Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Breaking 100

Check out Breaking 100. It's a new blog that I've started that will track the Royals as they try to avoid 100 losses. I'll be writing about the push for 63 wins, and contributions are welcome. Let me know if you'd like to submit content for the site.

Long Live Super Joe

Earlier today, I was emailing with my brother Harry about the Royals’ infield utility position. The Royals acquired Esteban German from the Rangers in the off-season, and he battled 33 year old Joe McEwing (along with Chris Clapinski) this spring for the utility infielder spot.

German had a decent spring, but he is out of options meaning it’s more difficult for the Royals to send him to AAA Omaha (he’d have to clear waivers). Meanwhile, McEwing was in camp on a minor league contract, meaning he’d have to earn his way onto the roster.

Joe McEwing joined the Royals last spring when the Mets let him go. He filled a utility role last season, and hit .239/.263/.294.

It was beginning to look like McEwing was doing enough to make the team. The Royals have indicated that they would break camp with just 11 pitchers, leaving a spot open to bring along two utility infielders, and McEwing’s spring stats certainly warranted making the team. He was 17 for 39 (.436) in 15 games.

Harry and I both enjoy watching McEwing play. “Super Joe” is a small guy (5’ 11”, 170 lbs) who can play all infield positions. He’s a very active player who is always in motion while on the field. I always point to him when watching games with my son Joey to show him how fielders should be moving with the pitch, every pitch.

But it looks like McEwing’s days in KC are over. The Red Sox put Tony Graffanino on waivers yesterday and the Royals snatched him up. Graf played with the Royals in 2004 and part of 2005 until he was traded to the Red Sox for outfielder Chip Ambres (who was cut last week). Baird apparently really likes Graf, since he decided to take on his $2 million salary over the $500,000 or so that McEwing would make.

The Royals of course are willing to let McEwing play in Omaha, but he has decided to test the major league waters instead. Certainly, there is a team out there that is looking for a utility infielder, and they will surely snatch up Super Joe.

As Harry said in his email, “Long live Super Joe!!!”

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Elvis Redux

The other shoe finally dropped on Runelvys Hernandez. After seeing Elvis report to camp some 30 pounds overweight and struggle to put together a decent outing, the Royals have put him on the DL.

Buddy Bell says that it’s simply a matter of getting Hernandez some extra time to get ready. Hernandez will apparently report to Omaha to make a couple of starts before the fifth starter is needed.

It’s obvious that Hernandez is not ready. He is terribly overweight and out of shape, and his control is terrible. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hernandez still isn’t in Kansas City on April 14th, when they will need their fifth starter.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Elvis Has Left the Building

So much for those great pitching performances. On Saturday, Runelvys Hernandez gave us another stinker against the Cubs. He walked the first batter he faced, and couldn't find the strike zone all day.

Hernandez has not had a decent outing against major league batters this spring. He came into came at least 50 lbs over wieght, and yet he has secured the number 2 spot in the rotation.

The Cubs game was televise, but I couldn't bear to watch more than a couple of innings. Hernandez looked terrible. In 3 2/3 innings, he gave up 6 hits, 6 runs, five walks (FIVE!) and had just 3 strike outs. He also gave up 2 home runs.

Yesterday, the Royals announced their rotation for this season:

  • Scott Elarton
  • Runelvys Hernandez
  • Joe Mays
  • Jeremy Affeldt
  • Denny Bautista

Once Mark Redmond recovers from his knee injury, I would suspect that the first starter bumped from his spot will be Hernandez. Perhaps a stint in AAA will encourage him to get in shape and learn to pitch effectively again.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Congrats to Dan

Just a quick tip of the ballcap to my good friend Dan Fox, who just learned that he will begin writing for the excellent Baseball Prospectus web site. Good job, Dan. Count me among those will be reading your articles weekly.

Baseball is won with pitching

I jumped onto tonight to see what the Royals did this afternoon in their game against the Angels. The headline was bold:

Elarton pitches Royals past Angels

Sounds great! The Royals had won 7 of their last 8 games with some very impressive pitching sprinkled in. The headline made me think that the Royals enjoyed yet another fantastic outing by a pitcher, after Affeldt and Bautista both had great games this week.
Then I read the sub heading:

Starter allows just one run in six innings

Wow! Sounds great!

I skipped down to the box score to try to get an idea of how Elarton crafted his masterpiece. I found this:

Kansas City









Elarton (W, 3-0)



























Ouch!!! Nine hits?!? Sure, allowing just one run over six innings is great. But allowing 9 hits over six innings? Sounds to me like a very lucky pitcher. Elarton only struck out one and walked one.

