Dee & A.J. Show Leads Dodgers to 3-0 Start

In the fourth inning of tonight’s game, A.J. Ellis took San Diego starter Dustin Moseley deep to left field for his first homer of the season. Though it seemed meaningless at the time – it put the Dodgers up 5-0, as Matt Kemp & Andre Ethier each had driven in two by that point – it was still probably going to be my lead story, since it was just Ellis’ third big-league homer in a career that dates back (in small dribs & drabs, of course) to 2008, and Ellis’ near-total lack of power is a crucial ingredient towards whether he can succeed in his first season as a full-time starter.

That is, of course, until the wheels completely came off for Chris Capuano. There was a story out there this winter – I don’t have the link right now, and it’s late – about how while his peripheral stats were decent enough for the Mets last year, he absolutely could not go past the fifth inning, after which his OPS against went from a mid-.700 level straight to a Pujols-on-steroids level afterwards. That came an inning earlier than usual tonight, where after breezing through four scoreless, Capuano gave up a single and three walks, leaving the bases loaded for Jamey Wright. Wright – doing Jamey Wright things, don’t you know – then proceeded to walk each of the next two on eight straight balls, forcing home two runs, before being relieved himself; Scott Elbert allowed another run on a wild pitch and yet another on an Orlando Hudson single, during which the inning mercifully came to an end when catcher Nick Hundley was thrown out attempting to score.

What was a 5-0 lead entering the fifth was 5-5 following it, and suddenly Ellis’ homer was crucially important. That score stuck through the bottom of the tenth, with Mike MacDougal, Matt Guerrier, Kenley Jansen (two innings), and Todd Coffey all combining to shut down the Padres offense. The only reliever not used tonight was Josh Lindblom, as you can see by the rapidly increasing pitch counts on the bullpen chart.

Ellis then led off the 11th with a single – one of four times he was on base tonight, along with two of his trademark walks – and was sacrificed to second by Justin Sellers. After a Juan Rivera pop-out, Dee Gordon drove in Ellis with the go-ahead run, allowing Javy Guerra to finish off San Diego for his second save of the season.

Gordon, it should be noted, reached base five times tonight, including two walks of his own and three steals. Between them, Gordon & Ellis stepped to the plate eleven times and ended up with four walks, two singles, a double, and a homer. Who says you need to import high-priced talent?

It’s the first time the Dodgers have started off 3-0 since the 1999 club did the same, though that team finished 77-85. Aaron Harang hopes to do better in his Dodger debut than Capuano did as Los Angeles attempts to sweep the Padres heading into Monday’s off day and Tuesday’s home opener.

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Unrelated roster note: the Dodgers have released Carlos Monasterios, who pitched in 32 games (13 starts) in 2010 after being selected as a Rule 5 pick from the Phillies. Monasterios missed all of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and had an additional procedure on the same elbow last month.

MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Starting Pitchers, Part 3

Carlos Monasterios (A)
4.38 ERA, 5.37 FIP, 3.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, -0.2 WAR

You thought John Ely came out of nowhere? How about Carlos Monasterios, who’d pitched just two games above A-ball before being plucked from Philadelphia (via, briefly, the Mets) in last winter’s Rule 5 draft? I admitted I’d never even heard the name before at the time, which still comes in second to Monasterios admitting he barely even knew what the Rule 5 draft was.

He impressed enough in camp that I gave him a 15% chance of winning the wide-open #5 starter’s job that eventually went to Charlie Haeger, though he ended up making the club as a long reliever out of the bullpen, which is where he stayed for 11 of his first 12 appearances, save for a short (4 IP) emergency start on May 1 in Pittsburgh. For a guy with little experience and even less velocity (his fastball rarely topped 90 MPH), Monasterios was surprisingly effective in the early going, as he never allowed more than one earned run in those 12 appearances – all but three of which lasted more than one inning. When he was allowed to pitch, that is; I’m not going to link them all now, but in going back through the archives looking for bits about him, I found a surprising amount of times where I complained that Torre was wasting his better relievers in the lowest of low-leverage situations (think seven-run leads in the 9th) rather than using Monasterios, sitting him for up to a week at a time.

