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Hamilton given more slack than Beckett

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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For all the uproar over Josh Beckett’s ill-timed golf outing, Josh Hamilton’s headfirst slide on a wet tarp in Baltimore last week was probably the more reckless act.

TIRED ACT

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Hamilton missed a series in Toronto from April 30 to May 2 with a sore back, yet received virtually no criticism for frolicking with his teammates in the rain just one week later.

The difference?

Hamilton had gone 5-for-5 with four homers the previous night for the red-hot Rangers, while Beckett — coming off his role in the fried-chicken-and-beer episode last September — was struggling for the disappointing Red Sox.

There also is this:

Hamilton plays in the Dallas-Ft. Worth market, where fans and media are far more forgiving than they are in Boston — relentlessly intense, occasionally over-the-top Boston.

I’m not defending Beckett, whose act is beyond tired. He knows the landscape in Boston, yet he chose to stay with the Sox, signing a four-year, $68 million extension in April 2010.

HARMLESS FUN?

Josh Hamilton and his Rangers teammates played slip-and-slide on the rain tarp.

Still, name another city where Beckett would have been flagged by media for playing golf on an off-day while dealing with tightness in his lat muscle. Frankly, I’m not even sure it would have happened in New York.

One rival executive says, “New England thinks they own their players,” and that passion can work both ways. Players receive more praise than in other markets when they succeed, more scrutiny when they do not.

In any case, Hamilton should consider himself fortunate — fortunate that he didn’t injure himself, and fortunate that he didn’t get the Beckett treatment from media and fans.

Hamilton is beloved in Texas, just as Albert Pujols was beloved in St. Louis.

Might make a man think twice about leaving, no?

 

PLAY THIS GUY!

 

Pujols isn’t the Angels’ only problem — the distribution of playing time also remains an issue.

Case in point:

GREAT AMERICAN RACE

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Left fielder Vernon Wells has made 124 plate appearances, or 26 more than infielder/outfielder Mark Trumbo.

Oops: Wells’ OPS is .666, while Trumbo’s is 1.012.

Listen, we all know Wells is owed nearly $60 million through 2014, but fans are right to be upset when their team is not putting its best players on the field (and yes, the same will apply to the Red Sox if third baseman Will Middlebrooks is still hot when Kevin Youkilis returns).

Trumbo, 26, is the Angels’ top slugger. And while it’s still relatively early, he also has dramatically improved his walk rate after finishing last season with a .291 on-base percentage.

Sabermetricians are sometimes dismissive of young players who do not draw enough walks, and Trumbo told a reporter last season, “I don’t think I was blessed with the greatest eye.”

Still, Trumbo had an interesting explanation for why he was so aggressive as a rookie — he believed that, because he was unproved, opposing pitchers would attack him, and he didn’t want to get buried in counts.

The encouraging part is, he worked to get better.

“I read quite a few of the comments (about his plate discipline) last year, took it for what it was worth. I have more of an old-school mentality (about being aggressive),” Trumbo said.

“But I understand the importance of grinding at-bats, swinging at pitches you can hit. I did various drills (last off-season) to try to shore up which pitches I chose to swing at.”

He needs to be in the lineup. Every day.

 

DEMPSTER DIVING

 

Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster, an obvious trade candidate, would be even more likely to be moved if the team signed righty Matt Garza to a contract extension.

Keep in mind, though, that Dempster, 35, effectively would control the process. As a player with 10 years of major-league service, five with the same club, he has the right to veto any deal.

Dempster, earning $14 million in the final year of his contract, is eligible for free agency at the end of the season. He likely would consider any proposals on a case-by-case basis, with the usual variables coming into play.

Players typically require inducements to waive their no-trade protection, either in the form of a cash bonus or contract extension. Dempster, though, already would cost nearly $5 million for two months unless the Cubs included cash in the deal to “buy” better prospects.

The Cubs might need to do just that — under the new CBA, potential free agents traded in the middle of a season no longer are eligible for draft-pick compensation. The new rule diminishes their trade value; the acquiring teams no longer can count on getting a draft pick, or picks, to replace the prospects they lost.