I checked the Angels batting stats and found that all of the hits were singles except for one double by Cabrera. So, apparently the Angels were hitting, they just weren’t hitting hard and were not able to string the hits together at the right times to push runs across.

I’m not too sure what to think about this performance. Of course, I’m glad the Royals won. It’s a great feeling to look at some standings and find the Royals at the top (The Royals lead the Cactus League). And I’m glad that the Royals held the Angels to only one run. I’m not very familiar with Elarton, so perhaps his strategy is to allow hits but not runs. Bend, don’t break.

Either way, I’ll take the win and look forward to seeing Elarton on April 3 when the game will count for real.

On a side note: Wood had another outstanding outing, pitching 2 innings without giving up a run. He lowered his ERA to 1.29. Outstanding. Wood is staking his claim to the starting rotation. I’ll stand by my earlier stance that Wood should be a long reliever giving the starts to Affeldt and Bautista. But, I’ll take all of these fantastic pitching performances any day of the week!

Bautista's "Great Stuff"

When I was in Surprise, I was very impressed with Denny Bautista’s performance against the Brewers. (5 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs, 3 SO, 1 BB)

Bautista continued his ways last night against the Padres. Bautista pitched 5 shutout innings giving up just one hit. He walked 3 but struck out 5.

The Royals continue to mention Mike Wood as a potential starter, but it’s obvious to me that the two open rotation spots should go to Affeldt and Bautista.

Wood has always been more of a long reliever or spot starter and I feel like that’s his best role.

The good news here is that Royals pitchers are performing very well. I’m anxious to get the season started to see if this pre season success can carry over.

Affeldt's Push

Jeremy Affeldt made another case for a spot in the rotation Wednesday evening with a very strong outing against the Seattle Mariners in Surprise.

Affeldt pitched 6.0 innings and threw 81 pitches, well on his way to building up the endurance needed to be a starter. He gave up one hit and one run while striking out three. He walked just one batter.

Affeldt had struggled in the past, and I’ve stated before that I believe that the Royals can be blamed for his struggles.

When Affeldt first arrived in Kansas City as a starter, he was impressive but had trouble with blisters developing on the middle finger of his pitching hand. The Royals moved him to the bullpen to reduce the number of pitches he threw in hopes of reducing the blister problem. Eventually, Affeldt had the fingernail removed from his finger, and the blister problems seemed to be solved.

The Royals continued to switch Affeldt between relief and starting roles, including a stint as a closer, finally relegating him to mop up duty in 2005.

Also during the time, the Royals changed pitching coaches several times, and at one point, asked Affeldt pitch to contact instead of trying to strike out batters. All of this instability can only hurt a pitcher.

This off season Affeldt asked for a chance to start. After some thought, the Royals agreed to give him a shot at the rotation, and after a rocky start, he has performed well in Spring Training. With the injuries to Mark Redmond and Zack Greinke, there potentially is a spot open for Affeldt. If they don’t allow him to start, then I think the Royals should trade Affeldt before switching his role around yet again, and while there is still some perceived value in him.

Here’s what my Opening Day Rotation would look like:

Runelvyz Hernandez
Denny Bautista
Scott Elarton
Joe Mays
Jeremy Affeldt

When Redmond comes back from his injury, trade Mays. When and if Greinke comes back, trade Elarton.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

4 Days in the Valley

I just returned last night from my annual trip to Arizona for Spring Training Cactus League baseball. This tradition started in 2003 when, on a whim, I flew out to Surprise to see the Royals play the Brewers and flew home the same evening. The combination of the baseball and sunshine hooked me on Arizona in March.

This year’s trip included me, my son Joey, my brother Harry and my good friend Dan. In the past, we’ve visited Mesa (home of the Cubs), Scottsdale (home of the Giants), and Surprise (where the Rangers and Royals train). This year, we added a new destination – Tucson – to see the Cubs play at the White Sox.

The story of the trip for me was my left ear and the weather. I’ll get to the weather later, but two days before I flew to Arizona, an infection took up residence in my left ear, finally bursting through my ear drum. I took antibiotics the entire trip which helped, but my ear remained plugged up the entire time, meaning I was only able to hear about half of the conversations.

Friday the weather was beautiful. We had breakfast in Surprise then headed to the Surprise Recreation Campus. The Royals’ practice fields open to the public at 10:00, but we didn’t get there until around 11:00. We watched as the major leaguers took BP. On the minor league fields, we watched as Frank White and other coaches worked the youngsters on various drills including pick-off and run-down drills (which seem to be the most popular drills in these camps).

