BASEBALL TONIGHT EXTRA
By Mark Simon, ESPN Research
The Tigers' pitching has been so good thus far that it has allowed them to win games like they did on Wednesday, beating a dominant Johan Santana and the Twins 2-0.
Detroit is making people appreciate how big of a difference Jim Leyland can make on a young, talented pitching staff. In 1992, Leyland's Pirates threw 20 shutouts. This year's team is amazingly on pace to better that and surprise the baseball world by contending for the AL Central title.
WOOD AGAIN STARTING OVER
By Rick Sutcliffe, ESPN
What do I expect to see from Kerry Wood's first start of the season on Thursday? I think we'll see a pitcher, knowing that when the day is over, there is going to be an inventory check. He's going to be sore after his start, and the Cubs truly won't know how well his arm will respond until a couple of days later. It takes more effort to pitch at the major league level than it does the minors. His rehabilitation starts went well, but it takes more energy and you don't have easy outs in the major leagues. So there will be more pressure and strain on the problem area, his right shoulder.
I would compare Wood's mechanics (throwing across his body and not having much of a follow through) to a drag racer driving without a parachute. When a drag-racing car hits the finish line, the parachute comes out to slow the car down. In this case, the parachute is a pitcher's follow through. A pitcher who doesn't throw across his body has some time and space before his arm hits his chest. But with Wood throwing across his body, as soon as he releases the ball, his arm almost immediately hits his chest. His right arm has a collision after every pitch he throws.
I know for a fact the Cubs have tried to change his delivery. It's kind of similar to when I pitched and would wrap the fastball behind my back in my wrist. Everybody throughout the minor leagues told me, "You can't do that or you're going to hurt your shoulder." I would work on the side every day in the minors to try and change, but as soon as the game started or the situation got tough, I went right back to it. It was the way I threw my whole life. Kerry's always been a pitcher who threw across his body and never had much of a follow through.
As a fan, you hope Wood can come back. He was one of those pitchers when you went to the ballpark and he was on the mound you expected exciting things to happen. It's fun to watch someone throw a 98 mph fastball and have a curveball that looks like it starts in the second deck and ends up in the strike zone. We just haven't seen a lot of him lately.
ASSESSING HAMELS' STRENGTHS
By John Kruk, ESPN
Last week, the Phillies brought up left-hander Cole Hamels to make his first start on the road against the Cincinnati Reds. He responded by striking out seven and walking five over five scoreless innings. Hamels will be making his second start Thursday on the road again against the Milwaukee Brewers amid a great deal of excitement from Phillies fans about his future. Those fans have every reason to be excited about this kid's future for two reasons.
One, he has exceptional poise for a 22-year-old kid pitching for a team in playoff contention. I spoke with Hamels in the eighth inning of his debut and he sounded great. He explained that part of the reason why he was a little wild was because it was a cold and rainy day and he wasn't used to pitching in those conditions on a regular basis being from San Diego. Of course, he also said the main reason why he was wild was because he was nervous. He went on to talk about the fact that while growing up, one of his favorite players was Ken Griffey Jr. and now he was getting to face him. He responded by striking Griffey out twice. That's incredible poise.
Second, he has a great changeup that is extremely difficult for opposing hitters to pick up. I spoke with Griffey and Austin Kearns after they faced Hamels and they both said he should be allowed to grow a little, but that he had great stuff. Kearns said what makes Hamels' changeup special is that it comes out of the same arm angle and speed as his fastball, so a hitter doesn't realize it's a changeup until they've already started swinging, and at that point it's too late.
Most lefties will tip their off-speed stuff by changing their arm angle or arm speed, but the guys with great changeups emulate what they do on their fastball. Not only does Hamels do that, but he also combines that with excellent location. That's why he has the potential to be a very good pitcher in the majors.
• Mark Mulder outdueled Steve Trachsel in the Cardinals' 1-0 win over the Mets. It was the seventh time Trachsel lost by a 1-0 score, and he moved past Tom Glavine and Curt Schilling as the active leader in that category.
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