Saturday, April 10, 2004

Three More Runs 

From my last post:
With the Yankee offense sputtering (they've scored 3 runs in four of their six games and 4 in one of the other two), the White Sox have a good shot at taking this series with their top two pitchers going this weekend.

According to plan, Mark Beuhrle gave the Yankees nothing today. Just two runs on three hits and two walks in eight innings. Both runs were unearned as they came on a throwing error by Jose Valentin as he attempted to complete a double play in the first. Billy Koch gave up one run in the ninth on his own throwing error and a Posada single. There's your three runs. Updating that stat, the Yankees have now scored exactly three runs in five of their seven games this year.

That means it was up to Jorge DePaula to hold the White Sox to two. DePaula faced the minimum from the third through the sixth, surrendering only a thirteen-pitch walk to Frank Thomas leading off the third that was erased by a double play. Unfortunately, the game started two innings earlier. In the first and second, the White Sox reached DePaula for five runs on six hits. There's your ballgame.

After the game Torre and Posada credited that epic Thomas at-bat with turning DePaula's game around. Torre had Osborne warm in the pen and would have brought him in had the next batter reached base. The fact that DePaula was able to settle down and cruise through four innings should have earned him another start. That should come against these same White Sox in Chicago on the 20th.

As for the offense, it's simply a team slump. The new guys are, in Alex Rodriguez's words "trying to hit five grand slams" every game. The returning players are taking a similar approach to compensate. Just a mess. They'll snap out of it. In the meantime, they're not getting shut out. If they can draw their walks and get their three runs per game, they'll win half of them until the bats come around. Which is exactly what has been happening. Mussina will try to hold the White Sox to two runs tomorrow. Pitching on normal rest and normal sleep, I like his chances.

Kenny Lofton sat against the lefty once again, but again it was his quad, not his splits, that was given as the reason (Lofton is not expected to play tomorrow either). And again it was Ruben Sierra, not Tony Clark that replace him in the line-up. Someone want to show Joe the splits on Sierra and Clark?

The opposing lefty also convinced Torre to drop Matsui below Posada in the line-up with Bernie having moved up to the two hole with Lofton out and Jeter leading off, as was the case on Thursday. Torre gave Miguel Cairo his first start at second today (his only other action this season was a single inning as a defensive replacement in Japan). Cairo went 0 for 3 with a throwing error on the game's first play.

As for tomorrow's game, the White Sox have not skipped their fifth starter, as I had thought. They simply jumped Buehrle ahead of Dan Wright in the rotation. Taking wild guesses here, I'm thinking that they did so to keep Buehrle on normal rest (tomorrow he would have been on an extra day), and to increase their odds of a win by putting their ace against DePaula rather than Mussina (done and done). Had I looked at the Sox schedule, I would have noticed that Loaiza, whom I had originally assumed was pitching tomorrow, would have been on short rest tomorrow. So much for the year's first marquee pitching match-up. Instead it will be Mussina against Dan Wright. Despite the lack of effectiveness displayed thus far by Mussina and the Yankee offense, I think they'll pull out the split. Provided the rain holds off, that is. I certainly hope it does, 'cuz I've got tickets. The Yankees probably hope it does too, because the White Sox aren't scheduled to come back to the Bronx for the rest of the season, so a make-up would be a major headache.

In other news, the Houston Astros have put Andy Pettitte on the 15-day DL with inflammation and a strained flexor tendon in his pitching elbow. The Astros claim Pettitte injured himself at the plate, checking a swing in his first start. Looking at the game log for that game, Andy struck out to end the fifth and came out to pitch the sixth, but was pulled after three of the first four batters he faced reached. Still, I'm suspicious because Andy's elbow has long been rumored to be a ticking time bomb and supposedly played a part in restricting the Yankees' enthusiasm for resigning him. When I heard the news on the YES postgame today, I said "elbow" before Fred Hickman did. It will be interesting to see how this develops, but with Andy and Nick Johnson both on the DL for their new teams, the Yankee front office is looking pretty good despite their team's losing record. Oh, and for you Steve Goldman fans out there, knuckleballer Jared Fernandez will get Andy's next start.

posted by Cliff at 5:29 PM

Friday, April 09, 2004

Four in a row 

Posted to the BRB on Wednesday:
I'm looking for a big debut from Vazquez in the opener. Expect the Sox offense to exact some revenge on Contreras on Friday.

That followed this from Tuesday:
I'm not expecting much out of Moose tonight as he's pitching on six days' rest. . . . I would not be surprised to see the two games in Tampa echo the two in Tokyo.

Not too bad. It's almost as if I knew what I was talking about.

The Chisox did indeed get to Contreras today. Jose needed 105 pitches to get through 5 1/3 innings, allowing five runs on six hits and three walks, including a pair of homers. Contreras really labored in the first two innings. Then, despite a four-pitch walk to Ordonez in the third, appeared to settle down in the next two frames. It fell apart in the fifth, however. Single, stolen base, wild pitch, walk, sac fly, walk, three-run home run (Ordonez). John Flaherty's defense didn't help matters much as the stolen base occurred on a pitch out. After getting Konerko to fly out leading off the sixth, Contreras gave up a solo homer to Joe Crede. Torre brought in Felix Heredia who proceeded to do this: four pitch walk to Timo Perez, double, grounder to second that turned into two runs and a man on second thanks to another Flaherty flub, walk. Paul Quantrill then replaced Heredia, giving up a two-run single to Ordonez on his first pitch before recording the final two outs.

Heredia faced four batters, two walked, all four scored. Felix the Cat opened the door to Joe Torre's doghouse in the Tokyo opener, giving up two runs on four hits (including a home run) and a walk in two innings with what Torre described after the game as "bad counts and bad location." Today's performance wasn't as bad as it looked--Flaherty's error, which occurred when he literally dropped the ball on what would have been an easy out at home, allowed not just one, but two runs to score; Ordonez's single off Quantrill, which allowed the other two Heredia runners to score, dropped untouched because Bernie Williams never saw it in the early evening sun--but it might have been bad enough to make Torre consider trying Donovan Osborne out as the second lefty, thus assigning Heredia to the role of "last guy in the pen." You know, the one that pitches once in a blue moon during a blowout. Almost on cue, Torre brought Osborne in to pitch the eighth after Quantrill got through a 1-2-3 seventh on six pitches. Osborne allowed just a single to Jose Valentin (who Sterling and Steiner reports has abandoned switch-hitting for full-time lefty batting . . . I didn't see this at bat, so I can't confirm that), while striking out two, including lefty Willie Harris and the hot-hitting Ordonez.

