July 2007

The 78th All-Star Game

SAN FRANCISCO – I’m sitting up in the upper deck behind the left-field foul pole in the auxiliary pressbox here at AT&T Park, gearing up for the first pitch of this year’s All-Star Game. I snapped some photos during the pregame activities that I’ll post on here later. Until then, here’s tonight’s lineups:

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Ichiro Suzuki, CF
Derek Jeter, SS
David Ortiz, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Vladimir Guerrero, RF
Magglio Ordonez, LF
Ivan Rodriguez, C
Placido Polanco, 2B
Dan Haren, RHP

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Jose Reyes, SS
Barry Bonds, LF
Carlos Beltran, CF
Ken Griffey Jr., RF
David Wright, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Russell Martin, C
Chase Utley, 2B
Jake Peavy, RHP

NOTES: The National League holds a 40-35-2 advantage in All-Star Game competition. The American League is unbeaten in the last ten midsummer Classics. The nine wins in a row mark the second-longest winning streak in ASG history. … Bonds hasn’t hit second in a regular season game since 1987. … Bonds will start on Tuesday at the age of 42 years, 11 months, 16 days, the oldest player to ever start an All-Star Game. Previous oldest position player was Pete Rose at 41 years, two months, 32 days for the N.L. in 1982. The previous oldest overall was pitcher Roger Clemens at 41 years, 11 months, 9 days in 2004. … Overall, Bonds will be the 9th oldest All-Star at 42 years, 351 days and the oldest since Carlton Fisk was on the 1991 A.L. team at 43 years, 196 days, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. … Ivan Rodriguez will make his 12th start behind the plate in an All-Star Game tonight, the most starts ever for a catcher in All-Star history. … Russell Martin of the Dodgers will be the third native of Canada to ever start an All-Star Game when he takes his spot behind the plate tonight. He joins Larry Walker (1997-99) and Jason Bay (2006), who both started in the outfield for the National League.

Derby Time

SAN FRANCISCO – The Home Run Derby participants are jogging in from center field as I type. Alex Rios will be swinging against Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Justin Morneau, Magglio Ordonez, Vlad Guerrero, Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday.

Earlier today, at a hotel downtown here, they held a press conference with all of the Derby participants. One of the first questions to the group was what the players thought about Barry Bonds not taking part in the event. After a long awkward bit of silence, Rios stepped up and spoke for the group.

"I think it’s a personal decision. So, if he didn’t want to do it, then it’s appropriate."

Props to Rios for ending the silence, even if it was just a general comment. Well, Willie McCovey just passed the bats to the eight sluggers and the kayaks are crowding the cove bearing his name.

RIOS IN ROUND ONE: 5 HR

Rios belted five homers in the first round, matching Holliday’s total for first place. That’s five times the HR total Troy Glaus put up in last year’s Derby. Before the game, Rios said of potentially passing Glaus’ one shot for some clubhouse bragging rights: "Yeah, I’d like to do that. That’d be fun."

RIOS IN ROUND TWO: 12 HR

Rios moved into sole possession of first place by launching 12 more homers, including five in a row with nine outs. He sent a few to center field, but stuck mainly with down the left-field line. Guerrero sent one 503 feet to left-center and nearly hit the huge baseball glove — unreal.

RIOS IN THE FINALS: 2 HR

Rios hit only two homers in the final round against Guerrero, who walked away with the trophy. Rios said he started swinging too hard toward the end, instead of being more patient like he was in the first two rounds. He finished with a Derby-high 19 homers and his 12 in Round 2 were the highest in any round.

Keep a lid on it

SAN FRANCISCO – They just introduced the lineups for the celebrity/legends softball game here at AT&T Park and there were a couple of cap controversies sure to have a few Canadians scratching their heads.

Former Expos and Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson trotted out of the dugout as a member of the American League squad, sporting a Boston Red Sox hat. Dawson spent all of two of his 21 seasons in the AL with Boston — and one of those years was during the strike-shortened ’94 campaign. Maybe the powers that be thought a Red Sox hat might get him some more Hall of Fame votes.

As if that sight wasn’t odd enough, former Expos and Mets Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter jogged out of the National League’s dugout wearing a … Giants cap? Carter spent 1990 in Frisco and his other 18 seasons elsewhere in the NL. I guess having him wear a Nationals cap was out of the question.

