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 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 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?


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.