The Yankee offense, meanwhile, managed just one run through most of the game until Bubba Crosby came up after a Hideki Matsui double in the ninth (ironically, Matsui became the first batter faced by all-time Japanese saves leader Shingo Takatsu in his major league debut), and smacked his first major league home run into the handicapped seating in front of the bleachers in right. Much like they did against Victor Zambrano on Tuesday, the Yanks drew seven walks against the opposing starter, in this case John Garland, but did almost nothing with them.

I think that's about all I want to say about that. Here's what I said on Wednesday about tomorrow's contest:

"Saturday's game is a battle of fifth starters that could wind up being a one of those unexpected 3-2 squeakers or a full-scale offensive orgy."

Well, it appears that Ozzie Guillen has moved Mark Beuhrle's start up a day, skipping Dan Wright and allowing Beuhrle to pitch on normal rest, so it won't be the match-up I had anticipated. With the Yankee offense sputtering (they've scored 3 runs in four of their six games and 4 in one of the other two), the White Sox have a good shot at taking this series with their top two pitchers going this weekend. Still, expect DePaula to keep it close and Mussina to make a significant improvement over his first two starts. Meanwhile, keep your eye out for the White Sox defense and aggressiveness on the bases. It's not small ball so much as it is the fact that they're quite simply out-playing the Yankees right now.

posted by Cliff at 10:58 PM

Torre, Torre, Torre 

The ink is dry. The Yankees have resigned Joe Torre to a deal that will make him the Yankee manager for three more years (through 2007) and an advisor for the six years following that (through 2113). Torre will be 73 by the time the contract expires (he'll turn 64 this July).

I know I've frequently been hard on Joe in this space (most notably for his line-up shenanigans), but in actuality, I'm quite fond of the guy. As a person, I have the utmost respect for him. As the man who has kept life under Steinbrenner sane and relatively quiet for going on nine years, I have the utmost appreciation for him. And as the man who has presided over the most successful run in the Yankee history outside of the unreal 1947-1964 period, I have a great deal of admiration for him.

That said, I do greet the news of Torre's extension with mixed feelings. Great as Joe has been for this team over the years, I have been getting a hankering for some new blood in the past year or so. Perhaps it's the fact that Joe's old-school managerial style has been thrown into relief by the progressive approach of teams like Oakland, Toronto and especially Boston (all of them in the American League, and two of them in the same division). More likely, its just familiarity breeding contempt. I'm sure I'll miss Joe more than I know once he's moved into his advisor role. As Joni Mitchell said, you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. Whatever it is, I fear that the Joe Torre era has jumped the shark. Joe feels more like a piece of Yankee history than Yankee future these days.

Meanwhile, Willie Randolph should seriously consider managing in Columbus in one if not two of the next three years. He should also consider reading the assorted works of Bill James, Baseball Prospectus, Will Carroll and my buddy Steve Goldman (not to mention us blogger folk) with regularity, as, by the way, should you.

posted by Cliff at 3:15 PM

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Opening Day 

Is there any better reason to take a day off of work than to attend opening day at Yankee Stadium?

Yeah, probably, but you'd have a hard time convincing me of that today.

Fearful of the traffic produced by a sold-out game, I took the train to the stadium with my girlfriend, Becky, arriving just after noon. We wandered up 161st Street to soak up some of the late-morning sun, hit the ATM and scout out a possible pre-game snack (we skipped the last part). As one would expect, the streets were a swarm with people, most decked out in some fashion of navy and white, all cheerful and enthusiastically anticipating today's game. We pushed past bar patrons spilling out onto the sidewalk and police officers tending to the similarly overflowing pedestrian traffic and made our way into the stadium.

Our seats, part of a Sunday season ticket package, are in section 37 of the right field bleachers (about a third of the way up and about five seats from the old Yankee bullpen). Before settling in we wandered out to the far side of the left field bleachers to take a look down into Monument Park. For those who have never been, the bleachers have a separate entrance from the rest of Yankee Stadium and there is no access to Monument Park from the bleacher section. This effectively keeps the section alcohol free and likely helps keep ticket prices down as there is no possibility of sneaking into the boxes. That the Yankees made the bleachers alcohol free a number of years back continues to impress me. That said, they should find away to let us into Monument Park, Becky's still never been.

On the way to our seats I noticed that the concession stands were selling Crunch n' Munch instead of the usual Cracker Jacks. I was less than pleased at this discovery. As it turned out, the Crunch n' Munch is but one of several changes around the Stadium.

Perhaps inspired by the Tokyo Dome and its screens down both foul lines, the Yankees had placed screens down both foul lines during batting practice. The screens extended from about where the rolled-up tarp begins to just beyond the angle in the side wall. Although they are there for safety, all I could think was "fewer souvenirs." Thankfully the screens were removed when batting practice ceased.

BP screen

By the way, what is the deal with the Yankees taking batting practice before the fans are allowed in the park? I was an hour early to this game and the White Sox were just finishing up when we arrived. To the best of my knowledge, fans are allowed in the park no more than 90 minutes before game time. Whenever I arrive that early I'm lucky if I catch the last few swings of the Yankees' batting practice. This annoys me to no end.

Anyway, back to the changes. Most of them are advertising related. There are ads along the back walls inside the dugout. I don't remember them being there before. The red neon Budweiser sign at the front of the black section in center that lit up between innings for as long as I can remember has been replaced by a bright blue neon Con Edison sign that does the same. Some company I've never heard of named Kyocera has a sign on the front facade of the mezzanine level all the way around in fair territory in left field that includes a digital "strikeout counter" that tallies the Ks recorded by the Yankee pitcher currently on the mound. I can't really be made to care much about these changes, but the strikeout counter is a bit of an eyesore and takes away from the recent tradition of upper deck fans hanging creative K signs of their own design. From conversations overheard in the bleachers, I am not alone in this opinion.

