Mark Whicker

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Whicker: PGA champion Brooks Koepka takes all-business road to the top

Even his injuries are overlooked.

Brooks Koepka watched the Masters from his couch. “Getting fat, gaining 10 or 15 pounds,” he said.

The outside tendon on his left wrist was torn. It happened at Kapalua in the season opener and wasn’t getting any better. Golf balls throughout the PGA Tour were allowed to exhale as he rested. But Koepka was uneasy. Neither he nor Claude Harmon III, his coach, knew when he would play again. Or if.

Now we all know. Koepka won the U.S. Open in June for the second consecutive year. He walked through the valley of the shadow of Tiger Woods’ best post-operative golf in St. Louis Sunday and won that PGA Championship.


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Scott’s reminder, Tiger’s chance of Ryding, a Texas stranger, other PGA notes


That’s three majors in 14 months, and Koepka is now the second-ranked player in the world.

He got polite applause, not worshipful frenzy, when he finished Sunday. Typically, he went ahead and tapped in because he didn’t want to disturb the line of playing partner Adam Scott, thus denying himself a proper ovation.

He didn’t need that, and he doesn’t particularly care if you like what he is doing. But he would like to know that you notice.

No, Koepka didn’t have spinal fusion. But his pain was at a scary, delicate intersection of nerves and tissue for a golfer, especially one that sends golf balls howling into the sky.

“We got to the Players (in May) and he could only hit lob wedges off a tee that week,” said Harmon. “Then he shot a 63 on that Sunday.”

Koepka shot 63 twice at the Colonial, a runnerup to Justin Rose. He has seven top-10 finishes in 20 majors, and 30 sub-par rounds in his past 72 major rounds. He is 28.

Koepka never was anointed. He was the best junior player in Florida and a two-time ACC Player of the Year at Florida State, but his apprenticeship was on the European Challenge Tour, their equivalent of Triple-A.

He played in Kenya and Kazakhstan, rode through frantic India streets in a downsized cab called a tuk-tuk, learned to play golf without the amenities or even the necessities. He also won four tournaments there, one by 12 strokes.

He won a PGA Tour event in 2015, but it was in Phoenix, on the same day and in the same town where Malcolm Butler would save a Super Bowl for New England.

“When I first saw him I couldn’t believe the clubhead speed,” Harmon said. “You can’t teach that in the modern game. You’re either long or you’re not.”

He has one TV commercial, a Michelob Ultra ad in which he sings half a line from “I Like Beer.” He is rarely in the golf equipment ads.

“On Thursday here, he shot one-under-par,” Hamon said bitingly. “This is after he won two consecutive Opens. He didn’t get one media request. You think that goes unnoticed. It doesn’t.”

A MAN FOR ALL COURSES

Koepka is so physically sculpted, and walks golf courses so authoritatively, that you’re forgiven for thinking he’s linebacker-sized. He’s actually six feet even, 184. He has won his majors the way Woods won his, by playing connect-the-dots golf and letting everyone else lose.

He also has shot 16-under at Erin Hills, an oversized U.S. Open pasture, and shot 1-over at Shinnecock Hills, which the USGA turned into Mission Impossible. Then he shot 16-under at Bellerive, a course that the PGA allowed to stay soft, so it would punish bad shots but embrace good ones.

“I want him to swing the driver hard,” Harmon said. “He only gets in trouble when he hits it easy. That was a hell of a leader board he beat today. That’s Tiger Woods 2.0, or whatever he is.

“Some people don’t think he’s engaging, but he just doesn’t let things bother him. He cracked his driver coming to St. Louis and we spent Monday and Tuesday trying out drivers, couldn’t find one until Wednesday. Some guys would have been upset. His attitude is, ‘Just fix the problem.’”

Koepka said his main goal is to stay healthy, and some wonder if his weight room work is hindering that. But at Florida State he did the same thing.

“We all did that,” said Wes Graham, a Seminoles teammate. “We’d get up at 6:30 and go to the weight room, did it heavy. We had the same strength coach the basketball team had.

“Not a lot of golfers were doing that. But we could all hit it 300 or so. Now it’s the putting that has put him over the top.”

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Teammate Daniel Berger, who refused comment on this story, also made it to the PGA Tour. Graham was the best-known amateur of the group. He now works for an insurance company in Clearwater, Fla.

“It was a pretty unusual group for a college golf team,” Graham said. “We were always doing something together, whether it was video games or basketball or paintball or throwing the football around. We were a bunch of college kids having fun.

“But we all knew how good Brooks was. He still doesn’t get much credit. You’re watching the tournament and here’s a 3-time major champion, and somehow they don’t get around to showing all his shots.”

BRINGING IT HOME

Denise Jakows, Koepka’s mother, had never seen him win a pro event before Sunday. When Koepka was at Florida State, Denise came down with an aggressive strain of breast cancer. She took double the chemotherapy of other patients. Brother Chase, now on the European Tour, was in high school, but Brooks came home as often as possible. He also left the collegiate party life and drained the anger out of his game.

His parents divorced when he was quite young. Dad Bob is the nephew of Dick Groat, the former National League MVP shortstop. Brooks’ girlfriend Jena Sims is an actress who runs a nonprofit for kids in need. She also has a sense of humor, which came in handy at the 2017 U.S. Open.

As Koepka was riding to the scorer’s tent, Fox’s Joe Buck announced that girlfriend Becky Edwards was also on the cart. By the time Koepka arrived, Fox had realized it missed by the length of one girlfriend, that Sims was the passenger.

That didn’t bother Koepka either.

“He and Dustin Johnson are what the sports psychologists want everybody to be like,” Harmon said.

Eventually the world will learn how to deal with expressionless brilliance. Until then, Koepka is golf’s problem.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/08/13/whicker-pga-champion-brooks-koepka-takes-all-business-road-to-the-top-2/

This Brooks doesn’t babble: Koepka’s all-business road to the top

Even his injuries are overlooked.

Brooks Koepka watched the Masters from his couch. “Getting fat, gaining 10 or 15 pounds,” he said.

The outside tendon on his left wrist was torn. It happened at Kapalua in the season opener and wasn’t getting any better. Golf balls throughout the PGA Tour were allowed to exhale as he rested. But Koepka was uneasy. Neither he nor Claude Harmon III, his coach, knew when he would play again. Or if.

Now we all know. Koepka won the U.S. Open in June for the second consecutive year. He walked through the valley of the shadow of Tiger Woods’ best post-operative golf in St. Louis Sunday and won that PGA Championship.

That’s three majors in 14 months, and Koepka is now the second-ranked player in the world.

He got polite applause, not worshipful frenzy, when he finished Sunday. Typically, he went ahead and tapped in because he didn’t want to disturb the line of playing partner Adam Scott, thus denying himself a proper ovation.

He didn’t need that, and he doesn’t particularly care if you like what he is doing. But he would like to know that you notice.

No, Koepka didn’t have spinal fusion. But his pain was at a scary, delicate intersection of nerves and tissue for a golfer, especially one that sends golf balls howling into the sky.

“We got to the Players (in May) and he could only hit lob wedges off a tee that week,” said Harmon. “Then he shot a 63 on that Sunday.”

Koepka shot 63 twice at the Colonial, a runnerup to Justin Rose. He has seven top 10 finishes in 20 majors, and 30 sub-par rounds in his past 72 major rounds. He is 28.

Koepka never was anointed. He was the best junior player in Florida and a 2-time ACC Player of the Year at Florida State, but his apprenticeship was on the European Challenge Tour, their equivalent of Triple-A.

He played in Kenya and Kazakhstan, rode through frantic India streets in a downsized cab called a tuk-tuk, learned to play golf without the amenities or even the necessities. He also won four tournaments there, one by 12 strokes.

He won a PGA Tour event in 2015, but it was in Phoenix, on the same day and in the same town where Malcolm Butler would save a Super Bowl for New England.

“When I first saw him I couldn’t believe the clubhead speed,” Harmon said. “You can’t teach that in the modern game. You’re either long or you’re not.”

He has one TV commercial, a Michelob Ultra ad in which he sings half a line from “I Like Beer.” He is rarely in the golf equipment ads.

“On Thursday here, he shot one-under-par,” Hamon said bitingly. “This is after he won two consecutive Opens. He didn’t get one media request. You think that goes unnoticed. It doesn’t.”

A MAN FOR ALL COURSES

Koepka is so physically sculpted, and walks golf courses so authoritatively, that you’re forgiven for thinking he’s linebacker-sized. He’s actually six feet even, 184. He has won his majors the way Woods won his, by playing connect-the-dots golf and letting everyone else lose.

He also has shot 16-under at Erin Hills, an oversized U.S. Open pasture, and shot 1-over at Shinnecock Hills, which the USGA turned into Mission Impossible. Then he shot 16-under at Bellerive, a course that the PGA allowed to stay soft, so it would punish bad shots but embrace good ones.

“I want him to swing the driver hard,” Harmon said. “He only gets in trouble when he hits it easy. That was a hell of a leader board he beat today. That’s Tiger Woods 2.0 or whatever he is.

“Some people don’t think he’s engaging, but he just doesn’t let things bother him. He cracked his driver coming to St. Louis and we spent Monday and Tuesday trying out drivers, couldn’t find one until Wednesday. Some guys would have been upset. His attitude is, ‘Just fix the problem.’”

Koepka said his main goal is to stay healthy, and some wonder if his weight room work is hindering that. But at Florida State he did the same thing.

“We all did that,” said Wes Graham, a Seminoles teammate. “We’d get up at 6:30 and go to the weight room, did it heavy. We had the same strength coach the basketball team had.

“Not a lot of golfers were doing that. But we could all hit it 300 or so. Now it’s the putting that has put him over the top.”:

Teammate Daniel Berger, who refused comment on this story, also made it to the PGA Tour. Graham was the best-known amateur of the group. He now works for an insurance company in Clearwater, Fla.

“It was a pretty unusual group for a college golf team,” Graham said. “We were always doing something together, whether it was video games or basketball or paintball or throwing the football around. We were a bunch of college kids having fun.

“But we all knew how good Brooks was. He still doesn’t get much credit. You’re watching the tournament and here’s a 3-time major champion, and somehow they don’t get around to showing all his shots.”

BRINGING IT HOME

Denise Jakows, Koepka’s mother, had never seen him win a pro event before Sunday. When Koepka was at Florida State, Denise came down with an aggressive strain of breast cancer. She took double the chemotherapy of other patients. Brother Chase, now on the European Tour, was in high school, but Brooks came home as often as possible. He also left the collegiate party life and drained the anger out of his game.

His parents divorced when he was quite young. Dad Bob is the nephew of Dick Groat, the former National League MVP shortstop. Brooks’ girlfriend Jena Sims is an actress who runs a nonprofit for kids in need. She also has a sense of humor, which came in handy at the 2017 U.S. Open.

