Riding the Pine… Daily Update 02/23/2007

Player Movements:
Athletics – released OF Hiram Bocachica…
Phillies – sent RHP Yoel Hernandez outright to Triple-A…

Around the Web
Giambi Uncensored
Giant’s Prospect Lincecum Impresses Team
Clemens Works Out With Astros Minor League Camp

Prospect of the Day
Mitchell Boggs, RHP, Cardinals
Source and Scouting Report: Top Prospect Alert

Source: BenMaller.com

Daisuke Matsuzaka would be honored if Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki ends up signing with the Sox if he becomes a free agent after this season. “I played on the same team with him during the World Baseball Classic and by being on the same team, I felt his greatness and ability and responsibility,” Matsuzaka said. “If I could be on the same team as him, there would be no other person I could count on more, but in the end (the decision is Ichiro’s).”

Despite reports that the Phils and Padres still may complete a rumored deal later this spring, two team sources predicted reliever Scott Linebrink will not be acquired if it means giving up starting center fielder Aaron Rowand.

Two years into his term with the Cardinals and eight months shy of possible free agency, David Eckstein speaks enthusiastically about wanting to remain the defending World Series champions’ shortstop beyond this season. He also understands how little the sentiment can be worth. Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt remained noncommittal about the club’s negotiating stance toward Eckstein earlier this week. To date, the club has not approached the player or his agent about an extension.

Only weeks after announcing that he planned to file for free agency if he didn’t have an extension in place for 2008, Curt Schilling was beaten to the punch by the Sox, who informed him that they don’t plan to discuss any future deal until after the upcoming season. The 40-year-old, who only recently revealed that he wasn’t going to retire at the end of his contract this year, got the news from general manager Theo Epstein during a brief meeting Wednesday afternoon. “It’s disappointing, but things don’t always work out the way you want them to work out,” said Schilling, who went 15-7 with a 3.97 ERA in 31 starts last season. “This is a business decision, and like it or not, that’s what they decided, and you’ve got to live with it.”

Bernie Williams told The Post yesterday afternoon that nothing has changed regarding his status, although he wouldn’t address the issue of retirement or say whether he will eventually head to Florida to join the Yankees. A subdued Williams, who recently spoke with former teammate Derek Jeter but hadn’t returned phone calls from GM Brian Cashman, manager Joe Torre or catcher Jorge Posada, made the comment outside his Westchester County mansion. He pulled into his gated driveway at 2:40 p.m. with what appeared to be his daughter in the passenger seat of his Chevy SUV. Asked if anything had changed, Williams said, “No.”

Kevin Mench said Thursday that he would not be receptive to platooning in left with Geoff Jenkins should Brewers manager Ned Yost decide to go in that direction. “I’d pitch a fit, put it that way,” Mench said. “I don’t think I’m over the hill or should be relegated to playing once a week. “You don’t know what their plan is, what their thinking is. We’ve got nine guys (as outfielders in camp). Basically, everybody can play every day somewhere. If they’re not going to do that, they need to go somewhere where they can play.” With former infielder Bill Hall scheduled to start in center and Corey Hart expected to see most of the action in right, Yost suggested that he might platoon Jenkins and Mench in left. Jenkins is a left-handed hitter and Mench bats from the right side.

The Sammy Sosa circus arrives in town today, and the media crowd covering the event has grown to more than 100. Sosa is expected to arrive at the Rangers practice facility at 7 a.m., take his physical and work out with the team. Rangers manager Ron Washington said Sosa will get no special treatment — unless he really asks for it. “It’s going to go just like it goes for everybody else,” Washington said. “He knows that. Sammy’s a professional — he’s going to come in and fit in and do his thing. [But] he’s a potential Hall of Famer. If he says he needs something, I’m going to make sure he gets it.”

Former Braves pitcher Tom Glavine is entering his fifth season with the New York Mets with a lot on his mind. The two-time Cy Young Award winner, who came close to re-signing with the Braves this winter, is about to turn 41. He’s 10 wins shy of 300 for his career, and he has started to think about retirement.

Prospective Braves buyer Liberty Media’s ownership of a sports betting-information Web site has drawn the attention of Major League Baseball. “Our people are looking into it,” MLB spokesman Rich Levin told The Journal-Constitution on Thursday. “They are aware of it and are reviewing it.”

