Latin Link: Bartolo Colon, Gio Gonzalez earning high praise
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When Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane went out on a financial limb this past winter by winning a bidding war for Yoenis Cespedes, he was gambling that the untested Cuban slugger would be an instant success with both his bat and at the box office. Thus far, Cespedes has lived up to the hype, blasting monster home runs and creating tabloid-type headlines for his showboating antics. Little did Beane realize, however, that a much smaller investment he made would reap similar rewards.
Veteran right-handed hurler Bartolo Colon has become Oakland’s version of the “Kung Fu Panda,” making an impact on the mound in the same fashion as Pablo Sandoval does at the plate across the bay in San Francisco. The portly Dominican pitcher has been a strike-throwing machine, leading the A’s in whiffs, wins and innings logged.
After undergoing a controversial, stem cell transplant to repair a damaged right shoulder in the spring of 2010, Colon signed a minor league deal with the New York Yankees the following season. He didn’t disappoint in the Bronx, throwing 164 innings and compiling other respectable numbers. But Colon was shunned in the offseason by the Yankees, playing second fiddle to Freddy Garcia, who has been nothing short of terrible out of the gate.
In signing Colon to a one year, $2 million deal, Beane acquired experience and stability to help anchor a very young A’s mound staff. And even if Bartolo is traded by the All-Star break as rumored, his success has eased some of the backlash created when Billy moved popular pitcher Gio Gonzalez last December to the Washington Nationals for prospects.
Speaking of Gonzalez, the crafty southpaw has started the season like a player who appreciates a new five-year, $42 million contract. To date, Gio has more strikeouts than Stephen Strasburg and is undefeated with a 2.04 ERA, including 14 consecutive shutout innings at Nationals Park.
“This is a new league for me, and I’m just trying to avoid walks and pound the strike zone,” says the charismatic Cuban-American.” My catchers have really helped me keep the ball down and I love playing at home.”
Gonzalez, by his own admission, tries to keep things “loose,” and his goofy, confident nature appears to have rubbed off on his teammates. In case you haven’t noticed, Washington is in first place.
Here are some other observations as the new season’s first month comes to a close:
National League East
The Philadelphia Phillies are scuffling right now, especially with the injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. But an unusually bright spot has been Freddy Galvis, a shortstop by trade who has been groomed to be the heir-apparent to Jimmy Rollins. But the 22-year-old Venezuelan was promoted to the varsity to spell Utley, and the kid is truly amazing.
Freddy isn’t exactly poetry in motion. He dives and darts to his left and right, often making throws from the seat of his pants. And Galvis hasn’t exactly intimidated pitchers at the plate, hitting at a modest .220 clip. But his at-bats have been as scrappy as his defense, and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is a believer.
“I’m keeping him (Galvis) up here, even when Utley comes back,” says Charlie. “I like Freddy a lot.”
National League Central
A lot of the game’s top scouts and experts felt that without Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa, the St. Louis Cardinals would have a tough time defending their National League divisional crown. Those predictions, though, appear to be short-sighted.
Rookie manager Mike Matheny has earned respect, and the deals extended to Yadier Molina and Rafael Furcal have demonstrated ownership’s commitment to maintain a winning tradition. The outside “name” player who really replaced Pujols in the lineup, however, was Carlos Beltran, and there were questions about the durability of the ex-New York Met and San Francisco Giant. The Puerto Rican outfielder has answered back by performing among the league leaders in batting average, home runs and several other offensive areas. But his own leadership among his fellow Cardinals has earned Delgado the highest of marks.
“Carlos has been there cheerleading, talking with the guys and helping them figure out an approach,” notes Matheny. “He wants to win and see everyone do well.”
Compared to Albert’s less-than-impressive start, I’d say that Delgado is earning his meager, $12 million salary.
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