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April 30 News and Notes

Cabrera’s been carrying the load in Detroit — 12:28 p.m.

Close followers of baseball reportage are aware that Scott Boras will, from time to time, make bold statements about the value of his clients.

As the best-known agent in baseball, he’s entitled to do that.

But Boras’ opinions aren’t restricted to his clientele. So, consider this statement from a Thursday telephone interview – about a player he doesn’t represent:

“Miguel Cabrera, the way he’s playing right now, he’s the MVP of baseball at this point in the season. He’s won games singlehandedly.”

Here’s a statement you won’t see too often: It’s quite difficult to argue with Boras on this point. 

The Tigers’ rotation has a 5.56 ERA. That’s the worst in the American League.

They have committed 21 errors. That’s tied for the most in baseball.

And yet they are 13-10, only 1/2; games back of Minnesota in the AL Central. They just took a three-game series from the Twins.

Without Cabrera’s production, they would probably be a fourth-place team.

He entered the weekend hitting .464 with runners in scoring position. That’s the best mark in the majors among players with at least 25 at-bats in such situations.

He’s also hitting better than .400 in “close and late” at-bats, according to

Cabrera leads the majors with 25 RBIs. He is close to the top in the AL with a .330 batting average.

He has hit five home runs and is again on pace to finish with 30-plus. The ball carries better at Comerica Park during the summer months, so that total could increase a lot in June, July and August.

Remember: He’s only two years removed from leading the AL with 37 homers.

A Triple Crown? We can’t rule out the possibility.

— Jon Paul Morosi

April 29 News and Notes

Scout: Reds rookie P getting by on smarts — 5:47 p.m.

Reds right-hander Mike Leake is 2-0 with a 3.25 ERA in his first four starts after going straight to the majors from Arizona State.

Sounds like the start of something big, right?

Yes and no, in the opinion of one scout.

“He’s a fourth or fifth starter, but he’s going to pitch a while because of his instincts and smarts,” the scout says.

“He’s a smart guy, knows what he’s doing – he understands how to pitch. He moves his arm angle around, changes eye levels. There is nothing about his stuff that makes you go, ‘Wow.’ But he has the instincts to get hitters out.”

The Reds will take it: Leake, 23, has two of the three wins by their starting rotation this season. — Ken Rosenthal

April 28 News and Notes

Tough market for free-agent Washburn — 12:28 p.m

The Dodgers and White Sox have been hampered by underperforming rotations so far.

At this point, though, neither club is in pursuit of free agent Jarrod Washburn.

“To my knowledge, neither team has shown interest,” Washburn said in an e-mail to on Wednesday.

When the off-season began, the left-hander indicated a preference to pitch for a team that plays near his Wisconsin home (either the Brewers or Twins) or return to the Seattle Mariners, for whom he excelled during the first half of last season.

Of that group, the Twins and Mariners don’t appear to be in the market for starters now. The Brewers, with a 5.14 rotation ERA, are trying to address their needs internally.

— Jon Paul Morosi

April 27 News and Notes

Despite Guillen injury, Tigers not planning to sign hitter — 11:05 p.m

The Tigers have been shut out twice this season — most recently by Francisco Liriano and the Twins on Tuesday night — but it doesn’t appear that they will sign a free agent to compensate for the absence of Carlos Guillen.

Club president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday that he doesn’t anticipate signing any free agent hitters.

The current pool includes veterans Jermaine Dye and Gary Sheffield, a former Tiger.

Guillen has been Detroit’s primary designated hitter this year. He’s currently on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring. He has missed time due to injuries every year since 2008.

— Jon Paul Morosi

Blue Jays sticking with Overbay for now — 8:22 p.m.

Toronto first baseman Lyle Overbay looks like an obvious trade candidate this July — if he hits.

He is in the final year of contract that will pay him $7 million this year. He is playing for a team that probably won’t be in contention after the All-Star break. He is a left-handed hitter who has hit for some power in the past. When those factors are present, a player is almost always available via trade.

