Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Volquez happy, hairless

Edinson Volquez is one of the happiest people I've ever met, as evidenced by his cheeky grin that not even 40 walks and a 5.74 ERA in 58 innings could completely diminish.

But frustration has its limits. And following a particularly dreadful outing, the previously dreadlocked Reds right-hander decided to throw his team under the bus, saying they needed to score more runs. Shortly thereafter Volquez boarded a figurative bus bound for Triple-A Louisville.

But Volquez, whose mental toughness has been repeatedly questioned dating back to his days with the Rangers, made the most of his minor league stint. He worked, he listened, he shaved his head.

Volquez returned to the big leagues on Tuesday - sans dreadlocks - and delivered one of his strongest outings of the season, allowing one run in seven innings in a victory over the Cubs. It was the first time this season that Volquez had reached the seventh inning, largely due to a series of first-inning meltdowns that exhausted his pitch count.

History shows that pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery perform better during their first full season back. But Volquez' issues aren't as much related to velocity and arm strength as they are to command and confidence. Want to predict how Volquez will fare on a given night? Just check the body language.

Beneath Volquez' happy-go-lucky exterior lies a fierce competitor who wants badly to succeed. Some guys harness this and channel it into concentration and intensity. Others sulk. No pitcher has his best stuff every time out. The great ones make do without. Volquez has much to learn in this regard.

While pitching is the key for most teams it's particularly so for the Reds whose NL Central Division title 'peat hopes rest on the live young arms of Volquez, Travis Wood, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, and to a lesser extent Mike Leake.

On Wednesday morning Volquez proudly displayed the clutch of hair previously attached to his head.'s Trent Rosecrans snapped a photo.

"It was too hot," Volquez said. So far he's been able to withstand the heat.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Two months in, suppress panic button Reds fans

It's hard to imagine that the 2011 baseball season is just one-third complete, particularly if you're a Reds fan. In two months Dusty Baker's club has endured a season's worth of injuries, slumps, slides, streaks and adversity. And yet they've managed to remain above .500 and in the hunt for first place in the NL Central division.

The Reds, much like they did during 2010's championship season, have offered up their share of surprises, some mostly unpleasant but not all unanticipated.

I didn't expect:

-- Opening Day starter Edinson Volquez to lose his command and be demoted to Triple-A. Especially since pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery typically perform better in their first full season back from injury.

-- The first inning meltdowns by Reds starters which have become a disturbing trend involving nearly every member of the rotation at one time or another.

-- Injuries are part of the game. But not 15 transactions involving pitchers during a one-week stretch.

I had a hunch:

-- Scott Rolen would have a difficult time playing a full season. It's just a product of age, but the Reds are a different club with Rolen in the lineup and at third base.

-- Jonny Gomes would struggle. Like Rolen, his presence is important for this team. But not when he's batting sub-.200 and offering little from the defensive end.

-- Joey Votto would play like the reigning MVP.

Shocked the heck out of me:

-- Jay Bruce in May. Not sure I've seen a better month from a Reds hitter. It's easy to forget that he's still just 24, and still in the midst of making adjustments. Whatever alterations he made in late April are beginning to pay off in a big way.

-- That Drew Stubbs, for all the improvements he's making as a youg player, still cannot manage the strike zone. He's not long for the leadoff spot.

-- That Edgar Renteria, last year's World Series MVP, has provided little if anything offensively. Same for Paul Janish. I don't buy into the notion that you need offense from certain positions but the Reds have gotten nothing from shortstop.

This all adds up to 29-28, and 3 1/2 games behind the injury-riddled Cardinals. The NL Central is up for grabs. While the Reds' schedule in June is rather brutal, it lightens up after the All-Star break. The organization has enough depth to entice Walt Jocketty and his bosses to pull the trigger on a deadline deal or two.

Two months in, still much to be determined.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Target Field or Bullseye Ballpark?

The Minnesota Twins' ballpark is aptly named Target Field, for the one seemingly placed squarely on their backs.

Ron Gardenhire's club owns baseball's worst record, and with eight players currently on the disabled list it doesn't appear the season will be turning around any time soon. The latest casualties are designated hitters Jim Thome (strained quadriceps) and Jason Kubel (sprained foot).

Thirteen Twins players have spent time on the DL this season including last year's AL MVP Joe Mauer, starting pitchers Francisco Liriano and Kevin Slowey and closer Joe Nathan.

