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May 18, 2011

May 18, 2011
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Around the Horn
Jones’ Knees Take Toll

Just as Chipper Jones’ career with the Atlanta Braves was getting underway, a spring training injury in 1994 cost Jones an entire season. The former No. 1 overall draft pick of Atlanta was ticketed to be their starting shortstop in 1994 when he tore the ACL in his left knee.

With his career delayed by a year, Jones was excellent his first time through the league. At times during the 1995 postseason, Jones carried the Braves’ offense, and he should have been named Rookie of the Year.

After playing in at least 153 games from 1996 through 2003, Jones began to feel the aches and pains of aging and the daily grind.
As his maturity as a hitter showed in his patient approach, he suffered through three straight years of decline in runs, hits, home runs and RBIs from 2007-10, the most recent season cut short by a torn ACL in the same knee.

Jones has recently missed a few games with a torn meniscus in his right knee, causing pain he’s been feeling for some time now. The Braves are hopeful that rest and a cortisone shot will have Jones back in the lineup soon. Otherwise, arthroscopic surgery could keep him out for a few weeks. Jones has already announced that this will be his final season.


Athlon Spotlight
Stars Fading (un)Gracefully

With the news over the weekend that Yankees veteran Jorge Posada asked out of the lineup after being dropped to ninth in the batting order, we are reminded once again how difficult it is for players to accept the reality of their own decline. As players near 40 (Posada will be 40 in August), we can expect their skills to erode. And it must be painful to experience such a decline, and embarrassing for it to be so public. And there is very little about major league baseball players that is not public anymore, especially in New York. Posada is certainly not the first player to go through this. Some have handled it more gracefully than others, and some teams have been more patient than others. Some players stubbornly put their team in a position to force them out, while others appear to quit too soon. From any point of view — the player’s, the team’s or the fans’ — it’s always difficult to know when is the right time to call it a career.

Mike Schmidt, at age 39 in 1989, was just two years removed from a solid .293-35-113 season for the Phillies. His defensive skills had begun to decline and the 10-time Gold Glove third baseman had been asked to play first base more beginning in 1985. While the Phillies appeared patient with Schmidt’s lack of production in his final two seasons, the proud third baseman was not. While he started 42 of the team’s first 46 games at third base in 1989, Schmidt, with two painful knees, a .203 batting average, along with the emotional pain of not being able to compete at an acceptable level, abruptly and tearfully retired.

Ozzie Smith, at age 41 in 1996 and coming off the worst season of his career, had to prove himself to a new manager in Tony La Russa. As if that weren’t enough of an uphill battle, the Cardinals had traded for a young, established shortstop in Royce Clayton over the winter. Believing he could still play, Smith was not open to playing other positions or becoming a utility player, and suffered through a trying season in which he and La Russa never connected. Smith started 50 games at short and hit a respectable .282 (20 points higher than his career average), but he never felt La Russa gave him a chance. The Hall of Famer did start three of the Cardinals’ five postseason games in 1996.

Steve Carlton won 329 games over a 24-year career that probably should have been a 20-year career. Carlton was 16-37 for five different teams over his final four seasons. He was released twice midseason, and left off the Twins’ postseason roster in 1987. But Lefty felt he could still pitch and after his mid-1986 release from the Phillies, he signed on with San Francisco, was released, latched on with the White Sox to finish the season, then signed with the Twins for the 1987 season.

More recently, Mike Mussina, one of the most consistent pitchers of his era, won 20 games for the first time in his career at age 39, then retired. With 270 wins, could Mussina have hung on another season or two and made a run at 300? Having never won less than 11 games in a season for 17 years, another three seasons probably would have been enough. And although Mussina kept himself in terrific shape, he was not concerned enough about 300 wins or the Hall of Fame to merely hang on for numbers sake. Sandy Koufax, who won the Cy Young in his final season, and Mussina are the only pitchers to finish in the top six in Cy Young voting in their final season.

Trivia Corner
Can you name the three players active at some point this season who own a batting title, home run title and RBI title?                 (Answer at end of column)

AL Player of the Week
Victor Martinez, Detroit

Adrian Gonzalez of Boston and Toronto’s Jose Bautista had huge weeks, but Martinez returned from a stint on the disabled list to spark the Tigers’ offense. Detroit was 6-0 last week and has won nine of 10 since Martinez’s return. Last week he hit .522 with 12 RBIs and 1.000 slugging percentage.

AL Pitcher of the Week
Brad Penny, Detroit

The veteran righthander made two starts for the Tigers last week, winning both with a 1.15 ERA. Over 15.2 innings, he allowed just 12 hits and did not walk a batter for a 0.77 WHIP. He whiffed just three.

NL Player of the Week
Martin Prado, Atlanta

The Braves’ leftfielder hit .462 last week, good enough for second in the league. With three home runs, his OPS of 1.363 led the senior circuit. He scored seven runs and drove home eight. He had 12 hits in the Braves’ six games.

NL Pitcher of the Week
Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco

Returning to the major leagues this season for the first time since 2006, Vogelsong has provided a lift even for the outstanding rotation of the Giants, while filling in for the injured Barry Zito. Vogelsong, who spent three seasons in Japan, tossed 12.1 scoreless innings over two starts (both wins) last week. With his 0.00 ERA, he had a 0.81 WHIP and 11 Ks.

Farm Report
Domonic Brown, Philadelphia

Brown, rated as the No. 4 prospect this past winter by Baseball America, was all set to become the Phillies’ rightfielder this season. After a horrendous (0-for-16) start to spring training, he injured his hand requiring surgery. Completely healed, Brown is currently rehabbing at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The sample is still relatively small, but through nine games and 40 plate appearances, Brown is hitting .353 with two homers and seven RBIs and eight runs. It appears he is back on track to contribute in Philadelphia this summer.

Nick Hagadone, Cleveland
A first-round draft pick of Boston in 2007, Hagadone was traded to Cleveland after Tommy John surgery as part of the Victor Martinez deal. Now being conditioned as a reliever, the tall lefthander has tossed 21.2 innings at Double-A Akron, allowing less than one baserunner per inning while striking out 23. While pitching at the University of Washington, he once combined with Tim Lincecum to no-hit Santa Clara by pitching the final three innings.

Turn Back the Clock
May 19, 1981
Jim Bibby of the Pirates gave up a leadoff single to Terry Harper of the Atlanta Braves then retired the next 27 batters for a 5-0 one-hitter. Bibby, known as a good-hitting pitcher, also added two doubles.

May 20, 1985
The Indians-Brewers game at Cleveland Stadium became the first game of the season to be rained out. That was the first season since 1900 not to have a game postponed in April due to weather.

Numbers Game
        26   Games cancelled this season due to weather through May 15. The number eclipses the total from all of last season.

3,003.2   Innings pitched in the career of the Nationals’ Livan Hernandez. The veteran righthander joined Boston’s Tim Wakefield as the only two active pitchers with more than 3,000 innings.

      5-0   The record to begin the season for Cardinals starters Kyle McClellan and Jaime Garcia. It’s the first time that St. Louis had two starters begin the season 5-0 since 1963 (Curt Simmons and Ray Washburn). Interestingly, Simmons, Washburn and McClellan all lost their next start.

       92   Full seasons between visits to Fenway Park by the Chicago Cubs.


Trivia Answer: Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez.
 

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