May 2011

Thank Heavens For Tommy John

Many years ago, the words “Tommy John” were simply used to describe a crafty left-handed pitcher whose nasty sinker induced countless groundballs every time he took the mound.  Today those words, of course, tend to appear ahead of one other word:  surgery.  John, who won 288 games over 26 Major League seasons, would have had his career cut short had it not been for a revolutionary new medical procedure that reconstructed his ulnar collateral ligament in 1975.

Since then, hundreds of pitchers have successfully undergone the same surgery. As I witnessed the Sacramento call-ups of Josh Outman and Joey Devine last week, it dawned on me that 2011 might just be the year of Tommy John for the A’s pitching staff.

Outman, who hadn’t pitched since 2009, certainly gave a ringing endorsement to TJ surgery when he twirled a brilliant five-hitter over seven innings Monday against the Angels in his first big league start of the year.  He and his new-and-improved left arm will need to play a key role in the Oakland rotation, at least for the next couple months, as Brandon McCarthy (stress shoulder fracture) and Tyson Ross (strained oblique) continue to mend.  Then add to the bullpen a rejuvenated Devine–he of the 0.59 ERA in 2008 before Tommy John surgery–who seems to have recaptured his old form with three scoreless innings in his three relief appearances after a two-year layoff.

Outman and Devine are by no means the only A’s members of the Tommy John fraternity.  Where would we be without the Man from Sydney, Grant Balfour?  He benefited from TJ surgery back in 2005, and has risen to great heights since, including three appearances in the 2008 World Series with the Rays, not to mention a 3-1 mark and 2.08 ERA in 15 games with Oakland thus far this year.

And there’s 25-year-old righthander Fautino De Los Santos, part of the Nick Swisher deal with the White Sox, who filled a roster spot briefly this past week after a Triple-A call up.  While De Los Santos did not see any action during his Oakland stint, he figures prominently in the A’s future after successfully responding from 2008 Tommy John surgery.

Yet, the most significant TJ alumnus is two-time All-Star closer Andrew Bailey, who should rejoin the club in the next week or two after rehabbing a strained right forearm that has sidelined him since spring training.  We all held our collective breaths when Andrew had to halt his spring appearance against Cleveland in mid-inning, clutching his right arm–and knowing that he once sat on the operating table of Dr. James Andrew, the Godfather of Tommy John surgeries.

So, next time you come out to the Coliseum or watch a road game on Comcast SportsNet California, and you glance down to the A’s bullpen or watch Outman fire his first pitch as the team’s starter, raise a glass to the old lefthander, Tommy John, who perhaps unknowingly, chan

ged the course of baseball history with a radical surgery that has now become commonplace.

And if Bailey, Outman, Devine, Balfour or De Los Santos need any reinforcements from Sacramento, maybe later this year the team will call up Willie Eyre, who’s 3-2 with a save and 2.08 ERA in 18 relief appearances.  Eyre would feel right at home.  After pitching for the Texas Rangers, he had Tommy John surgery in 2007.

Loss of Dallas Dampens A Rainy Escape At Rangers Ballpark

There was no Dallas in Dallas yesterday, but the sad news about our beloved southpaw reviberated throughout the visitor’s clubhouse in Texas.  After seeking three different medical opinions, the diagnosis was clear and unavoidable.  Stockton’s unofficial mayor will undergo shoulder surgery Monday in New York. The timeframe for his recovery won’t be determined until the procedure is done, but it’s already a bitter pill to swallow for his teammates and coaches. We’ve all missed his leadership, competitive spirit, and yes, even his, at times, off-centered approach to life. However, I can guarantee you no one is taking this news as hard as the man himself.  If ever there was a guy who bleeds green and gold, it’s Mr. 209.  I’m sure he’s been bored to tears for the past several weeks on the DL, but for him to now contemplate possible months of inactivity must be unfathomable.

Gio Gonzalez, someone who looked up to the Dean of the starting staff, got a Major League reprieve when the Texas thunderstorms flushed Rangers Ballpark with the intensity one would expect in the Lone Star State.  But I found the scene rather ironic as the rain pelted the tarp on the field.  As a one hour delay became two hours and then more, I couldn’t help but remember Braden’s comical antics during a game stoppage in Detroit last year.  Only weeks after his perfect game and only days since he tweaked his ankle, there was the diminutive lefthander making a mad dash onto the wet tarp at Comerica Park, diving head first with gusto that would have made Rick Dempsey proud.  Now in Arlington, on the day when it wouldn’t have taken much coaxing from his A’s teammates for a repeat performance, Dallas remained in Stockton as he tried to come to terms with the physcial journey he’s about to embark on.  While the uber-talented Tyson Ross has already shown flashes of brilliance as Braden’s replacement in the rotation, don’t confuse that with what the absence of Dallas will mean to this staff.  It’s more about his spirited pep talks and gung-ho attitude than his baffling change-up.  But as I told him in a text I sent him yesterday, he’s been through worse and I know he’ll come back with a vengeance.