"I don't even count any more," Gardenhire said.

My first trip to Target Field is set for the first weekend of August. Twins/White Sox was expected to be a late-summer clash for first place in the AL Central. As it stands, both teams could be out of the race by then.

May belongs to Jay (Bruce)

Reds outfielder Jay Bruce has been named the Budweiser Presents National League Player of the Month for May.

In 28 games last month Bruce slugged a Major League-best 12 home runs with 33 RBI, while leading the National League in runs scored (23), slugging percentage (.739) and extra-base hits (19). His 38 hits were tied for third in the NL and his .342 batting average was tied for fourth.

Bruce's home run and RBI totals were the highest in a calendar month by a Reds batter since Adam Dunn’s 12 homers in July 2008 and Greg Vaughn’s 33 RBI in September

Bruce leads all NL batters with 32 home runs since August 2010.

"You can't wait to get to the ballpark," said Reds manager Dusty Baker of Bruce's hot streak. "You're seeing the ball like a beach ball instead of a golf ball, and you're very confident. The main thing is just don't try to figure out when it's going to stop."

Odds & Ends

Diamondbacks pitcher Armando Galarraga and umpire Jim Joyce have made amends. They shook hands at home plate the day after Joyce's incorrect call at first base cost Galarraga, then a member of the Tigers, a perfect game. They've even co-authored a book together. But one year after the "Call" they've yet to work in the same game. And won't, says Major League Baseball. "The reason it was done was so that there wasn't any appearance of impropriety," MLB spokesman Pat Courtney told USA Today.

Rockies hurler Ubaldo Jimenez was 10-1 with a 0.78 ERA on this date last year. Just last night Jimenez earned his victory of the 2011 season.

The home plate collision between the Marlins' Scott Cousins and Giants catcher Buster Posey remains a hot topic of debate. The hit ended Posey's season. On Thursday Giants general manager Brian Sabean fanned the flames. "If I never hear from Cousins again or he never plays another game in the big leagues, I think we'll all be happy," Sabean said.

The Sporting News, once dubbed the "Bible" of baseball, has released its list of the top 50 current MLB players. Here's their top 10:

1. Albert Pujols
2. Troy Tulowitzki
3. Felix Hernandez
4. Joey Votto
5. Tim Lincecum
6. Roy Halladay
7. Evan Longoria
8. Miguel Cabrera
9. Joe Mauer
10. Josh Hamilton

The Yankees and Red Sox had the most players on the list with five each, followed by the Phillies with four, and the Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers and Rockies with three apiece. The annual list was voted on by a panel of 21 current MLB executives.

Hey, at least it was a short trip. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's charter flight had to make an emergency landing when the plane had hydraulic issues. The Angels landed at LAX, quickly surrounded by emergency vehicles. The team took a bus to their intended destination, John Wayne Airport in Orange County. "Nothing like an emergency landing at LAX to scare the crap out of us," said Angels broadcaster Victor Rojas.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Praying for the enemy

I loathe the 1986 New York Mets. Or at least I did. They were arrogant, brash, the epitome of the Big Apple. They celebrated a division title in the face of my beloved Cubs. They had Hernandez, Dykstra, Gooden, and that catcher. What was his name? Carter, yeah Gary Carter.

I still recall my father waking me up mid-dream, excitedly nudging me. "The Red Sox are going to win the World Series!," he said. I catapulted out of bed only to watch in horror as the Mets rallied to win on Bill Buckner's error. At the center of the celebration was Carter. Yeah, Carter. Ugh.

Years later, having shed my fan card in favor of a career in sports journalism, I was walking out of Cinergy Field following a game and found myself strolling alongside my longtime nemesis. Carter.

Only he wasn't arrogant, or brash, or anything resembling the Mets catcher I had once despised. He was pleasant and polite, insightful. We chatted briefly about the game before going our separate ways down the steps toward Second Street.

Earlier this week I learned that four small tumors had been found on Carter's brain. A few days later it was reported that the tumors were likely malignant, according to doctors at the Duke University Medical Center. Once the pathology report is complete Carter's doctors will discuss treatment options.

Perspective changes as you grow older. Or at least it should. It has certainly changed for me as I've made the transition from paying customer to paid observer.

