|JORDAN SCHAFER Suspended 50 days|
Don't underestimate the message sent by Bud Selig and Major League Baseball last week when Atlanta Braves prospect Jordan Schafer was suspended 50 days for a human growth hormone violation. While details are sketchy as to whether Schafer took it or bought it, Selig's new investigative unit apparently means business.
The emphasis seems to be on high-profile younger players because MLB wants the next generation of players to be super clean.
A baseball official said, "There are some players who might think that the Mitchell Report is out, 'I'm not in it, I won't get caught now.' They'd better think twice about feeling that way."
Because there is no accepted test (by Major League Baseball) for HGH, there's no way a player can test positive. But there are paper trails, tips, and other evidence that investigators deal with daily.
The official said the unit "is acting on everything" that implicates anyone in current or past use, which is why MLB wants to discuss the contents of Jose Canseco's latest book with him. It's no secret that Canseco's first book sparked the interest of George Mitchell.
While Canseco has hinted strongly in recent interviews that he's holding back information, the latest claims in his book, "Vindicated," are that he injected Tigers superstar Magglio Ordonez and that he gave Alex Rodriguez the name of a steroid distributor.
Selig is acting on the recommendations in the Mitchell Report, one of which was to form an investigative unit to look into drug use by players. It started work in December.
"Without a test, anyone taking HGH feels they can get away with it as long as they hide the paper trail," said the official. "I think this unit is going to find ways to put the pieces together. They are very diligent, and if they suspect someone of use, they're going to put a case together."
The unit, according to baseball sources, was "very active" in spring training in investigating leads. The Schafer case started in spring training, but it wasn't until last week that MLB felt it had enough evidence to issue punishment.
So many players have taken a post-Mitchell Report attitude of "putting this behind us" or the ever-popular "turning the page." But MLB isn't turning any page. Late last week, MLB and the Players Association came to an agreement on an independent overseer of the drug-testing program. This is a major concession by the association, which has been very protective of players' rights and privacy. Recent pressure from Congress and the public surely has made the union far more cooperative.
Under the new way of doing business, which was another recommendation of the Mitchell Report, Dr. Bryan Smith, a longtime confidant and friend of Selig, would continue in his role as independent administrator of the testing program. Smith would not be tied strictly to Selig but would answer to both him and the union.
The Mitchell Report also recommended more offseason testing, which will be a nuisance to players and costly to MLB. There will be 600 more tests overall, 375 more in the offseason. Independent testing, though, still hasn't been agreed on.
So why Schafer?
He's considered the No. 1 prospect of the Braves farm system by Baseball America, considered the next Andruw Jones in center field. Only 21 years old, Schafer hit .316 in spring training with a .421 on-base percentage. Last season, Schafer hit .312 with 74 extra-base hits in 136 games at the Single A level. When the suspension came, he had played four games for Double A Mississippi.
"We are extremely disappointed that Jordan has violated the Commissioner's Performance-Enhancing Drug Policy," said Braves GM Frank Wrenn. "We are supportive of the program and continue to educate all of our players."
Schafer's attorneys have sworn him to secrecy and will not make any comments about the suspension, but as of now there doesn't appear to be any challenge of it. Schafer's father, David, a Florida businessman, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, "I want so bad to clear things up and I want so bad for Jordan to clear things up. But, unfortunately, the powers that be say not to say anything. I want so bad to straighten this thing out, I just can't say.
"I don't know what to do. He's in a bad spot. It's not the way it seems. I never thought it would come to this."
Falling stars are sightedThe worst best players so far:
1. C.C. Sabathia, Indians: Nice time for a tough start - his free agent year. The 2007 AL Cy Young winner has struggled in his last five starts, including two playoff games against Boston last fall. In those five, he's 0-4 with an 11.11 ERA, having given up 41 hits, 16 walks, and 30 earned runs in 24 1/3 innings. The Indians haven't been able to sign him, but Fausto Carmona recently signed a four-year, $15 million extension, with three years of team options.
2. David Ortiz, Red Sox: He has looked tired and beat up to start the season. His surgically repaired right knee obviously bothers him because he's often limping. His 3-for-39 start (.077) is eye-popping.
3. Andruw Jones, Dodgers: Coming off a .222 season with the Braves, Jones is off to a .114 start, which has to be a little uncomfortable for the Dodgers, who committed $36 million to him over two years. Joe Torre said Jones looks a little "overanxious." I'd say the Dodger front office has to be, as well.
4. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: $153 million and a .182 average with nine strikeouts in 29 at-bats. Did I mention he's a DH?
5. Russell Martin, Dodgers: Hate to pick on catchers because they have tough jobs, but Martin is hitting .156 with 10 strikeouts.
6. Alfonso Soriano, Cubs: Yeah, he hates the cold weather, but he signed with Chicago. Eleven strikeouts and a .170 average. Brrr!
7. Jim Thome, White Sox: Tough sledding early for the big man. He's at .143 (5 for 35) with 11 strikeouts. Two of his five hits: homers.
8. Andrew Miller, Marlins: OK, young guy, but big name nonetheless. A major piece in the Cabrera deal, the tall lefty is 0-1 with a 12.91 ERA with 16 hits allowed over 7 2/3 innings.
9. Roy Oswalt, Astros: He is Houston's only hope, yet in three starts, he has a 9.00 ERA, giving up an uncharacteristic 30 hits and 16 earned runs in 16 innings. He's allowed five homers, and opponents are batting .400 against him.
10. Joe Borowski, Indians: The Tribe closer's first three appearances: A 19.29 ERA, a walkoff grand slam (Torii Hunter).
Lowe gives the lowdown on Los AngelesA few questions for Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe.
What pitcher and what hitter on your team make you go, "Wow!"