Perhaps it’s not a big surprise, then, that the Blue Jays are going to give Overbay every opportunity to produce.

Overbay entered Tuesday’s game with a .183 batting average, but he won’t be benched soon. Toronto manager Cito Gaston all but guaranteed that the 33-year-old will remain in the lineup for the foreseeable future.

“For all you guys that don’t know this, we made a commitment for him to play this year,” Gaston said. “That comes from myself. That also comes from Alex (Anthopoulos, the general manager). We’ve got to live up to that, until it goes so bad that you’ve got to do something.

“Leaving him right where he’s at hopefully is going to build his confidence, let him know we meant what we said. We believe in him. … He is a left-handed guy. That means something. … I don’t really think about putting anybody else behind Vernon (Wells). He’s my one left-hander I’ve got.”

Later, Gaston made specific reference to Overbay’s contractual status, one that could have been interpreted as a veteran-friendly message to players in the Toronto clubhouse and around the majors.

“This kid’s going to be a free agent this year,” the manager said. “We believe that he deserves the chance to — if not play here — play somewhere else. It just depends on what we do with our guys in the minor leagues, with people coming up. It’s something we felt like is the right thing to do, to give him a chance.

“To bury somebody who’s a free agent, I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. If he’s hitting .109 in June, then we’ll have to rethink it. But he would understand that.”

During the offseason, the Blue Jays discussed a trade that would have sent Overbay to Arizona for catcher Chris Snyder. The deal failed to materialize because of Toronto’s concerns over Snyder’s back, according to The Arizona Republic.

— Jon Paul Morosi

Twins doing just fine with Liriano as starter — 3:00 p.m. ET

Remember back in spring training when Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano balked at the idea of replacing the injured Joe Nathan as the team’s closer?

Turns out the Twins are lucky he did.

Liriano, 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA after three starts, is showing signs of regaining his 2006 dominance.

His next test is Tuesday night in a matchup with Tigers righty Justin Verlander.

“No one was upset with him,” Twins G.M. Bill Smith says, referring to Liriano’s preference to remain a starter. “It was a compliment to him that he was considered for the position. He’s the one guy who, when you look at it, he has strikeout stuff.

“Our manager and pitching coach never flat-out asked him about it. In the end, they went to Jon Rauch and said, ‘We’d like you to take the ball and be our closer.’ Rauch, without blinking, said, ‘I’ll do what’s best for the team.’”

Smith wasn’t taking a shot at Liriano; Rauch has been a reliever for almost his entire major-league career. Liriano worked hard to return from Tommy John surgery and wanted the chance to re-establish himself as a starter.

“We thought he had the stuff to close. But he also has the stuff to be a No. 1 starter,” Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson says. “It’s like we said – we’ll leave it up to him.

“He’s off to a good start. Rauch is off to a good start. We’re all happy.”

— Ken Rosenthal

Bullpen blues could hurt Jays now and later — 11:48 a.m.

The Blue Jays enter Tuesday’s game against Boston with a 10-10 record. That’s better than many fans and media members expected.

So far, though, their season has been a disappointment in one key area: the bullpen. Toronto relievers have combined for a 5.69 ERA, second-worst in the American League.

Relief pitching is particularly crucial for Toronto, if for an uncommon reason: The Jays’ most valuable trade assets are in the bullpen.

The Jays are not expected to contend this season, so first-year general manager Alex Anthopoulos is likely to auction veterans at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. In fact, one major-league source said Anthopoulos has discussed proposals for relievers Jason Frasor and Scott Downs within the last six weeks.

There’s one small issue with that: Frasor and Downs aren’t pitching well right now. And with relievers, trade value is closely tied to who is pitching well right now.

Here’s a look at the performance of some experienced Toronto relievers:

Frasor: 0-1, 9.35 in 10 appearances.

Downs: 0-2, 5.63 in 10 appearances.

Casey Janssen: 3-0, 6.75 ERA in nine appearances; he’s surrendered six earned runs over his last two outings.