As the Dodgers suffered through injuries to Chad Billingsley and Vicente Padilla, Monasterios was forced into the rotation for five starts in May and June, where the results were a little less bright, allowing 35 baserunners with just 8 strikeouts in 22.2 innings, averaging barely over four IP/start. He then went on the DL himself with a blister, though he made the rookie mistake of admitting that the problem wasn’t really that serious.

When he returned in July, he split the remainder of his season equally between the pen and the rotation, starting seven games while relieving in eight. I didn’t always understand why:

Dylan Hernandez lets us know that James McDonald is being sent to the bullpen after just one start, with Carlos Monasterios getting the nod on Saturday, which is a good idea because… hell, I have absolutely no idea. I said the other day that I prefer McDonald in the bullpen anyway, but McDonald wasn’t exactly terrible in his one start, and his five strikeouts were two more than Monasterios has been able to get in any appearance, start or relief, the entire season. Even if you don’t want McDonald, John Ely allowed three runs in seven innings in his first start for ABQ, and starting him on Saturday would have only put him at one extra day of rest off his usual schedule. The idea that Monasterios is a better choice to start than either McDonald or Ely… well, I just can’t get behind it.

Indeed, Monasterios was much more effective as a reliever (2.06 ERA, .620 OPS against in 19 games) than as a starter (5.91 ERA, .899 OPS in 13 starts). Still, he made it through the entire season as an out-of-nowhere Rule 5 pick, and didn’t embarrass himself despite being relied upon far more than anyone would have expected. For that alone, he gets an A, but he probably also gets a ticket back to AAA next year now that he’s officially Dodger property. If he can develop a reliable offspeed pitch, he may yet have a future as a back-end starter, but even if he’s only a long reliever out of the pen that’s still a pretty good return on the $50,000 it cost to acquire him.

Charlie Haeger (F)
8.40 ERA, 5.51 FIP, 9.0 K/9, 7.8 BB/9, -1.7 WAR

And now we come to what is probably my biggest disappointment of the season, because I badly wanted the Haeger experiment to work out. A rubber-armed knuckleballer can be a huge asset at the back of a rotation, and Haeger appeared to have mastered his craft in becoming a 2009 PCL All-Star and pitching in some nice work for the big club at the end of the year. Now, we’ll all remember him for failing about as badly as he possibly could have, but the funny thing is, it started out so well. Remember his first start of the season?

But if you think I’m going to say a single bad word about a 5th starter who struck out 12 in 6 innings, you’re absolutely wrong. In just the fifth start of his career, Haeger tied Tim Wakefield’s career high for strikeouts – and Wakefield’s had 422 starts to get that many.

Haeger’s knuckler was dancing so much that two of those strikeouts actually ended up with a man on first, as A.J. Ellis couldn’t hold onto the ball. This guy’s been a big favorite around here for quite a while now, and with Joe Torre’s propensity for yanking 5th starters at the first sign of trouble, Haeger probably needed a good first start more than any other member of the rotation.

Unfortunately, that was the high point of Haeger’s year, if not his career. He was pressed into late-game relief three days after that start, and made his second start on two days rest. He didn’t make it out of the 4th inning, allowing seven runs to the Giants, and followed that up with equally disappointing starts against the Nationals and Mets before pitching four relief innings of one-run ball against the Brewers on May 4.

Then, on May 8, he faced the Rockies at Dodger Stadium, and…

last night Charlie Haeger got as many Rockies out as I did – zero.

Haeger faced only five Colorado batters, walking three while allowing two hits, and that was the last we’d see of him for nearly a month. With the Dodgers wanting to recall Ely before his ten-day demotion window was up, they needed to perform some roster gymnastics, which I found entertaining:

So while you can speculate on who that’s going to be… we all know it’ll be Charlie Haeger, who miraculously came down with a “bruised heel” after getting precisely zero outs against the Rockies on Saturday. What fortuitous timing!

A few weeks later, he managed to hurt his foot again, leading me to wonder if maybe he had really been hurt all along. He made one more lousy start in June (4.2 IP, 4 ER against the Angels) and that was that. He was DFA’d the next day, cleared waivers, and headed back to ABQ, where he was unable to find the success which he’d had there in 2009 – a 41/42 K/BB isn’t going to get you that far, even for a knuckleballer.