Roger Clemens has yet to announce whether he’ll return for a 24th season in the major leagues. He has let it be known that if he does come back and pitch in 2007, it will be for one of three teams — the Astros, Red Sox or Yankees. But he’s also let it be known that he has no interest in even talking about it with those teams until May, at the earliest. “I feel flattered that those three teams are calling my agents every once in a while, but right now it’s going to be a real slow, dead period with that stuff,” Clemens said. “I don’t care to play, but if that decision comes up again, it’s a big decision on me.” Meanwhile, he says, he’s fulfilling the “personal services” portion of the contract he has with Astros owner Drayton McLane. He arrived in town Wednesday night with his son, Koby, a minor-league third baseman in the Houston organization.

Agent Tony Attanasio will use the numbers in contract negotiations with the Mariners. And, if Ichiro opts for free agency, Attanasio will use those numbers, with a seventh year added after this season, on any interested club. For the past six seasons, Ichiro ranks high in every non-power category except on-base percentage. He’s first in at-bats per game (4.096), first in hits (1,354), fourth in runs scored (671) and fourth in batting average (.331, best among American Leaguers) and second in stolen bases (235, first in the AL). “Ichiro gets killed on slugging percentage,” Attanasio said. “But he’s right there on everything else having to do with run production. Scoring runs is just as important as driving in runs, and almost nobody scores more than Ichiro.”

The Orioles have decided not to sign Kazuaki Minami, the Japanese right-hander whom they worked out Monday. “Right now, we don’t see having a spot for him in the organization, but if that changes, we’ll get in contact with him,” vice president Jim Duquette said.

Shortstop Juan Uribe apparently has been cleared of any involvement in the shooting of two men in his native Dominican Republic, according to information obtained by his attorney. Uribe was en route to Tucson from Dallas late Thursday night to join the White Sox in full-squad workouts. Uribe’s agent/attorney Martin Arburua said he was informed by one of Uribe’s Dominican-based attorneys that Uribe would not be required to return to his native country every 15 days or appear for a March 17 hearing.

The difference between the way Paul Wilson is throwing this spring and last is vast. “It’s not even close,” Reds manager Jerry Narron said. “Last spring, he had no chance. This spring, he has a legitimate chance to make our club.” If that would happen, it would be one of the feel-good stories of the spring and a big boost for the Reds’ rotation. Wilson is a guy who went 11-6 with a 4.36 ERA in 2004 and was the Reds’ Opening Day starter in 2005.

Baltimore Orioles pitcher Kris Benson, who could miss the season with a partially torn rotator cuff, began rehabilitation on his ailing right shoulder on Thursday. Benson likely will rehab the shoulder for at least four weeks before again deciding whether to have season-ending surgery. If Benson chooses not to have surgery, it’s possible he could pitch the final month or two of the season.

It would appear that Luis Matos will have a hard time not making the Pirates’ 25-man roster out of spring training. Asked yesterday how Matos might fit in with the team’s needs on the bench, general manager Dave Littlefield said that one of those needs will be “a right-handed hitting outfielder who also can play center field” to back up Chris Duffy. Only two players fit that mold: Matos and Rajai Davis. And it is highly unlikely to be Davis.

Ken Griffey Jr. still isn’t hitting, because his left hand – broken in the offseason – is coming around. “I’m stretching the tendons,” he said. “I don’t want to pop a tendon.” Griffey has been able to participate in everything but hitting. “They’ve got me doing other things,” he said. But none of those things is as fun as hitting, right? “You can make them fun,” he said. “But, no, they’re not.”

Who’s on first base for the Angels this season will hinge more on who’s swinging the hottest bat, not who’s flashing the smoothest leather, and that could bode well for Kendry Morales. Casey Kotchman appeared to have the edge over Morales entering camp because of his superior defense and Manager Mike Scioscia’s usual tendency, when the offensive difference between players is negligible, to go with the better defender. But because Morales showed in limited big-league time last season that he is a competent, if not Gold Glove-caliber, first baseman, and because the Angels are looking for more power and production wherever they can find it, Scioscia will place more of an emphasis on offense at the position.

From the comfort of a golf cart, Manager Grady Little led off an informal news conference Thursday by saying Rafael Furcal will continue to be the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter. New addition Juan Pierre will bat second. “We have the luxury of having two guys who can get something started in the first inning of every game,” Little said. “If one makes an out, we still have another.” Little agonized over the decision for weeks because both players have batted leadoff almost exclusively. In fact, he was leaning toward Pierre batting leadoff until the last few days. “This is the way we start out,” Little said. “If we get into the season and see that something could be changed to make us better, we won’t be scared to change.”