Jeremy Accardo: 0-1, 8.10 ERA in five appearances. (He was demoted to the minors after Monday’s ugly 13-12 loss.)

The Cubs, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Reds, Marlins, Brewers and Rays are among the teams that could look to add bullpen help over the next several months.

— Jon Paul Morosi

April 26 News and Notes

Howard deal leave Phillies in tough spot on future deals — 4:50 p.m.

In this video, I explain the Phillies’ rationale for signing first baseman Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125 million contract extension.

Now for the other side.

Howard’s two long-term deals with the Phillies amount to an eight-year, $179 million commitment — a shocking amount, considering that Howard never even hit the open market.

First baseman Mark Teixeira landed his eight-year, $180 contract with the Yankees in free agency. The Phillies, facing no competition from other clubs, bid against themselves.

In fact, Howard’s initial three-year, $54 million contract merely covered his arbitration years; the Phillies wanted no part of further arbitration with Howard after he won a record $10 million in his first try.

As I say in the video, the Phillies rightly view Howard as unique, the best power hitter of the steroid-testing era. But what would have been the harm of waiting until Howard became a free agent after the 2011 season?

Teixeira is set with the Yankees through ’16, removing the potential high bidder. The Red Sox, Cubs and other clubs also might have pursued Howard, but other first-base options would have been available, too.

The Cardinals’ Albert Pujols, Padres’ Adrian Gonzalez, Brewers’ Prince Fielder and Astros’ Lance Berkman also are eligible for free agency after ’11 — a favorable supply/demand situation for the clubs, to say the least.

True, one or more of the those players might stay with their present clubs. But the Phillies would not have been shut out at the position. First basemen generally are easy to find even when the free-agent classes are thin.

Yet, by signing Howard, the Phillies all but guaranteed that they will lose right fielder Jayson Werth as a free agent after this season.

They also put themselves in a difficult spot with shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who will be a free agent at 33 after the ’11 season. Rollins will want to be paid, too.

Say this for the Phillies — they like to reward their own. But Howard’s $25 million salaries from ages 34 to 36 will be daggers to the Cardinals in their quest to keep Pujols, and perhaps even more damaging to the Brewers in their quest to quest Fielder.

I expect strong criticism of the deal from within the industry.

The Phillies did not need to jump so soon.

— Ken Rosenthal

April 23 News and Notes

Braves might be in market for Adrian Gonzalez — 4:32 p.m.

The Adrian Gonzalez trade market hasn’t materialized yet. After all, the Padres are 9-6 and lead the National League West by one game.

Many in baseball believe the Padres will make Gonzalez available before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The Red Sox are often cited as the leading candidate to land him.

But one veteran scout said a different team may have the greatest need for the slugging first baseman: the Atlanta Braves.

Of course, the Braves could stay within their organizational philosophy and simply promote from within. Freddie Freeman, one of the Braves’ top prospects, is also a first baseman. The 20-year-old is already at Triple-A, where he’s batting .254 with three home runs and eight RBIs.

The Braves have a superb starting rotation that should enable them to remain in contention during Bobby Cox’s final season as manager. But there are big questions about whether they have enough offense.

They had a .229 batting average entering the weekend, third-worst in the National League. Take away the four-run burst over the ninth and 10th innings on Tuesday night, and the Braves produced only three runs in three games against Philadelphia.

“They won’t score many runs once teams realize that you shouldn’t pitch to (Jason) Heyward – except inside,” the scout said.

First base is one area where Atlanta hasn’t received much production; according to OPS, the team ranks 14th among 16 NL teams at the position.

Everyday first baseman Troy Glaus is hitting .170 with two home runs and eight RBIs. (He was robbed of a homer by Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino on Wednesday night.) Glaus has a one-year, $1.75 million deal, so he isn’t necessarily part of the Braves’ long-term plans. — Jon Paul Morosi

McCarver reacts to Braden-A-Rod tiff — 11:32 a.m.

In the wake of the Dallas Braden-Alex Rodriguez tiff, I asked FOX’s Tim McCarver if the A’s left-hander was justified in telling A-Rod, “This is my mound, my rubber.”

