offenses in the American League is hitting Darvish at a .294 clip. In three games against Seattle, Darvish is 1-2 with an ERA of 9.00. Ichiro alone is hitting .600 against his fellow countryman. Just about 25% of Darvish’s 57 walks on the season have been to Mariners batters. On balls in play (BABIP), the league is at .300, which is considered average. The Mariners BABIP against Darvish is .352.
Who knows what it is. Does facing another Japanese legend like Ichiro affect his concentration or is all this just a fluke? I remember years ago, someone asked Hall of Famer Tom Seaver about the toughest hitters for him to face and he surprisingly answered Tommy Hutton, who had a .248 career average and only 22 home runs in 12 seasons. Seaver said it didn’t matter what he threw, Hutton would hit it. Maybe the Mariners are Yu Darvish’s Tommy Hutton. The way it’s going, I’m just glad the odds are pretty good he won’t have to face Seattle in a playoff game.
Author’s Note: This will be a multiple-post day. Since it’s Father’s Day, I thought I’d re-share, for those who missed it, my Father’s Day post from 2010. Happy Father’s Day, one and all!
June 15th, 2001. It was a Friday. Mrs. 40 Year Ranger Fan (although she hyphenates the name Mrs.Mariner Fan-40 Year Ranger Fan) approached me as we were preparing to sleep for the night.
“Honey, you know my friend (name withheld to protect the guilty)? She had a special piece of furniture made for her father for Father’s Day. It’s a guy who lives north of town and it’s a pretty heavy piece. She wants to bring it home and get it in the house before her father wakes up so it’ll be there for Father’s Day.” She then stumbled through the next sentence. “I… I kind of… Well, I kind of promised her we’d help her pick it up.”
“OK,” I said, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“We’re going to have to go over to her house at 5 AM. Don’t be upset, baby. She’s done a lot for us and I want to help her!”
“OK,” I said, already thinking about setting the alarm for 4 AM on Father’s Day.
Sunday arrives. The alarm rings at 4 AM. Groggily I take a shower and get dressed. The hot water doesn’t even begin to wake me up. We drive over to the friend’s house. When we arrive, all the lights are out at her house. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The wife gets out the cell phone and calls. No answer on her friend’s cell phone. “I hate the idea of waking her father up, but I need to call her home number,” she says. Apparantly somebody answers because see tells me, “She overslept. She’ll be right out.”
I’m falling asleep in the car.
Eventually the friend comes out, carrying her 4-year old son and some other stuff. I’m not paying much attention. I’m just sleepy.
The missus tells me to get into her friend’s car. I comply. The friend puts the 4-year old in the back seat with me. He’s as sleepy as I am. While I note it, I don’t think anything of the fact that the friend’s mother and father are standing right there on the front step. I may have thought that the surprise for her dad must be ruined since he’s seeing her leave, but that was about it. I pay no attention to what the wife is doing as she’s putting things in the trunk.
We depart in the friend’s vehicle and head north. We reach the next town and continue heading north. After 15 minutes or so we have cleared the northern border of said next town. Wearily, I ask, “Where is this piece of furniture, in Falfurrias (about an hour away)? My wife turns around in the front seat.
“Actually, we’re not going to get a piece of furniture.”
“What are we doing then?”
“We’re going to Houston to see the Astros-Rangers game.”
“Yeah, right. Houston is six hours away.”
“I’m serious, baby. We’re going to Houston to see the Astros-Rangers game!”
“I can’t go to a game. I don’t have the right clothes to go to a ball game! I need a jersey and a cap”
“I already packed it. I can’t believe I pulled this off. You didn’t have a clue!”
She was right. I didn’t have a clue.
We drove six hours to Houston to what was still Enron Field at the time. On the way, I opened Father’s Day cards from my wife and our one remaining son at home. My son gave me a book on major league ballparks. When the 4-year old woke up we got acquainted. I was glad to talk to someone who was as clueless as I was.
