The Bullpen: Mother's Day a time to reflect for R.A. Dickey
It would have been tough after what R.A. Dickey had observed in his travels this winter, for the Jays’ 38-year-old starter not to be thinking of the sadness, the desolation, the tragic lives of the desperate young women, many of them unwed mothers, that he had witnessed on his trip to Mumbai in January.
It was a mission to deliver the significant funds he had raised for the charity, Bombay Teen Challenge. Sunday was a mixture of happy and sad.
“One of the things that’s hard to do in this life is to hold what’s terrible about the world and what’s beautiful about it at the same time,” Dickey observed. “And a day like today, I have a lot of joy about my own relationship with my mother and my wife and how she’s a great mother to our children, but I also know that (there is sadness) because of what I’ve seen that’s lacking in the lives of other children. Seeing the red-light district (of Mumbai) in particular, there are motherless children running around all over the streets, so it makes you really appreciate what you have.”
As has been well detailed in his autobiography, published last year, Dickey’s life has been tumultuous at times, troubled by rocky moments in relationships with the women in his life that now have become so important and cherished. He appreciates how close he came to losing those influences.
“Oh yeah, 100 per cent, when my perspective was skewed,” Dickey admitted. “I think later in my life I’ve grown to really understand the things that are valuable. But in my youth, I don’t think that I had at all a very healthy perspective of what blessings I really did have at the moment.
“God gave me a real gift in my restored relationships with both my own mother and my wife and that gift was empathy. And so I think more than anything, that it’s that human empathy that breaks my heart for the kids that don’t have what so many of us take for granted, myself included. It makes you sad, but it also motivates me to want to try to help. I think that’s the root.”
Dickey and his wife Anne decided that on his trip to India that he would take his two young daughters, Gabriel, 11, and Lila, 9. It was a difficult decison to make because of the raw view of life he knew they would experience as impressionable children, but he has no regrets five months later.
“I took a risk,” Dickey said. “You’re risking the destruction of innocence when you take an 11-year-old, a nine-year-old into an environment where so much of what’s wrong with the world is evident just by looking out the bus window.
“But I feel like, we had really prayed about it before going over and I feel like God really sheltered my kids from the stuff that really would have destroyed some of their innocence. Instead He gave us the opportunity to see most of the redemption that was occuring and I think that’s good for my daughters to see is that they saw a modicum of brokeness, but they saw a surplus of redemption and that’s the right formula for them.”
Dickey was asked if he had seen a change in his daughters, whether it might be the moment they arrived home and first hugged their own mother again.
“I don’t know if that was the moment for me, if it made me thankful that I took them,” Dickey said. “But there was a moment when one of my daughters turned to me just out of the blue, unprompted, and said ‘Thank you’. It was for what was a seemingly everyday thing. The thing that we did was we went out to eat and my daughter said, thanks without me saying anything.
“I think that’s the real reward in this, maybe it’s not right now, but years down the road they will remember that the world isn’t everything that’s inside that bubble that they live in. Hopefully they will get some of that same empathy for people, feel for humanity that don’t have what they do.”
Dickey on Monday afternoon was scheduled to give a speech and receive an honourary doctorate of sacred letters from the Wycliffe divinity school, associated with the University of Toronto.
THE EVOLUTION OF A CLOSER: Coming off of minor off-season shoulder surgery and with a late start to his spring, even Casey Janssen was not sure whether he would be the Blue Jays closer when the season opened.
But in a bullpen full of power arms, Janssen has been the main man, going 10-for-10 with a 0.69 ERA and a 0.31 WHIP. How does that happen when the man does not boast even one overpowering pitch?
“I think that sometimes baseball people in general focus (too much) on a pitcher’s stuff and not as much on control and command,” Jays bullpen coach Pat Hentgen observed. “I think that Casey’s living proof that his stuff doesn’t have to be off the charts and you done’t have to have the best fastball in the bullpen, you have to be the best pitcher and the most consistent pitcher.”
The typical Janssen save usually involves one inning, with fewer than 15 pitches, no baserunners and most times the ball will be put in play. The young vet understands what he does best.
“Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen fast — good or bad,” Janssen said. “You’re trying to eliminate as many pitches as you can so that you can be available tomorrow and the next day.”
