Harmon's Head: Knock on Wood

Mike Harmon

The first 11 days of the season have provided much drama, best exemplified by the Dodgers' four-run rally in the ninth to defeat Armando Benitez and the Giants 9-8 on Tuesday. Besides providing another memorable moment in baseball's third-best rivalry (behind Red Sox-Yankees and Cubs-Cardinals), it truly initiated Benitez into the 2005 closer class. It seems that you can't really be a member of this club without blowing at least one save opportunity early in the year.

My clicker finger is primed and ready for the next series of games. Meanwhile, here's what's bouncing around inside my head.

In My Leagues

  • In my auto-picked league, the computer selected Johan Santana for me with the eighth pick. Despite the high ERA, he's earned me two wins and 17 Ks. My second, third and fifth picks haven't fared quite as well, however, as Scott Rolen, Mark Teixeira and Rafael Furcal are hitting a combined .174 with two home runs (one by Furcal), 10 RBIs and a stolen base.
  • Anxious owners in a couple of my leagues quickly picked up Dustin Hermanson of the White Sox after his save on Wednesday night against Cleveland. Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen cited a "gut feeling" based on Coco Crisp's past success against Shingo Takatsu. He was wishy-washy in comments about Takatsu after Cleveland launched three bombs to beat him last week and then made the call to Hermanson against the Indians. How often will Guillen have such inklings?
  • The "Toronto Three" of Shea Hillenbrand, Gregg Zaun and Eric Hinske flew off of the available players lists at the end of this past weekend. Zaun knocked in 10 runs with two homers in his first seven games which means he's already one-third of the way to his previous career highs.

The View from My Couch

  • Updating a note from Tuesday's Fantasy Baseball This Week, the Cubs expect to shift time between Neifi Perez and Jerry Hairston Jr. at 2B while Todd Walker is on the shelf. Perez went 6-for-9 in Wednesday's doubleheader against San Diego.
  • The Devil Rays clearly don't have the need for speed, with Carl Crawford and Joey Gathright sitting near the top of the SB leaderboard. Gathright is a hot commodity, hitting at a .350 clip with three stolen bases while the Devil Rays waited out Alex Sanchez's suspension. Lou Piniella will need to make a tough decision as to who becomes the fourth outfielder. Does the theory of "not losing your job due to injury" carry over to suspensions involving performance enhancing substances?
  • Josh Fogg of the Pirates opened 2005 with two solid outings to pick up where he left off in the second half of 2004. He's allowed just three earned runs and struck out 11 hitters in 13.1 innings of work.
  • Craig Biggio got hit in the forearm by Braden Looper on Wednesday, possibly keeping Biggio out of the lineup for a day or two. Biggio ranks fourth on the all-time list, having been plunked 257 times. He's averaged 15 HBPs per season over his 17-year career.
  • Dontrelle Willis is showing shades of his rookie brilliance with two straight complete games. In Wednesday's win over the Phillies, only two balls were hit out of the infield in the first six innings. That's scary stuff.
  • Curt Schilling's defeat at the hands of the Yankees in his season debut Wednesday equals his loss total at Fenway in 2004. His started strong, overpowering Alex Rodriguez in the second inning, en route to five Ks on the night. The velocity on his heater dipped noticeably in the fifth inning when the floodgates opened.
  • The Yankees-Red Sox game ended strangely. Upon entering the game Mariano Rivera received a standing ovation from the Boston fans, continuing their celebration of his recent struggles against their team. Rivera looked a bit shaky and was helped by Tony Womack's diving stab at a line drive, but at the end of the day he got the three outs he needed.
  • Rookie Adrian Gonzalez of Texas blasted his second home run against Anaheim on Wednesday night. The No. 1 pick of the 2000 draft already has three extra-base hits and four RBIs. He's worth a look-see for that last bench slot.

