The first thing I thought about when Eric Gagne took the mound on the back field adorned by three five-row metal bleachers and not much else, with C.J. Wilson 50 feet away throwing his side to get ready to pitch the second and third innings, was how surreal the moment had to be for Hunter Harrigan, who signed with the Rangers nine months ago after going undrafted out of Southern Illinois University and proceeded to hit .121 in 58 at-bats for Spokane (with one emergency appearance for Oklahoma). Harrigan got the assignment to catch Gagne and Wilson, and later Wes Littleton, in the Rangers' AAA matchup against the Royals yesterday afternoon.
The scene as Gagne warmed up on the side was very cool. There were a few members of the national press, a bunch of Metroplex writers, a gaggle of pitching coaches, and at least two dozen minor league pitchers, that final group obviously in awe as they absorbed Gagne's process.
By time the game got underway, the crowd - which probably approached 60 or 70 observers, easily four times more than normal - included Jon Daniels and Ron Washington, even though the big league club was getting its own game underway 150 miles away in Tucson. Gagne made quick work of the Royals in his one frame, throwing 10 of his 14 pitches for strikes and logging a pair of punchouts. He had command of all his pitches (fastball, curve, and a spellbinding change).
Wilson followed Gagne and, for the most part, had good control of his plus stuff, inducing a bunch of fouls back and, among his several swings and misses, one filthy slider that Jared Price flailed at despite the fact that it put a divot in the dirt two feet in front of the plate.
Between Wilson's innings and for a bit afterwards, I shuffled 60 feet north to the AA game so I could take in the Danny Ray Herrera phenomenon. Wow. The 5'7" listing may be generous, but nothing else about him is. The way batters swing at his dizzying array of offspeed and uber-offspeed stuff, you'd think they were swinging at playing cards. Herrera is a strike-throwing machine. After a couple of the more ridiculous cuts, including one (a fourth straight curve) that resulted in a lazy fly to center field and a complete loss of footing by the hitter on contact, several of the dozen fellow Rangers pitchers who were watching from the stands started laughing. DRH is a marvel even to his peers.
Righthander Michael Schlact has put on 15 pounds, but that's nothing: the 21-year-old has also grown an inch, now standing at 6'8".
Couple things I noticed in the Rangers' 2007 media guide: Among the new area scouts in the Rangers player development operation are former club farmhands Andy Pratt and Dustin Smith. Pratt's territory includes Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, while Smith will scout Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.
Jayce Tingler, not surprisingly, is now coaching in the Rangers system, and if I'm reading the media guide correctly, he'll begin his coaching career in the Dominican Summer League.
Righthander Jacob Brigham's uncle is former White Sox catcher Ron Karkovice.
Sammy Sosa, who played with Karkovice from 1989 through 1991, and Jerry Hairston Jr., whose father played with Karkovice from 1986 through 1989, have been told they have made the 40-man roster (which effectively means they have made the Opening Day squad), though the Rangers have not officially added them to the 40 and thus haven't had to remove two others from the roster (one of which will surely be righthander Alexi Ogando, who will shift to the restricted list).
Sosa is guaranteed $500,000 and can earn up to another $2.2 million in incentives. He homered yesterday and has hits in all 10 "A" games in which he's appeared.
Righthander Jamey Wright, who for the moment seems to have emerged along with righthander Kameron Loe as a frontrunner for the fifth rotation spot, has his own out clause if not added to the roster by March 28.
Outfielder Marlon Byrd was drilled on the right hand yesterday but X-rays were negative. He appears to have a leg up on Jason Botts for the final outfield spot. Righthander Josh Rupe, after breezing through two innings by facing the minimum six hitters, was tagged for eight runs in an ugly 10-run sixth. "Just in cases" Kevin Mahar (home run) and Jesse Ingram (four outs, two on strikes) contributed.
Lefthander John Danks has reportedly taken the lead in the battle for the final spot in the White Sox rotation.
Milwaukee outfielder Laynce Nix is sidelined with a strained oblique muscle. Wouldn't surprise me if he sustained the injury on his all-out dive in right center attempting to catch a Sosa line drive on Tuesday.
According to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, Cubs center fielder Alfonso Soriano is now thanking the Nationals for forcing him to move from second base to the outfield a year ago. Grrmph.
Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Inquirer suggests the Rangers and Phillies could get together on a deal involving Rick Bauer or Scott Feldman and backup catcher Chris Coste.
Texas has signed 27-year-old lefthander Keith Ramsey out of the independent South Coast League, where he'd been slated to start for the Aiken Foxhounds. The University of Florida product spent three seasons in the Cleveland system and went on to pitch in the Philadelphia, Arizona, and Colorado systems before playing for the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League in 2006. Ramsey, who has issued just over two walks per nine innings as a minor leaguer and fanned a little more than six per nine, was signed by Pratt and is now in minor league camp in Surprise.
The Atlantic League's Newark Bears signed second baseman Matt Brunson.
I did an AL West roundtable discussion with Rich Lederer, Patrick Sullivan, and Jeff Sullivan that has now been posted at http://baseballanalysts.com/.
Thanks to the 42 of you who emailed back yesterday to tell me that NYPD Pizza and Red Robin are, in fact, in the Metroplex.
My high school baseball team, Dallas Hillcrest High, has been in Tucson this week over its spring break, using raised funds to travel to Arizona and play three games and take the field with the Rangers during batting practice before yesterday's Rangers-Diamondbacks game.
Pretty cool, and of course I'm envious, but as memorable as it must have been for the Panthers, it has to pale in comparison to the day Hunter Harrigan had.
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