Inside Pitch: Brewers' pressing issues
Pitching might be a bigger concern down the stretch
The altercation between Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder and Brewers pitcher Manny Parra on Monday is a hot topic this week, and understandably so, considering the circumstances and with the Brewers in the middle of a playoff race.
Fielder had words with Parra in the top of the seventh inning of an eventual Brewers' loss to the Reds before twice shoving the left-hander into the bench. Fielder was restrained by a number of his teammates. He apologized the next day.
"We had a little disagreement, obviously," Fielder said. "I'm not going to go into the depths of what it was over, but it was something that happened. I've been playing with Manny since I was in Rookie ball, so it's not like we hate each other. I mean, I don't. I apologize for the way it went down. I don't apologize for the passion and the intensity after the game, but I definitely could have handled it a little better. At that moment, that's how it went down. I can't take it back."
While some were quick to point to the incident as the start of a Brewers fade, others saw it as nothing more than understandable frustration amid the team's 5-8 run since July 24.
"Any time you have 25 highly competitive individuals together for six months, there's going to be clashes," one former Major League coach now working as a scout told MLB.com. "Most of the time, they're kept in-house and quickly blow over. Teammates disagree, they argue, they get in each other's face, occasionally. What family doesn't have arguments now and then? In this case, unfortunately, it happened in front of the cameras, so now everybody is going to come up with their own opinions. I don't know [Fielder and Parra], I'm just saying this kind of thing happens, and nine times out of 10, it's no big deal."
It isn't always a bad thing either.
The Oakland A's of the early '70s, for example, were a very scrappy team.
"There were several fights that stick in your mind," Phil Garner said during an interview with MLB.com last season. "I mean, really serious, two guys getting after it fights, not this pushing and shoving that so many of these usually amount to. That's just the type of guys we had then, the type of team we were. There might be some serious punches thrown in the clubhouse, but it would be forgotten once we stepped on the field. But let an outsider, somebody from the other team, step in, then it's a different story."
Milwaukee manager Ned Yost said the matter had been dealt with internally. The team did levy some form of punishment, but Yost would not provide any details.
"Those aren't anger issues, those are competitive issues," Yost said. "People say, 'How can you do that?' But when I first got here, what our fans wanted was a competitive team, more than anything else. Now, when they've got guys that compete, they get upset when things like [Tuesday's incident] happen. ... I just don't want cookie-cutter players. I want guys that compete, guys that play with fire and passion."
Besides, it's not like the Brewers don't have more pressing issues to deal with.
"Sabathia's got three wins since the break, but their other starters are 3-7," the scout said. "[Ben] Sheets hasn't won since the Fourth of July. The defense has holes and they've got some guys who have cooled off. They've lost ground to both the Cubs and Cardinals the last few weeks and they need to turn things around quickly. To me, all of those are bigger concerns than [the Fielder-Parra incident]."
Now you know why some in the Yankees organization did not want to part with Jeff Karstens.
Karstens, acquired by the Pirates along with right-handers Daniel McCutchen and Ross Ohlendorf and outfielder Jose Tabata from New York on July 26 in the trade that sent Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees, has made two starts for the Pirates. He pitched six shutout innings and allowed just five hits in a win over the first-place Cubs, then followed that performance with a stunning two-hit shutout of another first-place team, Arizona, on Wednesday.
"He's not overpowering, but he's got four pitches [two-seam and four-seam fastballs, slider, changeup and curveball] that he throws for strikes," according to one scout. He gets a lot of ground balls, rarely walks guys. I think the biggest difference is his changeup is better now than it was when the Yankees had him up."
Ben Sheets, 0-2 with a 4.63 ERA since the All-Star break, has already pitched 146 1/3 innings this season, more than he's thrown in a season since 2005, when he pitched 156 2/3.
Some scouts are convinced the workload will be an issue for the 30-year-old Sheets the rest of the way. The right-hander's career ERA is 3.75 overall, but it's 4.09 for the final two months of the season, including a career 4.67 ERA for the month of August.
Scouts say the problem with the Texas pitching staff stems from the fact that they are rushed to the big leagues, even though they don't have command of their breaking balls, or have below-average off-speed stuff. The result is the Rangers end up with pitchers with high walk totals, low strikeouts and high pitch counts.
Opposing hitters sit on the fastball and either foul them off or put them in play against a weak defense. As a result, their starting pitchers barely have enough gas to get through six and their bullpen is worn out.
Rangers pitchers average 155 pitches per game, the highest in the American League. The only Texas pitchers with an above-average breaking ball is Eddie Guardado, their 37-year-old reliever, and reliever Joaquin Benoit.
Colorado made a surprising move by claiming Livan Hernandez on trade waivers Tuesday, meaning that the Rockies will be on the hook for the balance of the right-hander's $5 million contract (roughly $1.6 million) if the Twins do not pull Hernandez back from waivers.
The Twins designated Hernandez for assignment last week to make room for Francisco Liriano on the roster, giving the team 10 days to trade, release or send Hernandez to the Minors.
A bounce-back team for 2009? The early favorite might be the Indians.
"They'll have Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona at the top of the rotation, they'll have a healthy [Travis] Hafner, [Victor] Martinez and [Jake] Westbrook back, and with CC Sabathia off the books, they'll have some money to spend on a closer or any other areas," notes an official from an opposing club. "They really don't need a lot to get back to where they were last year, so I could see them turning things around in a hurry."
Don't be surprised if the Indians kick the tires on Jason Isringhausen, who can be a free agent this winter and isn't expected to re-sign with St. Louis.
While on the subject of bouncing back, how about what Mike Lincoln has been doing with Cincinnati?
Lincoln, who sat out the 2005, '06 and '07 seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, made the Reds' Opening Day roster as a non-roster invitee.
In 43 appearances, the right-hander has a 3.71 ERA. The Comeback Player of the Year candidate also had a 19-inning scoreless streak over 15 appearances from June 19-July 30, the longest active scoreless streak in the National League when it was snapped on Aug. 2 at Washington.
The Astros paid a record bonus to sign Ross Seaton, their second pick in the third round of the First-Year Player Draft.
Seaton, selected 109th overall, was rated the best high school pitcher in Texas by Baseball America and was thought by some to be a first-round choice. He slipped a couple of rounds as some organizations were apparently convinced Seaton, the valedictorian of his class at Houston Second Baptist High, was headed to Tulane on a baseball scholarship.
Seaton received a signing bonus of $700,000, believed to be the most ever paid to a 109th pick. He also will have $252,000 to cover his college education in addition to incentive bonuses tied to promotions to Double-A, Triple-A and the Major Leagues.
Jeff Samardzija has impressed Cubs manager Lou Piniella so much that the right-hander's future may be as a closer. Signed to a $10 million contract two years ago, the former Notre Dame wide receiver was projected to be rotation material. But his mid-90s sinking fastball makes Samardzija a prime closer candidate.
That's why Piniella has been giving the 23-year-old as much late-inning experience as he can, especially on the road.
"He hasn't had that and it's part of the education of pitching in the bullpen," Piniella said.
Nolan Ryan is starting to assert himself more as club president of the Rangers. Ryan was a driving force behind the removal of pitching coach Mark Connor and bullpen coach Dom Chiti. Manager Ron Washington was resistant to the change, but it was forced upon him by Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels.
Ryan believes the Rangers have the offense to contend for a Wild Card playoff race, but felt something needed to be done to fix the pitching staff. The changes haven't gone over well in the clubhouse, where Connor was highly respected and Chiti was regarded as a wise counselor for the Rangers relievers.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. Other MLB.com reporters contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.