Lots of Major League players take in-game batting practice to help them prepare for a possible pinch-hitting situation later in the game. Few, however, take it from a live pitcher, who also happens to be a teammate.
Ben Broussard tied a Major League record by hitting his third career pinch-hit grand slam on Saturday. He did it with the help of teammate Willie Bloomquist, who pitched to Broussard in the batting cages underneath the stadium to help him warm up for his at-bat.
"About the sixth or the seventh inning, he goes in there with me, pulls the screen in real close to me and pitches like he's a real pitcher," Broussard told the Seattle Times of Bloomquist's role in his success.
"I can barely foul a ball off because it's right on top of me. And he throws curveballs and sliders and splits. And he feels good about himself because he thinks he's a nasty pitcher. But for me, he keeps me as sharp as I can be in the situation that I'm in right now."
Bloomquist played seven different positions for the Mariners last year but did not pitch. He wants to be considered as an option on the mound if the team finds itself in need of an emergency hurler in a blowout. But he's happy to help out Broussard.
"I usually take underhand flips or whatever, hit off a tee or off a machine," Bloomquist said. "Ben likes a live arm. So I throw to him. It's kind of a way to get my arm loose in case I've got to go in."
The two began working together earlier this season.
"I started throwing to him and he liked it," Bloomquist said. "He was like, 'Man, you've got me locked in. So I'd throw to him whenever he wants. Then I'd start mixing in some at-bats where I started busting out some splitters and some sliders, curveballs and power curves, changeups and whatnot.
"I'd like to think they were good pitches, but obviously he managed them pretty well. I told him if he could hit me, he could hit anybody."
Reyes soaking up every day in Majors: Al Reyes has overcome a series of setbacks during his career, but right now, he is at the top of his game. Reyes, 37, became only the third Tampa Bay closer to start the season 5-for-5 in save chances, joining Roberto Hernandez (1999) and Lance Carter (2003).
"He's been our anchor, basically," manager Joe Maddon told the Tampa Tribune. "He's come into the game with this incredible, professional calm about him, and then he's gone out and pitched very well on top of that."
Since being a Rule 5 draft choice of Milwaukee in 1995, Reyes has played for a total of 17 different teams -- seven Major League teams and 10 in the Minors. Twice he has had surgery on his right elbow, including Tommy John surgery in 2005.
"I showed people in the big leagues I can pitch at this level," Reyes said of the 2005 season. "Right now I'm here, I started Opening Day here. This feels good, but I feel like I have to keep going."
Now, Reyes is the Rays' closer, the first time in his career he has been a team's stopper. Despite throwing a fastball that tops out at 89 mph, Reyes has made opposing hitters look helpless at the plate this season. Reyes, however, knows success can be fleeting, so he isn't getting too confident about his good start.
"When my career's done, when I've been in the big leagues and I've retired being here, then I say, 'OK, I feel all right,'" said Reyes. "But [now] I'm like, 'You're here today, but you don't know about tomorrow.'"
A new year for Helton: What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, Colorado first baseman Todd Helton was in a hospital with an intestinal ailment that led to him losing 15 pounds and a lot of his strength. It was an illness that basically derailed Helton during the 2006 season, both at the plate and in his approach to the game.
"It changed me in a lot of personal ways, but nothing I want printed in the newspaper," Helton told the Denver Post. "It did show me how much I love this game, how privileged I am to do this for a living. I've always known that, but that was a reminder."
Helton looks like the player who was one of the best left-handed sluggers in the game for years. Entering the weekend, he was hitting .316 with one home run, nine RBIs and a .435 on-base percentage.
Red-hot Beltran looks for average, not power: Carlos Beltran set a New York Mets record with 41 home runs last season. But entering this season, Beltran said he needed to raise his batting average, and if that meant hitting a few less home runs, then so be it.
"That's my goal," he told Newsday. "I prefer to hit .300 than over 40 home runs."
Beltran hit .275 last season, which was better than his .266 mark in 2005, his first season with the Mets. He also has struggled hitting at Shea Stadium, including a .224 mark in 2005.
This season, however, Beltran is making good on his goal. Through Saturday he was hitting .385 overall, as well as .385 at Shea Stadium this year, despite having to play in miserably cold weather for many of his games. Beltran, however, said he is not paying attention to his home-road splits.
"I don't keep up with that," he said. "I don't care. It doesn't matter where you produce, the road or at home. I want to just help this team win."
Instead, Beltran is just concentrating on continuing his strong start at the plate, something he hasn't always enjoyed at this time of year.
"I've always been a slow starter," Beltran said. "But things are good now. I have to take advantage."
