Tom Verducci's View

May 04, 2003

CLOSED OUT?

The Yankees, Mariners, Cubs and Giants all had their closer on
the disabled list at week's end--and all four of those teams were
in first place. And the two other first-place teams, the Royals
and the Expos, are using closers who had one career save between
them entering this season.

Every club would love to have John Smoltz, who was unscored upon
at week's end while throwing unhittable 97-mph darts. Since last
June 3, the Braves are 60-0 when Smoltz pitches. But most closers
are replaceable in the short term, with any Borowski (Joe of the
Cubs), Biddle (Rocky of the Expos) or MacDougal (Mike of the
Royals) needing only a chance to benefit from the heavy lifting
of starters and setup men.

Investing heavily in closers is folly. Last year, for instance,
the Mariners broke team policy against midseason extensions and
made Kazuhiro Sasaki their highest-paid player ($17 million over
two years). On April 23 the 35-year-old went on the DL with back
trouble after regularly hanging splitters, failing to crack 90
mph with his fastball and losing the confidence of his teammates
with four blown saves. "He won't be the closer anymore," said one
Mariner, though manager Bob Melvin, using Jeff Nelson and Arthur
Rhodes for now, said he intends to return Sasaki to the job when
healthy.

WHO IS ...?

Gil Meche

After missing 2 1/2 seasons with shoulder problems that required
two surgeries, Meche, 24, is throwing like a No. 1 starter out of
the fifth spot in the Mariners' rotation. The righty throws four
quality pitches, including a 94 mph fastball and a changeup
that's so good, he threw it four straight times to whiff
Cleveland's Travis Hafner in a 4-0 win on April 23. "I never
threw four straight changeups before," said Meche, whose win made
him 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA since a wobbly opening start. "That,"
said teammate Jamie Moyer, "was the best I've ever seen him
throw."

LIKE MIKE

Rangers outfielder Rusty Greer is the Michael Jordan of baseball,
at least by numerical standards. (Like MJ, Greer may also be
headed toward retirement, because of various injuries sidelining
him this season.) Here are their career numbers in their
respective sports.

G AVG.* PCT.(+)

Greer 1,027 .305 .478
Jordan 1,072 30.1 .497

*Batting average and points per game, respectively
(+)Slugging and field goal percentages, respectively

SHORT HOPS

Rival G.M.'s are watching to see if the Mets' Steve Phillips, in
the last year of his contract, will trade top prospects such as
righthander Aaron Heilman and catcher Justin Huber in an attempt
to patch up the club and save his job. "What good is the future
to him right now?" said one AL executive. "They have some guys we
like."...Cubs rookie first baseman Hee Seop Choi, a lefthanded
hitter, picked the right time to break into the NL Central. The
division has only four lefty starters, and one is teammate Shawn
Estes; the others are Glendon Rusch and Wayne Franklin of the
Brewers and Jeriome Robertson of the Astros. Those four were 4-12
at week's end.... Texas rookie Mark Teixeira has wowed the
Rangers with the way the ball jumps off his bat. Manager Buck
Showalter, though, won't rush him into full-time duty. He plans
to get Teixeira 300 at bats this season at third base, first base
and DH.

PURE ESSENTIALS

The three things Braves closer John Smoltz takes on every road
trip:

1. Golf clubs
2. The Bible: "No, wait. Better make the Bible first, golf clubs
second."
3. Bills: "I never have time at home to get to all of them, so I
take care of all that stuff on the road."

COLOR PHOTO: PAUL SANCYA/AP MacDougal delivers bargain saves. COLOR PHOTO: JEFF GROSS/GETTY IMAGES COLOR PHOTO: RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES COLOR PHOTO: NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

Read Tom Verducci's Inside Baseball column every Tuesday at
si.com/baseball.

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)