The biggest visual change at the Stadium is the out-of-town scoreboard. Prior to this year, six scores along with the uniform number of the current pitchers were posted in orange lights on a black background at the farthest left-field portion of the outfield facade. That scoreboard has been replaced by advertising. The out of town scores are now reported one-by-one, sans pitcher info, on two new, full-color, fully-animated strip scoreboards that replace the old orange-lights-on-black ones along the baselines on the front facade of the mezzanine level (see photos). As the old ones did, these new scoreboards display the batter (though they identify him by name, not uniform number), count and score. They also display the batter's triple crown stats and, as I said, a rotating out-of-town score. Because they are fully animated they also display ads between innings and various graphics in reaction to the action on the field (such as a player's name surrounded by lightning bolts, spinning logo baseballs, or a home run graphic sponsored by HIP Health Care).

old strip scoreboard

new strip scoreboard

I've long felt that the Yankees' needed to replace the dated '70s scoreboards in centerfield with something of higher resolution and increased readability. These new strip scoreboards seem to be the first step toward that end, but they are not without their problems. Certainly the absence of pitcher info on the out-of-town scores is a downgrade, and seeing the scores one-by-one as opposed to six at a time makes glancing at the out-of-town scores more distracting than it used to be. Add to that the fact that, while each hitter's triple crown stats are updated throughout the game on the old-school scoreboard in centerfield, they remain static on these new strip scoreboards. But what annoyed me most about the new scoreboards is that the count takes far too long to be updated. I should be able to watch the pitch, see the umpires call and turn to the strip board to see the count change. With these new boards the count changes between five and ten seconds after my glance turns to check the count. There's no reason it should take that long. The new boards are certainly much easier to read (the numbers are bigger, rounder and fuller, and you don't need a scorecard to know who's at-bat), but their shortcomings and general gaudiness makes them a net loss in my book.

There is one other important change at Yankee Stadium this year. No Eddie Layton. For out-of-towners, Eddie Layton was the Yankee Stadium organist for the past 37 years. He was a classic ivory tinkler, treating fans to jolly versions of such classics as "When You're Smiling," "You Gotta Have Heart" and, of course "New York, New York" and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Eddie would play for a good 20 to 30 minutes before each game and, during less eventful mid-season games, would also play the national anthem. He retired at the end of last year, Game 6 of the World Series being his final game. Rather than replace him with another organist, the Yankees have filled the time with the never-ending history lesson on the Diamond Vision in center and piped-in pop music (AC/DC's "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)" was a particularly nice choice for today's opener). I'm realizing now that I didn't notice what they did for "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," as it had just started to rain as Ronan Tynan finished another beautiful, but molasses-slow rendition of "God Bless America." I want to say that they played a tape of Eddie's organ. I'll be sure to notice when I go back on Sunday.

[Update: As per the comments, the Yankees do have a new organist, who played "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and entertains, just as Eddie did, prior to the first pitch. My mistake.]

Today being opening day, however, Eddie's usual pre-game recital was replaced by a live performance from the United States Military Band. Stationed in "the area behind home plate," they cranked out numerous Sousa tunes and other such marching-band fare. The band was terrific and reminded me of old photos of the Stadium's first opening day with the military band in the outfield. Perfect. For one day, I didn't miss Eddie. I'll miss him on Sunday.

All of the usual opening day trappings were in effect. Bunting on the upper decks, player introductions, the West Point Glee Club singing the anthem and presenting the colors. In place of the cool, but overused bald eagle Challenger, four military jets did a flyover, the pilots, as is tradition, joining Tynan for the seventh-inning "God Bless America." By the way, if you only know Tynan from his performances at Yankee Stadium, you need to read this bio.

View from the bleachers

The introductions were fun. Rich Monteleone got a decent hand. Roy White got a good one. Mel Stottlemyre got an even better one. But Don Mattingly, to no one's surprise, got a huge ovation after which a "Donnie Baseball" chant went up in the bleachers that completely drowned out Willie Randolph and Kenny Lofton's intros. Which reminds me, the public address system seemed rather quite today. Perhaps it was the full stadium. Either way, the introductions were very hard to hear. Moving on, Mariano, Derek and Bernie got huge hands, but the biggest cheer went up for Alex Rodriguez. Alex also received a standing ovation when he was announced for his first at-bat to the tune of the theme from The Natural. Back in the introductions, the applause died down considerably for Giambi and Sheffield, though Jorge also got a good reception.

Yogi, Whitey and the Scooter threw out the first pitches and the game was on.

Oh yeah, there was a game.

I have to admit, I missed Javier Vazquez's first inning because of role call. Part of the reason for that was that it took him just twelve pitches to retire the side. Hideki Matsui is the second name called and had to catch Willie Harris's fly ball for the first out before he had a chance to acknowledge us. Oh, and for the curious (looking at you here, Alex), the new guys are "Sheff! Sheff! Sheff!" and "Ayyyyyy-Ro-o-o-o-o-d." Rodriguez, the last guy on the role, was followed by yet another vigorous "Donnie Baseball" chant (which I had hopefully anticipated), though Mattingly did not poke his head out of the dugout to acknowledge us.

As I had hoped and predicted, Javier Vazquez was the story of this game. I was struck by his smooth, compact delivery and late release point. He appears to release the ball when his hand is closest to home plate. Having now seen him pitch in person, Vazquez looks like a right-handed Whitey Ford (of course, I never saw Ford pitch, and they're very different types of pitchers). Javier gave the White Sox next to nothing over eight innings, needing just 106 pitches (73 of them strikes) to scatter a pair of base hits, a pair of walks, strike out five Sox and pitch out of an error by Jeter. The White Sox got a single run off of Vazquez in the fourth when Frank Thomas (who, with a single and a walk, was the only Chicago batter to reach base twice today) came back from an 0-2 count to draw a walk in an eight-pitch at-bat and was later singled home by Paul Konerko.

Javier Vazquez pitching to Frank Thomas

Jeter's error came on a ball up the middle that took a high hop and skipped over his diving reach. Enrique Wilson later made a throwing error in the ninth, missing Giambi completely in his attempt to complete a double play started by Rivera. The wild throw allowed Magglio Ordonez to reach second, thus the error (remember, absurd as the rule may be, you can't assume a double play). There were no boos today, but watching the Yankees infield defense in contrast to its White Sox counterpart, anchored by the defensively underrated Jose Valentin and lightening-fast Willie Harris, was very revealing.

On the other side of things, Scott Schoeneweis struggled through the first two innings, walking four Yankees and throwing 52 pitches, but escaped having allowed just two runs. Those both came with one out in the first following a Williams single, a Rodriguez walk, and a Giambi four-pitch walk. Gary Sheffield followed those three with an accidental RBI single that must have traveled all of ten feet up the third-base line. That moved A-Rod to third where he scored on a Posada sac fly.

After the second, Schoeneweis settled down facing the minimum over the next three innings thanks to Enrique Wilson getting picked off first after singling in the fourth. The Yankees got their third and final run in the sixth when Jorge blasted a one-out solo homer into the netting over the retired numbers in left.

