Category Archives: Baseball

Despite a Lost Season, an Ace Makes a Return

by Sean Begin

Masahiro Tanaka signed with the New York Yankees in January for seven years and $155 million. His contract includes an opt out clause after the 2017 season meaning at a minimum the Yankees could start him for four years.

At 25 years old this would give the Yankees control of some his best years of pitching, with a chance to again sign him long term before the 2018 season. Then came the worst start of his young career, when he gave up 10 hits and five runs over 6.2 innings to the Cleveland Indians on July 8.

The next day, Tanaka was in New York for an MRI, eventually being placed on the disabled list with elbow inflammation. The injury was essentially a slight tear to his ulnar collateral ligament, the ligament most often associated with Tommy John surgery.

Rather than undergo the now widely-used procedure, Tanaka and Yankee’s doctors decided to rest and rehabilitate his elbow, hopefully avoiding surgery. Tanaka left the team having posted a 12-4 record with a 2.51 ERA, among the league leaders in both categories. He also struck out 135 batters while walking just 19.

As the summer wore on, Tanaka rested. Eventually he began light tossing before moving on to simulated games and full bullpen sessions. And on Sunday, he returned to the mound for the first time since July.

And he actually looked good.

He threw just 70 pitches but went 5.1 innings, with four strikeouts and zero walks, spreading around five hits and surrendering a single run. His pitches looked as sharp as they did before the injury.

This doesn’t mean Tanaka is out of hot water though. St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright went down a similar route. In an article by the NY Times’ Tyler Kepner, Wainwright explains how he first felt elbow discomfort in middle school.

Then, in middle school, he was diagnosed with a partial-UCL tear, which he rehabbed over surgery. It happened again while he was in AAA. But after another successful rehab, Wainwright pitched six years in the major, culminating in his All-Star 2010 season.

Wainwright had to have Tommy John surgery after that season, sidelining him for all of 2011 but he returned strong and has been an All-Star the last two years.

“You don’t want to have surgery unless you have to,” Wainwright said in the Kepner article. “We’ve been given ligaments and tendons that are much better than repaired ligaments and tendons. Any time they’re drilling holes in bones and putting things in, there’s risk involved. So don’t get it unless you need it.”

So, what does this mean for Tanaka and the Yankees?

Well, if the rehab proves as successful as Wainwright’s, it means the Yankees only lost Tanaka for two months of his rookie season. Had he had surgery, he’d be gone until 2016, essentially losing his first two years.

If Tanaka can follow Wainwright and pitch six more years, it’d be through those first four years of his contract until his opt out clause kicks in. And if something goes wrong further down the road, there’s still the option of surgery, which has an almost universal success rate.

So while the Yankees season may lie dead in the water at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles, Tanaka provided one last important spark, one last look at the potential of the 2015 Yankees rotation.

For the Love of the Game, Just let them Play

by Sean Begin

It’s time to throw out the book.

Or, at least, make some highly necessary changes.

What book? That would be the Unwritten Rules of Baseball, which made yet another appearance April 20, when the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez ignited a benches clearing brawl after he flipped his bat on what he thought was a home run.

Turned out it was really just a deep outfield hit, one that saw Gomez wind up (barely) at third base with a triple, and could, as Fox’s Jon Paul Morosi speculated, been an inside-the-park home run, had Gomez hustled out of the box.

Pirates closer Gerrit Cole, apparently succeeding Brian McCann as baseball’s Arbiter of All Things Unwritten, took offense to this action. Cole shouted something to Gomez, who promptly removed his helmet and started towards the mound, having to be restrained by the third base umpire.

Naturally, the benches cleared, and after Gomez slipped the umps grasp, a full-on basebrawl erupted on the field at PNC Park. Gomez was eventually ejected, along with the Pirates’ Travis Snider.

But the real issue here starts back at the plate, with Gomez’s bat flip. This story is not a new one.

Gomez, himself, drew the wrath last season when he bat-flipped after hitting a home run against the Braves, whose then-catcher, Brian McCann, took exception. McCann blocked Gomez from touching home, causing benches to clear then.

The same story can be applied to Marlin’s pitcher Jose Fernandez, who also caused the benches to clear last season when he stood at home plate and stared down his first major league home run against those same Braves.

