Big payoffs for those who strutted their stuff in spring
When it comes to spring training, there are two schools of
thought: 1) The exhibition season means nothing. 2) The
exhibition season means nothing--unless you play well.
Who decides? Blue Jays rightfielder Shawn Green used to write
off March as a time for practice, not perfection. "As long as I
hit during the season, I can be at .100 in Florida," Green said
last spring, when he batted .235. This year Green hit a mellow
.385. His stroke was smooth, his throwing arm powerful. "Getting
off to a good start," Green now says of the preseason, "is
If Grapefruit grandeur and Cactus conquests truly are
regular-season harbingers, Green and these other springtime
success stories might be in for big years.
Troy Glaus, 3B, Angels. The third pick in the 1997 draft, Glaus
was pitted against nine-year veteran Dave Hollins in a spring
training battle for the starting job. After hitting a combined
.307 with 35 home runs and 93 RBIs for Double A Midland and
Triple A Vancouver, Glaus made the jump to the majors in '98,
his first year as a pro, but hit just .218 with 51 strikeouts in
48 games. This spring his .370 average, three homers and .667
slugging percentage not only won him a full-time gig but also
made the temperamental Hollins expendable. He was dealt to the
Blue Jays on March 30.
Kris Benson, RHP, Pirates. In early March, Pittsburgh general
manager Cam Bonifay all but guaranteed that the 24-year-old
Benson would return to Triple A Nashville this season. The No. 1
pick in the 1996 draft, Benson had been a big disappointment,
with a 16-17 record and a 4.69 ERA over two minor league
seasons. Then this spring he pitched 24 innings, allowing but
two runs and two walks, and became the Pirates' No. 4 starter.
Tony Phillips, LF, A's. Like your grandmother's prune muffins,
he won't go away. Phillips will be 40 on April 25, and Oakland
will be his seventh major league stop in six years. He has been
released, pleaded guilty to cocaine possession, injured--and
eternally productive. Back with the A's after a nine-year
absence, Phillips hit .405 this spring with a .489 on-base
Steve Karsay, RHP, Indians. As a prospect six years ago Karsay
had a 94-mph heater and a strong curve, and was being hailed as
the Blue Jays' next great ace. Then bad things happened: He was
traded to the A's for Rickey Henderson; four starts into the
1994 season he hurt his elbow, eventually had two operations and
didn't pitch in the majors again until '97; and he spent most of
last season in a starting role for Triple A Buffalo, where he
also endured neck and shoulder injuries. "I feel like I'm still
a future ace," he says. "Pretty soon too." This spring, a
healthy Karsay, 27, allowed only three runs in 17 innings, and
his fastball was clocked in the mid 90s. If the Tribe is unable
to trade for a proven starter, Karsay will likely get a shot in
Mike Lieberthal, C, Phillies. Two seasons ago he hit 20 home
runs, which was widely regarded as a fluke. In part because of
an injury to his pelvis that forced him to miss the final nine
weeks of 1998, Lieberthal had only eight homers and wasn't able
to prove otherwise. Healthy and rejuvenated, Lieberthal batted
.474, with four homers, 19 RBIs and had a spring training best
18-game hitting streak.
Scott Williamson, RHP, Reds. A ninth-round pick in 1997,
Williamson might be the player who has come the furthest this
spring: a 1-1 record with three saves and a 2.70 ERA. Williamson
will start the season as a setup man but could be closing games
for Cincinnati by midseason. His fastball reached 98 mph in camp.
IS MONTREAL'S GRASS GREENER?
The Expos should not leave Montreal. Read that again and get
used to the idea. A year ago--hell, last month--the chances of
the Expos staying north of the border seemed nil. Commissioner
Bud Selig openly acknowledged the franchise's pathetic plight.
Expos players were saying that other cities could offer neat
little perks like, say, fans. Olympic Stadium was rusting by the
hour. William Collins, a millionaire representing northern
Virginia interests, was battling the Washington (D.C.) Baseball
Group over which site would better suit the transplanted Expos.
It was not a matter of if but when they'd move, before next
season or in time for Opening Day 2001.
