The Zen of Tomko 

Some of the best pitches I've ever seen Brett Tomko throw came in the last two innings of the game the Giants just won, 3-2. Change-ups on the outside corner; sharp sliders down and away; well-placed fastballs. This is the Tomko of last August and September that we've been waiting all spring for:

9 IP / 4 H / 1 BB / 7 K

That's a fine looking line. Granted, the Pirates have Tike Redman hitting fifth, but the larger point is that Tomko didn't beat himself. When the Pirates strung a few hits together in the fourth, it could have mentally derailed him because he had been perfect until that inning. But he shut them down the rest of the way and made fantastic pitches.

Second game ball goes to Jason Ellison, who had three hits and would have had a fourth if Jack Wilson hadn't made a jump-throw that no one had seen since Joe Montana threw an insignificant touchdown pass to Dwight Clark back in 1981.

Ellison is doing what Calvin Murray and Marvin Benard never figured out: lay off the bad ones, slap the strikes around and run like hell. It's working so far.


Closer Thoughts 

Martin Lee, a.k.a., the Biased Giants Fanatic, has some provocative thoughts about the Giants' closer situation. Schmidt as the next Smoltz? How about Tomko? Bring Cain up as a reliever? Re-sign Felix, who's apparently on the outs in the Bronx? Visit Martin and drop your own dime on the subject.



Holy Hamstring of God, Is This the End of Armando? 

Armando Benitez will be out for at least four months after tests revealed he tore tendons in his hamstring.

My first reaction: [.....].

My second reaction: Wow.

My third reaction: Ugueth Urbina.

Brian Sabean says the position will be filled internally unless he trades for someone named Slim N. Nunn.

OK, instead of cursing the fates or Armando Benitez's conditioning program, let's put our thinking caps on. At the major league level, no way any of the current bullpenners will be anointed closer. If someone put a gun to my head and said choose one or else, I'd say Jim Brower, but as soon as the gun was lowered I'd take my answer back.

At the minor league level, Kevin Correia is the current closer in Fresno. According to recent reports, his manager recently chewed him out for not concentrating enough. Bad sign. David Aardsma is in the starting rotation in Norwich, working on his breaking stuff and better control. He is not ready to pitch at the major league level, let alone close.

It looks like the dreaded closer-by-committee for the time being, folks.


Munter Up, 'Mando Down 

Just as Benitez was really hitting a groove...uh, scratch that. Just as the groove was hitting Benitez, or more accurately, hitting his hanging slider into the bleachers, the big guy pulls a redwood-sized hammy and lands on the 15-day DL. That means at least two weeks of closer by committee and an audition for spring phenom Scott Munter.

Just turned 25, Munter was unhittable in Arizona but has reinhabited his mortal flesh in Fresno: 8 IP, 10 H, only 1 BB but only 1 K. That's roughly in line with his '04 season, which he spent mostly at AA Norwich with a late call-up to AAA.

Speaking of only 1 K in 8 IP, Kirk Rueter is about to take the mound, and I'm about to take my lunch break. Keep your fingers crossed, o ye French Vanilla Faithful.


When an irresistible force such as Tim Redding's horribleness meets an old immovable object like, well, most of the Giants, you can bet as sure as you live, the Giants are gonna win 10-3. The Padres cut their own throats the past two games with atrocious defense. Mark Sweeney single-handedly lost the game for his team last night. It was Redding's turn today, falling behind batters, walking them, grooving a fastball to Feliz, and throwing bunts away. The Giants six-run inning was entirely his fault. To their credit, the Giants received these gifts with open arms and took a refreshing two of three against the team that of late has been their worst matchup.

At least for one rainy day, the Giants' fifth starter was better than someone else's fifth starter. Woody set his own long-relief doomsday clock back a few ticks today, staving off the inevitable Cainageddon, or Foppert End Times, or even Hennestruction, that would reign o'er his career if he continued to pitch like a man with Coors Field in his back pocket.

But, lo, Sweet Woody saw the light today, even though he didn't get a single batter to swing and miss, let alone strike out. (According to Jon Miller.)

Did anyone notice that Tony Torcato didn't quite catch on the starting DH of the Anaheim Angels, grab the 25th roster spot with the Devil Rays, or even attract enough attention to get plucked from waivers and stashed on a triple-A team for later use? No, T.T. has been forced to break his sacred vow and return to Fresno. I know it might sound strange, Tony, but I believed you'd bew going back before too long.

The past two days, Jason Ellison has stolen a critical base when everyone knew he was going (last night in the 8th); he has beat out a fairly routine grounder to shortstop; he has walked and stolen third; he has tripled without hitting the ball to the wall. Think Felipe might start giving him more playing time? With Grissom's bat the past two weeks looking like it's filled with liquid cement, there's little downside to it, especially if Vizquel and Snow continue to get on base with ease, Feliz continues to provide power and Alou fils shakes off the considerable rust. I say a platoon, with Grissom only starting against lefties and Ellison and Tucker sharing duties against righties, might be optimal for a while.



Giants' Prospect Roundtable: Hitters 

Or, as they're often called once they reach San Francisco, "People who swing at first pitches and produce weak ground balls and pop-ups." The final installment of the spring roundtable discussion is on Fogball.

A couple notes from last night's game:

* Lance Niekro vs. Trevor Hoffman was like watching Elmer Fudd match survival skills with James Bond. Lance: it rhymes with "no chance."

