By Tom Haudricourt

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

HOUSTON – If you’re going to exact on-field vengeance for one of your “untouchables” being hit by a pitch, you better keep your target practice below the waist.

That was the message sent last week by Major League Baseball vice president Bob Watson, who dispenses discipline for transgressions by uniformed personnel.

On the same day Watson decided not to suspend Los Angeles reliever Guillermo Mota for intentionally hitting Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder and getting ejected, the MLB exec suspended St. Louis reliever Brad Thompson for three games.

And Thompson didn’t even hit a batter.

What Thompson did was throw over the head of New York Mets third baseman David Wright, one inning after Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols was hit on the elbow by a pitch from Nelson Figueroa. Unlike Thompson, Mota aimed low when throwing at Fielder, drilling him in the leg.

Not that the distinction made any difference to Fielder, who charged the Dodgers clubhouse after the game in an attempt to confront Mota. He was turned away and also escaped with a fine instead of a suspension.

Even St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, who has turned retaliation into an art form, spoke out against Thompson throwing over the head of Wright.

“You shouldn’t throw the ball up there,” said La Russa. “I’m not happy with Brad Thompson there.”

Well, Tony, maybe you shouldn’t require your pitchers to go after hitters every time Pujols gets nicked with a pitch. Figueroa hit Pujols on the elbow. Is he that good of a shot to aim for a hitter’s elbow?

If you don’t pitch inside on elite hitters, you might as well put the ball on a tee for them. There was no reason to think that Figueroa was throwing at Pujols. But to La Russa, intent doesn’t matter.

There was no reason to think Milwaukee reliever Chris Smith was throwing at Dodgers prima donna Manny Ramirez, either. The Brewers were trailing, 12-3, in the seventh inning when an inside pitch from Smith brushed Ramirez’s jersey, barely qualifying for an HBP though Ramirez played it to the hilt.

Los Angeles manager Joe Torre then called for Mota to throw at Fielder in the ninth inning. It was 17-4 at the time and Fielder had no reason to expect a special delivery package was being sent his way.

Apparently, it all goes back to the NLCS last fall, when Philadelphia’s Brett Myers threw behind Ramirez and Los Angeles pitchers failed to respond, irritating their hitters.

“It’s part of the game,” said Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, openly admitting that Fielder was hit intentionally. “Our premier hitter gets hit, and he gets protection.

“I feel like you don’t want to be a team that is easily intimidated, and I don’t think we’re that kind of team, either.”

Really? Ramirez gets brushed on the jersey and somebody on the other team must pay? Royal treatment for a cheater and quitter (in Boston).

Instead of forcing Watson to read the minds of pitchers, here’s a simple solution: If you’re ejected from a game for throwing at a hitter, you get an automatic suspension: five games for a starter, three games for a reliever.

That might make managers think twice before ordering retaliatory strikes.

“Something needs to be done,” said Brewers manager Ken Macha, who was irate that Fielder paid a price for Ramirez getting nicked.

“The NFL is light years ahead of baseball in taking disciplinary action. The NFL will look at video and fine players who didn’t even draw a penalty in the game.

“How many times has Prince been hit over the last two years?”

The answer: 12 times in 2008 and eight thus far this season. And you can bet many of them were no accident.

Beckham giving White Sox a boost

In 2007, the Brewers received a nice offensive boost when Ryan Braun was summoned from the minors two months into the season. Gordon Beckham is doing likewise with the Chicago White Sox this season.

Promoted from Class AAA Charlotte on June 4, Beckham was batting .309 with six homers, 38 RBI and 18 doubles in 55 games, entering weekend play. And that included a very slow start in which Beckham was batting .172 after 18 games.

The eighth-overall pick in the 2008 draft, Beckham played only 59 games in the minors. Making his ascent even more noteworthy is that he switched from shortstop to third base along the way.

“I know he was a great player and a first-round pick, so I’d have to say he would have been successful,” said Braun. “But I marvel at the success he has had this early because that’s really difficult to do.”

After Beckham went from Class AA to AAA after 38 games this year, Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said, “If we have Beckham here, we’re in trouble. That kid needs to play. A lot of people say the difference between Triple-A and the big leagues is one jump. It’s a huge jump.’ ”

Yet Beckham is proving Guillen wrong as he makes a bid for rookie of the year.

“It’s never going to hurt to have more time (in the minors),” Beckham said. “I didn’t necessarily want to spend more time. I wanted to be up as quickly as I could. ”

Piniella says it’s in the Cards

Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella is no dummy. With his club battling it out with St. Louis for the top spot in the NL Central, Piniella is trying to keep the pressure squarely on the Cardinals.

“We’re getting a little better,” Piniella said Wednesday. “But look, St. Louis is the team to beat. Let’s not lose sight of that.

“They’ve got a good ball club and they’ve added some nice firepower to their lineup (with Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday), so let’s put the attention on them and leave us alone.”

Despite Piniella’s attempt to put all the attention on the Cardinals, it was noted that the Las Vegas odds makers seem to like the Cubs’ chances.

“Vegas? What do they know?” Piniella said with a laugh.

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While the Brewers struggle to patch holes in their starting rotation, the Philadelphia Phillies have one more starting pitcher than they need. Or, at least, they soon will.

With recently signed veteran Pedro Martinez on the verge of being activated and added to the staff, the Phillies must decide which pitcher to punt from their rotation. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. recently said it won’t be rookie J.A. Happ, who is 8-2 with a 2.74 ERA.

But, who then? After the Phillies acquired Cliff Lee in their big trade with Cleveland, their rotation also included Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton and Happ.

Assuming the Phillies don’t intend to jerk around Martinez, they have to find a spot for him. The obvious candidate, at least in terms of effectiveness, would seem to be the 46-year-old Moyer, who is 10-8 but has a 5.55 ERA and hasn’t pitched deep into games.

Easier said than done, however. The Phillies are on record as saying Moyer doesn’t pitch well out of the bullpen, and he signed a two-year deal in the offseason that pays him $6.5 million next year.

As far as the Brewers are concerned, that would be a nice problem to have.

Indians owner has reservations

With the club’s fans in an uproar after the trades of Lee and Victor Martinez, Cleveland president Paul Dolan had a rare sit-down with reporters to give a state of the Indians address.

Of the growing gulf between the “haves” and “have-nots,” Dolan said, “The big market teams have manipulated the draft, and the international free agent markets. So you’ve got a team like Boston that brings in the elite international free agents and also the elite prospects in the draft.

“There needs to be a world-wide draft with a slotting system similar to what they have in the NBA. That’s going to be a priority in the next collective bargaining agreement. ”

Dolan said he had no choice but to trade Lee and Martinez this year, and CC Sabathia last year to the Brewers. And he said the Brewers never had any shot at keeping Sabathia .

“Unless the baseball world changes, when you look at CC’s situation, there was no chance that Cleveland or Milwaukee or any team in our size markets will ever be able to afford to sign free agents of that level,” said Dolan.


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