As Koepka was riding to the scorer’s tent, Fox’s Joe Buck announced that girlfriend Becky Edwards was also on the chart. By the time Koepka arrived, Fox had realized it missed by the length of one girlfriend, that Sims was the passenger.

That didn’t bother Koepka either.

“He and Dustin Johnson are what the sports psychologists want everybody to be like,” Harmon said.

Eventually the world will learn how to deal with expressionless brilliance. Until then, Koepka is golf’s problem.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/08/13/whicker-pga-champion-brooks-koepka-takes-all-business-road-to-the-top/

Whicker: Tiger Woods was great at PGA, someone else was better

  • Brooks Koepka holds the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Tiger Woods waves to the crowd after sinking a birdie putt on the 15th green during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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  • Brooks Koepka watches his drive from the fourth tee during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Tiger Woods hits to the second green during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Brooks Koepka waves to the crowd after making his birdie putt on the 15th green during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Tiger Woods hits from the rough on the ninth hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Brooks Koepka waves to the fans after making par on the second hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Tiger Woods hits out of a bunker on the first hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the ninth hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Brooks Koepka holds the Wanamaker Trophy after he won the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Tiger Woods acknowledges the applause after a sinking a birdie putt on the second hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Tiger Woods watches his shot from the rough on the ninth hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Tiger Woods waits to putt on eighth green during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Tiger Woods hits out of a bunker on the fifth hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Brooks Koepka reacts to his shot after hitting out of bunker on the 10th green during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Rickie Fowler hits from the first fairway during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  • Justin Thomas hits out of a bunker on the 15th hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Justin Thomas hits over spectators and onto the 11th fairway during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Adam Scott, of Australia, tees off on the third hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Justin Thomas putts on the second green during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Jordan Spieth wipes his face after teeing off on the sixth hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Jordan Spieth tees off on the sixth hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Justin Thomas watches his shot on the first fairway during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

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ST. LOUIS — He reached down past all the reattached vertebrae and the mangled knee tendons. Somewhere in there, he found the 2000s.

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He shot a 6-under-par 64 in the final round of a major championship and basically did it from the hot dog stand. He missed his first seven fairways. He would follow through and then look up in weary disgust and point like Ed Hochuli signalling a first down.

And then he would find that ball and make it dance and settle, and the people exploded, and the echoes built to every other gallery and scoreboard at Bellerive.

“We’d hear it on the green and on the tee and wherever they’d put the number up,” said Ricky Elliott, the caddie for Brooks Koepka, who was the object of Tiger Woods’ attack at the PGA Championship on Sunday.

But Koepka won. Woods was second, shooting 14-under, and 17-under for the last 65 holes of the tournament. It was Koepka’s  third major championship in the past six he has played. He basically Tigered Woods, beat the way the same unblinking way Tiger used to beat everybody else.

Koepka is 28, an age when the quality of mercy can be nonexistent. Just ask anybody who was around Woods in 2003 or so.

“He bombs it 340 (yards) in the air,” Woods said. “You get a guy like that on a course like that who hits it straight and putts like that, he’s going to be hard to beat.”

Woods played a practice round with Koepka on Wednesday. Koepka’s instructor, Claude Harmon III, is the son of Butch Harmon, who was Tiger’s first pro coach and was there in his finest moments. This was the first day of the comeback that felt a lot like those days, in front of a new fan generation that couldn’t get enough.

“I wish I could play in front of them every week,” Woods said. “They might pick a side, but they were never disrespectful. No negative comments. They were sensational.”

Woods gave them sensational golf. On Sunday his first four approach shots landed 7, 4, 2 and 5 feet from the hole. On the eighth he got a birdie out of the bunker, and on the ninth he drove it crookedly, as the fans gathered around the rolling ball as if it were a wayward  panda cub. Woods ironed that shot off bare ground and to within 10 feet, and when he made the putt, the noise shook the beer in the plastic cups.

Koepka heard it. He also rolled in a birdie at No. 8 and kept his lead at two.

“I don’t know what it’s in his head,” Elliott said. “I mean, there’s a lot more going on than you think, but I give him the information and he asks for a club and then he hits it. He keeps it pretty simple.”

Woods kept it going. On the 15th he put his approach shot within a foot. On the 10th his birdie putt hung on the lip like Dwayne Johnson hanging out a skyscraping window. A ball like that took one more delayed roll and fell  at the 2005 Masters. This one stayed where it was. Then Woods lipped out a par putt on the 14th.

But Tiger was only one shot back when he finally found an escape he couldn’t hatch. He drove it deep and right on the par-5 17th and close to a creek. He couldn’t make the birdie he needed.

Meanwhile, Koepka nailed his tee shot on the par-3 16th to within 7 feet and rolled it in for birdie.

“A laser,” Elliott said. “It never left the flag.”

At about that time a man with gloves took the bulbous Wanamaker Trophy out of the clubhouse and began carrying it to the 18th green, its recipient assured.

“I was ticked at the British Open because I had the lead and didn’t finish,” Woods said. “This time I never had the lead. So it’s been a while since I’ve felt this good about coming close. I knew I couldn’t sit still today, that too many guys were playing good. I knew I had to put a good score up. I tried.”

The big picture? Tiger played 14 rounds in the majors, five of them in the 60s, and was 8-under-par.

“I’m in uncharted territory,” Woods said. “No one has ever tried do this with a fused spine before. I’ve had to figure it out on my own. It’s been harder than people think. But I’m pleased with what I’ve done so far.”

Koepka arrived and Woods smiled and the two clasped palms, with a sweaty slap. Golf is loud again.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/08/12/whicker-what-goes-around-comes-around-tiger-was-great-someone-else-was-better/

Scott’s reminder, Tiger’s chance of Ryding, a Texas stranger, other PGA notes

ST. LOUIS — It was time for Adam Scott to remind people, including Adam Scott, that he was once a major champion and the best player in golf.

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In doing so he nearly became a PGA champion as well. He played alongside champion Brooks Koepka and had him tied with four holes to go, but wound up finishing third, three strokes behind.

Still, Scott had only had one Top 10 finish on the PGA Tour, when he finished ninth in Dallas. He was not qualified to even play in the PGA until the tournament gave him an exemption for his world ranking.

“Look, I’m pretty disappointed with the way I played the last three holes,” said Scott, referring to a par-bogey finish.  “I felt like I had the momentum going, but I didn’t hit a good putt on 17, when I needed to be within one, and then I hit a poor drive on 18.

“But it’s not like I’d forgotten how to play in this situation. It’s hard to rationalize it when you’re in position to win with four holes to go, and I’ve been in that situation a lot in my career. But to shoot those scores (70-65-65-67) is something I would have been pleased with if you’d told that at the beginning of the week.”

OUT OF THE SHOP

Ben Kern of Georgetown, Texas was a readily identifiable figure. He is 6-foot-1 and 275, and he wore a bucket hit and long sleeves. He also represented the club pros well in the PGA, shooting 3-under-par and finishing 42nd. Kern became the second club pro ever to win the prestigious Texas State Open this year.

EASY RYDERS

The U.S. knows who eight of its 12 players will be on the Ryder Cup team this September. The qualifiers are Dustin Johnson, Koepka, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson.

Tiger Woods? “I hope to be a part of that process,” he said after his second-place finish. Woods will be a vice-captain to help Jim Furyk in any event, but it’s hard to imagine either Woods or Phil Mickelson sitting out. Furyk will announce his four captain’s picks next month.

NUMBERS GAME

The average score Sunday was 69.338. For the week it was 70.125….There were only two scores of 80 or more all week, both on Thursday….Stewart Cink hit 17 of 18 greens Sunday. The leader in that category for the week was Tyrrell Hatton (57 of 72)…..Chez Reavie, who shot 8-under-par, led the field in average proximity to the hole (26.4 feet)…Patrick Cantlay (Los Alamitos, UCLA) was 6-under-par and finished 27th….Woods, Hatton, Thomas Pieters and Rafa Cabrera-Bello all shot 64 on Sunday.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/08/12/scotts-reminder-tigers-chance-of-ryding-a-texas-stranger-other-notes/

PGA Notebook: Spieth stubs toe, Wallace holes out, Mickelson cuts it close

ST. LOUIS — Jordan Spieth needs a PGA Championship victory to achieve the lifetime Grand Slam. On Saturday he got slammed in a way he’ll probably remember for a lifetime.

Spieth suffered a triple-bogey on the 12th hole just as he was beginning to pressure the leaders. It knocked him back to a 1-under-par 69 and placed him in 28th place going into Sunday.

Spieth’s tee shot went into the right rough, and his attempt to get back to the fairway ricocheted off two trees and dived out of bounds.

“It was the perfect storm,” Spieth said. “My drive caught the cart path to get to where it got, and then I hit the two trees. I probably should have played the smart shot and just gone for bogey there.

“I squatted a little on the drive and tried to play a draw, and just hit it right off the toe. I saw a V in the trees on the next shot and thought I could get it through there, but I should have played a 6 or 7 iron instead of a 5, because the V got wider as it got higher.”

Spieth has been trying to refurbish his long game after an uneven year marred by putting problems. He says the flat stick is back in business, however.

“My putter is as hot as it’s been in two years,” Spieth said. ,”So the goal tomorrow is to hit 18 greens. I think a low round is possible, but I really think the best golf for me is just ahead.”

A WILD ACE

With Spieth watching, England’s Matt Wallace had a hole-in-one on the 16th hole with a 5-iron.

“My caddie Dave (McNeilly) finally picked a good club for me,” Wallace said, smiling.

Wallace is 5-under for the PGA after shooting 68 Saturday. He admitted to being a bit starstruck, telling Spieth what a thrill it was to be in the same grouping.

Wallace, 28, played college golf at Jacksonville State in Alabama. He leads the field in strokes gained, putting.

THE CUTDOWN

The 36-hole cut line was even-par at Bellerive, which was four strokes too good for Phil Mickelson. The 2005 champion shot 73-71 and missed the PGA cut for the second consecutive year. He had made the previous 21.

Michael Block, the club pro at Arroyo Trabuco and a St. Louis native, shot two 75s.

By missing the cut, Mickelson lost a chance to make his 12th consecutive Ryder Cup team on points and must depend on captain Jim Furyk to include him as a discretionary selection.

BY THE NUMBERS

The average round at Bellerive is 70.5, which would make it the easiest PGA in history if it holds up…Saturday’s average was 69.5  ..Rickie Fowler, quietly standing in third place in search of his first major, leads the field in greens in regulation along with Julian Suri.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/08/11/pga-notebook-spieth-stubs-toe-wallace-holes-out-mickelson-cuts-it-close/

Whicker: Tiger is still a force, but will the field notice?

