Saturday, April 18, 2009


As the major league season heated up, so did the involvement of former Independent Baseball players.

Two promotions to the big time need to be recognized with another player coming off the disabled list and a fourth likely to make a major league start on Sunday.

Tampa brought catcher Michel Hernandez (of Somerset, NJ, Atlantic League) back from Triple-A where he promptly caught a game (and went 1-for-3) against his former mates, the New York Yankees. And Milwaukee promoted lefty reliever R. J. Swindle, whose only previous major league experience came in three games (five innings) for Philadelphia late last season. Swindle is a product of both the Atlantic League (Newark, NJ) and the Northern League (one plus seasons with Schaumburg, IL).

Arizona activated Max Scherzer (Fort Worth, TX, American Association) off the disabled list, as expected, when the D-Backs first needed their fifth starter. He took a no decision after allowing three runs in five innings. And all signs point to the New York Mets adding Nelson Figueroa (Long Island, NY, Atlantic) so he can start on Sunday against Milwaukee.

Major league newcomer Chris Jakubauskas and veteran Kevin Millar seemingly made the biggest splashes of recent days.

It seems to be a trend for 30-year-old rookie Jakubauskas to make news. Following up on his surprise leadership of the Cactus League with a 1.99 earned run average this spring and his equally surprising earning of a spot with Seattle, the righthander got his first big league start (in only his third appearance). He ended up with a 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but that is misleading in that the longtime Independent leaguer had a 1-0 lead through five innings and had retired 15 of the first 18 hitters he faced. He came out after allowing two of the first three hitters in the sixth to get hits, and the Angels posted a five-run inning against the bullpen.

"I think he tired real quickly, for lack of being stretched out," Manager Don Wakamatsu told "What impressed me was how efficient he was with his pitches, and his aggressiveness. He's a tough kid who went through a lot to get here. He's on a mission and pitched like it again tonight."

How true. And what smiles Jakubauskas has to be delivering in Lincoln, NE (American Association), Fullerton, CA (Golden League), Ohio Valley and Florence, KY (Frontier League) where he labored the first four plus of his professional seasons. He was signed out of Lincoln only in 2007.

Millar, the wily veteran who started his pro journey in St. Paul, MN (Northern League then, American Association now) in the first Indy season of 1993, cracked his fourth career major league grand slam Thursday to boost first place (yes, not a typo) Toronto to a 9-2 triumph over Minnesota. The Jays have been leading the powerful American League East early on.

The only blemish on the week was the demotion of another player who started his professional journey in an Independent league. St. Louis sent reliever Josh Kinney (River City, Frontier League) to the minors, although it would not surprise this corner to see it be a short stay.

Bob Wirz

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