July 2009

Room at the top

I greet you from the Great White North, and, more specifically, the Rogers Centre press box.

All my pregame entries come from whatever press box I happen to be in habiting, but, for the first time, that streak was in jeopardy today. When I checked into the Renaissance hotel connected to the stadium, I was informed that I’ll be staying in one of the “stadium view” rooms. My room directly overlooks the field from its perch atop the center field scoreboard, and this afforded me the very real possibility of covering tonight’s game in pajamas with HBO on the TV.

But since I didn’t even pack pajamas, I figured I better make the short commute. So if David Dellucci pokes a pinch-hit, 500-foot bomb that is as high as it is long tonight, I won’t be there to catch it.

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIA OF THE DAY…

  • Dellucci. Yes, he is back in the big leagues. I must admit I somehow missed that July 3 transaction and didn’t even realize the Jays had purchased his contract from Triple-A Las Vegas until I saw him taking BP and shaking hands with his old mates. Alas, he’s 1-for-23 with the Jays and hasn’t made a start since fouling a ball off his foot Friday night (I can almost hear you saying, “Sounds about right”).
  • The Dellucci era was surrounded by negativity, and Dellucci said he was upset with the way Tribe fans treated him. “I thought it was uncalled for, because I tried my best,” he said. “I tried to beat a double play and tore my hamstring off the bone. The guys in the clubhouse know I gave my all.”
  • Dellucci was definitely an asset to the clubhouse. He’s a veteran with a World Series ring, and he wasn’t afraid to get on young guys when they weren’t doing things the right way. But in signing a three-year, $11.5 million contract (a hefty commitment for this financially strapped club), Dellucci accepted expectations that his bat couldn’t live up to. And they weren’t even lofty expectations. Fans just wanted him to do what he was hired to do and hit right-handed pitching. It never materialized with any consistency. But Dellucci, in addition to being a fellow Italian, is a class act, and I, for one, wish him well.
  • Regarding the rotation, there was some mystery as to who would get the ball for Thursday’s series finale here. The Indians had that spot listed as “TBD.” Well, it’s David Huff, getting his regular turn. I don’t know what the suspense was all about, and neither, apparently, did Eric Wedge. “I didn’t even know it wasn’t announced,” Wedge said.
  • With that mystery solved, the question now is who will get the ball Saturday in Seattle. Only two obvious candidates exist — Tomo Ohka and Jeremy Sowers. Fausto Carmona is pitching tonight for Triple-A Columbus and is not an option. Though the Indians have a healthy dose of off days in the weeks ahead, Wedge said the club will need to carry a fifth starter.
  • Here’s another, more pressing mystery: What’s wrong with Victor Martinez? He’s 6-for-49 in July and 9-for-83 since June 20. Wedge said he feels Martinez’s at-bats have been better and he’s had some tough luck. But the numbers aren’t inspiring. In this week’s Inbox, a reader asked if the dip is a byproduct of the ball Martinez fouled off his knee on May 31. “That would be a reach,” Wedge said. Maybe it’s a poor season taking its toll on the team leader. Maybe it’s the distraction of dealing with trade rumors for the first time in his career. Maybe he’s a little run down after playing just 73 games last season. Whatever it is, neither the Indians nor Martinez have a clear answer, and the batting average continues to drop.
  • I asked Mark Shapiro for some of his impressions after his trip to Columbus last week. He sounded very pleased with Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, said Trevor Crowe has made some strides, said Hector Rondon looked “fine” and said reliever Frank Herrmann has opened some eyes. As for Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis, regardless of the solid numbers they’ve posted down there, it doesn’t sound like they’ll be back in Cleveland anytime real soon. Shapiro said Perez looked no different than he did when he was struggling with the Tribe, and Lewis remained inconsistent.
  • If you think the Indians’ 2009 season has been a long and winding road, then check out this 18-hole golf course that is soon to open in Australia.

~AC

7/21: Indians at Blue Jays

Tonight’s 7:07 p.m. ET game at the Rogers Centre will be broadcast on WTAM and STO.

cle.gifINDIANS (36-57): CF Grady Sizemore, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, RF Shin-Soo Choo, 1B Victor Martinez, DH Travis Hafner, 3B Jhonny Peralta, LF Ben Francisco, 2B Jamey Carroll, C Kelly Shoppach. LHP Cliff Lee (5-9. 3.31).