Dempster, of course, could approve a deal without requiring an inducement, figuring that moving to a contender would enhance his free-agent value. Another possibility for Dempster, though it would appear a longshot, would be to sign a below-market extension to remain with the Cubs.

 

HOW THE BRAVES BOUNCED BACK

 

A scout mentioned to me he sees two big differences in the Braves: The work of new hitting coach Greg Walker and assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher, and the return to health of right-hander Kris Medlen.

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“I think that is accurate,” Braves GM Frank Wren says. “Walk and Fletch have been a very positive force. We battle every at-bat similar to a Boston or New York Yankees team, wearing the starting pitcher down early. We were in the 80s in pitch counts in the third or fourth inning of all three games in St. Louis.”

The Braves swept the Cardinals, scoring 23 runs in three games. They’re averaging 5.3 runs per game, second in the NL, up from 4.0 last season, when they finished 10th.

Their increase in pitches per plate appearance, from 3.80 to 3.84, has not been as dramatic. But the difference in their on-base percentage is telling.

The Braves were first in the NL in OBP in 2010, then dropped to 14th in their one season with hitting coach Larry Parrish.

They’re back to fourth this season.

“I just think Walker has a player’s mindset,” Braves backup catcher David Ross says. “He relates to us very well. He knows how hard it is and is very positive. He also is willing to listen to our input and will work with us in anything we want to do.”

Medlen, meanwhile, is holding opponents to a .518 OPS after appearing in only two games last season following Tommy John surgery in Aug. 2010.

“He makes our bullpen really deep with versatile, different looks,” Wren says. “(Jonny) Venters and (Erik) O”Flaherty are looking much better recently, like last year. And (Craig) Kimbrel has been good.”

 

NEW DRAFT RULES: THE DEBATE CONTINUES

 

As the amateur draft approaches, some GMs continue to criticize the new CBA, which places restrictions on how much teams can spend in both the draft and international market.

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The Cubs, for example, wanted to spend heavily on amateurs, following the same model that team president Theo Epstein implemented as Red Sox GM.

Certain low-revenue teams, however, actually are upset that high-revenue clubs such as the Cubs no longer will be allowed to execute such a strategy.

Instead, those high-revenue clubs will be left with virtually no choice but to exert their financial might on major leaguers, driving up prices for everyone.

Think about it: If high-revenue teams pay their players more in arbitration, then low-revenue teams may find it even more difficult to afford such players, and trade them even sooner.

 

“WE ARE ALL KIPNISES”

 

Indians right-hander Justin Masterson came up with that gem of a quote, saying of second baseman Jason Kipnis, “We are all Kipnises of how great he’s going to be as a hitter.”

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The reference, of course, was to the famed billboard, “We are all witnesses,” that once adorned a downtown building in Cleveland in honor of LeBron James.

Kipnis might never be as celebrated as James, but his reputation in baseball circles is growing.

“He has a really good approach to hitting,” the Rangers’ Michael Young says. “He plays hard. He has good at-bats. He looks like a gamer. I like seeing that in young players.”

Kipnis, the Indians’ second-round pick in 2009, began his pro career in the outfield, but the Indians gave him an 11-month crash course at second starting in Jan. 2010.

His conversion began at the team’s spring-training facility in Goodyear, Ariz., under the tutelage of Anthony Medrano, the Indians’ Rookie League manager.

Kipnis continued through spring training, started the season at Single A Kinston and finished at Double A Akron. After he went home, the Indians summoned him to Triple A Columbus when that club needed an extra infielder for the playoffs.

From there, Kipnis went to the Instructional League, then the Arizona Fall League, finally shutting it down in November.

He made his major-league debut last July 22, approximately 18 months after changing positions.

“He is fully committed to being the best player he can be, and has done everything in his power to expedite that development,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti says.

 

WHAT TO DO WITH WANG?

 

Nationals right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, who worked into the ninth inning on his rehabilitation start at Triple A on Monday, would appear to be good trade bait.

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But not so fast.

The Nationals within the past week lost right fielder Jayson Werth and catcher Wilson Ramos to major injuries, and catcher Sandy Leon, sprained his right ankle in a home-plate collision Monday night in his major-league debut.

