Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Heyward Cracks The Whip

  • Braves 4-Phillies 3:

It's not the tools, it's the carpenter.

I don't know who said that first, but I remember that noted philosopher/agitator Charles Barkley saying it in an interview.

Obviously, you can't squeeze water out of a rock; there has to be some potential there to start with in order to maximize it; but intelligence; calmness under fire; and a flair for the dramatic certainly help in the growth process or fulfilling massive ability.

I saw such a thing last night with the Braves exciting rookie Jason Heyward.

After all the worshipful accolades in the spring (he was ridiculously compared to Hank Aaron; Willie Mays; Mickey Mantle; etc.) and the homer in his first big league at bat, Heyward was living up to the hype. As the first month of the season has moved along, Heyward's handled with aplomb the pressure that came with such risky and stupid allusions to his future greatness. At 20-years-old and playing in his home state while dealing with that pressure has shown a maturity that will carry him through even when he struggles.

Because of his talent, Heyward would've been at least serviceable in his rookie year; but it's the intestinal fortitude that is going to vault him to superstar status. Baseball sense is hard to teach and Heyward has it.

In last night's come-from-behind win for the Braves, Heyward did more than hit a game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth inning, he saw the situation and adjusted his game to account for it.

After Troy Glaus's 2 out, 2-run homer off of Phillies closer Ryan Madson cut the deficit to 3-2, Heyward stepped in and appeared to be trying to hit a game-tying homer. Most hitters, when the try to hit a homer only manage to strike out; pop up or ground out meekly. Heyward, down a strike, seemed to consciously use his long reach to fully extend and get the barrel of the bat on Madson's outside fastball to whip it over the right-center field wall to tie the game.

The clip is available here although you'll have to pause it at around 20 seconds and endure the irritating, over-the-top ESPN voice-over to see exactly what Heyward did.

To have that presence of mind; the ability to accomplish his goal; and do it under that stress amid all the craziness that has surrounded the start of his big league career are attributes that can't be taught; can't be prepared for; and it takes a mentally tough and physically capable player to respond as Heyward did.

The Braves clearly didn't learn their lessons from the way they overhyped Jeff Francoeur and subsequently blamed and dumped him for his shortcomings. Heyward----with far more natural ability than Francoeur----is looking like the real deal.

As for Madson and the Phillies, what can you do? He's not the guy I'd want as my closer for a team with championship aspirations, which is again going to leave the Phillies placing the pot of gold on the mentally fragile and physically questionable Brad Lidge. In the regular season, if they're forced to use Madson, he'll convert most of his save chances with a game like last night sprinkled in.

When manager Charlie Manuel called on Jose Contreras in the tenth, I'm sure everyone in the ballpark----including the Phillies----had a feeling as to what was going to happen, and did as Nate McLouth homered to win it.

Contreras has pitched well up to last night----dominant in fact----but you can't put him in a game-losing situation because he simply cannot handle it mentally.

Using Contreras in the fifth and sixth innings? Okay.

Using him in the tenth inning? Not okay.

  • Mets 4-Cubs 0:

Are the Cubs this bad?

Few managers----Tony La Russa; Joe Torre; Mike Scioscia----would be absolved of blame and safe given the way the Cubs have played over the past year. Cubs manager Lou Piniella is another such manager.

If it was any pedestrian manager without Piniella's personality and resume, there would be a "manager watch" going on on the North Side of Chicago.

Instead, it's only a matter of time before there's a "GM watch" with Jim Hendry in the cross-hairs.

The Cubs don't just look bad, they look like they've accepted their fate and are waiting for the inevitable end with a full-scale housecleaning. It only makes sense with a new ownership in place and the window clearly closed for this veteran group.

I've said it before, the Cubs blew their chance in 2008 for one reason and one reason only: Piniella made a huge mistake in starting Ryan Dempster in game one of the NLDS. The Dodgers rocked Dempster; it set the tone for the whole series; and the fiery and unflappable Ted Lilly never got into a game in the series because the Cubs got swept before they knew what hit them.

Now things are crumbling. They have unmovable contracts like Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano; and are going to need to be aggressive in clearing the likes of Derrek Lee, Dempster, Lilly (when and if he's healthy), and Aramis Ramirez.

Will the new owners----the Ricketts family----let Hendry be the one to make such important calls with implications that could extend for years?

It's early; but it's not the talent on the Cubs roster that's the issue----they have plenty; it's the overwhelming attitude surrounding them. When they fall behind, they bail. This is one of the reasons they shouldn't have traded Mark DeRosa last year because he was one of the players who functioned as a conduit from Piniella to the rest of the team. Now, there's Lee and few others to serve that purpose.

This could get bad. Fast.

With the Mets, an interesting dilemma would've been presented to manager Jerry Manuel had Mike Pelfrey held his no-hitter into the late innings.

What would Manuel have done?

This is one of those cases in which it would've been right to yank his pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter.

While on a lesser scale, it would've been similar to Joe Torre pulling David Cone from the game in his return from aneurysm surgery in 1996 while Cone had a no-hitter intact after seven innings; he had to do it. Pelfrey is big and strong and can throw 125 pitches if necessary; he doesn't over-exert himself on the mound and there's no reason to baby him; but he pitched in relief on Saturday getting the save in the Mets win over the Cardinals in that 20-inning marathon; he's a linchpin to any hopes the Mets have to contend this year and cannot be risked for the sake of history.