In the fall of 1986, Carter was the enemy. Today Carter is a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest catchers of my generation. Above all he's a human being facing one of life's great challenges. Today, I'm rooting for him.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Clemente's death brought life to Pirates' Walker

Neil Walker, who plays for the surging Pittsburgh Pirates, is a fan of Pirates legend Roberto Clemente. Walker is getting married in December. The rehearsal dinner is being held at the Clemente Museum, adorned with artifacts from Clemente's life and career.

None of this information, which appeared in a story by Bob Nightengale in Tuesday's USA Today newspaper, seems out of the ordinary. But one quote from Walker stood out. "I owe everything in my career, really, my whole life to Roberto Clemente," Walker said.

Clemente died more than a decade before Walker was born. But here are the chilling details of how the lives of Walker and Clemente became unequivocally linked.

On Dec. 31, 1972, Walker's father, a former major league pitcher, was in Puerto Rico helping Clemente load relief supplies on a plane bound for earthquake-stricken Nicaragua. When Tom Walker began to board the plane, Clemente told him to stay behind and enjoy the New Year's Eve party.

The plane never made it to Nicaragua. It caught fire in midair and crashed, killing Clemente and four others.

"If not for (Clemente), I wouldn't be here today," said Walker. "I'd sure love to make him proud now."

Clemente's gesture saved Tom Walker's life, and 13 years later his son, a future major leaguer, was born. The fact that Neil Walker now wears a Pirates uniform ... makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interleague interlude?

In preparation for this weekend's laptop-less trip to Cleveland for the Reds/Indians series at Progressive "It will always be Jacobs" Field, I was amazed at the ease by which I purchased tickets. Sections 151 and 153, within a stone's throw of home plate. Point-click, done.

Didn't use to be this easy. There was a time when Tribe/Redlegs was a tough docket, a virtually assured sellout.

Now, this was a month or so before the first-place Indians forgot they were supposed to be the last-place Indians. But enthusiasm for the home-and-home 'Battle of Ohio' series has largely fizzled.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland summed it up recently.

"It was a brilliant idea to start with," said Leyland of interleague play. "But it has run its course."

I tend to agree. Unless it's Cubs/Sox or Yanks/Mets, interleague play has lost its luster. Not to say it wasn't a good idea, if not great. But perhaps it's time to revisit.

As it stands the Reds have six games against Cleveland, just two fewer than against Philadelphia, a potential NLDS opponent.

In one stretch the Reds play 15 consecutive interleague games, including a six-game roadie to Baltimore and Tampa Bay. Not the best way to prepare for a key seven-game pre-All-Star break trip to NL Central rivals St. Louis and Milwaukee.

Slight overkill.

It seems the Reds and Indians both will enter this weekend's series in first place and they're anticipating raucous crowds throughout. Great American Ball Park will be jammed when the Bronx Bombers visit in June, probably not so much for the Blue Jays.

I'd trade interleague play for more games against the inter-division rival Cardinals, packaged with a prize fight between Marty Brennaman and Dave Duncan.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

More Killebrew reax ...

“It is with profound sadness that we share with you that our beloved Harmon passed away this morning. He died peacefully surrounded by Nita and our family. He will be missed more than anyone can imagine but we take solace in the fact that he will no longer suffer. We thank you for your outpouring of support and prayers and take comfort in the fact that he was loved by so many.” – The Killebrew Family

“We all loved Harmon so much. Harmon was a great man, on and off the field. He was a bigger Hall of Famer off the field. Everyone that Harmon ever came in contact with has a story about what a class man he was.” – Bert Blyleven

“He was just a fierce competitor and a perfect gentleman at the same time. You don't see that a lot. Sometimes you get fierce competitors who are bad people. You see guys that are not fierce competitors but nice guys. You don't see the two of them together very much." – George Brett

“This is a sad day for all of baseball and even harder for those of us who were fortunate enough to be a friend of Harmon's. Harmon Killebrew was a gem. I can never thank him enough for all I learned from him. He was a consummate professional who treated everyone from the brashest of rookies to the groundskeepers to the ushers in the stadium with the utmost of respect. I would not be the person I am today if it weren't for Harmon Killebrew. He was a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word." – Rod Carew

RIP Harmon Killebrew

Harmon Killebrew passed away this morning at his Scottsdale, AZ home. He was 74.

Killebrew had been battling esophageal cancer, and he announced last week that his battle was coming to an end. Killebrew died peacefully, with his wife, Nita, and their family at his side.

