Sat Mar 08 04:36am EST
Among the first drills new Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus worked on with his club in February was a rarely attempted pickoff move to third base.
It's rarely attempted for several reasons, most of which are fairly obvious. For starters, it's simply not a natural movement for pitchers as they rarely, if ever, practice making pickoff throws to third base. The throw, in and of itself, is unnatural and awkward, because they're forced to hit a moving target at the bag. For the third baseman, it's not a comfortable play either. They have enough to process with a runner at third just in terms of relaying signals and looking for a potential bunt. Now, they also have to think about covering the bag and being in position to receive the throw.
Honestly, it felt like a disaster waiting to happen when Ausmus introduced the drill, and on Friday night a perfect example of just how disastrous it can be played out when a little bit of miscommunication led to a game-ending balk in Detroit's 3-2 loss to the New York Yankees.
Yes, the dreaded walkoff balk, which isn't a first in baseball, but it's certainly a rarity. The most recent walkoff balk during the regular season came on June 17, 2011, when then New York Mets reliever D.J. Carrasco balked home the winning run for the Atlanta Braves.
In that case, it was more of a traditional balk as Carrasco simply hesitated on the mound after becoming unsure of the pitch selection. The Tigers balk was a little more complex, and according to Ausmus, it's all his fault.
Ausmus on walkoff balk: "It was my fault. I actually gave a [pickoff] sign by accident."
— Jason Beck (@beckjason) March 8, 2014
It wouldn't have been a big deal if the players were all on the same page. However, only pitcher Luis Marte read Ausmus' unintentional sign. Third baseman Francisco Martinez missed it and never made a move to the bag, so the balk was called when Marte threw the ball and it was determined Martinez was not within tagging distance of the runner. Sometimes you'll see that type of balk called at first base when the pitcher forgets they're not holding the runner. At third, though, rarely if ever do you see something like this, if only because that pickoff play was never in anyone's playbook until now.
The good news? It's only spring training. This is exactly what these exhibition games are for. An opportunity to work out the kinks, try some new things and see what catches on.
The potential bad news? Given how emphatically Ausmus sold the play as a defensive weapon last month, he won't nix it based on one mistake in March. However, this should serve as a reminder of just how ambitious the play is and how important it will be for everybody to get on the same page before unveiling it in a game that counts.
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Sat Mar 08 03:07am EST
The Kansas City Royals worst fears were realized on Friday when it was determined 30-year-old reliever Luke Hochevar will require Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Hochevar was originally diagnosed with a sprained ulnar-collateral ligament (UCL) on Wednesday. The Royals held some hope that he would be able to recover through rest and rehab and return to the mound by May. Unfortunately, that won't be the case. Hochevar's 2014 season is over, but there's a positive outlook for guys in his position thanks to Dr. Frank Jobe, who pioneered Tommy John surgery back in 1974.
Jobe died on Thursday at age 88, but his legacy lives on through an operation that has already saved and extended the careers of hundreds of pitchers, and will continue doing so for generations to come.
Perhaps someday another pioneer in medicine will come along and discover the next best method for reconstructing elbow ligaments. For now, Hochevar will face at least 12 months of rehab and hope to add his name to the long list of pitchers who have come back stronger following Jobe's innovative procedure. The success rate and recovery varies from pitcher to pitcher, but having the operation now would put him on track to return sometime next spring and have him ready to contribute at the highest level as early as May or June should the best case scenario play out.
Still, even in a best case scenario, this is a tough break for Hochevar and a big loss for the Royals. After struggling to find traction as a starter for the better part of six seasons, Hochevar finally carved out a niche in 2013 as an effective late-inning reliever. In 70 1/3 innings, Hochevar posted a 1.92 ERA with a 0.83 WHIP and 82 strikeouts. By mid-June he'd established himself as Ned Yost's go to setup man ahead of closer Greg Holland, and that setup was expected to continue this season giving Kansas City a very solid late-inning duo.