“Absolutely — I love that,” McCarver said. “That’s his space. You don’t see any starting pitchers in the batter’s box, do you? You don’t see pitchers go in the batter’s box, dig in, anything like that. So why should hitters be allowed on the mound?”

Braden grew upset during the sixth inning Thursday when Rodriguez cut across the mound while returning to first base on a foul ball.

McCarver, who spent 21 years in the majors as a catcher, said Braden is not the first pitcher to consider such an act a violation of baseball etiquette.

“The first person that I ever heard refer to the mound as his office was Gibson,” McCarver said, referring to his former teammate, Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. “And (Steve) Carlton picked that up.

“In fact, when Pete Rose would make an out — particularly on a flyball unless it was the third out of an an inning — he would intentionally run over the back of the mound on his way back to the dugout if the dugout was on the third-base side. He would intimidate rookie pitchers in that regard.

“He tried that once with Gibson in the mid-60s and Gibson threw at him the next time up. Pete spat at him. And the next one was a lot closer. Pete didn’t spit the second time.”

Gibson’s philosophy?

“You never come into my office unless you’re invited — and you’ll never be invited,” McCarver said. -Ken Rosenthal

April 22 News and Notes

Red Sox interested in Arizona catcher? — 8:07 p.m.

Prior to the 2009 season, the Red Sox offered reliever Daniel Bard to the Diamondbacks for catcher Miguel Montero.

The Diamondbacks balked – Bard was not yet established, and trading a position player for a reliever is always a risk – but soon the Red Sox might be calling again.

Not about Montero, who took over as the Diamondbacks’ No. 1 catcher last season and currently is recovering from left-knee surgery.

About his backup, Chris Snyder.

Montero will be out another three to five weeks, so Snyder is not yet available. But Snyder is on the Sox’s “down-the-road hit list,” according to one major-league source.

Through 17 games, opponents were 34-for-35 in stolen-base attempts against Red Sox catchers Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek.

Sox pitchers share part of the responsibility, but clearly the team would benefit from a defensive upgrade at catcher.

Snyder, 29, figures to be one of several options – and not necessarily the most appealing.

He is expensive, earning $4.75 million this season and $5.75 million in 2011 with a $750,000 buyout for ’12; the Diamondbacks likely would need to include cash in any deal.

He also has a history of injuries; the Blue Jays reportedly backed out of a Lyle Overbay-for-Snyder trade last winter over concerns about Snyder’s surgically repaired back.

The Red Sox are one of the few clubs that could absorb Snyder’s salary, or a good portion of it. Opposing base stealers were 26-for-31 off Snyder last season and they’re 10-for-12 this season. But his career success rate is a respectable 25.9 percent.

Is he great? No.

But right now, Yogi Berra might qualify as an upgrade for Boston. — Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi

Baker may skip Harang’s next start — 2:40 a.m.

Aaron Harang was available before last July’s trade deadline, during the August waiver period, and again during the offseason. The Reds never dealt him.

So, after recovering from the appendectomy that ended his 2009 season, Harang was Cincinnati’s Opening Day starter for the fifth straight year. But after surrendering six earned runs in 5-2/3 innings to the Dodgers on Wednesday night, he is 0-3 with an 8.31 ERA.

Despite allowing 10 hits, Harang said he believed that only one was hit hard. He also said that home plate umpire Adrian Johnson had a “tight zone.”

“Bad luck — a bad spell right now,” Harang said afterward. Reds manager Dusty Baker couldn’t explain away Harang’s performance quite that easily.

In fact, Baker didn’t even guarantee that Harang would make his next start; an off day next week would enable the Reds to skip his turn.

“I don’t know,” Baker said. “I haven’t had time to think about it.”

It was then mentioned to Baker that the Cubs moved their Opening Day starter, Carlos Zambrano, to the bullpen. “They have one of their starters coming off the DL,” Baker replied. “We don’t have that luxury.”