* In Bull Durham, Kevin Costner famously told his pitcher that strikeouts were boring and fascist. I offer the corollary: swinging at first pitches is bad for the entertainment dollar. No build-up of suspense, no backlighting of the mano-a-mano confrontation at the heart of baseball. Where's the drama, mama? It's even worse when you know the batter (hello, Moises) is going to swing at the first pitch, and you know the crafty veteran pitcher isn't going to make it very hittable. Result: 5-4-3 double play, soul-sucking end of rally.

* I think I have heard the Padres singing: "Nothing could be finer than to hit off Al Leviner..." Three batters, a sharp single, and two very loud outs. Moises made a nice catch against the right-center field cushion to avert a total disaster. Still, I applaud the move in demoting Williams and promoting Levine. With the 40-man roster space vacated by Torcato, there's no risk in giving Levine a shot to continue his hot streak this spring. The extra bullpen arm helps, and Jerome could use some time to get his head together -- my guess is his father's illness isn't helping his concentration.



Your San Francisco Crackheads 

We all know the adage that April and May should be spent assessing a team, June and July spent making necessary changes, and August and September chasing the pennant. Given how infrequently teams run away and hide in the first two months, and given how the wild card holds promise even for teams that look like they'll start to decompose if not refrigerated properly, the adage is a smart one.

Which is why I haven't yet gone into daily hysteria mode over the Giants. Besides, I did that last year, and although like so many artists before me, my fragile emotional state produced world-class literature, I've decided that this year I will keep the hand-waving, the all-caps shouting, and the irritating overuse of italics to a minimum.

That doesn't preclude me from making certain assessments about our beloved yet dreaded Men of Orange and French Vanilla, such as: they are not the most patient of fellows.

I can bleat on and on about trading for Vernon Wells as if Brian Sabean will one day read my blog and say, "Gosh, he's right." But I figure he knows about Wells, so no more of that. I figure he also knows the above adage. Last year, Sabean waited until mid-May to shake things up; by the end of that month, the Giants had won 10 straight and were back from the dead.

This year, at least he recognized in mid-April the folly of Tony Torcato. Recently touted by Giants' brass as a guy who knows how to hit, a seasoned pinch hitter, a sweet swing, blah blah blah, Torcato has been tossed like bycatch into the great ocean of the waiver wire. T.T. says he won't go back to Fresno (and waste another year), which is certainly understandable.

But five'll get you a soy latte that his refusal won't land him on someone else's big league squad. Perhaps he's simply holding out for an urban upgrade: why should a young guy settle for Fresno when he can make his part-time home in, say, Portland, Memphis or Las Vegas?

Instead of bemoaning what has (or hasn't) happened the first three weeks of the season, let's have a look at a few interesting statistics, their relevance and how they may change by the end of May:

* J.T. Snow has zero extra base hits. 42 at-bats, 14 hits, all singles. However, he is getting on base a lot: 43% of the time. If Barry Bonds were hitting behind him, this would be fine and dandy: just get on base, J.T., and let the next guy whack it over the fence so you don't have to worry about the piano on your back. But with a smaller-ball approach, J.T.'s musical encumbrance is a drag as he once again does not score from second on a ground-ball single. Still, better to have men on base than not.

* Ray Durham is hitting .196 with no power. Whispers about Ray-Ray's demise have been circulating. Should we worry? Who the hell knows? Ray could be hitting .280/.365/.440 by the end of May. Bears watching, not bemoaning.

* Just like the first half of last year, Brett Tomko isn't finishing hitters off despite throwing 94 MPH fastballs and an array of breaking pitches. Look at last year: his K/BB ratio was 50/38 in 115 IP through July. The last two months, his ratio was 58/26 in 79 IP. Keep an eye on that ratio.

* If Omar Vizquel (.294/.377/.441), Pedro Feliz (.297/.333/.500) and Michael Tucker (.255/.352/.468) maintain their current clips or thereabouts, we should all be thrilled. Other than those gruesome headfirst slides into first base, Omar is doing exactly what he's getting (over)paid for: flash the leather and get on base. And you gotta love those steals of third. Meanwhile, Pedro is on pace for 45 walks! Tucker will probably regress, but Vizquel could continue to sport a higher than expected SLG, as Mays Field's voluminous alleys allow him a few extra triples.

* With Kirk Rueter looking like Gene Glynn throwing batting practice, how long will the Giants wait? Remember, it's not just veteran pride, it's six million clams that are hard to fit in the back of the bullpen, let alone toss overboard. Trade? Forget it. If it gets to the point where the Giants can't use Rueter, who else would want him? My guess: if Woody has a couple more bad starts, look for a temporary solution. He'll be demoted to the bullpen and Fassero will take a turn or two in the rotation. If that doesn't straighten Rueter out, Sabean will have to make some ruthless decisions and perhaps hope that by June one of the Fresno boys is ready to set the world on fire.

* Free Yorvit! (TM)

* A final quiz: name the last Giant who had multiple surgeries that started with assurances of no playing time being lost, escalated into a need for a do-over, and metasticized into conflicting reports and rehab confusion. The answer is Robb Nen, of course. And we all know what happened to him. He wasn't training with Greg Anderson and taking lovely spring walks on hills and beaches against his doctor's orders. Silly Robb!

Sorry, but I'm getting sick of the Barry Show. He may be the greatest ever to play the game, and he may be getting a raw deal from the media, and he may be crucified on the public cross of steroids, but he is also a cretin. It could turn out that the worst personnel move of the Sabean era was Bonds's 2006 contract guarantee, worse than the A.J./Nathan trade, worse than signing Rueter and trading Ortiz. If the knee turns out to be career-threatening, the roughly $20 mil earned by an inactive Bonds in 2006 would be the main obstacle to competing during Year One of the Post-Barry Era.