Marquis learns to relax against former teammates: Chicago Cubs pitcher Jason Marquis was strong against his former teammates on Saturday, working seven shutout innings in the Cubs' 6-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. After the win, Marquis spoke of the difference between facing the Cardinals now and facing another former team -- the Atlanta Braves -- when he first arrived in St. Louis.
"I was a little younger, and I really used a lot of aggression facing Atlanta," Marquis told the Chicago Tribune. "It really worked against me. Today, it was more my choice to come to the Cubs. This is the place I wanted to be, and the team is going in the right direction. I try not to get too amped up about it."
Now 2-1 on the year, Marquis lowered his ERA to 1.88 after enduring a 2006 campaign that ended with him sporting an ERA of 6.02.
"I don't care what anybody says about the guy," said catcher Michael Barrett. "I'll make my own opinion, and so far he has been a lot of fun to work with. He's a competitor and a tremendous athlete, and I'm proud he's part of this organization."
Big day turns the tide for Rolen: Most Major Leaguers recognize that early-season batting averages don't mean much. And, they can turn around in a hurry.
St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen came into Sunday's game against the Cubs hitting just .200. With his career-best five hits in the Cardinals' 12-9, 10-inning win over the Cubs, Rolen raised his average to .268 and smacked his second home run of the year.
"I feel like all of a sudden I'm having a decent year," Rolen told MLB.com. "One game, and all of a sudden your year's not so bad anymore."
Two of those singles were infield hits, but Rolen said that he felt better coming into the day and was pleased with his performance. "I felt more comfortable today," he said. "I controlled my at-bats a little bit better today. I did get a chop hit, a ball down to third, that got my day going."
Hot streak gets Johnson back on track: Kelly Johnson capped off a tremendous week by hitting two home runs on Sunday, leading the Braves to a 9-6 win over the Mets. Johnson's heroics helped the Braves take two out of three games in the series, which had first place in the National League East on the line.
"Those are the ones that you're going to remember," Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Johnson was batting just .150 a week ago but, since then has raised his average to .297, thanks to a 13-for-24 stretch.
"I told you that sucker was gonna hit," third baseman Chipper Jones said of Johnson, whose .423 on-base percentage ranks near the top among Major League leadoff men. "He's got all the fundamentals and the mental side of it down."
Colon back sooner -- and better -- than expected: Some projections had Bartolo Colon not ready to pitch in the Majors until the All-Star break this season. But just nine months after suffering a rotator cuff tear, Colon rejoined the Angels and picked up a win his first outing, pitching seven innings and giving up just one run in the team's 7-6 victory over the Mariners on Saturday.
"When reality set in about what Bart was dealing with, and we talked about when he'd be ready ... this was the best of the best-case scenarios, for him being ready as early as he was, with the stamina and stuff he had," manager Mike Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times. "He maintained his stuff the whole game."
It was not a pain-free return to the mound, as Colon suffered a tweaked ankle in the second inning while covering first base and in his last inning he got hit in the back by a line drive. But neither injury is considered serious and neither took the luster off of Colon's performance.
"I always said to myself I'd be back in April," Colon said. "The goal was not half a season or anything like that. I'm not surprised. This is what I expected."
Colon reached 95 mph on the radar gun, which was down from his previous velocity, but still enough to rank him among the game's hardest throwers.
"I know the days of throwing 99 or 100 mph are probably over, but I'm very pleased where I am," Colon said. "I'm still gaining strength, but [will I throw like I did] five years ago? That's not going to happen."
Loe makes case for spot in rotation: Making his first start of the season Saturday for Texas, Kameron Loe made sure he would remain in the rotation after throwing 5 1/3 shutout innings before turning the game over to the bullpen in a 7-0 win.
Loe gave way to C.J. Wilson in the sixth inning with two men on base. Wilson walked the first batter he faced before getting out of the inning with two strikeouts.
"That was huge," Loe told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram of Wilson's relief. "That pumped me up. C.J. came in after me in a pressure situation and he shut the door, and the other relievers shut the door as well."
Loe and Wilson share an apartment, so the two share a bond that goes beyond the baseball field.
"As a friend, as a roommate, as a teammate, altogether, we have a special relationship, I guess," Wilson said. "Every time one of us pitches, we always try to talk about what went right or wrong, and we have a lot of good things to talk about tonight."
The outing for Loe showed that his strong spring wasn't a fluke. He compiled a 0.92 ERA this spring but started the year in the bullpen, something that helped spur Loe to keep pitching well.
"It was a disappointment when they told me I'd be in the bullpen," Loe said, "but I got over it. ... I know I have to prove myself, I have to prove that I belong in the rotation."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.