That reminds me, check out Joe Torre's line-up against the lefty Schoeneweis:

R - Jeter (SS)
S - Williams (CF)
R - Rodriguez (3B)
L - Giambi (1B)
R - Sheffield (RF)
S - Posada (C)
L - Matsui (LF)
S - Sierra (DH)
S - Wilson (2B)

Wow! No Lofton against the lefty! (My Inner Pessimist sez: "maybe he was just resting that quad") Bernie batting second! (MIP sez: "only because Kenny wasn't there to lead-off and push Jeter to two") Jorge hitting sixth in front of Matsui! (MIP sez: "he dropped Matsui because there was a lefty on the mound") Of course, he should have gone with stronger-from-the-right switch-hitter Tony Clark at DH rather than stronger-from-the-left switch-hitter Sierra, but I'll excuse that in light of the progress made elsewhere. A quick check of the Yankees' official site confirms my suspicions about Matsui (switch-hitting Posada was considered better protection for Sheffield against the lefty), and notes that Sierra got the start simply because he's not seen action since the Tokyo opener.

Great quotes from Sheffield in that article, by the way:

"The enthusiasm of the fans, you can't even describe it as just enthusiasm. That's way beyond it," Sheffield said. "They love this team, and with every pitch, it feels like the stadium is going to fall down. It scares you at first, but it's part of it."

Sheffield said that the one moment he will remember the most didn't even have anything to do with him.

"The one I'll remember most was them cheering for Don Mattingly," Sheffield said. "That was probably the highlight of my day. I just tried to take everything in."

I think Gary will become very popular with sections 37 and 39 this season.

Jorge's homer was about all she wrote for today's game. Vazquez set down the last twelve White Sox he faced in order and Mariano pitched around a lead-off single by Jose Valentin and Wilson's error on Ordonez's double play ball to earn the save with just ten pitches.

Some other random game notes:

Timo Perez replaced Aaron Rowand in center late in the game and got the sort of reception from the bleacher creatures that any ex-Met should expect. Remember, the first "sucks" in the creatures' "everybody sucks" chant is "Mets suck." ("Mets suck, [opponent] sucks, [right fielder] sucks, Boston sucks, box seats suck, everybody sucks!")

While the Diamond Vision in center shows the in-game results along with the portrait of each visiting player during his at-bat, the Yankees this year are represented by sexy, dimly-lit close-ups but no in-game info. Nice pictures, but another bad scoreboard decision.

"YMCA" persists, now with a new sponsor and scoreboard graphic, but I'm delighted to report that "Cotton Eye Joe" has gone the way of Roger Clemens. Good riddance!

The late-morning sun clouded over quickly but the rain held off until the seventh inning stretch. It was light and intermittent, though it did send a number of folks home early.

The price of an Italian sausage (the best eats in the stadium) has gone up 50 cents to $6.50. Becky said that she noticed other price increases (I also had a 32 oz. souvenir soda for $5.75 and a pretzel, though I forget the price. Becky had a regular stadium dog for $3 and nachos, which I believe are $6.75) Our seats cost just $8 a piece. I think I saw a program priced at $7. The price of the program from my first game in the Bronx in 1988 was $1.25.

Lastly, Becky reports that her favorite part of every visit to Yankee Stadium is Mariano Rivera's entrance to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and a standing ovation. That's my girl.


For reports of other home openers around the majors, be sure to check out David Pinto's Baseball Musings.

All photos by your humble narrator.

posted by Cliff at 7:42 PM

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Now that's baseball! 

That was a beauty of a game down in Tampa this afternoon. Reclamation project Paul Abbott no-hits the Yanks for five and a third innings, but Kevin Brown makes it a ballgame by holding the D-Rays to just one run on five hits and no walks in his seven innings. In the top of the sixth the Yankees move ahead thanks to a Lofton single, a Jeter double (it rolled into a ball bag in the bullpen, holding Kenny at third), and a pair of RBI-singles from Rodriguez and Giambi. Tom Gordon faced the minimum in the eighth despite a lead-off walk to Tino and the Yanks tagged one on in the ninth thanks to a Matsui walk, a Posada single and an Enrique Wilson sac fly.

So it's 3-1 Yankees in the bottom of the ninth and in comes Mo. Robert Fick (Lou was playing his day-game-after-a-night-game line-up today: Fick, Eduardo Perez, Blum, and Fordyce all started, with Aubrey Huff at third base) grounds out. One away. Huff smacks a scooter to the right side that tips off the end of the glove of a diving Tony Clark (remember, he's very tall) for an infield single. Jose Cruz Jr., a switch-hitter batting righty to negate the effects of Mo's cutter, singles to right moving Huff to second. On a 2-1 count, Perez doubles to left past a diving A-Rod (Nettles woulda had it . . . heck, Aaron Boone woulda had it), scoring Huff and putting the tying run on third and the winning run on second with one out. Torre then has Rivera intentionally walk Geoff Blum to set-up the force. With Kevin Brown sweating bullets in the Yankee dugout, Brook Fordyce, who reportedly has Enrique vs. Pedro-like numbers against Rivera, steps in. Ball one. Swingandamiss, strike one. Mo's next pitch is grounded to third. A-Rod fields, forces Perez at third and sails a throw to first that's corralled by the very tall Tony Clark for a game-ending double play.

Now that's a baseball game.

The Yankees play another tomorrow at 1:05. It's opening day in the Bronx and I'll be there. Javier Vazquez will take the mound against the White Sox and 30-year-old Long Branch, NJ native Scott Schoeneweis. The left-handed Schoeneweis was acquired by the White Sox from the Angels at the trading deadline last year for Gary Glover and change. A full-time starter for the Angels in 2000 and 2001, he was moved to the bullpen half way through their championship season of 2002. As a full-time reliever in 2003 he had by far his best season, increasing his strike-outs, cutting his walks and posting his first ERA at or above league average. That the Sox have put him back in the rotation speaks to their lack of legitimate starters.

Bernie Williams started in centerfield for the Yankees today because of stiffness in Kenny Lofton's right quadriceps. He will start there tomorrow as well. It remains to be seen whether or not Joe will enact a no-lefties-for-Lofton platoon by starting Tony Clark at DH. Sadly, I doubt he will. Should you see Lofton's name in tomorrow's starting line-up, tell yourself that Joe may just be starting him to show off the new guy in the home opener. That should keep Kenny from harshing your opening day vibe. At least until he starts again on Sunday against the Sox lefty ace Mark Buehrle.

Ah, but St. Joe giveth, as well as taketh away. The good news from Torre is that Jorge DePaula has earned the starting assignment on Saturday. Glory be! First Bubba beats out Bragg and now DePaula beats out Donovan! This is a very good trend. Looking a bit closer, Joe's going with DePaula because the White Sox are heavily right-handed. Still, Joe sez: "[De Paula] is not as experienced, but we've always conceded that he has better stuff [than Osborne]. We hope we're making the right decision. He's a future starter for us."