Wang, though, represents insurance for the rotation, particularly if the Nationals follow through on their plan to cap right-hander Stephen Strasburg at around 160 innings.

In any case, the Nats need not rush into a decision on Wang. His rehabilitation assignment does not expire until May 27.

 

INFANTE, AS IN INFERNO

 

Who does Omar Infante think he is, Dan Uggla?

Maybe not, but the Marlins’ second baseman, after entering the season with a .711 career OPS, is 14th in the NL with a .920 mark. Uggla, whom the Braves acquired for Infante and left-hander Mike Dunn in Nov. 2010, is 29th at .805.

Infante, 30, is indeed reaching another level, Marlins hitting coach Eduardo Perez says.

“He knows who he is,” Perez says. “He’s taller in his stance. He’s not swinging at balls outside of the zone as much as he used to. And he’s also laying off pitches in the lower part of the zone.”

“It comes with maturity. He’s more disciplined. It’s not like he’s stronger. He’s just putting the fat part of the bat on the ball.”

The Marlins are hitting better as a team, averaging 4.9 runs over their past 10 games. Yes, their new park is pitcher-friendly. Yes, the sample sizes are still small. But for the season, the Marlins are averaging 4.3 runs in 15 games at home and 3.3 runs in 20 games on the road.

Shortstop Jose Reyes is reviving by returning to an up-the-middle approach, and first baseman Gaby Sanchez and third baseman Hanley Ramirez are due for better luck — they own the NL’s seventh and eight lowest batting averages on balls in play, respectively.

Perez says the Marlins are starting to understand that the way to succeed at their new park is by hitting more line drives than home runs — which, of course, is a better approach to begin with.

“If we’re able to do that, we’ll be OK,” Perez says.

 

AROUND THE HORN

 

Astros closer Brett Myers is likely to be traded, but that doesn’t mean it will be a simple transaction.

Myers is earning $11 million this season, and his contract includes a $10 million option or $3 million buyout for 2013.

The Astros, after they named Myers their closer in spring training, reworked his deal to guarantee the option if he finishes a specified number of games.

The number was not disclosed, but it likely is in the range of 55 — Francisco Rodriguez’s magic number with the Mets last season.

Myers, 31, also will receive a $500,000 bonus if traded.

• The Cubs have no immediate plans to promote first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who is batting .351/.415/.657 at Triple A Iowa.

Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair is second in the NL in slugging and fourth in OBP, so the Cubs can pick their spot with Rizzo. They likely will wait for an opening — say, through an injury — rather than try to force the issue.

At this point, releasing Alfonso Soriano to clear left field for LaHair and first for Rizzo does not appear to be an option. Soriano, whose OBP is a meager .288, is owed nearly $50 million through 2014.

• A scout raves about Blue Jays Triple A catcher Travis D’Arnaud, saying “he looks like Russell Martin in his Dodgers days . . . he could play up there (in the majors) right now.”

The Jays, as I’ve written before, are in no rush with D’Arnaud. J.P. Arencibia lacks D’Arnaud’s upside and only recently has started hitting, but the Jays like the way he handles their staff.

• Right-hander Trevor Bauer, one of the game’s top pitching prospects, is averaging nearly five walks per nine innings for the Diamondbacks’ Double A affiliate, but one scout who saw him recently isn’t particularly worried.

“He’s not missing by much,” the scout said. “He’s refining his skills. He’s still got some maturing to do. He does some things sometimes when an umpire doesn’t call a pitch his way. But if he can harness everything, he has chance to be really good.”

• The Mariners appear to be fast-tracking right-hander Stephen Pryor, their fifth-round selection in 2010.

Pryor opened the season with a 1.12 ERA in 11 appearances at Double A, and already has made three scoreless appearances at Triple A.

Tagged: Red Sox, Angels, Indians, Rangers, Braves, Cubs, Astros, Nationals, Marlins, Michael Young, Vernon Wells, Ryan Dempster, Josh Beckett, Brett Myers, Omar Infante, Chien-Ming Wang, Josh Hamilton, Mark Trumbo

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