Bill Conlin: D-Train is Phillies' new double threat

Posted: December 16, 2011

Observations, insinuations, ruminations and unvarnished opinions . . .

 SEVENTH INNING. Phillies trail by a run. Charlie has been forced to his bullpen early. Jose Contreras is in a first-and-second, two-out jam. A lefthanded pinch-hitter is announced. Dontrelle Willis gets the call. He blows the guy away on four pitches.

Now the dilemma. The pitcher's spot leads off the bottom of the inning. A righthanded reliever is on the mound. Jim Thome is Charlie's last lefthanded bat on the bench. But he doesn't want to use the one-dimensional 41-year-old slugger to lead off an inning down a run. Besides, he'll face the lefthander warming up.

So the D-Train bats for himself, though he has faced his one hitter. A lefthander won't be squandered to face a pitcher.

So, in this hypothetical, Willis ropes a single and winds up scoring the tying run. Thome gets to face a righthander in the bottom of the ninth with two out and two on. He lines a walkoff single. Phils win, Phils win.

If Dontrelle Willis is going to audition for the role J.C. Romero used to play, he is capable of being a situational player on offense, as well.

The guy is on the short list of best-hitting pitchers in the game. He can flat rake. In an era when half of baseball's pitchers don't get to hit, Willis carries a .244 lifetime average with nine homers.

Thome has never been much of a pinch-hitter. Last season, when the first-ballot Hall of Fame lock joined the 600-homer club, he was 3-for-13 with one RBI and struck out 69 percent of the time. In the National League, he'll see lefthanded relievers like clockwork unless he gets a majority of his at-bats against a righthanded closer.

Yo, James, you'll have a shot to face Craig Kimbrel and his intense heat 18 times. And Heath Bell, part of the Miami Marlins' bold upgrade from talented but flawed annoyance to for-real, for-real contender. Feel free to shudder at the possibility the Canned Fish will move into their retractable dome showplace in Little Havana with Cuban comet Yoenis Cespedes in centerfield. Having saved a paltry $300 million by losing the Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson sweepstakes, the Marlins will find the five-tool defector a perfect fit, once he establishes Dominican Republic citizenship. Reyes . . . Ramirez . . . Stanton . . . Cespedes . . . Morrison. Yikes.

But back to the D-Train, who hit .387 last season in 31 at-bats with a .645 slugging percentage and 1.032 OPS.

His pitching, however, was Jekyll-Hyde terrific vs. lefty swingers and horrific vs. righthanded sticks, a .171 batting average vs. .342.

The former Rookie of the Year and 22-game-winning Cy Young runner-up for the Marlins allowed only seven hits in 55 at-bats by lefthanded hitters during his 1-6 struggle with the Reds, walked only two and punched out 20. That's a 10-1 K to BB ratio.

BBWAA's Braun dilemma

Can the Baseball Writers Association of America take back Ryan Braun's National League MVP Award because the Brewers star outfielder tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug?

It's a hot-button issue. But how many MVP plaques and Giants bonus checks were snatched from the engorged arms of Barry Bonds when it was obvious to the world the guy had enough juice in him to glow in the dark? There was no testing program in place, which made it a no-foul, no-harm decision.

But MLB's drug cops have spoken and Braun faces the mandatory first-offender 50-game suspension. So what to do? Set precedent by declaring runner-up Matt Kemp the MVP? Write "No Award Given" next to "2011 NL MVP"? A hasty do-over vote?

The BBWAA faced a similar dilemma after Pete Rose's lifetime ban for betting on baseball. A fierce debate raged when the Hit King became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1991, 2 years after he plea-bargained the lifetime ban in exchange for a meaningless no determination that he bet on baseball. It was like getting a DUI conviction with no determination you were driving.

Reacting to heavy pressure from baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, the Hall of Fame, an independent corporation, declared any player under lifetime suspension would be ineligible for election. To this day, the Rose-in or Rose-out debate renews at the drop of his name.

Meanwhile, the BBWAA leadership is attempting to keep discussion on what to do about Braun's MVP award, if anything, in-house and confidential. I will honor that wish.

Worth a look, mates

MLB Network will carry the Australian Baseball League mid-season All Star Game on Dec. 21 at 1 p.m. Lakewood BlueClaws pitching coach Steve Shrenk manages the Brisbane Bandits.

After the season, the Phillies released injury-plagued 6-6, 240-pound righthanded pitcher Mike McGuire, a former University of Delaware star and Drexel Hill resident. Shrenk suggested McGuire take a shot at reviving his career in Oz and he was signed by the Canberra Cavalry in the improving six-team summer league. Five teams are on Australia's East Coast, one, Perth, is on the Indian Ocean, 2,312 miles of Outback from Canberra.

McGuire, 25, has been lighting up Oz. (It is not true that, Down Under, you wind up at first on a triple, or that curves break like screwballs.) He is 2-2 as a starter and leads the league in ERA (1.24) and strikeouts (44 in 36 1/3 innings) and will pitch for the International All-Stars against the Aussie All-Stars in Perth. Maybe the Phillies will take another shot at him. If not, somebody will.

Trivia

Name the only major league MVP to never play in an All-Star Game.


Send email to bill1chair@aol.com. For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/BillConlin.

 

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