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Braves rookie already has fans singing
Even before Jason Heyward homered, Braves fans were chanting his name.
And still, the biggest story of Opening Day was the Braves’ astonishing rookie, right fielder Jason Heyward.
You’ve heard Yankees fans sing, “De-rek Je-ter!”
Braves fans broke out a new chant, roaring, “Let’s go Hey-ward!”
“Our fans don’t do that,” general manager Frank Wren said. “But they started doing it in the first inning — before he hit his home run.
“They did it all day long. It was all over the place. It gave you chills.”
Heyward’s major-league debut was indeed the stuff of legend.
He began his day by catching the ceremonial first pitch from Hank Aaron. He then hit a three-run homer off Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano in his first at-bat and later added an RBI single in the Braves’ 16-5 victory.
Braves third baseman Chipper Jones told reporters that after Heyward’s homer, “I don’t know that I’ve ever heard this stadium that loud.”
The Braves had a similar hometown-boy-makes-good story when another of their first-round picks, Jeff Francoeur, reached the majors in July 2005, also playing right field.
This is different.
Francoeur, for all his charisma, never showed the plate discipline or ability to hit for average that Heyward did in the minors.
Heyward, 20, took two borderline pitches from Zambrano for balls before crushing a down-and-in fastball over the right-field wall.
To think, he is just getting started.
Sweeney the soothsayer
Mike Sweeney knew he was a long shot to make the Mariners — he was, after all, a nonroster invitee for the second straight year.
Yet, by the end of camp, M’s general manager Jack Zduriencik said: “He had to be on this club — case closed.”
Sweeney, 36, reported in better shape than last season and all but promised manager Don Wakamatsu he would not be denied.
“Wak told me coming into camp that even if I hit .400, there was no guarantee I would make the team,” Sweeney said. “He wanted me to know it was going to be an uphill battle and most likely there would be no spot for me.
“I told him jokingly, ‘I understand, but I want to apologize in advance for making you look bad if I come into camp and hit .600.’ It was all in good fun, just some rhetoric considering the odds I was given of making the team.’”
Empty rhetoric it wasn’t.
Sweeney batted .500 in the Cactus League.
President Obama obviously knew what he was doing when he donned his black White Sox cap to go with his red Nationals jacket.
If Obama had simply endorsed the Nats, his critics rightly would have questioned his ability to serve as commander-in-chief.
Earlier this spring, I wrote a positive column about the Nats, pointing out the team finally was heading in the right direction.
A rival general manager — and discerning reader — asked me: “How did you even push ‘Send’ on that one?’”
I thought back to the GM’s comment during the Nationals’ 11-1 loss to the Phillies.
The Nats should get better as the season progresses; they will promote right-handed starter Stephen Strasburg and reliever Drew Storen and get righty Chien-Ming Wang and perhaps even righty Jordan Zimmermann back from injuries.
Until then, their fans are advised to make like Obama and wear some other team’s cap.
Rockies here, there and everywhere
Two of the Rockies’ young players demonstrated their upside on Opening Day — third baseman Ian Stewart hit a home run, and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez went 4-for-5 in the leadoff spot.
The Rockies boast five legitimate outfielders and quality backups at other spots, but their depth also extends to the minors. They can draw replacements from within and also use their prospects to make trades.
Among the possibilities:
- Jhoulys Chacin, RHP. Made his major-league debut last season and could enter the rotation for good if the Rockies need a starter in the second half.
- Esmil Rogers, RHP and Samuel Deduno, RHP. Both are hard throwers who could prove useful in the bullpen.
- Rex Brothers, LHP. A 2009 draft pick who could come up quickly and develop into a power left-handed closer.
- Jonathan Herrera, IF. Eric Young Jr., the Rockies’ better-known utility candidate, could start for many clubs; Herrera makes more contact and is a better defender.
- Jay Payton. No, he’s not a prospect, but Payton is back at Triple-A and eager to contribute after missing all of 2009 following surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Pondering the Pirates
Nice to see Garrett Jones hit two Opening Day homers. It’s as if he announced: “No! I am not Kevin Maas!” But with the Pirates, there’s always a question of what-if.
For example, what if the Pirates had an outfield of Andrew McCutchen, Nyjer Morgan and Nate McLouth, enabling Jones to play first base instead of right field?
McCutchen, Morgan and McLouth would form one of the game’s most dynamic outfields — and remember, the Pirates previously had Jason Bay and Xavier Nady as well.