It’s clear that Haeger shouldn’t be – and won’t be – in the running for a rotation spot in 2011. Still, I think it’s premature to write him off completely. He only just turned 27 in September, and when Tim Wakefield was 27, he was going 5-15 with a 5.84 ERA and a 83/98 K/BB ratio for Pittsburgh’s AAA club. The point is, knuckleballers are notorious for taking a long time to develop. It may not be with the Dodgers, but we’ll be seeing Haeger in the big leagues again.

Ramon Ortiz (F)
6.30 ERA, 5.45 FIP, 6.3 K/9, 4.8 BB/9, -0.7 WAR

Ah yes, the first of our two disastrous Ortiz signings. Yes, he only made two starts and was more of a reliever, but I need to make these divide equally somehow. Shockingly, a 37-year-old who hadn’t been in the bigs in either of the previous two seasons and hadn’t been even league-average since 2004 didn’t work out. Who’d have thunk? Remember, I’d actually had an “Ortiz DFA-O-Meter” set up to see which of them would hit the chopping block first.

The funny thing is, Ramon Ortiz was only with the team until May 27 – less than two months – yet there was no shortage of complaints about him. Fooled by a nice shiny spring training performance, the team let him break camp in the bullpen, and disaster struck almost immediately.

April 8:

I know the traditional move says to save your closer until you have a lead on the road, but I can’t express how much I hate, hate, hate that idea. You can’t get to a lead if you’ve lost the game beforehand, and watching undead Ramon Ortiz blow the game while Broxton watches is infuriating. I can’t restate this enough: your best reliever never entered the game, while three non-roster invites (two of whom, granted, performed well) did. I will never understand this.

April 13, the home opener:

When Ethier homered in the bottom of the 6th, we were looking at a 9-2 laugher. Yet Ramon Ortiz came in and was predictably horrible, allowing three runs on three hits (including a Mark Reynolds blast) and a walk. As you can see, this has spawned the birth of the “Ortiz DFA-O-Meter” to the top right, as they battle to see which one gets dumped first. So what was once a blowout became a situation in which the top two relievers (Ramon Troncoso and Jonathan Broxton) had to contribute 2.1 innings. That may not seem like a big deal today, but we saw this exact thing happen last week. Just wait until one of the next two games when it’s a tight situation, and now one might not be available, simply because Ramon Ortiz can’t hold a 7-run lead.

Of course, being awful out of the bullpen wasn’t quite enough, because the Dodgers had to let Ortiz get two starts in May. How’d that go?

Hey, I’m not going to complain too much about (what appears to be, since it’s still the 4th inning as I write this) the end of a 9-game winning streak. They were going to have to lose sometime, so that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to basically punt a game by letting Ramon Ortiz start, which was never a good idea in any way whatsoever. Should we really be shocked that Ortiz got lit up, allowing five earned runs and nine baserunners in 3.1? Of course not. His ERA is now 6.30. It’s just not working. I know there’s no obvious answer as to who fills the last spot in the rotation until Vicente Padilla returns, but we all agree it just cannot be Ortiz again, right?

Fortunately, that was it for him. After sitting unused for a week, he was DFA’d to bring up Justin Miller, and spent the rest of the year bouncing around the AAA clubs of the Mets and Rays, not meeting with much success for either.

But hey, no one could have seen his failure coming, right?

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Next! Jonathan Broxton turns into a pumpkin at midnight! Hong-Chih Kuo defies the laws of medicine! And George Sherrill‘s deal with the devil expires, and then some! It’s relievers, part one!

Kuroda & Kuo Add Up To Zero

Proof positive, I suppose, that you can shut down the Mets with your eyes closed.

You could argue that Hiroki Kuroda did his best to outshine Chad Billingsley‘s effort from Wednesday night. You could also argue that the Mets just came off of being embarrassed in Arizona, so they were hardly a worthy opponent. Kuroda, powered by a homer and a double from Matt Kemp, pitched at least eight shutout innings for the fourth time in his career, helping the Dodgers overcome another generally ineffective night from the offense.

