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Morgan says stop sign “was a deke”

April 19, 2012 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — Nyjer Morgan ran through a stop sign from third base coach Ed Sedar on his way to scoring the winning run in Wednesday night’s 3-2 Brewers victory.

That much we know, and there’s no doubt about that. Unless of course you believe the replay showed Morgan being tagged out at the plate, then that’s an entirely different story.

But the question Thursday morning was this: Did Sedar put the stop sign up just for show, or was it definitely a signal for Morgan to retreat back to third base? Well, it depends whether you are more inclined to believe Morgan or Brewers manager Ron Roenicke.

“It was a deke for the other team,” Morgan said with a grin. “It was a deke. I can’t tell you that, but it was a deke. It got ’em, too.

“If you see the replay, he second-guessed himself that little bit.

“[Sedar] said, ‘Anything close, anything in the vicinity, I’m going to put up the stop sign, but still you go.

“Never underestimate the sneakiness, guys, come on.”

After further review, that is to say asking Roenicke about it, it would seem there was no decoy intended in Sedar’s actions.

“I guess I can’t answer that then, I’d give away his secrets,” Roenicke said, before acknowledging decoy signals are not common in such situations in the Major Leagues.

“But like I said last night, sometimes you want a player to instinctually do things that he sees. And even when it doesn’t work out, we have to be OK with that.”

Roenicke also noted that he’s been through similar situations in the past when he was a third base coach with the Angels under manager Mike Scioscia. Sometimes the coach has to make the decision too soon, especially if he stays up closer to the base. And when he goes farther down the line as Sedar did, the runner may put his head down and miss the sign, which Morgan indicated also was the case in this situation.

What the runner is supposed to do with Sedar up the line is to go, but pick up the sign on his way to the plate. But Roenicke still gives his players the freedom to make the decision themselves if they’re so inclined.

So, what did Morgan see on the play that made him decide to go home on such a short flyball?

“I knew we had to get home. It was a quick turnaround the next day,” Morgan joked.

“Caught him (Kemp) flat-footed. He’s still one of the best center fielders in the game, one of the best ballplayers in the game. I’m always up for a challenge, and it was one of those where we had the crowd in it, the momentum was there, time to go home.”

As far as the question or whether he was safe or out, Morgan definitively — and unsurprisingly — believed he was safe. The Dodgers saw the replay differently, as it appeared that the tag may have been applied just before Morgan dragged his knee across the plate.

“But you can’t change it now,” he said.

“I knew I was safe.”

Axford talks pitching, elbow injuries, Tommy John surgery

April 17, 2012 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — Even as the workload of pitchers decreases, the injuries seem to be mounting with increasing frequency. Especially elbow injuries, and especially with closers.

That was the premise of a story written today by Tom Verducci for SI.com. As he sees it, the injury trends point to a need for rethinking the modern bullpen in which relievers — outside of a select group of long relief pitchers — are limited to single innings or at-bats in very specific situations.

Left-handed relievers often face strictly left-handed batters late in ballgames. Managers like Tony La Russa have no problem running out three different relievers for three batters in a single inning: right-hander to face righty at the plate, lefty versus lefty, and then back to the right side. Or vice versa.

The alarming thing is that while pitchers’ workloads are generally decreasing, the likelihood of injury seems to be on the rise. Just this week, Giants closer Brian Wilson went down with a season-ending elbow injury that will require his second Tommy John surgery.

Here are some of the statistics from Verducci’s story:

  • Sixty-six percent of 2011 Opening Day closers (20 of 30) are no longer closing for the same team 12 months later, with seven of them hurt.
  • Fifty percent of all starting pitchers will go on the DL every year, as well as 34 percent of all relievers, according to research by Stan Conte, director of medical services for the Los Angeles Dodgers. That bears repeating: half of all starting pitchers will break down this year. (“When I did the research,” Conte said, “I was so surprised I figured I must have done the math wrong.”)
  • Injuries last year cost clubs $487 million — or about $16 million per team. The bill since 2008 for players who can’t play is $1.9 billion.

As for guys like Wilson, going through the surgery a second time, 70 percent of relievers make it back while only one in 10 starters returns following a second operation and lengthy rehab.

A couple more stats from Verducci:

  • The past two seasons mark the first time since the save statistic became official in 1969 that nobody saved 25 games with 81 innings in back-to-back full seasons. Bailey, with the 2009 Athletics, is the only closer to do so in the past four years.
  • Over the previous five seasons, 53 closers saved 25 games at least once. Thirty-three of them, or 62 percent, no longer are closing.
  • Only five pitchers saved 25 games three times in the past five years and are still closing: Jose Valverde, Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell and Joe Nathan

With all that in mind, I talked this afternoon with Brewers closer John Axford about the story and the injury trends, to assess his feelings and level of concern about the likelihood of injury and seemingly short lifespan of pitchers in his role.