ST. LOUIS – Stewart Cink said he’d just spent 4-1/2 hours in the vortex. He looked refreshed, actually.

The insistent heat bounced off him, although he said he had to change hats for the sweat, and so did the presence of a fully firing Tiger Woods in his group.

Woods shot 4-under-par 66 in the third round of the PGA Championship and so did Cink. Most of us remember when it used to be a zero-sum game.

“I’ve played with him a lot over the years,”  said Cink, who was a college and amateur contemporary. “It’s pretty much the same. I used to try to downplay it a lot, but it’s a pretty intense atmosphere. It felt like all I could remember.”

Woods, Cink and four others trail Brooks Koepka by four shots, going into Sunday’s resolution. Adam Scott is in second place, two behind Koepka.

During the Tiger Decade (1999-2008), contenders would gather, and then Tiger would roll in a couple of putts, and a neutron bomb would leave Woods and only Woods standing.

But in July Francesco Molinari won the Open Championship in Carnoustie. Not only did he do it alongside Tiger, he did it when Tiger had the lead going into the back nine.

At the tour event in Washington, Woods was near the lead and played with Bronson Burgoon in the final round. Who is Bronson Burgoon? Well, he was good enough to shoot 67 in that same vortex, a round that Aaron Baddeley badly wanted at the 2007 U.S. Open, a round for which Scott Verplank prayed at the 2007 PGA.

Then again, Brandt Snedeker got paired with Woods in the fourth round at Tampa five months ago and got smoked, 70 to 78. So let’s not overextend the theme.

Two of the five players ahead of Woods are major championship winners (Koepka and Scott) and two others are Top 10 players (Jon Rahm and Rickie Fowler). Four of those tied with Woods have won majors (Cink, Justin Thomas, Jason Day and Charl Schwartzel), and Molinari is only one shot behind them.

But Woods still triggers the same joyful stampedes whenever he makes a move. He birdied the first hole and permitted himself a shaken fist, and then he rolled in a birdie on the contentious little par-3 sixth and enjoyed that, too. Woods was 3-over-par after the seventh hole on Thursday and is 11-under-par since then.

Woods finished sixth at Carnoustie. He hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open and hasn’t finished second since he unaccountably lost the 2009 PGA to Y.E. Yang, the first man to absorb all that radiation without result.

Woods actually played 29 holes at Bellerive on Saturday, with some unfinished business from Friday’s rainstorm. He admitted he was tired. The admission was more newsworthy than the fatigue, and Woods was not going to the range or the putting green or anywhere else that involved a golf appliance.

“You have to make birdies to win this,” he said. “The golf course is soft, it’s gettable. The ball is plugging. We’re able to hold 4-irons, 5-irons, whatever we want, at the flags. Thinking you can just make pars and win is not going to work.”

No one shot lower than Scott’s 65 on Saturday, but it wasn’t necessarily because Bellerive bulked up. Scott talked about how pros often can’t make themselves hit putts hard enough on slow greens. Woods was leaving everything short until he got to 17 and gunned his approach five feet past, and 3-putted for a disappointing par. He parred everything, in fact, after the 8th hole.

“There aren’t any putts that you’re afraid are getting away from you,” Woods said. “The softness takes the creativity away for sure. The putts are straightforward and they don’t break very much.

“And it was one of those rounds where everything was a full shot. I was never a few yards off a 7-iron or anything like that. Consequently I felt like I could freewheel it.”

Said Cink, “There’s not a lot of question marks about what club to hit. It just feels like the club is jumping out of my bag.”

Bellerive is only playing about 200 yards longer than it did for the 1965 U.S. Open. Back then, Gary Player won an 18-hole playoff over Kel Nagle, who hit 5-woods, all made of wood, into most greens. Player took home a $26,000 check for that one.

Teenagers who watched that one are grandfathers now. St. Louis hasn’t housed a major since 1993, and its fans never had seen Tiger before Thursday. The force is still tornadic, but the neighbors have reinforced the house (they think).

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/08/11/whicker-tiger-is-still-a-force-but-will-the-field-notice/

Koepka takes his familiar place atop a major tournament leaderboard

ST. LOUIS – Golf’s celebrity of the year isn’t quite settled. Neither is the marketer or the needle-mover of the year.

But Brooks Koepka can end all Player of the Year debates with one more stern, consistent round at the PGA Championship.

Koepka has won the past two U.S. Opens, mainly by eroding his competition with merciless straight, long drives and irons. He shot a 63 at Bellerive Country Club on Friday and followed up with a 66 on Saturday, getting to 12-under-par and leading Adam Scott by two shots.

Koepka led by four until he ran into bogeys at 14 and 15, a rare hint of nerves. He parred 16 and birdied the par-5 17th to create a little airspace.

“I never get upset, I don’t get too high, and I’m just focused on what I have to do,” Koepka said. “For some reason I can tune in on the majors and I have no idea why.”

At 27, Koepka has five top-five finishes in major championships. He missed this year’s Masters with a wrist injury, so a victory today would give him three wins in his past five appearances.

He admits he plays with a chip on his shoulder, although the muscles should have made it fall off by now. Koepka is a regular workout partner of Dustin Johnson’s and walks around like a brooding linebacker, although he’s only 6 feet tall and weighs 184.

“My bench press? It’s not that impressive,” Koepka said. “I did 225 (pounds) 14 times the last day of the U.S. Open. But I can get 315. You see these little guys come in the gym and they can throw up 350, no problem. So I just say, all right.

“I can bench more than Dustin but he can squat more than me. His legs are really, really strong. So I’ll probably do a full-body workout tomorrow. It’s a good getaway for me. If you do it every day, you’re not sore.”

Scott, the 2012 Masters champ, shot 65 for the low round of the day. Scott hasn’t been in evidence lately, with only one top 10 finish year, and is ranked 74th worldwide.

“A lot of times you win majors by hanging around,” Scott said. “Tiger has done that quite a few times. I did it at the Masters. Nothing was really happening until the end, when I made two big putts. Sometimes that’s all it takes.”

Tiger Woods, meanwhile, put together a second consecutive 66 and is at 8-under-par. That leaves him four shots behind Koepka and one behind Jon Rahm and Rickie Fowler, both Top 10 players.

Jason Day and defending champion Justin Thomas are in the 8-under group with Woods, along with Gary Woodland, who led the first and second rounds but shot 1-over-par 71 on Saturday.

“I think there’s a 64 out there for someone tomorrow and it could be for me,” Day said. “I know I can do it. But the preparation starts tonight. It’s really important to hydrate before you even get to the course, because when you start feeling the heat, you start making mental errors.

“As soft as it is out there, it’s ridiculously hard to get to the green if you miss the fairway.”

Koepka knows the credentials of the chasers, but he has shrugged them off before.

“There’s a lot of star power and there should be, it’s a major,” Koepka said. “But if I do what I’m supposed to, I should win the golf tournament.”

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/08/11/koepka-takes-his-familiar-place-atop-a-major-tournament-leaderboard/

Whicker: USC LB Jordan Iosefa brings the passion of his islands

LOS ANGELES — Jordan Iosefa was like you and me. He was dumbfounded when Alabama coach Nick Saban audibled at halftime – at halftime of the College Football Playoff championship – to a freshman quarterback.

Well, maybe not quite like you and me.

Iosefa was wondering why Saban was waiting.

“I’m thinking, ‘Put him in earlier, what are you doing?’’’ Iosefa said the other day after USC’s practice. “If they don’t put Tua in, they’re going to lose.”

Tua Tagovailoa came in throwing left-handed darts. He got Alabama back into the game, then allowed himself to be sacked in overtime, with Alabama down by three.

The next play was a 41-yard meteorite to DeVonta Smith. The kid became football’s equivalent of Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, throwing a 3-pointer to win everything.

He also became an Alabama deity before he even started a game.

Saban, being Saban, was still chapped over the sack.

“You weren’t coached to do that,” he told Tagovailoa.

“Yeah, but it gave me more room to throw that touchdown,” the freshman replied.

Saban bit his lip. “That is NOT funny,” he said.

But to Iosefa, it was pure Hawaii.

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Tagovailoa had won games that, in their context, were just as big as this. Iosefa was his teammate at St. Louis High in Honolulu. In all of the 50 states, Hawaii and Alabama might be the most obsessed with prep football.

“A football scholarship is revered in Hawaii,” Iosefa said. “It brings families to tears. People don’t realize. It’s a long flight from the mainland. When the coaches come to see us, we’re on our best behavior. We’re going all out in those recruiting camps. Nobody wants them to waste a trip.

“I’ve seen the camps over here. They’re totally different. Guys are chilling. The best guys sometimes skip reps. I’m thankful that I grew up in that atmosphere.”

McKenzie Milton, who led Central Florida to a 13-0 season, was the quarterback at Mililani High on Oahu. USC’s Vavae Malepeai was his top runner.

Iosefa was at St. Louis when his Crusaders scrimmaged against Miliani. He gestured at Loker Stadium, where USC runs track.

“The people filled both sides, just like that,” he said. “There were probably 15,000 people there.”

Last year, St. Louis beat Kahuku in the state championship game, and over 22,000 came to Aloha Stadium. It was coach Cal Lee’s third title. He also won 14 prep bowls in his two stops at St. Louis. In between, he was the U. of Hawaii’s defensive coordinator when the Rainbows went unbeaten and played in the Sugar Bowl.

“He’s a legend,” said Iosefa, who gave Lee his Rose Bowl jersey from the 2016 season.

And Iosefa only got to play for Lee in 2015. Hawaii has this rather quaint rule that makes transfers sit out an entire season. Iosefa transferred from Waipahu, where he played with his brother but also missed several games with a stress fracture. He did not play as a junior.

This meant the recruiting camps were Iosefa’s Super Bowl. The SPARQ combine was his first step.

“It was a very eye-opening thing,” Iosefa said. “They were handing out these red wristbands to all the players they knew and I didn’t get one. I knew that my friend Isaac Savaiinaea (who signed with UCLA) had broken 100 in his combine score. I’d done it in the eighth grade and made a 50 or 60.”

Iosefa ran a 4.7 in the 40. He did well enough in his vertical jump, his shuttle run and his power ball toss to finish sixth overall, with a 101.5.

“That was a blessing,” said Iosefa, who says that a lot. “But the next camp got me noticed. The college guys were there. Maybe 1,000 kids were there, all with pads, and probably 60 linebackers.”

USC saw enough to offer Iosefa a trans-Pacific ride. He played as a freshman. He kept his head on a swivel, or maybe it was just spinning.

“They had me playing at Sam linebacker, then in the dime package, then back at Sam, and that was in just a few days’ time,” Iosefa said. “I would go back to the McKay Center and put down all the coverages, and I’d line up some chairs and figure out what I was supposed to do.”