With all of that out of the way, why don't we warm up for the upcoming four-game series by taking a look at the 2004 Chicago White Sox:

Chicago White Sox

2003 Record: 86-76 (.531)
2003 Pythagorean Record: 88-74 (.543)

Manager: Ozzie Guillen
General Manager: Ken Williams

Ballpark (2003 park factors): U.S. Cellular Field (99/99)

Who’s replacing whom?
Juan Uribe replaces D'Angelo Jimenez and Roberto Alomar
Timo Perez replaces Carl Everett
Ross Gload replaces Brian Daubach
Cliff Politte replaces Bartolo Colon
Shingo Takatsu replaces Tom Gordon
Mike Jackson replaces Rick White and Scott Sullivan

The White Sox's 2004 Opening Day Roster:

1B - Paul Konerko
2B - Willie Harris
SS - Jose Valentin
3B - Joe Crede
C - Miguel Olivo
RF - Magglio Ordonez
CF - Aaron Rowand
LF - Carlos Lee
DH - Frank Thomas


L - Timo Perez (OF)
R - Sandy Alomar, Jr. (C)
R - Juan Uribe (IF)
L - Ross Gload (1B)


L - Mark Buehrle
R - Esteban Loaiza
L - Scott Schoeneweis
R - John Garland
R - Dan Wright


R - Billy Koch
L - Damaso Marte
R - Cliff Politte
L - Kelly Wunsch (DL)
R - Shingo Takatsu
R - Mike Jackson
R - John Adkins
L - Neal Cotts

Ozzie Gullen's apparent line-up:

L - Willie Harris (2B)
S - Jose Valentin (SS)
R - Magglio Ordonez (RF)
R - Frank Thomas (DH)
R - Carlos Lee (LF)
R - Paul Konerko (1B)
R - Joe Crede (3B)
R - Aaron Rowand (CF)
R - Miguel Olivo (C)

Guillen actually started Sandy Alomar behind the plate on opening day, a move so inexcusable that I'm writing it off as a fluke (of course Sandy homered in that start). Guillen started Olivo in the Sox second game of the season. He also started Uribe at second in that game, but there does not appear to be a platoon established as the Sox were playing the Royals who have five lefty starters.

Taking a look at the replacements above, every one is a step backwards. Of course one really jumps out at you. That of course is Politte replacing Colon. It's actually tomorrow's starter, Schoeneweis, who replaces Colon in the rotation, but Politte that replaces Schoeneweis in the pen, and thus Colon on the roster. However you shake it out, that's a big loss for Chicago. Or so it would seem. Colon was good for 17 win shares in 2003. Politte and Schoeneweis just three a piece. But Schoeneweis's move into the pen will make him much more valuable should he perform at a level above his 2002 season, but below his 2003 campaign. John Garland's 2003 season is a safe goal for Schoeneweis, assuming he can hold up over a full season of starts. Garland was worth 10 win shares in 2003. With Politte replacing Schoeneweis in the pen, that's a net loss of just seven win shares, or about two wins. Seems much worse than that.

Still, as I said, the Sox are leaking water all over the place. I wouldn't expect Frank Thomas to repeat his stellar 2003 campaign (ignore the .267 batting average and look at the .316 GPA and 149 OPS+). Carlos Lee put up some great counting numbers last year (31 homers, 113 RBI), but he was actually more productive in 2002, when he walked more than he struck out. Lee got 100 more plate appearances in 2003, thus the better counting stats. I will be curious to see what he does this year. Paul Konerko had a genuine lost season in 2003 at age 27, losing 70 points of batting average, 54 points of OBP, and 99 points of slugging from 2002. The scary part is that he crushed the ball in July and August, which means the rest of the season he was even worse than his final .234/.305/.399 line. A return to form (something in the area of .290/.360/.500) could heal a lot of the Sox wounds. And of course there's always Magglio, who's almost guaranteed to give them a .315/.380/.540 season. But after those four the Sox are looking at awful on-base numbers and a quartet of youngsters looking to establish themselves.

That quartet, with their 2003 on-base percentages, is 24-year-old Miguel Olivo (.287), and 26-year-olds Joe Crede (.308), Aaron Rowand (.327) and Willie Harris (.259). 34-year-old Jose Valentin (.313) completes the line-up. Rowand and Harris have potential platoon partners in Timo Perez (.301) and Juan Uribe (.297). Olive could lose playing time to the 38-year-old Sandy Alomar Jr. (.281). All of this makes Rowand look like Ted Williams. Not good.

On the hill, 32-year-old Esteban Loaiza has to prove that 2003 was not a fluke. 25-year-old Mark Buehrle has to reverse a very gradual three-year slide toward league average. Schoeneweis, Garland and Wright just have to hold the fort until Ken Williams can trade for reinforcements. That should be more than enough of a task for them, though 24-year-old Garland could turn out to be a valuable starter if the fates allow it.

The bullpen, meanwhile, could be a strength. Despite his dreadful showing on opening day, Marte is an elite reliever. Koch has been one in the past and could be again. Politte is a solid edition. All three of those pitchers were in double digits in saves and struck out more than seven men per nine innings in 2003. Takatsu is the newly minted Japanese saves leader (he's 35). Known as "Mr. Zero," he supposedly sports a wicked changeup. Kelly Wunsch is a top rate LOOGY, though his walk rate is pretty high. When he returns from the DL he'll likely bounce rookies Cotts, Adkins or, yes, that Mike Jackson.

The best news for Chisox fans is that this is a very young team. Only three hitters (Alomar, Thomas and Valentin) are older than 30-year-old Magglio Ordonez and only bullpen fliers Takatsu and Jackson are older than 32-year-old Loaiza. If Konerko comes back and the starters hold up I could see the Sox keeping their heads above water with something in the 83-86 win range. A killer deadline deal could give them late life like they had last year, and a strong showing by the youngest members of the team could set up a big surge in 2005.

As for this series. I'm looking for a big debut from Vazquez in the opener. Expect the Sox offense to exact some revenge on Contreras on Friday. Saturday's game is a battle of fifth starters that could wind up being a one of those unexpected 3-2 squeakers or a full-scale offensive orgy. The marquee match-up, however, is Sunday's Mussina vs. Buehrle contest. I'll be at that one as well, hoping regular rest and a solid week in one time-zone will get Moose back on track.

posted by Cliff at 11:55 PM

Heartland Heartbreak 

Cripes, I'm not even a Twins fan and this totally bums me out.