Oakland slugger Mike Piazza in one breath said he was “resigned” to being a full-time DH and that he has to “embrace” it, but in the next breath he admitted: “It’s very difficult for me to put the gear on the shelf and just hit. I’m an old catcher at heart.” He spoke of getting some innings in behind the plate later in spring training, and attending the catchers’ daily meetings during the season. When the A’s signed Piazza this winter to a one-year, $8.5 million contract, they made clear their intentions. Piazza would be expected to replace the departed Frank Thomas as their full-time DH. The job entailed no catching whatsoever — except, perhaps, in the case of emergency. … The A’s have no plans to use Piazza at catcher at all in spring training, and in an injury emergency, according to General Manager Billy Beane, they would be more likely to call up a catcher from the minor leagues than to put Piazza behind the plate.

How About That? 123: Career wins for Diamondbacks righthander Livan Hernandez. He says his goal is to surpass Luis Tiant (229) as the winningest Cuban pitcher ever.

Manager Lou Piniella stressed Thursday that the Cubs will not overextend their starting pitchers this season and risk injury by letting them throw more than 120 pitches in games. “We’ll take care of these pitchers,” Piniella said. “We’re not going to abuse any of them. We want them healthy for the stretch run.”

The Royals’ hitters got their first look Thursday at free-agent acquisition Gil Meche in an eight-minute session of batting practice. “I don’t know if he was going 100 percent,” outfielder Emil Brown said, “but he had control of all of his pitches. He was hitting his spots. For a first day, he was pretty good. I saw a pretty good cutter. I also saw one 12-to-6 curveball that had a lot of bite to it.”

Don’t be alarmed if Mets closer Billy Wagner’s strikeout total is down this year. Wagner is working on a split-fingered fastball. The goal is to induce more groundouts, which require fewer pitches than strikeouts and should keep him fresher later in the season. “That’ll give you something to talk about – Wagner strikeout total down,” he quipped yesterday.

Last spring, Paul Lo Duca mentioned he had right-hand tendinitis that routinely flared up in the opening part of spring training. The Mets catcher received a measure of treatment for the condition yesterday. The All-Star got a cortisone shot in the hand, something he’s done for six straight years. “He’ll probably miss a day or two just to let it calm down and make sure,” Willie Randolph said. “But it’s early and it’s something very, very minor.”

As Rockies position players arrive for physicals today, left fielder Matt Holliday discussed the health of his defense. Holliday, an all-star and a Silver Slugger, knows he must get better. His glove caught plenty of flak last season even as he emerged as one of baseball’s best young hitters. “I don’t care about the criticism. People sit and watch and make judgments, I understand that,” Holliday said. “But what about the balls I miss that some guys don’t even get to? So I guess it looks better that they just let it go and chase the ball to the wall? I know I am athletic enough and have a good work ethic that I will play good defense.”

On the first day of full workouts Thursday, Rays designated hitter Jonny Gomes felt like he had his swing back. Taking his first cuts in the batting cage against coaches, Gomes said his surgically repaired right shoulder, which hindered his swing last year before season ending surgery, is back to normal. He began taking live batting practice just two weeks ago. “It feels real loose,” he said. “Toward the end of last season, when I had a hard swing, there was a weird pain. At any point it felt like it could just blow out.” Manager Joe Maddon could tell by watching that Gomes’ swing was much more fluid.

Any anxieties that Royals pitcher Zack Greinke might have about making the team in 2007 should be eased by this fact: He’s got the big guy in his corner, as in Royals owner David Glass. “I really am rooting for him,” Glass said by phone from his home in Arkansas. “Zack’s got all the talent to be a top-notch pitcher in this league. And if he can put it all together, that just makes us so much better as a staff and as a team.”

M’s manager Mike Hargrove scoffed at critics who questioned first baseman Richie Sexson’s batting average last year. “I’d love Richie to hit .300,” the manager said. “But I’d much rather he hit 30 homers. Our park isn’t built for right-handers, and guys with power usually give up some average to get those homers.”

There was talk last year of Macay McBride becoming a left-handed closer, but now Braves manager Bobby Cox believes starting could be in his future. Perhaps even the near future. “We’re down to six starters,” Cox said. “If somebody broke down today, [using McBride] would be a thought in my mind.” That’s how impressed Cox was while watching McBride on Thursday as he tore through hitters throwing batting practice on the second day of full-squad workouts. “He opened my eyes up,” Cox said. “And he wants to start, I think.” The first four rotation spots are expected to be filled by John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and lefties Chuck James and Mike Hampton. Kyle Davies and Lance Cormier are competing for the fifth spot. The Braves aren’t planning to move McBride from the bullpen this spring.

