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Sunday Baseball Notes

Baseball’s big surprises from little-known players

In his first 15 games, Twins outfielder Chris Colabello, a Milford native, hit .357 and drove in 19 runs.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

In his first 15 games, Twins outfielder Chris Colabello, a Milford native, hit .357 and drove in 19 runs.

There have been disappointing performances and disappointing injuries this season, such as the one Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton suffered after he was off to such a hot start. But the flip side is that players have come out of the blue and made impacts.

That includes Chris Colabello of the Twins, a Milford native who in 15 games had driven in 19 runs and hit .357 with a .981 OPS.

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Colabello, 30, has endured countless disappointments. He began to get some attention when he starred for Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic after seven years in independent leagues with the Worcester Tornadoes and Nashua Pride.

Colabello hit .284 with 19 homers and 98 RBIs for Double A New Britain in 2012. That’s when the Twins decided they needed to keep an eye on Colabello to see if he was indeed more than a 4A player.

Last year at Triple A Rochester, Colabello hit .358 with 12 homers in 46 games. So on May 22, he was called to the majors by the Twins.

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He didn’t stay long, as he went 1 for 11 while Trevor Plouffe was out with a calf strain. Colabello went back to the minors, but was back a few days later.

In the offseason, Colabello turned down a $1 million-a-year deal from the LG Twins in South Korea because he didn’t want to give up his dream of being a major leaguer. His primary position is first base, but he is now batting cleanup and playing right field.

“He has persistence and confidence in himself,” said Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony. “He has hit since we signed him. That man deserved a chance and he had a good spring training to earn the confidence of the entire staff. He goes up to the plate aggressive and trying to do some damage. That is something we lacked last year.”

And teams suddenly have to game-plan for him. Imagine that, after all those years of anonymity.

Another player whose career seemed on the verge of decline is Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon. Gordon, son of former Red Sox closer Tom Gordon, has exceptional speed but couldn’t reach first base.

Gordon came up as a shortstop but did not impress.

He got some advice from his father, reinvented himself as a second baseman, and entered the weekend with 10 steals, a .378 average, and has been an effective leadoff man for an explosive lineup.

There was talk the Dodgers were going to give up on him, but GM Ned Colletti denies it.

“We don’t have that speed in the organization,” Colletti said. “We needed patience. I spoke to him in the lobby of the hotel the morning after we were eliminated [from the playoffs]. I told him to work this winter at a position other than shortstop and he’d have a chance to make the club. Teams wanted him as a throw-in, as a spare-part player. He’s been really good in a lot of ways. He came to camp and won the [second base] job.”

There’s also Charlie Blackmon, the center fielder for the Rockies, who barely made the team out of spring training.

All he did was hit .411 over his first 17 games. He produced six hits and five RBIs from the leadoff spot in a game on April 4. He entered the weekend with a 1.023 OPS.

The 27-year-old former Georgia Tech star was drafted by the Red Sox in the 20th round in 2005 but didn’t sign.

He was eventually taken by the Rockies in the second round in 2008.

And then there’s Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. After Carlos Santana beat him out for the starting job, we had him as being traded or a bust. The only reason he made the Opening Day roster was because of injuries to Jason Giambi and Michael Bourn.

Chisenhall is hitting .522 (12 for 23) with a .542 on-base percentage and .696 slugging percentage. And there’s a whole new perception of him.

Lest we forget Yangervis Solarte of the Yankees. He tore up spring training and continues to tear it up during the regular season, providing a solution at third base. He’s also the reason owner Hal Steinbrenner said the Yankees don’t need Stephen Drew.

Solarte, 26, had languished in the minors with the Twins and Texas Rangers since 2006. In the last two years for Round Rock in the Rangers’ organization, he hit .288 with 11 homers and .276 with 12 homers.

“He can just flat-out hit,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi of Solarte, who started the triple play in Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay. “He’s brought a real energy to us, as well.”

There also have been nice pitching stories. The comeback with the Braves of veteran Aaron Harang, a guy who nobody really wanted and now has a sub-1.00 ERA. Michael Pineda also has come back from a torn labrum to be dominant for the Yankees.

