GOOD DEAL ALL AROUND
A three-way swap among the Blue Jays, Expos and Rangers looks
like a three-way hit
Expos first baseman Lee Stevens won't be canonized for his
moderately strong start (.286, eight home runs and 30 RBIs
through Sunday), but his arrival in Montreal is explained in a
hagiographic song. To paraphrase a line from the Grateful Dead's
Saint Stephen, one team gathers what another team spills. The
proverb aptly sums up the three-way trade in March that brought
Stevens from the Rangers to the Expos, David Segui from the Blue
Jays to Texas and Brad Fullmer from Montreal to Toronto. Says
Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash, "The deal has worked out
great for everybody."
When the triangular swap--which was orchestrated by Texas
general manager Doug Melvin after he and Ash had spent months
discussing a Segui-for-Stevens trade--was made, it looked to be
an exchange of roughly interchangeable parts: three designated
hitters-first basemen who had worn out their welcomes. Six weeks
into the season it's hard to tell which team got the best of the
The centerpiece of the swap has turned out to be Segui, mainly
because he was second in the American League with a .370 average
through Sunday. Fullmer, who asked the Expos to trade him last
season after twice being demoted to the minors, replaced Segui
as the Blue Jays' DH, a role Segui had reluctantly filled in
Toronto after being dealt by the Mariners last July. "David DH'd
for us, but it wasn't with a lot of enthusiasm," says Ash. "Brad
is more accepting of his role."
Fullmer, who was publicly criticized by Expos manager Felipe
Alou last season for his defensive shortcomings at first base as
well as for his hitting, has embraced the designated hitter gig.
He was batting .344 with seven homers and led the Blue Jays with
33 RBIs. For Toronto that performance represented a marked
improvement over last year, when the Blue Jays had the weakest
designated hitting in the league (.249, 24 homers, 81 RBIs). "At
this stage of my career I'm not ready to limit myself to DH'ing,
but everybody knows I love to hit," says the 25-year-old
Fullmer, who as a rookie in 1998 batted .273 with 13 homers and
44 doubles for Montreal. "I don't think I was treated
particularly fairly by my last organization. It's much more
Segui might find that hard to believe. He refutes the charge
that he was unhappy as a DH for Toronto, but there's no doubt
he's more comfortable in Texas--even though he's sharing time at
first with Rafael Palmeiro. Segui had made 22 starts in the
field and 14 at DH. "Ideally I'd rather play first base," says
Segui, who in 1998 with Seattle led all major league first
basemen in fielding percentage. "Being a DH is boring when
you're used to playing the field. But I haven't made one
complaint about where I play. Whatever [Texas manager] Johnny
Oates wants to do, I'll do."
The way Segui is batting, Oates would play him at first and DH
if he could. A switch-hitter, Segui hit safely in 29 of his
first 36 games, including a 13-game streak from April 25 to May
10, and through Sunday he was third in the league in hits (51)
and fourth in on-base percentage (.446). He had also handled 192
chances in the field without an error. "[Segui and Palmeiro] are
two guys you can't go wrong with," says Oates. "If Rafael has
problems with his knees, you can stick David in there and still
have a very good defensive first baseman. If Rafael's at first,
you still have David's bat in the lineup."
Stevens hit 24 homers in the first base-DH role for Texas last
season; he too welcomed the trade as a chance to be a full-time,
two-way player. He has given the Expos an experienced bat to
protect slugger Vladimir Guerrero in the lineup and has helped
solidify an infield defense that was the National League's
second-worst last season. "He has settled down some of our
younger people in the infield and saved us a lot of pitches,"
says Alou, who then compares Stevens to a certain
smooth-fielding first baseman he managed from 1995 to '97. "He's
given us the best defensive play we've had since David Segui was
Indians Revisit Familiar Spot
After 23 days in the unaccustomed position of rank-and-file
member of the American League Central--the longest they'd gone
without at least sharing the division lead since a 40-day span
in May and June of 1994--the Indians climbed into a first-place
tie with the White Sox last Saturday. Their return (albeit for
only one day, as a loss to the Royals on Sunday dropped
Cleveland a game behind Chicago again) capped a week rife with
signs that Cleveland is ready to return to business as usual.
