05/08/08 10:00 AM ET
Inside Pitch: Washington on hot seat
Rangers' skipper under fire after club's slow start
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
Washington has been under fire in the wake of the Rangers' worst April in club history: 10-18. The Rangers led the Major Leagues in errors and unearned runs allowed during the month.
The Rangers haven't hit well with runners in scoring position -- the team's .228 average in those situations ranked 28th out of MLB's 30 teams entering Thursday's games. Four players are hitting under .200 with runners in scoring position, including Milton Bradley (.179), Ben Broussard (.045), Hank Blalock (.190) and Frank Catalanotto (.176).
The defense has been awful, the baserunning poor. Physical and mental errors -- the Rangers lost one game in Boston in part because Broussard let a runner score from second base on an infield hit -- and a rash of injuries to the pitching staff have combined to put the Rangers in a hole that has many fans howling.
While it is unfair to place the blame exclusively on Washington, he was hired in part because teaching is his specialty and as such, the numerous mistakes reflect on his expertise.
Washington, however, can't be blamed for the talent that has left the organization in recent years, like Adrian Gonzalez, Chris Young, Carlos Lee, Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Edinson Volquez and John Danks. He can't be blamed for injuries that put four pitchers on the disabled list.
Whatever the causes behind the Rangers' situation, there is pressure from the fans for the club to turn things around and to show that it is doing something to get it turned around. Attendance at a recent Friday night game was fewer than 20,000.
General manager Jon Daniels continues to support Washington. New club president Nolan Ryan and owner Tom Hicks will obviously have input in any decision regarding the manager. All are unhappy with the way the team played in April but haven't given any indication that changes are imminent, either.
Even so, May may be the month that makes or breaks Washington's run with Texas.
If the Rangers can get hot, his job is safe. If they keep losing, he may not be around much longer, his fault or not.
A scout who has watched the Cubs play several times this season believes Lou Piniella should move Alfonso Soriano out of the leadoff spot. Soriano's on-base percentage in the leadoff spot is only .268 (entering Friday's game against Arizona). His on-base percentage overall at Wrigley Field, where Soriano is hitting just .067 (2-for-30), is .097.
"I don't know if the [right calf] problems are to blame or what, but he's not running as well as he used to," the scout said. "So you're talking about a leadoff man who's not getting on base and isn't the [stolen base] threat when he does get on."
Despite Pinella's steadfast backing of Soriano, who signed an eight-year, $136 million contract with Chicago before last season, many observers believe the Cubs knew the leadoff spot might be an issue this spring over the winter, otherwise why would they have pursued Baltimore's Brian Roberts? "They should run away with that [NL Central] division," the scout said. "Not having that [leadoff situation resolved] is holding them back."
Cubs GM Jim Hendry believes Soriano will be fine.
"When things don't go right, or somebody has a bad batting average for the first couple weeks or a low on-base perentage, that's the flavor of the month to talk about," Hendry said. "[Tuesday], he started to swing the bat well. Some guys are slow starters and he's one of them. There's no reason to think he won't get better and better. Once he starts hitting like that he usually doesn't regress.
"Lou has to write the lineup, and I have no problem with [Soriano] hitting one. I think in the next couple weeks, as he gets more confidence in his leg, he'll start running a little better."
On Opening Day they appeared to be as set as any team in baseball. Today, a month into the season, the Tigers have a different left fielder (Gary Sheffield), first baseman (Miguel Cabrera) and third baseman (Carlos Guillen) and four pitchers Denny Bautista, Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya and Dontrelle Willis on the disabled list. Several healthy pitchers the team counted on have struggled.
With so many things having gone wrong, the Tigers are fortunate to be only 3 1/2 games off the pace in the AL Central, though their 15-20 record (entering play Thursday) is tied with Seattle and Texas for the worst in the league.
"They're an older team with very little speed," an AL scout said. "Don't get me wrong, they're capable of scoring a lot of runs on anybody, but when they're not hitting the home runs they have trouble."
Roger Clemens hasn't officially retired, and that has to happen to trigger his 10-year personal services contract with the Astros.
Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr. has said the club will honor the contract. Many observers do not expect Clemens to pitch again in light of the defamation lawsuit against Brian McNamee, the pitcher's uncertain status as a result of the Department of Justice investigation and the negative media attention Clemens has received.
