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Diamondbacks 5, White Sox 7 - Dustin the wind...

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As we entered the ninth inning in today's game, it looked like we could be in for a repeat of yesterday's "kiss your sister" tie, with the scores level at four runs apiece. However, Dustin Nippert refused to let that happen, allowing the Chicago White Sox to score three runs in the ninth, to leave the team still looking for their first victory of 2008. Nippert wasn't actually the worst pitching line of the day; that dubious honor goes to Billy Buckner, who allowed six hits and a walk in his two innings, and four earned runs, a pair in each frame. Insert obvious comment here, probably something like not knowing how many of those hits went through Buckner's legs. :-)

Brandon Webb, despite battling flu symptoms [I know what he feels like: our department has been more like a biological weapons factory with each passing day this week] was excellent, allowing only a single and no walks in his first two innings of the season, striking out two. He was hardly taxed, throwing only sixteen pitches to get those six outs. Yusmeiro Petit was also very solid, with a single and a walk in the 5th + 6th, striking out four; Rosen and Cruz following him to the mound, both posting zeros before Nippert delivered his less-than-convincing performance and give Chicago the win. Melvin said, "Everything was just out of whack today. Whether it was his fastball, his breaking ball... [He] just didn't have a good outing."

There was a piece in the Republic today about Mark Reynolds, saying that his priority this season is improve his plate discipline, and cut back on the strikeouts. So far, so good: five plate-appearances and no K's for Mark, though obviously, we're talking an incredibly small sample size. Yesterday, he laid off the sliders thrown by the opposing pitchers, to try and get him to chase, and found himself in good hitter's counts, though ended hitless. Today, he smacked the first homer of the year for the Diamondbacks, a three-run shot in the bottom of the fourth that made it a one-run game.

Robby Hammock tied the game with an RBI double in the sixth, and Jamie D'Antona drove in our final run in the ninth. Conor Jackson repeated his line from yesterday, going 2-for-3 once more, but is being one-upped by right-fielder Gerardo Parra, who also had two hits for the second consecutive day, and has a perfect batting average of 1.000, having gone 4-for-4 through the first two games. Third-baseman Don Kelly added a pair of walks, and has reached safely in each of his four plate-appearances as well. Overall, we left eleven men on base, though had almost as little success against White Sox starter Mark Buerhle, as Chicago did against Webb.

In case you're wondering, Parra spent most of 2007 in A-ball, where he batted .320 for South Bend. He moved up to High-A Visalia later on, and hit .284 in 24 games there. Not much power [only eight homers all told last year], but he is still only 20, and so has plenty of time to grow. His arm is already impressive, however. Baseball Prospectus, in their top 100 prospects list, had him our second-highest player, ranked #64 overall - to put that into perspective, it was ahead of Max Scherzer, and trailing only Jarrod Parker. [Though both Keith Law and John Sickels put Scherzer above Parra in their lists] I imagine the expectation for the team is that Parra should be ready for the majors about the time Eric Byrnes' contract is up.

Bad news on the catcher front, with the word being that Miguel Montero's finger is stubbornly refusing to heal, and he may not be ready in time for Opening Day. According to Melvin, "We just don't like the way it's healing... As of right now we're going to have to back off him, and the earliest we could see him in a game is two weeks." They're going to use what they call a bone stimulator to try and promote the healing. If Montero is not healed before the start of the season - and if he misses two weeks now, it'll be "a lot more difficult,' according to Melvin - that would almost certainly means Robby Hammock will be on the roster instead. The main downside would be the loss of a left-handed hitter off the bench, but Randy Johnson would likely welcome having his personal catcher back.

Couple of interesting sidelights. First- and third-base coaches are now required to wear batting helmets when coaching, following the accident last year where Rockies minor-league coach Mike Coolbaugh was killed when an errant line-drive struck him in the head neck [corrected per silverblood - as she pointed out in the comments, this makes the helmet rule even more questionable]. Dodgers 3B coach Larry Bowa is unimpressed, and is refusing to wear one. In something of a classic rant, he made his feelings very clear:

My question is, how can I be in the league 40 years and the league says who wears a helmet and who doesn't? One guy got killed and I'm sorry it happened. But bats break and they can be a deadly weapon. Do something about bats. Umpires get hit with line drives. I've probably seen 50 of them get hit. If coaches have to wear helmets, umpires should. I'll sign a waiver. And there should be a grandfather clause. These are very cumbersome. They talk about delay of game, and when the helmet falls off, you'll have to stop the game. It should be an option. I know I'm talking for a lot of guys who won't say anything. I'll write a check for 162 games if I have to to not wear it.

I can see his point: umpires don't wear helmets - and nor do the position players - so why should should coaches be singled out for this? However, Bowa got a stiff talking-to from the commissioner's office overnight, and went to today's game wearing the league-mandated coconut cover. However, he has also threatened to walk onto the field in full catcher's gear, to make his point. I imagine this will blow over fairly quickly - MLB has certainly reacted quicker here than they did after the 1920 death of Ray Chapman, hit in the head by a pitch when at the plate. It took them 35 years after that before batting helmets were made mandatory.

MLB are also testing some rule changes in a couple of minor-leagues this summer, designed to speed up the progress of the game, with a view to their eventual implementation in the majors. A pitcher will now have 15 seconds to pitch, after receiving the ball back from the catcher. If the batter is regarded as dawdling and so is not ready, he's at risk of having the ball arriving anyway, or being assessed an automatic strike if he's not in the batter's box. In addition, they're making it that after three non-pitcher removal visits to the mound by a manager or coach, the fourth trip must remove the pitcher, even if previous visits were to see a different pitcher. Only one infielder at a time will be permitted to go to the mound too. If that becomes fully mandated, expect O-Dawg to be working on his yelling from a distance. :-)

Thank God it's Friday. Tomorrow, the plan involves attacking the back-yard with a weed-whacker, since it appears to have signed up for some kind of exchange visit with the Amazonian rain-forest. Sunday should be a lot more fun, as there's a carload of us going down to Tucson to see the Diamondbacks at Tucson Electric. Full report on that, with piccies, will naturally follow; tomorrow, I hope to get up the next part of the Community Projections, looking at what can be expected from our outfielders.