Here’s what he had to say:

Do the injury trends worry you at all?

“No, not particularly. As far as injuries go, that happens to anybody, whether you’re a starter or reliever. I don’t think it matters whether you’re specified as a closer or not. As a pitcher in general I think you’re more susceptible to injury than a position player.”

“It’s nothing I think about every single day, that’s for sure.”

Do you ever think at all about the fact that as a closer you’re likely to have a short lifespan in the role?

“Some people do, some people don’t. It just depends on the trend and the people that they want to look at. Once again, it’s not something I really look at and think about too much.”

Did you ever talk to Trevor Hoffman about how he was able to last in the role so successfully for such a long time?

“Really, just his work ethic. Just watching him work day in and day out, you could just tell his determination and dedication every single day. I think that’s really what it takes.”

“Obviously for Trevor, too, it was a matter of San Diego. Him wanting to be there, taking an opportunity when he had it, and obviously the team wanting him to be there also. So if I’m given the opportunity to stay in Milwaukee, I obviously would love to do that. I think you have a better chance of staying with that same club than testing free agency and popping out everywhere as a closer. That doesn’t seem to go over quite as well. Unless you’re Papelbon, I guess.”

Would the likelihood of injuries make you more likely to want to sign early if offered an extension?

“I know how hard I work, I know the effort I put in every single day. I know my body and I know what it’s capable of. Same with the team. They’re pretty trustworthy and they’re pretty open to both sides. If I tell them I can’t pitch on a particular day, they know they won’t put me in. Even if I say I’m OK, sometimes Ron [Roenicke]’s going to say, ‘No, we’re going to give you a day off.’ If it’s early in the season, obviously, why not give a guy a break when he needs a break? And Ron and Kranny [pitching coach Rick Kranitz], they’re great about that. They’re great about making sure that the relievers and everybody has the time that they need.”

“So I don’t think I’m going to get overworked, and I know how hard I work. So I don’t feel like an ‘injury waiting to happen’ by any means.”

Another thing mentioned in the story is the setup of the bullpen and closers being limited to late-inning save situations, if it were up to you would you stick with that or pitch whenever high-leverage situations came up? Fifth-inning, sixth inning?

“I don’t really know. Maybe not that early. I think my mentality’s kind of made up now towards the end of the ballgame. I really enjoy that role. Obviously in 2010, I was in there in the eighth inning at times for some saves. So I got some two-inning saves, some four- and five-out saves. Those opportunities I think really kept me focused out there as well. Having the bullpen we have now, though, everything is really role-oriented… so there isn’t much that you need to do to deviate from that.”

Can you compare your arm now to what it was like before Tommy John surgery?

“The way the doctor described it was, it was a few pieces of string that’s now become a noose rope. I had what many people do not, which is a lack of a tendon in my wrist. So they used my hamstring. So it was thicker and stronger, and they looped it through four times. Generally it used to be two, then they started switching to three. They could do four really easily with me because I had such a prominent elbow bone, my bone sticks out prominently enough, so they looped it through four times. That’s why it sticks out even more now, unlike [the other] side, which just goes straight.”

“He said, as long as I continue to pitch in baseball and work the way you normally would and work hard,  I should never have another elbow problem again. And I haven’t. It’s been unbelievably strong since. Obviously it took a little longer to come back than I wanted because I was trying to figure out my arm path again. … But as far as the elbow is concerned, I’ve never had a problem with it since.”

Do you think there should be any concern in baseball in general about the increase in injuries despite the decrease in workload?

“Not to attack anyone’s work ethic, but it could be just a matter of how people are going about their work. If you’re doing a little too much throughout the year, that could affect it. If you’re not doing enough throughout the year, that could affect it. So many little things could affect an injury. Something small, something big.”

“The elbow is such a tough thing. Throwing a baseball is the most unnatural thing you can do in sports, other than serving a tennis ball. So it’s going to put a lot of strain on your elbow. You just have to take care of it. Certainly you have to understand and know of your body. If you’re putting too much strain on it outside of your throwing program and outside of the games, then obviously that’s not going to be good. But if you’re not doing enough to maintain your shoulder work and elbow work, then you’re going to hurt it then too.”

How well do you know BrianWilson and what did you think when you heard he would be having a second Tommy John surgery?