Of course, going to work with the Astros would also be awkward for both sides. But the subject is moot until the seven-time Cy Young Award winner officially retires as a player.
When that will happen is uncertain. Clemens isn't talking and e-mails from MLB.com to his agent Randy Hendricks went unanswered.
The recall of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia from Triple-A Oklahoma two weeks ago has some teams convinced Texas will try to move Gerald Laird before the trade deadline. The 28-year-old Laird, who is making $1.6 million this year, is hitting .266 with three homers and 13 RBIs. He could draw interest from teams looking to add depth at the position, such as the Yankees, Tigers or Brewers.
San Diego's Jim Edmonds hit just .153 with a homer and six RBIs in 72 at-bats during April, which led manager Bud Black to drop the center fielder from fifth to seventh in the batting order. Edmonds is 5-for-17 (.294) this month but his surprising lack of offense isn't the only concern.
"He doesn't cover the ground as well as he did even two years ago," an NL scout said. "He's just not the same player."
The four-time All-Star has won eight Rawlings Gold Gloves, but he's also 37 years old. His batting average, home runs, RBIs, runs and on-base percentage have dropped each year since Edmonds batted .301 with 42 homers, 111 RBIs, 102 runs and a .418 OBP in 2004. Edmonds' numbers in those statistical categories last season were .252, 12, 53, 39, .325, respectively, though he was limited to 117 games because of injuries.
The Cardinals traded Edmonds to the Padres after last season for Minor League third baseman David Freese. Edmonds is making $8 million this season, with St. Louis picking up the tab for $2 million of that obligation.
The Reds are puzzled as to what's causing Bronson Arroyo's struggles.
Reds manager Dusty Baker wanted to get Arroyo, 1-4 with an 8.63 ERA in seven starts, checked out by team doctors after his last start but the right-hander convinced Baker that he was fine in a meeting with Baker and pitching coach Dick Pole on Monday.
"I said, 'Bronson, I was searching. I really didn't know what else to put my finger on. When you don't know, you guys [in the media] are asking questions, [and] 'I don't know' isn't a very good answer. The second or third time in a row, you start searching," Baker said. "I guess it's been a while since he's been the original Bronson, right? I just told him we have to work a little harder. Hard work solves a lot of problems. We've been working hard but we have to work harder; it's simple."
Since going 9-3 in his first 15 starts in his All-Star year in 2006, Arroyo is 15-27, including 9-15 with a 4.23 ERA in 34 starts last year.
Arroyo doesn't believe his health is to blame.
"You get beat, you get beat, you get beat and you only look good one time out of six and people start saying 'There's something wrong with him,'" Arroyo said. "That's the way baseball is. People are always looking to put their finger on something why it's not getting done. The truth of it is there's guys on the other side getting paid as much money as me, playing as many years as I have, working just as hard as me to try and beat me."
Milwaukee second baseman Rickie Weeks impressed a scout during a Brewers' batting practice session at Dolphin Stadium this week.
The scout noted Weeks' ridiculously quick bat for a guy who isn't huge (6-foot, 190 pounds), and the power that bat speed generates was obvious when Weeks hit the Paul Warfield sign in the upper deck. The scout compared Weeks' bat speed with that of Sheffield.
Houston's Lance Berkman has 11 hits in his last 13 at-bats (entering Thursday night's game against Washington) to boost his batting average to .361. He also is second in the National League, and third in the Major Leagues with 33 RBIs.
"He's just locked in [and] it's a lot of fun to watch," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "[Pitchers] are throwing everything at him trying to find a way to get him out, and he's just taking what they're giving him and hitting it hard."
Berkman is also running a lot more this season. He has six stolen bases (he had only seven all of last year) and is within three of his career high of nine set in 2004.
Led by Berkman and Miguel Tejada, who had a 10-game hitting streak snapped Wednesday and is hitting .357 (25-for-70) since April 19, the Astros have climbed over .500 for the first time this season.
"We've got a good team," Berkman said. "I think in the National League, there's no one dominant team. The best team I've seen so far is Arizona. They have a tremendous starting rotation, a great bullpen and very good everyday guys. But that having been said, I don't think there is a juggernaut that's going to run away with anything. So if we can hang close, you never know what can happen."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.