Iosefa is now a trusted junior who moved to inside linebacker when Cameron Smith hurt a hamstring, but now could move back outside for Porter Gustin, who tore a meniscus.

“He’s shown we can put him in any situation and he’ll make the adjustment,” defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said.

Big plays? In Hawaii, they’re all one size.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/08/09/whicker-usc-lb-jordan-iosefa-brings-the-passion-of-his-islands/

Whicker: ‘Ninety Percent Mental’ shows how baseball finally found its brain

Even if you weren’t having trouble locating your slider, you felt your secrets were safe with Ken Ravizza.

Professional athletes are notoriously vulnerable to the scammers and the phonies, the agents who promise they can get you a deal no one else can get, the quacks who have the pill or the potion or even the procedure that can implant All-Star powers.

Ravizza was different by nature. It wasn’t just the way his eyes illuminated upon contact, the way he convinced everyone that the current conversation was the only one that mattered.. He showed the players that their solutions were just underneath their skin.

Ravizza passed away on July 8. He’d suffered a heart attack while driving. He was the mental skills guy for the Chicago Cubs, a fellow who hung out in the clubhouse and the pre-game dugout, wore the cap.

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A key part of his ability was availability, as they say. Players knew they could show Ravizza the dents in their armor. They also knew that Ravizza would not repair them but plot a diversionary path.

Dr. Ken Ravizza, a long-time professor of kinesiology at Cal State Fullerton, was a nationally recognized sports psychologist who worked with the Angels, Dodgers and Cubs, college athletes and Olympians. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)

“There were times when he and the player would have to meet in hiding somewhere,” said Marcel Lachemann, the pitching coach for the Angels when Ravizza began working for them. “Not everybody understood what he was doing. If you volunteered for help back in those days, people might think you were weird, or maybe weak. It’s come a long way. Every team has a guy now.

“He didn’t know the first thing about baseball when he started. We’d had guys who were doing some of that, like when Jim Abbott was working with Harvey Dorfman. But Kenny helped a lot of them, like Kirk McCaskill and Mike Witt.”

The most famous “guy” is Bob Tewksbury, primarily because he was an All-Star pitcher. He works with the Giants now, but he was the Red Sox’s sounding board in 2013, when they won the World Series.

You don’t just hang out a shingle. Tewksbury got a master’s degree from Boston University.

To illustrate the craft, Tewksbury collaborated with longtime baseball writer Scott Miller to write “Ninety Percent Mental,” borrowing Yogi Berra’s belief that the mind reigned supreme.

““The other half is physical,” Berra said, which is why we remember the quote. He didn’t seem to need the advice, but the other 90, or 99, percent must deal with incessant failure.

“Thoughts become things,” Tewksbury writes. “The hard work is keeping those things positive. The game’s great myth is that talent ultimately triumphs…but not everyone is as talented as a Madison Bumgarner or a Clayton Kershaw. For most of us the talent is roughly equivalent and the degrees of separation are slight.”

Tewksbury debunks perfectionism, because it “takes away from enjoyment” and guarantees frustration. “Perfectionists focus more on their failures than their successes, and they tend to make excuses for poor performance,” he writes, “beause they are unable to accept their mistakes.”

Among his many mentors was Joe Torre, his Cardinals’ manager, who emphasized trust and inspired Tewksbury to give himself “permission to succeed.”

You don’t find success in slogans embroidered on couch pillows. There are techniques. Deep breathing isn’t just a saying, it’s a tool. Visualizing every moment, from arrving to the ballpark to watching the umpire raise his strike-three hand, is crucial.

Anchor statements, such as “I like hitting with men on base” or “I am aggressive and under control,” also bring clarity.

“Kenny would have the pitchers pick out a really tiny spot on the scoreboard,” Lachemann said. “When things went bad, they could turn around and find that spot and just concentrate on it. It was a way to re-set.”

And it all happened because Augie Garrido, who coached Cal State Fullerton’s players from the brain down, listened to what a CSF kinesiology professor had to say. He made Ravizza part of the program, then recommended him to his friend Larry Himes, then the Angels scouting director.

Justin Turner, former Titan and current Dodger mainstay, has said he doubts he’d even be in the big leagues if not for Ravizza. Rich Hill, the 38-year-old lefthander who is enjoying his golden years at an unlikely time, considers himself living proof that Tewksbury’s stuff works.

Hill talks about the prisoner of war who spent every day visualizing himself on a golf course. When he was released, he finally got to play again. He broke par for the first time.

At least Ravizza was able to see baseball conquer its own primitive culture. It finally realized there’s no use spending millions on the keyboard when you don’t spend a dime on the control panel.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/08/07/whicker-ninety-percent-mental-shows-how-baseball-finally-found-its-brain/

Whicker: Dodgers need everyone to follow Joc Pederson’s turnaround

LOS ANGELES — Matt Kemp was a .318 hitter on July. He hits .290 now.

Max Muncy has one hit in his past 10 games, along with 23 strikeouts. Ross Stripling is out with a convenient toe injury, but he gave up nine earned runs in 8-2/3 innings before that.

The saviors of the first half have stepped back.The Dodgers are back to their original cast, plus Manny Machado and Brian Dozier, their trade pickups.

Machado probably had his most skilled offensive game since he’s been here, with three hits on Sunday, and Dozier broke the last tie with a double in the Dodgers’ first. They beat Houston, 3-2, when a series sweep might have seeded some unease, with a trip to Oakland and Colorado upcoming.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Joc Pederson, left, and Manny Machado celebrate after they score on a two-run double by Brian Dozier during the first inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros in Los Angeles, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Brian Dozier hits a two-run double during the first inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros in Los Angeles, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

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  • Houston Astros’ Tony Kemp, right, celebrates his solo home run with Gerrit Cole during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Manny Machado, left, gets tangled up with Houston Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole as he scores on an RBI double by Cody Bellinger during the third inning of a baseball game in Los Angeles, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Houston Astros’ George Springer, left, exits with a trainer after getting injured whiletrying to steal second base during the third inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Houston Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros in Los Angeles, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Houston Astros’ George Springer celebrates his solo home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

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With 49 games remaining and too many National League teams to fit into the five-team playoff funnel, it’s clear the Dodgers need a little 2017 magic to get through 2018. Joc Pederson might be best-positioned to bring it.

Pederson got the leadoff homer off Justin Verlander on Friday. On Sunday he led off with a walk from Gerrit Cole and got driven in by Dozier. He is hitting 258 this season, compared to .212 last year, and has an OPS of .874, which is an improvement of .136.

Most of the power sources from last year have backslid, except for Yasmani Grandal.

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Cody Bellinger’s OPS is off .151 and his average is down to .238 from 267. Justin Turner, basically hurt all season, is down from .945 and .322 to .771 and .258.

Yasiel Puig is off .019 on his OPS, Chris Taylor .067, Austin Barnes .315. That’s why the Dodgers pursued Machado and Dozier when most of their base was pleading for bullpen help. They did get John Axford, and on Sunday they got double-play balls from Dylan Floro and Scott Alexander to usher in Kenley Jansen.

Before that, Walker Buehler gave up George Springer’s “first-pitch ambush” home run, as Manager Dave Roberts put it, but then that’s become Springer’s Dodger Stadium custom, his three coins in the fountain.

Later, Springer left with a thumb problem as he tried to steal second, and Buehler was outstanding until Floro relieved him.

Pederson declined comment on his metamorphosis, but Turner has seen every stage.

“He understands himself so much better as a hitter now,” Turner said. “The power was always there, but he’s done a good job of trying to hone it, not to strike out as much. His day-to-day consistency has been much better.

“I see him shooting balls to left field when he has those opportunities, and I see him recognizing balls he can hit out of the park now.”

It’s surprising to realize Pederson is only 26, considering how long the Dodgers anticipated his coming. They saw him launch 26 and 25 home runs in his first two seasons. Then Bellinger and Corey Seager arrived, and Pederson seemed like yesterday somehow. This is his fourth full season.

The scouts see the pinwheeling home run swings, like the one that struck out against Verlander in a game-turning situation Friday night. They also see what happens when Pederson keeps his balance and locates the middle of the field, and that’s why he remains an ascending player.

Pederson struck out 170 times his rookie year, a 29 percent rate. Last year the rate was 21.1 and this year it is 15.9.

“Watching him in the playoffs, that’s something we were all proud of,” Turner said, smiling. “It was almost like he grew up before our eyes. And then he continued it through the offseason and spring training.”

Remember what Pederson did in the Division Series against Arizona? Of course you don’t. He wasn’t on the 25-man roster. He earned that with a four-hit September that included no home runs and two RBIs.

Then he re-joined the band against the Cubs. In the World Series he got one hit in all six games he played, with three home runs and six RBI.

“He earned his spot on that playoff roster through batting practice, really,” said Turner Ward, the hitting coach, “and working with (assistant hitting coaches) Brant (Brown) and Luis (Ortiz). Even now you don’t see a big variation in what he’s doing. When he does run into trouble he generally knows why.

“Failure is the hardest, most painful, most frustrating learning tool in this game. But it’s also the best learning tool. Those pitchers, they’re always telling us what we need to do in their own way. For Joc, having that self-awareness is huge.”

It’s also the process of Pederson forgetting what last year was like, The future depends on how many other Dodgers remember.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/08/05/whicker-dodgers-need-everyone-to-follow-joc-pedersons-turnaround/

Whicker: Hall of Fame candidate Omar Vizquel gets back on the bus

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The morning drive from Myrtle Beach is pleasant enough.

The unparalleled Carolina peach is sold on several roadsides. So are peanuts, boiled in a pot, a taste that’s strenuously acquired.

But the midnight drive is different and far less tasty. The Winston-Salem Dash of the high-Class A Carolina League wrapped up a series and then hardnosed the highway, four hours through the night.

“I was always one of the little guys on the bus so it didn’t bother me too much,” Omar Vizquel said. “And when you’re a manager you get to sit up front with an open seat next to you. So it’s not too bad.”

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Still, the Dash didn’t get home until 2:30 a.m. Twelve hours later they were at BB&T Park in downtown Winston-Salem, preparing for the Frederick Keys.

Wait a second. Why was Omar Vizquel on a minor-league bus? Nostalgia?

No. Vizquel is the manager. He rides through the sandhills after 24 years in the majors, eleven Gold Gloves at shortstop, a .272 lifetime batting average with 2,877 hits, and a career haul of $63 million.

Vizquel could have been on a sunny podium in Cooperstown last weekend. His name was checked on 37 percent of the Hall of Fame ballots.

Instead he was wearing a T-shirt and shorts as he supervised batting practice. They don’t have 10-man staffs in the Carolina League.

