In his own quiet way, Nick Markakis has become one of the premier young players in the American League, and he's gained admiration for the way he goes about his business.
04/02/2008 10:10 AM ET
Markakis quietly rising to the top
Georgian is making an impact without words
"I don't think Nick is ever going to be a guy who flaunts who he is or what he does," Orioles manager Dave Trembley told The Washington Post. "I don't see that about him. He's reserved, he's professional, he has respect. He is consistent and he plays the game the right way."
With 39 home runs, 174 RBIs and a batting average of .296 through two seasons, Markakis hopes and believes that he has not changed at all since making it to the Major Leagues.
"From Day One, when I signed, I don't think my personality has changed," he said. "You are who you are, and I think that's the most important thing. You have to stick with that. I don't try to be anybody who I'm not. I'm here to have fun and also do a job."
After decade in Minors, Washington gets the nod: St. Louis Cardinals infielder Rico Washington, after 10 seasons in the Minor Leagues, has finally reached his goal of playing in the Major Leagues.
Even though the game was washed out, Washington got to ride with the rest of the players in a convertible and then was able to shake hands with Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith and Red Schoendienst.
"Finally my dream came true," Washington, 29, told The Belleville News Democrat. "I'm here and I'm thankful for that."
Hawkins honors Clemente with No. 21: Most New York Yankees fans remember the No. 21 being worn by fan-favorite Paul O'Neill, who donned the number for nine seasons in the Bronx. This year, the number is back for the first time since the end of the 2001 season, as pitcher LaTroy Hawkins has claimed it.
Hawkins wanted to wear it to pay tribute to Roberto Clemente.
"The man died trying to help people," Hawkins told The New York Daily News. "How can you not respect that?"
Clemente died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, while on a mission to provide relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
"He has this cool quote: 'Any time you have an opportunity to make things better and you don't, you're wasting your time here on Earth,'" Hawkins said, reading it off his handheld device. "And it's fitting because look what he died doing."
Gordon aims to pin down his fastball: For Tom Gordon, who is doing his best to hold down that the closer's role while the teams waits for the return of Brad Lidge, Opening Day could have gone a little better. But despite not having his best stuff, Gordon says that there is no reason to panic -- he's just fine.
"I feel completely healthy, yes. I feel good," he told The Philadelphia Daily News. "I don't have anything to think about in that aspect -- just continue to go out there and work hard. I feel good. I think the only pitch that I'm probably missing, more or less, than anything right now, is the fastball. That's the pitch that's kind of giving me the most trouble. The curveball has been good. The cutter's been good. I've just got to find that rhythm."
Another opener, another victory for Meche: Gil Meche was absolutely thrilled to get the ball to open the season on Monday in the Royals' 5-4, 11-inning win over the Detroit Tigers. And this game, he said, was even more gratifying than his dominating Opening Day effort last year against the Boston Red Sox.
"This win blows away last year's win," Meche told The Kansas City Star. "Last year was a game that we had under control the whole time. We weren't in the driver's seat [Monday].
"[Tigers starter Justin] Verlander had his stuff going. He wasn't using his fastball that much, but everything else he threw was pretty good."
Gordon's blast wakes up Royals' bats: Alex Gordon, who hit a key two-run bomb in the Royals' 5-4, 11-inning win over Detroit on Monday, got the attention of the Tigers and his teammates with his play.
"It all started with the big hit from Gordo," second baseman Mark Grudzielanek told The Kansas City Star. "Before that, everybody had webbed feet. We were swinging at some balls a little early because we were a little excited."
After a bit of a rough spring, Gordon showed on Monday that he was ready for the season to get started. "You know what?" said Gordon. "It's spring training. You work on stuff. I was trying to get my stance down and make sure I was swinging at good pitches, that I had a good eye."
Thome ends drought in a big way: Jim Thome put on quite a show on Monday against his former team, the Cleveland Indians. Entering the game, Thome had no hits in 11 career at-bats against Cleveland ace and former teammate C.C. Sabathia, but that all changed in a hurry when he hit home runs in his first two at-bats.
"A guy like C.C. is going to get you out. That's just part of the game," Thome told The Chicago Sun-Times. "That's what makes the battle against a guy like that so much fun. I know him, I've seen him since he was a baby when he came up, so the battle is always there."
Ausmus paired with Oswalt in opener: Houston rookie J.R. Towles is expected to the Astros' No. 1 catcher this season, but Brad Ausmus started for the Astros Monday night in the regular-season opener against San Diego. The reason? Manager Cecil Cooper wanted the veteran to be behind the plate for pitcher Roy Oswalt.
"The reason why I'm doing it is I want my starting pitcher to be comfortable," Cooper told The Houston Chronicle. "This is a big year for us, and I want to make sure that he is comfortable and slowly kind of work the kid in catching Roy instead of just dropping the hammer on him, because that's not the right way to do it."
Rios inches closer to long-term deal with Toronto: Aside from a few details, Alex Rios's long-term deal with the Toronto Blue Jays is done, according to the outfielder.
"We're still talking a little bit. But it's all good, I guess," Rios told The Toronto Star.
General manager J.P. Ricciardi had set Sunday as the deadline to get the new deal worked out. But as the deadline approached and the differences between the two sides became smaller, Ricciardi thought it would be best not to enforce the deadline.
"We're too close to let it get away at this point," Ricciardi said. "I don't think it's going past the next few days. There's so many things that, before we can announce it, we have to get the complete sign-off from everybody."