First, the Indians' offensive slump appeared to be over. On May
5 Cleveland was hitting only .261 and averaging 5.2 runs per
game. They scored at least seven runs in seven of their next
nine games and batted .342 with 15 home runs during that
rampage. The streak was highlighted by a 16-run, 22-hit
explosion against the Royals last Thursday.
Why the awakening? Facing the mediocre staffs trotted out by
Toronto, Minnesota and Kansas City would help get any team well
at the plate, but the Tribe also adjusted to the steady diet of
off-speed stuff they were seeing from opponents, even on
fastball counts. "Pitchers are throwing us 3-and-0 changeups and
3-and-0 curveballs, and we're overswinging," said Indians
manager Charlie Manuel just before his team's resurgence. "Teams
have figured out how to pitch to our lineup, and we have to
Cleveland, which played with its Opening Day lineup intact in
only seven of its first 31 games, has also been getting
healthier. Catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. returned on May 8 after
three weeks on the disabled list with a pulled right hamstring.
Centerfielder and leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton (strained left
biceps) came off the DL last Friday, the same day ace Bartolo
Colon, who had missed three weeks with a strained abdominal
muscle, returned and struck out eight in six innings of a 7-3
Indians win over the Royals.
The next step for the Tribe is to get Roberto Alomar healthy.
Hampered by soreness in his left shoulder that has kept him from
batting lefthanded, Roberto was hitting .184 with runners in
scoring position and .250 overall. Still, the Indians are in no
mood to panic, especially after winning two of three from
upstart Kansas City last weekend. "The Royals and White Sox are
better," says Sandy Jr. "They believe in themselves, but it's a
162-game season, and in the long run we'll find out which team
is the best."
THE LOWDOWN ON LOWE
The early innings of a game are the hardest for Red Sox closer
Derek Lowe. That's when he fidgets and squirms in the bullpen,
searching for a way to amuse himself. "I'll mess around, talk
and eat seeds," says Lowe. "I pay attention to the game, but not
that closely. When I come in, I usually can't even tell you who
has gotten the hits in the game."
Fortunately for Lowe, he doesn't sit out there as long as his
counterparts on other teams. Lowe, who was perfect in eight save
opportunities through Sunday, is a throwback to a time when
closers weren't limited to cushy ninth-inning-only assignments.
Lowe had pitched at least 1 1/3 innings in 11 of his 14
outings--seven of his saves had come in games he entered before
the ninth--and his average of 1.61 innings per appearance was
easily the highest of any American Leaguer with more than four
saves. (Mariano Rivera of the Yankees was second with 1.24.) "I
still have a starter's mentality, and in spring training I said
I don't want to be just a one-inning guy," says Lowe, who was
2-0 with an 0.79 ERA. "I asked to pitch the eighth and ninth to
Lowe was a starter throughout his minor league career and made
10 starts for the Red Sox in 1998 while going 3-9 with a 4.02
ERA in 63 appearances that season. He didn't blossom as a major
leaguer until his conversion to a full-time reliever last year.
Pitching in every bullpen role, he went 6-3 with 15 saves while
carrying one of the heaviest (109 1/3 innings) workloads of any
reliever in the league. With Tom Gordon out for the season after
elbow surgery, the sinkerball-throwing Lowe, 26, was anointed
the Red Sox' closer this spring. "He was a starter, then a long
man and then a setup guy, so this hasn't been a sudden
transition," says Boston pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. "He's
taken baby steps to get here."
"Getting those save opportunities last year really helped me,"
says Lowe, who blew only five of 20 chances. "In the past I was
hoping to get hitters out. This year I know I can get them out."
