Ramon Hernandez, Prince Fielder

Ramon Hernandez’s blast caps comeback for Reds

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Pulling off a big Opening Day comeback, the Reds scored four times off John Axford in the bottom of the ninth Thursday to beat the Brewers 7-6.

The Brewers supplied all of the fireworks early on today, with Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez delivering back-to-back homers to start the top of the first against Edinson Volquez.  Ryan Braun later added the team’s third homer, all of them coming off the struggling Volquez.

But while the Reds have to possess some concerns about a rotation that’s already lost two starters to the disabled list, the offense came through yet again.  Leadoff man Drew Stubbs homered and doubled to help get the team back in the game, setting the scene for the bottom of the ninth.

Down 6-3, the Reds started the ninth against Axford with Brandon Phillips’ shot to the wall in center.  It would have been a double under normal circumstances, but Phillips sensed the possibility of a close play at second and opted to stay at first because of the score.

After Joey Votto walked, Scott Rolen hit a roller to third that Casey McGehee grabbed on the move.   McGehee opted to try to tag Phillips as he was streaking by, only to miss with the glove, and was then late with the relay to first.  Manager Ron Roenicke came out to argue that Phillips went out of the baseline, but he didn’t get the call and Axford faced a bases-loaded, no-out situation.

Axford rebounded from there to strike out Jay Bruce on his one good curve of the day.  However, after that, Jonny Gomes smashed one to center that had to be caught by a jumping Carlos Gomez, scoring one run on the sac fly.  Hernandez, who already had three singles on the day, ended the game as the next batter, lifting one over the fence in right.

For Axford, it was just the third time in 58 career appearances that he had allowed multiple runs and first in which he gave up three or more. He was 8-2 with 24 saves in 27 chances for the Brewers last year, but he suffered from a nasty case of food poisoning in February and mostly struggled this spring.

Hernandez continued with his recent clutchiness.  He hit .342 with RISP last year and .328 in 2009.  Although he was one of baseball’s better offensive catchers while hitting .297/.364/.428 in 313 at-bats last season, he settled for $3 million as a free agent over the winter.  That’s less than Rod Barajas received from the Dodgers.

The Reds as a whole became known for their comebacks last year.  They started the season with their first six wins coming in their final at-bat, tying a major league record.  If one day is any indication — and it’s not like they changed much in the way of personnel over the winter — similar feats are in store for 2011.

Reds prospect Juan Duran suspended 80 games

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Juan Duran, a minor-league outfielder in the Reds’ farm system, has been suspended 80 games following positive tests for the performance-enhancing drugs Drostanolone, Stanozolol, and Nandrolone.

Duran is 6-foot-7 with big-time power, averaging 23 homers per 150 games since 2011, but he also strikes out a ton and struggles to control the strike zone. He spent last season at Double-A, missing a lot of time with injuries and hitting .256 with six homers and a .728 OPS in 59 games as a 23-year-old.

Duran is on the 40-man roster and is considered a quasi-prospect, but he’ll be ineligible to play until July and figures to head back to Double-A once reinstated.

The Blue Jays will talk long term deals with Jose Bautistia and Edwin Encarnacion

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Ever since Alex Anthopoulos resigned as Blue Jays’ GM and Mark Shapiro took over as team president, a distinct air of frugality has set in over Rogers Centre. The go-for-broke attitude that fueled Toronto’s fantastic second half last year was repudiated and long-term, sustainable building has seemed to be the order of the day.

But the Jays aren’t going to go crazy with that: ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that the Blue Jays plan to have long-term extension talks with the agents of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion during spring training. This, combined with the still-remaining possibility that they can avoid arbitration with MVP Josh Donaldson and hammer out a long-term deal could mean some serious spending by the Jays before Opening Day.

Or this could just be talk from the front office designed to buoy the spirits of fans. Locking up all three of them to long-term deals may be hella expensive and may not be possible. It’s also the case that, given their ages — Bautista is 35 and Encarnacion is 33 — it may not be advisable to lock the both up. As always, it depends on the terms and how generous Rogers Communications plans on being with the Jays’ budget.

But the chatter is now out there and expectations are poised to be set.

The Rays are REALLY ready to get to work on that new ballpark

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Last month St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays reached an agreement that would allow the Rays to seek a new ballpark outside of the St. Pete city limits, anywhere in the Bay Area. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports today that the Rays have submitted a required report to that end which “describes how they plan to evaluate potential ballpark sites across the Tampa Bay area” and serves as a rough outline of the sort of facility they’re looking to build.

They submitted it 39 days before deadline. Ya think they’re eager to get moving?

As for the specifics, it sounds like they’re shooting for a Braves or Cardinals style destination place with surrounding entertainment, retail and the like. The Braves are achieving that by basically building the park at a mall and plan to surround it with other mall/entertainment district-type development. The Cardinals built a downtown park, but have developed Ballpark Village after the fact. This is to be contrasted with downtown parks which either counted on existing city businesses or spurred separate development.

All of which makes sense given that there isn’t one dominant location in Tampa which all but demands development there. Tampa has a few different areas that might make sense and the place is generally more spread out than older cities. It also makes sense for the Rays’ owners who are likely well aware that being in the real estate business is just as good for them as being in the baseball business.

Will anyone EVER break that record that was broken nine years ago?

Hank Aaron
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In 2007, Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run. He would go on to hit six more, finishing his career with 762. That was nine years ago and, at present, the active home run leader is nearly 80 homers behind him and no sure bet to come close. The next closest guy is over 200 homers back and clearly entering a period of decline.

All of which raises the question: will anyone EVER pass the home run total of Hank Aaron, who is in second place on that list?

Maybe you think that’s not really a pertinent question. We tend not to ask whether people who do not, by any objective measure, hold a record will have their records surpassed. But you’d be wrong. Why, just today, on Hank Aaron’s 82nd birthday, at least two journalists speculated whether anyone would ever become the all-time second place home run king:

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That’s from Cliff Corcoran at Sports Illustrated. As always, it’s excellent work from Cliff. Right up there with his seminal “will anyone ever catch Lou Brock in stolen bases?” and “who can catch Trevor Hoffman in career saves?” pieces.

Then there’s Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who approves of the question posed and has his own response:

You can imagine how those tweets were received by those parts of Twitter who are all about PED apologia, math, objective standards, noting that Aaron admitted that he took a PED that would have him banned today too and stuff like that. As always, these things get ugly.

Not that they have to be. It’s almost as if, if one were to try, one could celebrate the amazing inner-circle Hall of Fame career of Hank Aaron, full as it is with nearly unsurpassed accomplishment, without applying a revisionist gloss to the one accomplishment that, according to all objective measures and the accounting of Major League Baseball, has been surpassed. That one could talk about Aaron without slagging on Bonds.