I like to call this current period "get-off-the-crack time." For years, it's been: "Build a real team? Nah, let's just have another hit off the Bonds pipe." If Barry's going to be out more than a couple months, the Giants should figure it out now and plan accordingly. Let's return to that adage: April and May are spent acknowledging the addiction, June and July are spent in rehab...



Giants' Prospect Roundtable: Matt Cain 

Part 5: Matt Cain. Note: This discussion was recorded before the start of the season. So far at AAA Fresno, the 20-year-old Cain has started two games and pitched very well: 13 IP, 13 Ks, 6 BBs 2 HRs, and a 1.38 ERA. So far so good.



Reflections on a 6-8 Start 

* Oh please, sir, may I have more Rockies? It's awfully cold and damp here by this gray lonely body of water, and my polyester doubleknits do so frightfully little to keep me warm. The dreadful Messrs. Peavy and Odalis are cruel, cruel men, sir, they give me nothing but crumbs. I much prefer Mr. Dohmann and his associates. I promise I'll put in a full 14-hour day's work from now on!

* When Brian Lawrence and Javier Vazquez see the Giants, they say, "It's Chinese for 'yummy.'"

* Geezus H., folks, what did you expect? The Giants' top two home run hitters are out, Lance "You're My Amigo" Niekro is batting third, the bullpen went into a collective opening-week slump...six and eight sounds pretty good right now.

* Except the Dodgers are peeling out and whooping like 25 teenagers in a Winnemucca 7-11 parking lot. With yet another come-from-behind win tonight, they're now six up on the Giants with 148 to play.

*Is it panic-button time? Wait...wait...eh!...oh...wait...not the wedd wunn!

* I was doing my physical therapy today down at the clinic inside Mays Field, and who should walk in holding a long-haired Australian shepherd on a red leash, but the one and only Yorvit Torrealba. He was short. But muscular. He was there because someone he knew was getting therapy for a neck problem. I wanted to say, "Yorvit, hang in there, I wanted you to be the starter, eres el hombre. Who am I? I am El Lefty Malo -- that's http://leftymalo.blogspot.com," but I refrained.

* Noah Lowry showed some huevos tonight. Terrible stuff, no control of the fastball or change-up, but he was sage enough to mix in a few sliders, including one to strike out Shawn Green, and somehow only surrendered 1 earned run in 6. Strong work, Señor Bagels.

* The Ghost of Pierzynski: Marquis Grissom has already grounded into 5 double plays this year, according to Jon Miller.

* A win tomorrow with Schmidt on the mound, and two of three from the Brewers this weekend (with no Ben Sheets on the mound), and the Giants will be back to .500.



Giants' Prospect Roundtable: Merkin Valdez 

Part four of the bloggers' discussion of Giants prospects has been posted at Westwood Blues. The enigmatic Merkin Valdez draws our scrutiny this time.



Mile High and Raise You A Grand 

While the Giants were doing exactly what they needed to do this weekend -- win two of three in the Mile High Shop of Horrors -- I was at 6,200 feet, on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, on the 18th floor of Harvey's (or, as they spell it, Harveys), just one level below the top-floor restaurant known as Llewellyn's.

Please: don't rush to the phone to make reservations at this fine dining establishment. Yesterday was its last day. It's undergoing a full renovation and re-opening next year as some sort of Tex-Mex grill, a hotel employee told us. No doubt because 98% of Harveys guests do nothing but drool Krispy Kreme syrup down their double chins when asked to pronounce anything with one double-L, let alone two.

As I introduce my theme of contempt for everything casino-related, you might ask, "OK, what the hell were you doing there?" I wasn't gambling. Just because three quarters of the baseball bloggers out there are poker addicts -- as if being a baseball geek wasn't bad enough -- doesn't mean I suffer from the same affliction.

I'm more from the school of Heineken-and-a-menthol at 9 a.m. while prodding the buttons of a video slot machine with a finger that's gray and swollen from poor circulation. That, folks, is livin' large. Literally.

No, I was there because my girlfriend's mom, who lives in New York, won the weekend in a raffle and generously donated it to us. Two free nights, a $50 food voucher, and free passes to the Improv, the in-house comedy club featuring performers who make jokes about gays in the military by running limp-wristed with a squeal across the stage. Always a hit, especially among the just-turned-21-and-about-to-vomit crowd.

In other words, the perfect base (i.e., free) for a weekend of early-spring hiking and snowshoeing. The 'shoeing wasn't so great because the snow was quickly melting in Saturday's 65-degree heat, but the trail around the shore of Emerald Bay was as close to heaven as you can get at Tahoe: cloudless skies, a water color you swear has been enhanced either digitally or psychedelically, the smell of pine in the air, a warm breeze....and some shithead in a two-person boat who pulls into the bay with his middle-aged girlfiend in the passenger seat, cuts the motor, and cranks up something that sounds like it's been on heavy rotation at KFOG for 20 years. Robert Cray? The Blues Traveler? Santana? Boz Scaggs? Huey Lewis? Sound may travel with almost no distortion under water, but just above the surface, it turns out that "blues" preferred by white men in tasseled loafers travels in waves the shape of extruded toothpaste.

I began gathering a handful of pinecones to launch a land-to-sea assault, keeping in mind that he would have to swim to shore then run sopping wet through the woods to catch me. If the pinecones failed to convince him of his aural evildoing, stage two of the attack would include small stones. Fortunately for all parties concerned, he must have decided Emerald Bay didn't have enough neon, Amstel Light and tits along its shoreline, and he soon chugged away.

