Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cringing at Sabathia's attempted barehand plays

The Yankees need to talk to C.C. Sabathia about barehanding balls hit back at the mound. He was extraordinarily good again tonight in Cleveland, allowing three runs in seven innings while striking out eight. But twice during the game, he reached for batted balls hit at him with his pitching hand. The last thing the newly-gelled Yankees need is a silly injury to their ace.

Sabathia is pitching like himself now, though. Over his last five starts Sabathia is 4-0, bringing his record to 5-3. Over that stretch, he has gone 39 innings, allowing nine runs (2.08 ERA) while striking out 32. He has allowed 26 hits and nine walks in those starts for a WHIP of 0.90. His ERA for the season now stands at 3.46, and he has 56 strikeouts in 78 innings pitched. He has started to appear in the top-10 of many of the American League pitching categories.

That is why it is so alarming to see C.C. trying to grab the ball with those valuable fingers. The first time he went for the ball, he was 4.1 innings into no-hitting his old team, so I understand the impulse to preserve the game. But the second time, it appeared that he was simply frustrated because he had run into a little trouble. Joe Girardi needs to tell him that it is best for the team if Sabathia uses his glove or lets his infielders go for the ball.

Besides that snipe, the Yanks are looking pretty solid at 29-20. They sit 1.5 games up on the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays atop the AL East leader board. They are two games up in the loss column on Boston, and three games up on Toronto.

GAME NOTES 5/31...Jorge Posada homered in the Yankees 10-5 victory over Cleveland, and looked comfortable at the plate for the second straight day since he came off the disabled list...Nick Swisher also hit a long home run to center field, putting his season total at 10...Jose Veras gave up two runs in an inning of relief, pushing his season ERA to 6.97. He threw 14 strikes out of his 23 pitches and gave up a home run to Shin-Soo Choo. Veras continues not to look like the confident late inning reliever he was last year. The Yankees have to hope that Alfredo Aceves is truly an answer for them at setup man...Michael Kay said that the Yankees were unlikely to keep three catchers when Jose Molina returns to the club shortly. That spells an end to Francisco Cervelli's productive stint with the club. The kid definitely earned a closer look in the coming seasons.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Wieters' arrival a date to mark on your calendar

We saw last season what an influx of young talent can do to a solid team. Evan Longoria's arrival in Tampa Bay turned a solid team into a great one. David Price didn't hurt either, en route to the American League pennant. While the expectations should be slightly lower for the Baltimore Orioles this year, Matt Wieters' debut tonight is no less important for the future of the AL East.

The Joe Mauer comparisons are inevitable. The kid is a four-tool player (minus speed) who plays one of the most critical (and talent weak) positions in the sport. Expect Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts to cause headaches as the pennant race heats up. The Orioles may not yet be in position to challenge for the title, but once the crop of young pitchers the O's are training in the minor leagues hit, the AL East will be completely up for grabs.

At no point in my baseball viewing career have I seen a division as stocked with talent as the East has the potential to be in two years. If the Rays can hold onto their players, and the Jays add a reliable power bat and an arm or two around Roy Halladay that they can truly rely on, the division could end up with any team that plays there for years. The competition promises tons of drama, and a lot of hurt feelings. Buckle your seatbelts. One Oriole jokingly called him the "switch-hitting Jesus."

But the first step towards this supreme East will occur tonight, when the 23-year-old switch-hitter steps in against Detroit for his first Major League at-bat. We'll all get to see what he can do over the next chunk of time. He hit .400 in spring training, but his competition is certainly going to raise a level here in the regular season.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Yankees Starting to Click

The Yankees currently find themselves in the middle of a five-game winning streak, and the last three against the Minnesota Twins have been worthy of writing home about.

Friday night: Melky Cabrera hits a two-run single to tie the game and then walk off with a victory in the ninth.

Saturday night: Alex Rodriguez hits a two-run shot to win the game in extra innings.

Sunday night: Johnny Damon takes one to right to win the game 3-2 in the 10th.

The Yankees finally seem to be clicking. The pitching has been solid, the offense timely, and the team is starting to rally around one another. The mobs at home plate have been predictably boisterous, and A.J. Burnett has started a trend of hitting the walk-off hero in the face with a whipped cream pie.

