December 9, 2019

Fresh squeezes from the Grapefruit League

March 16, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Making baseball predictions public is always a bad idea. Somebody always gets hot, or gets hurt, and players can stumble into hot streaks or slumps — some of them lasting a full season.

Media types who predicted the Washington Nationals to revive in 2010 were greeted this spring with 11 consecutive exhibition game defeats. That’s right, the “new” Nats were no better than the old gnats, the last-place team that was first in war, first in peace, and last in the National League.

They won today, erasing their status as the only one of the 30 teams in the majors without a win, but the psychological damage — even though spring training means nothing — could last well into the regular season.

That’s especially true because Stephen Strasburg, the much-heralded pitcher who was the team’s top draft pick last year, is ticketed to start the year in the minors. He’s blanked big-league hitters every time out but the higher-ups in the Washington front office don’t want to rush him and perhaps ruin him.

There’s plenty of precedent for that (see David Clyde’s short biography).

In the meantime, Braves broadcaster Joe Simpson says he’s bowled over by three rookies emerging in the NL East: Jason Heyward, Atlanta’s 20-year-old rightfielder; Mike Stanton, a slugging outfielder with the young-and-hungry Florida Marlins; and Strasburg.

Simpson will be joined in the Peachtree TV booth this year by former Braves standout John Smoltz, the 43-year-old righthander who found no takers on the free agent market. Even with Smoltz in the official Atlanta family again, however, don’t expect a midseason return; Braves scouts believe he’s done.

Too bad Smoltz didn’t retire before last season so that he could enter the Hall of Fame the same year as former Atlanta teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Smoltz was an embarrassment in Boston while trying to come back from shoulder problems last year and didn’t do a whole lot better after returning to the National League with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cards train in Jupiter, north of the Palm Beaches, at handsome Roger Dean Stadium. The only ballpark in the Grapefruit League shared by two teams, Roger Dean is unusual because both clubhouses are located behind the outfield fences. Media members walking there can hear balls being hit during batting practice but can’t see them until they come flying over the walls. Those little suckers can hurt, too.

Word is that injuries are going to play a big part in the early going. The Mets, not expected to do much even with Johann Santana healthy and Jason Bay providing additional pop, will miss mainstays Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran so much that they will need binoculars to find the Braves, Phils, and Marlins in the standings by Memorial Day. Or so the scouts say.

Scouts are all over the place, looking to see what players might be available for trade as the clock ticks down the hours to the April 4 season opener. A flurry of deals are expected but none are likely to involve the still-unsigned free agents Pedro Martinez or Gary Sheffield. That’s surprising, since the former pitched far beyond expectations with the Phillies and even looked decent during the World Series against the Yankees. Sheffield was no slouch either, giving the Mets some pop from the right side.

Whispers reaching the Grapefruit League from Arizona suggest that D’backs ace Brandon Webb, rebounding from August shoulder surgery, will not be ready for the opener. That will hurt the club, which added Adam LaRoche and Kelly Johnson, a pair of ex-Braves, in a rebuilt right side of the infield.

Albert Pujols, arguably the best player in the National League, proved his bad back isn’t so bad by playing seven innings Tuesday. The 3-4 tandem of Pujols and Matt Holliday in the St. Louis lineup from Day One will be devastating, short-circuiting the pitching-rich Reds in their quest to topple the Cards.

As for the Cubs, now in the 102nd year of their rebuilding program, only fools would bet on that streak ending anytime soon. A guy walking around Roger Dean Stadium wore a brand-new shirt that read CHICAGO CUBS: 1908 WORLD CHAMPIONS.

Can’t close this column without commenting on Victoria Secret’s alliance with Major League Baseball. Because figures show that 40% of all fans at major-league games hail from the distaff side, a new line of bras, lingerie, and sleepwear with baseball logos has been unveiled by the fashion company.

Sold online at VictoriasSecret.com, plus Victoria’s Secret stores in 11 markets, the items are aimed at college-age women but it’s a good bet men will be interested too.

Just don’t tell Pete Rose.

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