Daily Dose: Astros shut down Oswalt

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Roy Oswalt’s back problems haven’t improved, so after back-to-back rough starts the Astros have decided to shut him down for the season. “It’s not getting any better and it’s kind of lingering a bit,” Oswalt said. “If we were in contention and fighting for the playoffs, I would try to get an epidural block and ride it as long as I could. But I don’t want it to linger for next year.”
Oswalt had a 3.66 ERA and 104/33 K/BB ratio in 135.1 innings through 21 starts, but has a 5.48 ERA in nine outings since then and finishes the season with an ERA over 4.00 for the first time in his nine-year career. Toss in a team-record 16 no-decisions leading to just eight wins and it has definitely been a very disappointing campaign, but his secondary numbers suggest a 2010 bounce back if he can get healthy.
While the Astros remain on the hook to the 32-year-old Oswalt for at least two more seasons and at least $33 million, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Matt LaPorta is showing why it was so foolish for Cleveland to keep him at Triple-A for so long, driving in three runs Wednesday to make him 28-for-96 (.292) with five homers and eight doubles since being called up in mid-August. LaPorta’s extended stint in the minors will keep his raw totals modest and likely make him undervalued in 2010, but he’s a potential middle-of-the-order bat with 30-homer power right now.
* Mike Scioscia talked earlier this week about possibly giving rookie Kevin Jepsen some save chances because of Brian Fuentes’ struggles and may want to put those wheels in motion after Fuentes blew his seventh save of the year Wednesday. Some questionable umpiring conspired against Fuentes and the Angels, but he has a 6.38 ERA and four blown saves since the All-Star break and Jepsen has been great.
* Trevor Cahill tossed seven innings of one-hit ball Wednesday, combining with two relievers on a shutout of the Rangers. Even with the excellent outing Cahill moves to just 9-12 with a 4.54 ERA and equally unimpressive 88/68 K/BB ratio in 168 innings, although certainly at 21 years old he has plenty of room to improve. He’s not likely to miss a ton of bats, but induces lots of grounders and will throw more strikes in 2010.
* Jesus Flores got off to a nice start this year, hitting .301/.371/.505 through 106 trips to the plate, but a bruised shoulder turned into a stress fracture that sidelined him for four months. He finally returned this week, but had season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum Wednesday. Washington is hoping that Flores will be healthy for spring training, but the 24-year-old former breakout candidate is now a big question mark.
AL Quick Hits: Jorge Posada began serving a three-game suspension Wednesday, so third-string catcher Francisco Cervelli delivered a walk-off single … Bartolo Colon (elbow) was released Wednesday by the White Sox after going 3-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 12 starts … Jarrod Saltalamacchia will undergo surgery Monday for thoracic outlet syndrome, which has a four-month recovery … Jonathan Papelbon was unavailable Wednesday because of back soreness … Nate Robertson will start Sunday in place of Jarrod Washburn (knee) … Tim Wakefield (back) is now scheduled to rejoin the rotation Monday, but will throw a bullpen session first … Fausto Carmona will stay in the rotation at 3-11 with a 6.58 ERA, with Eric Wedge explaining that “we’re going to keep running him out there” … Vladimir Guerrero left Wednesday’s game after taking a fastball off the ribs … Victor Martinez is due to rejoin the team Thursday after being away for a personal issue.
NL Quick Hits: St. Louis is skipping Kyle Lohse’s next rotation turn, with John Smoltz set to start Friday … Huston Street (biceps) threw a bullpen session Wednesday and hopes to return Sunday, but will work as Franklin Morales’ setup man initially … Joe Blanton bounced back from his worst outing of the season with six scoreless innings Wednesday … Manny Parra (neck) won’t make his scheduled Friday start despite an MRI exam revealing no structural damage … Justin Upton went 5-for-5 and missed the cycle by a homer Wednesday while teammate Mark Reynolds went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts … Randy Johnson came off the disabled list and officially joined the Giants’ bullpen Wednesday … Justin Lehr amazingly gave up five runs on five solo homers Wednesday … George Sherrill threw two perfect innings Wednesday, giving him a 0.42 ERA in 21.1 innings with the Dodgers … Milwaukee is debating whether to shut Yovani Gallardo down for the season after 180.2 innings.

The Rays are considering reliever Tyler Clippard

New York Mets pitcher Tyler Clippard throws during the eighth inning of Game 4 of the National League baseball championship series against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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On Thursday, we learned that the Diamondbacks were still considering free agent reliever Tyler Clippard. You can add the Rays to the list as well, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

The Rays traded lefty reliever Jake McGee to the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Corey Dickerson in late January, so Clippard would be able to slot right in behind closer Brad Boxberger. Clippard, 30, compiled a 2.92 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 31 walks over 71 innings in a season split between the Athletics and Mets. The strikeout rate was at its lowest since the right-hander become a full-time reliever in 2009, and his walk rate was at its highest since 2010, which may be a factor in his still being a free agent in February.

