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Mudville: April 13, 2024 6:22 pm PDT

Notebook Time

BY KEVIN KERNAN

What manager has the biggest challenge going into the 2024 season?

That is the question I will lead off with in my first notes column of the season. Let me know what you think.

The Angels’ Ron Washington has the biggest challenge because one of his two key players can’t stay on the field – and doesn’t really appear to like baseball that much – and that player who doesn’t play a lot is Anthony Rendon, who sure gets paid a lot.

Rendon has the unique ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. There is a certain genius to that when you step back and think about it. He kept up the tradition in his first interview of spring training on Monday in Tempe, Arizona, when he told reporters about his “love’’ for baseball.

“This is a job. I do this to make a living,’’ Rendon said, making it clear, in his own words, that baseball has “never been a top priority for me.’’

Rendon, 33, has made an incredible living for not much production. In fact, over the last three seasons, because of injuries, Rendon has averaged only 49 games, four home runs, 27 RBIs and has produced a .235 batting average.

To make matters worse, superstar Mike Trout isn’t out on the field that much either. Over his last three seasons Trout has averaged only 79 games, 22 home runs, 47 RBIs with a .283 average. The fact the Angels are dysfunctional to begin with and don’t have Shohei Ohtani anymore – as he is just up the freeway in LA with the Dodgers – makes all this even worse.

Rendon signed a seven-year, $245 million contract with the Angels before the 2020 season. Ouch!

On Tuesday I checked in with someone who knows Ron Washington quite well and asked that person what does he think will be Washington’s approach to try to bring out the best in Rendon – and if that is even possible at this stage of his career.

“Wash will be very straight with him,’’ our knowledgeable baseball man began. “Wash will try to get him to reach inside a little bit. Wash will sit Rendon down, explain how important he is to the team, tell him, ‘We’re trying to change the culture here, and realize Anthony, whether you like or don’t like what we do, we’re paying you a lot of money to perform at a certain level and we hope you will respect yourself and respect your teammates enough to do that.’ ’’

Sounds like something that should have been told with authority to Anthony Rendon a long time ago. For his part, Trout is pushing owner Arte Moreno to dive back into the free agent market with big names still available, but after the Rendon disaster, Moreno is hesitant.

Good luck, Wash!

Second place goes to Red Sox manager Alex Cora. As Rafael Devers said Tuesday in Fort Myers: “Everybody knows what we need. You know what we need. They know what we need. There [are] some things I can’t say out loud, but everybody in this organization knows what we need.’’

*****

The Orioles are already dealing with some issues, including RHP Kyle Bradish having a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm, something that usually does not end well. He was the Orioles playoff starter last year and made a huge jump in innings to 173.1. One of the major problems in the game is that young pitchers don’t throw enough innings in the minors to not only learn how to pitch, but also how to deal with an innings increase and then when they get to the majors and go full bore, – max effort on every pitch – they soon have arm woes. In his last full season in the minors, Bradish threw 100 innings in 2021. All this is worse when you consider Bradish did not throw a single pitch in organized baseball in 2020 because of the Covid Shutdown.

To be clear, this is not an Orioles problem, it’s an industry problem. In an effort to prevent injuries, the powers that be are preventing starting pitchers to pitch deep enough in games in the minors to begin to master their craft. The owners just blindly go along with it and continue to write checks for players who wind up on the Injured List, no questions asked. Once Tommy John surgery happens, it is not a given that these pitchers will excel again. Amazingly though, they have tried to normalize TJ surgery as being the price of pitching. I even heard someone say that on MLB Network Radio the other day. Ridiculous.

As one top talent evaluator told Baseball or Bust: “Everybody thinks that everybody comes back throwing harder after TJ and they are better pitchers than they ever were, more cases than not, they don’t come back throwing harder and they are never better or as good as they were prior to the surgery.’’

The Dodgers’ Walker Buehler is going through a longer than anticipated comeback from TJ surgery and Dave Roberts said Buehler will not pitch in Cactus League games this spring.

Once Tommy John surgery happens, it is not a given that these pitchers will excel again. Amazingly though, they have tried to normalize TJ surgery as being the price of pitching.

Young pitchers continue to run into major arm issues “because they never build their arms up,’’ the evaluator said. Too much, too fast, too strong. “Exactly,’’ he said, “and every pitch is max effort. Just like every swing is swing out of your ass.  But running, we only run hard when we sniff a hit. Everything that we do, leads to bleeping injuries in the end. The pitchers that are good enough and they creep their way through the broken system to the top and figure some stuff out, the next thing you know is they are not prepared to go deep into games, they are not prepared to pitch regularly. As smart as (front offices) are they can’t add and subtract numbers. We need nine innings, if we have our No. 1 starter getting into the seventh, our No. 2 starter is getting into the seventh, our No. 3 starter is getting into the sixth. Our No. 4 and No. 5 are giving us five and six innings, that’s a lot less innings for our bullpen every week and we don’t have to blow out our bullpen by June every year.’’

That used to be common sense baseball but that was when baseball people ran the show.

