Daily Dose: Pena's unique season ends

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Carlos Pena’s strange season came to an end Monday when CC Sabathia broke two fingers on his left hand with a fastball in the first inning. Pena will miss the remaining four weeks after hitting .227/.356/.537 with 39 homers and 100 RBIs in 135 games, leaving him with the highest OPS in baseball history among players with a sub-.230 batting average. In fact, it isn’t even close.
On the strength of 39 homers, 25 doubles, and 87 walks Pena finishes with an .893 OPS. No one else has cracked even .830 while hitting under .230 and qualifying for the batting title, and Gene Tenace in 1978, Roy Cullenbine in 1947, and Pat Seerey in 1946 are the only guys to top .800. Pena also narrowly missed finishing with more homers (39) than singles (41), which is just Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire territory.
While the Rays turn to Willy Aybar to replace one of the AL’s most productive hitters, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin is getting a few games off this week after struggling recently, so Chris Carpenter took matters into his own hands Monday afternoon with a complete-game shutout versus the Brewers. Jody Gerut’s double in the fifth inning was the lone hit allowed by Carpenter, who needed just 99 pitches to record 27 outs and racked up double-digit strikeouts for the third time this season.
His first shutout since 2006 and 11th straight victory allowed Carpenter to pass Zack Greinke for MLB’s lowest ERA at 2.16 and he trails only teammate Adam Wainwright in wins with 16. Tim Lincecum once seemed like a lock for back-to-back Cy Youngs, but he’s now 13-5 with a 2.34 ERA and 233/55 K/BB ratio in 200 innings compared to Carpenter at 16-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 129/30 K/BB ratio in 167 frames.
* Jamie Moyer was bumped from the Phillies’ rotation for Pedro Martinez last month, but came up big when called upon to make a spot start Monday. J.A. Happ suffered a strained oblique muscle while taking batting practice over the weekend, so Moyer stepped in for him Monday afternoon and held the Astros to two runs over six innings before Chan Ho Park blew what would’ve been his first win as a starter since July.
AL Quick Hits: Josh Hamilton (back) will be sidelined until at least the weekend after receiving a second root-nerve injection Monday … Tim Wakefield (back) has been scratched from his Friday start and will likely be given the next two weeks off … Mark Buehrle threw seven innings of one-run ball Monday to win for the first time since his perfect game on July 23 … Zack Greinke will get some extra rest after throwing 125 pitches Saturday … Aaron Hill left Monday’s game after three innings when his wife went into labor … CC Sabathia and Matt Garza got stuck with no-decisions Monday by matching each other with seven innings of one-run ball … Brett Gardner came off the shelf Monday and will resume splitting time with Melky Cabrera … Josh Beckett lost Monday, but turned in his first Quality Start since August 12 … Billy Butler went deep twice Monday and is hitting .300 with 59 extra-base hits … Jed Lowrie (wrist) returned from the disabled list Monday, but will be eased back into the lineup.
NL Quick Hits: Brad Penny tossed seven innings of two-run ball Monday, making him 2-0 with a 1.20 ERA for the Giants … Carlos Marmol is now 6-for-6 converting saves since taking over at closer following Monday’s perfect inning … Ryan Braun missed Monday’s game with a sore shoulder and Mike Cameron (hamstring) will be out until at least Friday, but Corey Hart (appendicitis) is due back Tuesday … Troy Tulowitzki exited Monday’s game with a strained back … Kyle Lohse came off the shelf Monday and is slated to start Saturday, but will be available in relief for now … Chris Young followed up Sunday’s three-homer game with another bomb Monday … Dave Bush figures to remain in the rotation after Monday’s outing was his first Quality Start since May 19 … Casey Blake (hamstring) sat out a third straight game Monday as Ronnie Belliard went 3-for-4 with a homer in his place … Freddy Sanchez returned from the disabled list Monday, so Juan Uribe shifted to third base and drove in five runs.

Free agent reliever Eric O’Flaherty weighing interest from four teams

New York Mets pitcher Eric O'Flaherty throws against the Miami Marlins during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Miami, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. The Mets defeated the Miami Marlins 8-6. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
AP Photo/Joe Skipper
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Veteran reliever Eric O'Flaherty is coming off the worst season of his career, but there’s still plenty of interest in a bounceback, as ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that he’s deciding between four teams and “should sign a deal by the weekend.”

You really can’t sugarcoat O’Flaherty’s 2015. The 31-year-old was flat-out bad, posting an 8.41 ERA and 21/18 K/BB ratio over 30 innings of work between the Athletics and Mets. Opposing batters hit .343/.427/.482 against him. I keep going back to check if that’s a misprint, but nope, it’s real. He also missed some time with shoulder inflammation. On the bright side, Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reported last month that O’Flaherty feels healthy and believes that he has fixed his mechanics.

O’Flaherty’s career has veered off track since Tommy John surgery in 2013, but he has enjoyed plenty of success in the past and throws from the left side. He’s the kind of guy who will continue to get chances.

Mets sign outfielder Roger Bernadina

Cincinnati Reds v Arizona Diamondbacks
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Veteran outfielder Roger Bernadina has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Mets that includes an invitation to spring training.

Bernadina was a semi-regular for the Nationals from 2010-2012, but never developed as much as hoped offensively and didn’t play in the majors at all last season.

At age 32 he’s a career .236 hitter with a .661 OPS in 548 games as a big leaguer and given the Mets’ outfield depth–they already have Alejandro De Aza and Juan Lagares in bench/part-time roles–Bernadina seems likely to begin the season in the minors.