We met up with a friend of the friend in front of the ballpark and took our seats, upper deck on the third base side. The Rangers started Darren Oliver against the Astros Scott Elarton. We scored a run in the top of the first on a Ruben Sierra sac fly, but the ‘stros came back in the bottom of the first with a solo shot by Craig Biggio.
Biggio struck again with his second homer of the game in the third inning. It stayed 2-1 Astros until the top of the 5th when Pudge Rodriguez knocked in a run with a single and Alex Rodriguez followed with a three-run shot to make it 5-2. A 9th inning sac fly by Bo Porter (who I don’t even remember) closed out the scoring and the Rangers won for me on Father’s Day 6-2.
After the game, we started filing out of the park. We were close to the wall looking out over the street and the 4-year-old accidentally drops his souvenier 12-inch bat over the side. Thank goodness it didn’t hit anyone! We drove home and I was back at work the next day following a one day 12-hour road trip with a three hour game in between.
While it was the first time I discovered that I don’t recover as quickly from one day road trips as I used to, it was an unforgettable Father’s Day surprise. Thanks, honey!
It’s great getting off to a 5-2 start, ESPECIALLY when your expected closest competitor, the Angels, stumble out of the gate at 2-4.
But Rangers fans are glass half empty kind of people. There’s always danger lurking in the shadows. So it is that a nice successful homestand has the home fans happy, yet already worried about one thing: Joe Nathan.
The way they see it is this: Were it not for Joe Nathan, Texas would be 7-0 right now instead of 5-2. Nathan has taken both of the Rangers’ 2012 losses thus far and accounted Wednesday for their first blown save of the year. They will also turn to the fact Thursday’s afternoon finale against the Mariners had Mike Adams picking up the save and not Nathan as a sign the Rangers are already regretting their decision to sign the former Twins closer to a two-year deal.
While I’m not thrilled that both losses have come with Nathan in the game, I don’t think it’s time to push the panic button yet, the way the Rangers did two years ago when Frank Francisco blew his first two save opportunities and was replaced in the first week by Neftali Feliz.
In Francisco’s case, he had been somewhat inconsistent in 2009 as well, splitting closing chores with CJ Wilson. The Rangers were in their first year with high expectations and they were quick to pull the trigger on Francisco.
In Nathan’s case, while he has lost both the Rangers games thus far, he also has saved two games, both in impressive fashion. While Wednesday’s blown save and loss was a true clunker (3 runs in one inning pitched), his first loss was in a tie game with one misplaced pitch being punished. He wasn’t brought in to the 9th inning Thursday because it would have been three straight games for him to pitch, with the third being a day game after a night game.
A two-year contract means Nathan will be given some slack by Rangers management to get it together. Meanwhile, Adams and Alexi Ogando remain ready as quality back-up plans should Nathan continue to struggle. With solutions like that, this isn’t a bad problem to have.
The first road series of the year begins tonight in Minnesota. The Twins aren’t expected to do much in 2012, but playing in Minnesota has been problematic for these Rangers over the past couple of years, whether it be at the old Metrodome or the new Target Field. The Twins took two of three at home against the Angels, so Texas can’t take anything for granted.
If there’s a save to be garnered tonight, though, Joe Nathan will get first crack at it.
With two outs in the 4th inning last night, Justin Smoak got Seattle’s first hit against Neftali Feliz. Not just their first hit of the game. Their first hit. EVER.
Yep, until that 4th inning single, the Mariners were oh-fer Neftali Feliz’ entire career, going back to 2009. By the time it ended, the Mariners had put together an 0-58 streak with six walks.
Think about that. Oh-for-58 is the equivalent of two complete game no-hitters with another inning and a third into a third one before managing to get a hit off Feliz.
Most of us were pretty sure it would happen in this game. After all, the previous 0-48 had come against a Neftali Feliz who only closed games, an inning at a time. This time they would be facing Feliz as a starter, in his first game as a starter, and as a starter who never really developed his secondary pitches as a reliever.