We headed over to Surprise Stadium for the 1:10 first pitch of the Royals/Brewers game. Just like years past, the gift shop took a bunch of my money before the first pitch was thrown.

We sat in our seats right behind home plate and saw Denny Bautista dominate the Brewers’ hitters. The only hiccup was a 5th inning homerun to Core Koskie. We also saw Luke Hudson, Joel Peralta, Joe Nelson, and Leo Nunez pitch as the Royals won 8-4. Offensively, both John Buck and Reggie Sanders were 3-3.

After the game, we headed to the pizza place where we ate last year and had some wings and pizza. Of course, we forgot to show out ticket stubs to receive the advertised 20% off our bill. Oh well. The day ended with some relaxing at the hotel getting caught up in all the upsets in the NCAA tournament.

On Saturday we headed to Tucson to see the Cubs at the White Sox. It was about an hour and a half drive and we arrived around 10:00. We wandered into the White Sox practice facility to see the minor leaguers play in 2 games on adjacent fields. Some major leaguers were there to get some at-bats in, so we saw Jermaine Dye, AJ Pierzynski, and Paul Konerko. After sawing off several bats, Pierzynski brought the broken bats out and handed them to some kids. A nice gesture. Paul Konerko came over and briefly signed some autographs before heading back to the clubhouse.

We headed to Tucson Electric Park around noon to claim our spot on the outfield berm. Unfortunately, we weren’t enjoying the nice Arizona weather that we expected. It was a little chilly with a brisk 20-30 MPH wind blowing right in our faces. I didn’t watch much of the game. I had my XM MyFi with me, so I tuned into the World Baseball Classic game between Dominican and Cuba that was going on at the same time and took a little nap in the sunshine. I awoke with a sunburn and with the Cubs losing to the White Sox. After an exhausting day, we headed back to the hotel in Tempe. I felt sorry for my brother Harry since he was driving while the rest of us snoozed.

The weather really took a turn for the worse on Sunday. We got an early start in hopes of seeing the Cubs practice at Fitch Park in Mesa. We had a delicious breakfast at Denny’s and as we walked to the car, the rain started to fall. We arrived at the park to find several empty fields. We waited around for a while, but gave up and headed to Ho Ho Kam Park where the Cubs play their games. With the temperature around 45 degrees, our best strategy seemed to be hanging out in the gift shop. They didn’t get quite as much of my money as the folks in Surprise, but Joey did get an old-school Cubs cap.

In the concourse, the Cubs wives were having a silent auction to raise money for charity. Several items piqued my interest, including autographed balls of Reggie Sanders and Mark Grudzielanek. Also of interest was a Jeff Bagwell autographed bat. We didn’t think the $200 bid price was too bad considering Bagwell is a certain Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, the Cubs wives don’t know much about running a silent auction. We were told the auction would end “around 1:00.” Anybody who’s bid in a silent auction knows that the end time must be precise and well known. At any rate, since nobody had bid on the Reggie Sanders ball by 12:50, I walked over and put down the minimum bid of $20. I waited the 10 minutes until 1:00 and expected to pay for my ball. But, for some reason, they decided to changed the end time to 1:30. At about 1:10, somebody else had bid $30 for the Sanders ball, pushing it out of my price range. They were also selling game used batting helmets for $25 each. I was amazed at how many people were willing to pay for those dirty old things.

The game started right on time at 1:10 in the rain. Joey and I tried to join Dan and Harry, but after a half inning, we were just too cold and wet. Joey hadn’t packed a winter coat, and I’ve been fighting an ear infection and other ailments, so we decided to wait in the car. I used the MyFi to tune into the game and Joey and I got in a nice afternoon’s nap.

By the time the game ended, the clouds were clearing off and the temperature seemed to rise a bit. We found a nearby golf course and were going to try to hit some balls at the driving range. We picked the wrong course, since an employee there caught us in the parking lot to inform us that we weren’t properly dressed. He directed us to a course down the road that would accept bums like us (my words, not his). The driving range there was closed, so we played a quick 9 holes. I was impressed with how well Joey hit the ball in his first every foray onto a golf course. By the time we finished, the sun was sinking and it was getting chilly again. We headed to a Mexican restaurant near ASU and had dinner before getting back to the hotel for bed.

By the fourth day, we were getting tired of the bad weather and were hoping for a good day. Luckily, the sun was shining and the temperature hovered in the upper 60’s. Not quite the Arizona weather we like, but good enough.