Among those playing in the softball game: Kevin Dillon, Dane Cook, Jerry Rice, Rob Schneider, Bobby Flay, Jimmy Kimmel, Alyssa Milano, Miss USA Rachel Smith, James Denton, Dave Winfield, Ernie Banks, Ozzie Smith, Rollie Fingers, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, Goose Gossage, Fred Lynn, J.T. Snow, Matt Williams, Robby Thompson, Robb Nenn, Kevin Mitchell, among others.

FYI, Dawson just cranked out a homer — in a Boston cap.

Stay tuned for more…

Rios in, Thigpen out

SAN FRANCISCO – Greetings from the pressbox at AT&T Park. After downing a surprisingly edible boxed lunch that they gave to us starving scribes, I’ve been taking in all that is the Futures Game. Justin Upton homered a little while ago for the U.S. — a club I handled some of the pregame coverage for.

It was a throwback to my days covering Minor League ball in Lansing. There’s definitely a difference between interviewing big leaguers, who are accustomed to dealing with reporters on a daily basis, and speaking with some minor leaguers, who are still learning that part of the game as much as the one on the field.

During the game, it was learned that Blue Jays right fielder Alex Rios will test his luck in tomorrow’s Home Run Derby. Originally, I was down to cover Rob Schneider, Justin Morneau, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana and others duking it out in a Nintendo Wii home run contest, but it appears as though I’ll be back on the Toronto beat tomorrow with Rios competing in the actualy Derby.

Rios joins an AL foursome that also includes Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels, the Twins’ Morneau and Magglio Ordonez of the Tigers. Those four will square off against reigning HR Derby champ Ryan Howard of the Phils, St. Louis’ Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder of the Brew Crew. The fourth NL spot isn’t finalized. Honestly, I like Rios as a darkhorse in the Derby. He puts on a show during every BP session with the Jays.

In other Jays news, catcher/firstbaseman Curtis Thigpen was optioned back to Triple-A today. Like with Adam Lind, this was a foregone conclusion. First baseman Lyle Overbay is scheduled to come off the DL on Thursday, and the Jays don’t want to keep Thigpen on the bench when he can get regular ABs in the Minors.

Last night, after dinner down at Fisherman’s Wharf at a place called Scoma’s (where I was repeatedly made fun of by my fellow dot-comers because I don’t dig on sea food and ordered a burger), a few of us headed out and saw Evan Almighty.

If you liked Jim Carey’s Bruce Almighty, you’ll enjoy this flick, too. It was pretty entertaining and Stevel Carell was hilarious as always (I’m a huge fan of The Office — even the British version). Wanda Sykes had supporting role and had some of the funnier lines in the whole movie, though. Anyway, it’s worth a look if you’re into that type of comedy. Being a PK, I’ve really enjoyed the humor in the two Almighty movies.

Well, that’s all for now. More from All-Star week later on…

Bastian by the Bay

SAN FRANCISCO – I’ve been drafted for All-Star week duties this season, and since the Jays were just out here playing Oakland, I’m hangin’ in San Francisco over the weekend. I walked by Niketown near Union Square today and they have a huge poster on the storefront pumping the upcoming All-Star Game.

The banner has a picture of North America, which is divided up into regions based on fan loyalty. For instance, there’s a shape that takes up nothern Illinois and stretches over into Iowa with the Cubs logo, with the Sox logo in a different region on the south side of Chicago, and on it goes throughout the whole country.

Then there was Canada, which was non-existent with the exception of Ontario, which was filled in and had a Jays logo stamped on it. I guess they didn’t want the Jays region taking up a whole country, making it look like its fan base was larger than, say, the Yankees or Red Sox, or well, the entire U.S. for that matter.

The city is overrun with signs, posters, flags and banners selling the upcoming game. You can’t walk a block in any direction without some reminder of the ASG. This will be my first time covering one, so I’m looking forward to it. Like Alex Rios, my manager voted me in to the coverage team. I’ll provide updates and insights throughout the week.

But first, about those Blue Jays:

From reading the comments on the previous post, I can see many of you Jays fans are keen to GM J.P. Ricciardi’s comments during a radio interview on The Fan 590 on Thursday morning. For those of you who missed the interview, here are some of Ricciardi’s quotes about A.J. Burnett’s latest trip to the disabled list:

"We’re concerned in the sense that we need him," Ricciardi said. "And as far as going out and taking the ball, when he takes the ball he’s good. We’ve got no complaints. Every time he’s been on the mound and every time he’s pitched his numbers are good. You’ve seen him. It’s a quality arm. It’s just finding a way to keep him out there.

