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Tying a Bow on Spring Training
The regular season is upon us, but here's a quick look back at the week that was in Tampa....  Continue Reading

If you're planning a trip to your favorite team's Spring Training, and you snap a good picture, send it to us and we'll post it in the slideshow to the right. Click here to submit your photos, video, or stories from Spring Training '09.
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Final Thoughts On D-Backs Camp
If Yesterday Was an Example of the kind of performance we can expect from Dan Haren this season, then figure this kid will get 18 wins…at least. Of course, the Diamondbacks were playing the Chicago White Sox, and beating them 8-4, in the last spring tuneup in Tucson; the Oakland A’s, Haren’s former team, seemed to have the Pale Hose’s number even in 2005, Chicago’s championship season. Still, it was great to see a quality start at the end of spring training from a pitcher not known for scintillating springs. In seven innings, Haren gave up two runs on solo homers and walked only one while striking out 6. Way to go!

In other pitching news, manager Bob Melvin has named his rotation to open the season: Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Doug Davis, Micah Owings, and Edgar Gonzalez. Randy Johnson will start the season on the DL. Johnson was pain-free in a recent minor league appearance, but he was rocked for 5 runs. He’s working on endurance and offspeed pitches, and will probably make at least two minor league starts before joining the big club.

Closer-designate Brandon Lyon pitched the eighth inning yesterday, giving up an unearned run on two hits while striking out 2. He has a spring ERA of 14.09, which is about 13.00 runs higher than one would like to see from a closer. He’s attributed the lousy ERA to mechanical problems but thinks everything is coming together now. He’ll pitch today then have the weekend off to get ready for Monday’s Opener.

Alex Romero beat out Trot Nixon for the last roster spot. He has a very good spring, better than Nixon, but I still don’t understand it in light of Bob Melvin’s stated preference to have young players playing everyday in the minors rather than gathering dust on the bench in the majors. Romero was unable to learn to play first base, whereas Nixon picked it up. If one thinks about the need for a backup to Conor Jackson in the absence of Chad Tracy–and we’re not sure when he’s coming back–one wonders what help Romero will be as the fifth outfielder and occasional pinch hitter.

Robbie Hammock, a utility infielder/catcher made the team since Miguel Montero is still recovering from a broken finger.

Speaking of Conor Jackson, he had a double, a homer and 3 RBIs yesterday hitting cleanup. Good! That’s where he needs to be.

Eric Byrnes was first run driven in by Jackson as the D’Backs peppered Chicago’s starter Nick Masset yesterday. Byrnesie was on second after driving in a run of his own with a double. Later on, he reached on an error and was driven in by CoJack’s homer. EB’s batting average is a disappointing .264 this spring. Part of that, I think, is attributable to Melvin’s decision to play him every other day most of the spring, as opposed to getting him a couple of AB’s every day. But I think part of it is also attributable to pitchers already starting to make adjustments on him that he hasn’t caught up to yet.

I don’t get to see the Diamondbacks very much during spring training, but yesterday and the time before that showed me pitchers throwing him low and away, and Eric stands too far from the plate to be able to do anything with strikes in that area. C’Mon, Byrnesie, fix that or we’ll find that Bob Melvin will have Alex Romero shaking off the dust by playing left field.

That’s it for me on spring training. See you all after they start counting on Opening Day.

This is ByrnesBlogger1's third season covering the Arizona Diamondbacks through the blog Down The Left Field Line: Life, Baseball & Eric Byrnes.
[ March 28, 2008 at 1:38 PM ] [ Leave a Comment ] [ Full Story ]  [ Filed under: Diamondbacks | Features ]
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The autopsy on Huber's KC career
Roughly five hours after my last post about the Royals' questions left unanswered with spring training waning, several have been checked off the list. Jorge de la Rosa? Designated for assignment today and thus out of the picture (hooray! from my standpoint). Kyle Davies? Optioned to Omaha, thus clearing the fifth rotation spot for Brett Tomko (mixed feelings, as neither had any business, probably, being in the Royals' rotation; I'm betting Tomko's $3 million price tag had as much to do with this as anything.). Justin Huber? Flipped to the Padres for the ever-unknown player to be named later.

