Some former National League hitters return to find there's no
place like home
Much has happened in recent seasons to blur the differences
between the American and the National Leagues--the advent of
interleague play and the merging of umpire crews, to cite two
significant examples--but don't tell that to new Giants first
baseman Andres Galarraga. After only four months in the AL, the
Big Cat, who signed with the Rangers as a free agent last winter,
couldn't wait to get back to the National, in which he had spent
the first 16 years of his career. "No excuses for what happened
in Texas, but I'm more comfortable over here," says Galarraga,
who hit only .235 with 10 home runs and 34 RBIs in 243 at bats
for the Rangers. Since being dealt to San Francisco on July 24,
he'd batted .267 and driven in 14 runs through Sunday, and the
Giants had won 10 of 11 to move within a game of the first-place
Dodgers in the West.
"I played 15 years at first base in the NL, so there was a
familiarity with the pitchers, the ballparks," Galarraga says.
"Then I go to the AL as a designated hitter. I felt like a pinch
hitter. I wanted to be at first."
Jumping leagues may not be as difficult as it was before
interleague play came along, but some players still find the
switch unnerving. For most it's a matter of familiarity rather
than any great divergence in the way the game is played. "Hitting
requires learning what the pitcher has, what his curveball does
and how he throws to you," says the Braves' new first baseman,
Ken Caminiti, explaining his own struggles in Texas this season.
"I was blind over in the American League."
Like Galarraga, Caminiti was a career National Leaguer who signed
as a free agent with the Rangers last December. He hit .232 in 54
games before Texas released him last month. Since being picked up
by Atlanta on July 5, he'd batted .300 with five homers in 23
Other players cite lingering differences in pitching styles
between the leagues. The fastball is still dominant in the
National: Hitters can expect to be challenged often and can all
but bank on seeing heat once they're ahead in the count. Not so
in the American. "They throw way more breaking balls in the
American League," says Mariners outfielder Al Martin, who was
traded to Seattle last season after nine years with the Pirates
and the Padres. A career .282 hitter in the National League, he's
hit only .236 since switching leagues. "They just don't give in.
I think it's tougher for a hitter to go from the NL to the AL."
Players like Galarraga, Caminiti and third baseman Vinny
Castilla, who joined the Astros in May after a subpar year and
two months with the Devil Rays and is another player who began
producing again upon returning to the National League, also
credit their resurgence to leaving a bad team for one in a
pennant race. Still, Galarraga is happiest about feeding on a
diet of pitches he's accustomed to. "I see more fastballs in the
NL," he says. "In the AL it can be a 12-1 game, and they'll be
pitching you away. I definitely like it better here."
Angels Pitching Takes Wing
Angels lefthander Jarrod Washburn spends time during the
off-season bow hunting for deer near his house in Danbury, Wis.
To Washburn, stalking game isn't much different from hunting for
outs on the mound. "Deer make adjustments just like hitters do,"
he says. "When you think you have them figured out, they change
patterns of where they go, where they feed, things like that."
American League hitters aren't having much success adapting to
Washburn and the rest of Anaheim's pitchers, suddenly one of the
league's most predatory staffs. The Angels, who haven't finished
a season with a team ERA of less than 4.00 since 1992, had the
American League's third-best ERA through Sunday (3.84) and had
allowed the fewest home runs in the league, rankings that four
months ago would have seemed as likely as a PETA protester
joining Washburn on one of his winter outings. Before this
season, any chance Anaheim had of contending was thought to rest
with a strong bullpen (the league's second best in 2000) and what
was expected to be an explosive offense, not with a rotation that
relied on promising but callow arms.
The relievers have held to form by amassing the best ERA among
major league bullpens (3.03). The lineup, which has scored the
third-fewest runs in the league, has come up short, but the slack
has been picked up by the surprisingly effective rotation. Angels
starters have a 4.17 ERA, fourth best in the league, and on
average had worked deeper into games than any other rotation in
the majors (almost 6 1/3 innings per start). They are the main
reason that Anaheim had won 19 of its last 28 games through
Sunday and, with a 57-54 record, had crept into the wild-card
race, 6 1/2 games behind the Red Sox.
One key to the staff's success has been good health. A season
after a rash of injuries forced the Angels to trot out 16
starters, Anaheim had used only eight this year. Mostly, though,
the improvement is attributable to the blossoming of Washburn,
who turns 27 this week; 27-year-old lefthander Scott Schoeneweis
(8-8, 4.80 ERA), who has the league's third-best ground
ball-to-fly ball ratio; and 25-year-old righty Ramon Ortiz (10-7,
3.95), whose appearance, slight build and electric three-pitch
arsenal evoke his idol, Pedro Martinez.
The trio's maturation began late last season, when manager Mike
Scioscia and pitching coach Bud Black stressed to them the
importance of working deeper into games: The pitchers combined
for 365 2/3 innings in 59 starts in 2000, 6.20 innings per
outing. Scioscia has facilitated their improvement by being slow
to give them the hook. "He's showed he has confidence in us,"
says Schoeneweis. "Learning to pitch in the seventh and eighth
inning, that's invaluable."
"The only way to learn about pitching is to be out there
pitching," says Washburn, who was 7-2 last year but spent the
final two months on the disabled list with a stress fracture in
his pitching shoulder. When he returned to action this spring, he
decided to be more aggressive with his fastball and scrap the
mediocre curve he'd been using. "I used to have a good slider,
but I lost it when I started throwing the curve in the minors,"
says Washburn. "So I had two bad breaking pitches. Now the slider
is better but still not as sharp as it was."