Another year flourishing in that role would have been good for everybody involved, but especially Hochevar, who's slated to be a free agent next winter. Now, instead of pitching for a guaranteed contract and perhaps a future's closing role, he's rehabbing for a likely minor league deal.
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Sat Mar 08 02:09am EST
Baseball is back. As we get closer to the regular season, be sure to stop by The Stew each morning for your get your daily helping of spring storylines.
As opening day draws closer, free agent right-hander Ervin Santana is reportedly lowering his demands in hopes of signing with a new team at the soonest possible time.
Santana originally sought a five-year deal worth at least $100 million when free agency opened in November. According to Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal the 31-year-old right-hander is now willing to settle for a one-year deal, with the only caveat being his preference to join a strong offensive team.
Signing Santana will also cost a team their highest unprotected draft pick after he turned the Kansas City Royals $14.1 million qualifying offer. Rosenthal mentions the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays as possible fits based on their offensive output last season, previous interest in Santana during the offseason and unique flexibility with their draft picks.
Fri Mar 07 08:05pm EST
While top free agents like Ervin Santana and Stephen Drew have struggled to find new homes during the offseason, Hank the Dog has had no such trouble. After walking into Milwaukee Brewers camp as a stray two weeks ago and winning the hearts of the organization and its loyal fanbase, Hank has already found a permanent home according to Brewers vice president for communications Tyler Barnes.
The Brewers are not saying with whom Hank will now be residing, but enthusiastically noted "his days as a stray are over."
It's great news, though it will certainly be interesting to hear who ended up with the honor of making Hank their new pet. Hank was in high demand all throughout Brewers camp and made friends every way he turned. He even joined the famous Racing Sausages for their tuneup race last week and was seen helping in the team store. The Brewers marketing department obviously appreciated the attention he brought to their merchandise, as they created a shirt for him earlier in the week.
Everybody wanted a piece of Hank.
Still do, in fact.
Racing Sausages taking pictures 10 feet away, but all anyone cares about is Hank pic.twitter.com/RV7BSMPfFq
— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) March 7, 2014
But he can only have one home. Congratulations to the lucky person or family who will get to enjoy his company on a daily basis.
On a related note, the Brewers will host Pet Adoption Day at Maryvale on Saturday with proceeds benefiting the Arizona Humane Society. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, animals will be available for adoption and for those who simply want to make a donation, Hank will be available for photos with them immediately after the sausage race. Who knows, you may even get one of Hank's now famous pawtographs.
He's not just an unofficial mascot anymore, folks. He's a rock star.
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Fri Mar 07 07:11pm EST
Despite Major League Baseball's best efforts to dissuade and discourage players from using smokeless tobacco, it remains a difficult habit for many players to kick. In fact, the problem remained prominent enough in 2011 that U.S. senators and health officials urged MLB to ban smokeless tobacco to protect current players and future players who may pick up the habit while watching their heroes in action.
Though the league was unable to get a full ban on tobacco, teams are now prohibited from providing tobacco product to players as a part of the latest collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association. A good step, but it appears not much, or at least not enough, has changed in terms of usage.
Many players and coaches admit they still dip from time to time, mostly out of routine, which is part of what makes baseball players so unique. They're creatures of habit in the truest sense. Any nuance that helps them relax or in their minds leads to success on the field they'll keep with them. From something as simple as readjusting their batting gloves after every pitch, to a habit as dangerous as tobacco, they can't eliminate anything from their game that they perceive helps them.
Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe put the focus solely on Boston Red Sox players who use tobacco, including team leader David Ortiz, and found that to be true. Abraham says 21 of the 58 players he talked to admitted use, though they don't necessarily enjoy it and almost unanimously don't encourage it. It's just such a part of their routine that it became second nature. Almost like putting on their helmet and taking a practice swing in the on-deck circle.
