Baker's Half Dozen
Six strong, if rather obscure, pitchers have given the Giants a
lift--into first place

An hour before the Giants' 2-0 win over the Braves last Friday,
San Francisco lefthander Shawn Estes roamed the PacBell Park
clubhouse with a photograph of the Giants' rotation posed with
pitching coach Dave Righetti. Estes, who the day before against
the Expos had won his 12th game of the season, was getting his
colleagues to sign the glossy. When he reached lefthander Kirk
Rueter, Rueter grumbled that his face had been covered by
righthander Joe Nathan's sprawling signature. "Where am I
supposed to sign?" Rueter asked in mock annoyance. "Nathan
ruined everything."

Rueter squeezed his name in, but for a moment he knew how manager
Dusty Baker must feel. The return of Nathan--who through Sunday
was 5-2 with a 4.86 ERA in 14 starts and two relief
appearances--from the disabled list last Friday presented Baker
with an enviable dilemma: Suddenly rich in pitching, how can he
cram six deserving starters into a rotation that comfortably
holds only five? "You can never have enough," says Baker, who
will use Nathan as a reliever for now but is considering going
with a six-man rotation in September.

The second half of the season has been a coming-out party for an
unheralded rotation that since the All-Star break has been the
National League's best. When Nathan went down with inflammation
in his pitching shoulder on July 13, the San Francisco staff
ranked 12th in the league with a 4.90 ERA. Since then the
starters--sparked by Nathan's replacement, righthander Russ
Ortiz, who had won his last four starts through Sunday, and
Estes, who hadn't lost since June 10--had a 3.31 ERA, tops in
the league, and had won 18 games, more than any other rotation
in the league. The staff ERA had shrunk to 4.37, fourth best in
the league. Thanks to the starters, the Giants had the
third-best record in the majors since the break and, after
trailing the Diamondbacks by 6 1/2 games on July 1, had built a
half-game lead in the National League West.

Ortiz, 26, has been the centerpiece of the renaissance. An
18-game winner last year in his second season in the majors, he
was banished to the bullpen just days before Nathan got hurt; he
was 4-8 with a 6.92 ERA, and Righetti and Baker had tired of his
inability to throw strikes consistently early in the count. But
when Nathan left his July 13 start after one inning, Ortiz
bounded from the pen and gave up no earned runs in six innings of
relief to get a win against the A's.

After a no-decision and two losses in his first three starts
after returning to the rotation, Ortiz put together a 20-inning
scoreless streak that was finally snapped in his 12-3 defeat of
the Braves last Saturday. He has benefited from an adjustment he
made in late June, when he asked catchers Bobby Estalella and
Doug Mirabelli to set their targets for him behind the plate,
rather than moving off the corners to set up pitches on the
fringes of the strike zone. Through Sunday he had lowered his
walks per nine innings from 5.9 in the first half to 4.1 after
the break. "I knew I could hit the glove and with my movement get
people out without trying to throw a perfect pitch," says Ortiz,
who features a fastball in the low- to mid-90s, a hard curveball,
a slider and a changeup.

If Ortiz's turnaround was a matter of a pitcher's learning
how to harness his stuff in the zone, Estes's was one of a
pitcher's learning how to win when he didn't have all his
weapons. After breezing through 1997, his first full season, with
a 19-5 record, Estes strained his shoulder in '98 and spent
nearly two months on the DL; he went 18-23 over the past two
years combined. Says Estes, 27, who was 12-3 with a 3.77 ERA
through Sunday, "It took last year for me to come to terms with
how to pitch when I'm not 100 percent."

Of the Giants' six starters, only 38-year-old righthander
Mark Gardner (8-6, 4.57) is older than 30. Ortiz and
25-year-old righthander Livan Hernandez (12-9, 3.74) are signed
through 2003, Estes won't be a free agent until after 2002, and
two weeks ago Rueter signed a below-market-value extension worth
$15.6 million that will keep him a Giant through 2003. Nathan,
also 25, is still five seasons from free agency.

Given such a foundation, the rotation has begun drawing
comparisons to the group of arms that has been the bedrock of the
Braves' decadelong stranglehold on the National League. "It's
early to compare us to Atlanta," says Estes, "but Giants pitching
isn't something you usually hear about. It's nice to finally get
some recognition as a group."

