Day: April 5, 2010

Reds lead the way in stupid Opening Day lineups

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dusty baker hillman.jpgIt’s usually about putting your best foot forward when it comes to setting a lineup on Opening Day. Dusty Baker, though, decided to lead with his head up his ass.
The Reds played both their fourth and fifth outfielders Monday, with Chris Dickerson leading off and Laynce Nix in the seventh spot.
The choice to bench Drew Stubbs was especially baffling. Not to knock Dickerson’s glove, but Stubbs is clearly superior defensively. Plus, he hit .300/.354/.700 with five homers in 60 at-bats this spring. To top it all off, he was essentially named the starter going into the exhibition season. Dickerson got off to a hot start last month, but he finished at a modest .288/.327/.462, while Stubbs entered the day about as hot as any NL hitter.
One could justify playing Dickerson, but in left, not in center. He does, after all, offer a lot more defensively than Jonny Gomes, something that’s pretty important with Aaron Harang on the mound. But Gomes wasn’t the starter either, even though all he did was hit .267/.338/.541 for the Reds last season and slug five homers in 55 at-bats this spring. Instead, Nix, who was lucky to make the team over Wladimir Balentien, got the call. Nix hit .239/.291/.476 for the Reds last year, boosting his career line to .236/.277/.421. Baker knows that he’ll never have to worry about him clogging up the bases.
For what it’s worth, the Reds ended up losing 11-6. Dickerson went 1-for-5 in the leadoff spot. Nix was 1-for-2 before Stubbs replaced him and went 2-for-2 with an RBI.
Some other odd choices:
*Dodgers manager Joe Torre must have been too preoccupied to notice that the Pirates were starting a lefty in Zach Duke today. Matt Kemp, who merely torched southpaws for a .362/.429/.616 line last year, hit fifth ahead of James Loney. If there was ever a situation that called for pitching around a guy, that’s it. Kemp was originally slated to bat second this year, but Russell Martin was in that spot today.
Also, the Dodgers this winter signed three bench players who essentially remain in the league because of their performance against left-handers: Reed Johnson, Ronnie Belliard and Jamey Carroll. Not one started today, though. That’s not necessarily the wrong strategy. But if the Dodgers didn’t want to platoon anywhere, then they chose the wrong batch of reserves.
*The Mets had Alex Cora lead off and Mike Jacobs bat cleanup. I think this one has been better covered elsewhere, but someday soon, they’re going to lose a game with Jacobs at the plate in the ninth and Jason Bay waiting on deck for a chance that never comes.
*With Alberto Callaspo still nursing a minor oblique injury, the Royals had Willie Bloomquist starting at third base and batting sixth. The sad thing is that you can almost justify batting him sixth, when the spots below him were occupied by Yuniesky Betancourt, Jason Kendall and Chris Getz. But why not go to Mike Aviles instead?

Roy Halladay: yeah, he was a good pickup

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Thumbnail image for Halladay Phillies.jpgBetween Aaron’s last post and this post we’re sort of recapping games which is not what we usually do, but (a) it’s Opening Day and everyone has been good enough not to mess up the vibe with real news; and (b) these sorts of recaps pretty much capture what Opening Day is all about: renewal and the restoration of order in the universe.

If Pujols restored the natural order of things with his two bombs, Roy Halladay did the same with his performance: one run on six hits in seven innings with nine strikeouts.  The one run came in the first. After that he settled down and mowed down everyone between the second and the seventh, throwing 88 pitches and getting the win.

The man is going to just destroy National League hitters this year.

Albert Pujols homers twice in Opening Day win

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New season, same best player in the world.
Albert Pujols went 4-for-5 with two homers, three RBIs, and four runs this afternoon as the Cardinals blew out the Reds in Cincinnati.
He now has the following career numbers in 142 games versus the Reds: .365 with 42 homers, 48 doubles, 121 RBIs, and 131 runs. But wait, here’s the truly amazing part: That works to a 1.129 OPS, which Pujols has actually topped against the Pirates, Padres, and Nationals (and Royals, if you count frequent interleague opponents).
Colby Rasmus also had a big game for the Cardinals, going 2-for-4 with a homer and a walk while also robbing a potential homer off the bat of Scott Rolen. Oh, and Yadier Molina broke the game open with a late grand slam, showing that the strained oblique muscle that had him questionable for Opening Day is seemingly just fine.

Pedro Martinez plans on pitching this year

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Pedro Phillies cap.jpgWatching Pedro lob up last night’s first pitch while wearing a baggy jersey and a pair of old man slacks gave off the impression of a man retired. Not so, says Pedro:

Pedro Martinez did not exactly light up the radar guns with his
ceremonial first pitch, or lob, last night at the Red Sox-Yankees opener
but he has every intention of cranking his 38-year-old body up for
another major-league contract this coming season . . . He expects to start throwing on a program this coming week with the
intent of signing a similar type of deal that he got done with
Philadelphia. The Phillies could wind up being his destination this
season as well but as he said earlier today, “We’ll see what happens
with that.'”

I like the rent-a-Pedro model much more than I liked rent-a-Clemens back when the Rocket did it. If Clemens had worked out all winter and committed to the season you get the sense that he could have done better during those last two years. With Pedro, you just know he can’t hold up to a whole season anymore, so why even try?

All that said, I’m not at all certain that Martinez gets the deal he wants. There was a lot of smoke and mirrors with Philly last year. His race might just be run.

Why are the Reds rushing prospect Mike Leake?

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In my “Daily Dose” column this morning I wondered why the Reds decided to have last year’s first-round pick, Mike Leake, completely skip the minors to join their rotation.
To me it makes little sense on several different levels, because at 22 years old giving him a couple months at Double-A or Triple-A would probably be a positive thing for Leake’s development and by doing so the Reds could push back his eventual free agency for an entire year. In other words, what’s the huge rush?
Beyond the long-term development and service time issues, of course, is the question or whether Leake is even ready for the majors right now. Marc Hulet of Fan Graphs scouted Leake in a March 20 spring training start against the Giants and came away unimpressed to say the least:

Leake’s fastball hit 90 mph just once in this three-inning outing. He varied his arm angles to give the hitters different looks but it seemed to throw off his control. The former first rounder’s heater was MLB average at best in this game. His secondary stuff wasn’t fooling anyone, for the most part.

Certainly one poor spring training start isn’t worth focusing on and most people seem to agree that Leake is a very promising pitching prospect with a strong chance to become at least a middle-of-the-rotation starter. However, the larger point is that Leake isn’t an overpowering pitcher and, while often praised for his command and polish, is far from a finished product at age 22.
Why hasten his development, start his service time clock ticking, and throw him right into the big-league fire when the upside is a half-dozen extra starts from a guy who may not even be ready to thrive against major-league hitters yet? If the Nationals can show some patience with Stephen Strasburg, you’d think the Reds could do the same with the guy selected seven picks later.
Incidentally, you can find more of Hulet’s excellent prospect reports every week as part of Rotoworld’s award-winning Season Pass product.