The California-born righthander understands that opponents have scouted him and they know that he brings the battle to them early. But Janssen is mature enough now to know that he can use that knowledge to his advantage, paying attention to what they have done in the early part of the game.
“I don’t walk a ton of guys, I know that, the other teams know that,” Janssen said. “Sometimes they’re taking (the first pitch) and you get a free strike and it puts them in a hole. At the same time, if I see the team’s more aggressive early (in the count), then you don’t necessarily have to throw a strike and they’re thinking that I am. So it’s a mind game. It’s a strategic game and I don’t necessarily throw strikes to the guys that hit the balls, but it all works out in the end.”
Not every major-league pitcher has what it takes to be a closer and pitch the ninth inning with a lead. Hentgen has seen some good ones and knows what they have in common.
Janssen remembers the important lessons he learned sitting around the bullpen with teammates as a young pitcher trying to find his role. The bullpen is a great place for baseball conversation.
“I never forget the day that B.J. Ryan told me, ‘Take the fight to the hitter. Attack them. You want to be the guy in the middle of the ring throwing the punches,’” Janssen recalled. “That’s what I try to do when I’m on the mound. Hopefully, good or bad, it’s going to end quick.”
This year, as one of the more veteran guys in the pen, along with lefthander Darren Oliver, Janssen is one of the leaders in any conversation, a man that is not afraid to share what he knows.
“I’ve become such a better student of the game, not only with my game but also the opponent’s,” Janssen said. “It’s funny because I was talking to (coach) Clayton (McCullough) down in the pen. I pretty much talked him through a whole at-bat before it even happened the other night. I said I’m going to try and do this, this and this and then take my whatever. It happened almost on cue.
“We joked about it after the game. It’s just about having a plan, being able to execute your plan and then, of course, throwing strikes, keeping the ball down. But I think for the most part I’m growing as a student of the game and then being able to use my talents, my strengths against their weaknesses.”
Thus far, Janssen has been the Jays’ best player and his decisions have been good. If anyone deserves to go to the all-star game in an otherwise disappointing start, it’s the Jays’ perfect closer.
THE WEEK THAT WAS: It was a costly week for the Jays that had the seeds of another disaster planted early on, but ended on a high note in Boston, winning two of three with the unlikeliest of rotations leading the way. Lefty Ricky Romero couldn’t get out of the first and J.A. Happ couldn’t get out of the way in Tampa Bay vs. the Rays. Romero was sent to the minors after recording one out on Monday and was shipped out to Triple-A Buffalo the next morning.
Then on Tuesday, Happ was felled by a vicious line drive by Desmond Jennings and carried off the field on a stretcher. Amazingly, the report the next day was no concussion and just a small fracture behind the left ear. However on his way to the ground he hurt his knee and that is the injry that forced him to the disabled list where he will remain until the end of May.
But amazingly the Jays came back to win each of the first two games of the Rays series in St. Petersburg. In the series finale on Thursday, with a chance to win three times in the four-game series, the Jays had the lead, gave it up on a home run by former teammate Yunel Escobar then lost in the 10th inning on a walk-off-walk, as Brad Lincoln issued consecutive free passes to hand Aaron Loup the loss.
It did not look like it was going to get any better for the Jays as Brandon Morrow tweaked a muscle in his back on Tuesday throwing a bullpen session, making him questionable for his Sunday start at Fenway. The Jays entered with Ramon Ortiz, Mark Buehrle and Chad Jenkins scheduled to face the Sox with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Ryan Dempster. Bet the farm?
After Lester shut the Jays out on one hit on Friday night, Buehrle came out with his strongest start of the year, going seven-plus. Then on Sunday in the series finale, the Jays’ bats came alive with five home runs, two of them by Jose Bautista in a 12-4 victory. Emilio Bonifacio had three hits and Mune Kawasaki broke the scoreless tie with a grind-it-out two-run single in the third.
The series win in Boston was just the second of the year for the Jays, both on the road. The other was in Kansas City the series Jose Reyes was injured. It also marked the first winning road trip and even though it was just a 4-3 record, it still was good for the team psyche.
“We’ve been waiting on that all year,” manager John Gibbons said of the solid baseball being played. “We’ve had a couple of stretches, even in Tampa, a couple of comeback games, and then we lost the next two, one was kind of a heartbreaker, but we’ve had a couple of games like that earlier on. It really hasn’t taken off. We’re waiting on that, we know it’s going to happen. But it’s definitely been a long wait. We’ve got that good feeling out there now.”