“I use it as a stimulator when I go to hit,” Ortiz said. “But the minute I finish my at-bat I spit it out. It keeps me smooth and puts me in a good mood. I don’t do it in the offseason. I don’t really like it that much, to be honest with you.”
It's fascinating and maybe a little troubling to hear Ortiz put it in those words. Though it may not truly be an addiction for him and for others, the need to continue even in small doses will certainly add up.
After being diagnosed with cancer of the parotid salivary gland three years ago, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn immediately connected the diagnosis to his use of smokeless tobacco. The dangers are known and accepted, yet the habit runs so deep and comes in so many different forms, players put the risks out of their minds to gain short term piece of mind on the field.
For each player, the habit takes on different forms. Pitchers Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront said they use smokeless tobacco only when they’re on the mound. Fellow pitchers Andrew Miller and Clay Buchholz use it during games but not when they’re pitching.
“It’s just part of my routine when I play,” first baseman Mike Napoli said. “It would feel weird without it. I’ve gone a couple of months without it. But as soon as I step on a field, I feel like I need it.”
According to Abraham, many of the players he talked to have attempted to quit in the past but were unable to stay away. The only Red Sox player who doesn't plan on quitting during his career is Jonny Gomes. But even he understands the dangers and wants to live his post-baseball life tobacco free.
“I’d quit if my family wanted me to,” Gomes said. “The kids aren’t old enough to realize what’s going on. People are baffled I don’t do it in the offseason because I do it all the time when we’re playing. But I don’t have an addictive personality. There’s just something about it that goes with baseball. There’s something attached to hitting. I can’t describe it.
“Once I stop playing, I’ll never do it again. I know it’s a bad idea.”
If you went to every team around the league you'd hear the same stories over and over again. Guys who want to quit. Guys who don't need it off the field, but can't live without it on the field. Guys who know what they're risking, but would rather gain a slight advantage in their minds. It's troubling, but it's the nature of being a creature of habit, and the only true way to stop it will be doing everything we can to discourage and flat out stop young players before they ever get started.
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:
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Fri Mar 07 06:12pm EST
The wall is not your enemy, Brad Penny.
Penny reportedly punched a wall and injured his non-throwing hand after having what was described as a "dismal" outing Thursday for the Kansas City Royals in Cactus League play. The club released Penny, a right-hander who has not pitched in the majors since 2012, on Friday.
Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reported that "a person with knowledge of the situation" said that Penny hurt himself in anger after allowing four runs in two innings against the White Sox. That could do it! Have you seen their lineup? Anyway.
Penny made a denial via Twitter to reporter Jerry Crasnick of ESPN:
Penny has allowed seven runs in four innings overall in Cactus League play and, considering he's nearly 36 years old and has compiled nearly 1,900 major league innings, appears to be washed up. Royals manager Ned Yost praised Penny's work ethic but said there's no opportunities in K.C. — even though the Royals just lost Luke Hochevar for the season to an elbow injury. The fifth starter for the Royals will either be Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura.
If the sources aren't wrong, it sounds like Penny is trying to go out like Kevin Brown, who punched a wall in Sept. 2004 when playing for the Yankees. The action ended Brown's season, but he came back to pitch the next season, finishing his career. Penny, who broke in with the Marlins in 2000, made two All-Star teams and finished third in Cy Young voting with the Dodgers in 2007. He's also pitched for the Red Sox, Giants, Cardinals and Tigers.
Fri Mar 07 03:58pm EST
The New York Daily News and other outlets report that Carmen Berra, the wife of New York Yankees' Hall of Famer Yogi Berra for the past 65 years, has died from complications after a stroke. She was 85. Together the Berras raised three sons (including Dale Berra, who also played in the majors) and they have 11 grandchildren. Yogi turns 89 on May 12.
The story indicates that Yogi, who also frequents spring training as an instructor for his old team, was able to spend some time with Carmen on Thursday before she died. It's hard to imagine losing someone you've known, and to whom you've been so close, for all of that time. The official Yankees statement, shortly but sweetly given by Hal Steinbrenner, reflects that conundrum.
