Sunday Notes: Belisle, Buck on Robots, Mancini’s Pop, Bedrosian’s Role, more

Raise your hand if you didn’t realize Matt Belisle ranks 12th among active pitchers with 603 career appearances. And don’t feel bad if you’re reading this and asking “Matt who”? That’s especially true if you’re a fan of an American League team. The 36-year-old righty has been a reliable reliever for a long time, but he’s spent the bulk of his career with small-market teams in the NL, and he has just five career saves. He’s anything but a marquee name.

You are familiar with him if you’re a Rockies fan. Belisle was a workhorse in Colorado from 2010-2014, appearing in 73 games annually. Before that he was a Cincinnati Red, and he’s since moved on to the St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Nationals, and now the Minnesota Twins.

When I talked to him late in spring training, Belisle told me he’s grateful for the career he’s had. He also doesn’t take anything for granted.

“What’s behind me is gone,” said Belisle. “I just look at today. I keep everything in front of me and do everything I can to win the way I need to win. I take care of the hours and the days, and let the months and the years take care of themselves.”

Like most pitchers, Belisle was groomed as a starter. That was his role with the Reds in 2007 and 2008, but baseball is rife with twists and turns. The native Texan didn’t thrive until he moved to the bullpen after reaching the Mile High City in 2009.

“I hadn’t learned myself mentally very well when I was starting,” admitted Belisle. “I was getting by physically. Then I went to a new club and had success as a reliever. There’s a lot of honor in being a bullpen guy. There’s the challenge of being prepared day in and day out, and that’s something I’ve relished.”

Conquering the challenge of Colorado might be his biggest accomplishment. Coors Field is a nightmare for most pitchers, but as his 4.06 ERA there attests, Belisle wasn’t fearful.

“Going in there already halfway defeated isn’t going to help you,” said Belisle. “I looked at it as an opportunity to more fine-tune my arsenal. I also toughened up, because you know you might get banged around a little bit. You might take a few on the chin, but can you get up and give them three on the chin? You have to keep out-punching people there. Pretty much everywhere, really.”

Through relative obscurity, that’s what Belisle has been doing for 14 big-league seasons. You’re excused if you’ve barely noticed.

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Buck Showalter was asked about Chris Sale when the Orioles visited Fenway Park earlier this week. More specifically, he was asked about the overpowering lefty’s whip-like arm action, which in the eyes of many makes him more susceptible to injury. The often-erudite skipper pooh-poohed their concern.

“I remember Kevin Appier,” said Showalter. “For years, everybody talked about his delivery and how he wouldn’t last. He pitched for 100 years. There are exceptions to everything, so you have to be careful. I remember we took a pitcher with the Yankees, years ago, named Mark Hutton, who was like Gossage — all arms, legs, flailing all over the place. Nobody could hit him. One spring they smoothed him out, because they were afraid he was going to get hurt, and he couldn’t get anybody out.

“The last thing you want to do when you draft a guy, or get him, is start making a lot of changes. (Pitching coach) Roger (McDowell) and our guys are real good about that. When I hear a pitching coordinator saying everybody has to do it exactly this way… robots get hit a lot. They get squared up a lot.”

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Trey Mancini squared up a pair of baseballs in Baltimore’s 12-5 win over the Red Sox on Wednesday. The Orioles outfielder powered two balls over Fenway Park’s Green Monster for the first multi-homer game of his career. One night earlier, he hit a ringing double in his initial big-league visit to the historic venue. He’d been there once before.

In 2011, Mancini played in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. That summer, he was one of a select number of NECBL players who faced off against Team USA at Fenway Park. He went hitless in two at bats, lining out to third against Mark Appel, and later flying out to deep right-center.

Mancini credits someone who once roamed that very outfield for his emergence as a power threat.

“I changed my swing in 2015 after working with Brady Anderson,” explained Mancini, who Baltimore drafted in the eighth round out of Notre Dame two years earlier. “He saw one at bat of mine in spring training, and told me I wasn’t using my body as capably as I could. He stood me straight up, and now I just transfer my weight from the back to the front. That helped my trajectory. It’s all about leverage now. My power has definitely increased since I made that change.”

Mancini homered three times in 14 at bats after being called up by the Orioles last September. This season he’s gone deep twice in 17 at bats.

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Jim Tabor had a day to remember on July 4, 1939. Manning third base for the Red Sox, Tabor homered in the first game of a double-header at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park. He then belted three home runs in game two, including a pair of grand slams, one of them an inside-the-parker. On the afternoon, “Rawhide” — his nickname derived from a rough-and-tumble lifestyle — went 6 for 9 with seven runs scored and 11 RBI.

