Gennaro Filice
Friday May 23rd, 2008

1. Bruce buzz: The buzz builds every time the Reds lose. The movement picks up steam with each Corey Patterson groundout and Ken Griffey Jr. trade rumor. For those who have their ear to baseball's figurative street, the rally cry from Cincy fans is impossible to ignore: Let Bruce loose!

Jay Bruce, Baseball America's No. 1 overall prospect, is feasting on Class AAA pitching. Through 46 games, the 21-year-old outfielder leads the International League with a .386 batting average and ranks third with a 1.054 OPS. Combine that with 10 homers, 37 RBIs, 33 runs and eight steals, and it's pretty easy to see why Reds faithful are clamoring for Bruce's call-up. General manager Walt Jocketty recently stoked the fire.

"If he keeps playing like this, we're going to have to get him up here soon," Jocketty told the Dayton Daily News. "What we don't want to do is bring him up and not have him play."

Playing time shouldn't be a problem -- not with Patterson starting in center field. He owns the worst on-base percentage (.262) of any leadoff man in baseball. Even if the Reds refuse to give up on Patterson, a Dusty Baker favorite, there's also the possibility that Griffey will be traded once he hits his 600th home run (No. 598 came Thursday night). One way or another, Cincy really shouldn't have much trouble getting its premier prospect on the field.

There is large speculation that the Reds are intentionally keeping Bruce in the minors as long as possible to save an arbitration year, but Jocketty has repeatedly denied this theory. The cynic in me says Jocketty has a bad poker face, but I'll wait to see how it plays out.

This ballclub is already in the midst of a youth movement, as evidenced by its heavy reliance on three rookies. Twenty-four-year-old pitcher Edinson Volquez has been amazing, first baseman Joey Votto (also 24) already has a three-homer game and 21-year-old hurler Johnny Cueto has shown flashes of brilliance. But fans won't be happy until the Reds unleash the crown jewel of the farm system.

Let Bruce loose!

2. A more controlled Cabrera: During his first four years in the majors, Daniel Cabrera was quite an intimidating force on the hill. Standing 6-foot-9, 270 pounds and armed with a high-90s heater almost as uncontrollable as his temper, Cabrera was downright terrifying. Unfortunately, this didn't equate to very much success. The Orioles hurler never posted an ERA below 4.50 and last season led the American League in losses (18), walks (108) and earned runs allowed (126).

But last October the O's made a significant hire: pitching coach Rick Kranitz. He earned high praise for his work with a green Florida staff from 2006-07, and he is finding similar success with Baltimore's youngsters, especially the 26-year-old Cabrera.

Cabrera enjoyed his seventh straight quality start against the Yankees Tuesday, improving to 5-1 (3.48 ERA) on the season. The most jarring development is his command. Amazingly, Cabrera has walked just three batters in his last 38.1 innings, lowering his walks-per-nine-innings to 3.21 (his previous low was 4.76).

This can be directly credited to Kranitz, who convinced Cabrera to simplify his approach and predominantly throw a two-seam fastball. The pitch tops out at about 94 mph -- a significant decrease from the four-seamer he employed in past seasons -- but it possesses devastating sinking action. Even though Cabrera throws the two-seamer almost every pitch, hitters rarely square it up. The straightforward game plan makes it much easier for Cabrera to maintain his focus.

Baltimore's newly-minted ace still has some wild spells (see: Derek Jeter's left hand), but this is night-and-day from the gifted-but-erratic edition who frustrated Orioles fans for so many years.

3. Danny Dangerfield: OK, readers, I'd like you to quickly compare the season stats of two mystery second basemen:

Player A is Chase Utley. Can you guess the identity of Player B? That is none other than Dan Uggla, who leads all second basemen in bating average, slugging percentage and OPS.

Why is this so hard to believe? Because Uggla's the Rodney Dangerfield of baseball ("Can't get no respect"). Over the course of his first two seasons in the majors, Uggla racked up 58 homers, 178 RBIs and 218 runs and made a trip to the All-Star game. He's currently playing at a 50-homer, 60-double pace. Yet Uggla's accomplishments are constantly overlooked for no apparent reason. Does he strike out too much? Definitely. Does his defense leave something to be desired? For sure. But the 28-year-old consistently churns out striking power numbers at a generally light-hitting position. And for this, he deserves a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

1. Joba juggling: Once upon a time, back in the sixth grade, I owned a snazzy, mint-condition pair of Adidas Sambas. (You know, the three-stripe indoor soccer shoe that's the epitome of casual chic.) In the beginning I reserved the Sambas for the clutch moments of my 12-year-old existence: holiday functions, spin-the-bottle soirees, etc. And in this role, the Sambas flourished.

