At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Support Your Local Pitcher

• It took 10 weeks, but the Boston Red Sox last night finally provided some run support for their beleaguered knuckleballer, Tim Wakefield, who coming into the game had an ERA of 3.82 ERA but had only 3.1 runs per game scored on his behalf. Now, if they could only spread their runs across several games instead of batching them into a single contest: THEN we’d be getting somewhere!

• It’s nice to see the BoSox taking my advice and committing to their young hurlers. According to today’s Boston Globe, manager Terry Francona called Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, and Jon Lester (as well as new arrival Javy Lopez) into his office and told them the Sox would like to keep them in Boston uniforms rather than continue to put them on the McCoy-Fenway shuttle. It’s a good decision even if the youngsters struggle, for it’s unlikely they’ll do worse overall than Seanez, Taverez et al., and it will give them the same sort of grounding-by-fire that led to the Tigers’ current pitching successes.

• Brewster Whitecaps pitcher Erik Davis was struck in the eye by a line drive in a Cape League game against the Hyannis Mets on Sunday. Med-flighted directly to Boston for treatment, he was released from Mass General Hospital yesterday, and it appears he will be all right in the end. But his experience does seem to me to be more common than it used to be, and at all levels: David Wells and Matt Clement are just two recent major league examples, while Davis unfortunately followed Harwich’s Tim Lincecum (struck last year) as the subject of target practice on the Cape. One can’t help but wonder why such incidents are becoming more frequent – or is it simply that the reporting is better, so we’re hearing about them more?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Red Sox in Three: Major, Minor, and Cape League Perspectives

• Another day, another disheartening Boston Red Sox loss. But then, what do you expect when the club scores only six runs, leaves 26 runners on base, and bats only .208 with runners in scoring position in three games at a place once called the Homer Dome? Sure, the pitching has been thin lately, but if the bats had shown even the slightest signs of life, the club’s showing in Minnesota would have been dramatically different – or at the very least, we’d now feel a whole lot better about it!

• Meanwhile, life is good down the interstate in Pawtucket, RI, where the BoSox’s AAA affiliate continues to put on an excellent show for its fans and supporters. This observer had the opportunity to spend a glorious Sunday afternoon on the berm beyond left field, and the view of both the diamond and the PawSox bullpen was unparalleled. The kids played in the grass, we ate hot dogs and peanuts, and it was as close to the informal Cape League experience as I’ve ever had at a professional game.

• Speaking of the Cape League: the nation’s premier college summer circuit opened its 122nd season yesterday with games in Brewster and Wareham. (The three other scheduled contests were postponed due to wet conditions and will be made up on Tuesday.) Besides the usual high caliber of play, attractions this year include new fields in Brewster and Bourne, and the annual All Star game on July 29 – which will be hosted by (you guessed it!) the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. Y’all come!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Win Now, or Nurture Arms for the Future? BoSox Can’t Have it Both Ways

The Boston Red Sox today are wrestling with a player development conundrum that every successful team faces at one time or another: should their most talented young hurlers be left in the minor leagues to gain experience and to make mistakes in relative anonymity? Or should they be brought up to help the big club contend for a playoff spot? It’s not an easy decision, for a few bad outings at the major league level can destroy a rookie pitcher’s confidence and ruin an otherwise promising career. Conversely, a few well-thrown innings can safeguard wins needed to spell the difference between playing baseball and playing golf come October. So what’s a team to do?

Make a choice, that’s what.

The Red Sox in recent weeks seemingly have tried to have it both ways by attempting to manage the pitcher/hitter matchups at the major league level while still bringing their protégés along slowly. Jermaine van Buren, Manny Delcarmen, and Craig Hansen, to name three, have become regular riders of the Lou Merloni Memorial Shuttle between Pawtucket and Boston, but the results just haven’t been there, and we are left to watch the likes of Julian Taverez and Matt Clement give games away for the lack of consistent control.

At this point, we know what we’re going to get from Taverez, Clement, Rudy Seanez, et al., and given their respective track records, it appears they are performing just about as well as we can expect them too. But we don’t yet really know what are going to get from likes of Delcarmen, Hansen, and Jon Lester (who, of course, is now with the team), and we won’t know until they are given the opportunity to pitch, and pitch regularly, in the major leagues. It seems to me that if the Sox must suffer pitchers who lack command, they may as well do so with pitchers who still have an up side, and can be expected to improve with experience. Otherwise, what reason does anyone have to believe things will get any better?

