APPIER OF THEIR EYES
Royals righty Kevin Appier is being watched by pitching-hungry
Last season was a dress rehearsal for the Royals, a chance to
learn to live without righthander Kevin Appier. The only player
with any star power remaining on Kansas City's community-theater
troupe of a baseball team, Appier made just three lackluster
September starts in 1998 after having had torn ligaments in his
pitching shoulder surgically repaired in November 1997 and March
'98. When general manager Herk Robinson, eager to pare Appier's
$4.8 million salary from the Royals' $26 million payroll, put
him on the trading block in the off-season, it figured that
K.C.'s alltime strikeout leader would be appearing elsewhere by
now. "In spring training I definitely thought I could be gone
any day," says Appier, 31, who evened his record at 1-1 on
Sunday with six strong innings in Kansas City's 3-1 win over the
Several teams, including the Angels, Cardinals, Indians, Rangers
and Red Sox, have been watching Appier, whose outings beginning
with the exhibition season have attracted hordes of scouts. What
they've seen is a pitcher who appears fully recovered from
surgery. Appier had a 2.16 ERA in six spring starts, and his
slider and splitter have been biting as sharply as they had been
before he was hurt. On Sunday his fastball was just a shade
below what it was two years ago. Says Royals manager Tony Muser,
"Kevin looks like he's all the way back."
So why is he still in K.C.? It's a seller's market, and the
Royals--who are also shopping righty Hipolito Pichardo and his
$2.5 million salary--aren't so desperate to cut payroll that
they're willing to give Appier away. "We could have traded him
by now if we wanted, but we haven't seen any deal that makes
sense from a baseball standpoint," says Robinson, who, perhaps
haunted by the fruitless 1995 deal that sent Cy Young winner
David Cone to the Blue Jays for three minor leaguers, is holding
out for at least two high-level prospects. He reportedly asked
Texas for its top minor leaguer, 21-year-old outfielder Ruben
Mateo (.307, 18 home runs for Double A Tulsa last year), but was
April 18, 1999
The Royals, who have six of the first 59 picks in the June
amateur draft, have already earmarked Appier's salary for
signing young players, so, unlike fellow hot pitching
commodities Curt Schilling of the Phillies and Kenny Rogers of
the A's, Appier is certain to depart. Both Robinson and Appier's
agent, Jeff Borris, say inquiries about Appier have tapered off
since Opening Day, and Appier says he now expects to be with
K.C. until the July trading deadline nears. That means three
more months of auditions.
Fregosi in Charge
TORONTO'S PLAIN DEALER
Before last Friday's game at Baltimore's Camden Yards, four Blue
Jays pitchers sat in the visitors clubhouse playing poker.
Toronto manager Jim Fregosi (below) came by and peeked over the
shoulder of 23-year-old righthander Chris Carpenter just as
Carpenter threw down a handful of kings. "Man," said Fregosi,
patting Carpenter on the back, "with that stuff, you ought to be
A simple, cheery moment on a team that--despite a deep rotation
and a young, powerful lineup--had enjoyed too few of them over
the past six months. "Things are comfortable around here again,"
says catcher Darrin Fletcher. "I have a lot of respect for Tim
Johnson--he's a good person and a good baseball man--but the
negativity wasn't going away."
The negativity, of course, concerned former manager Johnson's
fabricated war record and the attendant media firestorm. On
March 16 Toronto general manager Gord Ash, realizing that the
controversy was not going to disappear, fired Johnson after one
season and replaced him with Fregosi.
Although Toronto was only 3-3 through Sunday, Fregosi had
restored a positive vibe in the clubhouse. "There are a lot of
young, not overly outgoing people here who grew in this
organization together," he says. "I'll go to bat for them."
Johnson, on the other hand, was criticized for disciplining
younger players while letting veterans get away with murder.
Fregosi refuses to comment on Johnson's brief stint as manager,
but he has undone much of his predecessor's spring plans. For
instance, Fregosi scrapped the idea of batting centerfielder
Jose Cruz Jr. second, in part because Cruz struck out 99 times
in 352 at bats last year. Second baseman Homer Bush, who hit
.380 with a .421 on-base percentage in 45 games with the Yankees
in 1998, opened the season in that slot before going on the
15-day disabled list, and Cruz usually hits seventh. Fregosi
also separated lefthanded hitters Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado
in the order, inserting righty DH Dave Hollins into the cleanup
spot between them.
With a career 861-938 record as manager of the Angels, White Sox
and Phillies--he guided Philadelphia to the 1993 World
Series--Fregosi left his job as special assistant to Giants
general manager Brian Sabean to accept a two-year contract with
Toronto. While some might view Fregosi as an old-school skipper
brought in simply to stanch the bleeding, he may have landed a
golden opportunity. Winners of 88 games after a strong finish
last season, the Blue Jays were expected to be a contender for
the American League wild-card berth. If Fregosi can get Toronto
into the playoffs for the first time in six years, he'll be the
one holding the cards.