Then I decided to maximize the Sambas' abilities by placing them in my everyday rotation. The shoes quickly wore down under the strain of daily wear and took on a putrid stench. The moral of the story is: Don't mess with success.

It looks as if the Yankees never learned this lesson.

On Wednesday New York officially announced that Joba Chamberlain was transitioning from the bullpen to the starting rotation.

I'm baffled.

With Joba in the eighth and Mariano Rivera in the ninth, New York basically reduced the game to a seven-inning contest -- quite the luxury at the major league level. And the Yankees had a perfect, 22-year-old successor for their aging closer. (I don't care what anyone says -- a lights-out closer is every bit as valuable as an ace starter.)

But New York has decided to remove Joba from the role he seemed made for, and in doing so, created a massive hole in the bullpen. Now when the Yanks get into a bind in the seventh or need to form a bridge to Mo in the eighth, Joe Girardi will call on ... Kyle Farnsworth. Oy vey!

Joba says this is what he wants, but ultimately the decision falls on Yankees brass. Hank Steinbrenner, I'm pleading with you: Don't wear out your Sambas.

2. Dodgers' one-two starters: On the heels of a three-game win streak, Joe Torre's wildly inconsistent Dodgers find themselves within 2 1/2 games of Arizona. But the Diamondbacks still have a huge advantage in one infinitely important area: the top of the rotation.

Arizona may have the best one-two combo in baseball in Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. On the other hand, the Dodgers' top two starters -- Brad Penny and Derek Lowe -- couldn't be less imposing. Penny, a 16-game winner in each of the past two seasons, has allowed 20 earned runs in his past three outings. (Arm stiffness in the second month of the season sure doesn't bode well ...) Lowe began the year with a 2.45 ERA through five starts, but is winless in his last five outings and that ERA has ballooned to 5.34. The rotation may have help on the way, as there is heavy speculation that the Dodgers are on the verge of calling up No. 1 pitching prospect Clayton Kershaw. But if Los Angeles wants to truly contend with the first-place D'backs, Penny and Lowe must return to form.

3. Milwaukee power outage: Last Sunday Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy both homered off Josh Beckett. It was Prince's sixth homer of the season and J.J.'s second. Those totals remain the same entering Friday. Hard to believe that exactly one year ago today these two were tied for the NL lead with 14 jacks.

Fielder and Hardy exploded out of the gates in '07 and both earned their first All-Star nod. They haven't been quite as successful this season ...

Josh Hamilton was the very first Three Up, Three Down subject of this season, and his story becomes more unbelievable with each passing day. Hamilton, who hit a game-winning homer in extra innings on Thursday, already has 53 RBIs -- eight more than any other player in baseball.

Hanley Ramirez recently suffered a 1-for-15 slump, and opposing manager Trey Hillman voiced his theory on the funk: "I think he's putting a lot of pressure on himself right now." Hanley's response: "I'm going to go home and get a dictionary, because I don't know what that word is."

I love you, Hanley.

• Once again Arizona hits the road to take on a first-place team (Florida) from a different NL division. And once again the D'backs face the broom.

• Texas catcher Gerald Laird's plus throwing arm was on full display last weekend. Astros burner Michael Bourn entered last Saturday's game a perfect 18-for-18 in stolen base attempts. Laird nailed Bourn once in that game and twice on Sunday.

• Rays rookie Evan Longoria definitely has some kinks to work out at the plate (first and foremost, hitting left-handed pitching), but he looks like a seasoned vet at the hot corner.

• In the feel-good story department, Doug Davis will make his first start tonight since having a cancerous thyroid removed.

• Tampa Bay hurler Andy Sonnanstine is easily the worst 6-2 pitcher I've seen in a while.

• With Willie Randolph squarely positioned on the hot seat, Hot Clicks producer and cubicle neighbor Jimmy Traina raised an interesting scenario. Earlier this month Rockies skipper Clint Hurdle picked Randolph as one of his coaches for the All-Star game. If Willie is fired prior to Midsummer Classic, which team's jersey will he wear?

• The Marlins and Rays have 27 wins each. Anyone up for an all-Florida World Series?

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