“Somehow they now think that if you have a bunch of guys in AAA who throw hard, that you can just shuttle them back and forth and that model is horrible,’’ the evaluator said.

This is what you get when most of the people in charge of the sport have never played the sport or don’t take in the valuable information from those who did play.

“They never played so they don’t know what it’s like to keep getting shuttled from AAA to the majors and if that player has a family, my gosh, it’s insanity,’’ the evaluator said. “And it also hurts your confidence because you always get sent down. ‘I just threw five shutout innings last week and I get sent down. Why?’

“ ‘Oh we needed a fresh arm.’ ’’

Won’t be fresh for long the way baseball is being run.

*****

Chicago Cubs left-hander Shota Imanaga works on pickoff throws during spring training in Mesa, Arizona on Feb. 18, 2024. (Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images)

Along those arm injury lines, I had a fascinating conversation with Jason Colleran, an expert in anatomical function, which led him to develop the Kinetic Arm, the first and only dynamic arm stabilizer designed for throwing a baseball or football and swinging a bat that has proven to offload dynamic arm stress. Softball and tennis players can use it as well.

His product is taking off and can be used by children and adults.

“I realized that unless we offload stress externally, there is no chance at making a dent in this arm injury epidemic,’’ said Colleran, who is based in Atlanta. “It’s velocity at all costs and everybody wants lightning in a bottle, you can gain and sustain velocity but the major objective of the Kinetic Arm is to protect these arms and keep kids on the field so they can learn those valuable life’s lessons and enjoy the game of baseball or other sports. For the professional guys, we are having more teams reach out and order … I think it’s going to be the biggest thing to hit baseball because we can prevent these injuries.’’

Colleran compares his product, which has five patents, to the improvement of the baseball glove through the decades that prevented hand injuries.

Major league players are using The Kinetic Arm but they have to wear a sleeve of the brand that sponsors the team over the Kinetic Arm for licensing reasons, Colleran said. “We have had some of the biggest name athletes. They or their PTs reach out as they are coming through Atlanta so we know who is using it and how well it is working for them.’’

Players are also using it in college and in Little League, “and over in Japan, we’ve had some of the top pitchers in the NPB use it like Shota Imanaga. He was coming back from a forearm flexor strain and ended up throwing a no-hitter and having a great season,’’ Colleran said. “We are not taking credit for the no-hitter but him just getting back to throw pain free was great.’’

Imanaga will pitch for the Cubs this season.

For more information on the Kinetic Arm, you can check out their website here.

*****

LaTroy Hawkins of the Colorado Rockies poses for a portrait during Colorado Rockies Photo Day at Hi Corbett Field on February 26, 2007 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Yo, put the phones down. It was clear to me last year the Cardinals had clubhouse issues, the young players did not mesh well with the veterans and Nolan Arenado promises this spring he will take more of a leadership role in getting the younger players in the right frame of mind. He needs to do just that. It was also interesting that on Foul Territory veteran Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas echoed those comments. He admitted that it was difficult to get some of the young players involved in all aspects of being good teammates, included in that is the old clubhouse ping pong game, something that is a staple with a lot of teams. Mikolas said young players have a tendency to “sit around on their phones a lot.’’

He’s not wrong. It is incumbent for teams in their player development programs to also develop the young players and show them what it means to be a good teammate. I would love to see more teams have a rule where you put the phone away in the clubhouse, other than checking messages. A designated phone time before and after games might go a long way to promoting clubhouse chemistry and teamwork.

It’s not a coffee shop, fellas, it’s a clubhouse and you need to interact with your teammates. Listen to the vets. I remember in 2008 when Yankees veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins – who was all about team chemistry and trying to teach young players the right way and to respect veteran players – got into a high stakes prank game with a top draft pick pitcher in Tampa during spring training. The young pitcher, though, took it too far one day pranking Hawkins and the next morning, Hawkins got his revenge.

It was a cold move by Hawkins, who pitched 21 years in the majors.

The young pitcher, who had spent some serious cash on a vintage muscle car, found a huge block of ice on his stool in front of his locker after working out.

Hawkins had left his calling card.

The young pitcher thought it was a simple ice block prank, you know, melting ice onto his belongings, and started wiping away the water and complaining.

It was much more than that.

I had to eventually inform the confused young man that this wasn’t just a block of ice but that the keys to his beloved vintage muscle car were frozen into the center of the ice block, much like in the classic 1951 horror film “The Thing From Another World,’’ where a UFO crashed near a North Pole research base with a humanoid creature frozen in the ice.

It took a while before the young pitcher was able to retrieve his car keys and that day he learned to make a U-Turn instead of getting into it with a veteran like Hawkins, a most valuable clubhouse chemistry lesson.

*****

Congratulations to Rob Manfred announcing his retirement as MLB commissioner in January of 2029. It must be nice to know that you can’t be fired over that span. Why January 2029, my guess is that this is all about the owners getting more free money with monstrous expansion fees for teams being able to join their party and playing in 2028, in the end, a nice parting gift for The Commish.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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