Some reaction:

“Harmon Killebrew personified Hall of Fame excellence in every aspect of his dynamic life. He will forever be remembered for his 573 career home runs and as the 1969 American League Most Valuable Player, and as one of the greatest hitters of his era. Since joining the Hall of Fame family in 1984, Harmon was a beacon of light among his fellow Hall of Famers, always smiling, always enjoying every moment that life delivered to his doorstep. We have so many fond memories of this wonderful baseball hero, and we will miss him enormously.”

– Jane Forbes Clark, Chairman, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

“Harmon was a Hall of Famer on and off the field. He was baseball's version of Paul Bunyan, with his prodigious home run power, leading by example in the clubhouse and on the field. Off the field, he emanated class, dignity, and warmth, and he was a great humanitarian. He was so down-to-earth, you would never realize he was a baseball legend. It’s ironic that his nickname was ‘Killer,’ as he was one of the nicest, most generous individuals to ever walk the earth.”

– Jeff Idelson, Hall of Fame President

“No individual has ever meant more to the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of fans across Twins Territory than Harmon Killebrew. Harmon will long be remembered as one of the most prolific home run hitters in the history of the game and the leader of a group of players who helped lay the foundation for the long-term success of the Twins franchise and Major League Baseball in the Upper Midwest. However, more importantly Harmon’s legacy will be the class, dignity and humility he demonstrated each and every day as a Hall of Fame-quality husband, father, friend, teammate and man. The Twins extend heartfelt sympathies and prayers to the Killebrew family at this difficult time.”

– Dave St. Peter, President, Minnesota Twins Baseball Club

Monday, May 16, 2011

John Allen to assist MLB in Dodgers operations

Former Reds CEO John Allen, one of the true good guys in baseball whose vision helped produce Redsfest and laid the foundation for a successful Reds franchise, is back in baseball.

Tom Schieffer, who was appointed to monitor the struggling Los Angeles Dodgers franchise by commissioner Bud Selig, has selected Allen to assist in overseeing the day-to-day operations of the club.

Allen was involved in all aspects of the development and construction of Great American Ball Park prior to its 2003 opening. Before joining the Reds, he worked for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers as director of business operations.

“As a longtime baseball executive John provides a wealth of acumen that will be very beneficial as we continue forward in this process to help the Dodgers,” said Scheiffer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Cuban Misfire

The Reds invested $30 million in a "Missile" and lately it's been misfiring. Cue the collateral damage.

Left-hander Aroldis Chapman, the 23-year old owner of a rich contract and at times a 105-mph fastball, couldn't locate the strike zone with Google maps and a GPS.

Manager Dusty Baker insists Chapman can work out his troubles at the Major League level, and what better time to test the waters than with the Reds ahead 9-2 in the ninth inning on Sunday.

Twenty three pitches. Five strikes.

Chapman faced five batters and walked four, quickly turning a rout into a nail-biting 9-7 victory.

"We just have to figure out what's wrong with Chapman," Baker said. "You've got to work and that's what he's been doing. He's working before the game ... trying to find his release point. We just have to go back and try to figure out what we're going to do at this point. We don't know."

Chapman has walked 20 in 13 innings and owns a 6.92 ERA in 16 outings.

"The word is getting around the league now because they were just up there taking," Baker said.
The Cardinals had no intention of swinging. Not down by seven runs in the ninth. Not knowing that the book on Chapman is that the home plate umpire takes a coffee break when he comes trotting in.

It would seem the Reds have enough depth in pitching that it isn't necessary to sap Chapman's confidence at the Major League level. Baker said Chapman won't be demoted, although he does have options.

Chapman's problems are mechanical and can be fixed, so says Reds pitching coach Bryan Price, a.k.a Missile repairman.

You always want guys who are more pitchers than throwers. Chapman's issue right now is far worse. He's an aimer.

Charlie still hustling

Pete Rose was known for head-first slides and an all-out effort which led to his record 4,256 hits. But when it comes to pursuing his reinstatement, Rose is out standing up.

I covered Rose's appearance last night at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center's inaugural gala at the National Underground Railroad and Freedom Center, just steps from Great American Ball Park.

The theme of the gala was redemption. But for every time Rose took responsibility for his actions, there were two or three other occasions where he felt baseball and the public owed him something.

Rose also made clear his desire to manage again in the big leagues. Here's a link to the story:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Clubhouse culture ... is it real?

