Daily Dose: Smoltz hooks on with Cardinals

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John Smoltz landed on his feet Wednesday, signing with the Cardinals immediately after he cleared waivers. That he had multiple suitors isn’t a big shock, as apparently a handful of teams agreed with me that he can still get major-league hitters out, but finding a contender willing to hand him a rotation spot is surprising. Smoltz will make his Cardinals debut Sunday against the Padres, which is a very favorable matchup.
However, there’s already speculation that Smoltz may eventually head to the bullpen as a setup man for closer Ryan Franklin, which is interesting given that the Red Sox were told that he didn’t want to work in relief for them. Whatever the case, Smoltz is definitely worth grabbing in NL-only leagues. Expectations should obviously be held in check, but don’t be surprised if he looks like a totally different pitcher in the NL.
While the Cardinals get Smoltz for $100,000 after the Red Sox dropped $5 million on him, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* It sounds like Matt LaPorta will finally get an extended chance in Cleveland, as the Indians called him up Wednesday and manager Eric Wedge promised regular starts between the outfield corners and first base. LaPorta was on the bench for 12 of 24 games during his previous stint with Cleveland and has been stuck at Triple-A for the past three months despite hitting .299/.388/.530 with 17 homers in 93 games.
Cleveland has been out of contention for months now, yet LaPorta has stayed in the minors while guys like Trevor Crowe, Chris Gimenez, and Jamey Carroll get starts at his positions. Better late than never, of course, but the Indians’ treatment of LaPorta is odd given that he’s one of the top MLB-ready outfield prospects in baseball, turns 25 years old in January, and has crushed to the tune of .291/.384/.557 in the minors.
* Perhaps remembering how useless he was trying to play through a leg injury earlier this season, the Reds quickly put Willy Taveras on the disabled list with a strained quadriceps suffered Tuesday. They won’t miss Taveras much, as the speedster has hit just .238/.273/.284 in 93 games as the team’s primary leadoff man, and his injury provides an opportunity to look at 24-year-old prospect Drew Stubbs.
Stubbs was the No. 8 pick in the 2006 draft following a great career at the University of Texas, but has hit just .269 while showing little power as a pro. One thing he can do is run, with 46 steals in 107 games at Triple-A, and Taveras is evidence of Dusty Baker needing to see little else to deem someone a capable leadoff option. Stubbs is absolutely worth an NL-only pickup, but don’t expect much aside from steals.
AL Quick Hits: Clay Buchholz tossed six innings of one-run ball Wednesday, winning for the first time since his season debut … Justin Morneau remained out of the lineup Wednesday with dizziness from an inner-ear infection … Jake Peavy (ankle) plans to make at least two more rehab starts before joining the White Sox … Jered Weaver hurled his second complete-game shutout of the year Wednesday, cutting his ERA to 3.89 … Daisuke Matsuzaka (shoulder) is slated for a bullpen session Friday, with a rehab assignment next on the docket … Dustin Pedroia is expected to rejoin the team Thursday following the birth of his first child … Jeff Niemann leads the Rays with 11 wins after allowing one run in 7.1 innings Wednesday … David Ortiz took Roy Halladay deep Wednesday, homering for the third straight game … Dontrelle Willis exited his Wednesday rehab start at Triple-A with a knee injury … Paul Byrd allowed three runs over four innings in a Triple-A start Wednesday.
NL Quick Hits: Cliff Lee struck out 11, walked zero, and allowed just an unearned run in a complete-game two-hitter Wednesday … Joey Votto left Wednesday’s game in the first inning with blurred vision, which is a concern given his various maladies this season … Dan Haren served up three homers Wednesday and now has a 4.91 ERA since the All-Star break … Carlos Beltran (knee) ran in the outfield and took batting practice Wednesday, but there’s no timetable for his return … Barry Zito tossed six shutout innings Wednesday and has a 2.36 ERA in the second half … Gary Sheffield revealed Tuesday that he doesn’t expect to finish the season with the Mets … Mike Hampton has been diagnosed with a partially torn left rotator cuff, but will try to pitch through the career-threatening injury … Scott Rolen (concussion) is slated to begin a rehab assignment Thursday at Triple-A … Paul Maholm threw 7.2 innings of one-run ball Wednesday for his first win since July 7.

Former U.S. Senator and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning dies at age 85

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Jim Bunning, Hall of Fame right-handed pitcher and former U.S. Senator, died on Friday at age 85. He suffered a stroke in October 2016 and was in hospice care when he died, according to former Senate chief of staff Jon Deuser.

Bunning rose to prominence in Major League Baseball during his first full season with the Tigers in 1957, recording 14 complete games and a league-leading 20 wins. The following year, Bunning pitched his first career no-hitter against the Red Sox, just the fourth no-hitter in franchise history. During his first season with the Phillies in 1964, Bunning followed up his no-hitter with a perfect game against the Mets, marking the first National League perfecto in the 20th century. By the time he retired in 1971, he boasted seven All-Star nominations, 2,855 strikeouts (maintaining his second-place ranking on the all-time strikeout list from 1967-1971) and a 224-184 record over 17 seasons.

Following a storied major league career, Bunning entered politics at age 46, serving 12 years in the House and eventually getting elected to the Senate at age 67, where he served two terms. The Republican senator was famously outspoken for his opposition to steroids in baseball, illegal immigration and an extension of unemployment benefits, among other issues, and drew criticism within his party for his ornery nature and controversial statements. He declined to run for a third term in 2010, citing a lack of financial support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and choosing instead to throw his weight behind fellow candidate Rand Paul.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred issued a statement following news of Bunning’s death on Saturday:

Jim Bunning led an extraordinary life in the National Pastime and in public service.  He was a consistent winner and workhorse pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies.  Jim threw no-hitters in both leagues, pitched a perfect game on Father’s Day in 1964 and, at his retirement, had more strikeouts than any pitcher in history except Walter Johnson.

“In his baseball career, Jim was proud of always taking the ball.  The work ethic that made him a Hall of Famer led him to the House of Representatives and the United Stated Senate.  He served the state of Kentucky for more than two decades and became the only Hall of Famer ever to serve in Congress.

“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I send my deepest condolences to Senator Bunning’s family, friends, constituents and the many fans who admired his career in our game.

Homer Simpson was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame

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Twenty-five years ago, “Homer at the Bat” became one of the most iconic Simpsons episodes of all time. Legendary talents like Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Ozzie Smith, Jose Canseco, Mike Scioscia, Steve Sax, Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey, Jr. lent their talents to the episode while their cartoon doppelgängers were put through the ringer, leaving only Homer Simpson and Darryl Strawberry to clinch the city softball championship for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant squad. On Saturday, the show’s creators were recognized when Homer Simpson was awarded a long-overdue membership in the Hall of Fame.

The full text from Homer’s honorary plaque is below:

Inept safety inspector turned city-wide softball hero. Right fielder led Springfield nuclear plant to city championship game, then sacrificed his body to win it all. Nearly supplanted by lineup of all-world superstar ringers, came through in a pinch — and came to in time for the next episode. Girthy right-handed hitter powered many a mighty wallop during celebrated 1992 season with “Wonderbat” — his secret weapon. Lack of mobility in the field was no match for moves atop the dugout. Found fame as bush league mascot phenom, parlaying his “elephant walk” into a taste of the majors. Unacquainted with scientific concepts, only isotopes of which he was aware played at Duff Stadium, where uncanny knowledge of southwestern palate exposed team’s impending move to Albuquerque.

“Homer at the Bat” will be enshrined in Cooperstown with a special display, featuring the plaque alongside some of the more memorable moments of the episode.