Jon Rosen reports on Buckner, Cota, and Christensen

Luis Cota on Tuesday had his best effort in the Cal League, limiting the defending champion San Jose Giants to just four hits in six innings while striking out seven. He allowed one run through the first five innings before laboring in the sixth and eventually allowing an RBI single to two-time batting champion and Cal League Playoff MVP Brian Horwitz with two outs. For the first time this season, Cota was missing bats. He was constantly ahead of batters with a four-seam fastball that seemed to bore in on lefthanders and a slider that he was using as his out pitch.

Luis Cota had his first quality outing for the Mavs on Tuesday.

Cota even recorded a K with his changeup, which according to Baseball America was a pitch he needed to refine before heading to the hitters paradise here in High Desert. He did not earn the win (the Mavs won their second consecutive home game on a walk-off, this time a solo shot in the bottom of the tenth by left fielder Geraldo Valentin), but did his share by putting the Mavs in a solid position to win the game.

Billy Buckner had a mediocre outing Monday afternoon at Inland Empire. Don't pay any attention to the line score (5.1 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 3 K), as there were several contributing factors to an awkward line. First, there were some awful hometown scoring decisions by the 66ers, as there were two plays in left field that were deemed hits instead of errors that led to two runs in the sixth inning, both of which should have been unearned.

Billy Buckner's line wasn't great in his last start, but he got no favors from the replacement umpires.

Also, this was without a doubt the wackiest Cal League game I've ever seen, and that's about the friendliest way of saying it. We had local high school umpires filling in for the umps on strike, and their strike zone was, to say the least, inconsistent. Both teams had to constantly tell the umps where to stand on the infield in situations with runners on base, and there were two times in the game where neither the field umpire nor the home plate umpire made immediate fair/foul decisions on balls hit sharply down the line. The coaches and players aren't allowed to comment on the scab umps, but according to one source on the team who has been around this game for, well, quite some time, it was the most poorly officiated game he had ever seen. So toss that Buckner start out the window -- he should be back in form Saturday evening at home against Lancaster.

Danny Christensen has looked superb so far this season, and he gets the ball for us tonight at home against San Jose. He went seven gutsy innings last week at home against Inland Empire, even though he left the sixth inning having thrown 86 pitches. Manager Jeff Carter left him in the game in the seventh and he responded with a 1-2-3 inning against the middle of a potent 66er order. His two-seam fastball doesn't have the same movement that J.P. Howell's had, though it has still missed a lot of bats and induced many awkward swings. His 12-to-6 hook, however, might be the best out pitch in the league if not for Buckner's hellacious curve.

Daniel Christensen has thrown well this year for the Mavs, but has yet to pick up his first win.

Like Howell, Christensen also has the drive and fire to be a top competitor, as being sidelined throughout 2004 after Tommy John surgery should appear to be a bump in the road instead of a major hindrance. Righties are batting only .161 against the southpaw, with lefties hitting at a .250 clip against the Brooklyn native. He's still relatively young even though he missed a season, so we hope to have him for a good majority of the year as long as he keeps the ball low and changes speeds well, which he has done through his first two starts.

Jon Rosen is the Director of Broadcasting and play-by-play man for the High Desert Mavericks, and he's agreed to provide exclusive reports for RC throughout the season.

This is getting ridiculous...Royals drop ninth straight

Berroa blew it big time today, but at least he struck out swinging on a 3-2 pitch over his head.

Wow, this is getting ugly very quickly. The Royals tonight finally got a surprisingly decent start from Jeremy Affeldt, but their poor defense and anemic offense did them in again for their ninth straight loss. RC is at a loss for words at how poorly the Royals have played for the last week and a half, and it's staggering how incompetent every single aspect of the club looks right now. The starting pitching corps has been atrocious (Scott Elarton excluded), and the bullpen has amazingly been even worse. The entire offense has somehow gone into a slump at the same time, and it seems as though every day brings news of another injury to a key player.

As for tonight's game, Affeldt did pitch well, but he fell victim to a ridiculous error by Angel Berroa on a routine grounder in the fourth inning. Berroa's miscue led to three unearned runs, and that's all Jon Garland and the White Sox needed to bury the Royals yet again. David DeJesus felt another twinge in his hamstring, so he's again day-to-day for the time being. And Andrew Sisco again got banged around for a run in the seventh, pushing his already horrible ERA to a robust 12.71.

The only comfort that RC has right now is that this team cannot possibly be this bad, and that things cannot possibly get any worse. The season is still young, so it's not yet time to pull the panic lever, but that time is rapidly approaching and the Royals need to start winning ballgames right now.

On a positive note (yes, this is RC), Shane Costa has looked really good at the plate through the first two weeks of the season, and Mark Teahen is starting to string together some hits, including his first home run today. No Royal player has yet been suspended by the league for steroids (although steroids at this point might not be a bad idea), and RC's official cable company has decided that it would rather show playoff hockey than baseball games on the Extra Innings Package that RC paid $149 for. This of course is good news, since it means that RC cannot record the games and dwell on them more than once.

