Inside Baseball

March 18, 2002

Hail, Cesar!
After much trial and many errors, L.A. may have found a shortstop
in slick Cesar Izturis

Finding a new shortstop is as much a ritual of the Dodgers' camp
as spotting Sandy Koufax in the shadows behind the practice
bullpen. Los Angeles has had a different player at short on
Opening Day in six of the past seven years. With less than three
weeks before the 2002 lid-lifter, the Dodgers were eagerly
anticipating a seventh: Cesar Izturis, a 22-year-old Venezuelan
acquired along with righthanded reliever Paul Quantrill from the
Blue Jays in December for righthanders Luke Prokopec and Chad
Ricketts, a minor leaguer. Last week manager Jim Tracy hinted
strongly that Izturis, who played 46 games with Toronto last
year and has been dazzling with his glove this spring, will take
over the starting job from incumbent Alex Cora. "I know it's
only March," Tracy said, "but I haven't seen anything yet to
tell me he can't play up here."

Replacing the shaky Cora, who committed 20 errors and batted
.217 last year, would not be a difficult decision for the
Dodgers, but the 5'9", 175-pound Izturis is making it especially
easy. Los Angeles knew it was getting a defensive whiz: Izturis
started 34 games at second base and six at shortstop for the
Blue Jays and made just three errors. After the trade a Toronto
front-office executive compared him to the Indians' perennial
Gold Glove shortstop, Omar Vizquel.

Though questions remain as to whether the switch-hitting Izturis
can handle major league pitching and the grind of a full season,
he impressed Tracy by batting .440 in his first eight spring
games. Furthermore, Izturis's track record as a contact
hitter--he struck out a mere 37 times in 476 major and minor
league at bats in 2001--is appealing to L.A., which had the
National League's fifth-lowest on-base percentage (.323) last
year. Izturis's maturity has also been striking. "He's very
humble, and he realizes his place among all the veterans on this
team," Tracy says, "but at the same time he's a very confident
young man."

Boston's New Skipper
Little Has a Big Head Start

At 11:33 a.m. on Monday, in the Red Sox' spring training
clubhouse in Fort Myers, Fla., team president Larry Lucchino
introduced to his players their fourth manager in seven months.
Many already knew Grady Little from his tenure as Boston's bench
coach from 1997 through '99. Then something happened that neither
Lucchino nor Little had anticipated: The room erupted with shouts
and applause. Little, momentarily speechless, later called it
"touching."

The reaction confirmed why Lucchino and his fellow new owners,
John Henry and Tom Werner, turned to Little, a likable,
twinkle-eyed, 52-year-old former cotton farmer. They wanted a
fresh start after the players had undermined lineup-juggling
manager Jimy Williams and first-time skipper Joe Kerrigan with
mutinous behavior last year.

In September, for example, outfielder Manny Ramirez boarded the
team bus that included the coaching staff; he previously had
made a habit of riding the second, players-only bus. Ramirez
blasted music out of a boom box as he walked past Kerrigan,
seated in the front row. According to one passenger, when
Kerrigan asked Ramirez to turn down the volume, Ramirez snapped
back, "F--- you." The music played on.

Little forged a relationship with Ramirez in Cleveland, where he
was bench coach for the past two years, the first of them while
Ramirez was still an Indian. "I have a lot of fun with Manny,"
he says.

Kerrigan was fired on March 5 and replaced on an interim basis
by coach Mike Cubbage. The dismissal came five months after the
end of a 17-26 tenure, during which he failed to stabilize the
club. Ace righthander Pedro Martinez, for instance, reportedly
threw down his jersey and walked out of a September workout. On
Monday, just as the applause for Little ebbed, Martinez danced a
special jig that sent the whole room into laughter. "It was [the
front office's] job to introduce him," Martinez said. "To
welcome him here, that was up to me."

Little brings 1,957 games of minor league managerial experience,
a fondness for NASCAR, a homey Southern drawl, a belief that a
relaxed clubhouse makes for more productive players and the
wisdom that the applause lasts only so long. "We'll see," he
said, "what kind of reception I get in October." --Tom Verducci

Millwood's Rebound
A Shot in the Arm For Atlanta

The Braves have long been a pitching dynasty, and two years ago
righthander Kevin Millwood was the crown prince. He was coming
off a 1999 season in which he'd won 18 games, finished with the
National League's second-best ERA (2.68) and ended up third in
the league's Cy Young balloting. His 35 wins combined in '98 and
'99 were tied for seventh-best in the majors. He was just 25
years old.

But Millwood crashed in 2000, struggling to a 10-13 record and a
4.66 ERA. At spring training last year, he felt pain in his right
shoulder, and he tried to pitch through the discomfort with
disastrous results. After going 1-3 with a 4.93 ERA in his first
seven regular-season starts, Millwood went on the disabled list
on May 7 with an inflamed labrum. A week later an MRI revealed a
cyst in his shoulder.

Millwood returned 2 1/2 months later and won five of his last nine
starts, but his seven wins and 121 innings were the lowest totals
of his four full seasons. "Even after I came back, it took me
forever to get loose," Millwood says. "When I did get loose, I
couldn't generate velocity or anything else." In the off-season
the Braves tried to trade Millwood to the Reds for outfielder
Dmitri Young.

From the evidence in spring training, though, Millwood looks
ready to return to 1999 form. He says his shoulder feels stronger
than it has since that season, and his fastball is once again
humming in the low to mid-90s. He's spending camp trying to
relearn the techniques that made him dominant. Last season he
tinkered endlessly with his mechanics--lengthening his stride,
shortening his stride, changing his arm angle--in misguided
attempts to right himself. "I tried a million different things,"
he says. "That probably hurt me more than it helped. I figured
out that what I was doing before was fine."

Is this a make-or-break season for Millwood? "He's too young for
that," says Braves general manager John Schuerholz. "It's more
important to us as a team that he bounces back."

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Izturis brings a glove and dash--eight steals in nine attempts for the Blue Jays--to the Dodgers. COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA Healthy again, Millwood has gone back to the mound mechanics that worked in 1999.

the Hot corner

Any hope the Cardinals had that Rick Ankiel would be in their
rotation on Opening Day was dashed last week when he felt
stiffness in his left (pitching) elbow after his first spring
outing. Ankiel, who allowed five runs and two walks in two
innings against the Expos, wasn't expected to pitch again for at
least a week.... He's not a conventional leadoff hitter, but the
A's have been trying slow-footed DH Jeremy Giambi in the top
spot. The move makes sense in one respect: Giambi's .391 on-base
percentage was second only to brother Jason's .477 mark among
Oakland's regulars last season.... Orlando Hernandez, who's
fighting lefties Sterling Hitchcock and David Wells for one of
the two final spots in the Yankees' rotation, enhanced his
prospects--not to mention his trade value--with stellar outings
in his first two spring starts, especially when he threw 29 of
40 pitches for strikes in three shutout innings against the
Rangers on March 6. Texas, in the market for another starter, is
one team that might be interested in dealing for El Duque.

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)