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03/23/2008 Archived Entry: "WORLD BASEBALL TODAY: Vol. 2, No. 12"
by Bruce Baskin, Radio Miami International
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MARLINS HOPE FOR IMPROVED PITCHING, ATTITUDE FROM OLSEN
There appear to be two Scott Olsens, and it’s clear which one the Florida Marlins are hoping will show up for the 2008 season. That Scott Olsen is the one who went from being a sixth-round draft pick to a highly-regarded young flamethrower who posted a 12-10 record as a rookie in 2006, striking out 166 batters with a 4.04 ERA.
The Scott Olsen they’d rather not have on the team is the one whose 5.81 ERA last year was the highest of any National League pitcher with at least 162 innings. He did win ten games, but got cuffed around for 226 hits, 29 of them homers. That Scott Olsen also was arrested on a DUI charge in which he mixed it up with police, was fined for making an obscene gesture toward fans, and served a two-game suspension after scuffling with one of his teammates. Clearly this is a young man with some issues.
However, Olsen is a 6’5” left-hander who can throw 94 miles per hour, which means the Marlins will give him another shot, even though Florida president David Samson said last year the team should cut Olsen if he was convicted on the DUI charge, which was dropped after Olsen agreed to seek diversion therapy. Another obstacle for the 24-year-old is shoulder tendinitis that kept him out of training camp for two weeks.
With the departure of Dontrelle Willis, the Marlins need Olsen to regain his 2006 form. Florida catcher Matt Treanor says, “The sky is the limit. He’s big. He has good command. He watches the game. He pays attention. He asks questions.” Perhaps the biggest question is Olsen himself.
RAYS SEEKING HELP IN OUTFIELD
The Tampa Bay Rays are expected to be one of baseball’s most improved teams this year, and on paper, their outfield is the envy of many teams.
Tampa Bay’s outfield of Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Jonny Gomes are more than adequate, Rocco Baldelli would be a starter with most teams and veteran Cliff Floyd adds punch off the bench. Still, Rays management is concerned that Baldelli’s injury problems have continued, Floyd has slowed noticeably, and Gomes’ problems against right-handed pitching creates a need for another left-handed bat.
As a result, Tampa Bay has been looking into bringing in some help. Some of the names popping up include Dave Dellucci of the Indians, the Angels’ Reggie Willits and Cincinnati’s Ryan Freel, as well as free agent Kenny Lofton. Even Barry Bonds was mentioned, but sanity prevailed and Bonds was not offered a contract.
Until a deal can be swung, expect Tampa Bay to audition in-house for a fourth outfielder. Former Rookie of the Year infielder Eric Hinske may have the inside track.
BRAVES AUDITION FOR VERSATILE BENCH PLAYER
Now that the Atlanta Braves appear satisfied that their pitching situation has settled down, they’re looking for a versatile reserve who can play both infield and outfield positions. While Josh Anderson will be Atlanta’s fourth outfielder, Braves GM Frank Wren is hoping infielders Martin Prado and Brent Lillibridge can be pressed into outfield duty when needed. Prado can play three infield slots, but Lillibridge appears to be the better outfield prospect. With the absence of Andruw Jones and newcomer Mark Kotsay’s history of back trouble, Wren would like a fifth outfielder…just in case.
RED SOX, A’S PREPARE FOR SEASON OPENER IN JAPAN
For the third time in history, two teams will square off in Japan to open the Major League Baseball season. The defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox arrived in Tokyo last Friday in advance of their series with the Oakland Athletics, as Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima and their teammates disembarked from their chartered plane at Haneda Airport. Boston is the first team to open their season in Japan after winning the World Series the previous fall.
The Red Sox and Oakland will face the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers this weekend in exhibition games before beginning the regular season Tuesday and Wednesday at the Tokyo Dome. Matsuzaka will start the first game Tuesday for Boston, becoming the second Japanese pitcher in the majors to so after Hideo Nomo turned the same trick for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004.
MONTERREY OPENS MEXICAN TITLE DEFENSE WITH ROAD WIN
The defending Mexican league champion Monterrey Sultanes opened the defense of their pennant last week with an impressive 8-2 road win over the rival Saltillo Saraperos in front of 15,900 fans at Saltillo’s Serdan Brothers Stadium.
The Sultanes opened the scoring with three first inning runs as Mendy Lopez stroked a two-run double to score Carlos Orrantia and Miguel Flores, and Monterrey never looked back. Flores finished the game with three hits, while Lopez turned in two doubles to pace the Sultanes’ 13-hit attack. Veteran pitcher Mauricio Lara scattered two Saltillo runs over five innings for the win, allowing five hits.
Saraperos catcher Noe Munoz broke up Lara’s shutout bid with a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth, but that was all Saltillo could put on the board. Starting pitcher Hector Mercado was roughed up for five runs on six hits and four walks before being relieved by Alfredo Caudillo with one out in the fifth inning.
