What happened to Brad Hawpe?

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At the All-Star break, Brad Hawpe
was enjoying his best season, batting .320/.396/.577 with 14 home runs
and 59 RBI. Tenth in the league in batting, Hawpe earned his first trip
to the All-Star game. However, while the Rockies have surged to a 40-27
record since the All-Star break, taking control in the NL Wild Card
race, Hawpe’s once-promising season has fizzled out.

Hawpe
is batting only .235/.372/.418 since the break. With a two-run homer
against Adam Wainwright on Saturday, Hawpe has just six home runs and
20 RBI in the second half. Hawpe led the majors with 39 strikeouts in
August, and has registered at least one strikeout in 41 of his last 46
games. Now, Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn and Ryan Howard are enough to tell you
that strikeouts don’t necessarily correlate to negative production, but
until two home runs this week, Hawpe had zero home runs and zero RBI
through the first 14 games of the month.

Manager
Jim Tracy has stuck with his struggling slugger throughout the slump,
but as wins have become more crucial, his treatment of Hawpe has begun
to change. During Friday’s game against the Cardinals, Tracy pinch-hit
for Hawpe with Jason Giambi — another left-handed bat — with one out
in the ninth inning. Giambi delivered with a single and Yorvit
Torrealba hit a sacrifice fly to secure the 2-1 win.
But that doesn’t mean the decision was easy for Tracy.

“When
you respect a player as much as I respect Brad Hawpe and as aware of
his accomplishments as I am, not only in the time I’ve been in a
Rockies uniform but when I’ve sat over there on the other side of the
field, it’s not easy. But part of your job as the guy in charge is to
make a difficult decision and know full-well it may not be appreciated
or understood at the time.”

As for Hawpe, he is playing the good solider:

“No,
I don’t want to talk about if it was hard. We won the ballgame. That’s
the only thing I care about. Of course, I would like to perform well
every time I get on the field, but the bottom line right now is winning
ballgames.”

Hawpe was
dropped to seventh in the lineup for Saturday’s game and responded with
a double and a home run. The good news is that
he is back to fifth in the order for Sunday’s game, so it appears Tracy
is doing everything within his power to motivate the 30-year-old
outfielder in time for the postseason. Just don’t be surprised to see
him make a similar decision in October.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