BUNTING THEIR WAY ON
Given that most players today never learn how to sacrifice bunt
all that well, it's no surprise that bunting for a base hit has
become virtually a lost art, an offensive weapon viewed as
obsolete in the face of the power surge that has gripped
baseball. "Guys today get paid for the big things," says Royals
manager Tony Muser. "If they bunt for a base hit and it doesn't
work, they feel like they wasted an at bat."
That hasn't stopped a small group of crafty young players from
making the drag bunt part of their arsenal. The White Sox'
21-year-old Mike Caruso, third in the American League Rookie of
the Year voting last season, led the league in 1998 with 22 bunt
singles, two more than his closest competitor, Rockies shortstop
Neifi Perez, 23. Outfielder Jason McDonald, 27, of the A's, who
bunted for four of his 44 hits last year, opened the '99 season
with a pair of drag bunt singles in two games against the
Yankees. Twenty-three-year-old White Sox rookie outfielder McKay
Christensen had two bunts for hits in the season's first week,
and Brewers second baseman Fernando Vina--an old-timer at 30,
who had 14 bunt hits last year--got an RBI on April 5 when he
dragged safely with a man on third against the Cardinals.
"This game has become so much about power, but bunting could be
used a lot more than it is," says McDonald, who with fellow
outfielder Ryan Christenson, 25, was tutored in bunting this
spring by A's coach Ron Washington. Caruso, who at six feet and
172 pounds is hardly a powerhouse, shares that opinion, and he
practiced bunting throughout the off-season before his rookie
year. "I figured it was my first year, so I should try to get on
base any way I could," he says.
SPRING'S HOPE NOT ETERNAL
Nod and smile as Braves manager Bobby Cox puts a positive spin
on erstwhile closer Mark Wohlers's prospects. Listen patiently
as Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz says he still expects
Wohlers, the big righthander who saved 97 games for the Braves
from 1995 through '97, to regain his old form. Then face the
reality: Wohlers's major league career is in jeopardy.
Earlier this spring it looked as if Wohlers, 29, would come back
from the mysterious breakdown in his mechanics that caused him to
lose control of his pitches last year. He was again throwing hard
and accurately, tossing seven scoreless innings in one stretch of
spring training. However, once the season started, Wohlers fell
Against the Phillies on Opening Day, he walked four, allowed an
RBI double to Marlon Anderson, and turned a one-run Philadelphia
lead into a 7-4 Braves defeat. Three nights later, also against
the Phillies, Wohlers threw 10 pitches, one for a strike; after
fielding a sacrifice bunt, he tossed the ball over first base.
The next day Wohlers was designated for assignment. On Monday he
announced he wouldn't report to Triple A Richmond, leaving the
Braves with 10 days to deal his contract to another team. If
they fail to do so, Wohlers would become a free agent.
"He knew that if he came up here and had two or three bad
outings in a row, that'd probably be it," says lefthander John
Rocker, who is now Atlanta's closer. "He knew what he did in
spring was all well and fine, but it didn't matter. He had to
prove it in the games that counted."
Unfortunately for the Braves, he didn't. Cox had hoped that
Wohlers, who will make $5.2 million in this, the third year of a
three-year deal, could win back his job after last year's
closer, righthander Kerry Ligtenberg, was sidelined for 1999
with torn ligaments in his elbow. Now Atlanta has five pitchers
in the bullpen with less than two years major league experience,
including Rocker, who was a rookie in '98.
For those close to Wohlers, however, the bullpen isn't the only
concern. "I don't care whether Mark lives up to everyone's
expectations," says righthander John Smoltz. "He's been a
teammate of mine for a long time. You just hope for the best."
Orlando Palmeiro's Dinger
AN ANGEL TAKES FLIGHT
Angels fans worried about a drop-off in run production with
sluggers Mo Vaughn and Jim Edmonds on the disabled list, take
heart: Orlando Palmeiro is heating up. The 30-year-old Palmeiro,
a .281 hitter over four seasons with Anaheim, got his first hit
of the year last Friday night, a leadoff homer against Rangers
righthander John Burkett. It was Palmiero's first tater in 415
career at bats, meaning he is no longer the active player with
the most homerless at bats. The title now rests with Cardinals
shortstop Luis Ordaz, who, through Sunday, hadn't homered in 177
For complete scores and stats, plus more from Tom Verducci and
Jeff Pearlman, go to www.cnnsi.com.
With a torrid first week Frank Thomas cracked the top 10 of
baseball's hottest starters (through six games) since 1975.
FAST STARTER THROUGH SIX GAMES FINAL AVG.