.500 Can Mean Many Things In The Eye Of The Beholder

Okay, A’s fans, your team continues to toy with you.  One day, they’re a game below the .500 mark, two days later they’re two games above .500. The rhetorical question is this:  is that a good or bad thing?  Well perched around .500 can have different connotations to different people.  For those who think our 19-17 record is merely a continuation of last year’s team that carved out an 81-81 mark, maybe the .500 mark is a negative.  And with our early season bloated with superior pitching and anemic hitting, it’s no wonder some frustrated A’s fans will declare “same old, same old.”

However, my view is a bit more encouraging.  First, last year the general feeling in the clubhouse, as well among our fans, was we pretty much maxed out by posting an 81-81 record and second-place finish.  This year, the vibe is much different. This team expects to win and is clearly not satisfied with being only one game north of the .500 mark at this juncture of the early season.  I think these guys know they’re a better club this year.  In fact, they knew it in spring training.  And when you think about it, the vital signs are more postive then you might think for an 19-17 team.  First, we sport a .550 record (11-9) on the road, playing top-rate competition.  The axiom that championship teams play .500 baseball on the road is true, so even though we really haven’t consistently played good baseball this past month, the fact remains that we’re getting it done on the road–as evidenced by back-to-back road wins over the last two days.

Then consider some other good omens.  We’re in AL West contention even though we’re missing our All-Star closer (Andrew Bailey), Perfect Game starter (Dallas Braden) and last year’s most valuable supersub (Adam Rosales).  And, with our two wins in KC and series-opening win in Texas have come on the heels of  a solid 4-3 homestand against the defending AL champion Texas Rangers and baseball’s winningest team this year, the Cleveland Indians.  That homestand featured some stirring wins triggered by the clutch hitting of the three key offseason lineup acquisitions in David DeJesus (two homers Wednesday), Hideki Matsui (walk-off home run last Monday) and Josh Willingham (game-tying homer and double last Monday). Then add slump-busting efforts by Daric Barton, Mark Ellis and Kevin Kouzmanoff on Sunday, plus the apparent return of Michael Wuertz’s devastating slider out of the pen and recent dominating performances by new starting pitcher Tyson Ross, and this club clearly is moving in the right direction, .500 mark or not.

I had the distinct pleasure to work with Dusty Baker for nearly 10 years when he managed the Giants and Dusty always told me, “early in the season, the key is to stick around .500.  If you can hang around .500, eventually you’ll catch a hot streak and you can make your move.  It’s the teams that dig a hole early that have trouble getting into contention.” So folks, don’t despair.  My friend Dusty would say, “it’s not a race, it’s a marathon.”  So, as we head into game 2 in Texas with much hope and promise, keep the faith, A’s Nation.  I think this group knows it can hit better than it has.  And they also know it’s up to them, and no one else, to prove it.  Time, as it always does, will tell.