“We played together when I was in the Cape in 2002. But that was  the only time I ever met him. And that was just before he had his first Tommy John, and just before I had my first Tommy John.”

“It’s concerning because he had his in 2003 and that’s when I had mine too. So it’s interesting to think about. Obviously I don’t want to think about it too much because it’s the same timeframe for both of us. But it’s a tough break for him, tough break for the Giants.”

Easter Sunday: 25 years later

April 8, 2012 Comments off

Easter Sunday is a special day for Brewers fans. And not just because of the feast and festivities that come along with the Christian holiday.

One of the most memorable games in Brewers history was 25 years ago on Easter Sunday, as home runs by Rob Deer and Dale Sveum on April 19, 1987, carried the Brewers to a 6-4 victory. More importantly, it extended Milwaukee’s season-opening win streak to 12 games.

A week later, that streak landed Deer and the Brewers on the cover of Sports Illustrated:

 

Looking back on that game today, I searched the newspaper archives from that Easter Monday.

Here are some screenshots of the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel coverage:

 

And here’s something I wrote about the game two years ago for MLB.com:

To open what turned out to be a wild and wacky season, the Brewers tied a Major League record, winning its first 13 games of the year. One month later, the club lost 12 in a row.

But the 13-game stretch to open the season is among many Brewers fans’ favorite memories. Along the way, two highlights stand out.

First, in the team’s ninth game of the season, lefty Juan Nieves tossed the first no-hitter in franchise history, blanking the Orioles on April 15, 1987, at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.

Nieves became the first Puerto Rican-born pitcher to toss a no-hitter, but he couldn’t do it without a little help from Yount, who made a tremendous no-hitter-saving catch in center field for the 27th and final out.

“There’s no way I wasn’t going to catch that ball,” Yount said. “When I saw it, I just took off running. There’s no time to think in that kind of situation. So I just reacted and luckily I got there and was able to be part of the Brewers’ only no-hitter.”

Three days later, the current Brewers hitting coach delivered the most famous home run in Brewers history, on Easter Sunday no less.

With the winning streak on the line, the Brewers headed to the ninth down, 4-1. At that point, the might have Brewers thought it was over, as did their fans. With that in mind, the crowd of 29,357 gave a standing ovation in appreciation for the 11-game win streak.

But it was far from over.

With two on and one out, slugger Rob Deer crushed a 1-0 curveball out to left, tying the game at 4-4. Rookie B.J. Surhoff followed Deer with a strikeout, but after a walk was drawn by Gantner, the switch-hitting Dale Sveum had a chance to make it 12 in a row.

He did just that.

With a full count, Sveum got a cut fastball, waist-high over the middle of the plate. Sveum jumped on it and blasted a two-run walk-off homer, sending County Stadium into a frenzy, as the Brewers had won their 12th straight to start the season.

“It was one of those games where nobody really wanted to leave,” said Brewers infielder Craig Counsell, a Wisconsin native who stood in the stands that day as a 16-year-old. “If you were there, you’d remember it.”

 

So, for those of you old enough (I was not born for another 10 months), what do you remember about that day, that game and those home runs?

Hart powers Crew past Cards; Greinke brilliant in 2012 debut

April 7, 2012 Comments off

Corey Hart's second-inning home run was estimated at 447 feet, landing at about this spot.

 

MILWAUKEE — So much for easing Corey Hart into the regular season.

After a knee injury in Spring Training required surgery, it was unclear whether Hart would be ready to go on Opening Day for the second year in a row.

Through two games, Hart appears to be in midseason form.

Following a 1-for-2 performance Friday, Hart blasted two no-doubt home runs Saturday as the Brewers picked up their first win of the season, 6-0, over the Cardinals.

“I think it was big for us to come back today and show that we’re still a good team,” Hart said. “I think we did that.”

Hart’s first homer went deep into the second deck in left, while the second was a two-run shot to center field. Between the two, Hart had an estimated 860 feet worth of home runs on the day.

Not bad for a guy with a knee that is not yet at 100 percent.

“He’s really seeing the ball well,” said manager Ron Roenicke. “Hopefully he’ll come in tomorrow feeling well and we can get him back in there.”

Rickie Weeks also homered in the game, while Aramis Ramirez had a key RBI double in the sixth inning for his first hit in a Brewers uniform. Add in a 2-for-3 day by Ryan Braun — with a pair of doubles, a walk and a run scored — and the Crew showed just how good the offense could be this year, even without Prince Fielder batting cleanup.