I would have liked to have seen Kuroda start the 9th; while he was up to 112 pitches, he’d been breezing through and had spent just 11 pitches in the 8th. But shouldn’t pitch counts not be a concern anyway for Kuroda? He’s not a young arm coming up to be protected, like Chad Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw; he’s a veteran used to high pitch counts, and he even survived the insane decision to let him come back in after that nearly three-hour rain delay in Cincinnati. Besides, his contract is up and it’s not like there’s any guarantee he’s coming back, so you push him as hard as you need to right now. Even hitting for him in the 8th didn’t add any value; Kuroda could have grounded weakly up the middle and then not run hard to first base just as well as Garret Anderson did.

In addition, the Mets started the 9th with two righties before lefty Ike Davis, and with Jonathan Broxton unavailable, Hong-Chih Kuo was the closer tonight. Obviously, Kuo has no problems with either side of the plate, but it does stand to reason that Kuroda could have faced the righties unless he got in trouble. It’s also absolutely terrifying that Kuo has been allowed to either pitch or warm three consecutive nights, and I’m not lying when I say I’m terrified for him each time he’s out there now. Remember when he wasn’t allowed to do that for even two nights in a row? Now he’s up to three, and I don’t think I’m alone when I say, there’s just no way that can end well. Now, let the legions of “Kuo should replace Broxton!” crazies come out.

It was the second time this season the Dodgers tossed back-to-back shutouts, following the dual 1-0 extra inning wins against Arizona to start June. Had Kuroda been able to complete the shutout, it would have been the first back-to-back complete game shutouts for the Dodgers since Pedro Astacio and Tom Candiotti in 1995, each of which came against the Mets.

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Dylan Hernandez lets us know that James McDonald is being sent to the bullpen after just one start, with Carlos Monasterios getting the nod on Saturday, which is a good idea because… hell, I have absolutely no idea. I said the other day that I prefer McDonald in the bullpen anyway, but McDonald wasn’t exactly terrible in his one start, and his five strikeouts were two more than Monasterios has been able to get in any appearance, start or relief, the entire season. Even if you don’t want McDonald, John Ely allowed three runs in seven innings in his first start for ABQ, and starting him on Saturday would have only put him at one extra day of rest off his usual schedule. The idea that Monasterios is a better choice to start than either McDonald or Ely… well, I just can’t get behind it.

At the very least, it’s the last time we’ll have to see him start, since we all know that by this time next week, the Dodgers will have traded Dee Gordon, Jerry Sands, & Kenley Jansen for Paul Maholm & Octavio Dotel.

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I didn’t mention the other day that Jack Taschner had been recalled from ABQ, but if I had, I would have laughed at it. Taschner was so bad that he was DFA’d by the Pirates, of all teams, in June. The fun part is, not only was he not good this year, he’s never been any good (career 4.47 FIP and 4.82 BB/9), his velocity has dropped four years in a row (down to 88.8 MPH this year), and he wasn’t even any good in AAA after signing with the Dodgers (four home runs allowed in ten innings.) Yet he’s somehow a better choice than Kenley Jansen, or if you must have a lefty, Juan Perez (9.3 K/9, 3.19 ERA for the Isotopes)?

Anyway, his simple recall isn’t what set me off here, it’s this bit of news, also from  Hernandez:

Tashner taking over as lefty specialist

That’s without throwing a pitch for the club, by the way. But not only is a guy who cut dumped by Pittsburgh being given an important role, what’s even funnier is that he’s completely unqualified for it. Despite being a lefty, Taschner has no discernible platoon split. For his career, he’s been hit by righties at a .796 clip, and lefties at .778. That comes out to a .292/.361/.416 line, and that’s just not all that good.

Now you might say, “but MSTI, George Sherrill has been a train wreck, and Hong-Chih Kuo isn’t really a lefty specialist. The team’s hand has been forced.” To which I say, has it?

Sherrill’s line against righty hitters is almost unfathomably bad – .453/.531/.774. There’s just nothing that’s going to make that okay. However, for all his troubles, he’s still been pretty effective against lefties, holding them to .200/.327/.350. I’m not suggesting I feel all that comfortable with him in a big spot, but even in his disastrous season, that’s still quite better than Taschner’s done. As I said weeks ago, if he’s allowed to only face lefties, he just may be able to help you.

Besides, as Steve Dilbeck notes, Sherrill has been demoted to garbage time. That means that he’s likely to have to face more righties than otherwise, since you’re not playing matchups as much with big leads or deficits. And that’s going to help him get turned around how, exactly?