DL: "I think right now it's [closer Takashi] Saito on our team at the end of the game. Just the PlayStation numbers he put up were incredible and he's just lights out. When he comes in, that's it. Game over. Position player-wise, we have a couple of young guys that might give you that reaction down the road and do now every now and then. All of them - like [James ] Loney, [Matt] Kemp, [Blake] DeWitt - they're all capable of being guys that might make you go, 'Wow.' "
What has Joe Torre meant to you guys?
DL: "The biggest thing is accountability. You have to be accountable for your actions. Play the game the right way. He's really stressed the little things and he's really tried to instill that winning attitude into our organization. It's early in the season, so there's a little bit of up and down so far, but Joe knows how to win. His record tells you that, so as a team we're all ears."
Red Sox-Yankees, do you miss it?
DL: "I think I've pretty much seen every single game since I left. A lot of the guys have come and gone, but it's still an exciting rivalry. I think people put too much emphasis on it. It's pretty much going to break down at one team winning 10 and the other winning eight. It's not going to make or break any one team's season. Having played in them, they're exciting games. The intensity of them is what makes them special."
You've been a Dodger for four years now. Think you're more associated with LA now than Boston?
DL: "I don't know. No matter how long you play with any team, I guess you can get tied to a certain team. Some guys get tied with the teams where you won a World Series. Sure, I've been here four years, but I won some big playoff games with Boston and I think people still remember me as a Red Sox more than a Dodger. The hope is we can start winning that caliber of game here in LA with the team that we have this year and maybe that will change."
Etc.Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Yes, Tigers outfielder Clete Thomas was named after Clete Boyer; 2. The
Raves, but no saves
Nothing wrong with a manager sticking up for a beleaguered player. And that's what Ned Yost has had to do with Eric Gagné. The Brewers closer has blown two save opportunities in this young season, but Yost said he has as much faith in Gagné as he did in Francisco Cordero, who had 44 saves for the Brewers last season but left for the Reds in free agency. "He used to throw 97 and 98," said Yost. "His fastball is 94 now. He's got a nice breaking ball and nice changeup. It has nothing to do with his stuff." Hmmm. "Nice" is not a word I'd use to describe anything Gagné has thrown the past year.
The Cardinals are still flying high in April, but the Orioles appear to be shot down. The Cardinals got off to an 8-3 start, thanks in large part to what had been a much-maligned starting rotation. Without Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Joel Pineiro (who returns today vs. the Giants), and Matt Clement - St. Louis starters had a 2.43 ERA. And Kyle Lohse, one of the last free agent pitchers signed, opened the year with 15 scoreless innings. He is 3-0 with a 1.04 ERA. Carpenter, coming back from Tommy John surgery, should be ready after the All-Star break. Mulder, looking impressive in his minor league rehab starts, could return by the first week of May. The Orioles started 6-1 but then lost three straight. Baltimore relievers had given up three runs in a combined 29 innings through Thursday, but on Friday they allowed eight runs over 1 2/3 innings. Back to Earth.
See Kenny run
Al Nipper and Roger Clemens ran around the city when they were together with the Red Sox; their jogs amounted to about 5-6 miles. But last Wednesday, Tigers lefty Kenny Rogers ran for what amounted to 13 miles around the warning track at Fenway. He didn't stop running until about a half-hour before game time. "Just letting out some frustrations," Rogers said. "I'll pay for it."
Phillies flip and flop
Friday night marked the first time this season the Phillies were able to take advantage of the winter flip-flop they staged when they traded for closer Brad Lidge and moved Brett Myers back to the rotation. Lidge had missed the early part of the season on the DL, but he earned his second save to preserve a 5-3 win for Myers, who had not reached the sixth inning in his two previous starts. Myers went eight and shut down a good Cubs lineup. With the Mets and Braves off to slow starts, the Phillies haven't exactly taken advantage.
The long way around
With closer Frankie Rodriguez having issues with both ankles, don't expect the Angels' bullpen situation to stabilize soon. The Halos are going with the dreaded bullpen by committee. The Tigers are living proof that you need a bullpen to win in the major leagues. In the meantime, the Angels are winning with offense. They had a stretch in which 17 of 19 runs had come via home runs. This from a team that finished 28th in homers last season with 123. In their first 10 games, the Angels had 14 homers, including grand slams by Torii Hunter and Mike Napoli.
Peabody's Jeff Allison, 23, is giving it another try for Single A Jupiter in the Marlins organization after multiple drug offenses. In two starts, he's thrown seven shutout innings but has issued six walks. Allison hadn't pitched since the end of the 2005 season.
Easing back Harden
Rich Harden should come off the disabled list this week and be ready to go against the Royals. His latest stint - his sixth in four years - was precautionary, to rest a mild muscle strain under his right arm. The A's understand that where Harden is concerned, a full season is probably not going to happen, but they still hope to get him 25-28 starts. Harden still has some of the best stuff in baseball, and at some point a contending team in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, or elsewhere is going to come calling.
Carl Crawford got his 1,000th hit Friday, becoming the eighth player to collect 1,000 hits and 250 steals before his 27th birthday. The others: Roberto Alomar, Cesar Cedeno, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Rickey Henderson, Sherry Magee, and Tim Raines . . . Alex Rodriguez has had four four-strikeout games in his career: June 22, 1995, for Seattle vs. Chicago, against Jim Abbott; July 22, 2006, for the Yankees at Toronto, against Ted Lilly (3) and Justin Speier (1); Aug. 25, 2006, for the Yankees at the Angels, against John Lackey; April 8, 2008, for the Yankees at Kansas City, against Brian Bannister (3) and Ramon Ramirez (1) . . . Happy 42d birthday, Wes Chamberlain.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com