There are the bad games, there are the really bad games, and then there are the games that occupy that rareified tier of repugnance -- the ones that actually compel me to scrap what I was originally going to write about and hastily flesh out my backup plan:
● If you've grown sick and tired of hearing about Kevin Millwood, let me be the first to tell you that you're hardly alone. That disclaimer aside, the controversial nature of his contractual situation and the fact that he appears to be caught in this weird nexus between "mechanically unsynchronized" and "injured" is going to continue fueling this story until some sort of closure is found, be it in the form of Millwood hitting that 180-inning marker, resurrecting his fast-fading command or getting shut down for good ... and I think we all know what sort of unwelcome reprisal that last scenario would bring upon the Rangers courtesy of Millwood's agent, Scott Boras, and a presumably incensed MLBPA.
[Incidentally, Millwood logged a bullpen session for a second consecutive day on Monday and has been watching game video of his more palatable first-half starts in an effort to render his delivery more "upright," with the degradation of his mechanics being chiefly blamed for his second-half struggles; as things currently stand, he's slated to start either Sunday afternoon's series finale against Anaheim or next Tuesday evening's tilt in Oakland.
Now, is Millwood actually injured, or is he simply fighting through mental fatigue and some typical arm soreness? It's certainly easier to take his declaration of health at face value, and there's really no chance of jettisoning him from the rotation unless something concrete and medically supportable is uncovered. Also, if the Rangers were to attempt to file paperwork supporting their claim that Millwood was, in fact, injured, you can bet that documentation would be scrutinized right down to the last punctuation mark by any number of high-ranking eyeballs. Vesting options aren't imprudent in the abstract, but this whole debacle illustrates why they're hardly failsafe contractual mechanisms.]
One thing which definitely merits notation is that the one-start plunge in Millwood's Pitch f/x-clocked fastball velocity -- really, this applies to any major league pitcher -- doesn't really appear to be indicative of a velocity-sapping arm affliction, or anything else for that matter. Why, you ask? Because while Millwood averaged just 88 mph with his heater during his futile Saturday evening effort against the Mariners, noted fireballer Felix Hernandez -- who has averaged roughly 94 mph with his fastball in 2009 -- sat roughly 2.5 mph below his velocity baseline, as did Tommy Hunter, Brandon Morrow and presumably everybody else who pitched through that rain-soaked three-game weekend set.
That sort of across-the-board phenomenon is obviously the product of miscalibration in the Pitch f/x system at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and therein lies one of the lingering problems in using Pitch f/x-mined data for pitching evaluation -- variation isn't supposed to exist in the system from ballpark to ballpark, but it does with startling frequency, and it's why baseball can't afford to become complacent with pitch-tracking technology. It can -- and will -- get better, but until the day of nigh-perfection arrives, the perpetual grain of salt will have to remain in play.
● Last Friday afternoon, Ranger owner Tom Hicks flatly stated that his franchise was operating under "normal budgetary constraints" and was not being subjected to league-imposed interference insofar as financial matters were concerned, after which an most important revelation came to light -- the exact nature of the assistance the Rangers have received from Major League Baseball, which, for some reason, nobody seemed capable of nailing down until now.
According to MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, the frequently cited $15 million figure that the Rangers were purported to have borrowed was actually a line of credit, which (a) acted as an advance on future revenues coming into the franchise coffers at the end of the season and (b) had been only partially utilized.
In addition to the extent of the league's financial assistance being far less significant than the initial media portrayals would have had you believe, one finds it more difficult to believe that the owners would attempt to create such enormous leverage against Hicks by virtue of his request ... unless, of course, that money was diverted directly into the pool of funds reserved for amateur and international signees.
[From the "For What It's Worth" Department, courtesy of Buster Olney's Monday morning ESPN.com chat transcript: "I think the Rangers' financial problems are serious, moreso than what Mr. Hicks said the other day." Well, okay then. Maybe we can get Buck Showalter's take on this as well, since he's actually still on the payroll. So, too, is John Hart -- in fact, did you realize that Hart is under contract with the Rangers through the 2013 season? To put that into context, Michael Young will be 37 years old by then ... and I'll be 26. Yikes.]
Given Hicks' candid acknowledgement that the Rangers had invested in excess of $3 million into Latin America since being green-lighted for that line of credit, one could see how the timing might look a tad suspicious, but as Michael Hodson -- author of The Mobile Lawyer and apparently devout reader of this space -- has asserted multiple times in e-mail exchanges, not even an owner-pressured commissioner's office should possess the latitude to mandate what the Rangers do with Millwood, much less how they choose to spend in the off-season.
Injury Notes: Third baseman Michael Young (strained left hamstring) enjoyed a productive indoors workout on Monday and hopes to have a target date for his return within the next 48 hours ... Outfielder Josh Hamilton (pinched nerve, lower back) received a third epidural injection of cortisone last Friday and is reportedly "determined" to return to the lineup in time for Friday evening's series opener against the Angels; he did not, however, throw or play catch on Monday ... Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Thoracic Outlet Syndrome) received a second opinion in St. Louis on Monday and will undergo additional tests on his right arm later today; a confirmation of Dr. Gregory Pearl's original diagnosis could convince Saltalamacchia to go ahead and undergo season-ending surgery, but nothing has yet been finalized.