Inside Baseball

August 25, 2002

Raising Arizona
Having gotten a grip, sometimes spacey Junior Spivey is the
Diamondbacks' catalyst

When Diamondbacks hitting coach Dwayne Murphy first saw Junior
Spivey play in rookie league ball six years ago, he couldn't
believe his eyes. "I said to him, 'Man, what are you doing? Is
that your swing?'" says Murphy of the righthanded-hitting Spivey,
who held the bat with his hands spread several inches apart.
"When he first started, he couldn't hit the ball to the left of
second base, couldn't pull the ball at all."

Spivey, a 36th-round draft pick out of Cowley County Community
College in Arkansas City, Kans., quickly changed to a
conventional grip. As a result fans in Arizona are putting their
hands together for the second-year second baseman of the
Diamondbacks, who at week's end had extended their lead in the
National League West to seven games. Spivey, who inherited the
starting job this spring after Craig Counsell was moved to third,
was seventh in the league in hitting (.323) and had the
third-best average against lefthanded pitching (.363).

"He's worked very hard to learn the strike zone and become more
disciplined," manager Bob Brenly says. "What's surprising is that
he's learned in such a short time."

Spivey got his first taste of the majors in June 2001 when he was
called up from Triple A Tucson. He hit .333 in his first 16
games, but pitchers soon realized that he had trouble hitting
breaking pitches. By mid-September his average was down around
.250, and Brenly left him off the Diamondbacks' postseason
roster. "I thought about that every day this winter," Spivey
says. "We won the World Series, but I was an outsider."

Instead of heading home to Oklahoma City, Spivey spent most of
the off-season in Phoenix working with Murphy. They concentrated
on shortening Spivey's stride at the plate and getting him to use
his hands more in his stroke; holding his hands back as long as
possible keeps Spivey from committing too early on breaking
pitches.

The work paid off. In addition to his high average, Spivey, who
now bats third, had 12 home runs through Sunday and the highest
on-base percentage (.405) among the regulars on the team.
However, he's shaky in the field--his 14 errors were tied for the
most among NL second basemen--and has a tendency to space out.
Concedes Spivey, "Forgetting [the number of] outs has been a
problem."

Still, says Brenly, "Every day we see signs of this guy
maturing." Case in point: Against the Cubs last Saturday, Spivey
kept a ninth-inning, game-winning rally alive by poking
righthander Kyle Farnsworth's nasty, two-strike splitter on the
outside corner into centerfield for a single. Says Brenly, "A
year ago he probably would have tried to jack that ball into the
seats."

Less than a half hour after the game had ended, Spivey was
studying video of that at bat on a laptop in the clubhouse. "I
couldn't have written a better script for myself," he says.
"Getting a chance to play every day on a world championship club,
I'm the happiest guy in baseball."

Three All-Stars on a Roll
Real Scorchers In August

Understated Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams is used to
playing in the shadows of more heralded teammates like Derek
Jeter, Jason Giambi and, now, Alfonso Soriano. "He's a guy you
take for granted," New York manager Joe Torre said last week. But
the spotlight was on Williams during a streak of nine multihit
games, when he also had hits in 11 straight at bats from last
Wednesday through Sunday, one short of the major league record
set by the Red Sox' Pinky Higgins in 1938 and tied by the Tigers'
Walt Dropo in '52. Another streak, in which Williams reached base
in 13 straight plate appearances, three short of the mark set by
Boston's Ted Williams in '57, ended on Saturday when he went 2
for 5 in an 8-3 win over the Mariners.

Yet even while he was on that tear, Williams had to share top
billing with two of the game's megastars. Last Friday against the
Twins, Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez extended his streak of
scoreless innings to 35, the most in the American League since
Kenny Rogers's run of 39 for the Texas Rangers in 1995. Even
though Minnesota eventually touched him for three earned runs in
a 5-0 loss, Martinez (16-3) led the majors with a 2.20 ERA
through Sunday. At the same time, Rangers shortstop Alex
Rodriguez was having his way with the Blue Jays. In Texas's 10-7
win on Sunday, A-Rod blasted two home runs, giving him five in
two games, which tied a major league record. Rodriguez led the
majors with 44 homers and was on pace for a career-high 58. Said
Texas manager Jerry Narron, "I don't think we appreciate what
we're seeing. He's the best player in the game today."