.500 Can Mean Many Things In The Eye Of The Beholder

Okay, A’s fans, your team continues to toy with you.  One day, they’re a game below the .500 mark, two days later they’re a game above .500. The rhetorical question is this: is that a  good or bad thing?  Well perched around .500 can have different connotations to different people.  For those who think our 18-17 record is merely a continuation of last year’s team that carved out an 81-81 mark, maybe the .500 mark is a negative.  And with our early season bloated with superior pitching and anemic hitting, it’s no wonder some frustrated A’s fans will declare “same old, same old.”
However, my view is a bit more encouraging.  First, last year the general feeling in the clubhouse, as well among our fans, was we pretty much maxed out by posting an 81-81 record and second-place finish.  This year, the vibe is much different. This team expects to win and is clearly not satisfied with being only one game north of the .500 mark at this juncture of the early season.  I think these guys know they’re a better club this year.  In fact, they knew it in spring training.  And when you think about it, the vital signs are more postive then you might think for an 18-17 team.  First, we sport a .526 record (10-9) on the road, playing top-rate competition.  The axiom that championship teams play .500 baseball on the road is true, so even though we really haven’t consistently played good baseball this past month, the fact remains that we’re getting it done on the road–as evidenced by yesterday’s series-clinching 5-2 win at Kansas City.  Then consider some other good omens.  We’re in AL West contention even though we’re missing our All-Star closer (Andrew Bailey), Perfect Game starter (Dallas Braden) and last year’s most valuable supersub (Adam Rosales).  And, with our two wins in KC coming on the heels of  a solid 4-3 homestand against the defending AL champion Texas Rangers and baseball’s winningest team this year, the Cleveland Indians.  That homestand featured some stirring wins triggered by the clutch hitting of the three key offseason lineup acquisitions in David DeJesus (two homers Wednesday), Hideki Matsui (walk-off home run last Monday) and Josh Willingham (game-tying homer and double last Monday). Then add slump-busting efforts by Daric Barton, Mark Ellis and Kevin Kouzmanoff yesterday, plus the apparent return of Michael Wuertz‘s devastating slider out of the pen and recent dominating performances by new starting pitcher Tyson Ross, and this club clearly is moving in the right direction, .500 mark or not.
I had the distinct pleasure to work with Dusty Baker for nearly 10 years when he managed the Giants and Dusty always told me, “early in the season, the key is to stick around .500.  If you can hang around .500, eventually you’ll catch a hot streak and you can make your move.  It’s the teams that dig a hole early that have trouble getting into contention.” So folks, don’t despair.  My friend Dusty would say, “it’s not a race, it’s a marathon.”  So, we jet to Texas with much hope and promise. Keep the faith, A’s Nation.  I think this group knows it can hit better than it has.  And they also know it’s up to them, and no one else, to prove it.  Time, as it always does, will tell.

.500 Can Mean Many Things In Eye Of Beholder

Okay,
A’s fans, your team is currently resting uncomfortably at the .500 mark after
32 games.  The rhetorical question is
this:  is that a good or bad thing?  Well perched at
.500 can have different connotations to different people.  For those who think our 16-16 record is
merely a continuation of last year’s team that carved out an 81-81 mark, maybe
the .500 mark is a negative.  And with
our early season bloated with superior pitching and anemic hitting, it’s no
wonder some frustrated A’s fans will declare “same old, same old.”

 

However,
my view is a bit more encouraging. 
First, the general feeling in the clubhouse, as well among our
fans,  was that last year we pretty much
maxed out by posting an 81-81 record and second-place finish.  This year, the vibe is much different. This
team expects to win and is clearly frustrated with a .500 mark at
this juncture of the early season.  I
think these guys know they’re a better club this season.  In fact, they knew it in spring
training.  And when you think about it,
the vital signs are more postive then you might think for a 16-16 team.  First, we sport a .500 record (8-8) on the
road, playing top-rate competition.  The
axiom that championship teams play .500 baseball on the road is true, so even
though we really haven’t consistently played good baseball this past month, the
fact remains that we’re getting it done on the road.  Then consider some other other omens.  We’re in AL West contention even though we’re
missing our All-Star closer (Andrew Bailey), Perfect Game starter (Dallas
Braden) and last year’s most valuable supersub (Adam Rosales).  And, we’re coming off a solid 4-3 homestand
against the defending AL champion Texas Rangers and baseball’s winningest team
this year, the Cleveland Indians, with recent wins triggered by the clutch
hitting of the three key offseason lineup acquisitions in David DeJesus (two
homers Wednesday), Hideki Matsui (walk-off home run Monday) and Josh Willingham
(game-tying homer and double Monday). Then add the apparent return of Michael
Wuertz’s devastating slider out of the pen and the recent dominating
performance of new starting pitcher Tyson Ross, and this club clearly is moving
in the right direction, .500 mark or not.

 

I
had the distinct pleasure to work with Dusty Baker for nearly 10 years when he
managed the Giants and Dusty always told me, “early in the season, the key
is to stick around .500.  If you can hang
around .500, eventually you’ll catch a hot streak and you can make your
move.  It’s the teams that dig a hole
early that have trouble getting into contention.” So folks, don’t
despair.  I know yesterday’s 12-inning heart-breaker
wears on all of us.  A win would have
clinched another series win and a 5-2 homestand.  But as my friend Dusty would also say, it’s
not a race, it’s a marathon.  So, we jet
to Kansas City, where I plan to grab some big league barbeque–some place called
LC’s, located in a former gas filing station (ambience, yes!)–and also expect
our boys to grab two or three wins (sauce optional).  Keep the faith, A’s Nation.  I think this group knows it can hit
better than it has.  And they also know
it’s up to them, and no one else, to prove it. 
Time, as it always does, will tell. 

 

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