But these little things, so often maddening, need to be put in the frame of the bigger picture -- a lovely weekend with my lovely girlfriend in one of the world's most beautiful places -- much in the way we must consider Armando Benitez's shaky start and Ray Durham's old-man-at-33 April in the larger scheme of the 2005 season so far.

The Giants have won more games than lost with their top two home run hitters out and their bullpen behaving monstrously. They won two of three at Coors Field, always a cause for celebration even if the Rockies are destined to lose 140 games. It's a long season, and you have to look for small pleasures. The sports book at Harveys Friday night was showing the Giants game on at least two of its hundreds of TVs, but not the Dodgers. It had The Simpsons on in one corner, but not the Dodgers.

Maybe Harveys isn't so bad after all.



Giants' Prospect Roundtable: Pat Misch 

McCovey Chronicles has posted part three of our bloggers' roundtable discussion of Giants prospects. Subject: Pat Misch. Promoted this spring to Fresno, Misch is left-handed, crafty (of course), had a great year pitching in AA last year, and is only 23. Could he be the next Noah Lowry? Will he befuddle major league hitters, prompting Giants fans to taunt opponents with the chant, "Schwing and a Misch!"?

Roundtable part 1: David Aardsma.

Roundtable part 2: Brad Hennessey.



In Bad Taste 

Someone chastised me recently for making fun of the Pope's nasal tube the day of the Pontiff's demise. "Tacky" was the reprimand. Fair enough. If I may pile onto myself: it was also too easy.

Which is why I limit myself to only one Rich Draper joke a year. I can't let myself get too lazy: there are too many bad puns to unleash and silly rhyme schemes to exploit.

No, when it comes to Rich Draper mockery, less is more. I'm not quite John Cage, whose composition 4'33" will never be topped for minimalism, but I'm trying to get the Draperalia whittled down to the barest, most essential brushstrokes. This year, with only the slightest of facial twitches, I simply submit two excerpts from one of Draper's latest:

"Speedy outfielder Jason Ellison has that 'wow factor' going for him, entering Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers hitting .500 with a homer, RBI and stolen base."

"Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs."

In my next article, I will knock over a double amputee in a wheelchair and force 10,000 tsunami survivors to gather in a stadium and do The Wave.



Giants' Prospect Roundtable: Brad Hennessey 

This is part two of a roundtable discussion about several top Giants' prospects. If you like to geek out on prospects, it gets no better than this. The participants: Tom and Rob (Fogball), Steve (Giants News Diary), Martin (Biased Giants Fanantic), Grant (McCovey Chronicles), Doug (Westwood Blues), and Alex (El Lefty Malo).

Part 1, a discussion of David Aardsma, can be found on Fogball.

Steve: Other than Merkin Valdez's two brief major league appearances last July, Hennessey and Aardsma are the Giants only two top-ten prospects, as ranked by Baseball America, who have major league experience. A brief review of the scouting report on Hennessey:

- an 89-91 mph fastball with sink.
- slider is his strikeout pitch
- sinking changeup
- gets ground balls

He is also described as having very good makeup. A statistical analysis of Hennessey is less flattering. His low K/IP and low K/BB, along with an unimpressive H/IP, meant to John Sickels that Hennessey is not even among the Giants top 20 prospects. Hennessey will begin the 2005 season in the Fresno rotation. Does anyone believe he will be an impact pitcher for the Giants, whether in relief or as a starter, by early August?

Alex: Steve's right about the wimpy K/BB rate. It certainly doesn't bode well. But there's something odd...in his seven starts with the big club last year, he had the best K-rate of his career by a wide margin. Yes, yes, small sample size, but can we learn anything from it? (Note also that in his big-league stint he had the highest BB/9 and hits/9 rates of his career.)

Breaking down his seven big-league starts in '04, his only excellent game was 7 shutout innings against a punch-n-judy Milwaukee squad. His other starts fit roughly into two categories:
1) Easy going the first time through the order, then the opposition started to figure him out (Cubs, Expos, Braves).
2) Didn't fool anyone (Phils, Dodgers, D-Backs). Granted, the Phils game wasn't all Hennessey's fault, as the defense put him in trouble early.

There was also the question of his stamina. 2004 was his first full season after recovering from the tumor surgery (surgeries?). Could it be that with another year removed from the long layoff, he'll be stronger, with more pop on his fastball and more bite on his slider? If I were in Fresno right now, that's what I would be watching for. Any eyewitness accounts?

As for his impact in '05, there's no reason Hennessey would be the first call-up to fill a temporary rotation slot given the way Foppert and Cain pitched this spring. It's possible that with a rotation injury, Foppert could become a starter and Hennessey called up to be the long man. But Hennessey's only 25, a young pitcher who needs time to practice his craft. Burying him in the big-league bullpen doesn't really make sense. Keep him in Fresno for a full year, let him work on his stuff. He needs to miss more bats.

Martin: I agree with Lefty's points on Hennessey. Look at his Norwich stats: the only decent one is his ERA - his H/9, HR/9, W/9, K/9, WHIP are either average or worse. So his ERA could be a fluke at Norwich. I agree he needs to miss more bats.

Hopefully he can continue his short string of success at Fresno, build confidence and arm strength, as '04 was his first full season and 171 IP probably taxed his arm. And he did have *two* surgeries, as the tumor recurred and necessitated the second surgery.

