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1 St. Louis Cardinals Will Brett Tomko ever pitch to his potential? If he does, it will help his new team a lot

March 31, 2003
March 31, 2003

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March 31, 2003

Baseball Preview 2003

1 St. Louis Cardinals Will Brett Tomko ever pitch to his potential? If he does, it will help his new team a lot

Over the past six years has any other pitcher been as
disappointing as often as righthander Brett Tomko? Whether it
was during his three seasons with the Reds, two with the
Mariners or last year with the Padres, he has repeatedly failed
to measure up to expectations. The line between stardom and
obscurity is as thin as dental floss, and Tomko knows that he
could go either way. "This is it," says the soon-to-be
30-year-old. "The best opportunity I've ever had."

This is an article from the March 31, 2003 issue

When Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty traded reliever
Luther Hackman and a minor league pitcher to San Diego for Tomko
in December, his rationale was similar to that of the other
general managers who had acquired the 6'4", 215-pound
Californian: He has great stuff, and if we can straighten him
out.... Indeed, turning Tomko into a consistent winner--his
career record is 49--42 with a 4.46 ERA--has been as difficult as
picking the winning Lotto numbers. More than anything, he's been
prone to yielding big innings that have turned good performances
into bad ones. Yet Tomko's slider is one of the National League's
best, and the sinker he has developed makes righthanded swingers
look like marionettes tangled in their strings. St. Louis, in
fact, is counting on him to be its No. 3 starter.

"We believe Brett is about to break out and develop into
something special," says Jocketty. "Sometimes it takes a young
arm longer to develop. The tools are there, but it goes a little
slower than the team expects. Brett's at the point in which it's
all set to come together."

This year the Cardinals' biggest concern is their rotation,
which, save for ace righthander Matt Morris, is filled with
question marks. Since the beginning of last season St. Louis has
lost three starters--Darryl Kile, who died of a heart attack last
June, Andy Benes, who retired, and Chuck Finley, a 40-year-old
free agent who was not resigned. The No. 2 starter, Woody
Williams, has gone 16--5 in his 1 1/2 seasons with the Cardinals,
but he's been on the disabled list six times in the last eight
years. In 2002 Williams pitched in only 17 games because of a
strained left oblique muscle. One morning last month
centerfielder Jim Edmonds spotted Williams walking through the
clubhouse wearing an old pair of Nikes and hollered, "Hey, Woody!
I guess if you only pitch five games a year, you don't wear those
things out." Williams didn't even smile.

Tomko, on the other hand, has been grinning ear to ear. Two
seasons ago he was struggling so much that Seattle Mariners
manager Lou Piniella sent him to Triple A Tacoma. The demotion
floored the cocky Tomko, and he demanded a trade. "That was the
lowest point of my career," he says, "and the best thing that
ever happened to me."

Tomko worked hard with Tacoma pitching coach Chris Bosio, who
taught him the sinker. "But most important, he motivated me,"
Tomko says. "I realized that I had plateaued. I could either
learn some new tricks or spend my career being mediocre." Tomko
was so inspired by his experience in the minors that when the
Mariners considered recalling him in September, he asked to stay
in Tacoma to help the Rainiers in their playoff push.

While Tomko's 10--10 record last season doesn't look like much,
he pitched some of the best games of his career. The Padres
ranked 14th in the National League in runs scored, and Tomko
often suffered because of it. Eight of Tomko's 32 starts ended in
one-run defeats for San Diego; four times he gave up one run or
less without getting a decision. "If I gave up three runs," he
says, "there was a good chance we'd lose. That gets to you."

With Tomko eligible for arbitration, Padres general manager Kevin
Towers knew his payroll couldn't accommodate the $3 million--plus
salary Tomko would likely command. (He agreed to a one-year, $3.3
million deal with St. Louis.) Four teams in addition to the
Cardinals--Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia and Texas--tried to work
out a trade for him. When the swap with St. Louis was announced,
Tomko jumped for joy.

"I've been called a potential 15-to 20-game winner for years," he
says. "If there's a place for me to make that happen, it's here.
It's now." --Jeff Pearlman

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER MYSTERY MAN With a knee-buckling slider and a heavy sinker, Tomko has the tools but has to stop giving up big innings.COLOR PHOTO: FERNANDO MEDINA/GETTY IMAGES PUJOLS

IN FACT

Tony La Russa needs 76 wins to become the eighth manager in
history with 2,000 or more. The last man to reach that milestone
was Sparky Anderson.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Cardinals

"This is a strong club. Edgar Renteria is the best shortstop in
the league. He catches everything and he always comes up with the
clutch hit. With Renteria, Fernando Vina, Jim Edmonds and two
strong catchers, Mike Matheny and Joe Girardi, this club is tough
up the middle.... Albert Pujols is so good it's scary. I've never
seen him take a bad swing. He doesn't chase pitches, and he
doesn't strike out.... Scott Rolen gives them a left side of the
infield that's spectacular. Tino Martinez has gotten old, but if
they give him time off by spotting Eli Marrero and Eduardo Perez
at first, he'll be O.K.... If Woody Williams stays healthy, the
Cardinals are going to have enough pitching. Brett Tomko and
Jason Simontacchi were impressive in the spring, but the big
surprise was Cal Eldred--he looked like the Eldred of old....
Rick Ankiel would be better off going to the minors so he could
work through his control difficulties, but I hear they want to
keep him around to work with pitching coach Dave Duncan.... Until
Jason Isringhausen is back at full strength, they'll have to use
a committee to close games. Once he's healthy, this team will be
one of the National League's best."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

2B Vina
SS Renteria
CF Edmonds
LF Pujols
3B Rolen
1B Martinez
RF Drew
C Matheny

FERNANDO VINA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 129 .270 1 54 17

EDGAR RENTERIA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 56 .305 11 83 22

JIM EDMONDS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 55 .311 28 83 4

ALBERT PUJOLS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 4 .314 34 127 2

SCOTT ROLEN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 29 .266 31 110 8

TINO MARTINEZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 117 .262 21 75 3

J.D. DREW

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 196 .252 18 56 8

MIKE MATHENY

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 247 .244 3 35 1

BENCH

ELI MARRERO

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 100 .262 18 66 14

MIGUEL CAIRO

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 373 .250 2 23 1

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Matt Morris 16 17 9 6.6 1.30 3.42
RH Woody Williams 77 9 4 6.1 1.05 2.53
RH Brett Tomko[#] 112 10 10 6.4 1.33 4.49
RH Garrett Stephenson 243 2 5 4.3 1.62 5.40
RH Jason Simontacchi 92 11 5 6.0 1.31 4.02

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Jason Isringhausen 52 3 2 32 0.98 2.48
LH Steve Kline 142 2 1 6 1.29 3.39
RH Joey Hamilton[#] 201 4 10 1 1.49 5.27

[#]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 157)

2002 RECORD

97--65
first in NL Central

MANAGER

Tony La Russa
eighth season with St. Louis