Daily Dose: Philly close to signing Pedro?

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Reports surfaced early this week that the Phillies had renewed interest
in Pedro Martinez and now it sounds like the two sides could be close
to a deal. Martinez said Thursday that his agent is negotiating with
the Phillies after they scouted his workout Tuesday and a report out of
the Dominican Republic even claimed that a one-year deal worth $4
million was already in place.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. refuted reports of a done deal, but
clearly the Phillies are seriously interested in Martinez and an
official announcement by the end of the week wouldn’t be surprising. If
healthy he remains capable of being a solid fourth or fifth starter for
a contending team like the Phillies, but Martinez will probably need
some time to shake the rust off before being an NL-only option.

While the Phillies hope that Martinez has another half-dozen wins
left in the tank, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* Joel Pineiro tossed his third complete game of the year Thursday
as Milwaukee managed just one run on three hits and no walks. Pineiro
is having a career year with a 3.20 ERA through 17 starts, yet with
just 48 strikeouts in 115.1 innings his strikeout rate is horrible
after previously just being poor. Instead of missing more bats he’s
simply become the most extreme ground-ball pitcher in the league.

He recorded 19 ground-ball outs Thursday and is the only starter in
the league to induce a ground ball on over 60 percent of his balls in
play, which is remarkable given that Pineiro never even cracked 50
percent grounders from 2000-2008. In the past hitters have teed off on
his low-90s fastball, but now he’s working in the high-80s with
significantly more sink and the results are amazing.

* Ozzie Guillen was very pessimistic Thursday when asked about
Carlos Quentin returning from his foot problems, saying that he expects
him to remain out for “a while.” Quentin has already played multiple
games on his rehab stint at Triple-A, so Guillen admitted that he
“maybe” ready shortly after the All-Star break despite wanting to avoid
rushing him back until “he’s ready to help us here.”

* Dusty Baker announced Thursday that he’s benching Jay Bruce for at
least two days in an effort to break the recent slump that has his
batting average down to .209. “I’m letting him clear his head, like
Jimmy Rollins … and Magglio Ordonez,” Baker said. While his average
isn’t pretty, Bruce is actually showing more power and plate discipline
than last year and his OPS is only down about five percent.

* David Price showed how great he can be when he actually throws the
ball over the plate Thursday, holding Toronto to one run over six
innings while out-dueling Roy Halladay with seven strikeouts and one
walk. Price has been maddeningly inconsistent while going 3-3 with a
4.70 ERA overall, but has 47 strikeouts and a .241 opponents’ batting
average in 44 innings. He’s very close to breaking out.

AL Quick Hits: J.P. Howell received Thursday off, so Dan Wheeler
picked up his first save of the season … Brandon Inge won the “Final
Vote” competition for the AL’s last All-Star roster spot, beating out
Ian Kinsler … Clayton Richard is in danger of being replaced in the
rotation by Bartolo Colon after struggling again Thursday … Ryan Garko
started in the outfield Thursday for the eighth time this season and
went 4-for-5 at the plate … Kevin Slowey (wrist) is slated to begin a
throwing program Friday … Mark Teixeira took Francisco Liriano deep
Thursday for his first homer since June 12 … Cardinals general manager
John Mozeliak indicated Thursday that he’ll contact the Blue Jays about
Roy Halladay … After having his rehab delayed by a knee injury, Jed
Lowrie (wrist) is set to come off the disabled list within the next two
weeks … Handed nine runs of support, David Huff couldn’t make it
through five innings to get the win Thursday.

NL Quick Hits: Manny Parra returned to the Brewers’ rotation
with seven shutout innings Thursday … Manny Ramirez went 2-for-2 with
two RBIs and two walks Thursday … Shane Victorino won the “Final Vote”
competition for the NL’s last All-Star roster spot, beating out Pablo
Sandoval … Raul Ibanez (groin) is slated to come off the disabled list
Friday after being out since June 18 … Matt Kemp went 3-for-4 while
again batting eighth in the Dodgers’ lineup Thursday … Javier Vazquez
has been scratched from his scheduled Sunday start due to a strained
abdominal muscle … Fernando Martinez (knee) and his .517 OPS landed on
the disabled list Thursday … Kyle Lohse (forearm) is scheduled to
rejoin the rotation Sunday … Orlando Hudson left Thursday’s game after
being hit on the knee by a pitch … Livan Hernandez coughed up eight
runs on 11 hits Thursday, finishing the first half at 5-5 with a 5.10
ERA … John Bowker could have some NL-only value after being called up
Thursday by the Giants.

