March 24 -- Hack on the Move

12:27 PM

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This blog was set up as a place for me to write baseball during a time when no one was paying me to do it. This time has been blessedly short.

Starting today, you can read me twice a week on www.sny.tv. My first column for them, about the Mets' need to get serious now that they have their team back from the World Baseball Classic, is on that site now. My New York baseball columns will run there on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the baseball season.

In addition, any day now I will be starting my new job at fanhouse.com. For fanhouse, I will write football, baseball and college basketball. You should be able to find me there pretty much any day.

What will become of the NY baseball hack blog? I have no idea. Maybe it'll still exist as a place for me to put stuff my new employers don't want. But my sense is I'll be busy enough that it's not likely to be updated with any kind of regularity (which it really wasn't anyway).

Regardless, I thank those of you who followed me here, and I hope you'll continue to do so in my new landing spot(s).

March 18 -- Livan Large

9:27 PM

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I've only seen two days of this contest, but it didn't look like much of one to me. Jon Niese looked like a fine, capable big-league No. 5 starter with upside. Livan Hernandez looked like a smart veteran who knows how to get hitters out with middling stuff. I know who I'm taking if I'm the Mets right now, and it's the guy with the World Series MVP trophy.

After he was done today, Livan told us he felt good -- like all of his pitches felt "perfect" coming out of his hand. He said he'd been working on some mechanical adjustments designed to get his delivery back to the way it used to be -- before a knee problem forced him to change it last year. He said his knee feels fine now, and he likes the difference it's made in his effectiveness.

Jerry Manuel made sure to point out the date, indicating that much can still happen to change this. But if you were betting right now, you'd bet on Livan pitching in the majors and Niese in Buffalo this April. How it shakes out after that is harder to say, but from what they've seen of Livan this spring, the Mets could do worse.

Even Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose 1997 Braves were the victims of Livan's most memorable performance, thought the big fella looked good Wednesday. In his postgame remarks, Cox went out of his way to say he thought Livan looked good -- that he had, as he put it, a "zippy fastball."

So there's that.

The Braves' starter, by the way, was Tommy Hanson, their big-time pitching prospect. He threw his fastball in the 92-93 mph range, which was slower than we'd heard he was throwing. His curveball, however, was an absolute monster. A couple of us went over to talk to Hanson after the game, and he seems like a smart, humble kid. He said he believes his stuff is good enough to get big-league hitters out right now. ("I feel like I could go out and compete with whoever's in the box," was his exact quote.)

But Hanson can't make the Braves' rotation unless they have an injury problem (the most likely being a slow Tom Glavine recovery). Their rotation features Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, Kenshin Kawakami and, most likely, Glavine. Most likely, he'll open the season at Triple-A, and he seems open to that possibility.

"It's cool to hear my name," Hanson said, when asked what it feels like to be mentioned among baseball's top prospects. "But I know I have a long way to go to get better."

The scout I talked to who was there today said he liked Hanson's stuff but had questions about the life on his fastball. So maybe he's still a work in progress. Which is fine, since he's only 22.

I'll be chatting about this and other stuff Thursday morning at around 10:25 on "First Take" on ESPN2, if you'd like to check it out. And I'm headed to Jupiter on Thursday for Phillies-Marlins, before heading home Friday. Maybe it's warmer in NJ than when I left? Anybody?

Dan

March 18 -- Port St. Lucie

11:06 AM

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Watched Jon Niese pitch yesterday against the Braves at Disney, and he looked basically fine, but the fact that he walked the opposing pitcher in a spring training game clearly gnawed at his manager, who mentioned several times in his postgame that Niese's command wasn't "where it needs to be right now."

Livan Hernandez goes today against Braves mega-prospect Tommy Hanson here in the PSL. The prevailing feeling around this place is that Livan has the inside track on the fifth starter's spot, and really it makes sense when you think about it. Unless Niese just went off and had a monster spring and clearly won the spot, you'd keep the reliable (if unspectactular) veteran and send Niese to Triple-A to keep working at it. If you keep Niese on the team, you lose Hernandez -- he goes somewhere else, and you deplete your inventory. If you keep Hernandez, you get to keep Niese and stash him at Triple-A for a rainy day.

The Twins last year kept Hernandez on their team until Francisco Liriano was ready to return from injury, then they traded him. For whatever it's worth, Twins people I've talked to mention that Hernandez was a good guy to have on last year's team. He's personable and well liked, and there's some sentiment around that organization that the Twins' young pitchers benefited from having a guy like him around and watching the way he went about his business.

