FIRST OF A SERIES--Today's blog marks the first of our regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday series on major league spring training to give fans and the industry added coverage on many of the nearly 50 onetime Independent Baseball players in the 30 camps. Your comments are welcome, and we will gladly post those which seem appropriate. Enjoy. Bob Wirz
Juan Gonzalez Off to Solid Start
In Quest to Make Comeback in St. Louis
Most people are not going to be thinking of Juan Gonzalez and Independent Baseball in the same breath, but it was with the Long Island (NY) Ducks of the Atlantic League where the two-time American League Most Valuable Player last wore a professional uniform in the United States prior to his non-roster invitation to join the St. Louis Cardinals for spring training. Gonzalez. now 38, had 130 at-bats for the Ducks two summers ago, hitting .323 and showing off his long ball ability six times.
After getting praise early in the Cardinals' camp and confirming one of his remaining desires is to hit 500 major league home runs (he has 434 along with 1,404 RBI), the sweet-swinging Puerto Rican got off on the right foot in the major league exhibition opener Thursday by collecting two singles in his three times at the plate, scoring once and driving in a run. He started the game as a designated hitter although former Cardinal Eduardo Perez told ESPN The Magazine's Tim Kurkjian earlier this spring Gonzalez "played great defense in right field" during winter workouts.
"He will get an opportunity to make the club if he has his game, and I'm told that he does," Manager Tony LaRussa told Kurkjian.
LINDSEY, BOZIED DELIVER--John Lindsey of the Dodgers and Tagg Bozied of Florida, a pair of non-roster first basemen still trying to get into their first regular season major league games, delivered big time Thursday.
Lindsey, who played for the New Jersey Jackals of the Can-Am League in 2005-06 and already had a three-hit intrasquad game performance under his belt, gave Joe Torre his first managerial win for Los Angeles with a two-run single with one out in the bottom of the ninth against Atlanta at Vero Beach. Lindsey went 1-for-2, although he also had an error. We will have much more on Lindsey in our March 6 Independent Baseball Insider column.
Bozied slugged 24 homers and drove in 82 runs for St. Louis's Memphis farm club last season, then signed with Florida during the offseason. This onetime Sioux Falls (SD) star went 2-for-2 in the Marlins' Grapefruit League debut, a 16-3 pounding of Baltimore.
HARRIS GETS A BONUS START--Jeff Harris, who has an exceptional 83-53 record in 13 seasons but has not been in a regular season major league game since 2006 (Seattle), got a bonus Grapefruit League start Thursday.
The 33-year-old righthander took advantage of the fact Jake Westbrook had to be held out with a sore arm to set down Houston 1-2-3 in the first inning of a game in which Cleveland Manager Eric Wedge used a new hurler in each inning. Harris pitched in Quebec in 2003 and briefly in 2004 after compiling a 20-12 record with Chico, CA in 2001-02.
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WILLHITE GETS 4 K'S--Matt Willhite started strong in a two-inning relief stint during the Los Angeles Angels' 3-3 tie with Texas. The onetime Frontier Leaguer (Kenosha, WI) struck out four Rangers hitters while allowing only one hit. Nathan Haynes, a onetime outfielder for Gary, IN in the Northern League, scored a run and went 1-for-2 as he attempts to retain the backup role he had much of last season.
HOCHEVAR SOLID--Kansas City seems to plan on going slowly with highly-touted righty Luke Hochevar, but if the 24-year-old No. 1 draft choice keeps putting up zeroes he may make it tough on new Manager Trey Hillman and pitching coach Bob McClure. While it has been said the Royals have as many as 11 starting candidates and do not want to rush this onetime Fort Worth (TX) Cat, Hochevar retired all six Texas hitters he faced in the third and fourth innings of Wednesday's Cactus League opener despite the fact he was shaking off flu-like symptoms.
"I've been feeling really good, and the things I've been working on have been extremely helpful in getting a good downward plane and keeping the ball down in the zone and attacking the strike zone a lot better," Hochevar told MLB.com's Dick Kaegel the day before the appearance. Hochevar, entering only his third professional season, started his career with four strong starts (1-1, 2.28, 34 strikeouts in 22.2 innings) in the American Association in 2006.
Hillman told Kaegel prior to the first spring training appearance his "performance, because he has had no major league experience (except for four games last September), would have to be above and boyond anyone else's who has already had the experience of being able to do that (start)." The Royals have indicated they would consider working Hochevar out of the bullpen for a time, if he does not win a starting job.
THIS 'N THAT--Kansas City had former Golden League catcher Cody Clark in the major league camp for a time even though he had not been listed on non-roster lists we had seen. Clark, 26, has primarily been at the Class A level since being signed away from the San Diego Surf Dawgs after the 2005 season. He hit .292 with eight homers and distinguished himself by strikeing out only 27 times in 264 at bats for SD. He has now been assigned to the minor league camp...Another Clark, Howie, who has had various major league trials including last season at Toronto, is in Minnesota's big-league camp. He played briefly for Chico, CA, when it was in the Western League, in 2001...The two Clarks increased our list of known Indy grads in major league camps to 48 after we scratched RHP Chris Fussell, who was mistakenly identified as going to camp with the parent Los Angeles Dodgers...Michel Hernandez, Somerset, NJ's catcher last summer (Atlantic League), went 0-1 in his first game for Pittsburgh and threw out the only Manatee Junior College runner who tried to steal on him, then went 1-for-2 with an RBI in a win over Philadelphia Thursday...Nate Field, who played his Indy baseball at Sioux City, IA and has some major league time with three teams, turned in his second consecutive scoreless inning in his quest to make the New York Mets bullpen...Catcher Robinson Cancel, a grad of both the Atlantic and United Leagues, got one at bat in Thursday's Mets game...Lefty Craig Anderson, an Australian who pitched for Brockton, MA, picked up two strikeouts in a scoreless inning for Baltimore...Bobby Brownlie, who started last summer's Atlantic League All-Star Game while wearing a Newark, NJ uniform, and Craig Breslow, who toiled for the New Jersey Jackals in 2004, hurled scoreless innings against college opponents for Washington and Boston, respectively.
In coming days we will report on:
**Catcher Ryan Smith's stunning first game ever in spring training
**Reliever Scott Patterson's reaction when he first joined the Yankees