Costa: Our mental "savior"

Maybe the best news is that Nats' GM Jim Bowden was arrested in Florida on DUI charges yesterday. It is RC's greatest fear that if our Official Hero is sacked this season (we still hope not), the Royals might replace him with our least favorite GM in baseball. Yesterday's embarrassment helped to calm those fears, at least temporarily.

It's not much to go on, but when the world is crumbling around you, it's important to do what you can to find some positives to think about, wherever they may be.

  • One final note tonight. Those of you who subscribe to RC's Daily Prospect Update have already heard about this week's Draft Update, but we wanted to add a note to today's post to remind folks who haven't yet taken advantage of our free update that the newest edition of our Top 10 collegiate prospects list has been released. Check it out, and let us know what you think.
  • Monday

    RC Breaking News: Zack Greinke returns to Arizona!

    According to a high-ranking Royals official who spoke this evening with RC, Royals pitcher Zack Greinke reported to Arizona tonight to begin working his way back onto the Major League club. Greinke, who had been sent home to Florida by the Royals to work out what were eventually identified as "emotional issues," had been away from the team since February 25, and only recently felt ready to return.

    RC is overjoyed to be the first to welcome Greinke back into the fold, and we wish him well as he begins his journey towards Kansas City!


    Wranglers 4, Cardinals 2

    Shortly before the Devil Rays handed the Royals their seventh consecutive loss, I hopped in my car and made the half-mile trek to Hammons Field, where the Wichita Wranglers were set to take on the Springfield Cardinals in the first of a five-game series, all of which I'll definitely be attending. Sunday's game, which Wichita won 4-2, served as a bit of a morale boost for me and the several other Royals fans in attendance.

  • The Royals' decision to place 22-year-old shortstop Angel Sanchez on the 40-man roster this winter caused many fans to scratch their heads, because the more obvious move would've been to protect outfielder Mitch Maier, who was seemingly closer to the Major Leagues and therefore more vulnerable to being selected in the Rule 5 draft. After seeing Sanchez perform on Sunday, I'm downright convinced that the Royals did the right thing.

    On a field that was littered with future big leaguers like Cody Haerther, Nick Stavinoha, Chris Lubanski, and Billy Butler, Sanchez was the player who stood out in the crowd, going 4-for-4 with a walk and three RBI. Aside from one caught stealing and a lazy fielding error, he had an outstanding day.

    Shown here in spring training, Angel Sanchez is off to a great start for Wichita

    I was most impressed with Sanchez's approach at the plate, which I found to be unusually calm and collected for a player so young. He drew his walk leading off the game, and did a fantastic job of running deep counts and hitting the ball with authority the rest of the way. For the season, Sanchez is hitting .389 with an on-base percentage well north of .450, which is a slight indicator that Mark Teahen isn't the only left-side Royals infielder who should be watching his back.

  • Speaking of Teahen, the perception that Alex Gordon could be very close to taking his job is indeed reality. Gordon only got one hit -- a first-inning double -- in five plate appearances, but showed off his defensive skills more than once. He made a couple of diving stops, showed the ability to cleanly barehand a slow roller, and displayed a very strong and accurate arm. However, the most impressive play of his day was probably a key twin killing he started in the ninth inning.

    With nobody out and Springfield's Jarrett Hoffpauir representing the tying run, Wichita reliever Derrick Depriest induced Hoffpauir to hit a bouncing groundball right to Gordon. Gordon fielded the ball cleanly, and not only fired a strike to second baseman Walter Sevilla, but put the throw on the first base side of second, allowing Sevilla to get his momentum going towards first. On a very close play, a hustling Hauffpauir was ruled out, and the game was essentially over.

    Alex Gordon is a nightly Web Gem personality waiting to happen

    Gordon is probably not only Teahen's superior offensively, but, judging from various reports I've read and what I personally witnessed today, I'm starting to believe that he may be as good or better defensively as well. The kid is far more than a masher; he could be the most complete player the Royals have developed since Carlos Beltran.

  • Billy Butler picked up a couple of singles in five at-bats, with this third inning hit driving home Sanchez and sending Lubanski to second base. That hit was the only ball he got in the air all day, as in his other four plate appearances, he hit scalding groundballs to the left side of the infield. You know, like the guy he's constantly been compared to, Mike Sweeney.

    Still, Butler's off to a very slow start, and hasn't even drawn a walk in 47 at-bats. In all likelihood, he probably just needs to make a few adjustments to his approach, and he'll be fine. It's so easy to forget that he won't turn 20 until Tuesday.

  • Springfield lefty starting pitcher Rich Rundles had Lubanski tied up in knots all day long, as the Wranglers centerfielder was lunging and feeling for the ball. Lubanski's hitting just .083 so far, but he started very slowly last year before hitting the snot out of the ball from July on.

    Stay tuned to RC this week for further updates on the Wichita/Springfield series!