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Last Sunday’s column included Chris Antonetti’s perspective on player acquisition and roster building. In a nutshell, Cleveland’s president of baseball operations is less concerned with a particular style of play than he is with talent. Whether a player is bopper or a rabbit is a secondary consideration. When push comes to shove, can he help the Indians win?

David Stearns went in a slightly different direction when I asked him for his thoughts on the subject. The head honcho in Milwaukee’s rebuild addressed the options in explanatory terms.

“There are two things at play there,” said Stearns. “There is style, and there is direction. Those are different. If you’re going to make an acquisition, you certainly want that player to fit your overall direction as an organization — fit the plan, fit the strategy. Style of play is a little bit different, and it’s something that can be reflective of a number of different things.

“It can be reflective of the type of players you have, It can be reflective of your managers or your coaching staff, It can be reflective of where you are in a particular baseball season. Your team could be going through a good spell where everyone is energized, or it could be going through a bad spell where everyone is a little fatigued. Style of play is a little more challenging to fit. Direction is definitely important.”

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The Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers beat the El Paso Chihuahuas on a walk-off on Friday night. Make that a drop-off. With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the score knotted 1-1, Tacoma’s Tyler O’Neill skied a popup to the middle of the infield. Chihuahuas converged, but none lifted a glove. The ball landed, untouched, in front of the pitcher’s mound as the winning run crossed the plate.

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When I talked to him this spring, Cam Bedrosian attributed his 2016 success to his breaking ball, and to his ability to locate his fastball down. He also gave credit to his four-seam upstairs, which he said he can “ride up a little bit and kind of give an illusion to hitters.”

Bedrosian has both saves recorded by Angels pitchers so far this season. Part of the reason for that is Huston Street’s unavailability due to injury. Bedrosian is arguably the better option when both are available — the kid boasts punch-out stuff — but while Street struggled last year, he is the incumbent closer. That could prove problematic once he returns to action. Both would prefer to be the top dog, as opposed to the second banana.

Bedrosian wouldn’t wade into controversial waters when I asked him about his usage preferences.

“Oh man, I don’t really look a whole lot into that,” Bedrosian told me in Tempe. “I just go out there and give what I’ve got, whether it’s the fifth inning, sixth inning, or whatever inning. Wherever the chips fall is where they fall. I just play the game.”

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A correction on the Ben Taylor segment that appeared in my Notes column two weeks ago. The Red Sox rookie reliever doesn’t have a high four-seam spin rate as I’d been told. According to assistant pitching coach Brian Bannister, what Taylor has is “big extension that you see translate into a deceptive fastball. He’s not tall-and-fall; it’s more of an old-school drop-and-drive Tom Seaver kind of delivery. It gives hitters a different look, and that’s why his fastball plays up a little bit.”

Taylor, whose heater has averaged 91.6 MPH, fanned the first three batters he faced in a big-league uniform. The trio comprised Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, and Victor Martinez.

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Can the Toronto Blue Jays become the first team to make the postseason after starting the season 1-9? The odds are against them, but it’s certainly not impossible. Teams have suffered long losing streaks and gone on to play playoff baseball before. When the final standings are tabulated, 1-9 in mid-summer counts the same as 1-9 in early April.

Bad starts aren’t insurmountable. The 1951 New York Giants won two of their first three, then lost 11 straight. Six months later, Russ Hodges was shouting “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Dae-Ho Lee, a 34-year-old infielder for the Lotte Giants, leads the Korean Baseball Organization with a .478 batting average, and his five home runs tie him with Nick Evans and Jeong Choi for the most in the league. One year ago, Choi and Eric Thames shared the KBO home run title with 40 each.

In Japan, 23-year-old outfielder Kensuke Kondo is slashing .465/.586/.721, in 58 plate appearances, for the Nippon Ham Fighters. On the pitching side, 21-year-old Yuki Matsui has thrown nine scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts. The Rakuten Golden Eagles southpaw has six saves.

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MID-APRIL TIDBITS

Mookie Betts has gone 114 plate appearances without striking out. That’s the longest current streak in MLB, and the longest since Juan Pierre had 147 consecutive K-free PAs in 2004.

The Kansas City Royals weren’t charged with an error in their first eight games this season. That broke the franchise record of seven error-less games to start a season, which was set in 2013.

Cincinnati southpaw Amir Garrett began his MLB career with 12 scoreless innings before giving up a run on Wednesday. The only pitcher in franchise history to begin his career with a longer streak is Wayne Simpson, who started out with 15 scoreless innings in 1970. Simpson had a record of 14-2 as of July 31 that season, then blew out his shoulder. He finished his career with just 36 wins.