All they really needed Saturday was the one run, which Hart provided with his second-inning blast that nearly went over Bernie Brewer’s slide beyond the left field bleachers. That’s because Zack Greinke delivered one of his best outings since coming to Milwaukee last offseason.

Greinke had everything working in his 2012 debut, facing the minimum through 4 1/3 innings. Had it not been for three singles in the fifth and sixth innings — two of which were nearly outs — Greinke may have been on his way to a complete game. Instead, he turned in a stellar seven frames, giving up just four hits and striking out seven batters without a walk.

After starting the season without both Hart and Greinke a year ago, the Brewers already are enjoying what each of them brings to the table just two games in. Full seasons out of both All-Stars could go a long way toward making up for the lost production of Fielder.

“It makes a difference,” Roenicke said. “Last year, we didn’t have those two guys together for quite a while.”

White Sox strand 13 in one-run loss

September 7, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — In the first seven-plus innings, hits were not hard to come by for the White Sox on Wednesday against the Twins. But when they needed one most in the eighth, the White Sox could not even get the ball out of the infield.

Trailing by two with no outs, the White Sox had the tying run at second base with the heart of their order coming to the plate. Held hitless the rest of the game, the White Sox lost, 5-4, to the Twins at Target Field.

“I think we played typical White Sox baseball,” manager Ozzie Guillen said. “I don’t think we lost, I think we just gave this game away. There’s no doubt in my mind we just gave it away.”

Despite collecting 12 hits on the night, the White Sox went 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position and left 13 men on base.

One of those hits came in the eighth, when Alexei Ramirez delivered a timely double, giving the White Sox a pair of runners in scoring position. But lefty Glen Perkins got Paul Konerko to pop out to first, A.J. Pierzynski grounded out to second and Alex Rios struck out looking to end the threat.

After watching strike three, Rios snapped his bat in half over his knee before throwing it to the ground along with his helmet.

“It was huge. That was the heart of their lineup,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “When we brought [Alex Burnett] in, we told him that we had a base open and he needed to make pitches. I thought he did a heck of a job getting the tapper back to the mound. It was all about making pitches after that and [Jose] Mijares did a great job with one pitch to A.J.”

The White Sox also were unable to come through in a similar situation in the sixth inning. After an RBI double by Juan Pierre — his 1,999th hit — they had a pair of runners in scoring position, but Ramirez grounded out for the second out of the inning.

After Konerko was intentionally walked, Pierzynski grounded into a forceout to end the inning.

“We had a lot of chances, [but] we couldn’t get the hits,” Guillen said. “I’m not going to talk about big hits, we can’t even get a hit.”

Along with the offense struggling in big situations, lefty John Danks was unable to keep the streak of strong White Sox starting pitching performances going.

After the White Sox had allowed just one run in the first three games of the series, including back-to-back shutouts, Danks gave up five runs (four earned) on six hits over six innings. The unearned run came after Danks’ appeared to pick off Luke Hughes, but Konerko’s throw to second sailed into left field and allowed Hughes to score the Twins’ fifth run.

Danks also walked two with four strikeouts and a hit batter. It was Danks’ second straight rough outing this month after three straight strong starts to end August, including a three-hit shutout at Seattle.

The loss marked Danks’ 11th of the season.

“I don’t know how many starts I have left, and I’ll be ready to throw in those games, but all in all, it’s been a crappy year,” Danks said.

“I’m looking forward to next year, starting clean. I don’t want to sound like I’m giving up on the year, I’m not. But definitely looking forward to a clean slate. I’m not feeling sorry for myself, I put myself in this position. But it seems like this year especially, anything bad that can happen has.”

A big third inning cost Danks, as the Twins plated four two-out runs. After Danks issued a one-out walk to Drew Butera and Ben Revere singled, the lefty got Trevor Plouffe to strike out for the second out.

But an inside pitch grazed the jersey of Joe Mauer, loading the bases for a two-run bloop single by Danny Valencia and Chris Parmelee’s two-run double to center. Parmelee picked up his first two RBIs on his first extra-base hit.

“You obviously don’t want to walk Butera there,” Danks said. “But I made some good pitches to him, too.”

The White Sox answered with a pair of runs in the fifth, as Pierre led off the inning by reaching on a Parmelee error at first base. Pierre later scored on a single by Konerko, who advanced to third on an Pierzynski double and scored on Rios’ sacrifice fly to center.

Twins starter Carl Pavano did not have his best stuff, but picked up the win after he went 5 1/3 innings, giving up three runs — only one of which was earned — on 10 hits. Pavano also walked a batter and had one strikeout.