Texas Hitting Coach
Jaramillo's Magic

After being named The Sporting News's minor league player of the
year for 1998, Gabe Kapler got off to a rocky start in his first
full season in the majors last year with the Tigers, who then
traded him to the Rangers during the off-season. In his first 187
games, through this year's All-Star break, Kapler, a
centerfielder, batted .243 with 22 home runs and a .311 on-base
percentage. Kapler, a quality hitter at Moorpark College, a
California JC, and in four minor league seasons, was being
overpowered by fastballs and was so tense at the plate that
pitchers could see veins popping out of his neck as he squeezed
the bat. "I wouldn't call it a slump," says Kapler, who turns 25
on Aug. 31. "I'd call it flat-out being lost. I was searching for
something that would work for me."

After hitting safely in 30 of his last 32 games through Sunday,
including a team-record 28 straight in one stretch, Kapler has
obviously found what he was looking for, and he gives much of the
credit to Texas hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Kapler began
working with Jaramillo a few weeks after being traded to Texas
last November; the tutorial reached a crucial point during the
All-Star break, when Jaramillo persuaded Kapler to add a leg kick
to his stride. The kick acts as a timing mechanism that forces
Kapler to stay back and stay loose so as not to launch into his
swing too soon. "We needed to free him up," says Jaramillo. "The
bat speed was there--it was just a matter of getting it out of
him."

The results have been startling: Since the break Kapler, who hit
.245 with four homers in the first half, had batted .336 and
mashed six homers. "Rudy's been here six years, and we've had a
lot of players come and go, but we've been near the top of the
league in hitting every year," says manager Johnny Oates. "With
that track record, these guys listen when he talks."

Since Jaramillo's arrival before the 1995 season, the Rangers
have finished among the American League's top five teams in
hitting four times and in scoring three times. (Through Sunday
they were second, with a .285 average.) Three of the last four
American League MVPs have been Jaramillo pupils--Juan Gonzalez
(twice) and Ivan Rodriguez--and this season Texas third baseman
Mike Lamb was second among American League rookies in hitting
(.285). As the Astros' hitting coach from '90 through '93,
Jaramillo helped Jeff Bagwell to develop into one of the game's
most feared batters and Houston to go from the National League's
worst-hitting team in his first season to the sixth best in his
last.

Jaramillo's charges praise his flexibility. "Rudy doesn't say,
'This is the way Pudge hits, this is the way Raffy hits, so this
is the way you'll hit,'" says Kapler. "He knows what works for
one guy doesn't always work for another."

Witness Jaramillo's work with outfielder Ricky Ledee, whom the
Rangers acquired from Cleveland last month. Ledee, a lefthanded
batter who hit .236 with the Yankees and Indians this season,
arrived in Texas with a closed stance and a high front-leg kick
that caused him to coil away from the pitcher and close his
right shoulder, which all but prevented him from turning on
inside pitches. Jaramillo got Ledee to replace the kick with a
slide step and opened his stance. "When I got here, guys told me
that if he fixed Kapler, I'd be a piece of cake," says Ledee,
who through Sunday was hitting .206 with one home run in 21
games as a Ranger. "My average right now doesn't reflect how I
feel. For the first time in a while I feel I'm gaining ground."

Jason Boyd's Bad Temper
Learning the Hard Way

Last week Phillies righthanded relief pitcher Jason Boyd came
off the disabled list, having missed two months with a fractured
right hand, an injury he suffered when he slammed his glove on
the bench after surrendering five runs in less than an inning
against the Marlins on June 14. Upon his return, Boyd announced
that he'd learned a lesson about controlling his temper. "Of
course," said Boyd, who gave up three earned runs in two
appearances last week, "I thought I'd learned that lesson a long
time ago."

He should have. As a senior at Edwardsville (Ill.) High in 1992,
Boyd, who was 29-1 in his varsity career, suffered his only loss,
2-1 to Belleville West High. The defeat knocked Edwardsville High
out of the sectional playoffs. So enraged was Boyd that he
stormed home and--in a fit that would have done Keith Moon
proud--proceeded to trash his bedroom. The tantrum culminated when
Boyd tossed his queen-sized bed out the window, sending shattered
glass, broken bedframe and torn mattress onto the sidewalk below.
"My mom was kind of upset with me," says Boyd, who then had to
sleep on the floor until he earned enough money to repair the
window and buy a new bed. "I threw a lot of tantrums and did a
lot of stupid things."

