Tom Verducci's View

June 01, 2003

LONESOME WOLF

As the season neared its one-third mark this week and Randy
Johnson remained on the disabled list, only two National League
lefthanders had thrown a shutout: the Brewers' Wayne Franklin and
the Phillies' Randy Wolf, who is emerging as the best of a
strangely shallow pool of lefty starters in the league. Through
Sunday, lefthanders had made only 26.5% of the NL's starts
(lefties had accounted for 31.8% in the AL). Only seven of the
top 40 NL ERA qualifiers were lefthanded, and only Wolf was among
the top 12 in strikeouts. The 26-year-old Wolf (5-2, 3.13) led NL
lefthanders in strikeouts (57) and was second to the Dodgers'
Kazuhisa Ishii among lefties in opponents batting average (.211).

Said one NL scout, "He was my [preseason] sleeper pick for the Cy
Young. I just think he's figured a lot of things out. His
curveball has good finish, he's really learned how to command his
fastball, and he doesn't give you a whole lot to hit. He goes in
and out, up and down, hard and soft. He's taken his game to a new
level."

CHOP SUI

The biggest question about Hideki Matsui was how his 50-home-run
power in Japan would translate in the majors. Here's your answer:
poorly. Despite a dramatic grand slam in his first game at Yankee
Stadium, the Yanks' outfielder has displayed the hitting style of
a weak middle infielder. Through Sunday, Matsui was on pace to
hit 10 home runs and exhaust the league's second basemen with a
barrage of grounders. Seldom does he turn on a ball or lift it.
He was hitting 2.47 grounders for every fly ball, well beyond
slap hitters such as Ichiro Suzuki (1.88), David Eckstein (1.57)
and Deivi Cruz (1.28).

"We haven't seen that power much in batting practice [either],"
hitting coach Rick Down said. "He's been opening up his front
side, and when you bail like that, it's hard to drive the ball.
He's working very hard at it. This isn't the hitter you're going
to see down the line."

ANGEL SEEING STARS

Anaheim's Tim Salmon (.308, seven home runs, 27 RBIs) has a good
shot at his first All-Star Game selection, especially with his
manager, Mike Scioscia, filling out the AL roster. Here are the
active players who have hit the most home runs without ever being
an All-Star:

Player Current Team Age HR

Tim Salmon Angels 34 276

Eric Karros Cubs 35 273

Todd Zeile Yankees 37 237

Jose Valentin White Sox 33 177

J.T. Snow Giants 35 167

THREE STRIKES FOR ...

Cardinals leftfielder Albert Pujols

Q: You're the first player to hit .300 with 30 homers, 100 RBIs
and 100 runs in each of his first two seasons. What happened to
the sophomore jinx?

A: In the early part of [last] season I did try too hard to have
another good year. Then I told myself to wait on the ball longer
and hit it the other way. When I'm hitting the ball to
right-center, that's when I'm feeling good.

Q: Aren't you setting a bad example for kids with your back elbow
so high in your batting stance?

A: I don't know why I do it, but I always have. But look where my
hands are when I'm ready to swing: They're in the right place.
That's what counts.

Q: How has success changed you?

A: Not at all. You only change when you allow yourself to change.
I won't let that happen.

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

COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO Phillies fans are crying Wolf. COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO COLOR PHOTO: RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES (SALMON) COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE (PUJOLS)

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)