06/22/2007 11:05 AM ET
It's in the cards for Pat Neshek
Twins reliever Pat Neshek is an avid baseball card and memorabilia collector.
On The Road With Pat Neshek
Neshek on Players Talk Live 400K
If you met Pat Neshek outside his workplace, you would get the impression he's just one of baseball's great fans.
After all, the Twins' sidearm setup man keeps his own Web site and spends hours conversing with other fans on his message board, mostly about the signed memorabilia and baseball cards that he loves to collect. He also auctions off items from teammates, most recently the game glove Michael Cuddyer used throughout the 2006 season.
But the right-hander -- who jokingly refers to himself as a "nerd" -- also has a 3-0 record, a 1.05 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP. Opposing batters have averaged a meager .124 against him over 34 1/3 innings for the Twins this season.
Asked in this week's Players Talk Live about his favorite piece of memorabilia, Neshek didn't hesitate to recall going to a signing event with his dad and getting an autographed baseball from Kirby Puckett during the superstar's rookie season with the Twins in 1985.
"For sentimental reasons," Neshek said. "As kids growing up in Brooklyn Park, Minn., we lived a couple blocks away from Kirby's house and we'd ride our bikes past his house to see if we could get a glimpse of him."
K-Rod adds changeup: Most closers are happy with a mid-90s fastball and an explosive slider. That's the repertoire Angels reliever Francisco Rodriguez had last season, when he led the American League with 47 saves.
But this season, Rodriguez has added a changeup to the mix. It's helped him to 22 saves through mid June.
"I don't think I've seen anyone get a hit off of it," Angels designated hitter Shea Hillenbrand told the Los Angeles Times. "Guys either swing through it, foul it off or take it. They're more or less baffled, because they're looking for the breaking ball or fastball. If he throws the changeup with good location, it's awesome, because you don't see many closers with three dominant pitches."
New teammate Gary Matthews Jr. was 1-for-8 previously against Rodriguez in the pre-changeup days. He cannot help but notice the funny swings opposing batters give to Rodriguez' new pitch.
"No matter what point you're at in this game, you have to come up with new tricks, because the game is all about adjustments," Matthews said. "He still knows what his strengths are, but there's definitely nothing wrong with developing other pitches and having a more complete game to give hitters something else to think about."
Rodriguez has experimented with the pitch in previous seasons, but this is the first year he has used it in key situations.
"That's the only way I'm going to get confident in the pitch, by throwing it when people don't expect it," said Rodriguez, who has 46 strikeouts and 12 walks in 31 1/3 innings and has held opponents to a .212 average.
"I've been throwing it a lot, mostly to left-handers. They're looking for the slider or the fastball; they're not looking for the changeup. They think it's a fastball, they jump at it, and they're out in front of the pitch."
Griffey ready for Seattle return: After spending the first 11 years of his career in Seattle, Cincinnati outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. is heading back to Seattle this weekend as the Mariners host the Reds in an Interleague series.
"I hope the city opens its arms and gives him the response and tribute he deserves," former Mariners manager Lou Piniella told MLB.com. "This will be a special weekend for Junior and the fans."
While not publicly making a big issue of his return, Griffey is definitely looking forward to the homecoming.
"Junior is definitely excited and looking forward to it," said Brian Goldberg, Griffey's longtime agent. "He doesn't get excited about personal milestones, but baseball-wise, he's as excited as I've seen him in a long time. Believe me, he's plenty excited."
Mariners president Chuck Armstrong is certainly rooting for his former employee. Well, kind of.
"I love the guy and feel really close to Kenny and his family," he said. "I'd like to see Junior do reasonably well this weekend, but don't want him to do too well."
Gregg responds when given the chance: Kevin Gregg entered the 2007 season with four saves in 11 seasons in professional ball. So it's no wonder that the Marlins tried other options before finally turning to the softer-tossing Gregg. Once given the job, Gregg has responded by going 13-for-13 in save situations.
"I always believed in my ability and what I was trying to do," Gregg told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "I was just waiting for an opportunity to showcase it."
Pitching coach Rick Kranitz knows why Gregg has succeeded in the closer's role.
"Strikes and confidence," Kranitz says. "Those two things can take you a long way."
Entering a game in a save opportunity, Gregg has posted 18 strikeouts and just five walks.
"Being a reliever, throwing strikes is probably the most important aspect of it," Gregg says. "If you don't do that, hitters will just stand there and watch it go by."
Gregg had been with the Angels previously, comfortably behind Rodriguez and Scot Shields in the pecking order for saves. He came to the Marlins in a little-noticed deal this Spring and has taken advantage of the team's bullpen situation.
"You have to be in the right place to get an opportunity," Gregg says, "and you have to take advantage of it and make the most of it."
Martin makes triumphant return to Canada: Russell Martin is having an All-Star caliber season in 2007. One highlight has been returning to Canada to play the Blue Jays in an Interleague matchup.