Yes, says Cardinals right fielder Lance Berkman. I spoke with Berkman at length today on a variety of topics for a project on baseball intangibles. We were in agreement on the existence of clubhouse cultures in baseball and its impact on team success.

Through my work with I've spent significant time in the visitors clubhouse at Great American Ball Park. There is a difference in how teams go about their day to day routines.

Established winners like the Yankees, Cardinals and Braves tend to be more business-like in their approach. Young clubs more loose, veteran teams more subdued. Some teams have more card games than others, some more practical joking. Some clubs watch more film, spend more time in the cage, while others crowd the couches and peruse the CDs and DVDs.

There isn't always a direct correlation between a professional clubhouse and winning or losing. Some of the more successful Florida Marlins clubs, for example, had a very raucous clubhouse.

As Berkman suggested, veterans and stars often dictate clubhouse culture, for better or worse. Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn set the tone in the Reds clubhouse during their tenure here, not always for the betterment of the club. Young players followed their lead.

There was a noticeable shift in the tone of the Reds clubhouse once Griffey and Dunn departed. And despite being a relatively young ballclub, last year's NL Central Division champions conducted themselves more like a veteran team.

But over the course of a grueling six-month schedule there's always time for some clubhouse levity. Today's DVD selection in the Cardinals clubhouse - Ace Ventura, Pet Detective.

La Russa's pain is 700 WLW's gain?

It's radio, where shock value sells. So you have to consider the source. But 700 WLW's latest promo pushes the envelope of good taste. Here’s the text:

"Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has shingles, so we want to give you a chance to win some Tony La Russa shingles of your own! The Reds and Cards clash this weekend at GABP and we’re backin’ our Redlegs by giving you a shot to win Tony La Russa shingles courtesy of Ray St. Clair Roofing!".

La Russa is missing this weekend's NL Central Division clash at Great American Ball Park while he recovers from shingles, which can be a very painful condition.

I respect the nature of rivalries but this sort of thing is best reserved for fan blogs and bar stool fodder. It's also a bit disconcerting that Ray St. Clair Roofing bought in.

The Reds agree. Chief Executive Officer Phil Castellini issued the following statement:

"The Reds were not aware WLW was putting together this contest. It is in bad taste and does not reflect the spirit of respectful competition the Reds and our fans have toward Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals. We are disappointed our rights partner would execute such a contest and fail to consult us in advance so we could have prevented it from happening. Reds ownership has asked WLW to remove the page, and they are cooperating".

Friday, May 13, 2011

Brandon Phillips: Second baseman, PR machine

If Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips has political aspirations he's off to a good start.

After asking his Twitter followers how to spend Thursday's off-day, Phillips received a response from a fan who said he should come watch the Cincy Flames, a 14-and-under baseball team. Phillips asked for the address and actually showed up, watching the Flames' 13-2 victory and posing for photos with players.

The fan-friendly Phillips has been connecting with the public via his ever-popular Twitter page DatDudeBP. He's well-regarded as a willing autograph signer and rarely turns down a photo-op.

But other aspects of Phillips' personality remain a mystery. He's a relative loner on the team. There are media members he hasn't spoken to in years, although I hear he's better this season. Then there's the "I hate St. Louis" diatribe which, by the way, was provided to Hal McCoy and FOX Sports' Jim Day completely without provocation.

The only thing I'm certain of when it comes to the Reds second baseman is that he's immensely talented and a wizard with the glove. But DatDude is a strange dude.

Will the real No. 4 please stand up?

Blog fodder from STATS.Inc.

The Los Angeles Angels lead the American League with a .270 batting average, thanks in part to their success with two strikes. The Angels are batting a major league-high .224 in those situations. While major leaguers are batting a collective .173 in two-strike counts, six Angels are hitting higher than .250. Maicer Izturis has 24 two-strike hits, the most in the majors, and Howie Kendrick is second with 22. Among all players with at least 10 hits with two strikes in 2011, Izturis is one of six Angels in the top 30 in batting average:

Highest Batting Average in Two-Strike Counts, 2011
(minimum 10 hits in two-strike situations)

Hitter Hits AVG

1. Jason Bourgeois, HOU 10 .435
2. Casey Kotchman, TB 13 .394
3. Maicer Izturis, LAA 24 .348
4. Matt Holliday, STL 21 .339
5. Pablo Sandoval, SF 12 .324
14. Hank Conger, LAA 11 .289
18. Erick Aybar, LAA 13 .265
24. Torii Hunter, LAA 19 .260
25. Howie Kendrick, LAA 22 .259
27. Alberto Callaspo, LAA 12 .255

The Cardinals’ Matt Holliday is 7-for-17 with two doubles, two homers and three walks in plate appearances that have started with two consecutive strikes. Among the 256 major leaguers who have started 0-2 at least 15 times this season, Holliday’s
.412 average and .500 OBP are the highest.