More often than not they go down chasing his sinker, beating it
into the ground if they hit it at all. Unlike many closers who
stomp into games breathing fire and trying to blow hitters away
with heat, Lowe fantasizes about one-pitch, ground ball outs.
"My goal is to have every pitch hit on the ground," he says.
Through Sunday 53 of the 74 outs he had gotten were by groundout
or strikeout, opponents were hitting .160 against him, and he'd
held righthanded batters to a .136 average. The 17 hitters he'd
faced with runners in scoring position had gotten only one hit,
a single by the Angels' Adam Kennedy on April 9. "He's one of
the best ground ball pitchers in the game, so it usually takes
three hits to score a run off him," says Kerrigan. "Combine that
with few walks [five in 22 1/3 innings], and it's tough to score."
Lowe's sinkerball style also helps keep his extended outings
from limiting his availability. Ground ball outs generally mean
lower pitch counts, and he'd thrown an economical average of 3.3
pitches per batter faced. "Plus my arm bounces back faster than
guys who throw a lot of splitters and sliders," says Lowe, who
had pitched on consecutive days three times this season. "I'll
never say I'm not ready to pitch."
Marlins Not Letting It Slide
Pitchers aren't winning many battles these days, so a little
celebration when they do might be understandable. Well, not to
the Marlins. Florida centerfielder Preston Wilson, who pumped
his fists and danced around the bases after his grand slam off
the Mets' Armando Benitez on May 6--a direct response, he says,
to Benitez's emotional displays after strikeouts--cited the
Astros' Jose Lima, the Dodgers' Carlos Perez and the Expos'
Ugueth Urbina as other pitchers he wouldn't mind showing up.
Wilson has the support of his teammates. "If Lima says
anything," says Marlins leftfielder Cliff Floyd, "I'll send over
the tape of him doing the Electric Slide after he struck me out
TRACHSEL TAKES OFF
What Beats a Pair of Aces?
Even if Devil Rays righthander Steve Trachsel hadn't outdueled
aces Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez to earn the wins, his
back-to-back 1-0 victories over the Red Sox and Yankees would
have been remarkable. Trachsel, whose 18 losses for the Cubs
last year were the most in the majors, is the first American
League pitcher since Bert Blyleven in 1976 to win consecutive
1-0 games, and he carried a 17-inning scoreless streak into his
scheduled start against the Rangers on Tuesday. So, Trachsel was
asked last weekend, what has come over him? "Why does something
have to have come over me?" he said. "I don't have a new pitch.
I'm not doing anything different."
Trachsel's recent dominance had its roots in last season. Though
he went 8-18 in 1999, he finished strong, winning four of his
final seven starts. "Last August I decided not to put too much
pressure on myself," said Trachsel, who began the '99 season as
the Cubs' ace after going 15-8 in '98. In Trachsel's 34 starts
last year, Chicago averaged 4.1 runs, the third-worst run
support in the National League. "I decided to trust my stuff."
That trust is paying off. Trachsel befuddled Boston and New York
hitters with a game plan straight out of Pitching 101, spotting
his modest fastball well on both sides of the plate and getting
ahead in the count. He threw first-pitch strikes to 39 of the 60
batters he faced in the two whitewashes. "Steve's not
overpowering, so he often falls into a rut of throwing a lot of
breaking balls," says Tampa Bay catcher John Flaherty. "When he
pitches off his fastball, the other stuff looks that much better."
Mixing that other stuff--curveballs, splitters, changeups and
sinkers--around the fastball, Trachsel struck out 11, walked
three and gave up only three singles in a complete game against
Martinez on May 6. Against Hernandez five days later he allowed
three hits and struck out five in seven innings. Trachsel became
the first visiting pitcher to win 1-0 games at Fenway Park and
Yankee Stadium in the same season.