With the potential for an embarrassment of riches in starters -- Williams, Lowry, Cain, Foppert, Valdez, Hennessey, Misch, Schmidt -- Hennessey could be the one to go in a mid-season trade since he's probably the most developed pitcher in the next tier of pitchers below Cain, Foppert, Valdez, and I presume (hope) these three are pretty much untouchables.

Steve: Foppert, Hennessey, Misch, Cain, Valdez: I think any of those guys could capably fill in for a spot start on the big league level. It would mostly be just whose turn in the rotation is next. The only drawback for Cain or Misch in a spot start role is that they are not yet on the 40-man roster, and adding them to the roster might require removing another prospect from the 40-man roster and exposing him to waivers. Currently, the most likely candidates to lose their spot on the 40-man roster are Tyler Walker and Tony Torcato since they are out of options.

I am not sure the Giants quite have "an embarrassment of riches in starters." There's a decent chance that only two of the Fresno rotation would remain starters at the major league level. Rueter and Tomko become free agents at the end of the year. I believe that Eyre, Herges, Brower and possibly Christiansen (team option) will be free agents too. If you plug the above five Fresno pitchers and Aardsma into those holes, suddenly the store of riches is gone. The top Giants remaining minor league pitchers would then be prospects Alfredo Simon and Craig Whitaker, along with Kevin Correia. After them, you would be talking about "Grade C" prospects like Jeremy Accardo, Billy Sadler, Scott Munter, Erick Threets, Brian Burres, Garrett Broshuis, Justin Hedrick and Jonathan Sanchez. The Giants might even need to access the store before then for mid-season additions. I like the depth of the Giants' current bench with Tucker, Feliz, Cruz and Torrealba. Still, an injury or two could necessitate a trade for another position player mid-season. Hennessey and Misch might be the best trading chips. I would also be willing to trade Valdez for an impact bat.

I wonder if it is useful to break down Hennessey's minor league stats by month (approximately):
Apr: 20.1 IP, 27 H, 10 BB, 15 K, 3 HR, 3.98 ERA
May: 37.2 IP, 27 H, 14 BB, 22 K, 2 HR, 2.87 ERA
Jun: 29.0 IP, 39 H, 11 BB, 9 K, 1 HR, 4.66 ERA
Jul: 36.2 IP, 27 H, 10 BB, 20 K, 4 HR, 1.96 ERA
Aug: 13.0 IP, 12 H, 9 BB, 9 K, 0 HR, 2.77 ERA
Do these look like the stats of someone who will crack the Giants 2006 starting rotation?

Rob: Brower will not be a free agent until after the 2006 season.

Alex: A few weeks ago on my blog I went out on a limb and bet the Giants would make a trade for a position player by the end of May. We should know around then if Ellison can hit ML pitching, if any old guys look destined for a season of nagging injuries, and if one of the triple-A starters Steve just mentioned is ready for the bigs. Whatever happens (or doesn't) on the trade front will be a big factor in Hennessey's future with the Giants. As Steve says, if he does well in Fresno and the Giants need another bat, he's prime mid-season trade bait. If there's a hole in the rotation and he's lights out in Fresno, he could be the call-up.

Does anyone have his stats from Youngstown State? I couldn't find them on the Web. Is it worth looking at them to shed any light on his potential? By the way, my mom was born in Youngstown. She was not, however, a Youngstown State Penguin.

Grant: Hennessey doesn't impress me on paper, and he doesn't impress me in person, either. But how much of that is due to his extended layoff? Everything I've ever written about him is predicated on his post-injury stats and performance. Maybe this is the year he finds a couple of miles on his fastball, and all of my opinions are ill informed.

With that caveat out of the way, I see his best case comparison as Tim Worrell. In a remake of A Streetcar Named Desire, his fastball/slider combination screams "bullpen" over and over. His worst case comparison would be one of the gazillions of 1st rounders that never made it. He's definitely behind Foppert, Cain, and Misch on my personal list of emergency starters this year.

Martin: Clarification on my "embarrassment of riches" comment: I meant at the MLB level. I agree that should all of them move up (or out) as you noted, the farm system would be a bit barren. I think you would agree that most teams' farm systems would be barren if so many advanced or fell out.

If they do fill our rotation -- and I think the odds look good -- our rotation could be set for the next 3-4 years. Hence my thought that a starter could be traded, with Hennessey being the most developed of the ones I don't consider virtually untouchable. Misch could be a good chip if he continues to do well as he moves up to AAA. I just consider Hennessey the more desirable chip. I would prefer keeping Hennessey, if we can, just to have good backups should the inevitable occur and something happens to a starter. I would be OK trading Valdez for an impact bat as well.

I agree the depth on the bench is great -- basically we got three starters from last year on the bench. If we should lose anyone to injury short-term, they should fill in without skipping much of a beat (except for Bonds of course and probably Alou). I think a trade is necessary if we lose Bonds, Alou, or Durham (unless Alfonzo moves there) for the season -- the other positions have a good enough backup that we should be able to hit enough to match the lost starter close enough without losing a good prospect for a fill-in.

Doug: Martin, while I understand your excitement about the overall quality and depth of young arms in the Giants organization, I think it's both premature and a bit overly optimistic to be talking about a future embarrassment of riches at the ML level or that the odds are good that the youngsters will fill out the rotation for years to come. Cain, Hennessey, Valdez, Misch, and even Williams and Lowry have a lot prove before we can write them into rotation for the next few years.