McCann again, this time joined by third baseman Chris Johnson, took offense to Fernandez’s actions.

Lather, rinse and repeat the story with the Dodgers Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig, who seems to anger the Unwritten Rules arbiters wherever he goes.

Really, it’s time for all this game managing by the players to stop. Baseball, while making massive amounts of money from TV contracts, is facing a sharp decrease in young fans. The exuberance guys like Gomez and Puig show when they play the game needs to be allowed to flourish.

If Gomez wants to flip his bat over a triple, let him. In the end, because he didn’t score, his actions only hurt the Brewers. Cole didn’t suffer from being stranded 90 feet from home, so why does he feel the need to say something?

If anyone should have policed Gomez, it should have been the Brewers.

Most of these players, too, are young Hispanics from the Dominican Republic or, in Puig’s case, Cuba. Long have they played simply for the love of the game. Puig made $17 a month playing ball for Cuba’s national team. When he celebrates with a bat flip, it’s not to show up the other team, it’s to show his excitement over the game.

Besides, watch a basketball game, a soccer match or a hockey game, and tell me if you don’t see players celebrating the in-game accomplishments.

You don’t see some seventh-man bench players in the NBA getting mad at Blake Griffin for staring down some guy he just posterized with a massive slam-dunk. When Messi scores for Barcelona, the backup goalkeeper isn’t running onto the pitch to get in his face for taking his shirt off and sliding on his knees in front of the fans.

Baseball is 160-plus-years-old. It’s time leave the old, unwritten code of behavior where it belongs, in the past, and stop acting like a bunch of old men angry that some kid is having fun on his lawn.

Baseball’s Replay Pains

by Sean Begin

The 2014 baseball season comes with a major shift in the way games are umpired: for the first time ever, instant replay will be used extensively throughout the game.

But three weeks into the season, it’s already facing major obstacles.

In a game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees over the weekend, the Yankees Dean Anna was showed on the TV broadcast to have clearly been tagged out, even though the initial ruling was safe. But after Sox manager John Farrell challenged the call, instead of being overturned it was confirmed.

The next day, Farrell became the first manager in the major’s to be ejected from a game for arguing the results of instant replay review when Yankees first baseman Francisco Cervelli was called safe at first.

But after Saturday’s call, it’s hard not to agree with Farrell. Anna should have been out at second. After that game, an MLB official acknowledged that the Replay Operations Center in New York that handles all replay challenges did not have immediate access to all conclusive angles.

Wait, what?

How do multiple TV broadcast (I watched the game on the YES Network, but it was also broadcast on NESN and Fox Sports 1) immediately see a perfect angle showing Anna is out but the ROC doesn’t get it?

Is there some miscommunication between the providers of the footage (the channels broadcasting the game) and the ROC? Maybe someone just choked. Maybe they felt rushed to make a quick decision that they didn’t go through all available angles. Maybe it was simply technical difficulties.

None of that matters, though.

Replay in baseball has long been an issue of contention. Purists will argue that it takes the human element (umpires) out of the game. Proponents of the system, ironically, will argue the same point.

While I’m all for expanded replay (baseball added replay on home run calls in 2008) it’s becoming increasingly clear that patience on many levels is being worn thin.

These early months of replay are when it will be most scrutinized. Mistakes like the one in the Sox/Yankees game, or lengthy reviews like the four minute, 45 second one that took place in a game between Oakland and Cleveland earlier this season, will provide proof for the doubters that the system isn’t perfect yet.

But that’s precisely the point. John Schuerholz – former Braves manager and one of the minds behind replay – called 2014 the first year of a “three-year rollout” of expanded replay. Patience becomes necessary.

But for fans, managers and players patience isn’t always a strong suit. And with baseball already facing issues of game length (the average game length has gone up 30 minutes since the 1960s) there is no room for five minute reviews that come up “inconclusive.”

Now is the time for replay to show its usefulness. Through the first 141 games of the season (about two weeks), replay overturned a call once in every 6.7 games. Out of 64 challenges, 21 have been overturned with the average replay length 2:15. These are not bad numbers, even though the time can continue to be decreased.

And most of these early mistakes seem to be technical, which should be expected given the newness of the system. But the way replay is used still needs policing.