 

 

tor.gifBLUE JAYS (46-47): SS Marco Scutaro, 2B Aaron Hill, CF Vernon Wells, 3B Scott Rolen, 1B Lyle Overbay, RF Alex Rios, DH Kevin Millar, C Rod Barajas, LF Jose Bautista. LHP Brett Cecil (3-1, 5.40).

Talking shop, swap

The CastroTurf blog, for better or worse, is back up and running after a post-All-Star break break. In my absence, you were treated to a fine performance on the Indians.com site from associate reporter Matt O’Donnell, who evidently said some inspiring things to Tomo Ohka but not to the Tribe hitters. My thanks to him for his efforts.

The real point of this post is to point you to MLB.com’s Trade Talk blog, which is also back up and running in advance of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Refresh it regularly for all the latest trade rumblings involving the Indians and others.

As for the Tribe coverage on this off day, on Indians.com, O’Donnell has a Ben Francisco feature, and I’ll have the latest edition of the Indians Inbox, where topics include the long-term future for Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez and the immediate future for Andy Marte and Matt LaPorta.

Check back here tomorrow for the lineups and minutia from the Great White North.

~AC

I gotta make some connection

The MLB.com army of reporters will be using Twitter to share instant thoughts and analysis pertaining to tonight’s All-Star Game, and yours truly will be included.

In the Gameday application for tonight’s game, you can track the action pitch by pitch and see the full list of tweets from MLB.com’s beat reporters on the right-hand side. That link is right here.

As for my specific Twitter account, the username is “castrovince” and the link is here. Hopefully it will be of some use in the future for breaking news pertaining to the Indians. We’ll see how it goes.

And don’t worry. I won’t use it to update you when I’m eating Fruit Loops.

Maybe someday your name will be in lights

St. Louis has been waiting more than 40 years to host an All-Star Game. It certainly seems like it was worth the wait.asg2.gif

As an outsider who swooped into town three days ago and who has become a regular attendee of the Midsummer Classic, I have been legitimately impressed with the way the people here rally around their baseball.

And I’m far from alone in that opinion.

“This has got to be the best baseball city I’ve been to,” Twins closer Joe Nathan said. “It’s almost like a football Sunday when the Cardinals are in town.”

Last year was all about paying tribute to Yankee Stadium and the legends who have inhabited it over the years. But this year has taken the game back to basics and allowed us to soak in the flavor of the city a little bit. And yes, that includes toasted ravioli at every stop along the way.berry.jpg

For me, a big highlight came last night, when the legendary Chuck Berry rocked the All-Star Gala.

I saw Chuck at one of those Cleveland rib cook-offs around 1995, and I thought he was old then. But he’s still got it. He doesn’t get as low to the ground for the duckwalk. I’m pretty sure he only played one chord the entire show. And he most definitely got confused after an instrumental break in the middle of “Back in the U.S.A.,” when he began singing the lyrics to “Let it Rock” (which had already been played about five songs earlier). But if you can’t get behind Chuck Berry and fellow St. Louis native Nelly dueting on a show-closing “Johnny B. Goode,” you’re no friend of mine.

Well, we’ve done all the pre-partying and interviewing and Derby-watching (just a shade under three hours… nice). Now, it’s time for the main event. So let’s get to it.

 


AL.gifAMERICAN LEAGUE (37-40-2):
RF Ichiro Suzuki, SS Derek Jeter, C Joe Mauer, 1B Mark Teixeira, LF Jason Bay, CF Josh Hamilton, 3B Michael Young (Evan Longoria was scratched), 2B Aaron Hill, RHP Roy Halladay.

 

 


NL.gifNATIONAL LEAGUE (40-37-2):
SS Hanley Ramirez, 2B Chase Utley, 1B Albert Pujols, RF Ryan Braun, LF Raul Ibanez, 3B David Wright, CF Shane Victorino, C Yadier Molina. RHP Tim Lincecum.

