Adam Jones is becoming an Orioles centerpiece
He plays in a division in which young center fielders have made a practice of using the postseason as their coming-out party. Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury batted a team-high .438 and won free tacos for America with his stolen base in the 2007 World Series. Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton hit seven home runs and drove in 15 runs in 11 games of the 2008 AL playoffs, then stole four bases in the World Series.
Because the Baltimore Orioles remain “a work in progress,” as he terms it, Adam Jones may have to bide his time before he can strut his stuff in October. But let there be no mistake: The Orioles’ center fielder, who at 23 is younger than Ellsbury and Upton, is not afraid of the company he is keeping in the American League East.
Jones, who came to the Orioles from the Seattle Mariners in the Erik Bedard deal prior to the 2008 season, is already showing signs of a breakout season in his second full year in Baltimore. Installed in the second spot in the batting order between All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts and rising star Nick Markakis, Jones began play Tuesday tied for the AL lead in runs with 29 while batting .344 with five home runs and 19 RBIs. And he has Gold Glove potential in the outfield.
“A legit five-tool guy,” one major league scout said. “Plus makeup, great instincts, and look for the power to jump up.”
The Orioles gave up a lot in Bedard, who could develop into one of the league’s top lefties. But they believe that when catcher Matt Wieters arrives, joining Jones, Roberts and shortstop Cesar Izturis, they’ll have considerable strength up the middle to build upon.
“The special ones, you can just tell,” said Orioles manager Dave Trembley, who is not afraid to throw the mantel of leadership on Jones despite his youth. “He’s very smart, he’s fearless, and he plays hard every game.
“Last year, he was adjusting to everything. This spring, we knew he wanted to hit up in the order, but I told him that he had to do certain things for us to hit him there. He had to lay off the breaking stuff and strike out less. I asked him, ‘What do you want to be in this game?’ I told him, ‘You can be an All-Star.’ A couple days later, he came back and said to me, ‘And I want to play in all 162.’ I said, ‘Now, you’re talking.’ ”
Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley has compared Jones in temperament to one of the most hard-nosed of Orioles, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. He also told Jones he was reminded of another Hall of Famer, Kirby Puckett.
“One thing, I’m vocal,” Jones said. “I like to run my mouth. I don’t mind getting in anybody’s face. I’m big enough to take on anybody in this clubhouse. All I’m looking for is that we play the game hard and play it right. In this clubhouse, I don’t have to get in anybody’s face.”
Roberts and Nick Markakis are the acknowledged stars of this team, but like Orioles icon Cal Ripken Jr., both are on the quiet side. Jones brings an edge.
“The way he carries himself, his work ethic, loving the game, his relationship with his coaches and manager,” bench coach Dave Jauss said, ticking off some of the ways Jones has exhibited his leadership qualities. “Plus, we’ve given him a lot of responsibility by batting him high in the order and by helping to set the defense.”
Jones, asked which of the AL East’s center fielders he would pick to build a team around, said Upton. “I would say he’s got more upside,” he said. “He’s going to hit home runs, too.”
He said it would have been “self-centered” to pick himself, but doesn’t mind if you do.
The bold statement, he doesn’t shy from. “I’ll put our offense up against anybody’s,” he said. “I don’t care if anybody wants to say the Red Sox or the Yankees, I’ll put our offense up against anybody in baseball.”
Great Greinke: In each of the last three seasons, there have been only two games in which a pitcher has had a shutout in which he did not walk a batter while striking out 10 or more. Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers and Tim Hudson of the Braves did it in 2008, Erik Bedard of the Orioles and Jon Lieber of the Phillies in 2007, and David Bush of the Brewers and John Lackey of the Angels in 2006. Already in 2009, Royals right-hander Zack Greinke has done it twice.
On April 18 at Texas, Greinke whiffed 10 and walked none in a 2-0 seven-hitter against the Rangers. Barely two weeks later, on Monday night in Kansas City, he whiffed 10 and walked none in a 3-0 six-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. The last time a pitcher had multiple shutouts of no walks and 10 or more whiffs was in 2001, when Mike Mussina did it three times, including a 1-0 blanking of the Red Sox in which he lost a perfect game with two outs in the ninth on Carl Everett’s pinch single. Randy Johnson of Arizona also had two shutouts with no walks and at least 10 strikeouts that season.
Nats’ rotational upside: The standings don’t reflect it, but one scout who recently spent a week watching the Washington Nationals said there is a glimmer of hope for the last-place club: its young starting pitching. The staff ERA is 4.82, tied for worst in the league with Colorado, but the bullpen is 0-8 with a 5.08 ERA. “I see a lot of upside in their rotation, much better than a year ago,” said the scout, who likes the upside of John Lannan, Scott Olsen, Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmerman. Although Daniel Cabrera looks like he’s regressing, the scout said, he’ll be pushed for the No. 5 spot by prospects Collin Balester and Ross Detwiler.
“Lannan commands his fastball to both sides of the plate, he uses his cutter effectively to right-handed hitters, and his curveball and slider are both potential plus pitches,” the scout said. “The changeup needs work, but he has great makeup and to me is a top-of-the rotation guy.”
And on the horizon is San Diego State star Stephen Strasburg, whom the Nationals and the rest of the Western world rate as the top prospect in the June draft. The Nationals have first pick and it would be difficult for them to pass up a pitcher who might be ready this summer to make his big league debut, even if his price tag is staggering.