Yet, the Pirates traded Morgan to the Nats in a deal for Lastings Milledge, and McLouth was dealt in a move that brought them three prospects from the Braves, including right-hander Charlie Morton.
They also believe new first baseman Jeff Clement, the former Mariner, will hit as he makes a position change from catcher.
It’s premature to judge any of the Pirates’ deals, but general manager Neal Huntington already has acknowledged to WEEI.com that he had a better offer for Bay than the one he ultimately accepted.
If Milledge hits for power, he will prove more valuable than Morgan. If Morton develops into a quality starter, the Pirates can label the McLouth trade a success almost regardless of how the two other players perform.
Still, Pirates fans would be wise to reserve judgment. A team that rebuilds with a scorched-earth policy only comes out ahead if it receives the right players in return.
First base: It isn't easy
The Pirates’ Clement and Braves’ Troy Glaus are essentially playing first base for the first time this season. The Nationals’ Adam Dunn is also something of a novice: He had never opened a season at the position.
Even for Glaus, a former shortstop who developed into a strong defender at third, the transition has not been easy.
“For the first time in a long time, I’ve got to have conscious thoughts about situations in a game. Where to go, where to stand. If a ball is hit softly, do I throw it here?” Glaus said.
“It’s a little bit different being on the other side of the field. I don’t know the physics behind it, but for some reason, lefty groundballs to first don’t hook like righty groundballs to third do.
“It’s just different somehow.”
Backlash on Lind contract
Not surprisingly, rival agents are exasperated with the four-year, $18 million contract that designated hitter Adam Lind signed with the Blue Jays, mostly because Lind agreed to club options covering each of his first three free-agent years.
“Three club options? The union hates those deals and understandably so,” one agent said. “He should have gotten those numbers without the options. The arbitration process rewards offensive production, and this kid is going to produce.”
Lind, who ranked seventh in the AL in OPS last season, will earn $5 million in each of his three arbitration years. His club options are worth $7 million, $7.5 million and $8 million.
As I wrote Sunday, Lind had his own reasons for taking the deal: He gained lifetime security at a time when DHs are being treated harshly in the free-agent market.
Around the horn
- A rival executive on Blue Jays right-hander Shaun Marcum, who held the Rangers hitless for 6 1/3 innings on Monday in his first appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery after the 2008 season:
- Zambrano (8 ER, 1 1/3 IP) was the Cubs’ biggest disappointment Monday, but the team’s bullpen also flopped late, failing to keep the team within 8-5 entering the seventh inning.
- A TV camera caught Angels right-hander Jered Weaver barking at center fielder Torii Hunter in the dugout Monday night after Hunter appeared to engage in a playful exchange with Twins second baseman Orlando Hudson from the bench.
- Typical Dan Haren line on Monday: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K. Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes points out that Haren’s ERA-plus the past three seasons — that is, his ERA adjusted to his league and park — is comparable to those of Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia.
- The Rockies want Ian Stewart to be more aggressive, and his home run on a 3-0 pitch marked only the third time in his career that he put a 3-0 pitch in play. He also hit a sacrifice fly, only the seventh of his career.
- Raul Ibanez went 1-for-4 with a walk in the Phillies’ opener, but scouts continue to say that he shows diminished bat speed. Ibanez turns 38 on June 2, and the Phils owe him $11.5 million in each of the next two seasons.
- If you haven’t seen Mark Buehrle’s hockey-basketball special — a kick-save, followed by a no-look, between-his-legs toss to first — find the video immediately. It could be the play of the year, and it happened on Opening Day.
“He competes. He throws strikes. He had a very good changeup early in that game, going away, away, away. Finally (the Rangers) made an adjustment. All of their hits were to the opposite field.”
The bullpen includes three rookies (right-handers Esmailin Caridad and Justin Berg and lefty James Russell), plus righty Jeff Samardzija, who still is relatively inexperienced.
The Cubs love the group’s talent, but Samardzija and Berg combined to allow eight runs — six earned — in 1 1/3 innings. Young relievers often are inconsistent, and the Cubs’ new closer, Carlos Marmol, also can be wobbly.
Hunter is one of the game’s most exuberant personalities and also a fierce competitor, but Weaver had a point. It’s one thing when opponents fraternize during batting practice or even exchange in small talk on the bases. While Hunter and Hudson were just having fun, it was a little much.
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