I've known Livan since 1996, and seeing him this morning I thought he looked good, physically, for Livan. He'll never be trim, but I've seen him a lot fatter than he is right now. And while his fastball might not be able to break glass, he certainly knows how to pitch.

One interesting note from Niese yesterday: Apparently, Sandy Koufax made his annual visit to Mets camp recently and worked with Niese. Niese said the big lesson was about "the mentality of my curveball -- just basically throwing it as hard as I can and not babying it." Koufax's message was to use the same arm speed and arm action on the off-speed pitches as you do on the fastball and trust the grip to take care of the change in speeds. Sounds simple, but with everything a pitcher has to think about on the mound, having a guy like Koufax crystallize something like that for you has to be a big help.

In other news, Daniel Murphy is a beast. Kid is hitting long line drives off the center-field wall in mid-March, hitting .400 for the spring. Having him in the lineup every day might be a good thing.

And how good did JJ Putz look last night in that WBC game against Puerto Rico? Nasty, nasty stuff. Mets fans have reason to feel optimistic. If they're so inclined. Which they are generally and justifiably not.

More later, I promise.

March 17 -- The Happiest Place on Earth

9:48 AM

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Boy, if anybody's still checking this site regularly, let me just say: I AM SORRY!

It's been weeks since I updated this blog, and the reasons for that are many. First, I was back home in NJ, where there's no big-league ball happening these days. Second, I've been a little obsessed with the college basketball tournaments the past couple of weeks. And third, and most importantly -- I got a job!

Starting April 1, you'll be able to read me on a different site, where I'll be doing some baseball, some basketball and a whole lot of football, believe it or not.

Meantime, though, I've been back in Florida for a few days, checking out some Grapefruit League action. I was in Fort Myers on Sunday for Orioles-Red Sox, and I did some chatting about those teams Monday on ESPN2's "First Take." I was in Tampa yesterday for Phillies-Yankees, and I (or my voice, at least) will be back on "First Take" this morning chatting about Cole Hamels and Chase Utley and their injury issues.

Today, I'm checking out the Mets and the Braves here at Disney. I'm in the press box right now while the Braves are on the field warming up, so I'm going to head down soon to see who's around to talk to. The big Mets story today seems to be Johan Santana pitching in a minor-league game back in Port St. Lucie, while Jon Niese starts here in his continuing bid for the No. 5 starter's spot.

So I'll try to get back on later with some Mets stuff for ya. Meantime, Yankees. It was weird being back there with A-Rod gone. It seems a lot more relaxed, as you might imagine. But there's a lot of stuff bubbling up around this team. They said the news was good on the Damaso Marte and Robinson Cano MRIs, and Cano plans to play Friday, but the fact that those dudes came back from the WBC with any injury issues at all is another glitch in the Yankees' grand plans to return to the playoffs. Marte is an important part of the bullpen, and Cano returning to his 2006-07 form is absolutely essential to the Yankees' efforts to score runs.

With A-Rod out, they are going to struggle to do that, no question. Mark Teixeira looked like an awesome complementary bat for Alex when they got him, but now he's going to be all alone in the middle of that lineup -- the one real power threat they have. And even when Alex does come back, it's safe to assume he's going to be limited by a hip problem that they already admit will require additional surgery at year's end.

To be clear: The Yankees' plans don't involve Alex Rodriguez toughing out the pain, getting himself into the lineup and doing the best he can regardless of injury. The Yankees built their team around the idea that Alex was the best player in baseball, and would perform as such. If he's missing for a month or two, and if he's not himself when he comes back (for reasons physical, psychological or both), then they're already at Plan B. And in this year's AL East, there's no margin for error.

Do the Red Sox have injury issues too? Sure. Mike Lowell's a question mark, and Dustin Pedroia came back hurt from the WBC. But in talking to a few of Boston's players Sunday, I got the real impression that they think so highly of their own pitching that they believe they can withstand almost any injury to a position player, especially if it's a short-term one. Boston's pitching does look to be awesome. Clay Buchholz started for them Sunday and looked great, and he's what? Their No. 7 starter? No. 8?

Tampa Bay has plenty of pitching too, in case you forgot from watching last year's playoffs. If everybody's healthy, I think the AL East has the three best teams in baseball. But a couple of things have happened this spring that make you start to think it's the Yankees who might be the most likely to have a total collapse and fall out of it. We'll see what happens, of course, but there do seem to be many more red flags in that camp than there are in Fort Myers or Port Charlotte so far.

Feb. 28 -- Three Quick Mets Thoughts

9:03 AM

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Back in chilly NJ, it seems a lot of the action is in Port St. Lucie.