 

 

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIA OF THE DAY…

  • The Boston media members gathered here have Victor Martinez on their minds. It’s been reported all season that the Red Sox have interest in Martinez, but the Indians hold a $7 million option on him for next season and are inclined to keep him, unless they’re completely bowled over.
  • Between Lee and Martinez, I’d say Martinez is much, much more likely to remain a member of the Tribe long-term. Call me nave, but I really believe his love for this organization is genuine (witness the below-market contract he signed to stay here long-term). Perhaps that would help the Indians work out an extension with him sometime in the next year. And to the Indians, his value as a mentor to the young Latin guys, as a leader on an off the field and as a productive member of the lineup would be extremely difficult to replace. You could argue that he’s become the face of the franchise.
  • President Barack Obama is tossing the ceremonial first pitch to Pujols. He’ll be the fourth president (fifth time) to throw an All-Star first pitch. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first in 1937, and George H.W. Bush was the most recent, in 1992.
  • The NL is 4-0 in the previous four All-Star games in which a U.S. president has thrown out a ceremonial first pitch. How un-American is that?
  • Longoria was scratched because of an infected ring finger on his right hand. He was replaced on the AL roster by Angels third baseman Chone Figgins.
  • This is the fifth All-Star game to be played in St. Louis, and, of course, the first in the new Busch Stadium. Only four other cities have hosted at least five All-Star Games. The others are: New York (8), Chicago (7), Cleveland (5) and Pittsburgh (5).
  • A total of 25 All-Star Games have been decided by one run, including each of the last three and four of the last six.
  • Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are both making their 10 appearances in the All-Star Game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they are the only pair of teammates ever to be named to the All-Star team with their current team at least 10 times.
  • Eight participants in tonight’s game have represented both leagues in the All-Star Game. They are: Jason Bay, Francisco Cordero, Brian Fuentes, Dan Haren, Ted Lilly, Francisco Rodriguez, Johan Santana and Miguel Tejada.
  • The Phillies have their entire starting outfield on the All-Star team. That’s happened 12 other times previously.
  • Oakland’s Andrew Bailey is the only rookie here.
  • You might have heard that the AL is unbeaten in the last 12 All-Star Games. Tends to get mentioned now and then. That’s the longest such streak in All-Star history.
  • You heard it here 378th: The NL will win tonight. And in case you were unaware, this time it counts!

Enjoy the game.

~AC

"It's hard to hit home runs!"

Greetings from the Albert Pujols Show, more commonly referred to as the State Farm Home Run Derby.

It’s the culmination of workout day, as the All-Star Game spectacle kicks into high gear.
asg1.gifWorkout day always begins with a series of press conferences and media availability sessions at a local hotel, and this year it was the Hyatt Regency in downtown St. Louis.

Victor Martinez was there, of course. And he was wearing some white dress shirt decorated with what can only be described as psychedelic gerbera daisies.

Ordinarily, an event such as the All-Star game is a good time to have a more broad-based interview with the players you see and cover on a daily basis. The pressure’s off, they’re not in a rush to get into the cage or the trainer’s room, and they’re in a good mood. Alas, having such a conversation with Martinez proved difficult this afternoon, as the Spanish-language reporters were all over V-Mart. So he got to answer questions about the Indians’ record, Eric Wedge’s future and his possibility of being traded in two languages. Good times.

Anyway, you read all about Victor right here.

Now, while the Indians are my prescribed beat, it’s hardly a monogamous relationship. And my duties for MLB.com annually allow me to branch out and cover at least one other team. The opportunity is usually enjoyable, and today was no different. While doing a story for the Astros’ site, I got an up-close view of Miguel Tejada’s diamond-encrusted Rolex. Next time I have a blackout at my house, I’m inviting Tejada’s watch over to light my living room. It’s also worth noting that he flew his private jet to St. Louis. I had never met Tejada, but he seemed like a good dude. And he’s apparently well-compensated for his services.

Other quick thoughts, pre-Derby:

  • The amount of people who get behind their Cards and routinely wear red in this city never ceases to impress me
  • The elevator to the top of the Gateway Arch is not for the claustrophobic.
  • Charlie Gitto’s (once dubbed my favorite Italian restaurant on the road) is not what it used to be.
  • The St. Louis staple that is toasted ravioli is unnecessary (ravioli was doing just fine on its own, thank you).
  • In general, there is a buzz in this town that is stronger than any I’ve seen in the four All-Star games I’ve covered. And yes, I’m including last year’s Yankee Stadium salute.
  • Pre-Derby performer David Cook is the toasted ravioli of rock stars.

All right, time to watch baseball’s premier sluggers (and Brandon Inge) try to poke a few blasts into the Mississippi River. Enjoy, and keep those Mitch Hedberg quotes coming.

