One of the more educational aspects of following the Local 9 around the country is exposure to the variety of alcohol laws that have been adopted by each state. The rigidity of such laws tends to coincide with the rigidity of religion in the geographic area, even though Jesus chose to turn water into wine and not wine into water. In Utah, for example, you must submit a DNA sample, fill out a 100-page questionnaire, and then chop off a finger before you are able to order a drink in a bar. Well, not quite (it could get tough to hold your glass after a few trips), but the rules are still pretty archaic. When I lived in South Carolina in 2004-05, bartenders were required to pour liquor from the type of "mini-bottles" that airlines and hotels stock. I'll never forget the first time I walked into a bar in South Carolina and saw a bartender popping open a 1.5 ounce plastic bottle of Jameson and depositing its contents into a rocks glass. It was the most ridiculous thing I'd seen since Failure to Launch. There are many things in life that are difficult to do while retaining some degree of coolness -- Riding a Vespa, Eating a Popsicle, Singing out loud to Howie Day -- and pouring a drink from a mini-bottle is one of them. Do you think Tom Cruise ever would have landed Elisabeth Shue in Cocktail if he had been slinging a bottle that could fit in the palm of even his hand? Around the time I moved away, they were introducing legislation that would allow bars to stock regular-sized bottles of booze. This was front-page news (the governor had not yet discovered a passion for hiking). They called it "Free-pour," as if it was the most revolutionary idea since capitalism. Of course, the great thing about America is that there are also places like Arizona, where you can buy a Lean Cuisine and a fifth of Old Grandad under the same roof.
Anyway, I say all of this because I am in Georgia, where last night I was informed by the kind lady behind the hotel desk that she could not sell me a bottle of Miller Lite because the time was later than 11 p.m. I'm not certain that she was abiding by a state or local law. I did a quick Google search and could not find any specific laws, but I have never stayed at a hotel where purchasing a bottle of beer had any sort of time limit on it. If any Georgia residents care to shed some light, please feel free.
Believe it or not, I do have a point in telling you all of this. My plan last night was to return home from the ballpark and retire to my room, where I would sit at the desk and have a drink and blog about the Phillies' 11-1 loss to the Braves last night. Instead, I watched an episode of Lost! (Finished Season 3 in just under a week while on the San Diego/L.A. road trip, blew through Season 4, and am now progressing steadily through Season 5), and went to bed.
Alas, I digress. On to the blogging:
1) I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who are anxious to see Rodrigo Lopez pitch on Friday night. I'm also sure that there are a lot of people inside the Phillies organization who feel the same way. Outside the front office and scouting department, nobody knows much about him. I talked to the two guys who are most familiar with him, former Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo and grizzled veteran Matt Stairs, and both gave me some idea about what type of pitcher he was before his elbow surgery (good competitor, average arm, 88-91 on his fastball, tight slider, decent change-up, a locator), but both were relying on experiences that are more than three years old now.
2) Whenever Cole Hamels struggles, you can almost hear the air raid sirens going off back in Philadelphia. Sometimes the concern about his health is justified. Sometimes it is paranoia. Last night, I think there was reasonable cause ask him about his arm. Although both Hamels and manager Charlie Manuel said his velocity looked normal -- and Braves hitters who talked to MLB.com said the same -- the data that MLB.com tracks with its Gameday application suggests it dropped later in his outing:
Hamels' velocity on 12 fastballs in 2nd inning: 88, 90, 88, 91, 90, 92, 92, 93, 91, 91, 91, 89.
Hamels' velocity on 16 fastballs in 3rd/4th innings: 89, 87, 88, 88, 87, 89, 87, 87, 89, 88, 88, 87, 88, 89, 86, 89
But Manuel said Hamels has not mentioned anything being physically wrong, and Hamels was adamant that he felt completely healthy. No stiffness in his arm, no tightness.
So what's wrong?
Hamels doesn't really know. Location is obviously the symptom. But what is causing his abnormal struggles is unclear. Opponents are hitting about 50 points higher this season than they did last year. He hasn't been consistently bad, despite his 4.98 ERA. Remember that complete game shutout against the Dodgers early last month? Hamels said last night the key in that game was throwing strikes and keeping the ball down, something he did not do in allowing seven runs in four-plus innings yesterday. Opponents aren't swinging and missing nearly as much as they usually do, as evidenced by the one strikeout he posted yesterday, just the third time in his career he has struck out fewer than two in a start in which he has pitched at least four innings.
3) I sent out a message via Twitter yesterday passing along a press release I received from Red Bull. Apparently Jimmy Rollins has signed on as an endorser. He will arrive at the Ballpark Saturday in a customized Red Bull truck. I'm sure Red Bull would rather Rollins not be in the middle of an 0-for-27 slump, but I'm sure Rollins would rather Red Bull not be the focus of an article in USA Today in which experts express concern about the overuse of the energy drink by young athletes. So I guess all is fair in love and marketing.
4) Someone emailed me a month ago with a great idea for the Home Run Derby: Instead of packing the field with stars from the All-Star Rosters, why not invite the players most likely to put on a show in batting practice? Who wouldn't like to see Matt Stairs in the Home Run Derby? Honestly, he'd be my favorite to win. It isn't likely to happen any time soon, but Ryan Howard could be there again this year. The slugger might not make the All-Star team, but that didn't prevent him from competing in 2007. Howard, for whatever reason, doesn't like talking about the Home Run Derby. So he played it coy yesterday when I asked him if he would compete this year. "We'll see what happens," he said with a smile. The derby is in his hometown of St. Louis. Howard said he hasn't heard from the league office about the competition.
5) Looks like J.A. Happ is in a position to play stopper for the second straight start.
6) Raul Ibanez is scheduled to start tonight for Double-A Reading. We'll keep you posted on any developments.