He says he needed a job. Detroit let him go after four years as a coach. Vizquel knew the White Sox had a nest of young talent, so he called. The only opening they had was here.

There are other familiar faces in Carolina League dugouts, such as ex-USC star Morgan Ensberg of the Buies Creek Astros, and ex-Angel Spike Owen of the Down East Wood Ducks (Kinston, N.C.). But it’s jarring, and a little refreshing, to see a guy like Vizquel serve an apprenticeship.

“It’s weird,” Vizquel said. “They say they can’t hire you to manage because you don’t have managing experience. Well, they can’t say that anymore about me.”

Several major league clubs don’t say that at all.

Half of the 30 managers never filled out a lineup card in the minors. That includes Alex Cora, Aaron Boone, Dave Roberts and A.J. Hinch, all of whom are managing playoff-caliber clubs. For that matter Mike Scioscia never managed in the minors, and he is the longest-serving skipper in the game by far.

Jim Leyland managed 1,336 minor league games, Tommy Lasorda 941, Bobby Cox 846.

What changed? Vizquel gestured at the laptop on his desk.

“It’s the new era we’re living in,” he said. “There are a lot of sabermetrics going on. It’s like being a mathematics teacher. If you know how to make changes based on the numbers, you can be a manager. But you have to balance that out with the instincts that you’ve learned.

“If you’re into the analytics you can fit into the category they want. And the managers who were old school, who acted tough and acted as if they were the law, aren’t here anymore. To be a manager now you almost have to be a priest. You’re calm, with a lot of one-on-one conversation. You don’t raise your voice.”

Vizquel added that a slow trot to first base still gets you benched.

“We have good players here,” Vizquel said. ‘We won the first half and then they promoted about half the team, but we still have six or seven guys who I think will play in the big leagues. But whether you got a big bonus or not, you have to shag during BP, you have to play hard. I got a $2,000 bonus when I came out of Venezuela. I have to make sure they know that nothing is impossible if you play hard and pay attention.”

Blake Rutherford is here. The Chaminade grad was drafted 18th overall by the Yankees two years ago and got a $3.28 million bonus. He was a lifelong Yankees fan who was taken aback when the Yankees sent him to Chicago last year, a deal that brought Todd Frazier and David Robertson.

He got over it and is hitting .307 with six homers and 68 RBI. He also knows about his manager.

“I knew the name but the only teams I really followed as a kid were the Yankees, Dodgers and Angels,” Rutherford said. “What’s cool is to see how many fans come out to see him, pose for photos with him. On the field, he gives a lot of insights on the things pitchers do, on the running game. He lets you know what to expect up there.”

Maybe Rutherford and Vizquel will get up there together, with everyone stretching out in his leather seats, and the wheels up.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/08/04/whicker-hall-of-fame-candidate-omar-vizquel-gets-back-on-the-bus/

Whicker: Justin Verlander makes triumphant return to champagne room at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES — Justin Verlander worked Games 2 and 6 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium last year. His Astros won the first and lost the second. He won neither, which isn’t as big a deal for today’s pitchers as it was for yesterday’s. And when Houston won Game 7 and took its first championship, his eyes were as blazingly wild as anyone’s.

But when Verlander returned for Friday’s game with the Dodgers, dubbed “Game 8” by some local fans who haven’t yet accepted the result, he had a little trash to pick up. He took the same Cooperstown-bound stuff to the mound. This time he walked off with a 2-1 victory that was reminiscent of last October, except not quite as hot.

“This wasn’t like some mid-week game,” Verlander said, grinning. “I hope the fans realized what a great ballgame it was. People might not like pitchers’ duels, but this was really exciting.

“But you realize how different the World Series is. As intense as this was, that was on another level.”

Last year Verlander went six innings in each game and gave up a total of five hits, with two walks and 14 strikeouts.

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On Friday he gave up a leadoff home run to Joc Pederson and was fairly impregnable afterward. He went seven and two-thirds innings, walked one, struck out 14 and gave up three other hits, all singles.

“Completely dominant,” said A.J. Hinch, the Astros manager.

Verlander stayed with a fastball that ranged from 95 to 97 mph. He fanned Max Muncy and Yasmani Grandal three times apiece.

But in the eighth inning, Chris Taylor hopped on a fastball and singled with nobody out. After a fly ball to center by Brian Dozier, Verlander fell behind 3-and-0 to Pederson, and the Dodger Stadium crowd of 53,598 went into a three-point stance.

Pederson banged a fastball that landed just outside the right field fair pole. “I yanked that one, got away with it,” Verlander said. “I got away with one to Dozier, too.”

He threw a better fastball for strike two. Then he and catcher Martin Maldonado, just obtained from the Angels, went into deep conference mode.

“We were on the same page,” Maldonado said. “I went out there and we had the same idea on what the pitch should be.”

The pitch was a slider down and in that Pederson missed with a violent swing. That was Verlander’s 105th and final pitch. Hector Rondon came in to get Manny Machado on a fly ball to right. Rondon stayed in and nailed down the win with a called strike three on Cody Bellinger, who hopped around in protest and stood at the plate long after home umpire Jim Wolf had left.

“That was a slider that looked like a fastball for a long time,” Verlander said. “The way the fastball had been working, he had to respect it.

“I yanked that fastball that he hit out in the first inning. Other than that, most of them went where I wanted them to.”

“There’s a lot of chase down-and-in when you throw it to Pederson,” Hinch said, “but there’s a lot of power there too.”

Verlander is 11-6 with a 2.19 ERA. He found himself pacing purposefully through the visitors’ clubhouse as Rondon did his thing. It reminded him of last fall.

“When I walked in I reminded the guys that a lot of good things happened in this room for us last year,” Verlander said. “There were some good memories.”

“But we didn’t want to overdramatize it,” Hinch said.

The Astros are working without their All-Star mid-infield combo of shortstop Carlos Correa and second baseman Jose Altuve, both hurt. They won’t get their new closer, Roberto Osuna, until Sunday, and a lot of eyes will be on that arrival.

They traded Ken Giles to the Blue Jays for Osuna, who is awaiting trial in Toronto for domestic violence, and he just served an MLB suspension. He will be available for postseason play, and the Astros organization has been blasted for taking him on.

“He’ll come in here Sunday and we’ll all listen objectively to what he has to say,” Verlander said. “It’s probably going to be one of those things that stays in this clubhouse. But we have such a great clubhouse here that I don’t think we’ll let anything get in the way of what we’re doing, no matter what he has to say.”

He was referring to the connectedness of the players in that clubhouse. But the actual room has been a living space for the Astros.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/08/03/whicker-justin-verlander-makes-triumphant-return-to-champagne-room-at-dodger-stadium/

Whicker: Andre Ethier, an honest Dodger, ends his long goodbye

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier receives a hug from former teammate Matt Kemp as pitcher Clayton Kershaw, right, looks during a retirement ceremony honoring Ethier prior to Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier thanks the crowd during a retirement ceremony honoring him prior to Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

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  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, center, addresses the crowd during a retirement ceremony honoring him prior to Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Fans hold a blanket in appreciation of former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier (not pictured) during a retirement ceremony honoring him prior to Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, right, speaks with his family sitting behind him during his retirement ceremony before Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier takes a moment on the field with his daughter Everly during a retirement ceremony honoring him prior to Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, left, hugs former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe during a press conference about Ethier’s retirement before Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, right, with his sons Retton, left, and Dreson, center, answers questions about his retirement before Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, right, with former teammate and current Dodger Matt Kemp during a press conference about Ethier’s retirement before Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier answers questions during a press conference about his retirement before Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, center, speaks as former teammate Matt Kemp has a little fun with him during a press conference about his retirement before Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Either answers questions from the media about his retirement as his sons Retton, 8 and Dreson, 10 look on before the game between Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Either answers questions from the media about his retirement as his sons Retton, 8 and Dreson, 10 look on before the game between Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, left, gestures to fans as he stands alongside actor Jason Bateman during a retirement ceremony for him prior to Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, second from left, hugs pitcher Kenley Jansen, left, as pitcher Clayton Kershaw, center, outfielder Matt Kemp, second from right, and actor Jason Bateman stand by during a retirement ceremony for Ethier prior to Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier holds his son Anson during a retirement ceremony for him prior to Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, left, gestures to fans as he holds his daughter Everly during a retirement ceremony for him prior to Friday’s game between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Former Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier gets ready to enter the batting cage in this 2017 file photo. (Photo by John McCoy, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Andre Ethier hits an RBI single for Joc Pederson to score in the 6th inning of Game 7 at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Dodgers Andre Ethier with his daughter dressed as a witch before the start of Game 6 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium Tuesday, October 31, 2017. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Andre Ethier (16) hits a single during the sixth inning of Game 3 of baseball’s National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • LOS ANGELES, CA – JULY 10: Pinch hitter Andre Ethier #16 of the Los Angeles Dodgers gets a two-RBI base hit against pitcher Jimmy Nelson #52 of the Milwaukee Brewers as catcher Jonathan Lucroy #20 looks on during the seventh inning on July 10, 2015 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Andre Ethier smiles as he watches early batting practice prior to a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) ORG XMIT: RFOTK211

  • Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier waits to hit during a spring training workout Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016 in Glendale, Ariz. ///ADDITIONAL INFO: dodgers.0229.kjs — Photo by KEVIN SULLIVAN / Orange County Register — 2/28/16 The Los Angeles Dodgers. 2016 Dodgers Spring Training at Camelback Ranch Sunday February 28, 2016 in Glendale, Ariz. 2/28/16 ORG XMIT: CAANR203

  • Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts greets Andre Ethier (16) after Ethier slugged a solo home run in fifth inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

  • The Dodgers’ Andre Ethier tracks the flight of a fly ball during the eighth inning of a recent game in San Diego. Ethier has missed most of the past two seasons with health issues, but he’s battling for a spot on the postseason roster. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers Andre Ethier, right, hits a home run as Atlanta Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt looks on during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Los Angeles, Monday, May 25, 2015. AP Photo/Richard Hartog)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yasmani Grandal, left, and Andre Ethier celebrate after Grandal’s home run off Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola during the third inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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LOS ANGELES — Andre Ethier did not schedule his retirement Friday night to coincide with the return of the Houston Astros, and all the flashbacks they brought.

It just worked out that way.

“Face your fears,” Ethier said.

That haunting World Series evening was Ethier’s last in the major leagues. He drove in L.A.’s only Game 7 run. Until then he had been a prodigal angel. He hadn’t really played in 2016 or 2017 but now had four postseason hits. That was his 12th year with the Dodgers.

He had gone to eight postseasons. He had played at a distinguished everyday level, back when the clubhouse wasn’t as happy and the ownership was Frank and Jamie.

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“We had those chain-link lockers in the clubhouse,” Ethier said. “Now they’ve got a big, nice room. I’m glad I saw both sides of it.”

