Posted on: March 7, 2012 7:06 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 7:17 pm
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Quick glimpse, small sample. Two innings, first impression:
Yu Darvish's Japanese legacy and World Baseball Classic dominance looked for one day Wednesday like they will translate beautifully into the major leagues.
Or, if you prefer, you could take it beyond one spring outing.
"They're going back to the postseason," Padres second baseman Orlando Hudson said of a Rangers team with Darvish in their rotation. "That's a no-brainer."
Darvish surrendered two hits -- doubles to Hudson and Will Venable -- no runs and whiffed three Padres in Texas' 6-3 Cactus League win on a cold, windy Arizona afternoon.
He rose to the occasion when needed, handcuffing the Padres to 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position. He backed off when the situation suggested, getting Carlos Quentin to swing out of his spikes with a 79 m.p.h. curve to end the first.
He threw first-pitch strikes to seven of eight batters faced, including each of the first six major league hitters he saw. He got nine swing-and-misses, and threw 26 strikes and just 10 balls.
He does not dawdle like Daisuke Matsuzaka, and he does not nibble like C.J. Wilson. He comes right at hitters, and he's got the stuff to do it.
"He's got some deception and he's got some velocity," Texas' Michael Young said. "If he commands the heater, he's going to get outs."
Scouts said he threw six different pitches: Two variations of his fastball, two types of curveballs, a slider and a change-up. Texas catcher Yorvit Torrealba says he throws seven pitches. In a game in which everything plays off of the fastball and changing speeds, though, who really can count?
"At one point, I was thinking about taking my glove off and using two hands" to flash signals while calling pitches, Torrealba joked.
With a fastball that hit 95 and an even slower curve than the one Quentin saw, clocked at 67 m.p.h. to Will Venable, Darvish possesses an exceptional ability to keep hitters off-balance. His fastball ranged from 92 to 95 m.p.h.
Though Hudson yanked a double between Young and second baseman Ian Kinsler in the first, it was Venable's booming double in the second that was the attention-getter. Venable blasted a 2 and 2 fastball some 420 feet off of the batter's eye in dead center.
Not only was it the hardest-hit ball against Darvish, the moment also later provided some pretty good insight into just how stubborn, determined and proud Darvish is.
"The dry air in Arizona and the wind blowing out carried the ball pretty far," Darvish said through an interpreter. "To me, it didn't seem that it was hit very squarely."
To which, a couple of Padres called bull. Mark Kotsay chortled that during his 16 years in the majors, he hasn't seen a ball blasted 400-and-some feet high off of a "50-foot wall" that wasn't exactly, um, smoked.
"Maybe his perception of reality isn't as right on as ... I don't know," Venable said. "No comment."
Translation: Yes, Venable thought, he not only squared that fastball up, he CRUSHED it.
So file that one away. If Darvish is as dismissive of other hitters who take a bite out of him as he was of Venable, well, some awfully entertaining rivalries are about to be born. Or, a bit of a humbling process is about to begin.
Mostly, Darvish said, he was happy to get his first Cactus League start out of the way. He said his teammates teased him a little about being nervous before the game, and "I told them, no, I'm not." He was very happy with the way his secondary pitches were working, though he acknowledged that throwing into the teeth of a strong wind aids the movement of his pitches.
He opened some eyes with two impressive defensive plays, showing some quickness while covering first base on one play and leaping high to grab a high chopper up the middle. He threw home, and Torrealba tagged the runner coming in from third.
Defense-loving Texas manager Ron Washington said those plays were the most impressive things he saw the 6-5 Darvish do.
"That's a big Asian dude," Hudson said. "What's that guy who played basketball for the Rockets? Yao Ming? I looked at him and thought, that dude is big. ...
"Watching him on TV I thought, he's big. Then when I saw him, I thought he's not as big as I thought. Then I got to the plate and I thought, damn."
Hudson had no qualms about admitting his excitement to face Darvish. He said he even had trouble sleeping Tuesday night.
Interestingly, the Rangers picked up on Hudson's eagerness.
"I thought Hudson grinded out his at-bat," pitching coach Mike Maddux said of Hudson's first-inning double. "It looked like one of those emotional at-bats where it's like, 'I'm going to show this guy.'"
One other impression: Darvish worked both innings entirely from the stretch, not the wind-up. Even with nobody on base. He works both ways randomly, he said.
Maddux said he was given two DVDs, one from a game last July in which Darvish worked from the stretch, another from a game last October in which he worked entirely from the windup.
"The biggest pitches you make come from the stretch," Maddux said. "If you want to hone that craft, by all means, I'm all for it."