Baker’s pitching troubles aren’t limited to Harang. His rotation has yet to win a game this season. “We’ve certainly got to get our starting pitching together — big time,” Baker said.

In the near term, Harang’s struggles have kept the Reds from getting off to a fast start. They are 6-9, four games behind the first-place Cardinals in the National League Central.

And unless he starts pitching exceptionally well, Harang will be a difficult player to trade if the Reds aren’t in the race at the deadline. One major reason, aside from his performance: He’s earning $12.5 million this year.

— Jon Paul Morosi

April 21 News and Notes

Nats’ Marquis complains of elbow soreness — 8:37 p.m.

Washington Nationals right-hander Jason Marquis, who failed to retire a batter in his start on Sunday and has a 20.25 ERA in three starts, met with club officials Wednesday to discuss some discomfort in his right elbow, according to sources close to the team.

Marquis was signed to a two-year $15 million free-agent contract in the offseason with the hope he could bring a veteran influence to the Nationals rotation.

He was an All-Star selection with the Colorado Rockies last year. Known for being a strong first-half pitcher, Marquis has worked 8-1/3 innings in three starts, allowing 20 runs, 19 earned, on 18 hits and six walks. He has struck out three.

— Tracy Ringolsby

Cubs send Zambrano to ‘pen to make room for Lilly — 4:56 p.m.

Ever hear of a $17.875 million setup man?

The Cubs just invented one – Carlos Zambrano.

Manager Lou Piniella told reporters at Citi Field Wednesday that Zambrano will move to the bullpen on Friday to make room for left-hander Ted Lilly in the rotation.

When I sent one of Zambrano’s friends a text message to inform him of the move, he replied, “Is that a joke?”

Evidently not – Piniella said that Zambrano is fine with the move.

Zambrano, whose last relief appearance was May 28, 2002, will set up for closer Carlos Marmol, Piniella said.

The move, though, does not appear to be a mere experiment.

“If the starting pitchers keep doing what they’re doing, it could be for a while,” one club official said.

Lilly, recovering from shoulder surgery last November, will make his first start of 2010 on Saturday. The Cubs had been expected to send right-hander Carlos Silva or lefty Tom Gorzelanny to the bullpen. But Piniella, citing Zambrano’s stuff, opted for a far bolder move.

Zambrano is in the third year of a five-year, $91 million contract.

Ken Rosenthal

Determination pays off for a journeyman — 2:18 p.m.

The Orioles had two first-round picks in 1997. The first was a high-school catcher named Jayson Werth. The second was an outfielder named Darnell McDonald.

Werth was a classic late bloomer, becoming a regular for the first time at 29 and an All-Star right fielder with the Phillies last season.

McDonald, the Red Sox’s newest hero, has taken an even more circuitous journey. It probably will not end as happily as Werth’s. But the people who signed him for the Orioles never imagined he would persevere this long.

“I’ve got to give credit to him for hanging in there,” said Dodgers midwest scouting supervisor Gary Nickels, the former Orioles scouting director who selected McDonald. “You’re talking about 13 years later, and he shows up in a big-league game.”

McDonald signed with the Orioles for $1.9 million after turning down an offer from The University of Texas to play football and baseball. McDonald had been a star running back at Cherry Creek (Co.) H.S.

“There was always that concern: ‘Did he like baseball?’” Nickels says. “But he demonstrated a real stick-to-itiviveness. He basically has been at Triple A the past five or six years.”

McDonald, 31, actually has been at Triple A since 2001. The Red Sox are his seventh organization. He had appeared in only 68 major-league games with the Orioles, Twins and Reds before joining the Sox on Tuesday night.

Logan White, the Dodgers’ assistant general manager, was the scout who signed McDonald. Pat Gillick was the Orioles’ general manager then. Jeff Moorad, now CEO of the Padres, was McDonald’s agent.

“I’m proud of how he has battled and stayed with it,” White said. “I hope he ends up with a few decent years for himself.”

— Ken Rosenthal

April 20 News and Notes

RHP Looper throws for Cubs officials — 12:20 p.m.