Young pitchers are a very unpredictable lot. Between shoulder and elbow injuries, flameouts, trades, head cases, etc. the odds just aren't in their favor. My hope is that Giants have stockpiled enough young arms to improve the odds that one or maybe two of them could turn out to be healthy and productive hurlers for the Giants. Maybe three or more of them will pan out for the Giants. Who knows?

As for the Giants rotation being set for the next 3-4 years, even excluding the current farmhands, the rotation for the next 3-4 years is already seven deep -- Schmidt, Lowry, Ainsworth, Williams, Bonser, Hannaman, and Kevin Rogers. ;)

Steve: I want to follow up on several notes of this discussion. First, I agree with Doug. I remember entering the 2003 season thinking that the Giants had about 9 starting pitchers: Rueter, Schmidt, Moss, Ainsworth, Jensen, Livan, Foppert, Williams, Nathan. That depth evaporated fairly quickly. By mid-August, the Giants had called upon Kevin Correia and Dustin Hermanson to become part of their starting rotation.

Second, going back to the monthly stats, if I arbitrarily exclude the month of June, Hennessey's minor league stats are more impressive, at least as far as WHIP and ERA: 107.2 IP, 93 H, 43 BB, 66 K, 9 HR, 2.76 ERA. The K/IP and K/BB are still low. How much of this, though, might be because Hennessey understands at a young age how to get ground ball outs early in the count? Jerome Williams was a bit like this in the high minors -- although he maintained a K/BB above 2.0.

I also could not find stats for Hennessey's college career. I am not sure I would find much meaning in them, though, since he was converted to pitching late in college. I quote from the Baseball America 2002 Prospect Handbook: "Hennessey went from obscurity to the first round of the 2001 draft on the strength of his slider.... Hennessey was a No. 3 starter on his Toledo high school team and went to Youngstown State as a two-way player. He was the club's shortstop for most of 2000, earning a few innings as a reliever and posting a 7.75 ERA. He convinced coach Mike Florak to make him a starter last spring, and his stuff took off as he shared the Mid-Continent Conference pitcher of the year award."

I find it interesting that Grant mentions Tim Worrell as a possible comp for Hennessey. I was thinking about that before Grant's comment, and I made the same comparison, although in physical stature, Hennessey is more similar to Matt Herges than Tim Worrell. The BA 2005 Prospect Handbook affirms what Grant says about Hennessey as a reliever, "Hennessey's stuff fits the profile of a setup man if the Giants need him in that role."

However, it continues that Hennessey might be more than a reliever for the Giants: "... but they like his upside as a starter, particularly if he can get his fastball and changeup to sink consistently." I think it is Hennessey's upside as a starter that Baseball America rates him ahead of Aardsma. I don't disagree.

Grant also rates Misch ahead of Hennessey. I understand that feeling based on the stats from last year, particularly before Misch began to fade in late July. It was a surprise to me when Hennessey, not Misch, was the one promoted to Fresno. Hennessey made his Fresno debut on July 17th. That same night, Misch pitched a complete game shutout for Norwich, his third CG shutout of the season. At that point, Misch and Hennessey had each made 18 starts for Norwich. Here is a comparison of their stats:

Hennessey: 101.0 IP, 106 H, 34 BB, 55 K, 8 HR, 3.56 ERA
Pat Misch: 116.0 IP, 96 H, 20 BB, 92 K, 7 HR, 2.56 ERA

(Note: Comparing their workloads, Misch had nearly one more inning per start, but Hennessey faced more total batters.)

Misch made 8 more starts during the season with this less impressive stat line:

43.0 IP, 42 H, 15 BB, 31 K, 5 HR, 4.40 ERA

The decline in Misch's K/IP is small, but the BB/IP nearly doubles. The H/IP also increases, and his ERA ballooned. I think this comparison between Hennessey and Misch is an example that the Giants' scouts saw something that those of us looking at the stats did not see. At this point, I am more comfortable with Hennessey than with Misch getting the spot starts.

The Baseball Prospectus 2005 book says that Hennessey will get rocked as a major league starter. This is one area where the arrogance of this year's book rubs me the wrong way. Wouldn't it be better to say that Hennessey's poor peripherals "suggest," or "strongly suggest," that he will get rocked? Hennessey's peripherals were poor in '04, but I think there are other things at work here. To ignore those and conclude that Hennessey will be an ineffective major league pitcher seems narrow-minded.

Alex: Re. BP arrogance: Sure, it would be nice to tone it down, but how many people would bang their head if the Scorpions "suggested" that, "if weren't too much bother," they "might rock you like a hurricane"? Not me, buster.

Tom: A touch more on Hennessey. There are two fundamental stats I always look at first when evaluating a starting pitcher: K/9 and K/BB. If K/9 is below 5 consistently, I get REALLY worried. If K/BB is closer to 1 than it is to 2, then I get doubly worried. Based on his raw stuff and his peripheral stats I am extremely pessimistic about Hennessey. If he had any consistent time up in the Majors his ERA would be closer to 6.00 than 4.00.

And can I point out something no one has yet mentioned: Hennessey's 4.98 ML ERA in 7 starts was tremendously helped by five of his runs being counted as unearned. His RA was a monstrous 6.33. The BP writing style may be arrogant at times but the point is still valid here: Guys with peripherals like Hennessey's almost NEVER do well at the ML level.

From 1999-2004, who had seasons with a K/9 of less than 5.00 and a K/BB equal to or less than 1.5 AND an ERA under 5.00 (minimum 125 IP)?

