Zambrano gives Pujols fits
Do you think there was ever a time when Jack Nicholson tried but couldn't quite get that crazy look in his eyes? Or when Warren Buffett paid interest on a credit card? Does Neil Young ever write songs that aren't worthy of being recorded? Does Dave Chappelle's act ever bomb? Does Jennifer Aniston ever have a bad hair day?
The answer to all of these questions, of course, must be yes. But try to find any of the more mundane moments of life on their career résumés.
In most professions, even some with the highest profiles, you get to struggle privately and succeed before an adoring public. Baseball isn't one of those.
Everything a player does is charted and analyzed. And when somebody like Craig Grebeck hits a home run off Nolan Ryan, we never forget.
Every great hitter has a pitcher he hates to face. Every great pitcher has a hitter who wears him out like a good excuse. Here's a look at some of the guys who currently cause nightmares for some of baseball's best players:
Summary: With Barry Bonds declining, no hitter in baseball is more effective against all kinds of pitching. It's a tribute to his sweet, short swing and great eye that no pitcher has ever held an advantage over him for long, with the possible exception of Luis Vizcaino, of all people.
He's already dreading: Facing Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano, possibly in a series Aug. 18-20 at Wrigley Field. The last time the St. Louis Cardinals faced Zambrano, Tony La Russa gave Pujols a mini-breather, taking him out of the lineup. That says a ton. For his career, Pujols is only 8-for-36, a .222 average, against the powerful Zambrano. He has homered twice but has a strikeout every 5.2 at-bats.
Others who give him fits: Jason Schmidt, whose stuff is similar to Zambrano's, has held Pujols to only two hits and no home runs in 17 at-bats. Pujols hasn't homered in 24 regular-season at-bats against Roger Clemens. The surprising Astro who has consistently gotten Pujols out is lefty Andy Pettitte, who is holding him to a .200 average with no homers and only one walk in 20 at-bats. Vizcaino, a Brewer most of the time he faced Pujols and now a Diamondback, has run up an 0-for-8 with one strikeout.
Summary: If you're going to face Ortiz, it helps to be left-handed or wearing a Detroit Tigers' uniform. The few right-handers who have had success against him have been facing him a long time, getting a head start when he was just learning his craft while with the Minnesota Twins.
He's already dreading: Facing the Tigers' starting rotation in a series Aug. 14-16 at Fenway Park. Left-handers Kenny Rogers (4-19), Nate Robertson (2-17) and the currently disabled Mike Maroth (1-9) have held him to a .156 batting average and no home runs in 45 at-bats. Surprisingly, young right-hander Jeremy Bonderman, an attack dog, also has shut down Ortiz. The Red Sox slugger is 2-for-17 with no home runs against him.
Others who give him fits: Veterans Bartolo Colon and Mike Mussina must know something a lot of other right-handers haven't figured out. Ortiz is 4-for-38 with 15 strikeouts against Colon and 10-for-44 with 17 strikeouts against Mussina. He has tagged Mussina for three homers but has none against Colon. Kelvim Escobar, a teammate of Colon's with the Angels, also has had success (3-for-20 with no homers and eight strikeouts). Kansas City lefty Mark Redman has held Ortiz to 2-for-16 with no homers. Ortiz has never had a hit off Johan Santana but has had only six at-bats against him.
Summary: An MVP candidate with the Mets, the switch-hitting Beltran has had issues against certain pitchers from both sides of the plate. Most of the pitchers who have done well against him are veterans, including some real old-timers.
He's already dreading: Facing St. Louis' Mark Mulder, possibly in a series Aug. 22-24 at Shea Stadium (if Mulder is off the disabled list). Mulder, who uses breaking pitches to set up a fastball that can be a trump card when it's up in the strike zone, has had success against Beltran in both leagues. He got into his head while he was with Oakland and Beltran was in Kansas City and has continued to give him headaches since being traded to the Cardinals. Beltran is 6-for-37 against Mulder, a .162 average, with no home runs and eight strikeouts. That's a lot of weak contact.
Others who give him fits: Milwaukee right-hander Rick Helling has held Beltran to a .143 average and no homers in 21 at-bats. Dodgers right-hander Derek Lowe has held him to a .100 average and no homers in 20 at-bats. Padres right-hander Woody Williams has held him to 2-for-17 with one home run. Even Jamey Wright, who is reviving his career in San Francisco, has limited Beltran to 1-for-10 with no homers. Beltran is 0-for-7 against both Jason Isringhausen and Mike Stanton.
Summary: If you're a little bit funky, you have a shot against A-Rod. It also helps to face him only once in a while. Rodriguez has figured out just about every pitcher he has seen on a regular basis, with one significant exception.
He's already dreading: Facing Toronto's Roy Halladay in a series at Rogers Centre on Sept. 18-20, having just missed him in the current series in New York. You figure that you're going to get burned if you keep throwing strikes to Rodriguez. After all, he's homered once every 15 at-bats for his career. But Halladay has defied the odds, holding him to a .263 average with no home runs and only seven RBI in 38 at-bats. Halladay strikes out Rodriguez almost once a game when he faces the Yankees. That's impressive.