Colin Walsh, a former Rule 5 pick who I most recently wrote about in February, is slashing .419/.525/.839 for the Arizona Diamondbacks Double-A affiliate, the Jackson Generals.

Thomas Pannone, a 22-year-old left-hander in the Indians system, has pitched 11 innings for the high-A Lynchburg Hillcats and has yet to allow an earned run. The 2013 ninth-round pick out of the College of Southern Nevada has allowed two hits and fanned 16 batters.

Opposing base stealers are 16 for 17 against Pittsburgh catchers Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart this season. Opposing base stealers are 11 for 11 against Houston’s Evan Gattis and Brian McCann.

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Red Sox catchers Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez have combined to throw out six of seven runners attempting to steal so far this year. On Friday, I asked Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash about the strong-armed tandem.

“They’re elite throwers who can shut down a running game,” answered Cash. “You also have to credit the Red Sox pitchers — they do a really good job of being quick to the plate, which gives Leon and Vazquez opportunities — but those guys are very good throwers. They can make you change the way you play, or manage, a game.”

Cash was a defense-first catcher before becoming a coach, and now a manager. Do Vazquez and Leon throw better than he did?

“Yes,” said Cash, matter-of-factly. “And they definitely hit better.”

The former backstop’s response was accurate as well as humble. In 714 big-league plate appearances, Cash had a .526 OPS.

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How fast is Cincinnati outfielder Billy Hamilton? Based on two stories from Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster Joe Block, the answer is really, really fast. The two were together in 2010, when Hamilton was a 19-year-old second baseman for the Billings Mustangs, and Block was doing play-by-play for the rookie-level club.

“He caught a fly ball at the wall, once,” Block told me recently. “I think the game was in Missoula. It was one of those windy days where the ball kind of hangs up there and blows around a little bit, and he started chasing a ball that looked like it was going to be in short center. He ended up catching it maybe a step in front of the warning track, in left field.

“In another game, he tagged up and scored from second on a sacrifice fly. The shortstop was backing up on the ball, and Billy caught him flat-footed and went to third. He thought he’d stop there, but the shortstop kind of lolly-popped the throw back in, so he kept going. There was a play at the plate, but he slid in safely.

“At a level like that, where guys can’t make plays like they do at more-advanced levels, it was fun to see the kind of video-game-type speed play out like it did.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At CSN Chicago, Dan Hayes looked at how the White Sox shifted their draft philosophy to emphasize more data analysis.

John Wasdin, Baltimore’s new minor league pitching coordinator, has many approaches in his arsenal. Jon Meoli has the details at The Baltimore Sun.

Writing for Wahoo Sam, baseball historian Dan Holmes offered an entertaining-and-informative look at the Top 20 Phillies of all-time according to WAR.

Todd Radom loves ugly uniforms. He explained why in an opinion piece at The New York Times.

The Red Sox were the last MLB team to integrate. According to ESPN’s Scott Lauber, they now have the star power to keep Jackie Robinson’s legacy alive.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Flame Delhi’s only major-league appearance came on April 16, 1912, one day after the sinking of the Titanic. Delhi was the first player born in Arizona to appear in a big-league game.

Joe Rabbitt played in two major-league games, both for the Cleveland Indians in 1922, and recorded one hit in three at bats. That same season, Rabbitt swiped 55 bases for the Muskogee Mets of the Southwestern League.

Luke Easter played for the Cleveland Indians from 1949-1954 after coming over from the Negro Leagues at age 33. In his three seasons as a regular, he averaged 29 homes runs with a .271/.349/.493 slash line. Al Rosen said of Easter, “Had Luke come up to the big leagues as a young man, there’s no telling what numbers he would have had.”

On April 17, 1947, two days after breaking the color barrier, Jackie Robinson recorded his first MLB hit, a bunt single off of Glenn Elliott. The Boston Braves southpaw, who was nicknamed “Silent Glenn,” was making his MLB debut. Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers teammate, Spider Jorgensen, had the first two hits of his career that day, one of them a three-run homer against Elliott.

From 1957-1959, Dave Philley of the Philadelphia Phillies went 45 for 111 (.405) as a pinch-hitter. His nine consecutive pinch-hits, which bridged the 1958-1959 seasons, is a record.

The 1883 Buffalo Bisons featured four future Hall of Famers: Dan Brouthers, Pud Galvin, Jim O’Rourke, and Deacon White. Among the less-accomplished players on Buffalo’s roster were Dell Darling, Davy Force, Orator Shafer, and Tony Suck.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Belisle, Buck on Robots, Mancini’s Pop, Bedrosian’s Role, more by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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madmanjay
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madmanjay

awesome read – can’t decide if tony suck is the best part or not