Hone it Darvish did, as his homeland studied through a microscope. Four different networks beamed Darvish's two innings back to Japan live, according to Rangers' PR guru John Blake. ESPN News showed the first four hitters live. Some 150 media members packed the press box in what had to be some sort of Cactus League record.
Yeah, you could see why Darvish and the Rangers were just as happy to get this one behind them.
As the Padres' Hudson said, that's a whole lot on the back of a 25-year-old who is moving to a new country to change jobs, no matter how talented he is. First time you surrender a home run, everyone wants to know what happened. First time you get knocked out of the box after three innings, everyone demands explanations.
Of course, that all comes with $111.7 million -- the $60 mil the Rangers are paying Darvish, and the $51.7 mil posting fee.
"Ichiro kind of set the bar high getting 900 hits a year," Hudson said. "[Darvish] has got to go win a Cy Young."
Posted on: October 23, 2011 11:14 pm
ARLINGTON, Tex. -- The Cardinals are on a World Series record-grabbing binge.
One night after the Albert Pujols Show, starting pitcher Edwin Jackson threw a few balls for the ages. And a few more. And a few more. ...
Jackson walked seven Texas Rangers, tying Wild Bill Hallahan (Game 2, 1931) for the most walks ever by a Cardinals starter in a World Series game. The main problem: Two of those walks came directly in front of Mike Napoli in the sixth inning, Jackson's parting gifts to reliever Mitchell Boggs.
How did that go? Napoli drilled the very first pitch from Boggs deep over the left-field fence for a three-run jack, the final touch on Texas' 4-0 two-step evening this series at 2-2 heading into a pivotal Game 5 featuring the two clubs' aces, Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals vs. Texas' C.J. Wilson.
Derek Holland gave Texas what it needed nearly as much as rain over the summer: A starter who went deep into a game and gave the bullpen a chance to kick up its cleats and relax.
Holland just missed firing World Series' first complete-game shutout since Josh Beckett clinched the title for the Marlins over the New York Yankees in Game 6 in 2003. Manager Ron Washington hooked him with one out in the ninth after he walked Rafael Furcal, in favor of closer Neftali Feliz.
As it was, Holland became the first World Series pitcher to last at least 8 1/3 innings and surrender no more than two hits since Greg Maddux in Game 1 in 1995.
It could not have come at a better time. There are growing questions regarding whether Alexi Ogando, Darren Oliver and Co. are threadbare given how much Washington had to rely on them during an ALCS in which Rangers starters didn't earn a win. Holland's eight innings were a godsend.
Also a godsend: Holland holding Pujols to two ground balls and a harmless foul to first base.
That's where things get especially interesting as this series steams into it's final two or three games: For all we heard about Pujols and his record 14 total bases in Game 3, his other three games have been exceptionally ... silent.
Fact is, despite his outburst Saturday, Pujols is hitless in three of four games during this World Series. He was hit by a pitch and intentionally walked in Game 1, but that's it.
Just as Texas needed a starting pitcher -- and now needs a couple beyond Holland -- to move into position to win the state's first-ever World Series, the Cardinals cannot go it with Pujols alone. Matt Holliday, in particular, has been quiet behind Pujols: He's hitting .143 (2 for 14) with three walks and three strikeouts.
Posted on: October 20, 2011 7:12 pm
Edited on: October 20, 2011 9:06 pm
ST. LOUIS -- How bad is Josh Hamilton's strained groin?
"In all honesty, if this was the regular season, I'd probably be on the disabled list," the Texas slugger said Thursday afternoon before batting practice as the Rangers prepared for Game 2 of the World Series. "But we don't have that luxury right now."
It is a miserable time for the 2010 AL MVP to come up lame, but as Hamilton said several times during the conversation, "it is what it is."
No matter, he is in the lineup and batting third for the Rangers in what becomes a vital Game 2 after they dropped Game 1 to St. Louis here Wednesday night 3-2.
Hamilton said he suffered the injury about two months ago.
"It was right at the point when it first started where I could warm up" and loosen it up, Hamilton said. "Then there was a point where I couldn't.
"Now I'm at the point where, whatever."
The key, he said, is making adjustments.
"Square the ball up and just really not use my lower half," he said. "Because I can hit line drives."
The groin injury has robbed him of his explosiveness, he said, which inhibits his ability to put the ball over the fence. He does not have a home run in 45 at-bats this postseason.
He said he feels his groin when he swings, "running and throwing ... whatever else baseball has. If I have to go from first to third, if I have to leg out a double, beat out an infield hit. ..."