So, Sox, let’s make the hard choice now and either get serious about letting the kids show what they can do, or be honest about protecting them and let the cards fall where they may. Either way, if we’re going to have to waste pitching gems like the one Curt Schilling spun earlier this week, then let’s at least do so with a purpose. Otherwise, there will be no reason at all to be flirting with third place behind the Blue Jays, who at this writing trail the Sox by just one game, who continue to play well, and who can easily still slip past us in the standings.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Catfish, the Jays, and a Draft Story for the Ages

• Who was that out there on the mound for the Red Sox last night, Catfish Hunter? No, it was Curt Schilling, who gave up three solo homers to the New York Yankees on his way to a 9-3 victory. Hunter, of course, was known for giving up bunches of bases-empty dingers himself, and it didn’t keep him from being inducted into the Hall of Fame. So this observer isn’t really worried: as long as the Sox hit even a little bit and continue to play solid defense, Schilling – and the team – should be all right indeed.

Beware the Blue Jays! While the BoSox have been doing battle with the Yankees, the talented team from Toronto has been more than holding its own. The Jays today are only two games behind the Sox and would be in first place by a game if only they played in the AL West. I’m not ready to declare they’ll make the post-season when all is said and done, but they are good enough to represent a threat to Boston and New York should either of these two clubs falter.

• A conversation yesterday about the MLB Draft yesterday reminded me of just how remarkable Tim Lincecum’s story truly is. I was in Harwich last summer when a line drive hit him squarely in the head in a Cape League game against Brewster, and few on the scene that night thought he’d return to the mound at all, never mind be as effective as he since has been. Remember too, that Lincecum was a starter when he went down and a reliever when he came back, and he clearly had no problem making that adjustment – even as he had to find the physical courage to again occupy the line of fire. The San Francisco Giants picked a winner when they took Lincecum with their first selection this week (number 10 overall), and one can’t help but wish him the best.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Cape League Well Represented in BoSox Draft

The Boston Red Sox yesterday selected five former Cape League players on what was the first day of this year’s MLB First-Year Player Draft. Perhaps the most notable is right-hand pitcher Daniel Bard, who was taken in the first round at number 28 and who toiled successfully (3-3, 1.25, 82 Ks in 65 innings) for the Wareham Gatemen last summer. Bard was the pick the Sox received as compensation for losing Johnny Damon to free agency, and he was ranked by Baseball America as the Cape League’s Number Two prospect (trailing only UNC teammate Andrew Miller, who played for the Chatham A’s and was drafted yesterday at number six by the Detroit Tigers).

Furthering the Cape connection, the Sox selected San Diego State right-hander Justin Masterson in the second round at number 71 overall. Masterson, too, played for Wareham last year and was rated the League’s number 11 prospect by Baseball America (3-1, 1.15, 39Ks in 31.1 innings). NC State first baseman Aaron Bates followed shortly thereafter at number 83. Bates played for Brewster last season, led the league in on-base percentage (.446), was named a Cape League All-Star, and won the All Star Game home run hitting contest.

The five first-day BoSox Cape League draftees are:

.....................Draft....... ..........Cape League
Daniel Bard......RHP..28...UNC-Chapel Hill..Wareham '05
Justin Masterson.RHP..71...San Diego State..Wareham '05
Aaron Bates......1B...83...NC State.........Brewster '05
Jon Still........C....133..NC State.........Falmouth '05
Matt LaPorta.....1B...433..Univ. of Florida.Y-D '04

BoSox Lose Game, but Pauley Shines Bright
Hats off to Sox rookie David Pauley, who pitched the game of his professional life last night at Yankee Stadium only to suffer the 2-1 loss. Pauley gave up eight hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings, and was charged with only two runs – one of which actually scored when reliever Rudy Seanez walked in what proved to be the game winner.

Many will say the turning point for Pauley was the ball he missed in the seventh when he didn’t get his glove down in time to field Miguel Cairo’s easy bouncer – a play that, if made, would have been the third out. But the fact is that it is extremely difficult to win when your team scores only one run. Never mind that Manny Ramirez, who was just being himself, was thrown out by a country mile trying to stretch a clear single into an impossible double, or that Yankee outfielder Melky Cabrera denied Ramirez’s bid for atonement in the eighth by robbing him of a home run on a terrific fence-climbing play. Pauley pitched well enough that he deserved to win, and it is my hope that the Sox let him to stick around long enough to reap that particular reward.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Draft Day – Bombs Away – Clemens on the Move?

