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Baseball Notes

A time to arm yourself, preferably on left side

By Nick Cafardo
September 4, 2011

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There is no doubt that the need most teams tried to address at both the trade deadline and the roster deadline was lefthanded reliever.

The teams that have them consider it a coup. The ones that don’t feel that a good righthander with a slider or backdoor change-up is just as good.

But, you know something, general managers knock themselves out trying to find “the right one.’’

Giants GM Brian Sabean had that guy in the postseason last year. His name was Javy Lopez. He also had Jeremy Affeldt, a guy who could pitch to multiple batters instead of just one, and in a perfect world, that’s the type of lefty you love to have.

“For me, it has to be a guy who can hold lefties to about a .200 average or it’s not worth it,’’ Sabean said. “Javy did a great job for us last year in the playoffs and during the regular season. There’s no doubt he got some big outs for us. But you have to be able to throw strike one, because you’re going to come in with runners on base against a tough lefthanded hitter, usually one of the best hitters on the other team.’’

If you go by Sabean’s .200 rule, there were 16 lefty relievers that qualified last year (minimum 50 batters faced). The best were the Braves’ Jonny Venters and the Phillies’ Antonio Bastardo, who held lefties to a .127 average.

Rounding out the top 10 were the Marlins’ Randy Choate (.145), Affeldt (.148), the Tigers’ Daniel Schlereth (.160). the Cardinals’ Marc Rzepczynski (.160), Lopez (.163), the Padres’ Josh Spence (.167), the Angels’ Scott Downs (.174), and the Dodgers’ Scott Elbert (.179).

Sabean feels it’s ideal to have two, as he did last season.

The Rangers felt that way, too. They had Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes, but Rhodes couldn’t stay healthy, wasn’t used in meaningful situations, and was released.

So the search was on, and they settled on Mike Gonzalez, acquiring him in a trade with Baltimore. Gonzalez had a rough start but in the second half of the season has been effective vs. lefties.

“You’re in a better position if you can balance off lefty vs. lefty,’’ said Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux. “It’s great to have two of them, because we rode Darren Oliver and whipped him good. He did a great job for us, but it’s nice to have someone else who can take the load off him.’’

Maddux is of the opinion that it doesn’t matter, righty or lefty, as long as you can get a key lefty out.

“It doesn’t even have to be late in a game; it can be in the sixth inning in a tough situation,’’ Maddux said. “It makes life easier when you have two, with the other manager knowing that if you’ve used one, there’s still another one left. It can definitely change the thinking of the opposite side, and that can work to your advantage sometimes.’’

The Red Sox had their man in Rich Hill, but he wound up needing Tommy John surgery. They obtained Franklin Morales from Colorado and will go into the playoffs with his 95-96 fastball, but fingers will be crossed because of his command issues. They’ll also take a look at Felix Doubront. Andrew Miller is a possibility in a relief role.

The Yankees rely on Boone Logan, another hard thrower who has pitched fairly well. Against the Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury homered off him, but he also overpowered Carl Crawford.

The Sox could have had a good thing with the sidearming Hill and the hard-throwing Morales, but now they’ll have to rely on their starters to give them innings, followed by Daniel Bard, who can be effective against anyone, and Jonathan Papelbon.

Is it ideal? Not really. But it’s likely better than the Brewers’ situation.

They will enter the playoffs with no lefty in the pen. They will rely on LaTroy Hawkins, who is effective against lefties, and their late-inning guys, Frankie Rodriguez and John Axford.

There’s always a mad search for guys who can pitch to the likes of Adrian Gonzalez.

“I understand bringing in a lefty for a different look, but after two or three times, it’s not a different look anymore,’’ Gonzalez said. “If I had my druthers, I’d face a lefty who’s not that good over a righty who’s very good any day.

“The guys who are effective to me are the ones who have the sliders. There were guys like Scott Schoeneweis, who made a living for years and years throwing those sliders and sinkers to lefties.

“Our guy here, Richie Hill, was really coming along. He dropped down, he had that terrific curveball, and he threw with velocity.’’

Gonzalez said the key for a situational lefty is to have movement on his pitches; that’s why Lopez was so effective in the National League last season. Gonzalez also mentioned how tough J.C. Romero was against lefties for years because of his “92-m.p.h. slider.’’

“When you have a guy who throws in the high 80s and low 90s with movement, whether it’s a curveball or a slider or a sinker, that guy has a chance to be effective in that role,’’ Gonzalez said.