Free-agent right-hander Braden Looper threw for Cubs officials Tuesday in Chicago, according to major-league sources.

Looper, who lives in Chicago, is willing to be flexible about his role if the Cubs sign him, one source said.

The Cubs’ greater current need is in their young, injury-depleted bullpen.

Left-hander Ted Lilly is expected to rejoin the team’s rotation this weekend, forcing the move of left-hander Tom Gorzellany or right- hander Carlos Silva to a bullpen role.

Looper, 35, almost certainly would require a minor-league assignment before he could pitch in the majors again.

He went 14-7 with a 5.22 ERA in 34 starts for the Brewers last season and also was a starter for the Cardinals in 2007 and ’08.

However, Looper can fill a variety of roles — he was a reliever for the Cardinals in ’06 and a closer for the Marlins and Mets from ’03 to ’05.

— Ken Rosenthal

April 19 News and Notes

Ripken responds to Rosenthal report — 12:20 p.m.

Cal Ripken issued a statement Monday in response to a story by Ken Rosenthal that appeared on Friday night.

The story said, ". . . (Orioles) owner Peter Angelos recently declined to hire the franchise’s biggest legend, Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., in a baseball capacity, according to multiple major-league sources.

Ripken met with Andy MacPhail, the team’s president of baseball operations, about rejoining the organization, sources said.

Angelos, however, nixed the idea in a separate conversation with Ripken, telling him, according to three sources, that he did not want Ripken to receive credit once the team returned to prominence."

Ripken denied the report in his statement.

"First I want to say that Mr. Angelos never said that he didn’t want me to get credit for any success that the club might have," the statement said. "That’s just not true.

"I have had a very good relationship with Peter for a long time. He has been an advisor to me, a great supporter of my foundation and it is because of him that we have an Orioles affiliate in Aberdeen.

"I have met with Andy and Peter on a number of occasions to discuss many subjects. Ultimately our discussions have turned to baseball, the Orioles and me. I have enjoyed those talks very much, and yes the subject has been broached about me potentially joining the organization. I look forward to those talks continuing."

Rosenthal stands by his story and is writing a column on the subject that will appear on later today. Read the original story

Red-hot A’s have arms to contend — 5:18 a.m.

Oakland has won nine games — tied for the most in the majors — and begins the week with a 2/12; game lead in the American League West.

And according to one veteran scout, there’s little reason to expect the young A’s to fade soon.

In fact, the A’s could be on their way to a winning season for the first time since reaching the AL Championship Series in 2006.

“Their starting pitchers throw strikes,” the scout said. “There is some risk (with the rotation overall) because (Ben) Sheets could get hurt. But they should be encouraged with the way things are falling for them, pitching-wise. As long as their starters are healthy, they’ll be able to compete.”

The rotation didn’t garner much attention during the spring, but Oakland starters have combined to go 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA in the team’s first 14 games.

That’s the best ERA in the AL — not to mention the most innings (83 1/3) of any rotation in the majors.

Sheets and Justin Duchscherer have bounced back after not pitching in the majors last year.

Dallas Braden is a great strike-thrower, as evidenced by his 0.750 WHIP over three starts this year; he is also pitching through numbness in a couple toes on his left foot after a rash caused nerve damage.

Power left-handers Brett Anderson, 22, and Gio Gonzalez, 24, have shown considerable promise.

Good signs, all.

Of course, it would be a shock if those five pitchers remained healthy and effective all year. But the A’s should have reinforcements, despite their modest payroll.

Trevor Cahill, a 10-game winner in 2009, is on the disabled list but is expected to begin a minor-league rehab assignment this week. Vin Mazzaro is probably Oakland’s best insurance policy at Triple-A now; he made 17 starts in the majors last season and is 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA in three starts this year.

Oakland’s lineup isn’t special. But with pitching like this, it doesn’t need to be.

— Jon Paul Morosi

April 16 News and Notes

Two key Dodger pitchers struggling — 10:17 p.m.