But a herniated disk and a fractured tibia kept Ethier from his preferred ending. He takes home a Gold Glove, two All-Star appearances and one sixth-place MVP finish (2009).

The .822 career OPS was impressive, but fans will remember his pinpoint outfield arm and his knack for the ninth inning, with six walk-off hits in one season.

“Honestly, I don’t remember any of that, “ Ethier said, and that’s not unusual either.

He remembered standing in right field, especially on lazy nights when Clayton Kershaw was pitching. In between pitches, he’d yell at Matt Kemp, playing center. He said people don’t realize how much “crazy stuff” gets said between pitches.

Kemp showed up to listen to Ethier on Friday. “From what I was reading in the spring, I’d thought you’d be sitting up there with me,” Ethier said. He also greeted Joc Pederson with, “If Joc can get a hit, I know I can.”

Ethier was the barbed-wire big brother. He was the supervisor of Cody Bellinger last year, when Ethier was rehabbing at the Stadium. Players tend to slip into their cocoons, especially in the Earphone Era. It takes someone aware and caring to bring them out.

But then the people at the downtown homeless shelters will remember his visits, and the restaurant owners in Los Angeles know him well. Ethier is a food fancier, proud that he can slip in the door and get a table anywhere, anytime.

Someone asked if he wanted to own a restaurant.

“Every one of those guys gives me the same advice,” he replied. “Don’t own a restaurant.”

Someone else wanted to know how Ethier would be spending his time. With four kids, there’s never very much of it. But Ethier is also playing tennis tournaments in Phoenix these days. One can imagine his net presence.

This was not an easy offseason for prime free agents, let alone the post-op crowd. Ethier worked out as usual, but nobody called with a plausible offer. He had seen other players spiral their way out of the game, in faraway places. He had never played a major league game for anyone but the Dodgers.

“I didn’t want to chase my tail,” he said. “Maybe it was better that way, just to rip off the Band-Aid.”

For all his savoir-faire and smooth athleticism, Ethier was a bit of a long shot. He played at St. Mary’s High in downtown Phoenix, a school that practiced off-campus on grass-deficient fields and won four games the year before he got there. Arizona State coach Pat Murphy recommended that Ethier play at a junior college first instead of riding the bench in Tempe, and Ethier did. He got to ASU, teamed with Dustin Pedroia, and went into the Sun Devils Hall of Fame along with gymnast Maggie Germaine, who became his wife. Ethier also became a second-round draft choice.

Ethier helped the credibility of former Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, who had been Brian Sabean’s assistant in San Francisco before he came south. The decision-makers were in their Dallas hotel suite at the winter meetings in 2005. Colletti was listing the offers for Milton Bradley and mentioned the name of Ethier, who had just been the Texas League MVP in the Oakland organization.

“All of a sudden Al LaMacchia wheeled around in his chair,” Colletti said, referring to the scout who was 84 at the time. “He said, ‘Andre Ethier! You need to get him.’ And so we did.”

That was Colletti’s first deal. He was headed downstairs Friday to visit Ethier and was taking a green-and-blue print tie. He had bought it the day the Dodgers signed Ethier to his biggest contract. “It’s my $85 million tie,” Colletti said.

Real money buys you the privilege of never wearing one.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/08/03/whicker-andre-ethier-an-honest-dodger-ends-his-long-goodbye/

Whicker: Shane Mosley tells Mikey Garcia to avoid Spence (not that Mosley would have)

Manny Pacquiao had just finished an impressive decision over Brandon Rios, late in 2014. The corridor outside his locker room at the Venetian Hotel in Macau was thick.

One bystander was Mikey Garcia. “That’s who I want,” he said, pointing at the Pac-Man’s door.

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Pacquiao was a welterweight. Garcia at the time was a super-featherweight (130 pounds), just beginning to create his wavelength.

Now Garcia is 39-0 with 30 knockouts. He owned the marquee Saturday night at Staples Center, just as he owned IBF lightweight champion Robert Easter.

Brother Robert and father Eduardo train him and they think it’s the right time for Garcia to fight the 39-year-old Pacquiao, with the roles reversed and the cruel hands of time doing their damage.

But Mikey wants Errol Spence, the most skilled welterweight maybe since Floyd Mayweather.

Climb every mountain, they say.

Spence is a natural, maybe supernatural, welterweight whose pro debut came at 149 pounds, two above the limit. Garcia has won titles at lightweight (135) and super-lightweight (140). Spence’s left-handedness would be a problem. So would be his power, activity and sheer size.

“Spence will come in the ring at 160, at least,” Shane Mosley said on Tuesday. “But it’s not just the size. He’s physically strong.

“I’m glad to see that Mikey is like a throwback fighter. He doesn’t care about his undefeated record. But I don’t know if this is the right person. This would be like me trying to jump up and fight Bernard Hopkins or Roy Jones.”

But then the smart guys told Ray Leonard to leave Marvin Hagler alone. Pacquiao had no business challenging Oscar De La Hoya. Hands wrung anxiously when Muhammad Ali took on Sonny Liston and George Foreman.

Mosley will become a member of the prestigious Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame in August. He was bold, too. He was the only man to beat De La Hoya twice and did so at 147 and 154.

The difference, he says, is that he and De La Hoya grew in weight simultaneously, more or less.

“Mikey would be going up two weight classes and Spence is not just some tall, wiry guy,” Mosley said. “And, as a southpaw, it adds a little difficulty to the task.”

Garcia was incessantly promoting a Spence fight even before he blunted Easter’s 8-inch reach advantage. He would give up four inches of wingspan to Spence.

There is a more sensible and just as challenging fight available at 135. Vasyl Lomachenko is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world in the eyes of most fan bases outside Terence Crawford’s.

Lomachenko vs. Garcia would satisfy Garcia’s craving to headline a shimmery Las Vegas card, maybe even a pay-per-view. It’s an itch that Garcia deserves to scratch after 39 consecutive victories.

The promotional difficulties are erasable, too. Garcia sued Top Rank’s Bob Arum to escape his contract, and Lomachenko is a Top Rank fighter, but Arum said recently that he could draw up Lomachenko-Garcia if need be, although he added that Lomachenko would “rip up” his former client.

For his part, Robert Garcia told Boxing Scene that “many people” within Top Rank have told him the fight won’t happen because they don’t think Lomachenko would beat Garcia. That’s probably a lot of step-across-this-line posturing, but Lomachenko makes  more sense than Spence.

Pacquiao would provide Garcia a big check, lots of sizzle and probably an easy win, although he did look decent when he beat the long-gone Lucas Matthysse. Again, Garcia is going for gold.

“He reminds me of the guys like us who wanted to fight everybody,” Mosley said.

Mosley is not kidding. Over a 10-year period Mosley fought De La Hoya, Vernon Forrest, Fernando Vargas and Winky Wright twice each and Pacquiao, Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez, Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto. When he took apart Margarito in 2009, he was 46-5.

De La Hoya did much the same thing. He actually did challenge Hopkins at light-heavyweight.

Mosley was brilliant in 2000 when he beat De La Hoya at Staples, a little less so when he repeated it in Las Vegas three years later. Strangely the first win was a split decision, the second unanimous.

“At Staples when they called out the scores and said it was a split, I said, oh, no, they’re going to give it to Oscar,” Mosley said. “I wasn’t as sure in the second one, so when they said it was unanimous, I figured Oscar would get it. You can see my expression in the ring when they called my name.”

Shane and Oscar didn’t win them all, but they shouldered the responsibility for their sport. Garcia is their spiritual heir, which is fine, as long as he understands the risk of a heavyweight heart.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/08/01/whicker-shane-mosley-tells-mikey-garcia-to-avoid-spence-not-that-mosley-would-have/

Whicker: On Moving Day for relievers, Dodgers hope Axford cuts to the chase

LOS ANGELES — From July 1 to Aug. 1, 20 major league relievers changed uniforms.

That included Roberto Osuna, a domestic-violence defendant whose trial in Toronto hasn’t started yet. Also Jeurys Familia, who was suspended for the same thing last year. Most of the rest are marching to new teams like Valley Forge combatants, bandages shaped like question marks, up and down their arms. The supply was meager and the demand was desperate.

The Dodgers celebrated the arrival of All-Star Manny Machado and powerful second baseman Brian Dozier, but their most important newcomer is a 35-year-old who now joins his seventh team since 2013.

John Axford comes from Toronto, the team from his home province that enthralled him as a kid. He is a heavy movie aficionado who was a sponsor and presenter at the Milwaukee Film Festival each summer. His original sports hero was Rob Blake, now the Kings’ general manager and a fellow native of Simcoe, Ontario.

Axford also went through hell in spring training of 2015, when his 2-year-old son Jameson was bitten twice by a rattlesnake during spring training, when John was working for the Rockies in Arizona. The fear was that Jameson would lose a foot but he recovered.

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Axford saved 95 games in a three-year span for Milwaukee, before he got to know the moving van drivers on a first-name basis. He had a dreadful 2017 with Oakland when he walked 17 in 21 innings, but he got healthy and stabilized himself by throwing more sinkers with Toronto. He’s right-handed, but lefties are 10 for 68 against him this year.

“We’re looking for guys who can get lefties and righties out, instead of having to match up,” said Dave Roberts, the Dodgers manager.

Joe Blanton took care of the eighth inning in 2016 for the Dodgers, and Brendan Morrow did the same last year. That, like everything else, is more complicated now.

“Last year we had a pretty good lead at this point,” said Farhan Zaidi, the assistant general manager. “This year we’re fighting to get into the playoffs. So we’re more conscious of August and September.”

July 31 is only a show deadline. Teams can sneak players through the waiver process and make deals until Aug. 31, as Houston did last year with Justin Verlander. So the Dodgers will keep looking. They could have gotten Baltimore’s Zach Britton or Texas’ Keone Kela.

Their chances of going one game further than 2017 will depend on whether Axford or somebody else can pitch quiet innings between the starter’s departure and Jansen’s arrival.

Dodger relievers rank ninth among 30 MLB clubs in WHIP (walks and hits, per innings pitched) but have surrendered 50 homers, second-most in the NL. They are the only contending bullpen to throw 400 innings this season. They also have 22 losses. Only Tampa Bay, Detroit and the Mets have lost more.

Kenta Maeda could again become Jansen’s lead-in during the playoffs. But October is not promised, not with Arizona picking up Jake Diekman and Brad Ziegler for its own bullpen. Every National League contender did something significant, none more so than Philadelphia’s pickup of catcher Wilson Ramos from Tampa Bay.

Roberts said he doesn’t feel handcuffed by the fluid bullpen situation, not that he has much choice.

“It’s actually easier,” he said, “We have a lot of different looks in the bullpen, high spin-rate guys, slider guys, guys who can make them put the ball on the ground. And we have guys who realize they’re here to win a championship, that everybody has to be unselfish. A lot of conversations go into that.”