Manager Ron Washington said Thursday that he has not considered removing Hamilton from the lineup.
"He's been dealing with it ... and he's come up big for us," Washington said. "You know, at this point of the year, we've all got nagging injuries. He had one, and he'll figure out a way to get through it, and we'll figure out a way to help him get through it."
Washington explained that "even if Hamilton doesn't do anything, he makes a difference just with his presence in our lineup. And I want his presence in it."
General manager Jon Daniels is on the same page as Washington.
"I think that's what this time of year is about," Daniels said. "It didn't start yesterday. He was hurting in Detroit and he played very well in Games 5 and 6. You tip your cap. He's playing hurt. It is what it is."
Hamilton batted .308 with five RBI in the six-game ALCS with Detroit. Four of his eight hits were doubles.
He estimated that he's somewhere between "75 and 80 percent" and added, "I'm comfortable playing at that level." Check swings also bother him to the point where a shooting pain goes through his groin that might last 15 or 20 minutes, he said. Or, severely inhibit his effectiveness in the rest of that at-bat.
As Daniels inferred, many players are playing in pain at this point in the season.
"You show up at spring training 100 percent, and it's a gradual decline after that," Michael Young told colleague Danny Knobler during the ALCS.
Hamilton acknowledged that his groin is getting progressively worse, and it seems it could be a race to the finish line between Hamilton and the Rangers' World Series run.
"We've got six games left," he said. "I'll do everything I can to be productive in the six games to help this team win.
"All I want to do is help my team win, anyhow. A sacrifice fly, whatever."
Posted on: October 19, 2011 5:40 pm
ST. LOUIS -- The tarp is on the field. The place is on near-lockdown with First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden due tonight. The rain has been falling off and on all afternoon.
Though MLB officials are confident that the Cardinals and Rangers will play tonight (and on time), it is cold, wet and raw here -- which means Mother Nature may have a better chance of slowing down these two big-hitting lineups in Game 1 of the World Series than any starting pitcher.
The cold, wet conditions will not help Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter, who experienced some swelling in his right elbow following his Game 3 start against Milwaukee in the NLCS. (He says he's fine.)
The weather will not be comfortable for Rangers starter C.J. Wilson, who has experienced some severe swelling in his postseason numbers this autumn: He's 0-2 with an 8.04 ERA. (He says he's fine.)
But the conditions may be even worse for hitters, because the colder it gets, the less the baseball carries. And it is expected to dip into the upper 30s tonight.
The Rangers clubbed 13 homers, 20 doubles and scored 55 runs in their 10 post-season games so far, and they're hitting .276 with runners in scoring position. Josh Hamilton has hit safely in five consecutive postseason games, and he hopes to take that momentum into this World Series to erase the memories of last year against San Francisco: Hamilton was just 2 for 20 against the Giants and looked even worse than those numbers do.
The Cardinals, meantime, averaged 5.6 runs per game in the NLCS. They led the NL in runs scored this season, and their +70 run differential was third in the AL. Albert Pujols is coming off of a torrid NLCS, and Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday are doing a fine job of protecting him. Holliday, battling tendinitis in his right hand, says though it's about the same as it was in the NLCS, it's far better than it was against Philadelphia in the first round.
Both of these clubs are fairly experienced in October, the Rangers having gained theirs more recently. Michael Young talked extensively Tuesday about how this year should be better for Texas because the Rangers know what's ahead of them, know better what to expect out of the World Series. That no doubt goes for manager Ron Washington, too, who is has guided the Rangers to their second World Series in two years.
This is the sixth World Series for St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, and as the wind blew and the rain fell outside, he spoke of how he's changed from that first one with Oakland in 1988 until now.
"The first one, I wouldn't say I was clueless," La Russa said. "You have a little clue. But it was like in '83, the first time in the playoffs [managing the White Sox], you're just hoping you don't pass out during the game.
"That was painful in '88 because no doubt, Tommy [Lasorda, then the Dodgers' manager] did a much better job of getting his club ready for the World Series than I did for the A's."
All these years later, La Russa has become the master. And over in the Texas dugout, Washington has earned his stripes -- though he doesn't want to hear about "matching wits" with La Russa.
"I don't think I can ever live up to matching a wit with Tony La Russa, but what I will try to do is put my players in the right position," Washington said the other day. "And if my players perform, I don't have to worry about matching wits. They'll take care of things."
Rangers-Cardinals, we're just about there.
Well, as soon as they take the tarp off the field.