The Dodgers lost three pitchers to free agency, including left-hander Randy Wolf. Still, they figured their staff would be just as good as last season, if not better.

They may have figured wrong.

It’s early, but right-handed starter Chad Billingsley and left-hander Clayton Kershaw each labored through their first two starts, raising questions about their respective developments.

The Dodgers planned on Billingsley, 25, and Kershaw, 22, maturing as pitchers, working deeper into games and helping ease the pressure on the team’s bullpen.

When young pitchers fail to progress, the team’s pitching coach often comes under greater scrutiny. The Dodgers’ pitching coach, Rick Honeycutt, does not appear to be in trouble. But that could change if Billingsley and Kershaw, in particular, do not show improvement.

Billingsley, at the All-Star break last season, was 44-23 lifetime with a 3.34 ERA. Since then, he is 4-7 with a 5.27 ERA. He did not complete six innings in either of his first two starts.

Kershaw, too, has yet to complete six innings, also struggling with his command. His inconsistency, though, is more understandable – he is younger than Billingsley, and still learning on the job.

The Dodgers, in addition to Wolf, also lost right-handed starter Jon Garland and right-handed reliever Guillermo Mota to free agency. But Garland had been with the team for only one month, and Mota essentially was a spare part.

Pitching was not supposed to be a problem. Yet to this point, the only Dodgers pitching well are right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda, knuckleballer Charlie Haeger and closer Jonathan Broxton.

The returns of two relievers – left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo from the disabled list and righty Ron Belisario from the restricted list – should benefit the team’s struggling bullpen.

But for the Dodgers to make their third straight postseason appearance, they will need more out of Billingsley and Kershaw. — Ken Rosenthal

April 14 News and Notes

Reds need to give Cordero a break — 6:54 a.m.

Red alert: Cincinnati closer Francisco Cordero needs a day off. Badly.

Cordero, the Reds’ closer, has worked six of the last seven days, including the last three. He also warmed up on the day he did not pitch, making it seven straight days that he has thrown.

His heavy workload has been partly unavoidable; the Reds have won five of their past six games, with all of the victories coming by one or two runs and in their final at-bat.

Still, the Reds’ chances of emerging as a surprise team will greatly diminish if they burn out their closer in April.

The biggest criticism of manager Dusty Baker over the years is that he burns through pitching. Cordero is averaging only 16.2 pitches per outing, but the Reds play each of the next five days.

No matter what the score is in the ninth inning Wednesday night, some other Reds’ reliever should be in the game.

— Ken Rosenthal

April 8 News and Notes

Rival scout impressed by Penny’s Cards debut — 9:12 p.m.

It was only one start, but a rival scout who attended Brad Penny’s debut for the Cardinals on Thursday already notices a difference in the veteran right-hander.

The scout said that Penny frequently threw curveballs early in the count, mixed in split-fingered fastballs, pitched with newfound poise.

“I can see where Duncan already has made an impact on him,” the scout said, referring to Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan.

“His delivery was under control — he was not rushing, overthrowing, falling all over the mound the way he had in the past. He had a nice, calm, good tempo.”

Penny, who signed a one-year, $7.5 million free-agent contract, allowed one run in seven innings, yielding six hits and two walks while striking out four.

The Reds, a free-swinging team, were not a particularly challenging opponent — they drew only seven walks and scored just 11 runs in the three-game series.

Still, the Cardinals had to be encouraged by Penny’s first start. — Ken Rosenthal

April 7 News and Notes

Unsigned Looper could fit with Rockies — 3:04 p.m.

Braden Looper could fill the Rockies’ need for a versatile, veteran pitcher. Looper made 60 or more appearances in each of his first eight full seasons in the big leagues, and was a starter the last four years. The Rockies would like to find a veteran who could be a long man out of the bullpen, capable of starting on occassion. The bonus with Looper is he also could provide late-inning insurance.

Currently, the Rockies have starting pitcher Jeff Francis and closer Huston Street on the disabled list. As a result, expected long reliever Greg Smith is in the rotation, rookie Esmil Rogers is in the bullpen instead of developing in the rotation at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and there is no late-inning protection for lefty Franklin Morales, who is being asked to fill the void at closer.

