USA notes: Lambert looking ahead

USA notes: Lambert looking ahead

DETROIT -- Chris Lambert looks at Danny Haren and Brad Thompson and knows that he could be next. Though the Cardinals' farm system is not known for having produced a slew of prospects in recent years, St. Louis has seen some pitchers absolutely whiz through the Minors.

Lambert knows that the situation is different from two years ago, when Haren climbed from Double-A to the Majors thanks to a series of injuries with the big club. But he also knows that if he keeps pitching they way he can, he'll keep moving up the ladder. The right-hander started this season at high Class A Palm Beach, and has already been promoted to Double-A Springfield.

"There is hope," said Lambert. "I hope I get better every day and they see it. Little by little."

Lambert, pitching for the USA Team in Sunday's Futures Game, was one of the first members of the draft class of 2002 to be promoted to Double-A. After a rocky start to his career in the high Minors, he's adjusted to the less-friendly hitters and ballparks of the Texas League. On Thursday he tossed seven shutout innings with nine strikeouts, a performance he called his best professional start to date.

"It's always hard going to a new place, not knowing anyone, going to a new field," he said. "But I settled down. I struggled at first, and they kind of tried to help me out a little bit. Really, a lot of it with me was mental. I just have to go out and throw strikes -- pretty much just go out and do it."

Lambert, a starter by trade, came into the game in a tough spot. He was brought in with runners on second and third and one out in the fifth. He struck out Washington's Fran Diaz swinging, all on curveballs, before issuing a walk and getting out of the inning on an infield popup.

"It's a good situation to come in and do well," he said.

Me again: Arizona first base prospect Conor Jackson played in his second Futures Game on Sunday, starting for the USA Team. This time things were a little more manageable for the University of California product.

"I was a little more comfortable out there than I was the last time," said Jackson. "It's a great experience. All these guys are probably going to be future All-Stars, and big leaguers for a long time.

"It's an honor because it shows the faith that your organization has in you. And it shows that you're their future player and hopefully, you'll get the chance to get up there and do some damage."

No Diamond: Right-hander Thomas Diamond, another product of the 2004 Draft, was one of the pitchers whose appearance was most anticipated in the Futures Game. However, Diamond pitched on Friday for Texas' Double-A affiliate in Frisco, so he didn't get to take the field.

"It was questionable," said Diamond. "I didn't know if I was going to pitch or not.

"There was a small chance. If we had tied it up right there [in the ninth], I was going in the game. I was the last guy left. I was the last hope."

Nonetheless, he had no complaints about his experience in Detroit.

"The way we're treated here is awesome," he said. "It makes you want to pitch hard and keep getting better and get up there as quick as possible."

Hometown hero: Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander, who recently made his big league debut for the Tigers, was the star of the pregame autograph sessions. Though a number of USA players signed -- including the Angels' Brandon Wood and the Dodgers' Andy LaRoche -- none drew the kind of crowd that Verlander did. The prospect from Old Dominion University took the whole experience in stride.

"I get to pitch here at Comerica in front of the hometown crowd. I'm really excited to throw here," said Verlander. "You're always anxious to get here and stay. But at the same time, I know there's a process, and I have to continue to do well in the Minor Leagues and refine myself. No matter how well or bad I'm doing, there's always things I can fix to improve my pitching."

Li'l LaRoche: Dodgers farmhand Andy LaRoche was joined in Detroit this weekend by his mother, Patty, who will likely soon have the honor of having two sons follow in the footsteps of their father to the Major Leagues.

LaRoche's older brother, Adam, is in his second season as the Atlanta Braves' first baseman. While their father, Dave, was playing and coaching in the Majors, Patty took it upon herself to be a coach, transporter and caretaker for her sons.

Last week she revealed some of the best stories from Adam's childhood. One involved him going camping and coming back without the family dog. Another had him putting a batting helmet on Andy, then shooting a pellet gun at his younger brother.

"Those probably wouldn't even fall into my top 10," said Andy, who has hit .334 with 26 homers and 67 RBIs in 323 at-bats with Class A Vero Beach and Double-A Jacksonville this year.

One that would fall that category would be the time Adam got mad and slammed Andy's head in the garage door. Big brother was punished heavily by their father, but after a few more episodes, little brother wanted to lose the title "tattletale" and quit telling his parents what was happening.

"I just started having to bear it," Andy said.

The Wizard plays catch: Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, who was slated to play in the Legends and Celebrities softball game later on Sunday afternoon, took some time to play with the USA Futures team as well. He played catch with Padres prospect Josh Barfield, then took the field and took some grounders at shortstop -- all while wearing, curiously, a first baseman's mitt.

Doing all right: Triple-A Memphis pitching coach Dyar Miller, on hand to serve in that same capacity for the USA team, gave a gentle reminder that as difficult as Major League travel may be, the big leaguers have nothing on the guys in the Pacific Coast League. Following a home game in Memphis on Thursday, Miller rose at 4 a.m. CT to accompany his team to Albuquerque. The next day he again got up at 4 a.m. in order to go to Detroit for his Futures Game duties.

Meanwhile, if anyone has the credentials this year to serve as Futures Game pitching coach, it's Miller -- the Redbirds have four of the top-10 pitchers in the PCL in earned run average. Chris Gissell ranks second, at 2.62; Kevin Jarvis fifth, at 3.00; Anthony Reyes seventh, at 3.32; and Adam Wainwright eighth, at 3.60. A fifth Memphis pitcher, Bill Pulsipher, is 14th, at 4.24.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for Jason Beck and Mark Bowman contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.