No matter, because Washburn (9-5, 3.44) can change speeds with
his four-seam fastball, which usually hums in the low 90s, and
make it sink, cut in to righthanded hitters or run in on the
hands of lefties. "Of the three, he probably has the best poise
and composure on the mound," says Scioscia.
Washburn, Ortiz, Schoeneweis and veteran righthander Ismael
Valdes (7-6, 3.80 ERA) give the Angels a realistic chance to
have four 10-game winners for the first time in 10 years, a
milestone that might have already been reached had the Anaheim
hitters performed up to expectations. "Last year they hit and
had to bear with us," says Schoeneweis. "This year we're
returning the favor."
Braves Go with a Rookie
Atlanta's Giles Gets His Second Chance
Few players with only 19 games of big league experience get a
vote of confidence as resounding as the one Marcus Giles received
last week. Just hours after the Braves completed a trade for
Royals shortstop Rey Sanchez on July 31, they designated second
baseman Quilvio Veras for assignment, suddenly making the
23-year-old Giles the starter at that position for Atlanta's
For Marcus, younger brother of star Pirates outfielder Brian, the
promotion follows more than four years of developing into one of
the top prospects in the Braves' farm system (after being taken
by Atlanta in the 53rd round of the 1996 draft). Early on, Giles,
a 5'8", 180-pound righthanded batter, was tagged an all-hit,
no-field player. For instance, with the Class A Macon Braves in
1998, he was the South Atlantic League's MVP (.329, 37 homers,
108 RBIs) but also committed 25 errors in 135 games.
Giles had played the outfield in high school and junior college
but was converted to an infielder and tutored in the minors by
current Atlanta first base coach Glenn Hubbard, a former Braves
second baseman. "I needed to work hard and get the reps," says
Giles. "Glenn taught me everything I know."
Giles was a good student. He made only eight errors in 67 games
with the Triple A Richmond Braves this year, and in 18 games with
Atlanta through Sunday, he had yet to make a miscue. Indeed, one
reason the Braves were comfortable in cutting loose Veras was
that they think Giles is better defensively, not just
offensively. Says third baseman Chipper Jones, "He's turned the
double play better than anybody here since Mark Lemke."
After 76 at bats with the Braves, Giles was hitting .276 with
two homers and 10 RBIs. As for the pressure of a division race,
the only one who believes in Giles and his abilities more than
Jones and the Braves may be Giles. "I'll just be me," he says.
"I think it's going to be good enough for them." --Mark Beech
Aug. 14-16, A's at Blue Jays
Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver used to tell the Orioles, "If
you feel you're going to hit into a double play, strike out."
Oakland skipper Art Howe might want him to give the A's a pep
talk before this series. Through Sunday, Oakland had hit into 95
double plays, the most in the American League. Toronto,
meanwhile, had discovered one bright spot in allowing more hits
than any team except the Rangers: The Blue Jays had turned the
second-most twin killings (134) in the majors.
For scores, stats and the latest news, plus more from Tom
Verducci and Stephen Cannella, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.
Two advance scouts, one from each league, reflect on what they
saw and heard last week:
I'd still love to have him on my team, but Yankees shortstop
Derek Jeter is going backward defensively. He backhands balls he
should be getting in front of, and I don't think he's getting
the jump on slow rollers that he used to. Maybe the leg he
injured in spring training still bothers him, but he's not the
player he was last year.... For that matter, neither is Yankees
closer Mariano Rivera. His velocity is fine, but he doesn't have
the consistent movement he had in the past. His ball has
straightened out just enough that he's no longer
unhittable.... Righthander Ugueth Urbina's velocity is coming
back. I had him at 93 to 95 mph when I saw him right before the
Expos traded him to the Red Sox last week. He doesn't have the
power he had before surgery [to remove bone chips from his right
elbow]; he's more of a finesse guy now. He's throwing sliders
and changeups instead of just pounding the fastball.... Indians
righthander Dave Burba started 8-2, but he has been terrible
lately. The reason: He refuses to pitch inside. He won't run his
fastball in on hitters. I think he's afraid of giving up home
runs, but he's giving up plenty of them anyway.... Braves
righthander John Smoltz [who was moved to the bullpen upon
returning on July 22 to Atlanta after his minor league rehab
stint] is instantly one of the top three setup guys in the NL.
He's throwing around 93 mph, and he has great command and
presence. He'll definitely help Atlanta in that role for the
rest of the season.
in the Box
INDIANS 15, MARINERS 14 Aug. 5
After five innings Seattle led 14-2 and, with baseball's best
bullpen waiting to protect the lead should starter Aaron Sele
falter, both managers can be forgiven for emptying their benches.
A combined seven starting position players were gone by the end
of the seventh.
By then the Indians were on their way to tying the major league
record for the largest comeback win ever. With three runs in the
seventh and four in the eighth they cut the Mariners' lead to
14-9, and then loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth.
Catcher Einar Diaz singled on a full-count delivery from lefty
Norm Charlton, driving in two. Another single loaded the bases
for shortstop Omar Vizquel, who had just been told by manager
Charlie Manuel that he could "triple into the rightfield corner"
if he stayed patient. "I said, 'Yeah, sure, Charlie,'" said
But he did just that, on another 3-and-2 pitch. The triple
cleared the bases, tied the score and set the stage for a
game-winning, 11th-inning single by Jolbert Cabrera--who had
replaced Roberto Alomar at second back in the sixth.