Looper was 14-7 with Milwaukee last year, but became a free agent and remains unsigned. — Tracy Ringolsby

More Washburn trade possibilities could surface — 11:37 a.m.

During the offseason, free-agent left-hander Jarrod Washburn was believed to be interested in pitching only for the Mariners, Twins and Brewers.

But as he waits, other possibilities could surface.

The Diamondbacks might need a replacement for injured right-hander Brandon Webb. The Rockies might need a replacement for injured left-hander Jeff Francis.

Neither team, however, currently is pursuing Washburn, major-league sources say.

The Rockies, who had named Francis their No. 2 starter, remain confident that he will return after missing all of last season due to arthroscopic shoulder surgery.

The Diamondbacks are less certain about Webb, but probably would not stretch their budget for Washburn, according to a source.

Washburn, represented by Scott Boras, reportedly declined an offer from the Mariners for less than the $1.5 million they gave free-agent left-hander Erik Bedard.

The Royals’ interest has been overstated, a source says, but other opportunities are certain to arise as the season progresses.

The question might come down to Washburn’s desire to continue pitching. Washburn, who turns 36 on Aug. 13, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee at the end of last season.

Earlier this offseason, a source told’s Jon Paul Morosi that Washburn might retire if he did not receive the right offer from the right team. — Ken Rosenthal

Astros haven’t been packing a punch — 9:04 a.m.

Boy do the Astros miss first baseman Lance Berkman.

Two games, two runs against the Giants – and none against the opposing starters, right-hander Tim Lincecum and lefty Barry Zito.

Yes, the Giants’ starters are good. But neither Lincecum nor Zito was close to his best, according to a scout who attended both games.

The Astros’ biggest offensive questions are at shortstop (rookie Tommy Manzella) and catcher (J.R. Towles, Humberto Quintero). But other issues exist as well.

Leadoff man Michael Bourn remains vulnerable to breaking balls and changeups, which is one reason the Phillies traded him to the Astros after the 2007 season.

Third baseman Pedro Feliz, a free-agent addition who batted fifth Tuesday night, has a career on-base percentage of only .293.

Without Berkman, left fielder Carlos Lee and right fielder Hunter Pence are the Astros’ only true threats. Berkman, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove cartilage debris on his left knee March 13, is eligible to come off the disabled list Saturday but is not expected to be ready then.

– Ken Rosenthal

April 6 News and Notes

A’s try to slip Cust through waivers — 7:18 p.m.

The A’s took a calculated gamble designating Jack Cust for assignment just before Opening Day. Actually, it might not have been much of a gamble at all.

Cust, 31, is likely to clear waivers despite averaging 28 homers and producing a .378 on-base percentage over the past three seasons.

Few teams can absorb a $2.65 million salary at this point of the season. Even fewer need a player who primarily is a DH.

An NL club such as the Giants could use Cust’s power, and Cust did play 51 games in right field last season. But an outfield of Cust, Aaron Rowand and Mark DeRosa would be severely challenged defensively.

Thus, while Cust might be an upgrade for some AL clubs, the A’s recognize that they probably can slip him through waivers and stash him at Triple A as insurance for Eric Chavez.

If Cust declines the assignment and becomes a free agent, he would forfeit his salary with seemingly no other jobs available. Most teams, at least for now, are locked into their designated hitters:

Yankees: Nick Johnson
Red Sox: David Ortiz
Rays: Pat Burrell
Blue Jays: Adam Lind
Orioles: Luke Scott

Twins: Jason Kubel, Jim Thome
White Sox: Mark Kotsay, Andruw Jones
Tigers: Carlos Guillen, Johnny Damon
Indians: Travis Hafner
Royals: Jose Guillen

Angels: Hideki Matsui
Mariners: Ken Griffey Jr.
Rangers: Vladimir Guerrero
A’s: Chavez

— Ken Rosenthal