Managers have already shown that these new replay rules can be bent and twisted as strategy for giving bullpen pitchers more time to warm up without the struggling starter continuing to flounder, or will come out to talk with the umpires while they wait for the team’s new replay guy to determine if a challenge is necessary (which, of course, only adds to the length of a game).

Look, it’s not surprising there are kinks to the system. But some of these mistakes and issues have been so glaring that the people decrying replay as a failure will only get louder. Baseball should take some quick and necessary steps to shore up replay before those voices continue to grow.

 

Baseball Splits Weekend Series with the Mount

by Sean Begin

The Central Connecticut baseball team headed into the weekend, and their first conference series, on the heels of back-to-back victories to even their record at 7-7.

That .500 winning percentage stayed in place after the team went 2-2 in it’s weekend series against Mount St. Mary’s, winning Friday’s game and the first game on Saturday before dropping the last two.

“We got ourselves started…this weekend and haven’t done anything to jeopardize our goal to be in the top four,” said head coach Charlie Hickey, following Sunday’s finale. “[We] had an opportunity today to come out and win a series and gain a tiebreaker and we ended up on the short end of a 6-5 game.”

The team has struggled offensively this season, piecing together runs on small ball tactics (hit and runs, stolen bases and sacrifices) eking out a run or two here or there in combination with shutdown pitching to earn their victories.

But the offense showed some life this weekend, recording at least 11 hits in every game of the weekend. In the previous fourteen, they had managed that feat only twice.

“We were more effective offensively, or we started to be, this weekend in terms of having some runners on base and creating some hitting opportunities,” said Hickey. “Still learning about ourselves; learning to try to get better.”

Central (9-9, 2-2 NEC), who is hitting .257 as a team on the season through Sunday’s game, hit .389 during the series against the Mount (8-11, 2-2 NEC). Despite the sudden life in Blue Devil bats, they remain subdued when scoring opportunities rose up.

“We didn’t hit well with runners in scoring position and that’s something we’re going to have to build off of,” said Hickey. “And you don’t know that ‘til you get runners on, and we haven’t been getting runners on until this weekend.”

With runners in scoring position over the weekend, Central hit .333 with most of their hits coming in the 6-0 victory on Friday and the 6-5 loss on Sunday. They struggled to bring home runners on Saturday, however, hitting just .231 and leaving nine and 3 runners on base in games two and three, respectively.

“There was a little frustration from yesterday where we left 13 guys on base in the second game,” said Hickey Sunday afternoon. “We’ve got to keep believing, keep creating opportunities, keep becoming more versatile and be able to score in different ways.”

The weekend started out well, with senior Tom Coughlin tossing his second consecutive shutout, giving up just five hits over nine innings. Coughlin, who struck out six batters, reduced his ERA to a miniscule 0.93 on the year.

Central was lead offensively by senior Josh Ingham, who went 3-4 in Friday’s contest with an RBI. Ingham leads the Blue Devils with a .361 batting average. All but one batter got a hit on the day.

Both of Saturday’s games were just seven innings long. In the first game, Central got another strong performance from senior Nick Neumann, who gave up just one run over six innings, good for his first win of the season.

Neumann gave up a run in the first but settled down for the rest of the day. Ingham came in the seventh to record his fourth save of the year after going 3-3 at the plate with an RBI.

Senior J.P. Sportman went 3-4 with an RBI and a run scored, both coming in the third inning to tie the game and take the lead on Ingham’s single.

Central got a strong show from lefty Jesse Frawley in game two on Saturday, but a big Mount fifth inning that knocked Frawley from the game and handed senior Nick Boyd the loss in relief. Hickey called the inning “tough.”

The Mount opened the inning with a single, causing Boyd to come in for Frawley. Boyd gave up three runs on three hits before being pulled for freshman Kevin Connolly. The Mount scored four times in the inning with one run being charged to Frawley.

Both Sportman and junior Dominic Severino went 3-4 on the day. Ingham and senior Anthony Turgeon collected two hits as well.  Sportman and Turgeon picked up the RBIs for Central in game two.

Mount St. Mary’s struck first on Sunday off of freshman Matt Blandino for two runs in the second. Central answered with two in the bottom of the inning. But a run in the third, and three in the fourth, put the Mount ahead 6-2.

Blandino was tagged for all six runs in the loss. Senior Anthony Mannucia threw 5.2 innings of scoreless relief to give the Blue Devils a chance.