1. They can say whatever they want about precautions, but the fact is that Johan Santana has now been scratched from two appearances because his elbow hurts. That's five-alarm info, and the alarms won't stop sounding until the man gets on a mound and feels good throwing.

2. I agree completely with the premise of this John Harper column. Regarding the idea of batting Luis Castillo first and Jose Reyes third (or anywhere else), I can see where it might be a good motivating factor for Castillo. But if there's even a one percent chance that it might have a negative effect on Reyes, it's not worth doing. He's too good the way he is, and too important to mess with.

3. I have known Livan Hernandez for 13 years, and covered his most glorious season. I have followed his career since then, and while I understand he is not the pitcher he was when he was younger, and that his numbers in recent seasons have been dreadful, I would not bet against him in a competition such as this one.

Feb. 26 -- Notes from Yankees-Rays

3:59 PM

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I wasn't with the Mets today, but I did see this story, and I believe the official baseball term for this is "NOT GOOD."

Over on this side of the state, we saw Phil Hughes, who was once an emerging top pitching prospect, pitch against the Rays and Wade Davis, who appears to still be. Davis hit 95 on the radar gun and struck out three batters in two scoreless innings, leaving the Yankees impressed and reinforcing the notion that the Rays aren't about to run out of pitching anytime soon. (More on that below.)

Two notes of significance from the Yankees' side of things today.

First, it appears Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi met with Alex Rodriguez to tell him it might not be a great idea to have the cousin he one week ago identified as his steroid supplier and fellow steroid user pick him up from the ballpark anymore. You'd think this would be something a person wouldn't have to be told, but with Alex, traditional logic apparently gets tossed in the hazardous waste bin with the used needles.

Cashman, Girardi and Rodriguez all were asked about the Cousin Yuri issue today. Cashman said, "It's been handled." Girardi and Rodriguez said, "It's been addressed." All three were pressed further, none commented further.

At this point, this has to be getting old for Cashman and Girardi, no? I mean, at this point, when A-Rod walks into the room for the meeting and sees those guys sitting there, do they even have to say anything anymore? If you're Cashman, don't you just wave the newspaper at the guy and go, "Really? Really, you thought this was a good idea?"

For a guy who seems so obsessed with the way he's perceived, Alex sure is tone-deaf in regard to his own actions. What's next? Dinner with Victor Conte?

The second note of interest -- most likely greater interest to Yankee fans -- has to do with Jorge Posada, who hit the ball as if he were angry with it. He homered on the first pitch he saw this spring, leading off the third inning. And in the fifth he hammered a long double to center field. A-Rod said he jokingly asked Posada if he'd been playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, his swing looked so good.

"I was a little nervous," said Posada, who missed much of the 2008 season with a shoulder injury that required surgery. "So I said, 'I'll just go up there and swing at the first pitch and see what happens."

Posada was the DH today, and Girardi said they're still hoping he'll be able to catch by March 15. He said he caught Hughes' warmup in the bullpen and was trying to "mimic" the pregame routine he'd be going through if he were catching. In the meantime, he's happy to be getting at-bats and feeling good -- he said the shoulder injury prohibited him from "loading" and deprived him of power when he tried to swing last year before going on the disabled list for good.

The Yankees need Posada to be healthy, and they need him to be healthy enough to play catcher -- as in, not DH. Because every day he's the DH, that's a day Jose Molina plays catcher and a better hitter (Xavier Nady, Nick Swisher, Hideki Matsui...somebody) rides the bench. The Yankees' lineup will function better if Posada can be in it as the catcher for at least 120 games, and the pitching staff is likely to benefit from having the same person back there every night. So Posada is worth watching as a key to the Yankees' season.

As for the Rays...interesting note I picked up today. It appears that David Price, the wonder-prospect who got the final outs of the ALCS for them last October, is NOT a lock to start the season in their rotation. The Rays say they're holding an open competition for their No. 5 starter's spot, including Price, Jason Hammell, Jeff Niemann and Carlos Hernandez, the former Astros lefty who's attempting a comeback following multiple shoulder surgeries.

Price obviously has the stuff to compete at the major-league level, as he showed in October. But Rays GM Andrew Friedman says that Price's development is the most important factor in determining where he pitches. If they feel like he'd be better off starting the season in Triple-A, they'll send him there.

There are, of course, off-field concerns directing some of this. Niemann and Hammell, for instance, are out of options, meaning the team would have to trade or release them if they don't make the big-league club. Price can be sent to the minors without such a concern. And remember last year, when the Rays started third baseman Evan Longoria in the minors so as to delay the start of his arbitration/free agency "clock." They could employ a similar strategy with Price, though I think that would be unwise.