He grinned. “Those are high-class problems,” he said.

Roberts also said Dozier wouldn’t necessarily be playing second base every day, not with Chris Taylor and Chase Utley needing time. And with Justin Turner returning, where does Max Muncy play, and how does that affect Cody Bellinger, and how much time will Kiké Hernandez get to master all of his trades?

Tony Cingrani and Josh Fields will presumably return to the bullpen at some point, and the rotation is so jammed, even without Hyun-Jin Ryu, that Ross Stripling had to be disabled with a conveniently inflamed toe.

“It’s ironic that a lot of other teams who might have resisted that approach are doing it now,” Roberts said. “This game is evolving. We’ve been on the front side of that. It doesn’t matter when you get into the batter’s box or onto the mound. You might not be asked to do the same thing every day.”

That’s all fine, but if Axford wants to make the eighth inning his own, he will have permission. The seventh is available, too.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/07/31/whicker-on-moving-day-for-relievers-dodgers-hope-axford-cuts-to-the-chase/

Whicker: Trevor Hoffman goes into the Hall of Fame as the ultimate pitch-and-run closer

Trevor Hoffman’s speech might outlast his typical save.

He will bring the freshest-ever arm to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony Sunday. He made 1,035 appearances and pitched 1,089 1/3 innings.

He also finished second twice in the Cy Young Award voting, won two National League save titles, blew out the candles often enough to get San Diego its second World Series appearance i 1998, and set the all-time saves record with 601, since broken by Mariano Rivera.

Not everyone salutes Hoffman’s efficiency. There is a backlash against those who rule the ninth inning, usually stirred by those who never played in one.

Hoffman’s save percentage was a touch under 89 percent. Rivera, who will get his Hall pass in 2019, had a percentage a touch over 89. Joe Nathan’s percentage was higher than either. Kenley Jansen rounds off to 90 percent and has the best WHIP (0.888) of any closer in that category. It’s just a matter of staying healthy through 250 more saves before he nears the place Hoffman occupies this weekend.

There are only six closers in the Hall. Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage did not just show up at the end, like Wilford Brimley in “Absence of Malice.” They were their own setup men. Dennis Eckersley was as lethal a ninth-inning man as has ever lived, but was also a premier starter.

Is the save too cheap? Shouldn’t you get more than one-ninth of the outs to enter Cooperstown?

This is a tough one for those who have argued against designated hitter candidates. Baseball used to frown on specialization. Then the DH came along and allowed distinguished hitters to hang on and cash checks when they were useless otherwise.

That line of thinking has kept Edgar Martinez waiting. It will be interesting to see if it works against David Ortiz. But when Hoffman’s critics say his stealthy appearances should be judged as harshly, it’s hard to refute that.

Gossage had three 100-inning seasons once he became a relief pitcher. Sparky Lyle had six. Fingers had six. Sutter five. Hoffman’s high was 90. In 1998, he saved 53 games and pitched 73 innings.

That was the season Hoffman entered 16 games with men on base and pitched more than one inning 15 times. Six years later, Hoffman entered two games with men on base and had to get more than three outs only six times.

Hoffman needed 30 or more pitches only twice in his final six seasons. In 2005 alone, he threw fewer than 10 pitches 13 times. Since he worked two innings on Sept. 29, 2004, against the Giants, he never was asked to get more than three outs.

Gossage, in 1978, worked more than one inning in 39 games. While trying to get the Yankees abreast of the Red Sox, he had three-inning outings on back-to-back days in September and then got five outs the next day.

But Hoffman strongly believed he was a resource that deserved hoarding. When he was 41, he had a 0.908 WHIP for the Brewers and saved 37 games. Gossage pitched until he was 42 but wasn’t effective past 33.

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It helped that Hoffman was always recasting himself. He was a former shortstop out of Savanna High who pumped gas as a young closer but morphed into a four-pitch magician who eventually got you with an unsurpassed changeup. In 1998, he pitched in 66 games and gave up 21 walks and two home runs.

How did the closer become the one-trick pony, and how can we expect him to function when we ask him to do something else?

That was the world into which Hoffman was thrown. He did that job as well as anyone ever has. And that job has been essential to winning, at least until Houston managed to win last year’s World Series after Ken Giles came apart.

Ray Miller, the former Pirates pitching coach, sneered at the phenomenon and said anybody could handle a ninth-inning lead with all the advantages therein. Then the Pirates couldn’t hold a two-run lead in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS in Atlanta. Jim Leyland, Miller’s manager, got to a World Series and won it six years later in Florida, and Robb Nen was his come-hell-or-high-water closer.

When Sutter left St. Louis and signed with Atlanta, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said, “I just got 30 games dumber.”

Six players will be inducted Sunday, which makes for a long and steamy afternoon. If the Hall has any sense of mercy or history, the final speaker should be Hoffman.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/07/27/whicker-trevor-hoffman-goes-into-the-hall-of-fame-as-the-ultimate-pitch-and-run-closer/

Whicker: John Fassel and his Rams more special than we know

Two NFL coaches speak to the entire team. One is the head coach. The other is the special teams coach.

The special teams guy prepares six different units: Punt, punt return, kickoff, kickoff return, placekick, placekick defense. He takes players from every position group. He generally deals with the youngest part of the roster. The playmakers want no part of special teams, just as Hugh Jackman rarely sweeps the stage between Broadway acts.

“Look at the skills involved,” said Hank Bauer, the former captain of the Chargers’ specials. “If you’re rushing the punter you’ve got to have defensive line skills. If you’re blocking on punt returns it’s almost like pass protection. If you’re the gunner on punt coverage, you’re trying to get open like a wide receiver. If you’re a returner, you have to have the best hands on the team and the best decision-making ability.”.

“I was a nose tackle and fullback in high school (Anaheim Magnolia) but I played rugby in college (Cal Lutheran). You get into scrums, you make open-field tackles. When I started playing special teams I said, gosh, I’ve done this before.”

But when Black Monday comes, and the ejection seat is triggered for maybe half a dozen NFL head coaches, the special teams guy is lucky to get an interview.

Bill Cowher and John Harbaugh got interviewed and hired, and won Super Bowls. Bill Belichick had a special teams background, and treats that coach like a first lieutenant.

John Fassel is the Rams’ special teams coach. In the past three years the Rams have ranked second, first and first in net punting. In 2017 they were second in average drive start, the place where they gave Jared Goff the ball. Some of that has to do with the offense and its ability to force field position.

In the wreckage of 2016 the Rams were 26th of 32 in drive starts. That meant punter Johnny Hekker had to be phenomenal to give them any chance, and he was, with 51 punts downed inside the 20.

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Fassel was the interim coach in 2016 after the Rams fired Jeff Fisher. To his everlasting credit, new coach Sean McVay kept him around.

And, true, special teams mishaps can happen anywhere and to anyone, as we learned when Pro Bowl returner Pharoh Cooper fumbled two kicks in a 26-13 playoff loss to Atlanta.

But the Rams know how many games are decided in the moments between offense and defense, while most spectators are checking out their phones.

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is hoping linebacker Samson Ebukam plays more for him this season. That means Ebukam would play less for Fassel. Same with Cory Littleton.

So Fassel will be mining the younger parts of the roster. He says if he’s doing his job, he will always be rebuilding.

“I tell my guys that my job is to help you accomplish your dreams,” Fassel said. “Samson was a huge contributor. I couldn’t be happier for him. If your goal is to be a career special teams player, that’s a great business. But my job is to get the young guys ready to fill those shoes. It’s a puzzle that’s always in my head.”

When the rookies show up, Fassel will tell them, “It’s back to being a freshman.” Most haven’t covered the kick since they were first-year men in college. The speed and the science and the technique are otherworldly, as is the preparation.

“The first meeting of every week is a special teams meeting,” Bauer said. “But you hear head coaches mouth all the stuff about how important they are. The best ones mean it.

“I coached special teams for a while and I told them that if you’re on your one-yard-line, you got a one percent chance of scoring a touchdown. If you’re on your own 40, maybe you have a 40 percent chance.”

Six Rams participated in 55 percent or more of the special teams plays in the Week 16 win at Tennessee, the last significant regular-season game they played. Five of those Rams are still on the roster, but seven of the 11 drafted rookies will likely get a chance on coverage teams. The tiebreaker on roster decisions usually comes down to special teams work. In fact, that might be the most newsworthy thing about preseason games.

“It evolves year to year,” Fassel said. “Thank goodness we still have the same kicker, punter and snapper.”

The Rams have the same special teams coach, too, after seven NFL teams hired head coaches.

“Owners are fans,” Bauer said, with a sigh. “Fans love points.”

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/07/23/whicker-john-fassel-and-his-rams-more-special-than-we-know/

Holy Toledo! Robert Easter has his hometown behind him as he faces Mikey Garcia

The fighters stood up for their staredown, for the picture that shows them glaring eye-to-eye.

Nothing ever happens, now that Mike Tyson has retired. It’s all garnish. When they did it, Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley could barely keep from laughing.

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The only problem comes when your stink-eye can’t find the other guy’s stink-eye.

Mikey Garcia confronted Robert Easter Jr. last month and realized he had to look up. And up.

Easter is 5-foot-11. Garcia is 5-foot-6. Garcia has the WBC lightweight belt (135 pounds) and Garcia holds the IBF version. Both belts are in the middle of the table at Staples Center Saturday night.

Garcia (38-0) is heavily favored to chop down Easter and head toward Vasyl Lomachenko or Errol Spence or whomever brings the most business.

But Easter’s reach exceeds Garcia’s by 8 inches. This could be bothersome, if not threatening. Judging a safe distance is what boxing is all about.

“I want to fight champions,” Garcia said. “I don’t want to fight the 8-9-10 guys in the weight class. Robert has the height advantage but sometimes he gives that up to fight. He has the heart, he doesn’t take no for an answer. That’s what makes a great fight.”

Below that heart, Easter has some prominent ribs for Garcia to attack. He escaped with a split-decision over Javier Fortuna in his most recent defense, although Fortuna missed weight  and wasn’t eligible to win the belt.

Easter (21-0) does have 14 knockouts, but hasn’t finished anybody in his four championship bouts.

So what do you see when you finally find Easter’s eyes?

Well, he has a little Paul Williams in him. Williams was a true outlier, a 6-foot-1 beanpole of a welterweight who for years had no problem making the 147-pound limit. Williams beat Winky Wright, Sergio Martinez, Erislandy Lara and Antonio Margarito, and won the WBO championship twice. He would be a very big star today if not for the motorcycle accident that paralyzed him in 2012, when he was 31.