Central scored a run in the fifth and two in the sixth to pull within one. They had the tying run in scoring position in the eighth but failed to bring him home.

Severino led the Blue Devils on Sunday, going 3-5 with an RBI and two runs scored. Turgeon collected three RBIs on a pair of hits. Sophomore Connor Fitzsimons went 2-3 with an RBI.

“We got another three good pitching performances,” said Hickey of his first three starters on the weekend. “Matt Blandino wasn’t what we had hoped today. But we got good relief bullpen out of Anthony Mannucia. He was terrific. He gave us a chance.”

Hickey added that he and his staff would look at reducing Blandino’s time in the outfield if they felt it was interfering with his ability on the mound.

“We learned some things and we’ll sit down as a staff and readjust during the week and we’ll try to put our players the best position to be successful,” said Hickey.

“All in all, we’re still moving forward, we’re getting our feet underneath us, we’re getting into conference play. We get a good test next weekend in Bryant.”

Central plays a four-game series at Bryant on April 11-13 before returning home on April 15 for one game against UMass.

Baseball Splits Series Against Pirates

by Sean Begin

Despite the blustering wind and cold rain on Saturday, the Central Connecticut baseball team squeezed in both games of their scheduled double header against Seton Hall.

The Blue Devils took the first game, shortened to seven innings on account of the weather, 1-0 before dropping the full nine-inning second game 2-0.

“That’s why you don’t predict anything. You sort of get routines and you go about your business,” said head coach Charlie Hickey on the team getting both games played. “At the end of the day it was good for us to get out and play again.”

The Blue Devils (5-7) returned to the diamond after losing 6-4 to Quinnipiac on Thursday in a tightly contested game that saw the Bobcats come away victorious on two ninth-inning runs.

“We had a bad taste in our mouth after a bad performance on Thursday,” said Hickey. “The good thing about baseball is, usually, you get to do it 24 to 48 hours after; you don’t have to wait a whole week.”

Senior Tom Coughlin hurled a complete game gem for Central in the abbreviated first match. Over seven shutout innings, Coughlin allowed just five total base runners (4 hits and a walk) while striking out six.

The win was Coughlin’s second this season, both coming in one-run victories. Coughlin improved his ERA to 1.35 over 20 innings pitched.

Nick Neumann took the ball for the Blue Devils in the second match, pitching his best game of the season so far, despite getting the loss. Neumann threw seven innings, allowing just one earned run and four hits while fanning eight Pirate (18-5) batters.

“We were able to get two quality pitching performances today against a team that might be a top thirty team,” said Hickey. “Tommy, in the first game, really mixed his breaking ball [well] and had command. And I think Nick piggybacked off of that a little bit.”

Added Hickey: “That’s what we need out of fifth-year seniors. At this stage of where we are in the program and their career, we need them to be able to go out and do that on the weekend. That’s how you can win some games while trying to get better.”

While the pitching may be working for the Blue Devils, it’s the offense Hickey sees as needing to improve. The team has struggled this season, hitting .207 as a team. Central lost some of their biggest power hitters in the offseason, resulting in an increased reliance on small ball tactics: sacrifice bunts, hit and runs and base stealing.

“We’re trying as much as we can to create some type of offensive attack but it continues to be a struggle. 16 innings, you get one run, you know. But to win a game when you do that, you take that,” said Hickey.

Central scored their lone run in the first game on a wild pitch. Senior J.P. Sportman led the inning off with a walk and reached second on a sac bunt from fellow senior Josh Ingham. A wild pitch moved Sportman to third; a second brought him home.

The Pirates, similarly, capitalized in a Blue Devil mistake with a timely hit to score.

In the second game, Neumann surrendered two runs in the fourth inning, only one of them earned. A throwing error by shortstop Bryan Rivera and a sac bunt from Seton Hall first baseman Sal Annunziata set the Pirates up with runners on second and third with just one out.

Designated hitter Tyler Boyd took advantage, slamming a triple to center that plated both runners.

“The margin of error, the difficulty when you’re not scoring runs, that those mistakes get magnified,” said Hickey. “It wasn’t like it was an offensive explosion anywhere.”

Seton Hall’s Anthony Elia allowed just four Blue Devil hits en route to his third win of the season, striking out seven batters.