"I don’t know if it’s psychological, I don’t know if it’s just he gets to a point he feels something and he’s been so scarred by being hurt so many times that he just backs off. But I think he’s going to have to get over that hump at some point and just maybe pitch through some pain or realize what the difference is between really being hurt and not being hurt."

Ricciardi went on to say that, in light of how Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan have been pitching, Burnett — signed to a five-year contract worth $55 million prior to last season — could potentially be moved down into the third or fourth spot in the rotation.

Personally, Ricciardi’s comments about the injury possibly being "psychological" didn’t surprise me. He said the same thing last year when Burnett landed on the DL twice with elbow issues. I tend to agree with the possibility that Burnett may be quicker to react when he feels something due to the sheer amount of times he’s been hurt in the past (10 DL trips in nine seasons). When he feels a twinge in his arm — serious or minor — he’s going to want to make sure he’s OK.

Then again, you see a pitcher like Roy Halladay pitch through pain without complaint. He did so last season, pitching with an injured tendon in his arm, before Toronto decided to shut him down toward the end of the year. If the Jays hadn’t shut him down, Doc might’ve continued to take the ball, pitching through pain in the process.

Only A.J. knows how bad his shoulder is hurting. If he says there’s pain in his arm, the Blue Jays have no choice but to take him on his word and have it checked out. That’s what they did and hopefully he’s back before the end of the month for the rotation’s sake. It’s not a stretch to say that there are some on the Jays who are growing impatient with Burnett, but the club still believes he has the potential to be a key to the team’s success.

IN OTHER NEWS:

I may be thousands of miles (or kilometers, or is it kilometres?) from the Rogers Centre, but I’m still privy to what’s going down with the Blue Birds. Left fielder Reed Johnson was activated from the 60-day DL today and inserted in the No. 2 spot (yes, you read that right) behind Vernon Wells. Hey, Wells hinted in Oakland that he might remain the leadoff man when Reed returned…remember?

"Whenever he gets back, they can put him wherever they want to, because he’s definitely a guy who has to be at the top of the lineup somewhere, whether it’s one or two. We’ll see when that happens."

As I forecasted in the last Jays notebook, rookie outfielder Adam Lind was sent back to Triple-A Syracuse upon Johnson’s return. A similar fate likely awaits Curtis Thigpen, who has helped fill in for injured first baseman Lyle Overbay. Speaking of Lyle, he’s beginning his Minor League rehab with Double-A New Hampshire today and should be back for the Boston series after the break.

Speaking of a break, there wasn’t one in third baseman Troy Glaus’ left foot. He fouled a pitch off his foot on Wednesday and was taken to a Bay Area hospital for X-rays. There was too much swelling to get an conclusive results, to the team re-evaluated him in Toronto. The report is that Glaus’ injury isn’t deemed serious, but he’ll likely sit out the entire Cleveland series as a precaution. No DL, but six days of rest will certainly do him good.

LEFTOVERS:

There’s always stuff that is said or brought up that gets tossed into the waste basket never to be heard about again, or stuffed in the bank for use at a later date. There were a few items from this recent road trip that I stored up, but never got around to using, or didn’t have enough space to put in the notebook ("Space"? We’re the internet, right? Yeah, I know, but our bosses still give us word count restrictions. Studies show people only scroll down so much).

Anyway, for starters, we asked Overbay to talk some about helped Wells with his approach at the plate. While on the DL, the first baseman broke down some video of Wells and told the outfielder he wasn’t using the same slightly-open stance he did in 2006. Wells made a change and has hit well since. Here’s what Overbay had to say:

"I just looked at Vernon and he’s always been in a good spot to hit, but he was just getting jammed a lot more. His ball wasn’t jumping off like it did. When in doubt, go look at tape. I was looking at his tape, and every home run that he hit, really, any ball that he hit real hard, he was kind of stepping in the bucket. You don’t really want to do that, but it was kind of thinking about opening that front foot a little more to kind of get the hips going. I don’t want to sound selfish, but it kind of helped me. I was kind of having that trouble, too — kind of getting beat on pitches I don’t normally get beat on. He’s able to see the ball better. I think it’s more him finding a comfort zone. It was more that than anything. I had a lot of time on my hands."

