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Posted: Friday August 14, 2009 9:21AM; Updated: Friday August 14, 2009 10:29AM
Tom Verducci Tom Verducci >
THREE STRIKES

Ejections on the rise, Nats' error in judgment and Damon's power play

Story Highlights

Jump in ejections has to do with plays on the bases, not throwing incidents

The Nationals made a costly error with underachieving Austin Kearns

Yankees' Johnny Damon hitting more fly balls -- and more home runs

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Kevin-Youkilis.jpg
Boston's Kevin Youkilis was ejected on Tuesday night when he charged the mound after getting hit by a pitch.
AP
Ejection Escalation
The increase in early exits from last season
Year Total Balls/Strikes On Bases Throwing Fights
2008 161 65 26 12 8
2009 128 54 33 10 4
2009* 183 77 47 14 6
* Projected for full season
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1. Does it seem to you that ejections and arguments are way up this year? It might seem that way after a wild past week in which umpires Ed Rapuano (long-distance ejection) and Jerry Crawford (blown gasket) called attention to themselves last weekend, Kevin Youkilis overreacted on Tuesday and four guys got thrown out of games Wednesday afternoon alone. Well, the answer is ... yes, just a bit, thanks to a lot of beefs about plays on the bases.

Through Aug. 11, there were 128 ejections, which at this rate would mean a 14 percent increase from last year. But, no, the increase does not come from throwing incidents or fights and bench-clearing incidents. The big jump is from arguments regarding plays on the bases. Such arguments have led to 33 ejections, already more than such ejections in any of the previous five full seasons. Consider the ejection numbers in the table to the right.

2. With the clock ticking on the Washington Nationals' attempt to sign top pick Stephen Strasburg, the Nats appeared to have lost the chance to come up with another $3.4 million in savings they could have put toward signing him. According to a major league source, when the Nats put ineffective outfielder Austin Kearns through waivers, another club actually put in a claim for him. Kearns is due the remainder of his $8 million salary this year and a $1 million buyout of his $10 million option for 2010. Kearns is hitting .195 this year and .209 over the past two seasons.

The Nationals could simply have "awarded" Kearns to the claiming team to get out from under the contract, Alex Rios style. But just as Kearns was getting claimed, the Nationals placed him on the disabled list on Aug. 5, retroactive to Aug. 4, with a thumb injury. Once on the DL, Kearns could not be claimed, the source said. "I don't think it's the difference between signing Strasburg or not," the source said of the $3.4 million, "but it couldn't have hurt."

3. Johnny Damon has become a completely different hitter at age 35, and the obvious explanation is that he has made a swift adjustment to Yankee Stadium III. After year after year of hitting more groundballs than flyballs, Damon suddenly has become a big-time flyball hitter. He is lofting (and pulling) just about everything -- not a bad idea with the shorter porch in the Bronx. Once a threat with his legs by beating balls on the ground, Damon has adopted the hitting profile of such sluggers as Prince Fielder and Russell Branyan. The highlights:

• Damon is hitting fewer grounders and fewer line drives, but hitting flyballs like never before in his career -- a tactic that also explains his career-high strikeout rate.

• Damon has hit 22 home runs this year: 15 of them at home and 19 of them to rightfield.

• Damon has hit 15 homers in 57 games at the new Yankee Stadium. That's already more than what he hit in the previous two years combined at the old Yankee Stadium: 12 homers in 137 games.

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