According to one major league source, a lot of lefty relievers were blocked by teams and never got through waivers. The price tag on most of them - particularly the ones who can pitch to all batters - was pretty steep. So most teams bit the bullet and decided to go with what they had.

TOUGH YEAR FOR TWINS
Fundamental issues to fix The Twins season has been an exercise in frustration, especially for former AL MVP Justin Morneau, who just can’t seem to get healthy. Bad enough Morneau missed the early part of the season with postconcussion syndrome, but then he had neck surgery, a bad wrist, and this past week he had headaches, a sign the postconcussion symptoms were back.

General manager Bill Smith remains optimistic that the worst is over for Morneau.

“He’s a battler, as tough a guy as there is,’’ said Smith. “He’s played in a lot of pain. He plays through the injuries a lot of times. Our only goal is to get him healthy so he can make a good run until the end and go into the offseason in a good frame of mind and be ready for next year.’’

Smith traded Delmon Young and Jim Thome, and there will be more turnover on the roster. Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, and Joe Nathan will be free agents.

Smith said he’ll give his young players a chance to show what they can do in the last month, but that, injuries notwithstanding, the team needs to improve its overall play.

“We’ve had a tremendous decade and we need to make sure this is a short blip,’’ Smith said. “We’ve been an organization known the last 25 years for playing the game the right way, but this year we’ve had trouble with basic fundamentals like hitting cutoff men, infield, and outfield defense.

“We just haven’t done the things we’ve held so dear to us for so long and I know Gardy [manager Ron Gardenhire] wants to refocus on that.’’

Smith also said that Joe Mauer will be a catcher for the foreseeable future, but he left the door open for a possible shift of positions down the road.

“Right now, he’s our catcher and we’re going to stay with that,’’ said Smith. “He’s an impact catcher. That’s his best position. Joe is a great athlete who could probably play a lot of different places on the field. But he impacts the game behind the plate and he wants to catch.’’

AT THE HELM
Mariners stick with their GM One executive who will stay put for at least the next couple of years is Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik, one of the class acts in the game. While the Mariners haven’t lived up to billing, Zduriencik will get more time to put his master plan into effect, having agreed to a multiyear extension.

“It would be foolish to say, ‘One year from now, we’re going to be here,’ or ‘Two years from now, we’re going to be here,’ ’’ said Zduriencik. “That’s difficult to predict because you’re dealing with the human element.

“We’d like it to be expedited if we could, have this thing move along quicker. But I do think you have to be patient and stay the course and realize where we’re headed. Our goal from the moment I took this job was to win a World Series.’’

One big question is whether they will make a free agent splash with Prince Fielder. Zduriencik was a Milwaukee executive when Fielder came along. The Mariners have Justin Smoak at first base, but Fielder’s bat has to be an exciting possibility.

Whether Fielder feels Safeco Field is a ballpark where he could hit a lot of homers - most don’t - is another story. But if the money is there, would Fielder jump? And how much would Seattle spend on someone projected more as a DH than a first baseman down the road?

Zduriencik has a pretty good core of young hitters in Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp, Kyle Seager, Casper Wells, and Trayvon Robinson. He also has some good pieces in the farm system he could move.

With the Mariners, you just never know how much money they’re willing to spend. One of Zduriencik’s failures was giving four years and $36 million to Chone Figgins in December 2009. Whether that makes ownership gun-shy remains to be seen.

ETC.
Apropos of nothing 1. What you hear most from scouts on Dustin Pedroia (left): “How does he generate that kind of power with that little body?’’ Oil Can Boyd’s theory: “Fast hands.’’; 2. One way to look at the MVP race: The Red Sox have three candidates (Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedroia), the Yankees one (Curtis Granderson). Does that make Granderson the MVP? Also, I love Justin Verlander as a candidate; 3. If I had a vote for AL Manager of the Year, it would go to Cleveland’s Manny Acta; 4. Can anyone blame David Einhorn for trying to map out a timetable for controlling ownership of the Mets in five years for his $200 million investment?; 5 Roger Clemens will have to stand trial after all. Don’t think it will be a good outcome for him.

Updates on nine 1. Mike Trout, OF, Angels - The Angels have a stud on their hands, according to Torii Hunter. When Trout, 20, was recalled from Double A earlier this season, he hit .163 in 14 games, but after being recalled for a second time Aug. 19, he went 10 for 25 with 4 home runs. “You guys are definitely looking at a special kid,’’ said Hunter. “He’s definitely the best 20-year-old anyone’s seen in a long time - Griffey, A-Rod, Pudge Rodriguez, those type of guys.’’