News and Notes

  • Mark Prior capitalized on an early 7-0 lead to win his first start of the season Wednesday. He allowed four hits and a walk while striking out six in six shutout innings. He looked strong and tossed 92 pitches, far more than had been expected of him. But hey, you can't expect Dusty to change overnight. Prior's next start will come against Cincinnati, which averages a strikeout per every four at-bats as a team .
  • The Rockies activated Chin-hui Tsao from the disabled list Tuesday night. Manager Clint Hurdle declared him the closer upon his return, although given the club's start in 2005 (1-7), he may not see too many opportunities.
  • Philadelphia starter Vicente Padilla pitched five innings and picked up a win at Triple-A Scrantion/Wilkes-Barre. He's expected to rejoin the big club for a start on April 20, meaning rookie Gavin Floyd is likely the odd man out in the rotation.
  • Speculation is that Braves super prospect Andy Marte (3B) might soon get the call with the struggles of the Braves outfielders. Chipper Jones might be shifted back to the outfield for the recall of Marte, who's hitting .429 with four homers and nine RBIs in seven Triple-A games.
  • Sammy Sosa hit his first homer on Tuesday. Javy Lopez hit his first on Wednesday. Does that mean that Rafael Palmeiro or Miguel Tejada goes yard against Rob Bell on Thursday night? The bats are starting to wake up for the Birds, who could muck up the AL East if that pitching staff holds up.
  • Roger Clemens has shown no signs of slowing down, pitching two-hit ball over seven innings while striking out nine Mets. Other than Joe Randa's home run in his first start, Clemens has been masterful. He's fanned 18 hitters in 14 innings of work.
  • The Rangers bullpen has blown five of its first eight save opportunities.

What "You" are Saying

  • It's a good thing that royalties don't have to be paid to Jerry Seinfeld for every email that begins with "what is the deal?" Owners are actively seeking trade partners to rid themselves of early-season disasters Mark Mulder (0-1, 8.18 ERA) and Victor Martinez (zero extra-base hits and .143 batting average).
  • Conversely, a boatload of owners are doing their best Trading Places imitations, screaming "Sell! Sell! Sell!" and talking up first-week studs Pat Burrell (.405, 4 HR, 17 RBIs), Rodrigo Lopez (2-0, 0.64 ERA) and Jose Guillen (.359, 5 HR, 8 RBIs).
  • Owners are concerned about their eighth-round pick Magglio Ordonez, who is 0-for-10 in his three starts on the season and was sent back to Detroit for more tests and treatment of a viral infection. He hasn't even been on the field enough to fully test his knee.
  • I've received a number of questions regarding Guillermo Mota and whether it's time to deal him or to look for supplemental bullpen help. If you can add to your bullpen without too big a hit to your roster, have at it. But let's be real. Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett can't throw complete games forever.
  • Detroit setup man Ugueth Urbina is weighing heavily on owners' minds. Rumors are still circulating of a possible deal that would send Urbina to the Mets, presumably to displace Braden Looper. If you have an extra bench spot, Urbina warrants a "buy and hold" pending such a deal. Unless your league rewards for holds, he shouldn't be activated until a deal is made.
  • Thank you for all of your comments and suggestions about a new nickname for Ivan Rodriguez. The runaway winner was "Slim," followed by "I-Diet," "The Catcher Formerly Known as Pudge," and my personal favorite, "Jared."

Go Hard or Go Home
Kerry Wood of the Cubs scuffled mightily in his second start of the year, allowing three home runs and nine hits overall in 6.2 innings of work. Those home runs came on a blustery day where the wind was blowing in at 16 miles per hour. If I'm a Wood owner – which I am, by virtue of the auto-pick draft – I'm selling now.

I realize he's only made two appearances, but this is starting to look a lot like his 2000 season during which he compiled a record of 8-7 in 23 starts with an ERA of 4.80 and WHIP of 1.45. In that season, he walked 87 hitters in 137 innings pitched and allowed 17 bombs.

In his first two outings, Wood has walked seven and plunked three hitters. Both of his walks and the player he hit in Wednesday's game came around to score. His two earned runs in his first start also came via players who walked or were hit by a pitch. Those who cite his 51 walks in 2004 fail to account for the fact that he pitched only 140 innings and that he struggled to a 4-6 record with an ERA of 4.27 in the second half of the season.

Yes, he can come out and dominate hitters with the best of them and his strikeout totals will take some doing to replace. I'm just not ready to commit to another year of inconsistency.

Sorry, Cubs fans and Wood owners, 2005 will not be the year that he breaks the 15-win barrier.