Berra made himself famous not only for his baseball career — he's perhaps one of the two or three best catchers in history — but also for his funny personality. He'd flub words, mix up phrases, speak redundancies and be as funny off the field as he was skilled on it. The phrase, "It ain't over 'til it's over"? That's Yogi.
What kind of woman would marry a man with a personality like that? And stay with him since 1949? One who appreciates humor.
Here's a portion of what the Daily News wrote:
Carmen Berra was known not only for her beauty but for her quick wit and charming personality. In an interview with Daily News baseball columnist Bill Madden, Carmen Berra related how her husband once sent her an anniversary card signed, "Yogi Berra." She said she was glad he signed it that way because it eliminated any confusion about all the other Yogis she knew.
Carmen and Yogi were portrayed on Broadway in the "Bronx Bombers" musical, and this is what the casting call asked for regarding her:
“Character ages to 80s, petite, strong-willed, elegant, beautiful, Yogi’s wife of 30-60 years and the epitome of all that a Yankee wife should be. She exudes confidence without ever seeming pompous, and exemplifies the good citizen without ever appearing plain. She is dynamic, energetic, embodies sex appeal; men are attracted to her and women are drawn to her. A fashion maven, she has an instinct for saying, doing and wearing the right things at all the right times. All respect and admire her. Always in control. Must be 5’5'' and below.”
In recent years, the Daily News reports, Carmen Berra had been key in the operation of the Yogi Berra museum on the campus of Montclair State University in Little Falls, N.J. That sounds like a neat place to patronize.
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Fri Mar 07 02:58pm EST
Photobombing and videobombing are trendy, but the actions almost always will be funny. At some point, maybe during a somber interview about a dead person, it won't be appropriate. But during a baseball interview, sometimes it's necessary to move the action along. Nothing against San Diego Padres slugger Seth Smith, but whatever he must have been discussing could not have been as interesting as what teammate Yasmani Grandal did behind him.
With Smith caught completely unaware, Grandal walked up behind him and took a round of imaginary batting practice. After taking a swing, Grandal dropped to a knee and, like he was shooting skeet, aimed and fired and invisible shell at the non-existant baseball. He then turned and dropped his ghost bat and walked away. Like he sleepwalked the entire thing.
Watching it on Deadspin (unless Smith collects Yahoo mail!) is probably the first time he even realized what happened. Yes, the Padres might be a surprise team to watch in 2014.
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Fri Mar 07 01:46pm EST
The Miami Marlins aren't the first club to grumble about an opponent sending a lineup of reserve players to a road game in the Grapefruit League. There's a rule — it might just be an "understanding" — that any spring lineup for a game that counts in the standings should have at least four major league players in it and they need to play at least three full innings. So the fans, who pay the money for tickets, actually get to see some major leaguers in preseason action. And so the home team, which might have nine or 10 major leaguers in its lineup, plus more in reserve, can practice against like talent.
Sometimes the visiting team abides by this policy, and sometimes it doesn't. And it's not often you see an apology from a team for sending players with low "Q" ratings — but the Boston Red Sox did, after the Marlins let everyone know how unhappy they were with the quality of their opponent Thursday.
The reason the Marlins were upset definitely had to do with selling tickets. For the first and only time this spring, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports, the Marlins put "super premium" prices into effect to make fans pay extra to see the likes of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, Xander Bogaerts and so on. None of them showed. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Ryan Lavarnway did. Allen Webster pitched. He's a prospect. How did that grab the Fish? It did not. As reporter Juan C. Rodriguez noted, the most prominent member of the 2013 Red Sox on the field was Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia:
The Marlins had no comment, but a source said team executives were “outraged” and planned to contact the league office. A league spokesperson said the matter would be reviewed.
Apparently, it was. From the Fish Tank blog of the Palm Beach Post:
Marlins president of baseball operations Mike Hill received an e-mail from Red Sox GM Ben Cherington during their game on Thursday apologizing for Boston’s predominantly minor league lineup.
