These athletes have already proved their toughness, their technique and their ability to stay in condition all year or they would not be playing in the National Football League. Those of you who make the trek to Lehigh get to stand close enough to observe the reality of the game's incredible speed and the savagery of the hitting. Every play is the equivalent of a 25 mph auto wreck without seat belts. Why risk so many hamstrings, ACLs, ankles, biceps, cerebellums and other vital body parts this early? A lot of these guys will go into the too-long exhibition season in midseason form. Meaning they will be walking wounded with a minimum of 20 games lined up in front of them like artillery pieces. It is not true, however, that Asante Samuel went down with windburn . . .
When I saw first baseman Matt Rizzotti play for the Clearwater Threshers early in the season, he was not impressive. The only thing the 24-year-old pride of Manhattan College appeared to have in common with Ryan Howard was his size and lefthandedness. But Matt's 6-5, 235-pound frame didn't appear to generate a lot of bat speed. Then the 2007 sixth-round draft pick went on a tear and was batting a surprising .358 when promoted to Reading. I told some people that Double A pitching would expose his lack of bat speed. How wrong I was. The guy has been a pitcher-demolishing tower of power in his 73 Eastern League games. His .362 average is third best in organized ball. Matt has pounded 16 homers, 25 doubles and driven in 60 runs. Nobody has hit like that in Reading since some guy named Howard. Unlike Ryan, however, Rizzotti does not strike out a lot - just 55 in 254 ABs. His on-base percentage is a sick .455, his slugging pecentage .598 and his OPS an insane 1.104. So, if the Big Piece, who suffered a nasty ankle sprain tumbling back into second base on Sunday, winds up worse than day-to-day, can Ruben Amaro afford to not bring up Matt Rizzotti?
When I'm King of the World . . .
Antonio Bastardo will get another bullpen look and sooner than the Sept. 1 roster expansion . . . My favorite Dominican lefthander comes from a town named Hato Mayor. Loosely translated that means "Big Cattle Ranch." Antonio has been a Brahma out of the Lehigh Valley bullpen since rehabbing from the DL. He has been absolutely lights out in Triple A. In 14 appearances covering 12 1/3 innings, his ERA is 0.00. He has allowed four hits, struck out 19 and walked just three. Hitters are averaging .098 against Bastardo. So, amidst all the anguish over Charlie Manuel's ever-underachieving bullpen, let's not forget about the 24-year-old lefty from Big Cattle Ranch . . . White Sox starter Gavin Floyd, once a Phillies' $4 million arm, and A's lefthander Gio Gonzalez, once a prized prospect, will be forever linked as the package GM Pat Gillick sent to Chicago for lame-armed Freddy Garcia.
That's my runner-up for worst deal in Phillies history involving pitchers - and the clear No. 1 as far as cost. Factor in Floyd's $4 million signing bonus, highest in club history, with the $10 million they paid Garcia for one victory and it was a fiscal Chernobyl. Well, in one of those delicious ironies only baseball can serve up, Floyd and Garcia are teammates for the resurgent Pale Hose. Garcia is a resurrected 10-4 with a 4.73 ERA. Floyd is a hard-luck 7-8 with a 3.54. Gonzalez, just 24, is edging toward top-of-the-rotation status in Oakland and, on a Sunday when Floyd also won, raised his record to 9-7 and lowered his ERA to 3.69. And what's $14 million anyway? Only about 11.5 Bank sellouts. Including beer and Schmitters, of course.
The Phillies have just 12 days to corral 24 unsigned draft picks, including No. 4 Scott Frazier, a 6-7 righthander. Expect a signing stampede, as players who want to get started prod their agents to spit or get on the slot. Heading the national frenzy is unsigned No. 1 pick Bryce Harper, the hard bargain wunderkind being driven by uber-agent Scott Boras.
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