1. Pete O'Brien, Rangers, 1988 14-22, .636 .272
Steamy through end of April (.437), then chilly in May (.184)
2. Frank Thomas, White Sox, 1999 12-19, .632 --
Nice rebound from hurtful .265 season; with little protection,
can it last?
3. Dave Hollins, Twins, 1996 8-13, .615 .262
Also hit .333 in first six games after August trade to Mariners
T4. Julio Franco, Indians, 1985 11-19, .579 .288
His 90 RBIs most by Cleveland shortstop since 1948; Tribe still
T4. Ray Knight, Orioles, 1987 11-19, .579 .256
Almost as if 1986 World Series MVP didn't have an off-season
T6. Von Hayes, Phillies, 1989 12-21, .571 .259
Blazing start led to his only trip to the All-Star Game
T6. Barry Larkin, Reds, 1990 16-28, .571 .301
Sparked Cincinnati to 9-0 start and then a World Series sweep
T6. Brady Anderson, Orioles, 1997 12-21, .571 .288
Just one homer in first 35 at bats after 50-dinger year
T9. Tom Paciorek, White Sox, 1982 13-23, .565 .312
Good looks at plate for man once voted second-most handsome in
T9. Rickey Henderson, Yankees, 1988 13-23, .565 .305
Also got eight of his 93 steals, the last time anyone swiped more
T9. Tony Phillips, Tigers, 1993 13-23, .565 .313
Pitchers got the message, and Phillips led the league with 132
T9. Eric Karros, Dodgers, 1995 13-23, .565 .298
Started season with 12-game hitting streak
SOURCE: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU
in the BOX
Cleveland 12, Minnesota 7
April 10, 1999
The Indians in a nutshell: The first three hitters reach base
nine times and key two rallies; there's clutch hitting
throughout the order; and a shaky starter nearly coughs it all
up. Counting the 1998 postseason, righthander Dwight Gooden has
lasted a total of 5 2/3 innings in his last three starts,
allowing nine hits and 10 runs--not a good sign for manager Mike
Hargrove's aceless rotation, which had a 5.04 ERA through Sunday.
One bright spot: Righthander Steve Karsay, who has had arm
trouble, got his first win since July 17, 1997, in the longest
relief outing of his career. Hargrove will need Karsay to bridge
the gap between the suspect starters and closer Mike
Jackson--unless, of course, Karsay takes Doc's spot in the
the HOT corner
The player most often mentioned in trade rumors surrounding A's
lefthander Kenny Rogers has been Richie Sexson, the Indians'
24-year-old DH, but several general managers are more impressed
with Cleveland's Triple A third baseman Russell Branyan, of
Buffalo. A lefthanded slugger who in 1996 led the Class A South
Atlantic League with 40 home runs and 106 RBIs, Branyan, 23,
missed much of last year with a wrist injury but is healthy
again. "Branyan can be a great major league hitter," says one
American League general manager. "I'm not sure Sexson will be."
The Giants' Barry Bonds caught Hank Aaron on Opening Day--with
his 290th intentional walk, the National League record. Bonds,
who had 291 intentionals through Sunday, will soon have the major
league record, also held by Aaron, who had four free passes in
the American League....
Reds general manager Jim Bowden is impressed with the work ethic
of Carlos Baerga, whose excess weight and lackadaisical play
gave the Cardinals reason to release him last month. Bowden
picked up the 30-year-old second baseman on March 23 and sent
him to Triple A Indianapolis, where Baerga has shed nine pounds
and shown he's willing to make a maximum effort. "He's hungry
again," says Bowden....
There's already trouble in Detroit, as a result of new manager
Larry Parrish's decision to keep rookie outfielder Gabe Kapler.
The Tigers now have Kapler, Karim Garcia, Bobby Higginson, Brian
Hunter and Gregg Jefferies--all of whom expect to play every
day--sharing two outfield spots and the DH. "If I'm not
playing," says Hunter, a two-year regular who rode the bench for
the season's second game, "something's wrong." ...
The acquisition of lefty reliever Randy Myers last August
continues to haunt Padres general manager Kevin Towers. In
addition to carrying a $6 million-a-year salary, the 36-year-old
lefty Myers made virtually no contribution to the San Diego
stretch run and postseason effort in 1998. Now he's on the DL
with a strained left rotator cuff. Finally, Towers allowed an
insurance policy on Myers, which would have paid off the final
year of Myers's contract in case of career-ending injury, to
expire because he had expected to trade Myers by now....
To stir things up at Tropicana Field, the Devil Rays hired Mike
Veeck, son of legendary owner Bill Veeck, as marketing director.
To mark last Friday's home opener, Tampa Bay introduced Dave
Flood, a 3'2" midget who, in an affectionate nod to the elder
Veeck's brainchild Eddie Gaedel, will regularly greet fans....
With the lifting of the Reds' longstanding ban on
facial hair, 13 of 25 Reds are sporting mustaches, beards or