Posted on: August 22, 2011 1:48 pm
All this talk about Dan Uggla, Andre Ethier and hitting streaks this season, the Rangers have had quite the hit streak of their own lately, you know:
Nearly two weeks ago, Aug. 11 to be exact, snapped a streak of 40 consecutive days of 100-degree temperatures in Dallas. A record? Close: It just missed the 1980 Dallas-area record of 42 consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures.
That the Rangers played on, unaffected, and continued to thrive is yet another testament to the current group of strong-willed players constructed by club president Nolan Ryan, general manager Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington: When was the last time you heard talk that the Rangers won't make it to October because they'll wilt in the heat?
Used to be an annual topic of conversation.
Yet this summer, the hottest on record in Dallas since Pat Corrales' Rangers went 76-85 and finished fourth in the AL West in '80, so far hasn't even come close to melting Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Co.
As the Red Sox arrive for a three-game series starting with an excellent pitching match-up Monday -- new Boston acquisition Erik Bedard vs. C.J. Wilson -- the first-place Rangers have produced their third-best record ever after 128 games (73-55).
"We monitor it," manager Ron Washington says of the heat. "We go out in it, we don't go out in it, we've still gotta play in it.
"You work in it less. We'll have weeks where we will have worked out in the heat for three days, and on four days we did not. But you've gotta get your work in to get used to it."
During the 40-day streak of temps of 100 or higher, the Rangers played 22 home games. They went 16-6.
"It's our home-field advantage," pitching coach Mike Maddux says. "We take our pitchers out in the heat of day. That's when we do our running, and throw in the bullpen.
"We see it as a challenge: 'I'm going to out-last the other guy.'"
The absence of third baseman Adrian Beltre, out since July 22 with a strained left hamstring, has hobbled the Rangers more than the heat has suffocated them.
And it remains scorching: When the 40-day streak of 100 ended on Aug. 11, it wasn't exactly with a cooling trend. The temperature reached 98 that day.
More of the same is awaiting the Red Sox and Rangers this week: Highs of 104 are predicted for Monday and Tuesday, 102 Wednesday and back up to 104 Thursday.
The Angels follow Boston in on Friday for another AL West showdown. Again, the high is predicted to be 104 on Friday.
"There are nights when we're dragging," Washington says. "But really, who wouldn't drag in that stuff?"
Likes: Absolutely fantastic job by the Padres on Sunday in the ceremony retiring legendary closer Trevor Hoffman's No. 51. One of the best I've ever seen. They presented him with a 1958 Cadillac convertible, based on the stories Hoffman has told regarding how his late father, Ed, loved to drive the family around in a convertible. They brought plenty of ex-teammates and coaches back. And in the best move of the day, the Padres tracked down an old video of Ed Hoffman singing the national anthem at Fenway Park on opening day in 1981 when Trevor's brother, Glenn, played for the Red Sox. Watching Trevor, his wife Tracy and his mother Nikki watch that video -- and brothers Greg and Glenn -- if your eyes weren't moist, then you weren't human. ... Reading the book ESPN: Those Guys Have All the Fun. Some entertaining stories, and it's written at a fast-moving clip (oral-history style). But it's a guilty read, too: I can't help but think, don't I have more important things to read? ... If you haven't seen it yet, make sure to Netflix (or rent or whatever) Win Win on DVD. It's terrific. Paul Giamatti as a small-town New Jersey lawyer and wrestling coach who is struggling in both areas. ... College football in less than two weeks.
Dislikes: Where, oh where, are the exciting playoff races?
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"In between the stops at the Cracker Barrel
"And 40 movies with Will Ferrell
"I need some way to occupy my time
"So I'm writing you a road song
"I sure hope you don't mind"
-- Fountains of Wayne, A Road Song
Posted on: August 17, 2011 9:18 pm
Last winter, the Rangers tried hard to trade Michael Young.
Wednesday, Texas manager Ron Washington called him the team's Most Valuable Player.
You never know in this game, and Young, already highly respected by teammates and opponents alike, has zoomed to the top of the list with the way he's handled what during the winter and even spring was a very awkward situation.
"As far as I'm concerned, he is the MVP," Washington said before Wednesday night's game in Anaheim. "It could be on this team. It could be in the league.
"He's certainly the MVP for us."
A designated hitter most of the season after the Rangers signed free agent Adrian Beltre -- the move the precipitated the Rangers' very public exploration of a Young trade -- Young is back at third, however temporarily, while Beltre's left hamstring heals on the disabled list.