Because of that, it was a different circumstance to the one that faced Yankees manager Joe Girardi as he ridiculously and selfishly insisted that he was going to pull C.C. Sabathia during his no-hit bid against the Rays; and as Rockies manager Jim Tracy correctly left Ubaldo Jimenez to complete his no-hitter against the Braves even as he threw 128 pitches.

Again, this is called managing. I don't know what Manuel would've done, but pulling Pelfrey would've been the right thing to do had the no-hitter continued.

  • The Padres could be turning a corner:

It's always straddling the line when judging at a team with financial constraints, a new GM, and star players that are clearly on the trade block; but so far, the Padres have the look of a team on the rise.

They have young pitching; some impressive bats; leader-type veterans; and finally, hope.

Lefty Clayton Richard was acquired from the White Sox in the Jake Peavy trade and is going to be a winner; mark my words on that.

Mat Latos has a great arm, but needs to mature. Right now, he's got the slumped shoulders, sour faces and horrible body language that come from a pitcher unaccustomed to adversity and with a far-too-high opinion of himself. He reminds me of the way Jeff Weaver looked and behaved while pitching for the Yankees; at times, it appeared that Joe Torre was doing all he could keep from strangling him. Once Latos is bridled and learns his place----and big league hitters have a way of showing tough-love in that respect----he'll start to get it.

Kevin Correia has great stuff; the bullpen is well situated with Mike Adams, Luke Gregerson and Heath Bell; and they have bats with Kyle Blanks, Everth Cabrera and Chase Headley; plus "good guy" teaching veterans in David Eckstein and Jon Garland.

Things could be worse in San Diego.

True judgment on new GM Jed Hoyer won't come until he trades Adrian Gonzalez. His tenure will be based on that. To take the next step, the Padres are going to need a new manager----Bob Melvin would be a good man to replace Bud Black----but as they make the innocent climb, the pieces are currently in place for a revival in San Diego as early as 2011.

They could conceivably make a run at .500 this year if things go well. They probably won't, but unlike prior years where it was Peavy, Gonzalez and Trevor Hoffman and middling, cheap journeymen surrounding them, there's plenty of talent on the Padres roster to be more than respectable.

  • Viewer Mail 4.21.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes:

You said it - success changes everything. The minute the Mets go on a winning streak, suddenly every move they make will be "genius."

It may be my imagination because it's hitting close to home, but the attacks on the Mets seem more vitriolic. It's all relative, but for reasons I can't understand there's almost a bending over backwards for the media darlings like Billy Beane to receive credit when they've done little to warrant it other than be celebrated in a best-selling and baseline inaccurate book like Moneyball.

Even today, there's an article in today's NY Times again professing Beane's intelligence for signing Brett Anderson to a long-term contract.

Real clever. Genius, in fact. Where's the "objective analysis"? Apparently, with Beane and his brethren, it doesn't exist. It works both ways. For objectivity to be self-fulfilling, the non-media-darlings like Omar Minaya have to be held to the same standard; and they're not.

Gabriel (Capo) writes:

Jane's right, they're under fire because nothing has worked for them.

On another subject, what do you think of Fred Lewis? He's now the Blue Jays' 4th outfielder and he's batting leadoff.

I've always like Lewis. He had an excellent year in 2008; and was serviceable last year. The Giants had no room for him. With the Blue Jays, he should get a chance to play and while he may not return to what he was in 2008, he's a useful player that will provide speed and extra base hits for the Blue Jays.

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano and the Cubs:

Vernon Wells has sorta held his own so far this season... Soriano cannot say the same.

Because Soriano is worthless.

Did you hear he's finally going to placate Sweet Lou and lose "the hop"? After all these years (and ERRORS), now Sori is ready to lose the hop. Too little too late I'm afraid.

The dude is a waste of space. I could get Soriano out swinging. No problem. Throw him something unhittable, low and away (preferably IN the dirt) and he'll swing.

It's a remarkable bit of arrogance for Soriano to be so self-absorbed that he has the audacity to demand to bat leadoff (the Cubs have finally dropped him in the lineup); to not hustle on the field; to do things his own way regardless of team needs; and not keep himself in playing shape when he's so well-compensated.

Piniella has demanded hustle from Soriano in recent days, but it remains to be seen what he's going to do when (not if, when) he doesn't get it. In years past, Piniella would've physically attacked Soriano; I think those days are over even though that might be exactly what Soriano needs.

Paul Lebowitz's 2010 Baseball Guide is still available on Amazon and I-Universe in paperback and E-book. And now on Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here.

I'm not just saying this to sell it: the book has value all year long. It's not a preview or only a set of predictions. It's a guide. A guide, I tell 'ya!!!


She-Fan said...

It's sad to see what's happened to Soriano. When he came up with the Yankees he had such talent and promise -- for awhile. I hope Heyward, in contrast, will stay the course.

Jeff said...

For my money, I'd rather pay to see Kershaw pitch than Peavy right now. Peavy, to my surprise, has gotten hit hard so far this year. I know his last start wasn't too bad, but still, it ain't the Peavy I'm used to seein'.

Jeff said...

Oh, and I'm an idiot...

By "Kershaw", clearly I meant Clayton RICHARD. My bad.