The thinking hitter, as imagined by the satirical website The Onion: “TORONTO – Always mindful of his contributions on offense, Blue Jays shortstop Marco Scutaro has been observed determining his precise value over replacement player (VORP) before every at bat. ‘Let me see here … Subtract hits from my total number of at-bats, OK, and multiply the league’s current average runs per out by my total number of outs so far this year, which is 57. Bring in the old Marginal Lineup Value, and just quickly normalize the numbers with the park factors,’ Scutaro said to himself while writing mathematical equations in the dirt next to the on-deck circle. ‘Carry the one. That leaves me with an 8.8, I think. Nice.’ Scutaro then struck out on three consecutive pitches.”
Tendon tribulations: Adam Miller, once the top prospect in the Indians’ organization, recently underwent his second surgery to repair tendon damage in his right middle finger caused when a hole developed between two calluses from pitching. The concern is that if scar tissue develops, it might restrict the range of motion and strength of the finger, casting his career in jeopardy. Miller, from Plano, Tex., was an Indians’ first-round compensation pick in 2003 for the loss to free agency of Jim Thome. The right-hander had his first surgery last year, then came to camp hopeful of winning a spot in Cleveland’s bullpen until experiencing discomfort in the finger. He is expected to be out for the next six to nine months, and doctors have cautioned that they can not predict with certainty he will pitch again.
Miller’s case is reminiscent of Andy Yount, a Texas prep star who was Boston’s No. 1 pick in 1995, selected two spots ahead of Roy Halladay and projected as a possible successor to Roger Clemens. Yount, whose fastball was clocked in the high 90s, was voted the top prospect in the Gulf Coast League by the league’s managers, ahead of Halladay, Kerry Wood and Carlos Beltran. But a year later, while visiting the gravesite of a close friend who had recently died in a traffic accident, Yount had a glass shatter in his hand, severing the tendons of the middle finger of his pitching hand. He underwent three surgeries in three months, and doctors were unable to prevent the formation of scar tissue that cost him the feel for his pitches. Yount eventually attempted a comeback as an outfielder in the Tigers’ system, then returned in 2006 to take another crack at pitching for the Reds back in the GCL, where his pro career had started so promisingly 11 years earlier. He is now retired.
Walking M.A.S.H. unit: Nomar Garciaparra’s trip to the disabled list with a strained right calf was the 13th of his career, sixth in the last three years, and ninth in the last five. Garciaparra, who was Rookie of the Year with Boston in 1997 and won consecutive batting titles with the Red Sox, has played as many as 100 games in a season just twice in the previous five seasons. The injury that inspired him to fire his helmet into the dugout last week when he got hurt was depressingly similar to the one to his left calf that sidelined him for 62 games last season with the Dodgers. Garciaparra had contemplated retiring before signing with the Athletics on the eve of spring training.
His list of injuries makes him a human version of the old “Operation” game, where a patient’s nose buzzed if you goofed while removing a body part. He has gone on the DL with injuries to (in order): right shoulder, left hamstring, right wrist, right wrist, right Achilles tendon, left groin, right intercostal, right knee, left calf, right heel, left calf, left knee, right calf. Garciaparra told Bay Area reporters that he has chronic exertional compartment syndrome, an uncommon neuromuscular condition in which pressure builds up within the compartments of a muscle, affecting the blood supply to the muscle and disrupting its function, and is frequently painful. Garciaparra said the condition was hereditary and has affected his father and sister, but typically it results from overexercise.
RBI opportunities: Bill James, the statistical analyst and adviser to Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, wondered how many times the league leader in RBIs was the hitter who came up with the most runners in scoring position. It hasn’t happened as often as he anticipated. Of the 111 hitters who have led or co-led their leagues in RBIs since 1953, 22 have led in at-bats with runners in scoring position. Only twice in that span has the league leader in both leagues also led in AB/RISP: In 2004 Miguel Tejada led the AL with 150 RBIs and 208 ABs with RISP, while Vinny Castilla of the Rockies led the NL with 131 and 203. In 1965, the NL leader was Deron Johnson of the Reds (130, 180) and Rocky Colavito of the Indians (108, 171).
Resurrection road: Back on big league rosters are Jeff Weaver, called up by the Dodgers, and Scott Podsednik, back with the White Sox. Podsednik was the starting left fielder for the White Sox when they won the World Series in 2005 – he hit a game-winning home run off Houston’s Brad Lidge in the bottom of the ninth to win Game 2 – but was released by the team after the 2007 season and was a backup for the Rockies last season. Weaver has two World Series on his résumé – with the Yankees in 2003 he gave up a game-deciding home run in extra innings to Alex Gonzalez of the Marlins, then came back to win the clinching game for the Cardinals in the 2006 World Series, but spent all of last season in the minors. This is his second stint with the Dodgers.
That’s my boy: One of the top catching prospects in the Tigers’ organization is Alex Avila, a fifth-round draft choice out of the University of Alabama last June, and catching for the team’s Double-A affiliate in Erie, Pa. Avila is the son of Al Avila, the Tigers’ assistant GM, and grandson of Ralph Avila, the legendary Dodgers’ talent scout in the Dominican Republic.
Life begins at 40: When former Hiroshima Carp left-hander Ken Takahashi makes his first start for the Mets in place of Oliver Perez, he will become just the second “rookie” 40 years of age or older to start a big league game. The other is Satchel Paige, who was 41 when he made his debut with the Cleveland Indians in 1948.