At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Thoughts Clogging the Cranial Vent

Been on the road a bit lately and have had lots of travel time to contemplate the ’06 Red Sox season to date. Here are just a few thoughts to catch you up:

• I’ve changed my mind: Jonathan Papelbon is and should remain the Red Sox closer. Originally, I agreed with Curt Schilling’s assessment that the club would be better served by receiving 200+ innings per year from the big right-hander. But it’s clear that Papelbon is no flash in the pan, and I’ve come to want him in the game every other day or so rather than every five.

• One of the reasons I now feel this way is because Craig Hansen is performing so well as a starter in Pawtucket. While I’m still concerned that the Sox may be rushing him a bit – he is, after all, only a year out of college – early indications are that Hansen may be taking to the starting role, and he could end up filling the role once envisioned for Papelbon at the back of the major league rotation.

Wily Mo Peña is another nice story in the making, and I’ve got to give him props as well for his apparent attitude and work ethic. Whereas he initially was viewed as more liability than asset, he’s had more than a few quality at-bats and has generally done well in the outfield, especially since he was switched from right to center. No one’s saying he’s a write-in candidate for the All Star Game, but he may yet turn out to be a worthy pickup even at the cost of dear, departed Bronson Arroyo.

• And how much do we miss Arroyo now! Forget the quality start he’s had to this season: his trade to the Reds, the loss of David Wells, the ineffectiveness of Matt Clement, and the relocation of Papelbon to the bullpen has reduced the number of reliable Sox starting pitchers from seven (as counted in spring training) to just three. My guess is that we’ll soon see Jon Lester arrive from Pawtucket, and while I’m not sure he’s yet experienced enough to achieve consistent success in the Show, he probably won’t do any worse than Lenny DiNardo did. And who knows: maybe Roger Clemens will end up at Fenway after all! [Note: don’t count on it.]

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Good Ideas in the Land of Baseball

For those who believe there isn’t enough good news in sports today, here are just a few of the good ideas on the baseball scene this morning:

- Red Sox manager Terry Francona giving Mark Loretta the green light on 3-0 last night against a struggling Randy Johnson. Loretta responded by hitting a 2-run single.

- The Sox taking on and sticking with both Mike Lowell and Alex Gonzalez. The latter has been a joy to watch in the field and finally is beginning to show some life at the plate, while the latter has been nothing but a doubles machine of late.

- Major League Baseball arranging for the use of pink bats on Mother’s Day as part of a program to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

- The International League assigning Durham Bull Delmon Young to do 50 hours of community service in addition to suspending him for 50 games after he threw his bat at the home plate umpire in a game against the Pawtucket Red Sox.

- House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis notifying MLB and the player’s association that an apparent provision allowing major league players to unilaterally cancel baseball’s newly-tightened anti-drug policies if a new labor contract isn’t in place by August 1 “raises Congressional concern.” It’d be a shame if the sport added to its public embarrassment before Congress last March by backsliding so badly in such a highly-visible arena.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Big Unit Passes Major ‘K’ Milestone

– Notches His 4400th Strikeout, Good for 3rd All-Time –

The Yankees’ Randy Johnson became only the third pitcher in major league history to record 4,400 strikeouts when he fanned Devil Ray Nick Green in the fourth inning of last night’s game. To put this in perspective, this is the equivalent of striking out 200 batters, a mark of pitching excellence, every year for 22 years.

Here are just a few other data points, as of the start of 2006, that illustrate just how remarkable Johnson’s career ‘K’ performance is:

- He has averaged 243 Ks per year, topping the 200K standard of achievement by a whopping 21.5%.

- He has averaged 10.95 Ks per nine innings pitched, which places him first on the all-time list.

- He has averaged 1.2 Ks per inning and 8.4 Ks per appearance.

- He records a strikeout every 3.36 batters.

- His career strikeout-to-walk ratio is 3.24.

The leaders in career strikeouts category are Nolan Ryan, with 5,714, and Roger Clemens 4,502. At the current rate, Johnson should move into second place sometime in mid-August, and take the lead in approximately five years. That should give you an idea of how stunning Ryan’s number are – but that’s a story for another time!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Why Would …

… the San Francisco Giants decide to celebrate Barry Bonds’ 715th home run when he inevitably hits it? Forget the steroids-themed controversy swirling around him: 715 only nets him second place on the all-time list, and I don’t remember hearing chants of “We’re Number Two! We’re Number Two!” at any time during my 40+ years of watching and coaching sports. Not that 715 isn’t noteworthy no matter what the circumstances; it just isn’t record-breaking and thus not deserving of formal recognition.

… any player at any level continue to dabble performance-enhancing drugs? I keep asking this question but still lack a cogent answer. On Tuesday, the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball suspended minor league Devil Ray Matthew Rico for 100 games – that’s 100 games! – for testing positive for a drug of abuse. Whether it’s the invincibility of youth or sheer stupidity, all he has done is take his season and flush it down the toilet, and with it perhaps his entire career. Tell me, Matthew: was it really worth it?