Joe Blanton signs with the Nationals

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 07:  Joe Blanton #55 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on June 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post reports that the Nationals have signed Joe Blanton to a one-year contract.

Surprised it took this long given that Blanton was excellent out of the pen for the Dodgers last year, posting a 2.48 ERA and 80/26 K/BB ratio over 80 innings. But even if it’s a late signing, it’s not a terrible one: Blanton will receive a $4 million salary and will have the chance to make an additional $1 million in performance bonuses. UPDATE: The salary structure is kind of odd. Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reports that Blanton will get only $1 million in 2017, plus some incentives, and will have $1 million deferred to 2018 and $2 million deferred to 2019.

And he got two weeks off work. Bonus!

Baseball doesn’t need gimmicks to draw in young fans. It just needs to be baseball.

MESA, AZ - MARCH 6: Chicago Cubs ball and bat bags are seen prior to the game between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds on March 6, 2015 at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. The Reds defeated the Cubs 5-2. (Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images)
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MESA, AZ — I didn’t set out to ask Robin Mitchell about pace of play, rules changes, how to best execute an intentional walk or how to turn kids into baseball fans. I was interviewing her about other stuff. She brought those topics up on her own.

“I heard them saying that they were not going to throw four pitches for intentional walks anymore,” Mitchell said. “I’d prefer that they throw the pitches because anything can happen. There can be wild pitches. And that’s the exciting part of baseball. That you don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think we need to speed the game along.”

For most baseball fans such sentiments are tied up with a devotion to baseball purism, tradition or their distaste for change. But such is not the case for Mitchell. While the lifelong Chicago resident went to Cubs games as a child, baseball has not been a lifelong obsession. Rather, it’s something she has become reacquainted with via her two baseball-obsessed boys, Jake, 11, and Bennett, 9.

Mitchell and her boys live on the north side of Chicago and, over the past two years, her sons have developed a huge affinity for the Cubs, almost by osmosis. It was certainly a good time for it, as the Cubs have become winners, and Mitchell allows that since Jake and Bennett didn’t “have to suffer through some of the more challenging times,” their attraction to the game became easier. It’s clear to her, however, that they are not going to be fair weather fans.

“They love baseball,” she said, implying that it’s not just homerism for the current World Series champions at work. They love the sport itself and began to play it too. It’s not easy for Mitchell to say whether their playing led to their fandom or vice-versa. It all sort of happened at once, with each reinforcing the other.

I asked her what about baseball, specifically, appeals to them. What, at a time when Rob Manfred and everyone connected to the game is worried about the sport’s seeming inability to attract and hold on to young fans, keeps Mitchell’s sons engaged.

For them, it seems to be all about accessibility and engagement. Being in Chicago and living close to a park is important, as is having all of the games available on TV. Also important to them: appealing young stars.

“It helps that the Cubs have some really nice players who seem like really nice guys,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes we see them in the neighborhood even. Ben Zobrist. Anthony Rizzo. David Ross. Whenever we’ve seen them out or at an event they’re always kind and polite and give the boys encouraging words.”

But isn’t baseball . . . boring? And slow? Don’t kids like video games and kinetic action? Doesn’t a 19th century pastime with a sometimes turgid pace turn off 21st century kids?

“No, are you kidding?!” Mitchell said. “We don’t leave the game before it’s over. That’s what we do. It doesn’t matter what the score is. We love the pace of baseball. In the world of electronics, with everything moving really fast and being gimmicky, there’s something I think that my boys and I find appealing about baseball. I can share it with them and we all just slow down.”

As we talked, Jake and Bennett ran around a field just outside the Cubs clubhouse, playing catch and practicing rundowns with a couple of other boys they just met. Mitchell and I spoke for nearly a half hour. They played the whole time and looked like they wouldn’t stop unless or until their mother dragged them away.

We have spent a lot of time lately talking about how to fix baseball. I don’t know that anyone has made a compelling case that, despite the challenges the game faces, it is actually broken. Robin Mitchell doesn’t think it is. Neither do Jake and Bennett. While Rob Manfred and Joe Torre propose increasingly unorthodox methods for speeding things up, some pretty basic and longstanding factors are continuing to attract young fans:

  • The availability of games almost every day;
  • An exciting and successful local team;
  • The charisma of baseball’s biggest stars;
  • The ability for kids to play the game themselves and to emulate those stars on a little league field; and
  • The chance for parents to share their love of baseball with their children.

These are the factors which have always made up baseball’s appeal. Perhaps Major League Baseball should concentrate on ensuring that those factors, which are proven to draw in fans, persist and flourish. Perhaps they should concentrate less on chasing hypothetical fans via gimmicks aimed at fixing problems which are far-from-established.