While I guess a PTBNL is better than losing Huber on waivers, this brings to an end an odd, likely frustrating career for Huber as a Royal. Let's retrace our steps here. In July 2004 Huber, then a nice catching prospect who hit for a .900 OPS at the Mets AA site in 70 games, comes to KC in a deal for IF Jose Bautista, who has gone on to mediocrity with the Pirates after being dealt the same day from NY to Pittsburgh for Kris Benson and another now-former Royal, Jeff Keppinger. Sounded at the time like a steal for Allard Baird. However, Huber had injured his knee shortly before the trade and wouldn't play for a KC affiliate in 2004, which would be the first of several injuries to plague his Royals' career. He debuted instead at AA Wichita in 2005 and hit .343 with a 1.002 OPS while committing 12 errors with a .981 fielding percentage in 66 games at first. He infamously got a "chance" at KC later that season with ever-injured Mike Sweeney again on the DL and got a whopping 12 ABs from manager Buddy Bell before being sent back to Wichita. Shortly thereafter he earned 2005 Futures Game MVP honors over the all-star break before being moved up to Omaha. He hit for over a .900 OPS at Omaha in 32 games to earn a September call-up when the rosters expanded but didn't hit in 78 ABs in KC. An Achilles tendon injury cost him some development time in the Arizona Fall League that year and he started the '06 season once more in Omaha. Another Sweeney injury earned Huber a call to KC in May '06 but he was Bell's third choice in the mix of Matt Stairs, Doug Mientkiewicz and Huber (bringing on the "Dougie doesn't deserve that" comment from Bell regarding Mientkiewicz losing time to Huber at 1B), so Huber got 10 ABs in 16 days and went back to Omaha with a position switch to left field. A hamstring injury derailed the remainder of Huber's season and he didn't make it back to the field for Kansas City. Another nagging hammy injury hurt the first half of the 2007 season for Justin (he also had some finger injuries in there somewhere in '05-07) but he managed to hit for an .853 OPS in 77 games at Omaha and got another September call, only to get 10 ABs in 8 games from Bell. This year he was out of options so it was a case of either there's a spot for him or not. Apparently the Royals couldn't justify giving Huber a shot -- defensive liabilities were the biggest detraction in reports -- so today he gets shipped to San Diego. Rotoworld is already reporting he should see time in the Petco outfield with Jim Edmonds being injured. Hopefully he makes the best of it and one-time Royal pitcher, now Pads manager Bud Black gives him an actual shot in San Diego.

In another move today that partially explains de la Rosa's DFA'ing, the Royals picked up RP Ramon Ramirez from the Rockies for a player to be named. I guess I'm more enthused about this pickup than the Brad Salmon one, but it's still nothing spectacular. We'll see how Ramirez does out of the pen for KC. Being out of Coors Field should help him return to some decent minor league form. He also had a nice '06 season with the Rocks. Also, pitchers Chin-Hui Tsao and Roman Colon as well as C Ken Huckaby were also sent to the minors today to further trim down the roster.

Ken covers the Royals on his blog The Pipeline.
[ March 27, 2008 at 2:02 AM ] [ Leave a Comment ] [ Full Story ]  [ Filed under: Features | Royals ]
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Hill Eases Concerns in Final Spring Outing
hillgiants.jpgThe last big question the Cubs needed an answer to this Spring..."Can Rich Hill still throw strikes?" was answered yesterday as Hill threw five innings while striking out six and walking only one hitter. This was, by far, Hill's best outing of the Spring and lets the Cubs, and its fans, breathe a sigh of relief as Opening Day looms closer.

After working earlier this Spring to become quicker to home plate from the stretch position, Hill went back and simplified his delivery and seems to have gotten back to normal. It was annoying last season to see opposing base runners have such an easy time stealing off of Hill but I'd prefer him letting those guys get a good jump to second base instead of just walking them. Hill's value comes from his ability to throw strikes, which allows him to mix up his pitches so his control of the strike zone should precede any other concerns in his game.

Kevin Hart came into the game after Hill and continued his downward trend by giving up two runs in less than two innings before Sean Marshall came on and gave up a game tying double. Luckily, the Cubs were able to overcome those obstacles as the newest Cub, Reed Johnson, had a nice day with two hits and two runs and Derrek Lee hit his second homer of the Spring. Michael Wuertz threw another scoreless inning before Carmen Pignatiello closed out the game even though he gave up his first run of the Spring. Quietly the Cubs have creeped back near the .500 mark on the Spring as the victory moved them to 13-14 overall.

The Cubs roster is pretty much set at this point and these last few days will have the Cubs throwing out their daily lineup for 6 or 7 innings in the hopes that everyone can get comfortable with where they are in the field and the batting order.