On Thursday, when the New York Yankees lost an 11-5 decision to the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium, not a single New York batter struck out. It was the first time the Yankees had gone an entire game without striking out since July 8, 2009, when they defeated the Twins during their final trip to the Metrodome. The last time the Yankees lost a game in which they didn’t strike out was a 7-1 defeat in Detroit nearly a decade ago -- on July 19, 2001. The last time they lost at home without striking out was June 17, 1994, in an 8-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Phillies closer Brad Lidge has yet to pitch in 2011, and his replacement, Jose Contreras, has joined him on the disabled list. Still, the Philadelphia Phillies have the highest save percentage among all big league clubs. The Phillies bullpen has converted 11 of 12 save opportunities, good for a 91.7-percent conversion rate. Contreras was 5-for-5 before going down with a sore elbow, and Ryan Madson is 5-for-5in his stead.

April was a difficult month for the Chicago White Sox’s bullpen, which blew six of nine save chances and posted a 5.55 ERA. It looked as though more of the same was likely in May, after White Sox relievers allowed 14 earned runs in the final three days of April, but the bullpen has been much better this month:

White Sox Bullpen, 2011

April 73.0 5.55 .281 9 3-9
May 21.0 1.29 .171 1 2-2

With a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday, the Pittsburgh Pirates improved to 18-17, marking the latest point in the season that they’ve been above .500 since they were 23-22 on May 29, 2004. The Pirates, with 18 consecutive losing seasons heading into 2011, have been above .500 in the second half in only two of those 18 seasons -- the last time in 1999. In five of them, the Pirates never were above .500. In fact, they failed to surpass the .500 mark for nearly three full years, from May 2004 until April 2007.

Among the 176 relievers who have appeared in at least 10 games in 2011, only two have yet to allow a first batter they’ve faced to reach base. San Diego’s Mike Adamshas retired all 18 of his first batters, and the Angels’ Rich Thompson has set down 13 in 13 games. First batters have gone 0-for-18 against another Padre, Chad Qualls, though he has given up a walk for a still-stingy .053 opponent OBP. Washington closer Drew Storen has the same opponent OBP, limiting first batters to one hit in 19 at-bats.

No team walks less frequently than the Chicago Cubs, who are averaging one walk per every 14.7 plate appearances. Four Cubs are among the most unlikely major league hitters to draw a walk:

Cubs Hitters – Walk Rates, 2011
(with ranks among 193 qualifiers in MLB)

Darwin Barney 1 per 33.5 PA 188th
Alfonso Soriano 1 per 33.3 PA 187th
Starlin Castro 1 per 31.6 PA 184th
Marlon Byrd 1 per 30.6 PA 183rd

The lowest walk rate among batting qualifiers belongs to Oakland leadoff man Coco Crisp, who has drawn just two walks in 30 games -- an average of one walk per 62.0 plate appearances. As a group, leadoff hitters in the majors are drawing an average of one free pass for every 12.6 PAs, walking nearly five times as often as Crisp.

Killebrew succumbing to cancer

Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, who hit 573 homers in 22 seasons, is losing his battle with cancer. Killebrew earned 1969 AL MVP honors after hitting 49 homers with 140 RBI. He released the following statement today:

“It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end. With the continued love and support of my wife, Nita, I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease. My illness has progressed beyond my doctors’ expectation of cure.

I have spent the past decade of my life promoting hospice care and educating people on its benefits. I am very comfortable taking this next step and experiencing the compassionate care that hospice provides.

I am comforted by the fact that I am surrounded by my family and friends. I thank you for the outpouring of concern, prayers and encouragement that you have shown me. I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with Nita by my side.”

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Pete Harnisch would be proud

The former Reds pitcher regularly biked to the ballpark. Now the Reds want fans to do the same.

