Detroit Tigers infielder Placido Polanco, the starting second baseman in Tuesday's All-Star Game, continues to put up lofty numbers and has managed to impress not only the fans, but his teammates as well.
"(Polanco) just keeps getting better and better and better," teammate Sean Casey, who entered the league in 1998, the same year as Polanco, told the Detroit News. "He's fun to watch because of everything he does, even the little things. You really appreciate him on a daily basis."
Now 31 years old, Polanco has come a long way from being a relatively unknown player in the Dominican Republic to being named the 2006 ALCS MVP, during which he batted .529.
"I was a very average player who just kept on working and got better and better," Polanco said. "Some people would say things early in my career, think like that I couldn't play every day. But I've always believed in myself.
"If you don't believe, you're dead."
Polanco, who had three hits that included a home run on Thursday to raise his average to .334 on the year, is thrilled to be playing in the All-Star game.
"It really means a lot because you're going to go out on the field and all you'll see is Hall of Famers," he said. "I think everyone in the Major Leagues wants to be an All-Star at least once in his life."
Capps' journey goes quickly: Pittsburgh reliever Matt Capps has come a long way in a short time -- from virtually no Major League experience just over a year ago to the Pirates' closer in 2007.
"He's gone from [four] Major League innings at the beginning of 2006 to [being] a very good and reliable late-inning pitcher," Pirates manager Jim Tracy told MLB.com. "That's a [tremendous] ascension in such a short period of time."
The ability to throw strikes on both sides of the plate with a high level of consistency is the key, noted Tracy.
"We're not talking about good control with a 94-96 mph fastball," he said. "We're talking about pinpoint control."
With a slider, his outstanding fastball and a changeup that remains a work in progress, Capps looks to have plenty more success in his future.
"This guy can become a special closer," Tracy said. "I mean, a real special closer."
On Thursday, Capps picked up his ninth save of the season in the Pirates' 6-3 victory over Milwaukee. He has an ERA of 2.42.
Tigers' Jones has eye on 300 saves: Detroit Tigers closer Todd Jones became only the 14th Major League pitcher in history to record 200 saves with one franchise on Wednesday, but he has a larger number on his mind.
"I'm really focusing on 300 [career saves]," Jones told MLB.com. "I'm 16 from there. That's going to be a big number, because I wasn't supposed to be a consistent closer ever. Maybe I'll prove somebody wrong one day."
Jones, through Thursday, has 21 saves this season and believes he can hit the mark this season. If he does, he'll be the first player in history to record his 300th save as a member of the Tigers. But for as excited as he is about hitting that number, he admits that over time it may lose some of its luster.
"I think you're starting to see this generation of relievers really push the envelope well past 300," said Jones. "If I get a chance to get to 300, by the time I'm dead, there's going to be three times as many guys in that club. It's just a number. Because the role has switched to one inning, you're able to throw up more saves per year.
"Certainly 300 is nothing to sneeze at, but I think that's why people in the Hall of Fame are having trouble coming up with ways to quantify closers. I would certainly think that our generation of closers would be the first generation of benchmark guys that were one-inning guys, from [Trevor] Hoffman to [Mariano] Rivera. It starts there and it probably will end there."
Manager Jim Leyland is among those who is confident in what Jones can do when he takes the mound.
"Everybody acts like the good outings are an exception. That's not true," Leyland said. "The bad outings are an exception. He's done a tremendous job here over the last two years. Nobody's perfect. This guy's done a tremendous job of closing out games for us, and everybody acts like when he saves one it's a surprise. To me, it's a surprise when he doesn't save one. Look at his track record over the last two years. It's pretty good."
Greinke goes to bullpen and lets 'er rip: Kansas City pitcher Zack Greinke, who began the season as a starter, has established himself as one of the best relievers in baseball since making the switch to the bullpen.
Heading into Friday, Greinke is 3-0 with an ERA of 3.27 as a reliever, having struck out 35 batters while walking just seven.
"My stuff is way better now [in the bullpen]," Greinke told MLB.com. "It's not even a comparison. I just pretty much throw everything as hard as I possibly can and I don't know how many people actually do that, but I have never none that before, at least on a consistent basis."
Even the opposition has taken notice.
"Their staff has done a good job with [Greinke] and he has his confidence back and he has got his game together," said Mariners manager John McLaren. "When you are an opposing team and you are bringing that kind of stuff in from the bullpen, you are actually sometimes bringing in better stuff than the guy who started the game. That's pretty good."