DOWN ON THE FARM: Jays’ Prospect Roberto Osuna sidelined: One of the Jays’ premier pitching prospects, 18-year-old Cuban-born, Mexican-raised Roberto Osuna has suffered what is likely a season ending elbow injury, according to MLB.com. Osuna was at Class-A Lansing.
Osuna came out of his last start for the Lugnuts with pain and headed for a visit to Dr. James Andrews. The early diagnosis was a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, however Tommy John surgery, the most likely end result, is on hold for the moment.
“Right now they said just to give him a few days and start playing catch,” GM Alex Anthopoulos told MLB.com. “Right now it’s basically rest and rehab. But there is a scenario if he does have a flare-up again in the next few weeks that ultimately he may need Tommy John.”
Suspension winds down: There is a revised date for the return of RHP Marcus Stroman, the Jays’ top draft pick in June 2012. His 50-game minor-league suspension officially ends on May 19. Stroman has been working out at extended spring camp in Dunedin.
Following is a list of the Top 4 HR hitters at each level of the Jays’ farm system.
Triple-A Buffalo (22-12): Luis Jimenez 8; Ryan Langerhans 7; Mauro Gomez 6; Andy LaRoche 5. AA-NEW HAMPSHIRE (16-21): Ryan Schimpf 7; Clint Robinson 4; Ricardo Nanita 3;
Kevin Pillar 3.
Single-A Dunedin (20-13): K.C. Hobson 5; Andy Burns 4; Marcus Knecht 4; 5 tied with 1.
Single-A Lansing (11-21): Gustavo Pierre 4; Carlos Ramirez 4; Balbino Fuenmayor 3; Lopes/Sweeney 2.
PINK BAT MONOPOLY A MISTAKE: Mother’s Day in the major leagues, for just about the past two decades, has been an opportunity for teams and players to raise awareness for breast cancer, for finding a cure for the dreaded disease that has affected so many mothers, wives and sisters of MLB players and coaches. The theme has always been pink. Players used pink bats, wore pink wristbands and necklaces; maybe some pink shoes and batting gloves. But the key has always been the pink bats, the most visible equipment in baseball.
Well, on Sunday at Fenway Park, in a game between the Jays and Red Sox there was only one pink bat, used by shortstop Stephen Drew of the Sox.
It seems that Louisville Slugger, one of the original and iconic bat companies, had parlayed a major -contribution to MLB charity, to lock up exclusive rights to pink bats with manufacturer logos. Other bat companies could not participate in the awareness raising unless they took all corporate logos off the bats.
Details are outlined in an excellent piece by writer Jeff Passan of Yahoo.com.
The Jays have two players, J.P. Arencibia and Mark DeRosa who use Louisville Slugger bats. DeRosa was not in the lineup and Arencibia wasn’t comfortable with the specialty bats he was sent. So the awareness and the special nature of the Mother’s Day game were blunted by corporate issues.
Is that what charity has come to? That you can lock up something like cancer awareness simply by making the biggest contribution and buying the rights? Louisville Slugger and MLB are both losers in this case. How good would it have been if Hillerich & Bradsby, the parent company, had recognized the problem, the negative perception of their ban on pink bats and allowed other companies to participate, maybe insisting they contribute to the cancer fund at a certain, reasonably-priced level.
Everything in sports seems to be for sale to presenting sponsors these days. But when it comes to raising money for cancer research there should be no such things as exclusive rights.
Maybe by next year, something can be worked out, but for right now, that’s a disgrace.
The Top 7 plus differentials between wins and losses by Blue Jays pitchers in history.
1. Jack Morris 21-6 (15) 1992
1. Roy Halladay 22-7 (15) 2003
3. Roger Clemens 21-7 (14) 1997
3. Roger Clemens 20-6 (14) 1998
5. Dave Stieb18-6 (12) 1990
5. David Wells20-8 (12) 2000
5. Roy Halladay19-7 (12) 2002
Joba Chamberlain should show respect: Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is one of the class acts in baseball, so when Joba Chamberlain is in a dispute with Mo, if you’re choosing sides, it’s no contest as to who is in the right. In Kansas City on the weekend, Rivera was being interviewed pre-game in the dugout and Joba was talking loudly to people he knew in the stands over his head. Mariano asked him to keep it down until he was finished. Afterwards, in front of a dugout full of media, Chamberlain demanded angrily that Rivera never tell him to be quiet again. Rivera the next day apologized to media for the incident while Joba said there’s nothing in his life he would change.
