Thursday, May 19, 2011

Are You Versatile?

A few nights ago, St. Louis Cardinals’ slugger Albert Pujols started a game at third base. It was the first time since 2004 that he wasn’t stationed at first base or served as the designated hitter. And while he may not have looked really comfortable, he got the job done in the Cards’ 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

What’s more impressive to me is that Pujols apparently volunteered to shift to the hot corner and Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa pencilled Pujols’ name on the line-up card. Pujols started a double play, but ended up 0-4 at the plate. 

I tell all of my players that there are two easy ways to find yourself in the starting line-up. If you are one of the best nine hitters, we will try to find a spot for you and if you are a versatile player, cracking the starting nine will be a lot easier. 

The reality of baseball is you need to score to win. Sure, you try to limit your opponent to as few runs as possible, but you can’t win if you don’t score. 

Will I risk putting a player completely out of position? No. I would never embarrass a player in the field and it could hurt our team. A mental error from not playing the position or not making the correct read or play could be the difference in the game. 

But, the more versatile you can be, the better a chance you will have to play. 

Say the best hitters on your team are your first and third basemen. You also play first base. You haven’t had much experience playing the outfield and not quick enough to play second base or shortstop. It is going to be hard for a coach to find a place for you. 

So what can you do? 

If you have read my columns before, you probably can guess what my answer is – work hard. 

If you don’t have a lot of experience playing the outfield, practice it. Maybe you aren’t fast enough to play centerfield, but what about right or left field? If you have only been an outfielder, ask your coach if you can practice on the infield. Have you ever thought about trying out catcher? This leads me to the easiest way on the field – pitching. If you aren’t a regular starter, have you tried to pitch? 

As a coach, I owe it to the other players on the team to make a line-up that gives us the best chance to win. I also love it when players come up and ask me to try a new position. That tells me they aren’t satisfied with sitting the bench and want to try to do whatever they can to play. It shows me that they love the game and want to be apart of the action. It shows me that they are confident in their athleticism and are versatile.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Night to Forget

Royals' reliever Vin Mazzaro's line from last night - 2.1 IP, 11 H, 14 ER, 3 BB, 2 Ks.

For Royals' manager Ned Yost to leave him out there that long tells me a couple of things.

1. Mazzaro was complaining about playing time and Yost was making a point.
2. Someone in the Royals' front office thought Mazzaro was being misused and Yost was making a point.

The only other logical explanation is the bullpen was worn out, but the Royals' were rained out Sunday and Jeff Francis threw a complete game Saturday.

Afterwards, Mazzaro was sent back to AAA. Here's hoping he regains confidence and makes it back to the big leagues.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Jorge Posada

Yankees' catcher Jorge Posada reportedly asked to be released before Saturday's game when he learned manager Joe Girardi put him in the 9th spot in the batting order.

You have to be smart to be a MLB catcher. I understand that players want to feel valued and respected, but Jorge is hitting .165, which is last out of 193 MLB qualifying batters. There is always an ego involved, but you have to look in the mirror.

Being that Jorge is the DH, I'm guessing there are a few other role players on the Yankees who wouldn't mind being the everyday DH. Even if it meant batting 9th.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Baseball Can Be Confusing

Found my team in the middle of the most confusing situation I've been apart of in over 20+ years of baseball.
The college we played gave the wrong lineup to us and the umpires. I was always told to wait until there is a big hit, then you can protest to the umpires for batting out of order.

But it doesn't work that way.

Once a pitch is thrown, the announced order is the official order, regardless of what the lineup presented to the umpire says. The result of the debacle was some guys were switched around in the order and - this actually happened - a runner scored from third base and immediately it was his at-bat.

I always thought if you batted out of order, you were out, but apparently it is more complicated than that.

We apparently protested at the wrong time. We brought it to the attention if the umpires after the batter, who was listed fourth on both the lineup presented to us and the umpires and the lineup presented to the official scorer. Because he was a "legal" batter, there really wasn't any consequence at that moment.

If we would have brought it to the attention of the umpires after an "illegal" batter - one batting in the wrong spot - reached base, that batter would be out and the runners would have to go back.

Hope I didn't confuse you more.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Look at what’s Ahead – Francisco Liriano

Minnesota Twins’ pitcher Francisco Liriano recently threw the first no-hitter of the 2011 Major League Baseball season against the Chicago White Sox. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. He threw just over half of his pitches for strikes (123 total pitches – 66 strikes), walked six and struck out two. 

Before last night’s game, he had given up more runs that innings pitched (24 earned runs in 23.2 innings), had given up seven earned runs in three innings in his last start against the Tampa Bay Rays and allowed a combined 16 earned runs in his previous three starts, in which he averaged less than five innings per outing. He had never had a complete game in his career. 

There were rumblings of Liriano being removed from the rotation and sent to the bullpen as a middle reliever (which means the only action you see is if your starting pitcher has a terrible start or a game goes into extra innings). Or worse, another scenario had the southpaw being sent to the Twins’ AAA affiliate in Rochester (NY) of the International League. 

I would imagine that pitching at the Major League level comes with enormous pressure that most of us can’t imagine. Newspapers, radio talk shows and news broadcasts are all talking about your future and how disappointing your season has been. 

I’m not suggesting that Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter saves his season. There are obviously some problems that have led to his poor start. His outing does give him a few more weeks in the rotation and quiets the rumbling, for a little while at least. 

But there is a bigger lesson that can be learned from Francisco Liriano – Look forward, not behind.

I’m not discounting the fact that there is valuable information that can be taken from previous outings or situations. In Liriano’s case, maybe he and his coaches were able to address a mechanical flaw or an arm issue because of what they saw in video. And once a problem is discovered, hard work goes into fixing the issue. 

But again, it is easy, when things are going bad, to assume that your misfortunes will snowball. But each opportunity you get on the baseball field is another chance. 

If you haven’t gotten a hit in three at-bats in a game and have the game winning single in your final at-bat, fans are going to remember your hit. If you have made two errors in a game, but make a great play late in the game to preserve a win, your two misplays are forgotten. And in Liriano’s case, if you have a rough start to the season, one start can turn around your fortunes. 

Learn from previous failures. Work hard to correct them. But once you get on the baseball field, you can’t think about those mistakes. Focus on what’s in front of you and good things will happen.

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