• Today marks the beginning of MLB’s annual First-Year Player Draft, which will end after either 50 rounds or a round in which no team selects a player (whichever comes first). A big day in the lives of hundreds of aspiring ballplayers – given today’s date, it might not be inappropriate to think of it as D-Day – it resonates loudly in the minds of Cape League supporters as well, for the list of draftees will be chock full of names we recognize from the last couple of summer seasons. It also will answer some questions about this year’s Cape League rosters, as more than one player now planning to come over the bridge undoubtedly will be drafted and will sign, and thus become ineligible to play on the Cape. The proceedings can be monitored on, so go ahead and tune in!

• The good news about the shellacking the Red Sox suffered in New York last night is that it only counts as one loss. The bad news is that our friends in the Crimson Hose may be in line for another, as recent Double-A callup David Pauley tries to do what World Series MVP Josh Beckett couldn’t: quiet the Yankee bats. I liked Pauley’s demeanor his last time out – he wasn’t especially sharp, but he did appear unflappable – but if his stuff isn’t markedly better today, then we could be in for another long night of line drives and home run bombs.

• Here’s an interesting item for you conspiracy theorists out there: Joel Sherman reported in today’s New York Post that “there actually already is talk that if the Astros’ poor play continues, perhaps Roger Clemens would want to be traded to the Yanks, Red Sox or Rangers.” Strange as this may sound, you have to admit that there is a certain logic to it. Clemens clearly has a soft spot in his heart for his home-town team, as he’s now opted twice to forgo retirement and pitch in that uniform. But if it turns out he can’t carry the club back to the World Series, couldn’t he still do the ’Stros some good by helping them obtain a few extra players or prospects? Houston would have come away with nothing if Clemens simply had signed to play elsewhere. So who knows? Maybe this is a way for him to have it both ways: support his local squad and maybe finish his career where he most wanted to – with a real contender.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Comings and Goings as June Busts Out

How Can I Miss You if You Won't Leave? To no one’s real surprise, Roger Clemens yesterday announced he will return to the major leagues later this summer, and will do so in the uniform of his hometown Houston Astros. There are lots of reasons for him to return to the club with which he went to the World Series last year (many outlined in my post of February 9), but the clincher no doubt is the opportunity for him to start his game-conditioning in A ball with his son Koby, who is currently playing at that level in the Astros system. Nick Cafardo’s account in today’s Boston Globe therefore rings true: according to his piece, “one league source even said one of the teams in the Clemens chase tried to deal for Koby … in an attempt to entice Roger Clemens.” Does this strike anyone else as being disturbingly similar to threatening a bear cub in order to flush the papa bear from the woods?

Don’t Let the Door Hit You on Your Way Out. Though I tried hard not to, when Barry Bonds hit is 715th home run the other day, I couldn’t help thinking about just how fraudulent his power numbers may or may not be. I know his career was on a Hall of Fame trajectory before 1999, which was the first year, if the recent book Game of Shadows is to be believed, that he played under the influence of performance-enhancing drugs. At that point, Bonds had hit 411 homers and had averaged 31.6 for each of the 13 seasons he had then played. At that pace, he would have had 632 coming into this year, instead of the 708 actually credited to his name. Does this mean 10% of his dingers are fraudulent? If so, he’d now have 638 instead of 715, and would be celebrated not only as one of the greatest sluggers of our time, but an absolute poster child for clean living and high sportsmanship. How’s that for an alternate reality?

Hello, Goodbye. I thought David Pauley did a creditable job for the Red Sox last night. Plucked from Double-A to make the fill-in start, he wasn’t altogether sharp, but he didn’t lose his cool and managed to get important outs when he needed to. You can cite the excellent defense and run support he received as keys to the victory, and you’d be correct. But we’ve seen too many mid-season callups simply fall to pieces when things go awry not to credit Pauley for his composure and his ability to eat through almost half the game at a time the club really needed both. So thanks for coming, David, and good luck in Portland the rest of the way – we’ll let a lefty (Abe Alvarez? Jon Lester?) take it to the Yankees next week.