Cherington said “they had some injuries and were working on some things,” Hill said. “He apologized. So I don’t know if that meant he got a call from the league or what.
Hill said the Marlins have no issues and even if they did there is no mechanism to file a complaint with major league baseball. The penalty can be anything from discipline to a fine.
“You have to have a specific number of regulars,” He said. “The league watches, they monitor all of our lineups. So if there was an issue they’ll deal directly with the Red Sox.”
Good job by Hill to take the onus off his team — particularly owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson — and put it on the league. It was MLB's issue, not the Marlins. Nobody likes a complainer or a squealer. It's funny, though; the headline the Sun Sentinel used for its post — "Red Sox cheat Roger Dean Stadium fans with substandard travel roster" — was awfully harsh on Boston, when it was the Marlins who were gouging fans by making them shell out extra money for an exhibition game. And, when they know that, even if the stars came out, they might only play a third of the game.
Cherington did a nice thing by apologizing, but the Red Sox only owe it to themselves and their own fans to get the team ready for the regular season in the best possible way. If that means sending Pawtucket to Jupiter, Fla., in the first week of March, then so be it. It's not at all unusual for teams to not send their best players on the road — especially when that means crossing the state from Fort Myers, where Boston trains, to the Atlantic Coast.
And the Marlins — not that there's any talking to the Marlins — shouldn't squeeze every last dime out of their fans for a Grapefruit League game. It's fitting, then, that the game ended in a scoreless tie in the eighth inning because of rain. There's no crying in baseball and there's no tying — unless it's during the spring, when the results don't really matter.
"Super premium pricing"! Who is cheating whom, here?
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Fri Mar 07 09:12am EST
Former major league pitcher Tommy John, for whom the career-saving elbow surgery was named in 1974, wrote a short message explaining what Dr. Frank Jobe meant to him and he put it on his website Friday morning. Jobe died Thursday at 88 years old. He recently had been hospitalized with an undisclosed illness.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the Jobe Family today.
Today baseball lost a great Doctor. Tommy John lost a GREAT friend. Frank Jobe passed away today. I remember him my 1st spring in Vero Beach. Dressed in tennis whites playing tennis with all the wives. BTW, he was a much, much better surgeon. When he told me what was going to happen to my left elbow, I trusted him as a friend first, doctor second. I knew he had my best interests at heart. If he had told me to bury my glove at 2nd base I would have done it. Because of our bond and trust I won 164 games after the groundbreaking surgery. The most amazing stat was that I never missed a start in the 13 years post surgery.
I got to spend 90 minutes with him at the Humana Golf Tournament in January. We laughed and told stories to numerous tour golfers. Frank Jobe was a great surgeon but an even better human being. I told him that if I ever made it to Cooperstown I wanted him with me. He will be with me in spirit now. RIP My friend!!
Here's a link to the short film ESPN produced on the relationship between John and Jobe.
Tommy John surgery is a ligament graft to replace a broken ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow. It's most common among pitchers in baseball, but athletes in other sports have had it performed as well. It's practically impossible to pitch competitively without a functioning UCL, though exceptions exist. This is an abreviated list of players who have undergone Tommy John — some with Jobe, himself, as the surgeon.
John has been asked countless times why the surgery was named after him and not Jobe. The answer, probably, is because John was the famous pitcher. But reporter Ken Gurnick of MLB.com makes this important distinction:
It was Jobe who invented it, performed it, refined it and taught it to hundreds of training orthopedic surgeons that now consider it a routine procedure to prolong careers of ballplayers at every level of the game.
"[Sandy] Koufax teases me that if I was smart enough to think of it 10 years before, it might have been called the Koufax operation," Jobe once said. "He had essentially the same problem."
The sports world also lost Dr. Lewis Yocum, a protege of Jobe, this past May.
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:
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