For you lazy clickers out there, Joe Mauer tore his medial meniscus cartilage and will require knee surgery. He's going on the 15-day DL today and there is currently no time table for his return to the Twins, but he's most likely going to be out a minimum of three weeks.

Mauer's line from his only two major league games: 4 AB, 3 H, 2 BB, 2 R, 1 K. He was a key part of the Twins' eleventh-inning victory on opening day. Mauer originally hurt his knee in yesterday's game when sliding to catch a foul ball behind the plate. He stayed in the game and aggravated the injury making a quick stop rounding third in the third inning, at which point he was taken out of the game. One wonders how severe the injury was prior to that second incident and if this surgery could have been prevented by taking Mauer out of the game immediately after his slide on the foul ball.

Meanwhile, there is one hit (by Brooke Fordyce) through three and a half innings in Tampa.

posted by Cliff at 4:47 PM

Hate to say I told you so . . . 

Moose's poor showing last night doesn't worry me. I saw it coming at least a week ago. Paul Quantrill's rocky outing doesn't really worry me much either. I figure he was just getting the kinks out. Best that he did it with the Yankees already trailing.

What does worry me is the fact that, while both Donovan Osborne and Jorge DePaula made relief appearances last night, Osborne pitched to just one batter, while DePaula faced six. This suggests to me that it will indeed be Osborne who gets the start on Saturday. Not good. DePaula retired five of the six men he faced. He entered the game with the bases loaded (thanks to Osborne walking Tino) and no outs and retired the first three men he faced on a strikeout, a sac fly and a groundout. The run he gave up in the next inning was the result of a single (the only baserunner he allowed), stolen base, passed ball and another sac fly. Hardly damning stuff. I'd much rather see DePaula start on Saturday. Joe Torre is expected to make the official announcement today.

Another thing that bothered me about last night's game, other than the much discussed line-up issues, was the strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play that the Yankees fell victim to in the fifth. With one out, Rodriguez on second and Giambi on first and a full count on Sheffield, Torre put the runners in motion. It was a logical call. Sheffield walks more often then he strikes out, and getting Giambi in motion reduces the chance of Sheffield grounding into a double play (he hit into 16 last year). But it backfired big time. Sheffield missed with an ugly, defensive swing and Giambi got gunned out at second. The Yanks were down by one at that point and that was their best scoring opportunity of the game. The Devil Rays tacked one on in the bottom of the fifth and never looked back.

Nor shall we. Hopefully Kevin Brown can repeat his performance from a week ago this afternoon. The Rays send Paul Abbott to the mound. It seems like an odd decision by Piniella to go to Abbott in this game. Jeremi Gonzalez is his number two starter, though he did get roughed up in Tokyo. Lefty Mark Hendrickson should be his number three (actually, Doug Waechter should be his number three, but he's in Durham waiting for the fifth spot to come due). On a team that should be accentuating it's future, Abbott is seven years older than the Ray's next-oldest starter and is hardly what I'd call an established veteran. The 36-year-old Abbott had brief stays with the Twins and Indians from 1990 to 1993 when he was in his early 20s. He then didn't pitch in the majors again until the age of 30, when he picked up four starts with Lou's Mariners. The next year he posted a 3.10 ERA while starting seven games and relieving in 18 others. The following two seasons were his only two full seasons as a major league starter. He was just about league average in both, but benefited from the M's 116-win offense in 2001, winning 17 games of his own against just four losses. The next year he started just five games while posting a 11.96 ERA and was out of baseball in 2003 until the Royals got desperate enough to add him to fellow reclamation projects Jose Lima and Kevin Appier in their rotation. Abbott made eight starts for Kansas City, posting a 5.29 ERA, below league average even with the hitting-happy Kauffman Stadium factored in, while walking nearly five men per nine innings pitched. Abbott is hoping to follow up on his solid spring (3.38 ERA, best by a D-Ray's starter). I'm hoping to see a repeat of Game 2 in Tokyo.

In other news, there have been some grumblings about the Yankees signing Aaron Boone to a two-year deal (for 2005 and 2006) and playing him at second base. There also seems to be some tension between Jason Giambi and the team over the status of Giambi's personal trainer, Bob Alejo. Alejo has been granted permission by the Yankees and MLB to travel on the team plane despite the personal trainer ban, but Brian Cashman has indicated that the privilege will not be extended to next season.

Elsewhere around the majors, the Tigers are 2-0 but have lost Dmitri Young for six weeks with a broken leg (a non-displaced fracture of his right fibula). Meanwhile, the Twins won their second straight extra-inning game over the Indians (their first two games have lasted 26 innings), but Joe Mauer (knee sprain), Johan Santana (forearm spams) and Torii Hunter (hamstring) are all day-to-day (or start-to-start) with injuries. Shawn Estes beat Randy Johnson at the BOB. Andy Pettitte lost his first start as an Astro. The winning pitcher in that Astros/Giants game was David Aardsma, who, in making his major league debut, replaces Hank Aaron as the first player on the alphabetical list of all-time major leaguers. Fortunately, Aardsma is a pitcher, so Hank should retain his spot at the front of the hitting registry. Curious that Hank's been bumped from this position of prominence by a member of the San Francisco Giants, when he very well may be bumped from an even more prominent position by one of Aardsma's teammates in 2005 or 2006.

posted by Cliff at 10:09 AM

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Rays Roster Move 

The Devils Rays traded 24-year-old infield prospect Antonio Perez to the Dodgers this past Saturday for outfielder/infielder Jason Romano. Romano, who is six months Perez's senior, has collected 127 major league at-bats with the Dodgers and Rangers over the past two seasons. To make room for Romano on the 25-man (Perez didn't make the club out of camp), the Rays have designated "Captain Pickoff" himself, Charles Gipson, for assignment. Gipson appeared in the second game in Tokyo as a defensive replacement at short, but did not make an appearance at the plate. Like Perez and Gipson, Romano bats righty.

I'm not expecting much out of Moose tonight as he's pitching on six days' rest. However, if he can keep things reasonable (3 or 4 runs) the Yankee offense has a good chance of getting to Zambrano, whom they just saw one week ago. That said, I would not be surprised to see the two games in Tampa echo the two in Tokyo.

posted by Cliff at 4:03 PM

Thoughts on yet another Opening Day 

Ignoring for a moment that baseball has now had three opening days, including yesterday, which was technically the fourth day of the season, and that there are still eight teams which haven't played a regular season game, here are some random thoughts for each of yesterday's nine "Opening Day" games:

Tigers 7, Blue Jays 0

2002 Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson in his first start in 2003: 6.2 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 5 K, Loss

2003 Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay in his first start in 2004: 6.2 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 3 HR, 2 BB, 9 K, Loss

Mike Mussina, Pedro Martinez, Roy Halladay, Matt Morris, Kevin Millwood, and Hideo Nomo are a combined 0-6 on the season. Tim Hudson, Roy Oswalt and Mark Buerhle all received no decisions. Victor Zambrano, Jason Johnson, Dave Burba, Kip Wells, Brian Lawrence, D.J. Carasco and Juan Rincon are a combined 7-0.