Another change Wells made was with his bat. This year, he tried going to a 33-ounce bat, as oppsed to the 32-ounce bat he used last year. When Wells had a bout of flu like symptoms in May, he lost some weight and struggled with being weak. So, he decided last month to move back to the lighter bat, which appears to have helped, too:

"I felt good with it. I felt good in Spring Training with it and I felt good early in the year with it. Kind of around the time I got sick in May it got a little heavier for me. So I tried going back to the bat I used last year and so far, so good. I’m not strong enough. I’m a leadoff guy now. I have to get on for the big guys."

Toronto manager John Gibbons: "He’s always been close. Maybe the reason he went to a lighter bat was he was missing some pitches he normally hits — just missing them. That can be the difference between fouling a ball of or squaring it up and hitting it somewhere hard. It’s a constant game of adjustments. You have to do that throughout your whole career and you have to be willing to do that."

I also spent some time talking to Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg about the decision to move Shaun Marcum from the bullpen to the rotation. The Toronto brass was mulling over either moving Marcum or reliever Casey Janssen on to the starting staff. Since picking Marcum, he’s emerged as one of Toronto’s top starters and Janssen has been impressive as the setup man:

"I really stated to J.P. and Gibby that I felt that Janssen was going to be the guy whose demeanor was a little more cut out for what he’s doing right now — not to say he’s not going to end up a starter down the road. I felt that, with what we were hurting in that eight inning spot at that time, that Marcum probably wasn’t going to have the bounce back that Janssen does. Janssen’s bounce back ability, the ability to maybe throw four or five times in a week peroid, I thought was going to be better than Shaun. Shaun had had such good success as a starting pitcher, so that kind of went into his corner, too. Janssen had some outstanding starts, too, but just the mode that he was in at that time, I just thought it helped both guys. I thought if we flip-flopped it, I thought we were possibly going to hurt both guys a little bit."

No argument here. Marcum said that he haflway expected his name to get the call at the time, too:

"I figured if it was between us, they probably would’ve gone with me, because he was doing so well down there at the time. I figured they wouldn’t want to mess with him. He’s been so big for us down there in the late innings. Why move him out and take our chances?"

MOMENT OF THE TRIP:

Nobody, and I mean nobody, saw it coming when Seattle manager Mike Hargrove decided to resign on Sunday. When I strolled into Gibbons’ office that morning and asked if he had hear anything about the rumor, he wasn’t aware of it until I brought it up.

The surreal aspect of the whole thing was when Hargrove held his press conference before the game. Right before it began, us Toronto scribes were finishing up our pregame meeting with Gibbons. He then flipped the TV in his office on to the presser, and we asked if he wanted us to step out. Gibbons said no, so we all sat and watched Hargrove’s comments together.

This doesn’t sound like much of a thing, but keep in mind that earlier this season questions came up about Gibbons’ job security with the Jays, and questions about that will likely continue on into the offseason. We all kept silent while Hargrove gave his emotional explanation, and Gibbons only offered an "Amen to that" when the former M’s manager talked about asking for 100 percent from his players at all times. Then, we all went back to work.

Stay tuned for more…

Game #84: Jays at A's pregame

Toronto (40-43) at Oakland (43-40)
at 4:05 p.m. ET at McAfee Coliseum

Today’s lineups:

BLUE JAYS
Vernon Wells, CF
Alex Rios, RF
Troy Glaus, 3B
Frank Thomas, DH
Aaron Hill, 2B
Matt Stairs, LF
Gregg Zaun, C
Curtis Thigpen, 1B
Royce Clayton, SS

PITCHING: RHP Dustin McGowan

ATHLETICS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Mark Kotsay, CF
Nick Swisher, RF
Jack Cust, DH
Eric Chavez, 3B
Dan Johnson, 1B
Mark Ellis, 2B
Bobby Crosby, SS
Jason Kendall, C

PITCHING: LHP Joe Kennedy

NOTES: Toronto manager John Gibbons said that the rotation after the All-Star break will likely begin with Roy Halladay, followed by Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan. After that? "We’ll see how things stack up," Gibbons said.