This is looking promising. I wonder what they have in store for tomorrow. But the most important part of all of this dramatic baseball is that you get the sense that the Yanks are starting to feel like they are never out of a ballgame. It is that kind of swagger that wins divisions, and yes, wins championships.

A-Rod also went deep again today, and although Paul O'Neill pointed out that his upper and lower body aren't really in full sync yet, you have to feel like he is getting there. Once he gets going, we can expect Mark Teixeira to wake up a bit, and that's when the real fun begins.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Steroids, Manny and A-Rod

This whole situation stinks. A lot.

As a child at Little League camp in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, I used to collect baseball cards to trade with the other kids and place in card books. The time: the mid to late 1990s.

I believe that the cards we used to buy at the camp shop were Upper Deck cards, and one of the various special inserts that happened to show up regularly were stickers of the game's best.

My favorite players ended up on a white Ikea cubby that sat next to my bed. Scrawled in pencil next to the faces of Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and others were Derek Jeter's career home runs, year by year, and the running count of the Yankees' World Championships.

I ran into that cubby in storage a few months ago, and I stopped and looked at the faces, next to the stickers with their names and their team banners. Almost all of the players that I grew up idolizing will never be in the Hall of Fame. Adding Manny and A-Rod to this list is painful, so my first reaction was to give both guys the benefit of the doubt.

But Jayson Stark gave me the information I didn't seek out on my own about Manny's claim that he had a health issue and a doctor gave him a banned medication.

"It wasn't as if he had a toothache here, and he needed a prescription for a painkiller. It wasn't as if he had a sinus infection, and he needed a prescription for an antibiotic.

He was taking a -- what? -- a female fertility drug? Why? Maybe he just wanted to marry the octo-mom. Ya got me.

I've read through all the prescribed uses I could find online for human chorionic gonadotropin (similar to Clomid), which is reporting is the drug in question. And let me tell you -- I'm almost 100 percent certain that Manny wasn't suffering from an inability to ovulate. Or polycystic ovarian syndrome. And if he was, there's a lot more he hasn't been telling us than what really went on in those bizarre final days in Boston.

If you read more extensively about this drug, though, you'll learn that it IS occasionally used to address male infertility. Except if you read the small print, you'll also learn that, according to

"The FDA has not approved the use of Clomid in men, nor has it been found to be especially effective."

Great. So why would a doctor be prescribing it for a guy like Manny, then?

Good question, huh?

A truly upstanding male-fertility doctor wouldn't be likely to do that, right? And a truly upstanding doctor treating a professional athlete would also be likely to know it could cause him to set off a major drug-testing alarm, right?

So where's the logical explanation here? That's a question all rational Americans should be asking right now."

You can read the rest of that article here, and it is a very good one.

The point is, Manny's claim that he had a personal health issue is ludicrous. This is a medicine associated with female fertility issues that is virtually off-limits to men. Manny cheated. On purpose.

The guy I grew up in awe of (because I was a right-handed hitter), the Ted Williams of my childhood will never be in the Hall of Fame. I will never be able to take my son there to look at his plaque and tell him stories about Manny's feats against my Yankees. I will never be able to talk about his magnificent plate vision, easy stroke and flare for the dramatic. Or about the quirky personality of the enigmatic kid from New York. My kid won't be able to look at him as an example of a guy from his area that made it big. Because from here on out, Manny Ramirez is a baseball ghost like Shoeless Joe Jackson. And so are the rest of the baseball stories that I witnessed as a child.

Meanwhile, Jason Whitlock is giving me pause about the Alex Rodriguez book's claims:

"Not long ago, sports writer Selena Roberts compared the Duke lacrosse players to gang members and career criminals.

She claimed that the players’ unwillingness to confess to or snitch about a rape (that did not happen) was the equivalent of drug dealers and gang members promoting antisnitching campaigns.

When since-disgraced district attorney Mike Nifong whipped up a media posse to rain justice on the drunken, male college students, Roberts jumped on the fastest, most influential horse, using her New York Times column to convict the players and the culture of privilege that created them.

Proven inaccurate, Roberts never wrote a retraction for the columns that contributed to the public lynching of Reade Seligmann, Colin Finnerty and David Evans.