161 games left.

Cubs 7, Reds 4

No Griffey in this one. How many games do you think Dunn, Griffey and Kearns will play together in the outfield this year? Think they'll break into double digits?

Add a 7.20 ERA for Kerry Wood to the pitching stats above. Then please explain to me why Derrek Lee is hitting sixth behind Aramis Ramirez.

In 83 games last year, Corey Patterson (who smacked a homer in the opener yesterday) hit .298/.329/.511 with 13 homers, 55 RBI, 49 runs scored and 16 stolen bases (at a 76 percent success rate). The man is just 24 years old and healthy this year. Walks or not, he could have a huge impact on what's sure to be a dogfight between the Cubs and 'Stros atop the NL's best division.

Royals 9, White Sox 7

This was the game of the day. With Royals trailing 7-3 entering the bottom of the ninth, the White Sox's Cliff Politte walks Joe Randa, who moves to second on a passed ball by Sandy Alomar Jr., and Ken Harvey (the latter on four pitches). Ozzie Guillen then brings in Billy Koch who gives up a booming double to Benito Santiago (who, at 39, should have a great year having relocated to the hitters haven that is Kauffman Stadium) that drives in both runners. 7-5 White Sox. Koch then strikes out lefty Aaron Guiel, but Guillen pulls him anyway when Tony Pena sends up lefty Matt Stairs to pinch hit for Tony Graffanino. With lefty bullpen ace Damaso Marte in the game, Pena sits Stairs in favor of Mendy Lopez. Marte falls behind 3-1 and Lopez blasts one to center to tie the game at 7-7. Angel Berroa follows with a single and Carlos Beltran finishes it off with a game-winning homer to left.


Guillen caught some heat on Baseball Tonight for pulling Koch in reaction to a lefty pinch hitter after he had just struck out another lefty. I wouldn't argue against going to Marte, who was unhittable last year (in fact, he gave up just three homers in 71 games last year--this year he's already given up two and has yet to record an out--more fun with small sample size pitching stats!). But, and I fear I'm agreeing with Harold Reynolds here, in the first game of the season, it would have served Guillen well to show some confidence in the man who is supposed to be his closer.

Pirates 2, Phillies 1

26-year-old Kip Wells is a very solid starter. The man deserves some props.

Craig Wilson hits homers, has beautiful flowing blonde locks.

Jose Mesa saved this one with a perfect ninth inning. Phillies fans must have loved that.

Padres 8, Dodgers 2

The Padres new road uniforms are sort of a sand color. I guess it makes sense for San Diego, but they look pretty dreadful next to another team's home whites. The sand color has a bit too much of a yellow tint, that makes it look like used kitty litter. They look like modified basketball unis. That said, I'm not yet prepared to say that they're worse than the Blue Jays' new hockey unis and stone-washed grey caps. I'll have to revisit this topic later this season.

Jay Payton and Phil Nevin were injury concerns in spring training. Both homered. Darren Dreifort has been an injury concern since the Yankees won their last championship. He pitched a one-hit, no-walk, 12-pitch ninth.

Brewers 8, Cardinals 6

This is what happens when you put Tony Womack at second and bat him lead-off (of course, Womack went 1 for 3 with two walks, but we can ignore that, right?). So let me get this straight. Setting the table for Albert Pujols are Womack and Ray Lankford? Meanwhile Edgar Renteria bats sixth? And I thought the Yankees had line-up issues!

The two hitting stars for the Brewers were Ben Grieve (2 for 4 with a homer and three RBIs) and Scott Podsednik (2 for 5 with a double, a homer and four RBIs). The most interesting part about this? Podsednik, runner-up in last year's Rookie of the Year vote, is actually several months older than Grieve, a seven year vet who won the award back in 1998 and signed with the Brewers this offseason in a desperate attempt to salvage his career.

Twins 7, Indians 4 (11 innings)

Brad Radke, meanwhile, is overrated. I'd take Kip Wells over him in a heartbeat.

The Indians collected 17 hits, including a Jody Gerut homer and two dingers by Travis Hafner. Ben Broussard went 4 for 4. If this team had pitching, they'd cause some problems in the weak AL Central.

Meanwhile, another great finish here. Marcus Lawton is tagged out at home trying to score on an Omar Vizquel double, thanks to a great relay from Jacque Jones to Michael Cuddyer (who pinch-hit for Rivas in the eighth) and a beautiful block of the plate by rookie Joe Mauer for the third out in the top of the tenth. Fast-forward to the bottom of the eleventh, tied 4-4. Chad Durbin takes the hill, strikes out Jacque Jones, then gets ahead 1-2 on Matt LeCroy before walking him. Nick Punto runs for LeCroy. Rookie Joe Mauer (2 for 3 with 2 walks on the day), singles, pushing Punto to third. Christian Guzman strikes out. Mauer moves to second on defensive indifference and Shannon Stewart picks up where he left off last year by blasting a 1-1 pitch to left for a walk-off homer. Game over.

Giants 5, Astros 4

Here's the situation. Top of the eighth, one out, two on. You're leading by three and Barry Bonds steps to the plate. Your right-handed starter has thrown 97 pitches in his first start of the year and you've got your best right-handed set-up man warm in the pen. What do you do? If you're Jimy Williams you pull a Grady. Go to the mound, have a long discussion with your starter and return to the dugout without making a change.

Take a wild guess as to what happened next.

Number 659. Tie game.

Less predictably (and the fact that you can call Barry's home runs in advance is large part of what makes him a modern day Babe Ruth--even if the juicing is embarrassingly obvious), Octavio Dotel loses it in the ninth. Message to those who say things like "there's a big difference between pitching the eight and pitching the ninth" (I'm looking at you Sutcliffe): no there's not, now shut up.

A's 5, Rangers 4

Alfonso Soriano's first at-bat as a Ranger? A four-pitch walk issued by Tim Hudson. And they were close pitches. Clearly balls, but Hudson was not wild. Second at-bat: called strike, foul, foul, hit by pitch. Third at-bat: ball one, single. Three at-bats, three times on base, five balls, one strike, contact on all three swings. Sori made outs in his next two at-bats but swung and missed only once in the entire game. Out of the kindness of his heart, Sori made error at second to make me feel better.