How could umpires blow call? How could Fieldin Culbreath and his crew be umpiring in the major leagues and not know the rule that a new pitcher has to face at least one hitter before he can be removed? How can Bo Porter be managing in the big leagues and also not know that rule? On Thursday at Minute Maid Park, Porter, the Astros manager in his first full year after taking over from Brad Mills last summer, brought in lefty Wesley Wright to relieve Paul Clemens, with two on and two out in the seventh. Angels manager Mike Scioscia sent in righthanded hitter Luis Jimenez to pinch-hit for J.B. Shuck. Porter came back out to bring in righthander Hector Ambriz — which is clearly against the rules as anyone that has managed at any level well knows. Porter bamboozled the crew and home plate ump Adrian Johnson with this interpretation of the rule: “Once I made sure he pinch hit for the batter that was scheduled to hit, then I started toward the mound. The home plate umpire kind of stopped me. He’s like ‘Whoa! Whoa!’ Then Scioscia started yelling, ‘He has to face the hitter.’ I just calmly explained to him my interpretation of the rule is that yes he has to face the hitter as long as he’s the hitter that’s scheduled to hit. But the hitter that was scheduled to hit had now been pinch-hit for, which now gives me the right to bring in a pitcher to face the pinch hitter.” Scioscia rightly protested the game right away, but the protest was dropped when the Angels came back to win the game. MLB suspended crew chief Culbreath for two games for allowing the move. It was a bad week for umpires, after Angel Hernandez and his crew had reviewed the video of an A’s homer called a double and even though the tape clearly shows it was a homer, still called it a double.
Wells at the hot corner for Yankees: On Wednesday, in what Vernon Wells called one of the coolest moments of his career, the former Jays centre fielder played the ninth inning at third base and made a smooth play on a groundball in a 3-2 Yankee win over the Rockies. Wells has been hot ever since that game in Denver, slamming a homer in Kansas City for the second straight game on Sunday and for the third time in the last five. It was Vernon’s ninth homer of the season.
Rizzo signs seven-year deal with Cubs: The Cubs have made young first baseman Anthony Rizzo a major part of their future, signing him to a seven-year, $41 million deal with two options that could make it $73 million through 2021.The 23-year-old Florida native entered the season with less than a full year of major-league service, so the Cubs have bought out his first year of free agency plus the two option seasons. Rizzo, a lefthanded power-hitter drafted by the Red Sox in the sixth round of the ’07 draft, was included in the deal with the Padres for Adrian Gonzalez and rejoined Theo Epstein in Chicago in January of 2012.
THIS DATE IN BASEBALL HISTORY
May 13: 1967 -Mickey Mantle of the Yankees slams his 500th career homer off Stu Miller of the Orioles ... 1958 – Stan Musial of the Cardinals rips career hit 3,000 vs. Moe Drabowsky of the Cubs ... May 14: 1920 – Walter Johnson of the Senators records win 300 with a 9-8 decision over the Tigers ... May 15: 1989 – The Blue Jays fire manager Jimy Williams after a 12-24 starts and trouble with star slugger George Bell, replacing him with hitting coach Cito Gaston. The Jays come back ot make the playoffs and four years later win their first World Series ... 1981- RH Len Barker tosses the ninth perfect game in modern history beating the Blue Jays 3-0, striking out 11. His catcher Ron Hassey later goes on to catch Dennis Mnartinez’s perfect game vs. the Dodgers ... 1912 – Ty Cobb rushes into the stands in New York to attack a fan, Claude Luecker. AL President Ban Johnson suspends Cobb ... May 16: 1954 – Ted Williams makes his season debit after a spring training injury. The Splinter goes 8-for-9 in a doubleheader vs. the Tigers ... May 17: 1998 – David Wells pitches the 13th perfect game in MLB history beating the Twins 4-0. It was the first perfect game at Yankee Stadium since Don Larsen of the Yankees in the 1956 World Series. Coincidentally, both men went to the same San Diego area high school and Larsen was in a private box to see Wells ... 1973 – Angels outfielder Bobby Valentine catches his spikes in a fence chasing a Dick Green homer, tearing up his knee and ruining his career ... May 19: 191 – Cy Young of the Indians wins his 500th career game in 11 innings over the Senators.