Here's the press release:

Fans encouraged to ride bicycles to the May 15th Reds vs. Cards game

CINCINNATI (May 11, 2011) – The Cincinnati Reds, Cincinnati Cycle Club and Reser Bicycle Outfitters have teamed up to encourage area bicycle enthusiasts to ride to the ballpark and get discounted tickets to Sunday’s Reds vs Cardinals game.

The second annual “Bike 2 Baseball Day” is Sunday, May 15 as the Reds take on the St. Louis Cardinals at 1:10 pm at Great American Ball Park.

This event kicks off Bike to Work Week in Cincinnati and is right in the middle of National Bicycle Month. Reds Riders have the option to join two organized rides to the game.

For details of the two rides and to purchase game tickets online visit:

To receive the special discount, tickets must be purchased by Saturday, May 14. Tickets for this offer cannot be purchased at the box office on the day of the game.

Riders will have the option of choosing between Sun/Moon Deck or the View Level tickets, with everyone sitting together in each section.

Reser Bicycle will provide bike racks on the southeast corner of Main Street/Joe Nuxhall Way and Second Street. Riders are strongly encouraged to bring their own locks as the bikes will not be monitored.

For questions about Bike 2 Baseball Day, contact Shannon Senger at or (513) 765-7105.

Bill Bergesch dies at 89

Press release from the Yankees:



The New York Yankees mourn the passing of Bill Bergesch, who died on Tuesday at a retirement home in Stamford, Conn., at age 89.

Bergesch first joined the Yankees organization as the club’s traveling secretary and stadium manager from 1964 through 1967 before returning to the Yankees in 1978 as director of scouting. In 1980, he was named vice president of baseball operations and remained in the post until resigning in October 1984. From 1991-92, he was Yankees assistant general manager under Gene Michael before becoming a senior advisor in the Yankees baseball operations department from 1993-94. Since that time, Bergesch was a regular fixture at Yankees spring training and an advisor to the organization.

Bergesch was born on June 17, 1921, in St. Louis Mo., and graduated from Washington University in 1946 after serving three years in the U.S. Army from 1942-44 and receiving a Purple Heart. He began his baseball career with the St. Louis Cardinals organization in 1947, serving as general manager for farm teams in Albany, Ga.; Winston-Salem, N.C.; Columbus, Ga.; and Omaha, Neb. In 1959 and ‘60, he served as the Cardinals’ scouting coordinator based in St. Louis.

During the 1961 season, Bergesch served as the assistant general manager of the Kansas City Athletics, working for owner Charles O. Finley. In November of that year, Bergesch joined the Mets organization and was named farm director by then-Mets general manager George Weiss. In that capacity, Bergesch was responsible for setting up the farm system and hiring scouts prior to the Mets’ inaugural 1962 season. After spending approximately two years with the Mets and working for the Yankees from 1964 through February 1967, Bergesch began a two-year stretch as general manager of the New York Generals franchise in the National Professional Soccer League from 1967-68.

From 1969 through 1977, Bergesch was in the venture capital business. After returning to the Yankees from 1978 through the 1984 regular season, Bergesch was the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds from November 1984 until October 1987.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

David Dewitt Bailey

Homer Bailey and I had a bonding moment last season, following a rookie-like mistake on my part.

I approached the Reds pitcher prior to a late-season contest while working on NLDS preview stories for the Philadelphia Inquirer. I wasn't covering the Reds game that day so I had not glanced at the lineup. Bailey declined the interview, rather politely. I asked again stating that I just needed a moment of his time and Bailey again declined, this time less politely.

I finished up my other interviews, waltzed up to the press box and when I passed by the white board with that day's lineups I realized what I had done -- Bailey was the Reds starting pitcher. I had broken rule Numero Uno -- never talk to that day's starter. It was something I hadn't done in 16 years of covering baseball.

The next day I apologized to Bailey and we both got a good laugh out of it. "You probably thought I was one big SOB," Bailey said. "I was pretty sure you didn't know I was pitching".

The newest version of Bailey is in stark contrast to the one who at times was dubbed arrogant , stubborn, and uncoachable. It was the classic case of a young kid with immense talent who spent his life being told how great he was. A No. 1 draft choice with cash in his pocket and plenty of adulation to go around. This attitude bled into his pitching too. Behind in the count in a tough situation, 'Hmm, I think I'll just blow you away with my fastball. Worked in high school'.

