What Happens In Orange County ...

Posted on May 08, 2012

By Jim Henneman

Just a wild, educated guess, mind you, but I'm thinking the job as hitting coach for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, in Orange County, Calif., is not the most secure position in baseball. It was bad enough that Albert Pujols went through April and the first five days of May without a home run (or many other meaningful hits, for that matter).

Then baseball's biggest star in effect reprimanded Mickey Hatcher, the man holding that tenuous position, for revealing some information about a team meeting to the media.

"Mickey shouldn't have said that," Pujols said in reaction to a story about a hitters'-only meeting. "No disrespect, but I'll talk to Mickey about that."

While Pujols might be right to suggest some things are best left in the clubhouse, what Hatcher actually told one of the beat writers was how positive Pujols was in addressing his teammates, telling them slumps happen and urging everyone to stay focused. He obviously was a little confused about what might have set Pujols off, even after the Angels closed ranks and dismissed the little spiff.

"I'm not talking about it," Hatcher said, but he couldn't quite bring himself to stop there. "It's ridiculous. It really is. Everybody's laughing about it; anyway, I am."

There won't be a whole lot of laughing in Southern California if Pujols doesn't get out of his funk, which is only bringing more attention to the fact that last year, as good as it was, was the worst of the perennial All-Star's first 11 years in MLB. It also featured a less-than-splendid start.

Stay tuned.

***

The way the Orioles went about re-making their bullpen is reminiscent of what the Tampa Bay Rays have done the last couple of years -- investing in a few high-reward, low-risk arms capable of lighting up the radar gun.

With one-fifth of the season going into the books this week, the O's appear to have caught lightning in a bottle with Matt Lindstrom (the "other" arm besides Jason Hammel in the Jeremy Guthrie trade), Darren O'Day, Luis Ayala and Pedro Strop (acquired late last year). O'Day is the only one who doesn't hit the mid-90s, but his unorthodox submarine delivery seems to make up the difference.

I did make a preseason vow that I would not predict an improved bullpen until the final results were in -- because those same predictions proved to be unfounded the last half-dozen years or so. So far, though, it looks promising.

***

Just in case anybody needs a refresher course on the importance of pitching: the O's pitching staffs have ranked either 29th or 30th during five of the last six years. Consider that a public-service announcement.

***

Before you get all caught up with the fact that the Orioles threw a "whopping" 273 pitches during that 17-inning marathon with the Red Sox a few days ago, consider this: That averages out to 16 pitches per inning, merely one higher than what is considered efficient.

Of course, the "finisher" that day (I really like that term better than "closer"), Chris Davis, needed only 22 pitches in two innings to nail down his first major league victory. Also, in addition to the quintupled sombrero (five strikeouts -- in the batter's box!), Davis assured himself of the strangest statistical line of the 2012 season: 0-for-8, the aforementioned five Ks and a GIDP -- plus the game ball for posting two scoreless innings.

According to those that looked it up, Rube Waddell, in 1905, was the last winning pitcher to go 0-for-8. But that's when pitchers generally completed what they started.

***

If Cole Hamels thinks Bryce Harper is a rather brash rookie, he has a lot of company. That much was assured three years ago, when, as a 16-year-old high school sophomore, Harper predicted in a Sports Illustrated story that he would be in the big leagues by the age of 19 (he was) and headed toward a no-brainer Hall of Fame career.

He may be cocky, brash, full of himself, however you want to describe it, but he has the goods to back it up. For Hamels to plunk Harper in the middle of the back just because he felt like it -- and then be stupid enough to go out of his way to admit it -- qualifies as sheer idiocy. I'm not quite sure what Hamels expected to accomplish, but whatever it was, I'm guessing he failed big time.

To give you an idea how intimidated Harper was -- after reaching third base on a single, he proceeded to steal home while Hamels was lackadaisically making a lame pickoff throw to first base. There's not a veteran on manager Davey Johnson's team that would have had the gonads to attempt to make such a bold statement, but you get the impression that Harper will be up for an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better challenge anytime.

I'm sure Phillies fans will have their way with Harper when they meet for the first time, but somehow I don't think he's going to be doing much blinking for the next 20-or-so years. I doubt blinking is part of his DNA.

In the meantime, all Hamels' chutzpah got him was a fine and a five-day suspension, just enough to either cost him a start or mess up manager Charlie Manuel's rotation for a few days.

Either way, Hamels earns "Dunce of the Month" for May.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.

Posted May 8, 2012

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