Still, there was no ignoring the mild-mannered Williams, who has
been sizzling over the past two months--a far cry from early in
the season, when he was mired in an 0-for-19 slide that dropped
his average to .180. Williams took a series of cortisone shots to
relieve the pain in his chronically sore shoulders, a condition
that has sapped him of some of his power. With 16 home runs at
week's end, he was on track for 22--which would be his lowest
total since '97--but he still led the Yankees in hits (163) and
on-base percentage (.424). He was also batting a
major-league-leading .400 since the All-Star break.

By going 2 for 4 on Sunday, Williams raised his season average to
.340, third in the American League behind Kansas City first
baseman Mike Sweeney (.355) and Seattle rightfielder Ichiro
Suzuki (.343). "From where I was, I'd never have believed the
season I'm having," Williams said last week. "Early on I was just
trying to stay in the lineup."

Mariners' Joel Pineiro
Just Plug Him in Where Needed

Joel Pineiro was almost too good for the Mariners' rotation. The
23-year-old righthander became Seattle's fifth starter late in
spring training, but before his first outing manager Lou Piniella
shifted him to the bullpen. Piniella decided Pineiro should be
dazzling hitters with his low-90s fastball and sharp curve more
than once every fifth day. He was right: Pineiro, who had an 0.63
ERA in six relief appearances as a rookie last season, allowed
one run and struck out 23 in 18 innings of setup work in April.

But with righthander Paul Abbott faltering, Piniella put Pineiro
back into the rotation on April 30. It was another correct call:
Since then Pineiro has been one of the American League's best
pitchers. After striking out five and giving up just two earned
runs in 6 1/3 innings to beat Roger Clemens and the Yankees in a
5-2 win on Sunday, Pineiro was 13-4 with a 3.57 ERA in 21 starts,
and his overall ERA of 3.20 was sixth best in the league.

To read Stephen Cannella's weekly Touching Base column, go to
cnnsi.com/baseball.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Left off the postseason roster last fall, Spivey worked to become Arizona's best hitter. COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS

On Deck
NEXT UP IN THE WEEK AHEAD

CENTRAL BOOKING What's more surprising about the NL Central race,
that the previously underachieving Astros have joined the fray,
or that the upstart Reds are still hanging on? This weekend in
Houston those two teams meet for the final time this year. The
good news for Cincinnati: The team has acquired three veteran
starters over the last five weeks. The bad news: The only one
scheduled to work against the Astros is righthander Ryan
Dempster, and he has a 7.71 ERA in three career starts at Minute
Maid Park.

HARD KNOCKS At week's end Devil Rays pitchers had hit more
batters (72) than any other staff in the majors, and Angels
batters had been hit more often (62 times) than any other team's.
Ice bags and aspirin will be at a premium in the Anaheim
clubhouse when Tampa Bay visits Edison Field for three games
beginning on Aug. 27. The most likely player to bruise? Angels
leadoff hitter David Eckstein, who'd been hit by pitches 23
times--seven more than any other player in the majors.

Elite Eight

These pitchers have a chance to win at least 20 games and have
ERAs under 3.00, a feat accomplished just 10 times since 1995 and
no more than three times in one year. If all eight achieve both
marks, they'll be the biggest class of sub-3.00-ERA, 20-game
winners since the star-studded '74 group of Catfish Hunter,
Ferguson Jenkins, Jim Kaat, Andy Messersmith, Phil Niekro,
Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan and Luis Tiant. (Stats through
Sunday.) --David Sabino

Pitcher, team Wins ERA
Pedro Martinez (right), Red Sox 16 2.20
Derek Lowe, Red Sox 17 2.29
Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks 18 2.55
Tom Glavine, Braves 16 2.60
Curt Schilling, Diamondbacks 20 2.69
Roy Halladay, Blue Jays 14 2.73
Barry Zito, A's 17 3.01
Roy Oswalt, Astros 15 3.11

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)