Las Vegas Hilton sports book baseball odds:
• Most homers by any player: 51.5
• Most hits by any player: 220.5
• Most victories by any pitcher: 20.5
• Home run totals: Ryan Howard (42.5), David Ortiz and Albert Pujols (41.5), Alex Rodriguez (37.5)
• Hit totals: Ichiro Suzuki (214.5), Derek Jeter (194.5)

Add Brandon Inge to those singing the early praises of Curtis Granderson this spring. Said Inge, who signed a four-year contract this winter for $24 million, “He’ll demolish that figure some day, which I’m absolutely happy for. People who play the game right deserve good things. “If I was a manager, he’d be my center fielder. I’m too dumb to be a manager, but if I was one, he’d be my center fielder. He’s a great baseball player all around. “He’s coachable,” said Inge, “he listens, he asks questions and gives 100 percent all the time. Even when he doesn’t hit, he gives you his best effort.”

After Rafael Soriano made it through a glacial-paced visa process in the Dominican Republic and reported to spring training Thursday, he said he’s the same hard-throwing, fierce competitor he was before a frightening line drive hit his head Aug. 29. “I’m not scared, I’m not a little kid,” said the 27-year-old right-hander, who had a 2.25 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 60 innings during a 2006 season that ended abruptly. “What happened, happened. I can look at the videotape of what happened. It doesn’t bother me to see it.” What happened was a screamer off the bat of Anaheim slugger Vladimir Guerrero. It hit Soriano behind the right ear and left him with a concussion.

Brewers 3B Corey Koskie reported to camp but is still recovering from post-concussion syndrome that forced him to miss the second half of last season. He will continue his rehab program until he is cleared to take the field again.

Next month, Nats closer Chad Cordero will turn 25, but he will remain a kid. He still lives with his old college teammates in a house he owns in Fullerton, Calif. He still spends his offseason playing video games with those same friends, building a fire in the new fire pit out back, roasting marshmallows, going to bed — then waking up to do the same thing all over again. But the just-completed arbitration process — Cordero was awarded the $4.15 million on Wednesday — was an introduction of baseball’s business to Cordero.

Who Knew? In 66 games, Twins pitcher Dennys Reyes posted a 0.89 ERA — the fifth-lowest mark in major league history for any pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched.

After watching his retooled White Sox conduct their first full-squad workout Thursday, manager Ozzie Guillen felt even better about his American League Central prospects. “I’m feeling first,” said Guillen, who shared his thoughts during a preworkout meeting with his players and staff members. “I think we have enough quality and a lot of talent in the room. My expectation of this ballclub right now is higher than it was in the past. I think this year, I don’t think we have to prove something. I think we have to prove to ourselves that we can play better.” Much of Guillen’s confidence has stemmed from a revamped bullpen that has wowed observers more with velocity than control.

Carlos Zambrano finished second in the National League with an average of 109.97 pitches per start, after ranking second in ’05 (107.94) and third in ’04 (111.87). Lou Piniella said Zambrano could get an extra day of rest if he’s forced to throw more than 119 pitches for whatever reason. “We try to keep pitch counts low,” Piniella said. “We have a little more of a veteran staff here, but in Seattle, it was 110, 112, 115 pitches, and we hit 120 a couple of times. If we did hit 120, we’d back off the next start, or the start after that.” Zambrano had eight starts with 120 or more pitches last year. Piniella acknowledged that Randy Johnson would get up to 140 pitches on occasion in Seattle.

The Royals put their entire 59-player camp roster, minus ailing reliever Joel Peralta, on the field Thursday morning for the first time in 2007. The workout followed the requisite first-day team meetings that concluded with a few words from manager Buddy Bell. Very few. “These guys know what is expected of them,” he said. “I don’t have to say a whole lot.” Bell was, however, explaining the clubhouse ban on cell phones when one rang suspiciously on cue. It belonged to rookie outfielder Billy Butler, one of the organization’s top prospects. It was a setup. Butler had turned his phone off before a veteran player conceived the prank. The 75-minute meeting ended shortly thereafter, and players sauntered out to the practice fields to begin drills.

Cubs outfielders Alfonso Soriano and Jacque Jones are adept at getting to balls, as is left fielder Matt Murton, who overcame some early defensive problems and improved his range as last season progressed. Murton finished second in “zone ratings” among major-league left fielders with 120 or more starts in ’06, and Soriano finished third in the STATS rankings that measure range. Jones ranked seventh in right field. But Soriano’s .969 fielding percentage was fourth worst among NL left fielders, and Jones’ .976 fielding percentage was second worst among right fielders.