Instead, she moved on to Sports Illustrated, a seat on ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” and a new target, baseball slugger Alex Rodriguez.

Last week, the New York Daily News and The New York Times acquired “leaked” copies of Roberts’ soon-to-be-released biography, “A-Rod.” In it, according to the two New York newspapers, Roberts paints a highly unflattering picture of Rodriguez as a human being and, among other things, speculates that Rodriguez used steroids in high school.

Roberts’ speculative opinions are deemed as so credible by ESPN and others that the Worldwide Leader ran all-day updates stating that Selena Roberts believes that it’s “irrefutable” that Rodriguez used performance-enhancing drugs while a teenager.

At no point did ESPN’s TV anchors or radio broadcasters mention that Roberts was the same person who led the media charge against the Duke lacrosse players. I listened to Roberts’ interview on Dan Patrick’s radio show. Patrick never asked her about Duke lacrosse or why we should trust her reporting.

In its news story about her book, The New York Times failed to allude to her position on the Duke lacrosse case. I’ll give the Times credit for including one sentence of clarification in its news story:

“Some of the accusations in the book are based on anonymous sources, and others are simply presented as knowledge the author has without an explanation of how the information was obtained.”

Translation: the majority of the stuff written in her book is information the National Enquirer might reject."

That article can be read here. It is also very good.

The bottom line is that Roberts is a crusader. Whitlock basically claimed she had a chip on her shoulder and would say anything to further her perspective, which is apparently that athletes encourage chauvinism. Both Whitlock and myself agree with her stance. But we don't agree with her methods.

Anyone who is using news to push an agenda should make 100 percent certain that any claims they are printing are backed up by credible people. Moral backruptcy plus an agenda leads to Fox News. The people on that channel are so intent on getting people on their side that they feel comfortable fabricating, exaggerating and using questionable sources in their quest. The worst part is that these extrapolations are also presented as pure fact frequently. Roberts sounds like she is cut from the same cloth, but coming from a more liberal, feminist framework. Shoddy journalism is shoddy journalism, no matter what political views they are espousing.

Roberts' anonymous sources could be knowledgeable. Or they could be her next door neighbor's grandfather with Alzheimer's. She doesn't strike me as trustworthy.

For Rodriguez's legacy, it really doesn't matter whether the allegations are true. He is already out of the Hall of Fame, and he is already viewed as a cheater. Most fans probably already see him as a lifelong steroid user. His plaque has been burned. I hope he helps the Yankees win another World Series or two. My cubby could use a couple more notches on it.

And in my mind's eye, my view shifts from the glut of dirty players to the final two untarnished stickers. Ken Griffey Jr., as a Seattle Mariner, poses after a home run. Derek Jeter dives across home plate and hits a ball to the opposite field. The rest of the cluster seems to be beckoning to them, but the last centimeter of youthful hope refuses to let me see them as part of the overall picture. As long as these two remain clean, there will be plenty for me to tell my children.

I check to see where Derek Jeter stands on his current home run total. He is currently at 210. As a child, I desperately wanted to see him reach 300. He almost certainly never will. And if in fact he is as clean as I believe he is (and I wouldn't be too surprised if he took amphetamines. I think almost everyone since Joe DiMaggio has, and hey, it's a really long season) I really, really respect that he will barely miss that important milestone. In the steroids era, he didn't have to. But he may just have had the integrity to present his case to the voters fairly.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Final Chimp Rodeo Count...And I'm back to Suicide Squeeze

Hey there loyal non-readers!
I have officially finished my stint with the Chimpanzee Rodeo blog for Kevin Blackistone's sports journalism class at the University of Maryland. This blog now has my undivided attention again. Here are some links with recent work of mine.

1) On Nick Swisher's hot here.

2) On the new Yankee here.

3) On Xavier Nady's here.

4) On Johnny Damon's choice words for Chien-Ming here.

5) On Jed Lowrie's injury and the Boston shortstop here.

6) On Wang's demotion to the minors and Phil Hughes' here.

7) On Carlos Pena's here.

8) On Hughes' here.

9) On Robinson Cano's here.

Hope you enjoy the last of my blogs from that wonderful experience. I look forward to devoting my time to this site once again.
All the best,
Nick Ruggia