The list is pretty ugly. Kirk Rueter did it 5 times in 5 years. Next on the list is Tom Glavine (2 season with those numbers). After that it's one season each for a bunch of guys like Albie Lopez, Nate Cornejo, Jon Garland, Scott Karl, Sidney Ponson, Pat Rapp, Armando Reynoso, Dennis Springer, Steve Trachsel, etc. Mike Hampton, Miguel Batista, and Roy Halladay are in there, too. Only 19 guys have done it in the last 5 years. It's spectacularly hard to have peripherals that bad and still be a successful starter.

ED. NOTE: Hennessey's first start at Fresno produced this line:

5 IP / 3 H / 3 ER / 4 BB / 5 K

Steve: I think I am more optimistic about Hennessey than anyone else. Let's turn the discussion towards Pat Misch. (Coming soon ...)



You Ain't Got No Alibi 

What in God's name is going on here? And here? Who woke up one day this winter and said, "We haven't had much luck with uniforms in the past, but I know just the thing to turn this franchise around: shiny black sweater vests!"

Those electric purple sleeves tucked into the gray pants with black pinstripes really tie it all together, don't you think?

Can this franchise please be dragged behind the shed and put out of its misery?



I Accept the Things I Cannot Change 

Hello, my name is Scott, and I am a recovering fastball hurler. When I was young and headstrong, I thought my fastball was the greatest thing since Jesus Jones's "Right Here Right Now." Man, that song rocked. And so did my fastball. Growing up in New Orleans, going to school in Lafayette, hoo-ee, sweet jambalaya, I could throw that heat like the flames shooting out of a Gulf of Mexico oil rig. And les filles, I tell you, mon vieux, they like the fastball man.

But somewhere along the line, I learned that just because I can hit 94 on the gun doesn't mean I'm such a big shot.

First, that rainy night in Old Frisco, when some old gap-tooth guy gets lucky and hits the top of the fence to win it, well, they told me to throw the high cheese past him and I couldn't do it. As I walked off the mound this guy with orange pom-poms taped to his ears yells at me, "You're even worse than Tyler Walker!" That's when I realized I might need some help.

Then the next day, I come in and figure, yeah, I can get strike one with the fastball on Michael Tucker, this guy I think used to play in Kansas City or something, and he frickin hits it like he was Barry Bonds or something, man! Into the water with all those canoes and shit.

Sorry, I'm not supposed to cuss at these meetings. At least I wasn't in Denver. I'm not sure how they run things here in Colorado Springs.



People Get Ready: It's a Mays Field Party 

I almost forgot! Tomorrow the Maysfieldians will be quaffing suds, jeering the phone company, and doing their best Barry Bonds impressions at the Brickhouse (426 Brannan, btwn 3rd and 4th). If you're going to the game, stop by afterwards. If you're not going to the game, stop by duringwards.

If the super fly Mays Field campaign doesn't pan out, how about Anchor Steam Park? I could definitely get behind that one.


Tomko Flashback 

No matter what Brett Tomko did last night, the Giants were going to lose. As Marty noted last night, you can't win when you can't score a run off Jeff Spicoli, er, Weaver.

But what Tomko did was interesting, in a grim forensic kind of way. The first five innings of work were strong, efficient, and reminiscent of his second-half surge last year. Even with men on base I didn't think the Dodgers would get good wood on the ball. Without Grissom's error in the fourth inning that let Kent advance to third, the Dodgers would have been scoreless through five.

But the sixth inning reminded me of the first half of Tomko's 2004 season, especially the game against the Mets in New York when he cruised for several innings then fell apart after some poor defense behind him. Perhaps it was early season fatigue after 90 pitches, but his concentration seemed to flag. 0-2 to Choi: wild pitch. (Isn't Matheny supposed to block those things?) 0-2 to Weaver: basehit (inexcusable). Then a 3-1 fastball to Izturis right down the piperoo.

Let's see if the newly focused Zen-master Tomko can shake off the old habits in his next start.

And let's all hope the Giant starting rotation can match the zeroes the Giants' lineup will be producing in the next couple weeks. UPDATE: Here's a sobering stat from last night, courtesy of David Pinto:

Weaver threw eight shutout innings, averaging less than 13 pitches per inning. Given that he only struck out two, the Giants were likely swinging early in the count, and getting nothing out of the balls in play. They were 5 for 25 on balls in play, a .200 average.

Repeat after me: Ver-Non-Wells. Ver-Non-Wells. Ver-Non-Wells. The drumbeat is getting louder, Sabes.



Weird Scenes Inside the Wotus Mind 

I didn't get to a TV until it was 7-1 and the game effectively over tonight. But I have some questions:

- Kirk Rueter pulled after five innings and 83 pitches...and four strikeouts? Sounds like he was pitching well enough to start the sixth.

- Did Felipe watch the game on TV? Does his apartment, which reportedly is in the high rise across from the park overlooking Momo's, have a balcony that sports a view of the field?

- Ray Durham didn't start because of the groin strain? Uh oh.

- Moises Alou was pulled from the game because of a calf strain? Come on, man. It's only the second game. To have Durham and Alou out now would only serve as absurd parody, not as sobering fact. Too real to be true.

- Mike Matheny with a slugging percentage of .571? Enjoy it while you can, and remember that Neifi Perez was hitting .643 or something like that after the first three games in Houston last year.

- Hey, how about that Jeff Fassero?

- To end the evening, a question for the crowd: on which date will Jason Christiansen get his release? (Correct answer wins an official Lefty Malo sippy cup.)