The AL East is going to be a brutal division this year. It is very possible, I believe, that the three best teams in baseball reside in the AL East. That means none of the three contenders -- Yankees, Red Sox or Rays -- can afford to fiddle around. If the Rays believe Price makes them better, then they should probably put him on the team, rather than waiting until May to do it.

A year ago, remember, the Rays were the out-of-nowhere Cinderella team. They didn't open the season with any apparent expectations. This year, they're the defending league champions, and they're fully expected to make a run at a second straight division title. Tough to give away a month for procedural roster reasons when you're in that kind of spot.

Once again, you can catch me Friday morning on "First Take" on ESPN2 at around 10:20 am EST. After that, I'm heading back home to the frigid north. But I plan to be back in Florida at some point for more spring training. This week was too much fun!

Feb. 25 -- Lots of driving

7:08 PM

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I just saw that Miguel Tejada is dropping out of the World Baseball Classic because the Dominican team asked him to play first base. Curious, I went over to the WBC web site to see who's on the roster who's a better shortstop than Tejada. Holy crap. How about Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and, if they really want to get kooky, Alex Rodriguez?

I'm not much for handicapping, but you have to like their chances, no?

Course, now they need a first baseman...

Anyway, I digress. If you're here, you're at least mildly interested in the day I spent here in Florida at spring training. As promised, I did make the two-hour drive down to Fort Myers to pick up some Red Sox notes. I spoke with John Smoltz, who's recovering from shoulder surgery and has been working with fellow rehab pitcher Brad Penny in Penny's bullpen sessions -- something for which Penny is star-struck grateful.

But I didn't stay for the Red Sox exhibition game against Boston College (which I presume is still going on, with the Sox leading 214-0 in the top of the fourth inning). A freelance opportunity prompted a change in plans, and I made the two-hour drive back up to Dunedin to see what the crowd reaction was to A-Rod's first spring training game.

As I expected, he got a lot of boos and a lot of support. (Yankee road games in spring training always draw tons of Yankee fans who can't get tickets to the games at George M. Steinbrenner Field, nee Legends Field.) He walked twice and hit a home run, which indicates that the hip problem his hitting coach told me about yesterday isn't holding him back THAT much.

Afterwards, Alex spoke with us and said he'd had dinner Tuesday night with Reggie Jackson, and that Reggie had given him some advice. Alex said he was comfortable on the field, playing the game. "Everything else is confusing," he said. "Baseball is what I do best."

Talking to Reggie, we learned that it was apparently Hank Steinbrenner's idea for him to take A-Rod out and offer some advice. As for what that advice was, here's Reggie:

"I told him to hit the baseball. And hit it when it counts."

Of course, it didn't count today, but the message is simple: If you perform, the way Alex Rodriguez can, the fans (Yankee fans at least) will appreciate it and love you for it. And that'll make everything else go away, at least for the three hours every night when you're playing ball.

This makes me think it's more important than ever for Alex to start the season hot. If he struggles in April and the team is sitting around .500, Yankee fans will be all over him. Come on, Yankee fans. You know who you are. You will boo the everlasting crap out of this guy.

However, if he has an April like the otherworldly one he had in 2007, and if he carries that performance all through the season (and into October this time), then he won't have to worry about questions about the fans.

At least not at home.

Alex did have one funny line, when he said he thought the crowd went easy on him today: "I'd like to bring a couple of them with me to Fenway Park this summer," he said.

And Reggie talked a little bit about his own frustration over the idea of being passed on the home run list by so many guys from the steroid era.

"When I retired, the game was 140 years old, and I was sixth all-time (in home runs)," Jackson said. "Eighteen months later, I was 11th. I get angry sometimes. I've been reprimanded by the commissioner or the president of our team for saying some things about it, and I've pleaded with them to understand, I'm personally affected by this. I'm disappointed and I'm hurt."

He said he expected he would talk to Alex about this very topic at some point, but that right now he's part of the Yankees' organization-wide effort to make sure Alex's head is in the right place so that he (and the team) can have a successful season.

"He's my friend," Reggie said. "And he's on the Yankees, and I work for the Yankees. It's like Brian Cashman says. We don't have choices here. He's a friend and he's a significant asset for us."

I will be discussing this topic some more Thursday morning on "First Take" on ESPN2 at around 10:20 am Eastern, if you're interested. Otherwise, planning to head to the Yankees-Rays game in Tampa on Thursday and will let you know what I come up with from there. Hopefully I can pick up some Rays notes. The A-Rod stuff does tend to swallow everything else, you know?