MLB POWER RANKINGS (as of May 12)
TEAM Last Week Start of Spring
1. Texas Rangers
If they stay here, Ron Washington’s best job
2. St. Louis Cardinals
Wainhouse established as new ace
3. New York Yankees
Mo and Joba kiss and make up
4. San Francisco Giants
Melky gets his WS ring on Tuesday
5. Baltimore Orioles
Proving they weren’t just saved by the bullpen last year
6. Detroit Tigers
Will Valverde’s ninth inning adventures return?
7. Boston Red Sox
Levelling off with two closers on shelf
8. Atlanta Braves
Leading NL East but just 9-8 outside division
9. Washington Nationals
Underachieving considering all the stars
10. Cleveland Indians
Responding under proven winner Terry Francona
11. Cincinnati Reds
Votto .919 OPS but Shin-Soo Choo better
12. Pittsburgh Pirates
Grilli huge revelation as closer
13. Kansas City Royals
Young and talented but still maturing
14. Arizona Diamondbacks
Same five pitchers have made every start
15. Minnesota Twins
Might be Gardenhire’s best job
16. Colorado Rockies
Nice to see Canadian Jeff Francis back and healthy
17. Tampa Bay Rays
Minus Matt Moore starters are 7-11
18. Oakland A’s
Continue to fade with Cespedes a disappointment
19. Chicago White Sox
Chris Sale one-hitter no fluke
20. Seattle Mariners
Jason Bay comeback nice to see even if numbers mediocre
21. Milwaukee Brewers
RHP Marco Estrada 11 homers in seven starts
22. New York Mets
Young Matt Harvey could be great with 0.69 WHIP
23. Los Angeles Dodgers
Matt Kemp gives jersey, hat and shoes to young fan in SF
24. Philadelphia Phillies
Papelbon perfect but just six save opportunites tell story
25. San Diego Padres
Carlos Quentin’s biggest hit was on Greinke
26. Chicago Cubs
Rizzo 7-year deal now big part of future
27. Los Angeles Angels
Scioscia may be first manager to go
28. Toronto Blue Jays
Consider 4-3 road trip huge accomplishment
29. Houston Astros
Snapped up Jays’ reject Edgar Goinzalez; release Humber
30. Miami Marlins
This is a truly bad team
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
After taking a year off of managing baseball in 2012, I couldn’t stand it any more, not being involved with helping any kids, so I signed up as the pitching coach for the Oakville A’s minor midgets under manager Clark Rymal. We had our opener this past Thursday, beating Georgetown 9-4 and for three hours I understood why I missed it so much when I wasn’t doing it.
There are so many subtleties in playing baseball that nobody ever possibly knows everything about how to handle a game, but as long as the kids want to learn, that’s what makes it so rewarding. As the opener started at Oakville Park, built as a practice field for the early Blue Jays, many of the players chose to sit in the dugout away from the fenced in area closest to home plate. But by the fourth inning, I looked around and every player was gathered around, leaning on the fence listening to the coaches and really into the game. Win or lose, seeing the players engaged is its own reward.
On Friday morning I headed to Boston, checking in to a Copley area hotel just around the corner from the finish line of the Boston Marathon, where less than a month earlier tragedy had struck. The finish line has been recognized with a broad yellow stripe across Boylston. I was not that impressed with the city park near the finish line that was filled with rows and rows of Marathon souvenirs and American flags for sale. Hopefully the profits are all going to charity.
Boston is such a great walking city, different than New York, because it’s populated by a sea of vibrant young faces, all filled with hope for the futre, not beaten down and surviving day-to-day. That’s largely because of the number of colleges and univeristies in the area.
But Fenway Park, self-proclaimed “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark” is still basically a dump with some aspects of the clubhouse, tunnel and dugout that likely have not changed since Babe Ruth was a rookie. One of the few changes that should help settle Don Cherry’s concern about women invaders in the clubhouse? The visitors room now has a huge black shower curtain covering the communal shower where previously media used to be able to look in from any corner of the room.