Gwynn Jr. does it all in Brewers' win: Tony Gwynn Jr. first wanted to earn a spot on the team during Spring Training. He not only made the Opening Day roster, but he earned the start in center field Monday for the Brewers against the Cubs. Gwynn now has some new goals to pursue.
"Goal No. 1 was to be in the Opening Day lineup," Gwynn told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Goal No. 2 is to be productive with the time I get, while [Mike Cameron]'s out."
Gwynn was extremely productive Monday. He collected the only two hits Chicago starter Carlos Zambrano allowed in the first six innings. In the ninth inning, he executed a perfect sacrifice bunt with two strikes, and in the 10th inning, he hit a sacrifice fly to drive in the winning run in a 4-3 victory. In the field, he added a pair of nice running catches.
Jackson carries hot bat into No. 4 spot: After watching first baseman Conor Jackson have a solid spring, Arizona manager Bob Melvin wanted to continue what was working, so he inserted Jackson into the cleanup spot on Opening Day on Monday.
"Conor had a great spring with runners on base, so I'm comfortable leaving it the way it is," Melvin told The Arizona Republic, referring to having Eric Byrnes third followed by Jackson, who had an RBI single in the first inning.
Santana his same old self in Mets debut: Johan Santana showed why the New York Mets wanted him so badly this offseason. The new ace allowed only three hits in seven innings on Monday in the regular season opener against Florida. Santana struck out eight hitters, including Hanley Ramirez to start the game, and retired the first nine hitters he faced.
Santana's only mistake was a hanging changeup to Josh Willingham, who crushed the pitch for a two-run homer in the fourth.
"Everything worked out pretty good," Santana told Newsday. "I wasn't trying to do anything different than just try to be myself."
Peavy uses arm, bat to pace Padres: Jake Peavy claimed the Cy Young award last season. It appears he is trying to go for another Cy Young as well as a Silver Slugger award this year. Peavy threw seven shutout innings Monday against Houston in a 4-0 San Diego win.
"Jake threw the ball well all night," manager Bud Black told The San Diego Union-Tribune. "He held his stuff through the seventh inning. As the game went on, he seemed more in control."
Peavy also had a big night at the plate against his good friend Roy Oswalt. He hit a sacrifice fly to drive in the first run of the game and collected an RBI single in the fourth inning to make it 2-0 after previously missing a bunt sign. He then drew a walk in the sixth inning.
Milledge's homer powers Nationals to big day: In a scheduling fluke, the Nationals' first two games of the season were against the Braves and the Phillies, two clubs expected to challenge for the National League East while the Nationals were picked for a fourth-placed finish. But newcomer Lastings Milledge helped Washington to wins in both games, including his first home run as a National on Monday in the team's 11-6 win.
"On paper, everybody is putting us as the worst offense," Milledge told The Washington Post. "It's good to score 11 runs. It's good to score a lot of runs in one inning and show people that we can hit, and that we're not going to put up with not scoring runs."
Kent overcomes hamstring injury, hits two-run blast: Jeff Kent missed most of Spring Training with a hamstring injury, but he convinced manager Joe Torre that he was ready to start the season in the lineup. Kent rewarded Torre's faith with a two-run home run in the first inning of the Dodgers' eventual 5-0 win over the Giants.
"That's why I wanted to play," Kent, who leads all active players with 18 RBIs on Opening Day, told The Los Angeles Times. "This is what I do. It's time to start the season, and I want to help my team win. I don't want to hinder them in any way, so I wanted to make sure I was ready to go."
Yabu, Valdez back after recent setbacks: The Giants' bullpen features two men who have not pitched in the Majors in several years. Keichi Yabu last appeared in the Majors with Oakland in 2005, while Merkin Valdez made two appearances in 2004 before blowing out his elbow. Both pitchers tried to downplay the significance of pitching on Opening Day, but manager Bruce Bochy dismissed that immediately.
"I don't buy that," Bochy told The San Francisco Chronicle. "It had to be special. When I told both of them they made the team, you could see their faces light up. I've got to think both of them were excited to get on the mound and throw the ball."
Garland effective in debut win over Twins: Many wondered why the pitching-rich Angels traded for Jon Garland in the offseason. But now that the team has suffered injuries to two of its starting pitchers, the trade looks prescient. And Garland made it look even better when he hurled eight innings in his debut for the squad, leading the Angels to a 9-1 win over the Twins on Tuesday.
"He was in the [strike] zone early and often, and he expanded the zone when he needed to," manager Mike Scioscia told The Los Angeles Times. "We played terrific defense, especially on the left side of the infield."
Garland induced 17 ground-ball outs and received terrific defensive backing from third baseman Chone Figgins, who ranged far to start a key double play in the sixth inning.
Hernandez shows he's an apt fielder, too: Felix Hernandez is known as a strikeout pitcher, but Tuesday night he recorded more outs with his glove than he did by whiffing opponents. Hernandez had three strikeouts and five outs in which he recorded an assist.
"He looked like a shortstop out there, didn't he?" manager John McLaren asked The Seattle Times.
Pettitte set for return after delay: Andy Pettitte felt good after throwing in a Minor League intrasquad game on Sunday. With the outing behind him -- one in which he threw 77 pitches -- he appears to be on track to be activated from the disabled list Saturday to start against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Pettitte suffered back spasms late in Spring Training, delaying his season. The lefty, however, said he isn't worried that the spasms will crop up again.
"Not really, because last year I was in the exact same boat also," Pettitte told Newsday. "Last year, I felt like it was a really good first half for me."
-- Red Line Editorial