Saturday, April 26, 2008

OPENING DAY ODDS AND SODS

2B Placido Polanco, bothered by a strained lower back, did not start, but came off the bench in the tenth and played two innings. "So far, so good," Polanco said, wincing in the trainer's room. "It just seems a little out of sorts..."

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Less cheerful? Darwin's newly-anointed closer, J.J. Putz, who came into the game in the ninth and would pitch four innings as the Finches seventh pitcher. Putz blew a save situation with Darwin leading 5-4 in the tenth, but was allowed to continue to work, a move heavily-criticized by media. Putz would go on to get the win, but MRI after the game discovered that the big righthander had strained an intercostal muscle (rib cage). He will miss, at a minimum, two weeks, a big blow to a ballclub that dealt last year's closer (Trevor Hoffman) for a failed shot at acquiring C Jason Varitek...

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Speaking of injuries....John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Scott Kazmir and Chuck James have all been placed on the disabled list, with none of them expected to see any action for at least two weeks, and Kazmir likely out until mid-May. With so many experienced hands out, manager PZ Myers felt it best to start Tom Glavine on Opening Day rather than a youngster like Chad Billingsley or Dustin McGowan. "Tom won't get caught up in all the hoopla," Myers explained, then added, "We may have Tim Wakefield work #2 or #3 as well, especially if our bullpen gets worked." As it happened, Myers was a prophet: Darwin used eight pitchers in the 12-inning opener, and so if nothing else the knuckleballing Wakefield will give the staff a day off, come heck or home run. Still, concern has to run high. With this many starters down, the Finches will have to hope they can stay near .500 and not get buried in the competitive East.

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Free agent-signee Ryan Doumit made the Opening Day roster as the backup catcher over hot shot phenoms Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jeff Clement. The overall game of defensive specialist Yadier Molina has improved to the point where Myers claimed he would rather have a Molina hitting eighth than a 'Salty' batting fifth or sixth. "The offense Jarrod or Jeff can provide is nice," Myers allowed, 'but we can get that from other quarters. Yadier has shown that he can pretty much take charge of the pitching and stuff the running game, and he handles the bat well enough that I wouldn't be afraid to bat him second against the right pitcher. Neither Jarrod or Jeff would've gotten much playing time with us, so I think some time on the farm is going to be in their best interests, long-term. Doumit can play the outfield corners and first as well as catch, and this versatility makes him a better choice for the backup job...for now."

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The versatility of players like Doumit, Ty Wigginton, Carlos Guillen, Chone Figgins and Lance Berkman is good news for PZ Myers, but was bad news for OF Josh Hamilton. Hamilton will not make the Opening Day roster initially despite outhitting nearly everyone in the Grapefruit League. "Josh understands this is a numbers game," said Myers. "At one point, we thought (Milton) Bradley would have to start the season on the DL, and there was a slot. But he got better quickly, and he's making $2 million and has a guaranteed deal, and Josh has an option. But let's face it. Josh and Rick Ankiel are going to be the cornerstones of our club's OF in the future."

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Fenrisar said...
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