Report: Juan Uribe is too expensive for the Giants

New York Mets' Juan Uribe follows the flight of his solo home run off Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Chris Rusin in the third inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that, while the Giants are interested in free agent Juan Uribe, the utilityman’s asking price is too high for the club. Despite having a capable starter at every position, the Giants are a bit thin on depth and Uribe would be a nice fit given his versatility.

Uribe, 36, spent last season with the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. He hit a combined .253/.320/.417 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI over 397 plate appearances. In his only postseason plate appearance for the Mets, he hit an RBI single in Game 3 of the World Series against the Royals.

Uribe has mostly played third base in recent seasons, but also has plenty of experience at second base and shortstop.

A study showed “grit” isn’t always a great attribute

Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper slides into third with a three RBI triple during the third inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, April 25, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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This popped up in my Twitter feed and I felt it had some applicability to baseball. This past October, Olga Khazan of The Atlantic highlighted a study in which researchers from the University of Southern California and Northeastern University performed three separate but related experiments to determine how “gritty” their subjects were.

One experiment had them solve anagrams. The second, a computer game. Finally, the third test had them solve math problems. Those who were deemed “grittier” attempted to solve fewer anagrams, which means they were sticking too long with difficult words rather than skipping and moving onto easier ones. The “grittier” crowd worked harder when losing at the computer game, but worked only as hard as the less-gritty when winning. With the math problems, the subjects when stuck were given a choice to take $1 and quit or keep going for a potential reward of $2 but $0 if they failed. The study showed that the “grittier” people weren’t any more productive but were more willing to risk the $1 for the doubled prize.

“Grit” is also a common colloquialism in baseball circles, used to refer to players who always run out a routine ground ball or pop-up. Other common characteristics include a willingness to dive for fly balls, slide into players to break up double plays, and to stick up for their teammates when there’s a disagreement between members of two teams. Often, those deemed “gritty” are in many other ways subpar players, but their perceived “grit” gives them value.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is a rare superstar player who has earned the “grit” descriptor. There are many examples showing why he has earned it, but the most famous incident occurred on May 13, 2013 at Dodger Stadium. Harper turned his back to the field to chase an A.J. Ellis fly ball but went face-first into the wall, suffering abrasions on his face and a jammed left shoulder. This was during a game the Nationals were comfortably winning 6-0 in the sixth inning. At the time, the Nationals were 95 percent favorites to win the game, according to FanGraphs. Is the risk of suffering an injury — which could keep Harper out only a game or two, or cause him to miss the rest of the season — worth potentially turning a double or triple into an out?

Famously, Philadelphia fans and talking heads got on outfielder Bobby Abreu’s case in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s because he appeared gun-shy when approaching the outfield fence on fly balls. He was under a lot of pressure to sacrifice his body for the supposed good of the team, and developed a reputation as “soft”. As a more recent example, former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins caught flack from fans when he didn’t run out a routine pop-up against the Mets on August 30, 2012. Then-manager Charlie Manuel benched the veteran. At the time, the Phillies were 62-69 and 17.5 games back of first place in the NL East and 8.5 games behind the second Wild Card. Freak injuries can happen, as Rollins’ teammate Ryan Howard showed when making the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. Is that non-zero injury risk worth the tiny chance that the infielder drops the pop-up and Rollins gets a single (or, in rarer cases, a double) in a game that is essentially meaningless?

The aforementioned study shows that maybe Abreu and Rollins had it right after all. Statistically, a freak injury that occurs on a “hustle” play is bound to happen. Maybe that’s what it will take to stop expecting athletes to put their bodies on the line for no realistic gain.

Zach Britton settles with the Orioles for $6.75 million

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton delivers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Boston. The Orioles won 6-4. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
AP Photo/Steven Senne
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The Orioles and closer Zach Britton avoided an arbitration hearing, agreeing to a $6.75 million salary for the 2016 season, Jon Heyman reports. The club has now handled all of its remaining arbitration cases and won’t have to go to a hearing with any players.

Britton, in his second of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $7.9 million while the Orioles countered at $5.6 million. $6.75 million is exactly the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

The 28-year-old lefty saved 36 games in 40 chances last season for the O’s while putting up a 1.92 ERA with a 79/14 K/BB ratio over 65 2/3 innings.