J.R. Graham is in The Best Shape of his Life

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher J.R. Graham celebrates after the final out as the Twins beat the Chicago White Sox 12-2 in  a baseball game, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 12-2. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
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Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that Twins reliever J.R. Graham has lost “roughly 30-40 pounds this offseason.” It’s not a result of workouts, though. Just a change in diet. Bollinger says that Graham cut out sugar, alcohol and foods heavy in carbs and focused on a high-protein diet with lots of salads, meats and vegetables.

That’s an awful lot of weight to lose in four months, but the dude is only 26 and guys in their 20s lose weight just by thinking about it. Which is so very annoying to those of us who aren’t guys in their 20s.

The real test, of course, will come when he is working out far more strenuously once spring training starts and gets into the season. Normal schmos like me can keep up that kind of diet without much of a hitch as long as we have the willpower. An athlete’s energy requirements are far greater and far more specialized, so he’ll need more fuel than he’s probably been getting this offseason. Word is, however, that professional sports teams have people on staff that, you know, have made monitoring that kind of thing their life’s work.

In the meantime:

“I can just feel the change,” Graham said. “The energy. Everything. I feel great. I’m excited to see how it’ll translate into spring. I know I shouldn’t have any problems because I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m faster. All that. So it’s really exciting.”

It’s very exciting indeed. Because, with that, Graham becomes the latest baseball player to be . . . In The Best Shape of His Life.

The time my family invited itself to Gaylord Perry’s house for lunch

Gaylord Perry
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I mentioned my Gaylord Perry story in the last post. I feel like I’ve written this up before, but I couldn’t find it in our archives. Couldn’t find it anywhere. Maybe I’ve just told it to friends and radio hosts and people so many times that it feels like I’ve written it before. Oh well, I’ll tell it again because I like telling this story.

In 1984 I was on vacation with my family in the big RV, driving through North Carolina. As we always did on those long family road trips, my brother and I spent all of our highway time sorting through boxes of baseball cards we brought along with us. As we passed through a little podunk town, my dad suddenly pulled over and stopped to make a call at a pay phone. He got back into the RV and said “we’re stopping for lunch.” As we pulled away from the phone booth, I saw a sign that said “Welcome to Williamston, North Carolina, Home of Gaylord and Jim Perry.” Maybe Jim got first billing since he’s older. I don’t remember. But that was the upshot.

Five minutes later we are pulling up to a house next to a large farm. A woman came out of the house and said, “You’re the fella who just called? Come on in!” She welcomed us inside. “Gaylord will be here in a minute,” she said. My brother and I freaked out as we looked around the living room. There were photos of Gaylord Perry in action. Trophies and awards. Jerseys in frames. All kinds of other stuff. The thing I remember most was a giant leather chair shaped like a baseball glove that, to this day, I wish I had (maybe the 1984 version of this?). Five minutes later Gaylord freaking Perry walked in. He was wearing dirty jeans, work boots, a dirty white t-shirt and a Kansas City Royals cap. It was his first summer not playing baseball since he was a kid and he was spending it farming. Still had the cap on, though.

Gaylord and his wife, Blanche, were warm and welcoming. They said that not too many baseball fans just up and stopped by, but that they were happy someone did. Blanche made us sandwiches. Gaylord signed autographs (we had a few Perry cards in the RV stash). Even at that age I knew Perry’s reputation as a ball-doctorer. He told us a bunch of spitball jokes and stories which he had no doubt honed on the banquet circuit over the years, but they were mostly new to me. My parents, who were not baseball fans and didn’t know much about Perry apart from the fact that he was a famous baseball player, were delighted when Perry asked me to explain to them what I thought a spitball was. You could tell Perry thought that it was absolutely adorable that I thought the best way to doctor a ball was to, you know, spit on it. He talked about Vaseline and all sorts of other stuff, adding “or so I’m told” or “some people say” every now and again with a wink.

After lunch, Gaylord took us back to his office, in a separate building. He opened a file cabinet containing autographed baseballs from his former teammates and his friends in the game. I got a George Brett ball, which Perry said he gave me because Brett was the best player whose autograph he had sitting around handy. My brother said he was a Tigers fan so Perry gave him a Lance Parrish ball Perry had gotten somewhere along the way. He had a bunch of others too, but we weren’t greedy. He gave my mom a T-shirt he had which commemorated the Pine Tar Incident, in which he played no small part. He autographed the shirt for her, apologized for it being so big and said that maybe she could use it as a night shirt. My dad took Polaroids of my brother and me with Perry which I still have around here someplace. Then off we went, with Gaylord and Blanche Perry waving from the porch.

I was saddened to hear a couple years later that Perry’s life took an unfortunate turn not long after we met him. Two years later he lost his farm to bankruptcy. A year later Blanche died in an automobile accident. Perry went on to coach college baseball for a while. I remember seeing an interview with him around that time and he seemed like a much sadder guy than the smiling fellow we met that day in 1984. It makes sense given all that had happened.

In 2012, while in Scottsdale to cover spring training, I walked into the Giants clubhouse one morning and sitting at a table were Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Gaylord Perry. They were there for some sort of pregame ceremony and were just shooting the breeze and telling old baseball stories. Perry was laughing and animated and at times was practically breathless due to all of the cackling. He had Mays in stitches too. It was fantastic to see him smiling.

When the conversation ended Perry got up and walked from the table. I thought about saying something to him about the time in 1984 when my dad impulsively took his kids to Gaylord Perry’s house and to thank him for the kindness he and his wife showed my family that day. I didn’t, though. He was soon in another conversation and, on some level, it seemed awkward for me to have brought that up there, in the clubhouse, wearing a press credential when people were working and preparing and things. In hindsight I wish I had.

I’m going back to Scottsdale to cover spring training again in March. I hope he’s there again. If so, this time I will.