1. Will Tomo Ohka find new life away from Frank Robinson?
In his time with the Washington Nationals and Montreal Expos, the pitcher felt Robinson never believed in him, trusting him to work out of jams. Robinson said as much after Ohka turned his back and refused to hand him the ball when the manager pulled him from a game against Florida two weeks ago. The incident cost Ohka $1,000 a fine and hastened his departure to Milwaukee a few days later.
So far he has reinvented himself with the Brewers. In his first start with the new team, he threw a shutout against Tampa Bay, his first in 124 major league starts. His last complete game was in 2003.
A key test of his relationship with his new manager Ned Yost came in the eighth inning when Damon Hollins came to the plate with the bases loaded. Rather than go to the bullpen, Yost decided to leave his new pitcher in the game.
"He was still making pitches," Yost told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "I said 'let's give him one more hitter and see if he pitches himself out of it.'"
Ohka did, getting Hollins to ground into a double play that helped keep the shutout alive.
2. Can Buddy Bell continue to turn the Royals around?
Since Tony Pena walked away in frustration last month, the midwest's lost franchise has gone 11-4 with series sweeps over the Yankees and Dodgers. It's not that Bell, with mediocre runs in Detroit and Colorado, is known as that great a manager. But in three weeks on the job he has shown that Kansas City was not as devoid of talent as Pena made it seem.
The biggest thing Bell has done is give responsibility to the team's most experienced players. A recent Kansas City Star story told how Lima walked up to 22-year-old pitcher J.P. Howell right after Howell's first major league victory to tell him a group of reporters were waiting to talk to him. Howell, having toiled in the obscurity of the minors, never realized there would be people waiting to talk to him.
"Buddy said in our meetings that the veterans are here to police the clubhouse," catcher John Buck told the Star. "He made it apparent that they're the bosses around here. I don't know if that was apparent before but it's definitely apparent now and it's helping the chemistry of the team."
3. Was Eddie Murray the problem in Cleveland?
Murray, the former Orioles star, has never been an effusive personality, which made him such a strange choice as a major league coach. Still, he had a nice run with the Indians at the end of his career and he does have 504 home runs, so the team had to hope something would rub off when it hired him to be its batting coach in 2001.
Only it didn't. Murray's reputation for being reclusive continued and the team's hitters floundered as the organization went through a youth movement. Rarely do clubs, aside from the Yankees, fire coaches in the middle of the season. Something usually has to be wrong.
Apparently with Murray there was. When he was fired on June 4 and replaced by Derek Shelton, the Indians were hitting .243 and averaging 3.9 runs a game. In the eight games since, they are hitting .279 and scoring 6.1 runs a game. Most importantly, they are 7-1 in that time. Did it matter? Apparently so.
4. Are Lou Piniella's days in Tampa Bay numbered?
You would think he has dropped enough hints about the Devil Rays' low-spending ways to get himself fired by now, but it never seems to happen. Last weekend's missive directed at the incoming ownership group headed by Stu Sternberg, earned a two-hour meeting between his agent Alan Nero and the team's General Manager Chuck LaMar, but no firing.
Piniella is furious that promises he believes he got from the current owner Vince Naimoli to improve the payroll to somewhere around $60 million by now have not happened. Instead, the Rays have a meager $29 million payroll and are predictably in last place in the American League East. And since he complains constantly about this it would seem obvious that his dismissal is not far away.
But Tampa Bay's owners don't want to give him the $7 million that is left on his four-year, $13 million contract. And Piniella won't quit because he doesn't want people in his hometown of Tampa to think he is a quitter. There is no way he can stay through the length of his contract. Instead he will probably negotiate a settlement at the end of the season to leave. Until then, expect him to simmer more.
5. Can a team actually finish the year with fewer than 10 road wins?
It would seem unprecedented but there have been some dreadful road records this season. Here it is June and four teams still don't have 10 road victories and two -- Colorado (4-26) andTampa Bay (5-28) are not even close. To win only 10 road games, a team would have to play .123 baseball away from home. The Devil Rays (.152) and Rockies (.153) are above that figure but too close for comfort.
Cincinnati has won six road games while Houston has won seven.
It is strange to have so many teams with such bad road records. You can't just say they are bad teams because all four have winning records at home. "We're a different ballclub at home, a totally different ballclub," Astros Manager Phil Garner said. "We've been so far out of whack. It's unbelievable and I don't understand it."
Chances are even the Rockies and Devil Rays will find a way to pull together enough road wins to at least get into the teens.
Comments or questions? E-mail Les.