Entering Wednesday's game, Young was second in the AL in batting (.340), tied for fourth in RBI (85), second in hits (165)seventh in total bases (242) and tied for fourth in doubles (35).
He was second in the league in hitting against left-handers (.365) and tied for fourth in batting against right-handers (.331).
Teammate Josh Hamilton (.304, 15 homers, 67 RBI) won the AL MVP award last season.
"If we get lucky enough to hold on [to first place in the AL West], I'm more than certain he'll be considered for [league] MVP," Washington said, correctly, of Young. "He'll have to be a strong candidate, because he's going to drive in 100 runs."
"I appreciate support from my manager," Young said when the comments were relayed to him. "I love playing for Wash. We have a ton of respect for each other. It's been a great relationship.
"I definitely appreciate hearing that from my manager."
Young stopped short of saying his production and Washington's support are vindication for what happened over the winter.
"Not really," Young said. "Either you're motivated or you're not. If you need external factors to motivate yourself, you're probably not well off in the first place.
"I have a lot of goals, but they all start and end with the team."
Could he have envisioned this entire scene -- his numbers, the Rangers threatening to run away with the AL West and him wearing a Texas jersey the entire time -- this spring?
"Once I got to spring training, yeah, this is the way I envisioned it," Young said. "I'm a ballplayer. I don't want anything during the winter. I want quiet winters.
"But once I got to spring training, it's all about baseball."
It sure was, and it sure is. Retaining Young made the Rangers deeper, and as they wait for Beltre's hammy to heal, they haven't missed a beat. And while Young has DH'd more than he would like, his affinity for Washington and for this particular group of teammates have softened that blow.
"I've always appreciated him," Washington said. "I've appreciated him a lot more this year because we've had to rely on him a lot more. The past couple of years, he had some help. That help has dissipated, with Vlad Guerrero gone and now with Beltre down. Michael has stepped up.
"Everything he's given us this year, we've needed."
Posted on: July 13, 2011 12:53 pm
Edited on: July 13, 2011 2:34 pm
PHOENIX -- Funny story from the dugout of the American League during Tuesday night's All-Star Game, passed along by Twins beat man extraordinaire and Minnesota cult hero LaVelle E. Neal III:
Midgame, Detroit's Miguel Cabrera started feeling soreness in his right oblique. So AL manager Ron Washington approached Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer and, looking to sub him into the game and knowing he was going to have to remove Cabrera, asked Cuddyer if he'd rather play first base or third.
First, Cuddyer said. No question.
See, Cuddyer hates third. It's about the only position he hasn't played with the Twins.
Not long after, with Washington also looking to get Texas' Michael Young into the game, word circulated that Young would prefer to play first over third because, then, he would have played every infield position in an All-Star Game.
Sorry, Cuddyer said, smiling and slapping Young on the back. I got first.
Dislikes: Too many All-Stars at 84, too many starting pitchers not playing for the American League (Josh Beckett, Justin Verlander, David Price, James Shields, etc.) and too many substitutions. The game needs revamping. Again.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
-- The Cars, Magic
Posted on: July 12, 2011 7:33 pm
Edited on: July 12, 2011 8:16 pm
PHOENIX -- Talked to both All-Star pitching coaches during batting practice, Mike Maddux of the Rangers and Dave Righetti of the Giants, and here's the tentative pitching plans for tonight's All-Star Game:
AL starter Jered Weaver is only expected to go one inning. Angels manager Mike Scioscia talked to Rangers and AL skipper Ron Washington and requested Weaver go no more than one inning or 25 pitches because he's due to start Saturday during the Angels' doubleheader in Oakland.
Boston's Josh Beckett is expected to follow Weaver to the mound, according to Maddux. After that, look for either Michael Pineda of the Mariners or Texas' C.J. Wilson. The way things were set up going into the game, Washington and Maddux were planning to use Pineda as the third pitcher in.
After that it's less planned, though Angels rookie closer Jordan Walden has been told there is a good chance he'll pitch in the fifth inning. While that's not guaranteed, Maddux said he did speak with some of the closers because, obviously, not everybody can pitch the ninth.
"Guys used to pitching the ninth inning, we gave everybody a heads up because if we need them early, normally, they wouldn't have even gone to the training table yet," Maddux quipped.
As for overall pitching plans, Maddux had another good line: "The only sure thing is, if Weaver carries a no-hitter into the second inning, he's not gonna get it."
As for the NL, starter Roy Halladay likely will pitch two innings unless he goes through a long first inning. Phillies teammate Cliff Lee will follow him to the mound. Then, Righetti said, it will be either the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw or Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens -- probably Kershaw.