Jack Cobra covers the Cubs, Bulls and sports in general on his blog, Cobra Brigade. He also writes for Yay Sports on Fridays.
[ March 26, 2008 at 1:04 PM ] [ Leave a Comment ] [ Full Story ]  [ Filed under: Cubs | Features ]
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Down To Brass Tacks In Royals Camp
Less than 5 full days remain until the Royals' season opener in Detroit and questions still abound in Surprise. The #4 and #5 rotation competitions has half turned-out like I didn't want it to -- lefty John Bale has stepped up to grab the #4 spot, most likely, which I like, but I didn't want one of the spots to default to someone and it looks like that's what's going to happen in the 5th slot. Brett Tomko has pitched not well but not absolutely horribly, either, for the most part. The team site tried to paint his 4 IP, 3 K, 3 runs but only 1 ER outing versus the Padres last night as a positive, but four of the five hits he gave up went for extra bases, and he has gotten lit up several times -- his spring ERA is 7.23 and, as opposed to Brian Bannister, I doubt it's because he's trying some different things. He's just not getting it done. Another problem is that the only other competitors left for the spot are lefty Jorge de la Rosa, who I can't stomach in the spot, and righty Kyle Davies, who got lit up in a minor league game Tuesday for 6 ER on 11 hits in 5 IP. The guy I wanted for the slot -- Luke Hochevar -- for some reason was optioned to AAA on Easter Sunday despite a 2.25 spring ERA (I know, I know, it's only spring training) and .226 OBA. Basically, Hochevar was earning it but the Royals want to hold off and put an innings eater in the spot. That's what it's coming down to. That's not how divisions are won, I'm pretty sure.

Meanwhile, the positional decisions have been detailed by both the Star and team site as pretty cut and dry. Since the start of camp, a list of 13 positional players has been pretty much slated to be the group hitting Detroit next Monday -- Buck, Tupman, Guillen, Butler, Gload, Grudzielanek, Peña, Gordon, German, Callaspo, Teahen, DeJesus and Gathright. Tupman will head to Omaha once Miguel Olivo's 5-game suspension is served. The question is what happens to Guillen as commissioner Bud Selig has yet to rule on his appeal of his 15-game banned substances suspension, for some reason. Ryan Shealy, Justin Huber and Damon Hollins are the Star's reported frontrunners for the position should the Royals decided to fill it, but Shealy has an option left, Hollins isn't on the 40-man and apparently the Royals don't trust Huber's defense enough even though he's out of options. Trade talks have recently swirled around German to the Dodgers and, Godpleasemakeithappen Angel Berroa to the Nationals, and I'm hoping if the Royals aren't gonna give Huber his shot, they trade him somewhere to get something out of him than a waiver claim by someone else. German, by the way, was named as Hillman as the likely right fielder to start the season in Guillen's absence if his suspension holds. I don't know why you wouldn't put Teahen back over there for a few games and put Gathright in left, not to say German isn't offensively capable, but I saw enough of him in the outfield during the Buddy Bell era. Manager Trey Hillman said he "wanted to keep from complicating the situation" for Teahen. Is it really that hard to move back to a position he played all last year?

Ken covers the Royals on his blog The Pipeline.
[ March 26, 2008 at 12:57 PM ] [ Leave a Comment ] [ Full Story ]  [ Filed under: Features | Royals ]
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Pie Is Rounding Into Form
pie.20.jpgFelix Pie certainly has had an interesting Spring so far. After coming into camp preparing to battle with Sam Fuld for the starting spot in center field Pie got off to a pretty nice start only to be sidelined by the dreaded testicular torsion injury. After he came back everyone was screaming that the Cubs were about to sign/trade/make up a center fielder to platoon with Pie because he couldn't handle the position himself. Through all this drama Pie has kept working and it has paid off as he raised his Spring average to .340 yesterday with an electric 3-3 game at the plate that included a double, triple and scoring the winning run. THAT is what he has been his entire career in the minor leagues and THAT is what the Cubs are hoping he can bring on a consistent basis this season.

In a game that saw Cubs starter Ryan Dempster struggle and newly turned reliever Jon Lieber do the same, Pie was the constant in the lineup as he was on base all day and scored two runs out of the eighth hole in the batting order. Over the last week or so, Pie has stepped up his game and should leave very few doubts in the minds of the Cubs Organization as to who their primary center fielder should be this season.

Even with Pie playing well, it would behoove the Cubs to go out and pick up a right handed hitting option to play center field whenever Pie needs a rest and they seem to be on the verge of signing for Blue Jays outfielder Reed Johnson. Johnson is kind of a "jack of all trades, master of none" who can help out at all three outfield positions if he stays healthy. He struggled last season in Toronto but has shown an ability to get on base with regularity in his career.


Jack Cobra covers the Cubs, Bulls and sports in general on his blog, Cobra Brigade. He also writes for Yay Sports on Fridays.
[ March 25, 2008 at 4:21 PM ] [ Leave a Comment ] [ Full Story ]  [ Filed under: Cubs | Features ]
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