Monterrey and Saltillo are traditionally the two strongest Northern Division teams in Mexico, and the Sultanes had to beat the Saraperos in the playoffs last year before going on to beat Yucatan in the championship series.
HAVANA PITCHER WINS 15TH STRAIGHT GAME
While it’s likely untrue that Havana would be 12 games behind Industriales in the Cuban National Series Group B standings without Yulieski Gonzalez, you have to give him an awful lot of credit for the fact that they’re in the divisional lead by three games.
Gonzalez ran his season record to a perfect 15-0 last week with a complete game win over Cienfuegos, allowing one unearned run and one hit for the night. He broke the Cuban record for most consecutive wins in a season, but has a way to go before catching Lazaro Valle’s 25-game winning streak over two seasons for Industriales. Gonzalez last tasted defeat on April 6 of 2007 in the playoff semifinals.
The Cuban regular season ends this weekend, with eight of the 16 teams advancing to the playoffs. Pinar del Rio clinched the fourth and final berth in the Western Zone last Wednesday by defeating Matanzas 12-4, to reach the postseason for the 15th time in the past 16 seasons. Las Tunas beat Villa Clara the same night by a 12-4 score to earn the fourth slot in the Eastern Zone. Yoelkis Cruz posted his 13th win against one loss for Las Tunas, and all-time great Osmani Urrutia went 2-for-3 at the plate with two runs scored.
DARVISH TOSSES SHUTOUT IN PACIFIC LEAGUE OPENER
Japan’s Pacific League got a jump on both the majors and the rival Central League by opening their 2008 regular season last Thursday with a full slate of games. While it may be a new year and a new season, one thing appears unchanged from 2007: Nippon Ham’s Yu Darvish is still a dominant pitcher.
Last year’s Sawamura Award winner began his fourth professional season by tossing the seventh complete game shutout of his career in a 1-0 win over the Lotte Marines. The righty scattered four hits and struck out ten Lotte batsmen, and got out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning by completing a play at first base that was close enough to earn the first-base umpire making the call an exclusive audience with Marines manager Bobby Valentine, who presumably did not streak out of the dugout to congratulate the umpire for a call well made.
In another Pacific League opener, the Softbank Hawks got a dramatic three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning from pinch-hitter Hiroshi Shibahara to beat the Rakuten Eagles 4-3. Shibahara was behind in the count 0-2 before drilling a Domingo Guzman changeup over the right field wall for his sayonara home run. The two teams are managed by a pair of Japanese baseball legends: All-time home run king Sadaharu Oh is at the helm of the Hawks for perhaps his final season; while catching great Katsuya Nomura, who hit over 600 homers himself during his career, leads the Eagles.
TAIWANESE LEAGUE OPENS 19TH SEASON
The Chinese Professional Baseball League began its 19th season last Sunday in a matchup between the two teams that met in the 2007 Taiwan Series, as the President Lions bopped the La New Bears 14-9 in Tainan before over 6,000 fans.
People got their money’s worth in this one, as the lead changed hands no less than five times. The Bears drew first blood in the top of the first as Lin Chih-sheng’s single up the middle off Australian pitcher Greg Wiltshire gave the visitors a 1-0 lead. Not to be outdone, the Lions’ Chen Lien-hong walloped a grand slam in the bottom of the first off Bears starter Mike Johnson of Canada to make it 4-1.
La New eventually came back to take a 7-5 lead into the bottom of the fourth before President’s Kao Guo-ching smoked Johnson with a grand slam of his own to give the Lions a 9-7 advantage. The Bears were able to knot the game at 9-all in the top of the eighth, but the Lions put the contest away for good with five runs in the bottom of the frame, keyed by a three-run bomb from Chen, who finished with seven RBIs.
Lefty reliever Yen Chuen-hao tossed a scoreless eighth for the Lions for the win, but this was a hitter’s game all the way as the two sides combined to record 23 runs for the highest-scoring season opener in league history.
TROUBLE BREWING FOR DOOSAN BEARS?
Kyung-moon Kim managed South Korea to an Olympic berth earlier this month in the Qualifying Tournament in Taiwan, but the way things are looking with his Doosan Bears, that may end up being the highlight of Kim’s 2008 season.
The Bears reached the Korea Series last fall, but tension between Kim and Doosan’s older players has observers wondering if Kim is trying to show the veterans the door and start retooling with younger players. Kim’s feud with 16-year vet first baseman Kyung-hyun Ahn is noteworthy. The quiet Ahn hit .274 in 2007 with solid glovework, and is considered the emotional leader of the Bears, but Kim suggested that trading the 38-year-old would be in the best interest of the team. Time will tell.