Eephus Pitches: March 30, 2004 (Tomato Mousseline Sauce)

The Devil Rays and Yankees are off to Japan for their season-opening two-game series, which began this morning. The trip has been the excuse for some of the most mind-numbing sportswriting of our time (surpassing even my long rants on the Montreal Expos).

In this never-ending 1,000-word marathon, Marc Popkin of the St. Petersburg Times spends four paragraphs discussing the in-flight menu. We all have a little more insight into the Rays now that we know they had “sauteed fillet of sea bass with tomato Mousseline sauce” on the first leg of their flight to Tokyo. I can’t wait to hear about the menu on the flight home!

This disquieting note from Rays skipper Lou Piniella was buried in the piece: “‘I didn’t have a drink the whole trip,’ Piniella said. ‘How’s that?’” I don’t know Lou, how is that? If you’re bragging to reporters about abstaining from alcohol for 16 hours, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

As for the necessity and desirability of the trip to Japan, I thought Jayson Stark’s thoughts on the subject were interesting (as well as those of our own Matthew Namee on THT Live), but I can’t wholly agree (and not just because Stark spends the whole lead fulminating about the International Date Line). It doesn’t cost the Rays and Yankees anything much to schedule two games in Japan to start the year; there’s plenty of time for them to readjust when they come back, nobody is being asked to play more than one year in a row, and both teams had plenty of time to ease themselves into the season.

In addition, playing regular-season games overseas is both a popular venture and a big boost for the MLB brand in marketing terms. Now, taking teams to Europe in midseason (an idea that has been floated this spring) may not make as much sense. But surely the Yankees oughtn’t complain when their favorite trade partners, the Expos, are forced to play 22 “home” games away from home in a half-full, miniature bandbox that kills pitching staffs dead, dead, dead?

At this time last year, the Expos and MLB were trumpeting the impending success of their venture to Puerto Rico, with ticket sales figures and regular stories about the heady anticipation of their visit. This year? Nothing. The reason? The Puerto Rico junket was a disastrous failure last year, made palatable only by the fact that the team’s money was guaranteed by the promoter. MLB took all of the Expos’ most bankable homestands and awarded them to San Juan, but the team drew crowds that were just comparable to what Montreal crowds were for similar games, maybe less.

The same thing has been done this year; to add insult to injury, the masterminds of MLB scheduled the now-traditional interleague series between Montreal and the Toronto Blue Jays on the traditional Canada Day Weekend (comparable to the Fourth of July weekend and often the same weekend). Then they awarded the series to Puerto Rico; so on the weekend of Canada’s national holiday both Canadian teams will play each other in a foreign country. I still think that 15 years down the road, the story of the Expos will make a great comedy movie, with ready-made cartoonish villains to boot.

Speaking of the Expos, their GM Omar Minaya is the subject of a terrific recent profile by Scott Brown of Florida Today. A fine portrait of Minaya by Expos starter Zach Day accompanies the piece, my pick for best profile of the spring.

The Blue Jays are providing a perfect example of why you can’t judge a manager’s preferences and tendencies by the content of his bench anymore. Roster moves in this day and age have so much more to do with league rules and regulations than with questions of talent or usage, that two, three, or even more slots on a typical team will be decided solely on their option or roster status.

The Jays are a case in point. It is a virtual certainty that pitcher Justin Miller will make the team despite a relatively disappointing spring; Miller may have proved he’s not ready quite yet to return from an injured shoulder (and surgery), but if he were to be sent down he would need to be exposed to waivers, as he is out of options. The same goes for outfielder/catcher Jayson Werth, who would almost certainly have lost a battle for the final man off the bench to Simon Pond, but for the fact that Werth will need to be exposed on waivers to be sent down.

Cincinnati is once again going with a tandem starters experiment throughout Class A this year, with pitch counts limited to 75. The Rangers are also doing this, and if anyone knows of other teams who are undertaking these experiments at one level or another, please let me know, as I’m hoping to undertake a study over the next couple of years.

Giants pitchers Robb Nen, Jason Schmidt, and Scott Eyre are all seemingly headed for the DL. I have been picking the Giants to finish second in the NL West; I’m starting to think I should be changing that prediction.

On the subject of preseason predictions, now that I have repeated my perennial folly of picking the Houston Astros to win the World Series, Jimy Williams is going to start his quiet behind-the-scenes work undermining their chances. This time, it’s Mike Lamb, who was acquired from the Yankees for promising reliever Juan De Leon, who struck out 11.2 men per nine innings in the Sally League last year.

Lamb has already been injected into the spring lineup and promptly went out and made three errors against the Braves. Lamb’s a butcher in the field and unimpressive at the plate, which makes him a perfect candidate to get major playing time for Jimy; look for Morgan Ensberg to miss at least 30 starts while Lamb tries to hit righthanders and not make errors at third.

I don’t know what would rankle more for Astros fans… watching them give up prospects (no matter how distant) for free talent, or watching that free talent take over bench roles they’re not suited to. There is talk of Lamb backing up the corner outfielders… Lamb’s bad enough in the infield, but his defense in the outfield would probably be limited to closing his eyes and hoping the ball isn’t hit near him. In addition, the Astros already have Ryan Thompson in camp playing well, and if Lamb does everything you hope he will, he’ll essentially be a younger Ryan Thompson.

By the time you read this, Opening Day will probably already be in the books. But anyway, enjoy the game, everyone. As Aaron is fond of saying, Happy Baseball.

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