Omar Fu 

I just got back from the faux-brick yard, where Schmidt and Lowe pitched to a draw until the Dodger defense got their silly mitts all over everything. Two late-inning errors, two late runs for the Giants, and we were rewarded with a snappy little 4-2 opening day win while basking in the kind of weather that makes people who work in little office cubicles question the poison of their ambitions.

As sloppy as the Dodgers were on D, the Giants were as buttery as a bowl of French vanilla and as crisp as a cold tangelo. Fonzie backpedaled efficiently -- if not quite swiftly -- to snare a Ledee pop-up that looked destined for no-man's land and perhaps score a run. Matheny pounced on a strike-three slider in the dirt and threw Izturis out at first. Snow ran half way to Millbrae for a foul pop and nearly caught it, Jerry Rice style, near the bullpen mound. Standing ovation.

But the topper...oh, mama, they warned us about this guy. When the Giants signed Omar Vizquel, everyone said wait 'til you see him make plays. He does stuff no one else does. "Yeah yeah yeah," I thought. "Stop gladhandling me. He's 38 years old. Please trade for Vernon Wells."

If the double play he turned in the 9th inning is any indication, we'll be dropping our jaws a few times this year. He took a lazy underhand relay throw from Durham, jumped with legs splayed to either side to avoid Jeff Kent's bullrush slide, and short-armed a throw in mid-air right at Snow's belt buckle.

It's one thing to make a Derek Jeter-style jump-throw when the player knows he's going to jump and throw in rhythm, but Vizquel seemed to improvise the throw in mid-air. There was some awkwardness to his body angle, a minute adjustment he made, and the throw was as strong as if he'd taken a couple steps to wind up.

I'd love to get the image -- Vizquel in mid-air, legs akimbo, arm cocked -- and burn it on a T-shirt, the way the silhouette of Michael Jordan dunking became the ubiquitous Air Jordan logo. It would be the symbol of all that is cool and graceful and dangerous about baseball, with hints of ballet and martial arts and the fear of a moustachioed redneck in a hard blue plastic helmet crashing into one's genitals.

If Keanu Reeves woke up in San Francisco after getting a zillion terabytes of information pumped into his head, he would open his eyes and say, "Whoa. I know Omar Fu."



Better Than Just About Anything 

It's opening day (except for the Giants and a few others). To celebrate it, as well as National Poetry Month, let's hear from David Lehman:

April 3

It's one thing to rage
against decrepit old age
it's another thing to drink
yourself to death and I don't know
what made me think of Dylan
Thomas's farm forever fled
like a fleeting cloud only this one
dominates the sky on this chilly gray
afternoon Alfonso walks Piazza
singles to left and we have runners
on the corners with nobody out
the winning run on third base
and Zeile hits a fly ball to right
that will tie it up and it's still
cloudy and cool but better than being
in the office on opening day


Substitute "Alou" for "Piazza," "Grissom" for "Zeile," and correct the misspelling of Alfonzo's name, and it's perfect.

Enjoy 2005, everyone, no matter what team you root for.



25 Men and A Bottle of Flaxseed Rum (Yo Ho Ho) 

The Giants have whittled, pared, sliced, diced, julienned and scrimshawed the roster down to the requisite 25 strapping menfolk. I'll put the list in the handy-dandy right-hand margin. Below, a couple comments:

* Jeff Fassero on the roster was as inevitable as a feeding tube down the Pope's nose. How perfect was that? One Catholic whose precarious health has millions of people wringing their hands and a rabid media parked outside the window loses her feeding tube, and another Catholic whose precarious...etc., etc....outside the window gains one. Similarly, the Giants lose a 40-year-old person to injury and simply add another one to the roster.

* This blows me away whenever I go to a friend's high-mass Catholic wedding (it's happened a few times): The wine and challah of communion (just checking to see if you're really paying attention) actually is the blood and body of Christ. No, it's not a metaphor, or a simile, or a symbol, or a joke; that wafer is the body of Christ, that goblet is full of his blood. Why does it taste like melba toast and plonk? Hey folks, that's the miracle of transubstantiation. And who are we to doubt? How do we know that Jesus didn't really have whole wheat muscles and a verdant, piquant, quaffable yet not overbearing Type B+?

* Similarly, through the miracle of transabeanstiation the combined offense of Pedro Feliz, Tony Torcato and Marquis Grissom will equal that of Barry Bonds until Barry throws off the weight of the cross, rolls the rock aside and -- Yes, Brother Barry, Yes! -- walks among mortals again!

Can I get an Amen?

* In today's meaningless exhibition game, Giants batters in one stretch swung at Danny Haren's first pitches at least five times in the span of six or seven at-bats. Perhaps more. There were also first-pitch foul balls. There are two explanations for this:

a) The Giants are a veteran team who don't need any more spring training. They're swinging at first pitches to get these meaningless exhibitions games to end sooner.

b) The Giants have accumulated the worst gaggle of impatient hacks and will dearly pay the consequences once the season starts.

* I promise, no more feeding tube references. Unless it's somehow related to the Cha-Cha Bowl, or for some reason you want more feeding tube references. I'm always happy to oblige.




Malo Quiz time! Pencils ready? Which of these things is *not* an April Fool's gag:

BP Braintrust Predicts Giants to Win NL Pennant, World Series

Waiting in Bunker, Fassero Just A Heartbeat Away From Giants' Bullpen

Google Gulp

Westwood Blues to Merge With The Onion

Kimberly Bell's Book of Big Bad Barry

Jobs To Give Swedish Retailer Massage

Sidd Finch, Pitching Phenomenon Returns

Giants' Lineup Will Need Plenty of Rest, Feeding Tubes


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