Daily Dish: May 2

See also: Monday’s Daily Dish
See also: Today’s Baseball America Prospect Report

Double-A Jacksonville center fielder Matt Kemp extended his hitting streak to 16 games and his on-base streak to 19 as he came a single shy of hitting for the cycle in the Suns’ 9-3 win against West Tenn on Monday.

Kemp is hitting .406 during the streak, and all four of his homers have come during that span.

“Right now, I feel really good–very confident,” Kemp said. “Every time I go up there, I feel like I can get a hit. I’m not thinking about this streak or whatever, though. It is what it is. I just go out there, take every AB the same and see where that takes me.”

For now, it’s taken him to the No. 2 spot in the Southern League in hitting, with overall numbers of .337/.402/.604 in 101 at-bats. The sixth-round pick in 2003 out of Midwest City (Okla.) High also ranks among the minor league leaders in hits with 34.

“Our whole team–we started off pretty slow, myself definitely included,” Kemp said. “But a lot of the credit for everyone goes to (Suns hitting coach) Mike Easler for getting our swings back from a ton of hours in the cage. Mike really helped all of us a lot confidence-wise.

“I know personally, I was pressing big time early on and it showed. But, you know, you get a couple to fall and then you suddenly start seeing balls better–it builds from there.”

Kemp, who spent a large chunk of the spring in big league camp playing center field with the major league club, is also playing center for Jacksonville. Last season–and in the Arizona Fall League–Kemp played primarily right and most scouts questioned his range and speed to play center field.

“I love it and it’s definitely a position I want to play,” Kemp said. “The more I’m out there, the better it feels, the more comfortable I am. I think playing in big league camp did a lot for me that way–I might not have done much with the stick over there, but I played really good defense.

“If they want me to stay there, I’ll stay there. And if they want me to move back to the corner, that’s fine. Whatever keeps me in the lineup every day–it doesn’t matter where I play.”


Lerew Silences Critics

Everybody had their turn piling on Braves righthander Anthony Lerew this spring.

First it was International League batters, who hit .367 with five home runs in Lerew’s first five starts–five outings in which he failed to reach the sixth inning even once. If that weren’t enough, Lerew was referenced as not-so-hot in consecutive Prospect Hot Sheet appearances. Lerew was still generating 92-95 mph fastball velocity, but couldn’t use the pitch to set up his slider and his new split-finger offering.

“He’s not commanding his fastball like he did last year,” Richmond pitching coach Derek Botelho told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “He’s just going through a period where he’s getting knocked around a little bit. It’s kind of an awakening for him. His mistakes are getting pounded.”

Lerew, 23, went a step toward silencing his critics last night with seven shutout innings against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He walked four and struck out one in the Braves’™ 3-1 victory.

A directive from Botelho and roving pitching instructor Bill Fischer was the impetus for Lerew’s turnaround, according to the paper. While observing a side session, they told Lerew to stop dropping his hands to his belt before starting his windup because, the duo thought, it wasn’™t allowing his arm to get to the proper angle.

“It felt so much better,” Lerew told the paper. “It’s amazing how a little thing can mess you up sometimes.”

Lerew, the Braves’™ top pitching prospect, also showed off his athleticism by collecting a couple of hits, scoring a run and even stealing a base. He’™s 12-for-33 the past two seasons as a hitter.


Lansford Impressive in Debut

Athletics righthander Jared Lansford couldn’t have scripted his debut at low Class A Kane County any better.

Monday night, Lansford didn’t allow a hit through five innings, then gave up two singles to start the sixth before giving way to the bullpen. He struck out five and walked two.

“For a first outing, that was way beyond what I expected to do,” Lansford told the Beacon (Ill.) News. “I was just trying to throw strikes and, luckily, they were hitting right at guys.”

Lansford, a second-round pick last year out of Santa Clara (Calif.) High and son of former big leaguer Carney Lansford, set the tone early, striking out the side in the first inning of the Cougars’ 2-0 win against Clinton.

“The two-seamer fastball was working really well,” Lansford told the paper. “I had some sink on it, and my catcher (Anthony Recker) had a great game plan. They (his teammates) have seen these guys before, and I never had, so I had a little advantage there.”


Pelfrey already in Double-A, Soler Next?

The clock is ticking on Alay Soler in the Florida State League. The Cuban defector was dynamite yet again last night in high Class A St. Lucie’s 1-0 win against Brevard County, allowing just one hit and no walks while striking out seven in seven brilliant innings. The 26-year-old righthander improved to 2-0, 0.64 with 32 strikeouts, eight walks and a .128 opponents’ batting average in 28 innings this year. His command has been impeccable since he walked six batters in 10 innings over his first two starts of the season.

Because of his age and background, Soler doesn’t figure to be long for the FSL. The Mets signed him to a three-year, $2.8 million contract in September 2004, and he pitched at the Mets’ Dominican complex in 2005. A star on the Cuban national team that won the 2002 World University Games, Soler seems to have the makeup to handle the pressure of New York, and his stuff (91-94 mph fastball and low-80s slider with exceptional depth) could put him on the fast track to pitch in the majors later this summer.



• Triple-A Salt Lake turned a triple play last night against visiting Las Vegas when Chris Truby lined out to first base during an attempted hit-and-run. Kendry Morales, who was playing first, doubled off the runner on first base, then threw to second to nab the lead runner. “That was something else,” Bees manager Brian Harper told the Desert Morning News. “It was more good fortune on our part than anything else. They happened to hit a line drive right at Kendry and (they) were in a hit-and-run, so it was there for us.” . . . Rangers first baseman/outfielder Jason Botts has been out of Triple-A Oklahoma’s lineup with a strained intercostal muscle, which is located on the inside of the ribcage. He is listed as day-to-day . . . Rockies first baseman Todd Helton will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Colorado Springs tonight . . . The Yankees made a flurry of moves at the lower levels on Monday, promoting lefthander Phil Coke to high Class A Tampa. Coke went 0-1, 0.53 in 17 innings. The Yanks also placed righthander Jason Stephens on the disabled list with arm tightness. Stephens, a 2003 sixth-rounder, was 2-1, 1.66 with 22 strikeouts in 22 innings . . . Indians first baseman Michael Aubrey, who has been troubled by back problems over the last two seasons, left extended spring training and is expected to join high Class A Kinston today. Aubrey will likely be serving as the team’s designated hitter, and won’t see much time in the field . . . Braves outfielder Josh Burrus has been activated from the DL. Burrus, a first-round pick in 2001, has been in extended spring training rehabbing a shoulder injury he sustained while playing in the AFL last October. He will join Double-A Mississippi today . . . Reds lefthander Philippe Valiquette returned from the DL to pitch two innings, allowing one run, in the low Class A Dayton Dragons sweep of the Burlington Bees. Valiquette had been sidelined by a strained oblique muscle.