Q: What do you think about Livan Hernandez's chances with his new ballclub, the Twins? And will his addition be enough to bolster an otherwise young pitching staff?
— Scott, Madison, Wis.
A: Livan and the Twins are a match made of necessity, Scott. He thought he had a deal with the Mets, but that evaporated when the Johan Santana trade was made, and apparently nobody else wanted to give him anything more than the Twins offered — $5 million guaranteed plus incentives.
Livan is what he is — an innings eater who gets by on guile and creativity more than stuff. He throws a low-to-mid-80s fastball, a big curveball clocked around 60-65 mph and pretty much everything in between. He helps a rotation and preserves a bullpen because he has thrown 199.2 inning or more in 10 consecutive seasons, averaging 227. That will be especially helpful in Minnesota, as the rest of the projected rotation — Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Boof Bonser and probably Kevin Slowey — are young and relatively inexperienced.
But the results aren't always pretty. Livan was 24-24 with ERAs of 4.83 and 4.93 over the past two seasons — durable and unspectacular. And when he has a bad start, it can be real bad, witness the fact that of the 15 games last season in which the Diamondbacks allowed double figures in runs, Livan started five of them.
Q: I'd like to know your thoughts on Chien-Ming Wang. Without an overpowering fastball, how does he make hitters look as poorly as he does? And was he mishandled last year, leading to his playoff failures?
— Richard W.C. Lin, White Plains, N.Y.
A: Wang's success comes from a tremendous sinking fastball — one of the best in the game. While it doesn't have the velocity of the game's real power pitchers, it can be just as effective, as it bores down to the knees or lower, forcing hitters to beat it into the ground, or swing over it.
Wang is not a big strikeout pitcher, but his percentage of groundball outs was third-highest in the American League behind Fausto Carmona and Felix Hernandez. Wang also throws strikes and gets batters out quickly — he was second in the league in pitches per batter at 3.48, trailing only Paul Byrd — and that allows him to stay in games longer, and log more innings. And his 19 wins last season were in part due to the 7.04 runs scored for him per start, trailing only Justin Verlander (7.32).
As for the question about being mishandled, I guess you're referring to him being brought back on only three days rest to pitch in Game 4. I have never been a proponent of bringing a starter back one day early in the playoffs. Somebody who has thrown on four days rest all season is going to have problems coming back a day early — the numbers prove it. But managers do it anyway because they want their best pitcher on the mound, as opposed to a No. 4 starter in a Game 4, especially when it is an elimination game.
That said, Wang was totally ineffective in both starts in that series, allowing eight runs and nine hits in five innings in Game 1 — when he pitched with more than regular rest — then four runs in only one inning in Game 4. I just think it was a situation where he wasn't at his best, and he ran into a hitting buzzsaw in the Indians lineup.
Q: The Cubs are saying Kerry Wood is going to pitch out of the bullpen, competing against Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry for the closer position. I like Marmol, but does Wood need to compete for any other position that closer?
— Andy, Phoenix
A: With all the arm issues Wood has had over the years, he came to the point last season where pitching in relief was the only way for him to go. The strain of trying to pitch 200 or so innings in the rotation has proven to be too much. And even as a reliever, Wood has to be monitored closely, and at times not used on back-to-back days.
That is the big question as he enters the closer competition with Marmol and Howry — can Wood pitch three, even four days in a row? After all, he pitched only 24.1 innings all of last season, and 19.2 in 2006, so to me, it isn't wise to be counting on him to fill a major role.
If he can, then that would be a big bonus for Lou Piniella. But don't assume going in that he's going to be the closer. If it was my choice, I'd pick Marmol, but we'll see how it plays out in camp.
ATLANTA (AP) - Matt Harvey pitched six hitless innings, John Buck homered and the New York Mets held off another Atlanta comeback, beating the Braves 4-3 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.
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The defending champs limber up, Johan Santana greets his new fans and kids get in on the fun as baseball teams reported for spring training.
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