On Deck
Limping Home

Aug. 25-27: White Sox at Mariners
The regular season can't end soon enough for these slumping
teams, who meet for three games in a potential preview of things
to come in October. Though Chicago still had a substantial lead
in the American League Central through Sunday, the White Sox were
just 19-18 since the All-Star break; Seattle, meanwhile, had
dropped eight straight and seen its West Division lead dwindle
from seven games to two. Chicago and Seattle were two of the few
teams in the majors with winning records against lefthanded
starters--with 14-7 and 16-10 marks, respectively--but any
advantage will be negated in the series opener, when each team is
scheduled to start a southpaw: Mike Sirotka for the White Sox and
Jamie Moyer for the Mariners. Chicago will be especially glad to
see Moyer: On Aug. 9 it pounded him for 13 hits and 11 runs in
3 2/3 innings.

For the latest scores and stats, plus more news and analysis from
Tom Verducci, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Banished to the bullpen in July, Ortiz returned to the rotation and has won his last four starts. COLOR PHOTO: RICK FRIEDMAN

the HOT corner

Sammy Sosa now concedes that Cubs manager Don Baylor was right
earlier this season when he criticized Sosa for being less than
a complete player. "It's good sometimes that people say
something [negative] about me, because that's good motivation to
work harder," says Sosa, whose weight has dropped from 236
pounds to 221 since spring training. "Maybe I was a little bit
overweight."...

Never shy about speaking his mind, Curt Schilling has a stinging
take on the difference between the Diamondbacks and his former
team, the Phillies. "Night and day," says Schilling, who through
Sunday had won four of five starts for Arizona. "Everything in
this organization is geared toward the players and the baseball
personnel. It's an environment I haven't been around in a long
time."...

That 21-year-old prospect, righthander Leslie Brea, the Orioles
thought they were getting when they traded Mike Bordick to the
Mets last month? Turns out the birthday listed for him in the
major league database, Oct. 12, 1978, is incorrect; Brea, a
native of the Dominican Republic, told reporters last week that
he's 26. "Chronological age isn't everything," says Baltimore's
vice president of baseball operations, Syd Thrift. "Regardless
of whether he's 21 or 26, he has the ability to pitch in the
major leagues."...

Forgive fans if they leave Cardinals games early--late-inning
drama has been scarce in St. Louis lately. Through Sunday the
Cardinals had played only four extra-inning games and were 60-0
when leading after eight innings, 0-53 when trailing heading
into the ninth.

in the BOX

Aug. 19, 2000
Yankees 9, Angels 1

On June 29, thanks to shoddy play by the Tigers, the Yankees
became the second team in history to hit three sacrifice flies
in one inning. Last Saturday, New York did it again. In the
third inning Glenallen Hill scored after Anaheim leftfielder Ron
Gant dropped Jorge Posada's fly ball, a play that was ruled a
sacrifice for Posada and an error on Gant. Six pitches later
Scott Brosius lifted an easy fly that Gant caught for the first
out. Tino Martinez scampered home to give the Yankees their
second sac fly and a 6-0 lead. The next hitter, Clay Bellinger,
hit a drive deep to left that Gant snagged. Perhaps suppressing
the memory of his earlier miscue, Gant assumed the inning was
over and lazily returned the ball to the infield, allowing
Posada to tag up and score from second. "No excuse. I thought
that was the third out," Gant said. "If [centerfielder Darin
Erstad] hadn't yelled at me to make a throw, I'd still be
holding the ball."

Rudy's Rules

Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo (center), who helped send
Kapler (right) on a 28-game streak, hopes to work his magic on
the struggling Ledee (left). Here's what the guru of Texas swing
looks for when watching a batter at the plate.

1. RHYTHM: A hitter has to establish a preswing rhythm that
leaves him set in time to pick up the pitcher's release point.
That means staying balanced and keeping the hands and arms
tension-free.

2. SEPARATION: "I'm always watching the hitter's feet," says
Jaramillo. "If they're not separating properly, that rhythm is
going to break up." When the batter's front foot lands, his hands
should be cocked in a power position.

3. STAYING SQUARE: When the hands are cocked, the hitter's
shoulders should be square with the plate. That helps keep him
from lunging at the ball and keeps the upper body from flying
open or from turning inward and limiting the swing.

4. WEIGHT TRANSFER: "We work from the legs up--the foundation of
the swing is the transfer of weight from the back to the front
foot," says Jaramillo. A smooth transfer creates bat speed, the
Holy Grail for hitters.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)