Martin, who is from Montreal, had a bus with 40 friends and family members make the five-hour trip from Montreal to Toronto to see him play, even if they did not get to spend much time with the Dodgers catcher.
"It's the season, so I'm not on vacation right now," Martin told the Los Angeles Times. "That's what I told them."
Martin shined in his return to his native country. He homered in his first game and then drove in the winning run with a two-run double to give the Dodgers their first road Interleague Series win since 2004.
"It feels good anywhere if you come up with a big hit to take the lead," Martin said, "but it feels even better when you're at home in Canada."
600th homer gives Sosa that old feeling again: With one swing of the bat, Sammy Sosa put himself into rare territory when he hit his 600th career home run Wednesday night.
"It reminded me of '98, when I hit 62," Sosa told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "It was a great day. I feel great because you don't see a milestone like that every day. To be coming a long way and doing that, and all the support I'm getting, it's unexplainable, but it's a good feeling."
After reaching home plate, Sosa was mobbed by his teammates and then came back out the dugout for a curtain call as the crowd of 37,564 chanted "Sammy! Sammy!"
"I honestly got a chill through my body, just to be a part of it, to be in the same lineup," catcher Gerald Laird said.
Michael Young said it was one of the most amazing moments he had seen as a Ranger.
"It's a culmination of tons of great seasons," Young said. "I couldn't be happier for the guy. It really is an incredible achievement."
Sosa now is a member of the exclusive 600 club, led by Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays.
"It's a great joy to be there with the greatest," Sosa said. "When I'm leaving this world, at least people are going to remember me."
Taguchi is ready whenever Cards call: St. Louis Cardinals veteran outfielder So Taguchi had a pair of hits on Wednesday night, extending his hitting streak to 13 games while his batting average has climbed to .309.
Generally used as a reserve outfielder since arriving in St. Louis in 2002, Taguchi understands his role and does all he can to help the Cardinals succeed.
"I check the lineup card every day," Taguchi told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "Jimmy (Edmonds), Juan (Encarnacion) and Dunc (Chris Duncan), they are regulars. I just try to cover for them. I just play hard."
With both Edmonds and shortstop David Eckstein sidelined, Taguchi is seeing increased playing time and taking on another role -- leadoff hitter.
"He's doing everything," said manager Tony La Russa. "Getting base hits, starting rallies, getting a base hit to drive in a run. He's playing well, he's running the bases. He's just got to keep doing it. We need him."
As far as his recent hot hitting, Taguchi can't pinpoint what brought it on.
"I just try to get comfortable, that's it," he said. "I don't think anything has changed. I just try to get good at-bats.
"I have always tried to hit, I have to make sure to take each at-bat individually. Sometimes you're good, sometimes you're bad. I feel even right now, that's baseball."
While in Japan, Taguchi was a Gold Glove outfielder and even took some turns in the infield. La Russa has even said that given the right situation, he could see himself inserting him at second base.
"I can play anytime, anywhere," Taguchi said. "I'm always ready."
Tejada keeps streak alive: Baltimore Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, who was hit on the left wrist by a pitch on Wednesday night, kept his consecutive games streak alive on Thursday when he bunted in the first inning before being removed for a pinch-runner.
The streak, now at 1,152 games, is the longest current streak in the Major Leagues and the fifth longest all-time.
"We all know the importance of what's going on in baseball, and Miggy and the streak," Baltimore interim manager Dave Trembley told MLB.com. "I asked him last night before I left, and he asked me, 'Don't you do anything until you talk to me.' He's earned that, and I told him, 'You've already seen the lineup. I've already posted it for tomorrow.'
"Miguel Tejada is Miguel Tejada, and he's an important part of the team. But what he's done for baseball I think is important, and he's got a lot of pride."
Trembley added that he would have never put Tejada in any danger, but that he felt he should try to respect what Tejada has so far accomplished.
"You've got to look at the big picture here," said Trembley. "We're going to do what's right. That's what I've been trying to do since I've been here -- do what's right, not what you're supposed to do. ... If we can't show respect for Miguel Tejada -- for all he's done for the game and the Orioles -- we're missing the boat a little bit."
Hatteberg pays tribute to Beane: When the Cincinnati Reds visited Oakland this week, veteran Scott Hatteberg took the time to visit with A's general manager Billy Beane -- the man he credits for saving his career.
"I owe him a lot for the opportunity," Hatteberg told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I don't know what I'd be doing. I could be working at Blockbuster."
After being drafted as a catcher and donning the tools of ignorance from 1995-2001 with Boston, Beane brought him to Oakland with an idea for change.
"It was his idea (to move me to first)," said Hatteberg. "He told me I was going to get a bunch of at-bats. I had to learn a new position."
And the rest, as they say, is history.
"I've thought about it," he said. "I didn't have any opportunity to play first base. I would have had to have gone and tried to catch, and my arm was bad. I couldn't throw. It would have been very difficult to find a spot and be competitive catching.
"That's just the way it is catching; you've got to be able to throw. I lost that part of my game."
-- Red Line Editorial