We got to Surprise just as they opened the gates to the practice facilities and were able to see the minor leaguers hard at work. Joey and I watched as some very young players (single A?) botched pickoff/run-down drills. The coaches were getting pretty frustrated, so we wandered over to the AA field. We watched as Frank White coached infielders on different situations. In one case, a slow grounder was barehanded by the second baseman who fired to first base. It was an impressive play, but White walked out to the mound to reprimand him. With a runner on second base, White says it is more important to field the ball cleanly than to make a spectacular play at first. If he hadn’t have barehanded the ball cleanly, the runner at second would have scored.

The major leaguers finally made their way to their fields at about 11:00 for BP. We staked out a spot down the right field line in hopes of snagging a foul ball. None came our way, but Chip Ambres finally saw us and tossed a ball our way. Joey ran up to try to grab Alex Gordon’s autograph on the ball, but had to settle for Leo Nunez.

At about 12:00, we decided to head into the stadium, but not before we were able to grab Denny Bautista to add his signature to our ball. Once we were in the stadium, we killed some time down the third base line to soak in some sunshine. Joey was able to get Alex Gordon’s autographed when he walked into the ballpark. Later, he snagged Mark Grudzielanek’s autograph as well.

When the game started, we watched as a pitcher who we thought was Luke Hudson get knocked around in the 2nd inning. The PA announcer told us that Hudson was starting, but the Royals made a last minute change in order to see how Hudson would do in short relief. That gave Danny Tamayo the start and he struggled badly, giving up 5 runs in the 2nd inning. We were also able to see Hideo Nomo and his annoying wind up as he was fairly effective with his slow junk against the Royals’ aggressive batters.

Doug Mientkiewicz had a good game, going 3-3 with a 3-run homerun and 4 RBI’s. The Royals were able to tie it up, but Ambiorix Burgos gave up the lead in the 7th. He opened the inning by giving up a triple to Brian Anderson, who then scored on a wild pitch. Burgos recovered though and was impressive retiring the side.

After the game, we had to hustle to the airport to catch our flight back to snowy KC. Our flight was delayed slightly by the weather, but we made up the time and arrived in KC right on time.

I got home just in time to catch the final two innings of Japan’s win over Cuba in the World Baseball Classic championship game.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


I’ve enjoyed watching the World Baseball Classic so far. The enthusiasm these players have for playing for their country is fun to watch, and it’s interesting to see how baseball fans from other countries watch their games. Americans tend to quietly sit and visit with their friends, and will cheer when something exciting happens.

Fans from other countries, especially the Latin countries, are into the game start to finish. The stand making noise constantly, dancing, banging on drums, playing trumpets. It’s not the stoic, thinking man’s game that we think about in America. It is really fun to watch.

Team USA, however, is not so fun to watch. Dontrell Willis has looked awful in the 2 US losses. I can understand losing to Japan or Dominican Republic, but to Canada and Korea? Brutal!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Hope Springs Eternal - or does it?

As Opening Day creeps closer, I can’t help but feel a little bit of dread for the upcoming Royals season.

For one, I’m not convinced the Royals spent their $22 million surplus wisely this past off season. Dan pointed out these two articles (Part I, Part II) by Marc Normandin that go into great detail, but suffice it to say that they could probably have gotten similar performance from their much less expensive younger players.

And now the Royals’ pitchers seem to be dropping like flies. First, Zack Greinke went home to address emotional issues, and now potential opening day starter Mark Redmond goes down with a knee injury. He will miss 4-6 weeks after having surgery.

So the only sure bet to make the rotation is Scott Elarton, who has been named the opening day starter. Everybody else (Runelvys Hernamdez, Joe Mays, Denny Bautista, Mike Wood, JP Howell, Jeremy Affeldt) are either inconsistent or injury prone.

Still, I’m looking forward to my annual trek to Arizona catch some Cubs and Royals spring training action next week. Even if I don’t feel too confident about the upcoming season, spring is still the season of optimism.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Greinke Redux

There seems to be more evidence that Zack Greinke’s disappearance from Spring Training is related to emotional issues. The team is still very mum about the reason for Greinke’s departure.

Yesterday, 810 WHB aired an interview with George Brett that took place during the team’s intra-squad game. I can’t recall the exact quotes in the interview, but Brett said several times that he hoped Zack was working out “his” issues, and at one point said that he hoped he was “getting an emotion shot” while in Florida.

Today’s Kansas City Star reports, “Zack Greinke left the Royals’ camp last weekend to deal with ongoing emotional issues.”

If he is dealing with emotional issues, let’s hope he can get it taken care of quickly so he can proceed to have the great career that he’s capable of having.