Most fighters churn through the weight classes as they age. But Easter weighed 137 for his pro debut,  a 4-rounder at Staples in 2011. He’s comfortable at 135.

His father was a boxer as well, before he became a transporter at a Toledo, Ohio hospital, a job he still holds.

Young Robert was a successful BMX racer as a kid and performed from coast-to-coast. “He had some pretty good crashes, too,” Robert Sr. said.

But Junior also was wrapping his hands in Kleenex, imitating his dad, when he was four.

To him, Glass City Boxing Gym became home, at least until the townspeople became so intrusive that Easter had to move his camp to West Palm Beach, Fla., where he works with new coach Kevin Cunningham.

Easter represents the place he lives. That’s becoming a welcome trend in boxing. The sport can’t rely on Las Vegas and New York. It needs widespread roots, and needs fighters to fight in the heartland and develop  fans.

Terence Crawford has planted those roots in Omaha, and Jose Ramirez has done so in Portland. Easter’s two championship flights at the Huntington Center in Toledo were major events.

“It’s kinda overwhelming at times, being there,” Easter said. “They look at you like the hometown hero. I can’t let them down. One slip-up, and it would be like shattering other people’s dreams. That’s what keeps me on my feet. I want to play a big part in the city.”

Overall Toledo is a crowd waiting for a pleaser. It is the template for the great American manufacturing city, the place where people built Jeeps, Chyrslers and GM cars and worked at the big glass factories such as Owens-Corning and Libby Owens Ford, the “LOF” you used to see emblazoned on your car windows. Like so many Great Lakes towns it had to put Rust-Oleum on itself.

Toledo is in the Detroit and Cleveland TV markets, which means that, every four years, it takes the most torrential buffeting of political ads in America. It also is the home of Tony Packo’s Hungarian hot dogs, and 10 percent of Toledo’s 280,000 residents are of Polish extraction. Easter refers to Toledo as “the Mud,” and of course the Triple-A team is the Mud Hens. His friends call him the E-Bunny. It’s a place with identity, which won’t recede no matter how many storefronts close.

“People from back there started booking their plane flights to L.A. before the tickets even went on sale,” Easter said.

The winner gets two lightweight belts, with Lomachenko and Ray Beltran holding the other two. Garcia could run into risky business with Easter. At least he can’t overlook him.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/07/22/holy-toledo-easter-has-his-hometown-behind-him-as-he-faces-mikey-garcia/

Whicker: Bobby Beathard in the Hall of Fame? No jacket required

The Pro Football Hall of Fame calls it a gold jacket. They’re entitled to do that.

The rest of us look at the coat that hangs on football’s best players, and we recognize it as yellow. OK, maybe mustard.

Not that we’re eager to point that out to Lawrence Taylor.

Bobby Beathard goes into the Hall on Aug. 4 in Canton, Ohio. There will not be a more physically uncomfortable person in the house. It would be a challenge to find a photo of Beathard in a collared shirt, much less a pair of shoes with laces. Usually the only thing on Beathard’s shoulders is sunscreen.

“I tried on the coat and it felt great,” Beathard said. “I don’t think I’ll be wearing it anywhere except there (the Hall of Fame). I won’t be wearing it out to dinner very often.”

He’s an old Cal Poly quarterback, a teammate of John Madden’s, a lifelong and around-the-clock body surfer and runner who hasn’t eaten a piece of meat in decades.

He didn’t play in the NFL, but he discovered Jan Stenerud and he drafted Junior Seau, Darrell Green, Russ Grimm and Art Monk, Hall of Famers all.

San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard looks on during a game against the Cleveland Browns at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego in 1990. (Rick Stewart/Allsport/Getty Images)

Beathard was the first-year personnel director of the Miami Dolphins in 1972, when they had the Perfect Season. He sustained their excellence in the years thereafter. He took over in Washington and won four Super Bowls with four different quarterbacks.

He came to San Diego to be closer to his elderly parents, and he drafted and managed the Chargers into their only Super Bowl appearance.

All NFL GMs faced challenges during the players’ strike of 1987. Where do you find replacement players? Beathard somehow did.

“Some of them, I’d played touch football with,” he said. “They were good.”

Their win over the Dallas Cowboys, who were playing Tony Dorsett, Randy White and Danny White, is one of the legendary moments in NFL history. Washington won all three replacement games, which counted in the standings. They also got Super Bowl rings when the varsity returned and won it all.

Beathard did it all originally, and organically. It takes little instinct to process height-weight-speed figures. When Beathard went to Texas A&I in 1982, he found Green, a 5-foot-8 cornerback. Washington picked him 28th, or last, in the first round.

Beathard called Green, expecting gratitude.

“Why did you take so long?” Green sputtered.

“Blame the other 27 teams,” Beathard replied. “Don’t blame us.”

Green returned six picks for touchdowns, had 54 interceptions overall, was All-Pro four times, and returned a punt 35 yards when he was 42.

“A lot of people thought we were crazy,” Beathard said, “but Texas A&I always had good talent. I would visit every college that was playing football. The coach would have a list of the guys he thought were prospects, but I encourage scouts to look a little deeper. There might be some other guys who can play, too.”

Beathard became enamored with the back roads. He constructed a pretty good backfield in Miami with Gary Davis (Cal Poly) and Leroy Harris (Arkansas State). While at Washington, he found a 12th-round tight end from Portland State named Clint Didier. While at San Diego, he drafted Rodney Harrison in the fifth round from Western Illinois.

“He wanted to find out what a guy was like as a person,” said Joe Theismann, the ex-Washington quarterback. “Joe Jacoby walked into the office and looked like a defensive tackle, and they made him an offensive tackle, and he should be in the Hall of Fame, too. Art Monk was a running back at Syracuse, but Bobby saw his hands.

“And of course, Bobby wasn’t dressed like everyone else. He thought shorts were formal wear.”

Beathard also had the closest thing to a perfect union with his coach, Joe Gibbs, who will introduce him at Canton.

“Bobby decides who comes to camp and I decide who stays,” Gibbs said, and those 11 words should be embroidered on every GM’s pillow.

In San Diego, Beathard found Natrone Means on the 41st pick and also drafted Stanley Richard, Darrien Gordon and Chris Mims. In 1998, he had the No. 2 pick in the draft and took Ryan Leaf. It went downhill from there, and when coach Mike Riley begged him to take a backup quarterback from Michigan with one of three sixth-round picks, Beathard did not. He chose Ja’Juan Seider from Florida A&M. Goodbye, Tom Brady.

Beathard lives near Nashville, where his son Casey has written hit music for Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, Tracy Byrd and many others. Those aren’t yellow records on Casey’s wall. The Beathards know gold when they find it.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/07/21/whicker-bobby-beathard-in-the-hall-of-fame-no-jacket-required/

Whicker: Mike Trout is a regular guy who happens to be the best player in baseball

It was early in the 2002 season, another beautiful night in a beautiful stadium in Anaheim, another parade of cars on the 57 South, visible beyond left field, few of them stopping.

Empty seats were in the majority. Fans stretched out. It was casual and pleasant. It also wasn’t good business.

A longtime Angel employee sighed and asked, “I don’t know what we can do to draw. We’ve tried everything.”

He was referring to the stadium renovation, to new ownership, to diving into the free-agent market, to growing their own, to leading by 11 games in August.

Someone replied, “There is one thing you haven’t tried.”

“What’s that?”

“Winning.”

And then the Angels tried that.

They clinched an American League wild-card spot in the final week of that season and came home to a different territory. Cars backed up on the exit ramps. More than 40 years of inertia was replaced by an avalanche of screaming Halomania. It did not stop until the Angels won the World Series.

It really hasn’t stopped yet. The Angels drew 3.06 million fans the next season, an increase of more than 700,000. They have not failed to draw 3 million since. That has prevailed through a wretched decade, with only one playoff appearance since 2009. In that one, the Angels got swept in three by Kansas City.

Baseball’s Topic Of The Week was the prominence of Mike Trout, or lack of it. Why isn’t he LeBron James, Drake or the most interesting man in the world?

Some say it is baseball’s fault. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred appeared to say it was Trout’s fault, that you can’t be “passive” when it comes to marketing yourself.

Taken literally, his words were relatively innocent, but the Angels countered by trumpeting Trout’s all-around virtue, particularly his charitable work, and seven years of masterful play without a public misstep.

There was some legit grievance there, but there was also a we-got-your-back message to Trout, who becomes a free agent after the 2020 season.

This was the kind of pointless crossfire normally seen on the political channels. It was not based on fact, but perception.

Trout is not a tree falling in a remote forest. He has finished first or second in every American League MVP race but one, and won the award in 2016 when the Angels lost 88 games.

He is routinely described as the Face Of Baseball, primarily because he has such a contented face, doing what he loves.

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How famous is he supposed to be? Nolan Arenado, in Colorado, has almost as much impact and is more obscure. Kris Bryant isn’t all over TV. Aaron Judge is, but he hits long home runs and plays for the Yankees. Corey Kluber and Chris Sale could walk down Fifth Avenue wearing candy-striped sports coats with gold-plated name tags and it wouldn’t matter.

The NBA and the NFL are different. Quarterback is the most dominant and visible position in sports. Basketball’s human conglomerates play at least 40 of 48 minutes and can turn around a team’s fortune with one dotted-line sign.

Trout makes a plate appearance 11 percent of the time. The limits of his influence are painfully plain.

We watch and identify with baseball teams, not individuals. And we’re still watching. Forbes Magazine reports that MLB games in 11 markets are the highest-rated prime-time TV shows. In 24 markets, they’re atop the cable-only ratings – and that doesn’t count the continuing Dodgers blackout.

Generally, a ballplayer has to do outsized things to make a commercial splash. Reggie Jackson did them. So did Mark McGwire. So did Nolan Ryan and David Ortiz. Barry Bonds, in other circumstances, assuredly would have.

Trout isn’t a mythic figure. He’s a regular guy who sits in the seats, not in the suites, at Philadelphia Eagles games. He just plays mythic baseball on a nightly basis.

It’s refreshing and nostalgic to see a great player who doesn’t chase popularity, who has no trademark pose or shimmy or dance.

In the NBA, you don’t have to win to sell (i.e., Chris Paul, James Harden, Blake Griffin). In baseball, you do. The postseason is the only time America gathers around. Derek Jeter wasn’t a celebrity because of what he did from April through September. He was the captain of the Last Dynasty, and he collected the spoils.

If Mike Trout gets to a World Series and homers five times in seven games and reaches above the wall to grab somebody else’s drive, his face will become inescapable. Maybe he’ll be an Angel when that happens. Maybe not.

In the meantime, let’s not dissuade Trout of the belief that he only needs to play one game.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.ocregister.com/2018/07/20/whicker-mike-trout-is-a-regular-guy-who-happens-to-be-the-best-player-in-baseball/