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Finally: I haven’t been touching on every single trade rumor, because 99% of them are stupid or painful, and because you can connect the dots to just about every player in the bigs anyway. (Besides, I like to do that in the offseason, when there’s not games to distract me every night.) Still, this note from AOL Fanhouse’s Ed Price really caught my eye:

#Rays said to be shopping BJ Upton. With Manny out, #Dodgers could use a bat, and Tampa has some interest in RHP James McDonald.

Let’s be clear and say that there’s no way this is going to happen; the Rays need a bat too, and if they trade Upton it’s going to be for someone who can help them right now like Jayson Werth. The Dodgers don’t have anyone like that (no, Manny doesn’t count), and since the Rays can’t seem to make room for Jeremy Hellickson, it’s unlikely that McDonald is going to be a huge draw. Still, just the thought of Upton patrolling center between Ethier and Kemp next year…

The Bullpen Takes Another Hit

Eric Stephen (a blogger!) scoops the “real” media with some out-of-nowhere news:

Ronald Belisario placed on restricted list for personal reasons (!!!) to make room for Carlos Monasterios, who was activated from DL.

We have no idea what those reasons are yet, so while I’ll note his DUI last winter and two late arrivals to camp in a row thanks to visa issues, we can’t really speculate on what’s going on yet. (That’s your job, commenters.)

What we do know is that Joe Torre trusts only three members of his bullpen, and he’s now lost one of them. Belisario’s been outstanding of late, having not allowed more than one earned run in 19 games in a row stretching back to late May. His ERA over that time is just 1.31, and batters have just a .219/.269/.274 line against him. Losing him is a big blow; we’ll see just how long he’s going to be out for, because Torre – try as he might – can’t go to Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton every night, and the George Sherrills and Justin Millers of the world clearly aren’t earning a lot of confidence.

As for what the restricted list is used for, Baseball Prospectus’ Jeff Euston gave it an in-depth look recently. It’s, ah, generally not for good news:

Under Major League Rule 15, a team may petition MLB to place a player on the restricted list if he is unable to render his services to his club through some action of his own. Typical circumstances include failure to report, visa problems, domestic abuse situations or treatment for drug or alcohol abuse. A player on the restricted list does not count against the 40-man roster, is not paid, and does not earn service time. A team may keep a player on the list indefinitely until he is reinstated under Major League Rule 16.

The restricted list also can be a transactional last resort for a player with a personal issue. In 2003, baseball instituted the bereavement list, which allows a three- to seven-day excused absence for a player experiencing a family emergency or the death of a loved one. With permission from the Commissioner’s office, the player’s team may replace him on the active 25-man roster, though he continues to be paid and earn service time. But if an absence extends more than seven days, the club must resort to placing the player on the restricted list, where he is not paid and does not earn service time. Casey Kotchman, Cliff Floyd, and Alex Gonzalez (then with Cincinnati) all were placed on the restricted list in recent years after their seven-day bereavement leave had expired.

The restricted list is distinct from the suspended list and the disqualified list. The suspended list is used for players in violation of the prohibited substance ban or as the result of an on-field incident, such as a fight with another player or an incident with an umpire. A player suspended for an on-field incident may not be replaced on the active roster, leaving his team a man short for the duration of the suspension. For example, Tampa Bay played two games in April with a 24-man roster after catcher Dioner Navarro was suspended for bumping an umpire. But Philadelphia was able to field a complete 25-man roster after reliever J.C. Romero tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended for the first 50 games of 2009. Incidentally, the Phillies placed Romero on the restricted list during his suspension.

Claudio Vargas, Really?

I’m not entirely sure I remember writing this on Twitter late last night, but apparently I did:

I could have sworn I just saw dodgers.com say Claudio Vargas may be the 5th starter soon. Clearly, I have alcohol poisoning.

Well, at least it was legible and without typos. And apparently it’s true:

Vargas could take over fifth-starter role

BOSTON — The Dodgers’ fifth-starter shell game has a new/old name in play: Claudio Vargas.

In his first start for Triple-A Albuquerque on Thursday night, the right-hander allowed one run on a solo home run in three innings, with four strikeouts and no walks.