~AC

Livin' in the future

When your favorite Major League club subjects you to the stylings of Tomo Ohka, Mike Gosling and Winston Abreu on an otherwise splendid Sunday, you probably find yourself more concerned with the Indians’ future, rather than its altogether bleak present.

And I’m right there with you, which is why I’m sitting in the aux box at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium right now, ready to see how Nick Weglarz and Carlos Santana stack up against the game’s premier prospects in the XM All-Star Futures Game.

Unfortunately, all I’m seeing at the moment is a torrential downpour that makes the future look wet. There is a cloud of red hovering over St. Louis on the radar, and, while my Doppler skills might be limited, I am pretty sure you want to be outside under a red radar about as much as you want to eat a red banana (that’s a Mitch Hedberg reference… always cite your sources, kids).

For what it’s worth, I caught up with both Santana and Weglarz before today’s game, and they were pretty excited to be here, even if it meant missing the latest roadie to Erie as the juggernaut that is the Double-A Akron Aeros rolls on. And red radar or not, these guys are going to enjoy themselves.

Santana was hoping to meet up with Victor Martinez tonight, upon the Tribe All-Star’s arrival. Santana, even before he was traded to the Tribe last summer, has long listed Martinez as his favorite Major Leaguer and the player he hopes to emulate. If the fates (or trades or moves to first base) allow, he may be the one to supplant Martinez as the Tribe’s starting catcher, sooner rather than later.

“I would love to play together with my favorite player,” Santana said.

For now, Santana, who is batting .266 with 14 homers, 17 doubles, a triple and 58 RBIs for Akron, is just hoping for a promotion to Triple-A.

Weglarz, meanwhile, appears to have righted himself after a brutal start to the season in which he batted. 056 in April. The Canadian native carried a season average of .247 with 13 homers, 16 doubles, two triples and 59 RBIs into the break.

"I spread my legs apart a bit and was seeing the ball better," he said. "I changed my hands to where I was getting more leverage on the ball and had a more consistent path to the ball. We figured a couple things out, and since then it's been consistent."

I'll have more on Weglarz on Indians.com this afternoon. And I'll keep you updated on all things All-Star week right here on Monday and Tuesday.

Half a party in a one-dog town

Well, it’s a day game in Chicago, and, because of a schedule that will take me to St. Louis this weekend in advance of the All-Star Game, it’s my last Tribe game of the first half of 2009.

And what a dizzying, mind-boggling, stomach-twisting, head-spinning first half it’s been.

We’ve seen the Tribe blow through 44 players, including 26 pitchers. We’ve seen Tony Graffanino, Greg Aquino and Luis Vizcaino. All that’s left is to work out a trade for Ronny Paulino.

We’ve said “sayonara” to Masa Kobayashi and “ciao” to David Dellucci. We’ve seen Fausto Carmona banished to the Arizona desert. We’ve seen Josh Barfield and Tony Sipp log more miles on Interstate 71 than most truck drivers. And we’ve bid a tearful farewell to Dick Jacobs.

We saw the Indians nearly become the first Cleveland team to start a season 0-6 since the 1914 Cleveland Naps. Then we saw them not only spoil the first game at the new Yankee Stadium but, two days later, post 22 runs, including 14 in a single inning.

We’ve seen an opposing manager turn in a lineup with two third basemen, a game-winning hit strike a gull and Cliff Lee nearly toss a no-no.

What we haven’t seen, of course, are many wins, which is why we have seen calls for the head of manager Eric Wedge and demands that he be replaced with… Mike Hargrove? Really?

Personally, I trace it all back to Spring Training. Maybe we should have known this season would be confusing when the Goodyear Ballpark PA guy called Rafael Betancourt “John.” Maybe we should have known the Tribe would be bitten by bad luck when Jhonny Peralta’s wife, Molly, was bitten by a scorpion. Maybe we should have known this team would be afflicted when pretty much every player reported to camp wearing Affliction.

It’s been a long, crazy ride, and there’s still more to come. And I’ll keep trying to keep up with it all right here at CastroTurf in the second half.