They managed to walk twice against Feliz in the first, but a Justin Smoak DP grounder put an end to the inning. Three up three down in the second. Three up three down in the third. Two up two down in the fourth. Incredibly the streak lasted 3 2/3 innings before Smoak’s single finally put the Mariners out of their misery.
Meanwhile, the Rangers took the lead in the second on an Adrian Beltre double, a fielder’s choice that caught Beltre in a rundown between second and third but allowed Michael Young to reach second before the tag was applied, a wild pitch and a ground single by David Murphy that just got by the shortstop, plating Young with the first run of the game. The only run of the game.
Feliz and the Rangers made the run hold up. Nefti’s first start consisted of seven innings of 4-hit ball. His most effective pitch? One of his heretofore unestablished secondary pitches, the change-up.
Mike Adams followed with one of his patented 1-2-3 eighth innings. Joe Nathan, who took the Rangers only loss so far in Game 2, came back to retire Seattle in order in the 9th to pick up Save #2.
When long reliever Scott Feldman pitched the 9th inning of Yu Darvish’s start on Monday, I was worried. I knew Feliz was making his first ever major league start on Tuesday. If he had a rocky start, Feldman wouldn’t be available to pitch multiple innings. Turns out Feldman wasn’t needed at all Tuesday.
If last night’s effort is a portent of things to come, this could be a very good pitching staff indeed.
Blame it on 19-Year-Ranger-Fan.
My eldest scion and heir to my vast debt, holder of a 10-game winning streak when attending Rangers games, didn’t get to his seat last night until the bottom of the first inning.
This in and of itself explains the 42-pitch, 4-run fiasco that was Yu Darvish’s introduction to major league baseball.
After said fan reached his seat, Darvish was a much more competent pitcher, allowing only one run in his last 4 2/3 innings and retiring nine in a row at one point.
Back in 1985, the first full year of the Bobby Valentine era, it was decided the Rangers would go with some of the hot-shot kids as starters. Among them were Jose Guzman, Edwin Correa and Bobby Witt. Watching Darvish in the first inning was much like watching those raw talents. Mostly painful, but with glimpses of what could be.
Darvish had absolutely no command in the first. His fastball was all over the map. One pitch would have made Bobby Witt proud, the way it sailed so far over Mike Napoli’s outstretched glove and straight back to the cement wall, bouncing back to Napoli so hard that Justin Smoak couldn’t even attempt to score from third.
Darvish walked three and gave up four hits in that first inning, facing ten batters in the 4-run first. Scott Feldman was already up in the bullpen ready to come in for his first long relief stint of the year.
With the bases loaded for the second time and still only one out with four runs in, Napoli went out and said something to Darvish. Whatever it was seemed to work. Suddenly, his pitches were more where he wanted them to be with filthy movement. He quickly got the last two outs of the first and went back to the dugout.
Texas would respond with two runs in the bottom of the first to make it 4-2.
In the second, Darvish looked completely different. He had better command of his pitches and the Mariners weren’t getting great wood on the ball. Still, another run scored to make it 502. It would be the last run Darvish gave up on the night.
The 3rd through the 5th were what Rangers fans are expecting to see from Darvish in 2012: Pitches with plenty of movement, decent command, and enough variety to confuse the hitters. Meanwhile, the Rangers were getting right back into the game with Nelson Cruz’ first home run of the year tying the game at 5. Homers by Mitch Moreland and Josh Hamilton would put the Rangers up for good at 8-5 and Ian Kinsler added the finishing touch with a three-run jack in the bottom of the 8th to make the final score 11-5.
The main people Darvish didn’t fool? His Japanese brethren. Ichiro had three hits off him and the man who had the most actual experience facing him, Munenori Kawasaki, had a hit and a walk in the contest.
It wasn’t picture perfect, but it was a win and there were enough tantalizing tastes of what Darvish brings to the table to want to go back for seconds. Say, this Saturday in Minnesota.
We haven’t even begin yet this season strikes me as the weirdest one on record.