In his last 17 innings, Greinke has struck out 18, walked just two and has an ERA of 1.04. So has he made changes since moving out of the rotation?
"Getting ahead in the count better, that might be a difference," he said. "Just even if it is the same pitch, hitters hit the ball better when they are ahead in the count versus when they are behind the count. I have been getting them out with the first pitch instead of the last pitch.
"I am using my breaking ball more early in the count than I was in the past, because I probably throw that easier for strikes than I throw my fastball for strikes."
Pence shows up among leaders: After missing the first month of the season due to playing at Triple-A Round Rock, Houston Astros center fielder Hunter Pence finally gained enough plate appearances to be listed among the league leaders Wednesday.
His name was near the top of several categories, as he was second in hitting behind Matt Holliday of Colorado and third in slugging.
"Wow, that's crazy," Pence told the Houston Chronicle. "That's pretty weird."
Pence is also becoming one of the best clutch hitters for the Astros -- he hit a walk-off home run Tuesday night -- but the rookie is showing no signs of letting his early success get to his head.
"It shows that he's well-grounded and how he's keeping the focus where it should be," manager Phil Garner said. "I like the way he's handling it. He's downplaying his successes and saying he has a lot of lot of things to try to stay focused on."
Hart still streaking: By leading off Wednesday's game with a single against Pittsburgh, Milwaukee outfielder Corey Hart joined elite company.
The hit extended Hart's career-high hitting streak to 20 games. The streak is the fourth longest in club history and is the longest since 1987, when Paul Molitor set the club record with a 39-game hitting streak.
Hart has been a spark in the lineup for the Brewers since being moved into the leadoff spot, hitting better than .340. However, when at the plate, Hart does his best to put the streak out of his mind.
"I don't think about it," Hart told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I try to go out and get hits every day. If I have a good day, I have a good day. It would be much better if we had won."
For Ramirez, long road ends with special debut: It would have been easy for Edwar Ramirez to give up on his dream of becoming a Major League pitcher. He was twice released by the Angels, missed all of 2004 when no team would sign him and has pitched in two independent leagues. But Ramirez never gave up on his dream.
"I knew I got time," he told Newsday. "I never put my head down."
Ramirez made his Major League debut Tuesday night for the Yankees and struck out all three hitters he faced. Signed by New York on July 9 after recording 16 saves in 25 games for Edinburg, Texas, of the independent Union League, Ramirez fanned Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Lew Ford in the ninth inning. By striking out the side, he became the first Yankees pitcher to start his career with three straight strikeouts since Stan Bahnsen on Sept. 9, 1966.
The strikeouts shouldn't be too surprising, though. While at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Ramirez posted 47 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings of work and had a 0.67 ERA.
"You can see he has confidence out there," manager Joe Torre said. "He missed a 2-and-2 changeup on Morneau and got him on the 3-and-2 pitch. That changeup was tough to detect. It seemed to stop."
Before throwing his first pitch, Ramirez gave himself a little pep talk on the mound at Yankee Stadium.
"You want to stay here, let's go," he told himself.
Valentin will get more time for Reds: Cincinnati catcher Javier Valentin may see quite an increase in playing time soon, as interim manager Pete Mackanin wants the catcher to pick up some more at-bats.
"I'm going to try to catch Valentin more, get his bat in the lineup," Mackanin told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I'd like to get him more at-bats. I think he's going to be better defensively the more he catches. He's not Johnny Bench. But his bat is a valuable asset that we need to get in the lineup."
Mackanin admits that he likes Valentin off of the bench late in games, but thinks the tradeoff is worth it.
"One of the things that is a strength of his is his ability to turn around a good fastball that most closers, other than Trevor Hoffman, feature," he said. "That being the case -- it's like not using a pitcher for a week; you can't count on him to throw quality strikes, not being sharp.
"Likewise when you're a hitter and you're not getting more than a handful of at-bats a week, it's hard to count on him in the clutch. My feeling is keep him as sharp as possible."
So it looks like Valentin can plan on getting more opportunities to help the Reds.
"I just feel he's an untapped resource we have that we're not getting anything out of," said Mackanin. "To ask somebody to win a game for you in the ninth inning when he doesn't play that often is hard to do."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.