… people be so worked up about the way the Sox-Yankees rainout was handled the other evening? To hear and read some accounts, the fact that the game was not called until 7:40pm served as “proof” that the Red Sox had it in mind to soak – you should pardon the pun – its clientele by making them come to the park and buy things before sending them home. Personally, I believe having to play a makeup game is so disruptive to players’ routines, pitching rotations, and overall team planning that no intelligent executive would deliberately arrange things to make one necessary, no matter how many hot dogs might otherwise be sold. Inconvenient to the fans making the trip into town? Absolutely. But a plot to take advantage of those unsuspecting souls? I doubt it. I mean, you try to predict what the early-spring New England weather ultimately will do!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Mirabelli's Back in Town

ESPN reported a short while ago that the Red Sox and Padres are about to swap backup catchers, with Doug Mirabelli returning to Boston in time to catch Tim Wakefield tonight against the Yankees. In exchange, San Diego is said to be receiving the knuckleball-beleaguered Josh Bard, Pawtucket righthander Cla Meredith, and a satchel full of cash.

This move notwithstanding, I’m still not willing to blame Bard for Tim Wakefield’s losing record. Sure, his 10 passed balls led directly to runs against, and undoubtedly gave Wakefield distractions he didn’t need. But they had nothing to do with the Sox’s inability to score runs of their own, and for me, therein lay the rub.

Having said this, I am happy to see Mirabelli back at Fenway, for he should require little or no time to climb back atop the learning curve. I'm also pleased to read that the Yankees apparently also made a bid for Mirabelli just to keep him out of the Sox's hands. But every deal comes at a price, and I do feel some regret in watching Meredith go, not because he performed so well for the BoSox in his brief appearance with them (he didn’t), but because one of our Cape League favorites, Will Rhymes (now playing A ball for Detroit), told us just how “filthy” Meredith’s stuff truly is. Ah, well, such are the fortunes of baseball!

Observations Entering the Merry, Merry Month of May

Don’t blame Josh Bard for Tim Wakefield’s 1-4 April record, and do wish him well when he takes the field before tonight’s game against the Yankees … while it’s true the young backstop is having a tough time catching Wakefield’s knuckleball, the Sox scored only 10 runs in the five games in question, and just two runs in the last three. It’s tough to win ballgames with that kind of support, no matter who’s behind the plate – or on the mound, for that matter. (See Clemens, Roger, April 2005.)

And speaking of tonight’s game against the Yankees, I hope against hope that the good fans of Red Sox Nation exhibit enough class to stand and applaud Johnny Damon when he first steps to the plate. All the guy did in his four years here was play his heart out, without complaint of any kind, and he did have a major hand in delivering that elusive “first championship in 86 years.” So, please, let’s do the right thing and thank him for his service.

It’s difficult to overstate the impact Coco Crisp’s absence has had on the fortunes of the Red Sox. Not only does it leave the defensive hole we all feared we’d be stuck with when Damon first left for the Bronx, but it exposes certain offensive weaknesses by forcing Kevin Youkilis, an on-base machine, to the top of the order and stripping the bottom of a consistent threat to get on. Trot Nixon has to bat fifth to afford Manny Ramirez any kind of protection at all, and after that, well, it’s anybody’s guess. No wonder the club is having such trouble getting timely hits! The lineup’s strategic integrity was fractured when Crisp broke his finger, and it won’t be repaired until Crisp returns to action. The trick in the meantime is for the club to play at least .500 ball until then; otherwise, we may find ourselves looking up at both the Yankees and the Blue Jays come July.

Will the real Rudy Seanez please stand up? The right-handed reliever had a terrific year with San Diego last season, when he went 7-1 with a 2.69 ERA and 1.177 WHIP, but his latest stint in a Boston uniform has been disappointing, to say the most. So far he has posted no record but an 8.68 ERA and 1.929 WHIP, numbers more akin to those he put up in 2003, the last time he pitched for the Sox (0-1, 6.23, 1.962). A quick review of his career stats reveals this sort of up-and-down performance is not unusual, so perhaps we oughtn’t be surprised. But it sure doesn’t make his appearances any easier to watch, and if they don’t improve soon, it wouldn’t surprise me if he were replaced by one of the young guns in Pawtucket by the time the All Star break rolls around.

Lenny DiNardo, where are you now that we need you? DiNardo, at least, is left handed, and thus theoretically that much more valuable. Plus, he’s a starter, and he has the added ability of being able to absorb the innings that otherwise would have gone to the sidelined David Wells. But at 0-1, 7.36, 1.964, one has to wonder whether he’ll soon again be climbing back aboard the Lou Merloni shuttle to Rhode Island – or will the lack of a ready substitute assure his big-league meal money for a while longer?