Despite the offensive struggles, Hickey isn’t unhappy with where his team sits heading into conference play this weekend.

“I’ve talked to this team that we’re sort of winning games while we’re trying to get better,” said Hickey. “I like the idea that we haven’t dug ourselves a hole, we’re not 10 games under .500. At that point it becomes impossible to get over the top.”

The Blue Devils kick off Northeast Conference play this weekend against Mount St. Mary’s. The Mount will visit for four games starting Friday, April 4 — featuring a double header on Saturday.

Dominic Severino threw six shutout innings on Tuesday to earn his first win of the season.

Baseball Survives Ninth Inning Rally

Dominic Severino threw six shutout innings on Tuesday to earn his first win of the season.

Dominic Severino threw six shutout innings on Tuesday to earn his first win of the season.

Central Connecticut baseball, on the arm and shoulder of junior Dominic Severino, held UMass-Lowell at bay for most of the brisk and sunny Tuesday afternoon, before surviving a pair of ninth-inning home runs to edge the Riverhawks 4-3.

“The plan was today to get him [Severino] a chance to warm up properly and get out there and try and get some innings under the belt, not trying to pitch in the eighth inning with a one run lead or a tie ball game,” said head coach Charlie Hickey. “Doing that allowed him a little chance to breath. He established the ball down in the strike zone. They let him off the hook once or twice when he was a little sloppy but all-in-all he was able to give us six quality innings.”

Severino had his strongest start of the year, allowing just three base runners over six innings of work, giving up a hit, a walk and a hit batsman while striking out four. Severino was pulled from the mound and moved to first at the end of the sixth. Senior Nick Boyd took over the pitching duties, recording a 1-2-3 seventh inning.

Senior Anthony Mannucia took over for Boyd in the eighth inning. Mannucia pitched a scoreless frame before surrendering the three runs in the top of the ninth.

With one out, the Riverhawks’ first baseman, Matt Mottola, homered to left off Mannucia for UMass-Lowell’s first run of the day. After Luke Reynolds reached first on a third-strike wild pitch, catcher Jacob O’Keefe matched Mottola, hitting a bomb over the left-field fence to pull the Riverhawks within one.

Mannucia was pulled for senior Josh Ingham who struck out the next batter and induced a harmless fly ball to right field to close out the game and pick up the save, his third of the season.

“We had thought about using Josh anyways,” said Hickey, “but anytime you can allow him to not have to come in is beneficial.”

Added Hickey: “He [Mannucia] is going to be an important factor in our bullpen. We’re going to need him to pitch some innings. We’re going to try not to do that to Josh. And he’s going to bare the load as Nick Boyd does.”

In what’s become typical of the Blue Devil offense this season, their runs were scored by capitalizing on the opportunities presented to them, rather than waiting for a big home run.

“That’s who we are and that’s how we’re going to have to play,” said Hickey. “We’ve been able to win some baseball games this way. It’s a fun way to win with good pitching and defense.”

Junior Nick Coro scored the first Blue Devil run of the day in the bottom of the fourth. Coro reached base on a single to right center and moved to second after sophomore Connor Fitzsimons was hit by a pitch, scoring on an Anthony Turgeon single to left field.

Turgeon, a senior, finished the day going 2-4 with the RBI and a nice defensive play to get the last out of the second inning, diving to his left to snare a hot ground ball before popping up and throwing out the Riverhawks’ Kelly Rooney.

Freshman Jake Patton scored the Blue Devils second run in the bottom of the fifth on an Ingham sacrifice fly to center to give Central a 2-0 lead.

The big blow for Central came in the seventh. Freshman Pat Sirois doubled into the right field corner to bring  home Severino and junior Bryan Rivera and give the Blue Devils a 4-0 lead, scoring for the third straight inning.

“We still got a long way to go. We are very inefficient,” said Hickey of the teams’ offense. “We still give one at-bat away an inning. We’re not very good at moving runners. We had a couple hit-and-runs today that didn’t work out. We have to be better.”

“We’ve been scratching off a win here and a win there to keep ourselves in a position where if we can find some more answers offensively, we got a team that can be successful.”

The Blue Devils return to the diamond again tomorrow afternoon, when they take on Rhode Island at 3 p.m.