Others who give him fits: Seattle's Joel Pineiro, an enigma for most of his career, might have frustrated Rodriguez even more than Halladay. A-Rod is 4-for-25 against Pineiro with no home runs. But that's not the worst part -- which is that he has never drawn a walk against him. White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle has held Rodriguez to 4-for-19 with no homers. Tampa Bay lefty Scott Kazmir has given him only one hit in 11 at-bats. He's 1-for-10 with five strikeouts against the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod owns A-Rod?). Ron Villone, currently a teammate of Rodriguez's, has held him to 0-for-8 with four strikeouts. Maybe it's the mere presence of Villone that has caused Rodriguez to start demonstrating signs of doubt.
Summary: Maybe it's possible to figure out Santana's killer changeup if you see him often enough. Many of the hitters who have done the best against him either are based in the American League Central or spent a lot of time there.
He's already dreading: The next time he sees Magglio Ordonez, which figures to be Aug. 9 at Comerica Park. Ordonez controls his bat well enough to foul off many of Santana's best pitches. He's gone 11-for-28 with three homers and 12 RBI against the Minnesota ace. Detroit left fielder Craig Monroe is 6-for-22 with two homers against Santana. Even Vance Wilson, the Tigers' backup catcher, is a .333 hitter with one homer in 12 at-bats against Santana.
Others who give him fits: Toronto's Bengie Molina is 11-for-23 with two homers against him. His teammate, Reed Johnson, is 9-for-16. Baltimore's Jay Gibbons is 6-for-12 with one homer. New Texas Ranger Carlos Lee is 9-for-29 with three homers. Jim Thome has hit three homers in 18 whacks.
Summary: Halladay is a strike thrower who will rarely shy away from a challenge. He has been hit hard by some of the game's best hitters but hasn't let their success cause him to change his approach.
He's already dreading: Facing Thome in a series against the White Sox on Friday night at Rogers Centre. Thome (expected to rejoin the lineup after missing some games with wrist and back problems) is a rare hitter indeed, succeeding when Halladay challenges him (3-for-7) and also fouling off enough good pitches to draw five walks in 12 career plate appearances. A walk against the White Sox means putting Thome on base for Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye.
Others who give him fits: Don't ask Ivan Rodriguez what makes Halladay a perennial Cy Young contender. He's 10-for-18 with two homers against him. The patient, pesky Jason Kendall has gone 5-for-10 with one walk and only one strikeout against Halladay. Texas' Hank Blalock is 9-for-23 with two homers against him. Garret Anderson is 8-for-21 with two homers, and Jorge Posada is 11-for-29 with one homer. Seattle rookie Kenji Johjima must have been comfortable against him from the start, as he's 4-for-6.
Summary: Like Halladay, Carpenter dominates without one signature pitch. Sluggers must think they can handle him and wind up getting themselves out on a regular basis, as the hitters who have given him trouble have not exactly been a who's who of great hitters.
He's already dreading: The next time he is matched up against the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano, which could happen Aug. 20 at Wrigley Field or the next week at the new Busch Stadium. You'd figure he would have realized that Zambrano is not your typical No. 9 hitter by now. Zambrano, a switch hitter who loves to take his hacks, is 6-for-10 with one double and only two strikeouts against the National League's best pitcher.
Others who give him fits: Jose Vidro, another switch hitter, is 11-for-22 against Carpenter. Omar Vizquel -- ol' Slappy himself -- is 10-for-22 with one homer against him. The Phillies' Pat Burrell has five hits in 18 at-bats against Carpenter, and four of the hits have been home runs. Lance Berkman -- yes, another switch hitter -- has four homers in 21 at-bats off him. Alfonso Soriano is 9-for-21 with two homers off Carpenter. And, look out for Pittsburgh's Ryan Doumit, who is 3-for-7 with one homer.
Summary: His finesse stuff has made him vulnerable against left-handed hitters who hang in against him. Some of the players who give him the most problems are left-handed hitters. Others have the benefit of getting scouting reports on him from Bobby Cox, who knows just a little bit about how he does it.
He's already dreading: The next time he sees the Braves, which could be in a series Sept. 4-6 at Shea Stadium. His old team has his number. Andruw Jones, no slouch against a lot of teams, is a career .371 hitter with four homers in 35 at-bats off Glavine. Even the young Atlanta hitters are giving him trouble. Adam LaRoche is 4-for-5 with one homer; Brian McCann is 4-for-6 and Ryan Langerhans is 2-for-4.
Others who give him fits: The Cubs' Aramis Ramirez has gotten fat against Glavine, going 10-for-20 with three homers. Cliff Floyd, now a teammate in New York, is a .394 hitter with two homers in 33 at-bats. Mike Piazza is 24-for-70 with six career home runs. Jimmy Rollins is a .373 career hitter in 51 at-bats, with four homers. Todd Helton is 11-for-26 but has only one home run. Alfonso Soriano is 6-for-11 with one homer. But the really perplexing guy for Glavine -- the guy he's never gotten out -- is Florida's Joe Borchard. He's 3-for-3 with two doubles and a home run this year. He doesn't do that well in batting practice.
Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com. His book, "Say It's So," a story about the 2005 White Sox, is available at bookstores, through amazon.com or direct order from Triumph Publishing (800-222-4657).
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