Alfredo Simon, 32, has pitched well for the Reds, with a 0.86 ERA in three starts, while 27-year-old Tom Koehler is 2-1 with 1.89 ERA for the Marlins. Kyle Gibson has been extremely effective in three starts for the Twins.

Whether these performances continue is anyone’s guess. But they make for nice stories. Stories of perseverance.

YOU MAKE THE CALL

Replay system puts managers on the spot

Tony La Russa remembers what Tom Seaver asked him once back when La Russa managed the White Sox.

Seaver wanted to know when the most impactful moment of each game he pitched was, and to make sure he didn’t make a mistake.

“I remember saying to him, ‘How can you do that? How can you identify that?’ But I’ll tell you something, that stuck with me for the rest of my career,” said La Russa, who managed for 33 years. “Not every moment in a game is impactful, but there are impactful moments in just about every game.”

So when it came down to helping devise the replay system, La Russa said he kept in mind what Seaver told him.

In other words, the manager has to decide when to challenge a call. He has to pick that moment that he feels may impact the game.

And that’s what La Russa was hoping replay would be used for by the managers, defining that moment.

Is it in the first inning, on an out call at first when you thought the runner was safe and a run should have scored? Is it truly important enough to challenge that early in a game?

These are all things La Russa wants managers to think about. He thought about them as he and the committee came up with the system.

La Russa told the Globe last week that he felt the replay system had fewer hiccups than expected. He said while it’s not perfect, he felt whatever bugs popped up will would be corrected one by one.

“We’re happy with the system,” La Russa said. “When we were going through the scenarios of who could best make the call about what should be replayed, after going through it all we decided it was the manager.”

La Russa said the system and how it works was well thought out, but he certainly was aware that there would be scenarios that would require rethinking some decisions.

Apropos of nothing

1. Players, coaches, and managers have been talking about the high strike being called more frequently this season, perhaps as a way to keep the pace of games reasonable given occasional disruptions for instant replay. It’s a theory umpires dismiss. Red Sox manager John Farrell seems to think there are more strikes being called in general. Red Sox hitters have noticed they haven’t been able to get into deep counts, which they are accustomed to.

2. The Tigers’ poor performance against righthanded pitchers is certainly not the fault of Ian Kinsler, who has quickly become a big factor. Manager Brad Ausmus said recently of Kinsler: “He’s great to have on the team. Even other players on our team have remarked to me how much they like watching him play baseball.”

3. Jeff Fletcher, the Angels beat writer for the Orange County Register, notes that the Angels became the first big league club to have 20-something (Mike Trout), 30-something (Albert Pujols), and 40-something (Raul Ibanez) batters hit back-to-back-to-back homers in ascending order by age.

4. Scott Cousins, who was in Boston’s minor league camp in spring training as an outfielder before asking out of his deal, has signed with the Rangers and wants be converted to a lefthanded pitcher. It would mean going through a process similar to that of Ron Mahay, a former center fielder with the Red Sox who became a successful lefty reliever. Cousins, you’ll remember, is the player who collided with Buster Posey and damaged the star catcher to the point where we now have a collision rule at home plate.

5. Pujols, 34, who has 496 homers, is on track to become the third-youngest member of the 500-home run club. Alex Rodriguez (32 years, 8 days) and Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx (32 years, 337 days) were younger at the time of their historic blasts.

6. How good is Felix Hernandez? Since 2009, Hernandez has 67 starts in which he has allowed one run or fewer and pitched seven innings or more. The next closest during that time is Cliff Lee, who recorded his 56th such start on Wednesday. Also, Wednesday night marked the 27th time King Felix had recorded a no-decision or loss in a start in which he allowed one run or fewer and pitched seven innings or more.

Updates on nine

1. Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles — One of the most significant players in the American League, Machado should go on a rehab assignment this week. The Orioles can’t wait to have their full lineup back. The last step for Machado, who had surgery to repair a torn patellofemoral ligament in his left knee, is running the bases and making lateral cuts and movements. He was further slowed by a calf strain suffered in spring training while running the bases. The Orioles have their fingers crossed.