For now…

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIA OF THE DAY…

  • It will be interesting to see how Rafael Betancourt fares in his return from the disabled list, and if the Indians shop him before the July 31 deadline. I can’t imagine the Tribe picking up his $5.4 million option for 2010, unless it was restructured somehow. Relief help is always desired on the open market this time of year, and Betancourt could pitch himself into consideration among contenders.
  • For his part, Betancourt said he’s not worried about his contract or the trade rumors. “All I have to do is pitch,” he said. “Everything else is going to be out of my hands — contracts or whatever. I don’t really know what’s going to happen. All I have to do is go out and pitch.”
  • Jeremy Sowers won’t be pitching for awhile. The Indians are going to have him sit for a week before he picks up a ball again at Triple-A Columbus. He’ll throw a bullpen a week from today, with an eye on starting for the Clippers on July 19. The thinking is that Sowers – like so many others this time of year – could use a mental and physical break. His fastball loses some command and velocity as his innings wear on (and that is probably a big reason why he struggles the third time through the opponent’s order), so the rest might do him good.
  • The Tribe will use Tomo Ohka for Sunday’s start. Coming out of the break, the Indians won’t have a need for a fifth starter until July 25. Nothing is set in stone — and nothing has been set in stone all season — but Sowers and Fausto Carmona could be options for that start. And Jake Westbrook is still expected back by early August.
  • Why didn’t the Indians move Sowers to relief? For one, they value starting depth. And in recognizing Sowers’ strengths for four or five innings, they are still hopeful they can get him straightened out and keep him effective that third time through the order.
  • Wedge sounded off about the opportunity available on this pitching staff and how pitchers, youngsters and veterans alike, aren’t taking advantage of it the way they should. “Guys should be frothing at the mouth to get in there,” he said.
  • Wedge also said that with so many teams in baseball looking for quality pitching help, no one at Triple-A has any reason to complain about being there. “If they’re not up here,” he said, “there’s a reason they’re not up here.”
  • On the bright side, Wedge said he’s been pleased with what he’s seen from Jose Veras his last couple times out, and he was happy to see the way Chris Perez rebounded last night.
  • On June 13, the Indians and Sox were within 2 games of each other in the Central standings. Since then, the Indians have dropped 17 of 22 to fall 13 games back, while the Sox have won 16 of 22 to climb to within two games of the first-place Tigers.
  • How about Hector Rondon’s Triple-A debut last night? He held Indianapolis hitless and scoreless for six innings, allowing just two hits with eight strikeouts. He threw 95 pitches. Rondon is 2-1 with a 1.03 ERA over his last five starts between Akron and Columbus. He’s struck out 29 batters in 26 1/3 innings in that span.
  • Ben Francisco has hit in six of his last seven games, batting .476 (10-for-21) with a homer and two RBIs.
  • Ryan Garko has an eight-game hitting streak in which he’s hit .333 (10-for-30) with a homer and two RBIs.
  • Asdrubal Cabrera is batting .176 (6-for-34) with four runs and six RBIs in eight games since his activation from the DL.
  • Victor Martinez snapped an 0-for-15 funk last night, but he’s still 5-for-his-last-55.

~AC

7/9: Indians at White Sox

Today’s 2:05 p.m. ET game at U.S. Cellular Field will be broadcast on STO and WTAM.

cle3.gifINDIANS (33-52): SS Asdrubal Cabrera, DH Grady Sizemore, 1B Victor Martinez, LF Shin-Soo Choo, 3B Jhonny Peralta, RF Ryan Garko, 2B Jamey Carroll, CF Ben Francisco, C Kelly Shoppach. LHP David Huff (4-3, 6.06).

 

 

cws2.gifWHITE SOX (44-40): CF Scott Podsednik, SS Alexei Ramirez, RF Jermaine Dye, DH Jim Thome, 1B Paul Konerko, C A.J. Pierzynski, LF Jayson Nix,  2B Chris Getz, 3B Gordon Beckham. LHP Clayton Richard (3-1, 4.48).

 

Sowers sent out

Jeremy Sowers isn’t heading to the Indians’ bullpen. He’s heading back to the Triple-A Columbus rotation.

Sowers was informed after Wednesday’s loss to the White Sox that he’ll be optioned back to Columbus on Thursday, when the Indians activate right-handed reliever Rafael Betancourt from the 15-day disabled list.

Sowers said he was told he’ll start for Columbus and could be brought back into the fold when the Indians need a fifth starter after the break.

For now, it appears Tomo Ohka would get the starting nod Sunday in Detroit.

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