Game #83: Jays at A's pregame

Toronto (40-42) at Oakland (42-40)
at 10:05 p.m. ET at McAfee Coliseum

Today’s lineups:

BLUE JAYS
Vernon Wells, CF
Gregg Zaun, C
Alex Rios, RF
Troy Glaus, 3B
Frank Thomas, DH
Matt Stairs, 1B
Aaron Hill, 2B
Adam Lind, LF
John McDonald, SS

PITCHING: RHP Jesse Litsch

ATHLETICS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Mark Kotsay, CF
Nick Swisher, RF
Jack Cust, DH
Eric Chavez, 3B
Dan Johnson, 1B
Mark Ellis, 2B
Bobby Crosby, SS
Jason Kendall, C

PITCHING: RHP Joe Blanton

NOTES: 1B Lyle Overbay took BP on the field prior to Tuesday’s game and put on a show. He peppered the bleachers with homer after homer and reported to pain afterward. He’s still having some issues with hand strength while gripping the bat, but nothing major. Overbay said he’ll likely head out on a Minor League rehab assignment this weekend and could be back with the Jays for the Boston series after the break. … LF Reed Johnson began his Minor League rehab with Triple-A Syracuse on Tuesday night. … The Toronto chapter of the BBWAA named Frank Thomas and Shaun Marcum the Jays’ Player and Pitcher of the Month for June. … RHP Roy Halladay ranks behind Boston’s Hideki Okajima and Detroit’s Jeremy Bonderman in the Final Vote race for the last All-Star roster spot. … Toronto manager John Gibbons hinted that C/1B Curtis Thigpen and LF Adam Lind might be headed back to Triple-A when Overbay and Johnson are both back in Toronto uniforms. … LHP Gustavo Chacin is slated to throw off a mound again on Thursday.

Game #82: Jays at A's pregame

Toronto (39-42) at Oakland (42-39)
at 10:05 p.m. ET at mcAfee Coliseum

Today’s lineups:

BLUE JAYS
Vernon Wells, CF
Alex Rios, RF
Troy Glaus, 3B
Frank Thomas, DH
Aaron Hill, 2B
Curtis Thigpen, 1B
Adam Lind, LF
Jason Phillips, C
Royce Clayton, SS

PITCHING: RHP Josh Towers

ATHLETICS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Mark Kotsay, CF
Nick Swisher, RF
Jack Cust, DH
Eric Chavez, 3B
Dan Johnson, 1B
Mark Ellis, 2B
Marco Scutaro, SS
Kurt Suzuki, C

PITCHING: LHP Lenny DiNardo

NOTES: RHP A.J. Burnett received a cortisone shot in his right shoulder and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks with a shoulder strain. Toronto is shutting him down for a week before he begins throwing again. … LHP Gustavo Chacin threw off a mound in a bullpen session prior to Monday’s game in Oakland. … LF Reed Johnson wasn’t in the lineup for Class A Dunedin today, but it’s possibly due to him heading to Syracuse to continue his rehab at Triple-A.

Game #81: Jays at M's pregame

Toronto (39-41) at Seattle (44-33)
at 4:05 p.m. ET at Safeco Field

Today’s lineups:

BLUE JAYS
Vernon Wells, CF
Gregg Zaun, C
Alex Rios, RF
Frank Thomas, DH
Matt Stairs, 1B
Adam Lind, LF
Aaron Hill, 2B
Howie Clark, 3B
Royce Clayton, SS

PITCHING: RHP Shaun Marcum

MARINERS
Ichiro Suzuki, CF
Adrian Beltre, 3B
Raul Ibanez, DH
Jose Guillen, RF
Richie Sexson, 1B
Ben Broussard, LF
Kenji Johjima, C
Yuniesky Betancourt, SS
Willie Bloomquist, 2B

PITCHING: RHP Jeff Weaver

Burnett back to the DL

The Blue Jays have placed right-hander A.J. Burnett back on the 15-day disabled list due to his right shoulder strain today. Toronto recalled Jesse Litsch from Triple-A and he’s penciled in to start against the A’s on Tuesday. Toronto manager John Gibbons said Burnett is flying to Birmingham, Ala., to see arm specialist Dr. James Andrews. Not good.

Also before Sunday’s game, Mariners manager Mike Hargrove announced he would be resigning following the game against Toronto. That caught just about everyone off guard, especially with how well the M’s have been playing. Hargrove cited a lack of passion, and felt if he stayed on it’d be detrimental to the club. You’ve got to wonder if there’s more to it than that.

More info on Toronto’s All-Stars to come later.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.