Chris Hammond and Jeff Nelson took turns giving away the lead (Hammond: 2 runs on four hits in 2 IP; Nelson: 2 runs on 2 hits in 2/3 IP). Nelson took the loss but also earned a hold. Doesn't seem like it should be possible. Here's how it happened:

First the hold rule: "A Hold is credited any time a relief pitcher enters a game in a Save Situation, records at least one out, and leaves the game never having relinquished the lead." Nelson entered the game with a one-run lead. He got one out then gave up two singles before getting the second out, at which point he was pulled in favor of Ron Mahay. Mahay gave up a two-run double, allowing both of Nelson's baserunners to score, thus handing Nelson the loss, but since Nelson left before the lead change, he earned a hold. Cripes. Can we please get someone to rewrite the save and hold rules? And let's give the runner's interference at first-base thing a once-over while we're at it.

I gotta say, I really like the look of Texas's offense now that they've gotten rid of their vets and have an infield of Teixeira, Soriano, Young, Blalock and Laird with Nix in center. If they can turn the money they saved into pitching this offseason, they could make noise in that division next year. Unfortunately, that might be too big an "if."

Meanwhile, if Jermaine Dye (2 for 3, 2 RBIs) is really back to his old self, he'll help the A's tremendously.

Lastly, am I the only one that can't look at Erubiel Durazo without thinking of John Turturro?

posted by Cliff at 9:40 AM

Monday, April 05, 2004

Clearing the bases 

Pedro and the Red Sox lost the North American opener in Camden Yards last night by a score of 7-2.

There are nine games today, beginning with the new-look Tigers taking on Roy Halladay in Toronto at 1:15 and wrapping up with Alfonso Soriano and the Rangers facing Tim Hudson in Oakland at 10:35 EST on ESPN2. Three other games will be broadcast nationally: Kerry Wood and the Cubs in Cincy at 2:10 on ESPN, Kevin Millwood and the Phills in Pittsburgh at 4:05 on ESPN2, and Barry Bonds and his 658 homers against Roy Oswalt in Houston at 7:05 also, on the deuce.

The Yankees get back to work tomorrow in Tampa with a rematch of the Japanese opener (Mussina vs. Zambrano). Curiously, both of the Yankees exhibition games this weekend (Tigers on Saturday, Yankee Future Stars on Sunday) ended in ties (7-7 and 3-3). Jose Contreras started on Saturday, Alex Graman on Sunday. I can't seem to find a box score for the Sunday game, but I know that Bernie played in both games, going 1 for 3 with an RBI on Saturday and 1 for 2 with a double on Sunday. Giambi played the field on Saturday, as did Bernie. I don't know if Giambi played on Sunday or if Bernie was in center (I assume he was). Tony Clark homered off Nate Cornejo on Saturday.

Looking forward, Joe Torre, as expected, is going back to number one by starting Mussina tomorrow and Kevin Brown on Wednesday. Javier Vazquez will then start the home opener against the White Sox on Thursday (I will be at that game and will have a full report Thursday night). That sets up Contreras to start on an extra day's rest on Friday and will require a fifth starter on Saturday. Both Osborne and DePaula pitched in relief of Contreras on Saturday. Osborne was perfect for one and one-third. DePaula allowed a run on three hits while striking out three and walking none in two innings. If one of the next four games is a blow out, Torre may tip his hand by using the loser of the fifth-starter competition in relief. I'm rooting for DePaula to get the start, but suspect Joe might go with his man Osborne.

It appears that Giambi will remain in the field, even on the turf in Tampa. The good news is that the infield at the Trop is dirt, not just sliding boxes as was the case in Tokyo. That should reduce the impact on Giambi's knee considerably. That means that both Bernie and Kenny Lofton will be in the line-up against Devil Ray righties Victor Zambrano and Paul Abbott (I will be very curious to see what happens when the Yankees face one of the White Sox's lefty starters later in the week). Which man plays centerfield remains to be seen. As you know, I'm strongly in favor of DHing Bernie whenever possible.

To further complicate things, Torre has said that he plans to return Kenny Lofton to the leadoff spot on Tuesday, despite leading off Derek Jeter and batting Bernie second in Saturday's game against the Tigers (so close, Joe! You were so close!). Scott at YM&tR allows me to avoid repeating myself on this subject (in part by linking back to the BRB), and also links to this Post article, which includes some interesting quotes.

* Torre wouldn't promise yesterday to keep Lofton in the top spot, though he did say, "That's where I want him to be."

* [Bernie:] "I think sentimentally [playing center] would be nice, but I don't think it's going to make or break my season."

*Williams estimated he lost between nine and 11 pounds following [his surgery] and has gained back only six or seven. "I still don't feel quite as strong as I did coming into spring training," he said. "I've heard in situations like this it could take up to six months."

Okay, so playing Lofton in center seems to be a no-brainer. That said, the fact that Torre can't see past the image of Lofton as lead-off hitter is extremely disheartening. So much so that I can barely muster the energy to type these words. According to the Post article, the line-up with Lofton leading off would look like this:

L - Lofton
R - Jeter
R - Rodriguez
L - Giambi
R - Sheffield
S - Williams
L - Matusi
S - Posada
S - Wilson

Never mind that Derek and Bernie are ideal one and two hitters (even Sterling and Steiner were raving about Torre's batting them one and two on Saturday), but batting Jorge eighth?! That's not a testament to the quality of the line-up, it's a testament to how wrong-headed it is to lead off Lofton and bat Matsui ahead of Jorge. I have to move on before I become physically ill.

On the injury front, Paul Quantrill pitched a perfect inning on Sunday. He's fine.

Travis Lee threw on Sunday for the first time since being shut down during spring training. Torre expects Lee to be activated in "10 days or so." As Lee will not be allowed to play the outfield for fear of him reinjuring his shoulder, I would expect him to replace Osborne or DePaula on the roster unless another spot opens up due to injury. Tony Clark isn't going anywhere just yet. Said Joe: "Tony Clark is a player. He certainly earned a spot on this club. We'll have to figure out what we're going to do, but we have a week or 10 days for something to make up our minds."

Jon Lieber is still on schedule for May. Steve Hearsay will begin throwing this week.

Lastly, third base coach Luis Sojo is on bereavement leave following the death of his mother. The Yankees will have special instructor Rob Thompson or bench coach Willie Randolph coach third in his absence. Luis should return later this week.

posted by Cliff at 10:35 AM

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