04/27/2007 11:44 PM ET
LaRoche's mound debut must wait
Lacing a game-winning hit in extra innings doesn't usually come with mixed emotions.
Adam LaRoche is mobbed by teammates after driving in the winning run in the 16th inning. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
But when you're Adam LaRoche, and the hit you just delivered may have cost you a chance to finally pitch in the Major Leagues, it's a different situation.
The Pirates' first baseman delivered the game-winning hit in the 16th inning of a 4-3 win over the Astros on Wednesday.
"In one sense," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "it was a little disappointing."
As it turned out, LaRoche was only a tad let down because manager Jim Tracy had planned to use LaRoche on the mound after John Wasdin, the last arm in the bullpen, was used up.
"It would have been awesome," LaRoche said. "I would have loved it."
LaRoche would not have been completely out of place. His father was All-Star reliever Dave LaRoche, and Adam threw some in the Minor Leagues -- including the eephus pitch. Tracy said he would not have thought twice about using him -- but only if he really needed him.
"I'll tell you what: He's done some good things down in the bullpen with Colby on occasions," Tracy said, referring to pitching coach Jim Colborn. "But God forbid we'd have gotten to that situation."
Jenkins, Mench, Hart succeed in crowded outfield: Before the start of the season, Milwaukee manager Ned Yost said he was not going to stick with a strict platoon of outfielders Geoff Jenkins, Kevin Mench and Corey Hart. Yost has worked all three outfielders into the lineup this season, and so far, the results have been great.
Mench and Jenkins are hitting better than .350 while Hart is hitting .300 and receiving nearly the same amount of plate appearances. With all three playing so well and with the team playing well in general, there has been no complaining about playing time.
"Everybody is happy," Jenkins told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Everybody's doing great. That's all you need to know. Nobody's unhappy. Everybody's doing awesome."
Yost said he felt he was in a positive situation entering the year to be able to have veteran players such as Jenkins and Mench to turn to in addition to the younger Hart.
"I didn't see how this couldn't work," Yost said. "You've got two established veteran players. Jenks had great numbers against right-handed pitching and OK numbers against left-handers for his career. And Menchy had great numbers against lefties and OK numbers against right-handers for a career.
"These guys are not platoon players, it's a platoon situation. As a team, we're lucky to have two guys that are that good. But they're not platoon players by any stretch of the imagination. They're being platooned because it makes us a better team."
Looper likes the life of the starter: St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Braden Looper, a life-long reliever until this season, has been the best pitcher for the Redbirds to this point in the season.
Sporting a 3-1 record and an ERA of 1.91, Looper says he's very comfortable in the starting rotation.
"I feel like I'm exactly where I belong right now," Looper told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "I feel very comfortable doing what I'm doing."
Despite pitching only every fifth day, Looper feels like he's getting plenty of work.
"I feel like I'm pitching more now than I ever have before," he said. "As a reliever, you come in and pretty much throw your best pitch because you're not going to get beat on your No. 3 or 4. As a starter, you're able to work hitters more. If you make one mistake, it's probably not going to cost you the game."
Manager Tony La Russa has been impressed with Looper -- especially with his ability to work deep into games. On Wednesday against Cincinnati, Looper didn't allow a hit until the fifth and worked seven strong innings.
"For him to go seven like that was outstanding," said La Russa. "That was really strong pitching. He gave us a tremendous life. He's part of a winning game even though he didn't get the win."
Helms contributes with the glove, too: Philadelphia third baseman Wes Helms was supposed to bring more offense to the hot corner, and that he did. But an underrated part of Helms' game is his defense.
"That's expected," Helms told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "When I haven't played a lot of third over the past few years, it's definitely going to be a question. The only thing I can do for myself is just work on it every day to get comfortable.
"From Day One of Spring Training until now, it's definitely been nothing but uphill for me. I'm going to make my share of mistakes, and I know that. But I'm going to work on my mistakes so I don't repeat them."
It took a little time for him to readjust to regular third-base play, but he's comfortable now.
"The biggest thing for me is just getting my accuracy back," said Helms. "In Spring Training, the ball wanted to go down because it's a longer throw. The arm strength is there. It's just getting my feet back under me and getting the accuracy point back. It feels good over there."
Third-base coach Steve Smith, who is the team's infield instructor, believes that Helms can do an admirable job in the field.
"I had Hank Blalock" when Smith was with the Texas Rangers, the coach said. "Hank is very accurate, but he doesn't play deep. Wes plays deep, and he's going to get more balls because he's deep."