2. Daniel Hudson, RHP, Diamondbacks - After hitting an RBI single in his 5-1 victory over the Rockies Monday, the 24-year-old righthander leads all pitchers with 17 hits and 14 RBIs. Hudson is batting .309 in 55 at-bats. Only suspended Cub Carlos Zambrano (.318) has a higher average among the 63 pitchers with at least 40 plate appearances. Hudson is hitting .379 at Chase Field, with 11 hits and 11 RBIs in 29 at-bats.

3. Joe Nathan, RP, Twins - The Twins didn’t seem to have anything major working for Nathan at the deadline, but they asked him to waive his trade-veto rights just in case. Nathan declined. His future with the Twins remains uncertain as he heads into free agency. If he accepts a hometown discount, he has a shot at staying. He has a $12.5 million option that will surely not be picked up and a $2 million buyout.

4. John Valentin, hitting coach, Albuquerque Dodgers - Valentin, who was at Fenway Park Wednesday with Mo Vaughn to throw out first pitches at the Sox-Yankees game, has been quite impressed with catcher Tim Federowicz, who was sent by the Sox to the Dodgers in the Erik Bedard deal. “We’re just lucky to get a kid like that,’’ Valentin said. “He’s got some ability at the plate and he has a strong arm that’s impressed everyone. Looks like he’s going to be a very good major league catcher. To be able to get a kid like that at this time for our organization I thought was great work by our staff.’’ Federowicz went right to Triple A there after spending the year with Double A Portland. Through Thursday, he was hitting .342 with 6 homers and 16 RBIs in 76 at-bats after hitting .277 with 8 homers and 52 RBIs for Portland.

5. Magglio Ordonez, RF, Tigers - Last week when I proposed a J.D. Drew-for-Ordonez deal, I wasn’t kidding. Both players appear to be near the end, but Ordonez has been making some contributions in a bench role. “I just believe in him,’’ said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “There’s enough left, and he’s been such a smart hitter that he’s not going to panic. He can make some contributions. We’re all aware that it’s probably not the Magglio of old. But this guy has been a professional. If I was ever pulling for anybody to contribute down this stretch, it’s Magglio.’’ When Drew gets out there, he’ll likely do the same for the Red Sox.

6. Rich Harden, RHP, A’s, and Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Indians - On Wednesday night in Cleveland, the two starters had the same pitching line: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K. This is pretty rare. According to Dave Smith of Retrosheet.org, it was only the second time this year - and second time since 1995 - that it happened. The first time it happened this year was in Colorado on June 28, when Gavin Floyd of the White Sox and Jason Hammel of the Rockies each had lines of 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 0 K. The only other time it has happened since 1980 was on Aug. 19, 1995, when the Braves’ John Smoltz and the Cardinals’ Donovan Osborne each went 3 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K.

7. Corey Hart, RF, Brewers - Just as I always thought with Hunter Pence, Hart is a guy who would fit in nicely in right field for the Red Sox. He has been leading off for the Brewers and flourishing: .285 with 23 home runs and 53 RBIs. The Brewers are already destined to lose Prince Fielder, so the chance that they’d even entertain a Hart deal in the offseason is probably remote. But . . .

8. Aaron Rowand, OF, Giants - He was designated for assignment, and there was very little action on him. Rowand is one of those guys who stuck to his own way of doing things, and in the end, that may have been his downfall, as he seemed unwilling to change his batting approach. The general feeling among Giants personnel is that Rowand can help a team as a part-time player who can play all outfield positions very well.

9. Buster Posey, C, Giants - Like Joe Mauer, there are no plans to move Posey to another position. The Giants have been consistent with that, and Posey wants to catch, feeling it is much too early in his career to change positions. The Giants will be careful with him. Posey will not play any winter ball, merely spending the time working out. “We think he’s going to be 100 percent by spring training,’’ said GM Brian Sabean.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “In Tim Lincecum’s 11 losses this year, he has a 4.10 ERA, which is better than John Lackey’s 4.13 in his 12 wins.’’ Two former Phillies, Brett Myers and J.A. Happ, are a combined 8-28 with a 5.19 ERA pitching for the hapless Astros.’’ And, “If I asked you to guess the pitcher who has gone 22-12 over the past two seasons with a 4.06 ERA, how long would it take you before you correctly named Bruce Chen of the Royals?’’ . . . Happy birthday to Sun-Woo Kim (34) and Ken “Hawk’’ Harrelson (70).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.


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