Mailbag: Miller could push for time
Reporter Anthony Castrovince answers fans Tribe questions
-- Matt C., Oxford, Ohio Your concerns about the back end of the rotation are justified, Matt. This weekend was proof of that. It's clear Sowers could benefit from some time in Triple-A to work on finishing his pitches, and he'll likely get it when Jake Westbrook returns. Lee isn't going anywhere right now, especially considering the money the Indians invested in him last summer with a three-year contract extension. But Lee was inefficient and inconsistent in '06, and he's struggled since his return from the disabled list this year, so the club has to be concerned with his lack of command of his fastball. And yes, Miller, once healthy, is remains an option to help out in the second half. He's expected to be back in the Buffalo rotation in about two weeks. I'm tired of arguing with my friends about Casey Blake. They don't like him (for whatever reason), but I think he has been a big part of the Tribe's success this season. Can you shed some light on this debate?
-- Caitlin M., Willoughby, Ohio You're right. Your friends are wrong. Blake's play has been instrumental to this team's early success. The infield defense picked up considerably when he took over the regular duties at first base, and, as you point out, he's brought consistently solid at-bats to the No. 2 spot of the lineup, working pitchers into deep counts. Blake "swung" at a pitch that hit his hand and was called out against Boston in the series opener at Fenway. Are the hands considered part of the bat? I looked through the rules and couldn't find anything that I felt was determinative on the issue.
-- Vince C., Willoughby Hills, Ohio The hands are not considered part of the bat, but even Blake admitted he was under the misguided perception that they are. That rule might apply in Little League, but not in the Majors, I'm afraid. Rule 6.05 (f) states that if a batter attempts to hit a third strike and the ball touches him, he is out. That's what happened with Blake, though I still don't think he made a full swing at that pitch. Is Carmona eligible to be an American League Rookie of the Year candidate?
-- Andrew Z., Struthers, Ohio No. If a player accumulates 50 innings pitched or 130 at-bats or spends 45 days on the big-league roster, he loses his rookie status. Carmona worked 74 2/3 innings last season as a starter and reliever, so he's out of the rookie picture. One of my biggest pet peeves is MLB's insistence on calling the on-base and slugging statistics "percentages." They are both clearly expressed as "averages." I wish MLB would, for the sake of accuracy, just call them what they are: on-base average and slugging average.
-- Alan S., Shaker Heights, Ohio
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-- Ron W., Macungie, Pa. I took this question to Jason Stein, a former Minor League umpire who works as a vision trainer with the Indians' hitters at Jacobs Field and is a good friend of several big-league umps. He told me this trend began in the last 10 years, when hitters began requesting that balls that hit the dirt be replaced, in case they had been scuffed. Catchers would throw the ball back to the pitcher, the hitter would request a change, and the umpire and pitcher would have to exchange balls. In the interest of speeding up the process, umpires simply began replacing the balls immediately, and that's what we're seeing today. In the last mailbag, it was mentioned that eight dozen balls are used in the average game. So I think the good people at Rawlings are doing just fine. Who broke off contract talks regarding Travis Hafner? If it was Hafner, isn't that a risk? Won't his stock fall if he has a mediocre season?
-- Bobby A., Seattle The Indians were prepared to offer Hafner a hefty deal, but he wanted to let this season play out and didn't want contract talks distracting him. He's labored a bit at the plate here in the early going, and anytime a player turns down a contract extension, he's taking a risk. My hunch, though, is that Hafner is still in line for a hefty payday -- if not at the end of this season, then at the end of '09. And if not with the Indians, then with another AL team. As I watch the games on TV, I can't help but notice the elderly couple who sit along the first-base dugout. The interesting thing is that the gentleman replaces his cap every inning, and these caps are bright, neon colored. Do you have any information as to why he does this and what the different colors mean? -- Stan G., Campbell, Ohio That would be Tom O'Toole, affectionately referred to in these parts as "Hat Man." We profiled him in Game Face Magazine last season. You can check that article out right here. In 2005, when Juan Gonzalez had one at-bat for the Indians, he was a nominee on the All-Star ballot. I was wondering how a nominee gets selected for the ballot the fans get to vote for?
-- D.J. S., Canton, Ohio Teams submit their final ballots during Spring Training. This year, the Indians once again put Travis Hafner on as a first baseman, because the game is in a National League park. They put Blake at third base as a matter of his seniority over Andy Marte, and that turned out to be the correct representation, after all. Why don't the Indians retire Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn's number?
-- Mike K., Hudson, Ohio Excellent question, Mike. As you know, the Indians have six numbers retired, and five of those players are in Cooperstown -- Bob Feller, Earl Averill, Bob Lemon, Larry Doby and Lou Boudreau. The other, Mel Harder, is not in Cooperstown, but he should be. Looking at the list of the remaining 10 men enshrined in the Hall who spent the better part of their career with the Indians, we can eliminate seven -- Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Cy Young, Elmer Flick, Stan Coveleski, Joe Sewell and Addie Joss -- because they played before numbers were added to jerseys. So that leaves us with Wynn, Satchel Paige and Al Lopez. Paige played for the Indians for just two seasons, and Lopez was inducted as a manager. So in that group, I'd have to say Wynn, who won 164 games for the Tribe over 10 seasons, is the most deserving of having his number retired. Then again, some guy named Sizemore is currently wearing Wynn's No. 24, so I don't see it happening. And finally... Anthony, I have great news, I just won the World Series in "MLB 2K7" for XBox 360! The Tribe beat the Marlins in five games, and Ryan Garko was named the MVP! It was payback for '97! Can we all have a party to celebrate?
-- Evan C., Palm Bay, Fla. You get my hopes up by telling me you have great news, and then you hit me with that info? I feel like I'm in one of those Geico commercials.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.