Sweeney, DeJesus deliver for youngster: In Kansas City, Mike Sweeney and David DeJesus were met with some special requests on Wednesday night from 11-year-old Matt Herndon, a Kansas City youth scheduled to undergo brain surgery yesterday in Dallas.
While DeJesus stopped short of promising a home run (he did have three hits), Sweeney told Matt that he'd do the best he could -- and he delivered.
"I asked him how he was doing," Sweeney told the Kansas City Star, "and he told me I was his favorite player. ... He asked me if I could hit a homer for him. I said I'd try, and I promised we'd all pray for him.
"That's why I was running so hard around the bases (after hitting the homer). My arms were tingling. I could feel the spirit (of prayer) moving through me."
DeJesus found himself in awe of the impact Major Leaguers can have on kids.
"It's amazing," he said, "how much a phone call matters. He told me this was one of the greatest days of his life. I told him when he gets back to Kansas City, to come to the ballpark and we'll all take care of him."
Bayliss bails out Pirates: Pittsburgh relief pitcher Jonah Bayliss came into the Pirates game with Houston on Thursday in quite a jam. In the sixth inning, Bayliss came in with the bases loaded, but managed to work two scoreless innings to get the win -- his second of the year.
"You come into a game [with] bases loaded and no outs ... " Bayliss told MLB.com. "In a sick and twisted way, that's kind of what us relievers live for. To be able to come out and shut them down like that -- it's probably the ultimate adrenalin rush."
Manager Jim Tracy said after the game that Bayliss' work was the key to the win for the Pirates -- who are now 10-10 on the year.
"One of the huge keys to the game was the job that Bayliss did," Tracy said. "The bases-loaded, no-out situation in the sixth inning."
Bayliss thinks that the Pirates are just getting started.
"I think we're in great shape," Bayliss explained. "I think the 10-10 record doesn't indicate how well we can play. We've struggled a little bit offensively, but it's only a matter of time before a bunch of those guys catch fire. As soon as they do, in my opinion, we have a chance to be lights out."
Extension means Smoltz's dream can come true: The contract extension that John Smoltz just signed with Atlanta means the veteran pitcher can end his career the way he started it -- with the Braves.
The deal is for 2008 and includes a vesting option for 2009 if he reaches 200 innings pitched. The contract also includes a team option for the Braves in 2010.
"This is a great moment," Smoltz told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "This is what I've been hoping for and the picture I had in my mind of walking off the field one day in one uniform and being totally fulfilled as an athlete. What more could you possibly ask for than to live in the city you play in, have your family here, do all the special projects and play baseball for 23 years, which is how it would work out?"
Braves general manager John Schuerholz was thrilled to reach a deal with the soon-to-be 40-year old.
"We're delighted," Schuerholz said. "John has been such a cornerstone piece of our franchise. ... He's continued to be a very vital part of our team, not only in terms of his contributions physically as a pitcher, but his winning spirit, his determination and his leadership."
Putz takes Rivera's advice: Mariners closer J.J. Putz has not had many save opportunities this season. Thursday he got a rare opportunity, but had to come on in the eighth inning and record five outs to secure Seattle's 4-2 win over Oakland.
"It's something you don't want to have to do on a consistent basis," Putz told the Seattle Times of his five-out save. "But I've said this before, when I talked to Mariano [Rivera] last year he said, 'Sometimes the biggest outs are in the eighth inning, and that's when you may need to come in and save a game.'
"And today was a perfect example of that."
Harris impresses for Rays: Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon won't pronounce Brendan Harris as the Devil Rays' new starting shortstop, but he is definitely the player now getting the most playing time there now.
"(Harris) is right now. Absolutely. I can't deny that," Maddon told the St. Petersburg Times. "It's semantics. He's playing the preponderance of the time. So I think I'd have to consider him the starter at this moment. He's done a nice job. I think he deserves to play right now. I really do. That's how I'm seeing it."
Harris has a .317 batting average and has collected at least one hit in nine of his last 11 games. A solid player in the field, the team also likes Harris' approach at the plate, where he is seeing an average of 4.7 pitches per plate appearance.
"He's our kind of player," Maddon said. "The kind of guy we talked about all last year. This guy is a great teammate. He works very hard. He has an understanding of how to play the game. And the biggest thing for me is that the quality of the at-bat has improved. And that's what I'm really paying attention to."
-- Red Line Editorial