But Bailey's two starts since being reinstated from the disabled list are a clear indication of his maturation. He doesn't have his best fastball, so he's adjusting. He's slowed his mechanics, and calmed his demeanor on the mound. He's a pitcher now, not a thrower.

And he's listening, mostly to Reds pitching coach Bryan Price. The advice is paying off. Bailey's arrogance has evolved into confidence and resolve. And the Reds are the benefactors.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Torre to players: Shut up!

As a manager, Joe Torre won four World Series titles, six pennants and more than 4,300 games. He was a consummate professional, engaging, pleasant to deal with from a media perspective, and the game's definition of a winner. But in one of his first initiatives since becoming Major League Baseball's czar of on-field discipline Torre has swung and missed.

Torre is looking to curtail fraternization among players during games, more specifically once fans have entered the ballpark. Greetings from first basemen to opposing arrivals? Nope. Chats between second basemen and base runners? Never. A quick hello from batters to backstops? Not a chance. All a thing of the past, says Torre.

The insinuation is that the game has become too friendly. That the spirit of competition, intensity and focus is lacking in the eyes of the fans. Question is, who's clamoring for this? I've yet to hear one fan bring it up, or player, or manager for that matter.

Certainly there are players and managers, particularly those of previous generations, who frown upon the in-game chatter. There are more than a few current players who keep their on-field friendships to a minimum. But for every one of them there are a few more like Sean Casey or Brandon Phillips who are regular chatterboxes.

Does it lessen their competitive drive on the field? There's no evidence to support that assertion. In most cases it's simply a matter of personality. Joey Votto doesn't whoop it up with opposing players, but the Reds first baseman isn't the most dynamic personality on most days.

Point is, who really believes this is a big deal? Aren't there more pressing issues confronting the game? How about declining attendance? I doubt Phillips asking Albert Pujols about last night's dinner is causing fans to reverse the turnstiles.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Decade of the pitcher?

The 2010 MLB season was dubbed the 'Year of the Pitcher', suggesting it was an aberration, a blip on our National Pastime's radar.

But more recent events indicate we might be in the midst of a trend.

Justin Verlander tossed his second-career no-hitter last week just days after the Twins' Francisco Liriano turned the trick. The pitching mastery flowed into this past weekend with a trio of pitchers taking no-hitters into the seventh inning on Friday and the Marlins' Anibal Sanchez doing the same on Sunday.

According to USA Today the eight complete games of two hits or less recorded this season are the most through May 7 since 1992.

Skeptics will say, "See, Steroid Era over, pitchers dominate". But there's surely more to it than than. I'm not seeing any greater frequency of warning track fly ball outs that would've reached the seats with PEDs. In fact, I'm seeing more and more hitters struggling to hit the ball at all.

More likely it's an increased initiative by organizations to develop and retain good pitching, which has always made sense. And, historically pitchers have been ahead of hitters in April and May, partly because of weather conditions being more conducive to pitching.

We'll take a wait and see approach on this. But it appears the 'Year of the Pitcher' could instead signify an overall maturation of the game. Thoughts?

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Emptying the notebook - pre-Mother's Day edition

Been awhile. Give us some time to recharge the engines.

Fox broadcaster and former MLB catcher Tim McCarver on this afternoon's Reds/Cubs telecast was clever enough to mention that Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is the only player named Starlin to ever play in the Major Leagues. He also pointed out that the Cubs' Darwin Barney was just the second Darwin to ever play in the big leagues, the last being right hander Darwin Cubillan who pitched for the Expos, Rangers, Orioles and Blue Jays from 2000-2004.

McCarver neglected to mention that Cubs right fielder Kosuke Fukudome is the only Major Leaguer to be named Kosuke. Guess he figured that was belaboring the obvious. How soon before 'A Starlin is born' and 'The evolution of Darwin' headlines get old? Already done.

There were two no-hitters thrown this week with varying degrees of cleanliness. Today the Tigers' Justin Verlander tossed his second-career no-hitter at Toronto allowing just one baserunner on a one-out walk in the eighth. Ealier this week the Twins' Francisco Liriano no-hit the White Sox but issued six walks in the process.

Today's list

Best Reds managers to work with (since I joined the beat in '99)

1. Dusty Baker
2. Jack McKeon
3. Dave Miley
4. Jerry Narron
5. Pete Mackanin
6. Bob Boone

Happy Mother's Day to all.