Mike Aviles will not be ignored. He hit a home run tonight off St. Louis reliever Ron Villone – the game-winning shot was his third home run in his past five games. The Royals' 27-year-old rookie is now hitting .333 through his first 45 major-league at bats. He's scored 12 runs and has nine extra-base hits in his past 11 games.
I'll admit, I didn't know much about Mike Aviles before he got called up by the Royals this month. The extent of my knowledge is what I gleaned during time spent in the throne room with my Baseball America Prospect Handbook '08 – sure, that probably qualifies as TMI, but I'm guessing that's where a majority of you do your best reading. Anyways, the Handbook listed Aviles as the Royals' 29th-best prospect. But his write-up was pretty complimentary about his plate skills – compact, quick swing, and good pop – it was largely his defense that contributed to his uninspiring ranking.
At the time he was called up, Aviles was leading the Pacific Coast League in RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases. And, it was about that time that I started to get a very Dan Uggla feeling about him. Uggla, who hit his 20th home run tonight, was the 29th-ranked prospect of the Marlins in the '06 Prospect Handbook. Like Aviles, Uggla was described as an offensive-minded player with the likelihood of a utility role future in the majors. As we've come to find out, Uggla's future was, in fact, that of an All-Star caliber second baseman with 30 home run power.
As for Aviles's future, I'm not going to say he's a going to hit with the type of power Uggla has, but I do think he can reach 20 home runs, hit somewhere north of .280 and steal 10-15 bases given a full season opportunity – that plays very nicely from the shortstop position. In other words, I don't see him as a flash in the pan. I've kinda been guilty of driving the hype train on him the past few days, so I'll just say this one more time: Grab him without reservation if you still can.
• Chad Billingsley had some pretty filthy stuff tonight. Especially impressive was how the hard-throwing righty was handcuffing left-handed hitters with bricks in on the hands. In the second inning, Billingsley rocketed a pitch in on Adam Dunn, who started into a half-hearted check swing. The ball wound up hitting Dunn's bat just above his hands, and the impact buzz-sawed the bat into two pieces right where it hit. Dunn was left holding a clean-cut handle, while the rest of the bat lay at his feet. It was pretty awesome.
• Felix Hernandez was even nastier than Billingsley. He's really something special to watch when he has his best stuff … and he's dialed in … and he's working quickly. His stuff dances so much that when he's working quickly, it just looks like the hitters have no time to think about what's coming and, at that point, they're screwed. He was just blowing through Marlins hitters early on tonight. Dan Uggla broke Hernandez's 22.1 inning streak without allowing an earned run by taking the King deep in the second, and the Marlins bled him for three more runs along the way, but this was still the best Hernandez's stuff has looked in these past four starts – he struck out nine and walked one before being pulled with one out in the eighth.
• Mariners manager John McClaren is on record as saying the team's closer role while J.J. Putz is on the DL will be handled by committee. I don't know if at the time he said it he really believed it or not, but there's simply no way that Brandon Morrow isn't 100 percent the guy. He blew away two of three Marlins tonight with 98-99 mph heat to close out a 5-4 win. It was his 13th consecutive outing without allowing an earned run. In his past nine innings, he's struck out 15 and walked one. McClaren's job security is only slightly less tenuous than Willie Randolph's was just a few days ago, so there's really no way he can afford to turn to anyone but Morrow in the ninth.
• Scroll to the bottom of this link for a definition of a circus save. Rays closer Troy Percival, staked to a 3-1 lead in the ninth against the Cubs, gave up a single, a double, allowed a runner to score from third base on a passed ball, then sailed another ball to the backstop with another runner on third base, only to have the pitch ricochet back to catcher Dioner Navarro Little League World Series-style, holding the runner at third. Then, after issuing a walk, the game ended on a bunt attempt by Reed Johnson that third baseman Evan Longoria scooped up in spectacular fashion and threw to first just in time to beat Johnson and end the game. Despite the scare, Percival's stuff looked pretty good – his fastball was darting in the 94 mph range. And, after all, a save is a save … you'll take 'em however you can get 'em.
• Jose Reyes was pulled from tonight's game against the Angels after hitting a single in the first inning. His leg was the apparent issue, but Reyes didn't feel he needed to be pulled and was upset with interim manager Jerry Manuel for making the move.
• Recent Atlanta call-up Brandon Jones had two more hits tonight, giving him 10 in his past 19 at bats. He's another rookie to watch, if not add. I dropped Adam Jones for him just the other day.
• Vicente Padilla is rarely pretty, and he pitches in one of the toughest parks in the league, but he keeps piling up wins in junk-yard dog fashion. On a night when the ball was jumping off the bats in Texas (which is pretty much every night), Padilla limited Atlanta to just two hits and one earned run in six innings to pick up his ninth win. He's managed a very respectable 3.00 ERA at home this season. He's also the recipient of the best run support in the American League among starters.
• Paul Konerko landed on the DL today for the first time in his career. While he sat with an oblique injury, the White Sox certainly didn't miss him, pounding out 19 hits in a 16-5 route of Ian Snell (4 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, 6 BB, 0 K) and the Pirates. Eleven of the White Sox hits went for extra bases, and Orlando Cabrera, Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and Joe Crede each recorded three RBIs.
• Kenny Rogers beat the Giants tonight with seven innings of one-run ball. It was the fifth consecutive outing in which The Gambler has pitched at least seven innings and allowed two earned runs or less. For the home team, Jonathan Sanchez took the loss but delivered a respectable line of 7 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 8 K. I rolled him out there in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League, and I'll take it.
• The best thing about Bartolo Colon going to the DL (back) today is the fact that Justin Masterson will get at least two more weeks in the rotation. Masterson was ticketed for a trip back to the minors with Daisuke Matsuzaka's expected return to the rotation this coming weekend.
• Tough blown save for Jose Valverde tonight. He inherited Baltimore runners at first and second with one out in the bottom of the eighth and Houston clinging to a 5-4 lead. He fanned Nick Markakis to get the second out, but then allowed a double to Melvin Mora, scoring both runners. He finished off the rest of the inning without incident. Saves have been hard to come by for Valverde, who has just one save (and only two save chances) since May 23.
• Milwaukee rookie Manny Parra had his breaking ball working tonight against Toronto. He didn't allow a run in seven innings to pick up the win. He beat Blue Jays starter Dustin McGowan, who looked ridiculously good in his last start against Seattle. On this night, however, Prince Fielder, Craig Counsell and Russell Branyan took him deep in the first four innings before McGowan was sent to the showers.
That's all I got for tonight. Sweet dreams …