One highlight on the night for the White Sox was right-hander Dylan Axelrod, who made his Major League debut in relief of Danks, tossing two scoreless frames while giving up just one hit. Axelrod also walked a batter and recorded his first two strikeouts.

Guillen was pleased with what he saw, especially with the way Axelrod threw a lot of strikes.

“It was just great getting out there for the first time,” Axelrod said. “It was fun getting that first strikeout, and that first out. Alexei made a great play on that. … It was just all a lot of highlights for me.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

White Sox notebook, 9/7

September 7, 2011 Comments off

Flowers finally blossoming into big leaguer

By Jordan Schelling / MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS — In four games against the Twins this week, Tyler Flowers and A.J. Pierzynski have each been behind the plate twice. As he continues to progress, Flowers is likely to continue to see more time at catcher this month and into the 2012 season.In 24 games (21 starts) for the White Sox, the 25-year-old Flowers has batted .227 with three home runs, 10 RBIS and an OPS of .749. Pierzynski, by comparison, had hit .288 with six homers and 40 RBIs over 110 games entering Wednesday.

“[Flowers] put himself back on the map not just for this year but next year, too,” said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. “That’s what we were waiting for.”

Flowers’ development has come slowly since the White Sox acquired him as one of six players in a trade with the Braves for Javier Vazquez in December 2008.

But since he was recalled from Triple-A Charlotte, Flowers has been solid in the second half for the White Sox, especially defensively.

“Now he’s more hungry than he was before,” Guillen said. “Signing A.J. and [Ramon] Castro back maybe opened his eyes to, ‘Wait a minute, I’m getting behind.’ We’ve been waiting for this kid for the last two years but couldn’t get anything from him. Now we are.”

Quentin likely to return this weekend

MINNEAPOLIS — Right fielder Carlos Quentin took batting practice this week at Target Field for the first time since suffering a shoulder strain on Aug. 20. He could be back in action soon for the White Sox, but the question is where and in what capacity.

With the Minor League seasons having wrapped up, Quentin will not be able to go through the usual rehab process. He’ll likely have to just jump right back in at the Major League level.

“Pretty good,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of how Quentin looked. “I think he’s ready to go out there. We need to figure out, since Minor League is over, try to figure out how to do something about it. But I like the way he’s swinging. It seemed like he was pain-free.”

Quentin injured his left shoulder making a diving catch in the first inning against the Rangers on Aug. 20, and was eligible to return from the disabled list on Monday when the series against the Twins began.

“Hopefully in the next couple days — I don’t think tomorrow, but maybe over the weekend — he’ll be back in the field,” Guillen said.

Peavy expected to face Tigers on Monday

MINNEAPOLIS — For now, the White Sox will move forward with a six-man rotation that includes right-hander Jake Peavy.

Both Philip Humber and Zach Stewart — who both delivered brilliant performances in Monday’s doubleheader — are scheduled to start against the Indians over the weekend in Chicago, and Peavy is expected to follow them on Monday against the Tigers.

“I think we should keep it the same way,” manager Ozzie Guillen said of the rotation. “I’m not going to throw in the towel.

“I think [Peavy] should prepare himself for his next start. I don’t think there should be any problem with that. I expect him to go out there in the next start.”

If the White Sox decide they’re out of the American League Central race, it’s likely Peavy will be shut down at that point, to avoid any further injury risk.

Peavy said after his start Tuesday night, in which he tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings in a 3-0 win, that he felt he could continue to pitch, but would leave the decision up to the White Sox.

“I’ll let those guys make that decision,” Peavy said. “All I can do is be honest with them about the way I feel. Obviously, now it doesn’t seem like we’re playing for much.”

Rios putting together solid finish at the plate

MINNEAPOLIS — Center fielder Alex Rios entered Wednesday’s series finale against the Twins with a six-game hitting streak, including a solo home run in Tuesday’s 3-0 victory.

Rios has batted .423 with 11 hits in 26 at-bats while driving in three runs during the streak. Over his past 27 games (23 starts), Rios batted .288, raising his average from .206 on Aug. 2 to .224 entering Wednesday’s contest.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said the key for Rios has been hitting to all fields, rather than trying to pull the ball too often.

“You can see it every time Alex wants to pull the ball … it’s a ground ball somewhere,” Guillen said. “But when he stays in the middle of the field, he does what he’s doing right now. The last couple weeks, that’s why he’s been doing it.”

Rios’ streak ended in Wednesday’s 5-4 loss, as he went 0-for-4 with a sacrifice fly. He struck out looking with the tying run at third in the eighth inning.

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.