Vargas was signed earlier in the week, two weeks after being cut loose by Milwaukee, where he had a 7.32 ERA in 17 relief appearances. The three innings was his longest outing of the year, an indication the Dodgers will try to stretch him out and make him a starter again.

I think the only indication here is that the rotation is in serious trouble, hurt by the injury to Chad Billingsley and the poor outings of John Ely and Carlos Monasterios – and that’s without having any idea how Vicente Padilla will do in his return today. I guess I don’t really understand why people are all that surprised Monasterios struggled last night; he’s a Rule 5 pick who’s striking out just 4.1/9. The fact that he’s been able to stick in the big leagues without completely embarrassing himself, and with some small successes, is remarkable in itself. It says far more about the Dodgers that he’s been asked to start so much than it does about him.

As for Vargas, well, why not? I actually was sad to see him go last season, mostly because the trade made no sense at all. It’s not like he’d come up until he shows he can get hitters out at AAA, so that’s at least a few more turns of the rotation.

Really, I think people are looking at the problem here in the wrong way. The issue isn’t really whether guys like Ely, Vargas, or Monasterios can pitch like All-Stars. They’re your #5 starter, and there’s plenty of teams in the bigs who have even larger issues at the back of the rotation. No, the problem is having more than one of them in the rotation at the same time. Now, part of that will be helped when Billingsley returns, hopefully as soon as his 15 days are up. But if and until Padilla proves himself… well, everyone seems to want the Dodgers to get a Cliff Lee or a Roy Oswalt. I’m not going to go through the reasons again why they’re so unlikely; we’ve been through that. But even if the Dodgers were able to get one of those guys, it likely wouldn’t be for another month. Maybe what they ought to be doing is getting a lesser veteran who wouldn’t cost as much – sort of like Jon Garland last year – right now, just to solidify things.

And no, I’m not talking about Pedro Martinez. I want someone who’s actually pitched this year. I’m talking more along the lines of (and I’m just tossing names out without really looking into salary concerns or doing a ton of research) Kevin Millwood or Jake Westbrook. They’re certainly not the piece that’ll push you to a championship, but they may be the stabilizing force in the middle of the rotation that will keep things from imploding until Billinglsey is healthy and you can work on getting a top starter.

(Although if you really want a good laugh, go read some of the jokers on the Dodger Facebook page, replying to the Vargas story. I’m not sure how some of these people managed to even turn their computer on; I particularly like the suggestion that the Dodgers should trade Vargas to Florida for Josh Johnson.)

Of course, Tony Jackson has the perfect last word on the situation:

Even when he is ready to go, well, he is still going to be Claudio Vargas.

Yep. He sure is.

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Ramon Troncoso got rocked, again. Travis Schlichting was effective, again. Whether you think Troncoso’s problems are that Torre ran him into the ground, that he was never that good in the first place, or both, there’s a roster move to be made today to activate Padilla, and it makes no sense to keep Troncoso over Schlichting. I’m not saying you demote Troncoso, but at least come up with an injury to get him some time off and away from the mound.

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I’m sure some people will read this as arrogance, but these anecdotes from Jackson’s story on Manny make me think that Matt Kemp is just hilarious:

Before any of the real reporters could approach him, a phony one did. Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, holding his blue batting-practice bat like a microphone, immediately stuck it into Ramirez’s face and said, “How does it feel to be back in Boston?”

Ramirez gave Kemp about as much time as he was going to give anyone. After Kemp returned to the other side of the clubhouse, which was about seven feet away, he yelled at the assembled media, “Manny smells good today. If y’all get close enough, you can smell him.”

and…

When Ramirez stepped out of the cage after taking his first allotment of hacks, he received another loud cheer. Kemp, who had followed Ramirez into the cage, who had his right back pocket hanging out of his uniform pants and who, like Ramirez, was helmetless, stopped after one swing and turned to wave an acknowledgement to the crowd, feigning as if he thought the ovation was for him.

No complaints about immaturity, old people. That’s good clean fun.

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Yes, I saw that Garret Anderson hit a homer last night, and yes, it is making me reconsider the DFA-o-meter on the right sidebar, though not for the reasons you’d think. I still think he’s awful and want him to get cut, but since I don’t think the team will ever actually do it, I’m not sure I feel like updating it for the entire season.

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Hey, Nick Green signed with Toronto. Hooray! Gone for good.