2. Ryan Braun, RF, Brewers — The right thumb issue won’t go away and will surely plague Braun throughout the season, but he’s determined to play with it. The Brewers’ trainers and medical staff are building in time off to manage it. Braun did have one uber-game against the Phillies with three homers and seven RBIs but hasn’t done a lot otherwise. For the Brewers to continue this nice run, Braun needs to be the centerpiece.

3. Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers — Tied down by an $11 million salary, Weeks probably isn’t going anywhere, but it doesn’t appear his playing time will improve any time soon. Scooter Gennett has taken his job (it’s actually a left-right platoon but Weeks gets the short end) based on Weeks’s disappointing last two seasons.

4. Trevor Bauer, RHP, Indians — It wouldn’t be shocking to see Bauer recalled by the Indians at any time to take advantage of his hot streak. In his first two starts at Triple A Columbus, he went 1-0 with a 0.75 ERA with 18 strikeouts, 3 walks, and 7 hits in 12 innings. He was beat out for the Indians’ No. 5 spot by Carlos Carrasco, who had his third start skipped because his first two were bad. The Indians have also gotten nothing from Danny Salazar (0-2, 7.71).

5. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, Phillies — Papelbon has turned his fortunes around after that disastrous blown save against the Rangers April 2. He’s gone 4 for 4 since and his velocity has risen from the high 80s to about 93 miles per hour. What he hasn’t turned around is his image. The Philadelphia media feels disrespected by him. Papelbon has been surly since joining the Phillies. He never was like that in Boston. Papelbon has been upset with the media dwelling on his reduced velocity.

6. David Price, LHP, Rays — Is there a greater chance the Rays would deal Price at the deadline if they fail to contend given their pitching injuries? Right now, there’s no need for the Rays to even contemplate it, feeling they can still stay in the race with Cesar Ramos and Erik Bedard in the rotation while Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson heal, though Matt Moore is lost for the season. One American League GM feels the Rays would sell off Price if they’re out of it, but they may still prefer to make an offseason deal. In either scenario, the Rays need Price to rebuild their minor league inventory, which lacks quality.

7. Mookie Betts, 2B, Red Sox — What to do with the Double A prospect is quickly becoming the $64,000 question. There’s some talk of turning Betts into the Red Sox’ version of Ben Zobrist or Chone Figgins and moving him around the diamond to take advantage of his offensive skills. Unfortunately for Betts, he’s behind Dustin Pedroia, who is under contract for the next seven years. Betts also has decent speed. A scout recently timed him at 4.1 seconds to first base, which isn’t too shabby for a righthanded hitter.

8. George Springer, OF, Astros — There had been great anticipation, and he’s finally arrived and created excitement. Springer has sparked the old, “Who does he remind you of?” I’ve heard, “a poor man’s Mike Trout.” Also, “Mike Cameron, but better.” Suffice to say, Springer, who grew up a Red Sox fan, has five tools and over time he’ll unleash them in the major leagues. One National League scout who has watched him in the minors said Springer will excel at the big league level. He has, in the estimation of one scout, “Xander Bogaerts poise.”

9. Joel Hanrahan, RHP, free agent — When Hanrahan, 11 months after Tommy John surgery, worked out for 18 teams in Tampa on Thursday, scouts were impressed with the depth of some of his secondary pitches, which is a pretty good sign. With competition to sign him, he may hold out for a major league contract.

Extra innings

From the Bill Chuck files — “The fastest Billy in baseball may be 24-year-old A’s prospect Billy Burns, who is 8 for 8 in steals this season and 133 for 151 in his first 278 minor league games.” . . . Also, “The Yankees’ record for steals in the first month of a season belongs to Rickey Henderson, who went 20 for 26 in 1988. Jacoby Ellsbury started 7 for 8 for the Yankees.” . . . Fisher College, host of the Association of Independent Institutions’ national baseball spring championship tournament, announced the six teams that will compete for the title May 2-5 at Fraser Field in Lynn, home of the Fisher College Falcons. Participating with Fisher will be University of Houston-Victoria, Lindenwood University-Belleville (Ill.), Georgia Gwinnett College, LSU-Alexandria, and Cal State-San Marcos. The winner and runner-up will move on to the opening round of the NAIA national championship tournament . . . Happy birthday, Mike O’Berry (60).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
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