Not bad for a pitcher the Devil Rays--who signed Trachsel to a
one-year deal that pays $1 million in base salary and, with
incentives, could be worth as much as $5.5 million--were
counting on to be an innings eater in the fourth spot of their
Run and Gun
May 23-25: Rangers at Royals
Will Kansas City, which led the majors with 42 stolen bases
through Sunday, suspend its track meet while Texas catcher Ivan
Rodriguez is in town? Rodriguez has been off his game slightly,
having caught just eight of 20 would-be thieves. That 40%
success rate was sixth-best in the American League but a slump
for someone who had thrown out 46.9% in his career. Another
break for the runnin' Royals: Rangers lefthander and pickoff
specialist Kenny Rogers--he leads the league with three--isn't
scheduled to work in this series.
For the latest scores and stats, plus more news and analysis
from Tom Verducci, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.
the HOT corner
The bloom is off the rose for Mariners reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki,
whose ERA had ballooned to 7.36 through Sunday. "Sasaki earned
the closer's job in spring training, but he just lost it
tonight," manager Lou Piniella said last Friday after Sasaki
gave up a game-winning homer to the A's Matt Stairs, Sasaki's
second straight loss on a ninth-inning blast. "From now on,
we're going to have a bullpen by committee. I'm going to close
with whoever I feel like closing with."...
Evoking memories of former XXL first baseman John Kruk, who
famously said, "I'm not an athlete, I'm a baseball player,"
Marlins righthander Ricky Bones missed a start last Thursday
after straining his back while watching television on a
clubhouse recliner. Explained Florida manager John Boles, "He
had his head turned, and when he got up, he said he felt
Blue Jays closer Billy Koch took the juiced-ball debate into his
own hands last week by dissecting two balls, one from this year
and one left over from 1999, and bouncing their cores. "In each
bounce test I did, the core from the 2000 model jumped two to
four inches higher," Professor Koch said....
The Dodgers' eyes were opened during their May 8-10 sweep by the
Diamondbacks: To hang with National League West-leading Arizona,
L.A. needs lefty bullpen help. Diamondbacks lefthanded hitters
went 31 for 77 in the three games, and last week the Dodgers
intensified their search for southpaws by inquiring about
Toronto's Pedro Borbon Jr. and the Rockies' Brian Bohanon.
in the BOX
May 11, 2000
Marlins 5, Braves 4
No pitcher wants to expend 12 pitches on one batter, but for
Atlanta righthander Greg McMichael, the marathon effort was
worth it. With Florida runners on first and second and nobody
out in the fifth inning, McMichael came in to face Marlins third
baseman Mike Lowell. Lowell worked the count to 2 and 2, fouled
off three pitches, took a ball and then fouled off three more
deliveries. On the 12th pitch of the at bat, Lowell smacked a
grounder to third baseman Chipper Jones, who stepped on third
and fired the ball to second to start an around-the-horn triple
play. The Braves hadn't turned one since June 5, 1986, but the
play barely caused a ripple among Florida fans: In their
eight-year history, the Marlins have hit into three TPs.
The Rockies' master plan in the off-season was to improve team
speed to take advantage of the expansive outfield at Coors
Field. So far, so good. Through Sunday, Colorado was more than
halfway to its 1999 total of 39 triples. Five Rockies, including
new arrival Tom Goodwin (above), the National League leader, had
tripled at least twice, and Colorado led the major leagues in
three-baggers and in the number of batters who had hit them.
Here's a look at the majors' top tripling teams. --David Sabino
TEAM WITH TRIPLES TRIPLES TEAM LEADER (NUMBER)
Rockies 10 22 Tom Goodwin (7)
Twins 5 15 Cristian Guzman (7)
White Sox 6 13 Ray Durham (4)
A's 9 11 Adam Piatt (3)
Giants 8 11 Three tied with 2
Yankees 6 10 Tino Martinez (3)
Astros 5 10 Craig Biggio, Roger Cedeno (3)
Pirates 5 9 Adrian Brown (3)