When it comes to Coors Field, the grass isn’t always greener, it’s longer. Grounds- keeper Mark Razum confirmed that the Rockies will keep the infield and outfield grass at even higher lengths this season. The Rockies began leaving the grass longer two years ago by design to benefit their sinkerball pitchers. Last season, Colorado recorded a major league-best 190 double plays. “It definitely has made a difference,” starter Aaron Cook said. “Places like Los Angeles and Arizona are so fast, a three-hopper gets into the outfield. At our place, that ball gets caught.”

Mike Lowell, the Red Sox third baseman, quoted Jimmy Johnson, the former Dallas Cowboys’ coach, regarding the different treatment for stars and reserves. If Troy Aikman, then the quarterback, fell asleep at a team meeting, Johnson said, he would awaken him. If a backup player fell asleep, Johnson said, he would cut him. The Red Sox cannot cut Manny Ramírez. Lowell echoed Boston’s party line in explaining how Ramírez’s production makes him worth the trouble that he sometimes creates. Ramírez has averaged 39 homers and 119 runs batted in across six seasons with the Red Sox and is one of the most lethal hitters in the major leagues. “There’s a method to his madness,” Lowell said. “It’s not like this guy just shows up with his crazy hair and starts hitting pitchers. He has a plan.”

The Yankees’ five regular starters threw batting practice, and when they were done, Phil Hughes and Humberto Sánchez did the same. They are the Yankees’ two prized pitching prospects, and they did not disappoint. Hughes threw 34 pitches, and the hitters put two in play. Sánchez was a bit wild, but Jason Giambi guessed that he threw 96 miles an hour. Hughes and Sánchez are the cornerstones of the Yankees’ emphasis on young pitching. “From the first day when we all walked in, it looked like a corral — just a bunch of horses,” the backup catcher Todd Pratt said. “I’d be pretty happy if I was Mr. Cashman.” Brian Cashman, the general manager, has no plans to put Hughes or Sánchez in the majors out of camp. But Hughes, especially, drew raves. He might be the best pitching prospect in baseball.

Mets manager Willie Randolph had little to say Thursday about Cliff Floyd’s remark that Randolph seemed “confused” about whether to have Floyd pinch-hit or use someone else to bunt with the tying runs on first and second and no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the National League Championship Series against St. Louis. “That’s his opinion,” Randolph said of Floyd, who did pinch-hit and struck out. Floyd said that Randolph deferred to the bench coach Jerry Manuel, who wanted Floyd to bat. Manuel, who became the bench coach last season by switching roles with Sandy Alomar Sr., made light of the whole issue by telling reporters: “It’s a cloud with no rain. I love you all. I love Cliff.”

Former Tribe designated hitter Ellis Burks and former Tribe third baseman Travis Fryman showed up Thursday at Chain O’ Lakes Park to help with spring-training instruction. Burks will stay through March 28 and assist coaches at the major-league and minor-league level. He has been an employee of the Indians for more than a year. Fryman, who lives in the Florida panhandle city of Pensacola, will stay with the team through spring training.

Before arriving at Astros’ camp for the first time Thursday, slugger Carlos Lee took a physical and then had a pancake breakfast with new teammates Lance Berkman and Chris Burke. “I was starting the process of getting to know him,” Berkman said. “We were over taking a physical together and he was like, ‘Where’s the field?’ I said, ‘Come eat with us and we’ll go over there.’ “

Who Knew? The Mets have nearly one third of the current active major league players over age 40, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Rockies reliever LaTroy Hawkins got a tattoo this week to honor his late grandmother. Gorgeous, her nickname, is stenciled on his left forearm. “It’s been something I had been thinking about doing for a while,” Hawkins said.

The Nationals are preparing to make a change to their public address announcer at RFK Stadium. According to sources, the club recently held tryouts that included Jim Clarke, the man who held the job the first two seasons the team was in Washington. Clarke, who frequently missed announcing pinch hitters and defensive substitutions during the club’s inaugural season of 2005, was beaten out for the job. An announcement about a replacement should come soon.

The Orioles are hoping to have the screen behind home plate at Camden Yards raised before the club’s April 9 home opener against the Detroit Tigers, a development that will be welcomed by players. With the family section located directly behind home, several players have complained that the current screen, which is 17 feet high, was not tall enough to provide adequate protection. The wives of current Orioles Gibbons and Chris Gomez and former Oriole Jason Grimsley were hit by foul balls the past couple of seasons.

The state’s decision to scrap a sales-tax tracking system is forcing the Miller Park stadium board to rethink just when it can retire the 0.1% stadium tax, the district’s executive director said Thursday. For the past few years, consultants had said that, based on sales-tax collections reported by the state, the tax could end in 2014.