First, I am admittedly a traditionalist as it applies to Opening Day. There’s something that feels just wrong about not having the Cincinnati Reds hosting the traditional first game of the baseball season. Instead, they are part of Opening Day #3, having been preceded by two games two weeks ago in Japan by the A’s and Mariners and yesterday’s Miami Marlins debut last night. The Reds aren’t even the 1st game of Opening Day 3. They are the 6th game to be played on Thursday.
If that were all that was going on, I could deal with it. Now there’s more.
Today I note that The Rangers farm teams are starting their seasons before the Rangers have even played their first regular season game. I’ve just been so accustomed to seeing the minor league season start a week or two after the big boys, it took me by surprise to see the Round Rock Express in AAA, Frisco Rough Riders in AA and Hickory Crawdads in A all playing Season Openers today while Rangers fans still have another 24 hours to wait before Colby Lewis throws out the first pitch of their 2012 season.
Strangest start to a season I can remember.
The Rookie. Most players with that designation never amount to much. Some will eventually become utility players or middle relievers, playing for as many as ten different MLB clubs before all is said and done. One or two look to have outstanding careers ahead of them, only to see physical ailments sideline them entirely too soon. For some, it’s a cup of coffee in the majors before returning to a long, unmemorable career in the minors. For a select few, however, it marks the launch of a path to stardom.
Like baseball itself, rookie years are unpredictable. Some of the best rookies never came close to duplicating their first year numbers again. Some superstars had unimpressive first-year campaigns. Where this year’s rookies will end up in the course of a career is anybody’s guess. But here are my votes for the BBA Willie Mays Award for top AL Rookie.
On offense, the main candidates are Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals, JP Arencibia of the Toronto Blue Jays, Mark Trumbo of the LA Angels and the Mariners’ Dustin Ackley. Pitching candidates include Jordan Walden of the Angels, the Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson, Zach Britton of the Orioles, the Yankees’ Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda of the Mariners.
By process of elimination, I’m taking out Walden because, even though his ERA was good and he amassed 32 saves, he also blew ten saves, which is far too many in my book. I like Arencibia, who was a pain to Texas pitching this season, but he didn’t bat well against anyone else, ending up at .219. Ackley looks like he’s going to be a star in the AL, but he’s one of those guys who came up a little too late and, with only 90 games, just didn’t play enough to get my consideration.
Michael Pineda had a hot start but cooled off after the All-Star break and then had his innings limited as a precaution. Britton did well to go 11-11 for a last place Orioles team, but the 4.61 ERA kind of dooms him.
That leaves four candidates. Eric Hosmer looks like a future star for the Royals. He wasn’t with the big club from the start of the season, but played regularly once he got the call, appearing in 128 games while compiling a .293 average with 19 HR’s and 78 RBI’s. He had the highest average among rookies with 100+ games.
Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays is the only one of the three still in the post-season. He led all rookies in innings pitched and had the lowest ERA of all rookie starters at 2.95. He amassed 13 wins for the Rays with two complete games and one shutout.
Nova led all rookie pitchers with 16 wins for the Yankees. After a very shaky start and a mid-season demotion to the minors, Nova came back and pitched strong down the stretch, maybe even earning the right to be New York’s #2 starter in the playoffs. He was 3rd among AL rookies in innings pitched.
Mark Trumbo came out of nowhere and was a big reason for the Angels contending in the AL West in 2011. The Halos had been counting on a successful return of Kendrys Morales at first base and were startled when it was determined Morales would miss the entirety of 2011 due to complications from last year’s broken leg injury. Trumbo came in and solidified first base for the Angels, playing in all but 13 games in 2011. Trumbo hit .254 with a rookie class leading 29 longballs and 87 RBI’s.
Since I’m only supposed to vote for 3, I have to take someone off the final list. I’m afraid the loser here is Nova. I take him off only because he was demoted in mid-season, which is not something you would expect to see from someone considered THE top rookie of the year.
That leaves me with three names. My picks are:
1. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays
2. Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
3. Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels