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Saturday, March 28, 2009
Three Strikes: The end is near edition


STRIKE ONE -- WHAT WE'RE HEARING DEPT.
A few rumblings making the rounds as the longest spring training in history nears the finish line:

Here's a potential trade target to keep an eye on in the next few days: Jeff Keppinger. The Reds are dangling his name to see what's out there. We're hearing the Red Sox and Astros have at least kicked the tires.

Those two teams, plus the Phillies, have also checked in on Colorado's Jeff Baker. But the Rockies aren't exactly in giveaway mode. An official of one club that backed off says they want a "quality young starter" for Baker. So all those teams are having trouble matching up.

Before the Phillies traded Ronny Paulino to the Giants (who then dealt him to Florida), the Mets and Marlins were also interested. I surveyed four scouts Saturday on the Paulino-for-Jack Taschner deal. They all voted it a steal for the Phillies. "Good thing the Phillies traded Paulino when they did," said one. "The more they showcased him, the worse he got."

The Phillies also continue to shop for a right-handed-hitting spare outfielder, and they wouldn't mind making a deal that would enable them to send Rule 5 pick Bobby Mosebach to the minor leagues. But there seems to be no way Mosebach will make it through waivers (with the Padres a likely club to claim him).

Unless they can make a deal for Baker, it looks as if the Astros will go with rookie Chris Johnson as their primary third baseman. And it appears that Russ Ortiz will make that Astros rotation.

STRIKE TWO -- SCOUTS GOT A GUN DEPT.
One of my favorite spring pastimes is polling scouts on the hardest throwers they've seen. And the undisputed radar-gun champion of Florida is Red Sox flash Daniel Bard.

"I had him at 99 [miles per hour] five pitches in a row," said one scout. "He was just cruising along at 95-96 until a guy got in scoring position. Then bam, he just reached back and hit 99 five straight pitches. He was like [Curt] Schilling used to be back when he was in Philadelphia."

The rest of the radar-gun all-stars:

STRIKE THREE -- SPRING FEVER DEPT.
It's been one crazy week in spring training. The highlights include:

CROOKED-NUMBER BOX-SCORE LINES YOU CAN'T MISS: Tampa Bay ace James Shields became the third opening-day starter this spring to give up double figures, with this clunker Friday versus the Twins: 4 1/3 IP, 12 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 3 HR. To get 13 outs, Shields needed 92 pitches -- "it seemed like 255," he told the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin.

Colorado's Jason Marquis had this Coors-esque line Wednesday against the Angels: NOT-SO-CROOKED BOX-SCORE LINE: What's more fun than a three-pitcher spring-training no-hitter? Florida's Ricky Nolasco and his bullpen fired one last Sunday against the Tigers. Check out these lines:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Hopefully," Nolasco said, "I can save some of those zeroes for the season."

CROOKED HITTERS LINE OF THE WEEK: Nothing like a little 18-12 game -- with 15 homers exiting the premises -- to get those box-score juices flowing. The Angels and Royals played one of those last Sunday. Angels first baseman Mike Brown was the box-score king of the day: For what it's worth, baseball-reference.com's fabulous Play Index tells us no player since at least 1954 has had a six-hit game that included two homers and a triple. Then again, there's never been a 15-homer regular-season game, either.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I tell you what, I was tightening my laces, looking for an opportunity to hit," Angels manager Mike Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times' Mike DiGiovanno after watching 30 runs and 40 hits fly around the park.

MORE WEIRDNESS: The good news for the Twins' Delmon Young on March 18 was, he homered against the Pirates. The bad news was, he hit into four double plays in his other at-bats.

The good news for Tigers reliever Scott Williamson on Wednesday was, he was the winning pitcher. The bad news was, he gave up five runs in one inning. ESPN research guru Mark Simon reports that no pitcher in the past 54 seasons has won a game in which he gave up five runs in an outing of an inning or less.

SCOREBOOK ENTRY OF THE WEEK: In a Twins-Yankees game last weekend, the Yankees' Eduardo Nunez hit a ground ball to third base, then barely got out of the batter's box before falling down. So Twins third baseman Joe Crede then threw to the catcher, Mike Redmond, who tagged Nunez out while he was sprawled in the dirt. You can score that out at first: 5-2.

Only in spring training …