In the last two weeks, however, the Quebec provincial government
offered as much as $8 million a year for 20 years to help finance
a new stadium in downtown Montreal. In addition, Labatt has said
it would pay $100 million to have its name on the new park, and
orders for luxury suites now total some $40 million.
Perhaps the best argument for staying in Canada came last Friday
and Saturday, when Washington hosted exhibition games between
the Expos and the Cardinals. Only 20,465 fans showed up at
45,000-seat RFK Stadium on Friday, and even though 30,112 turned
out the next day, the bigger crowd hardly made up for the lumpy
outfield grass and rotting dugout steps, a malfunctioning
scoreboard and an unintelligible P.A. system. If they relocated
to D.C., the Expos would have to play at least two seasons in RFK.
"You have to take into account a lot of factors," Washington
Baseball Group spokesman David Low said of the turnout. "It's
Easter weekend, it's Passover, people have to work.... " The
Cable Guy was on HBO. It was raining in Idaho. Bottom line:
Washington struck out.
COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN GREEN Hale again, Lieberthal (sliding) tore up the Grapefruit League with an 18-game hitting streak.
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON
Getting off The Mark
Over the last five years the Braves have a March-April record of
72-35, the best in the majors. The success is attributable
mostly to Atlanta's three aces, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux (right)
and John Smoltz, all of whom have March-April ERAs among the top
10 during that span. But beware in Boston: Though Pedro Martinez
is among the best first-month pitchers, two other members of the
Red Sox rotation, Tim Wakefield and newcomer Mark Portugal, have
struggled out of the gate. Here are members of current rotations
who have had the best and worst ERAs for the first month of the
season over the last five years (minimum 80 March-April innings
ERA IN ERA IN
PITCHER, TEAM MARCH-APRIL PITCHER, TEAM MARCH-APRIL
Greg Maddux, Braves 1.74 Willie Blair, Tigers 6.35
Francisco Cordova, Pirates 2.16 Kent Mercker, Cardinals 6.08
Tom Glavine, Braves 2.33 Tim Wakefield, Red Sox 5.42
Pedro Martinez, Red Sox 2.49 Kevin Tapani, Cubs 5.26
John Smoltz, Braves 2.81 Pedro Astacio, Rockies 5.15
Andy Ashby, Padres 2.93 Orel Hershiser, Mets 5.14
Al Leiter, Mets 3.01 Jamie Moyer, Mariners 5.02
Roger Clemens, Yankees 3.14 Dave Burba, Indians 5.02
Alex Fernandez, Marlins 3.18 Juan Guzman, Orioles 4.99
Jeff Fassero, Mariners 3.23 Mark Portugal, Red Sox 4.88
the HOT corner
Didn't the Mariners get ripped for dealing Randy Johnson to the
Astros at last season's trading deadline? Look now: Righthander
Freddy Garcia (4-1, 2.66 ERA in spring training) is Seattle's
No. 3 starter, second baseman Carlos Guillen (.393, 20 RBIs) is
hitting leadoff, and lefty John Halama (2-1, 2.33 ERA) is in the
bullpen. What do the Astros have to show for the swap?...
It may seem like a trade of middling righthanders, but the deal
that sent Clint Sodowsky from the Diamondbacks to the Cardinals
last week for John Frascatore involves two guys with excellent
mechanics. Sodowsky has restored a 1957 Chevy; Frascatore's
hobby is rebuilding engines for monster trucks and Harleys....
Don't look for new Orioles reliever Heathcliff Slocumb to hang
with his old Mariners teammates when they meet this season.
After ripping Seattle's infield defense earlier in the spring,
he said to The Washington Post of Mariners manager Lou Piniella,
"Just because you're a good guy doesn't mean you understand
Baltimore released catcher Chris Hoiles, who turned 34 on March
20, because his deteriorating hip made it too painful for him to
catch, and his bat has slowed over the past three years....
White Sox shortstop Mike Caruso placed third in last season's
American League Rookie of the Year balloting, but his 35 errors
drove his bosses crazy. Manager Jerry Manuel hopes Caruso can
reduce that number by about 15, in part by using a shorter
throwing motion, more like a quarterback's....
With second baseman Craig Counsell benched in favor of Luis
Castillo, the Marlins now start zero players from their 1997
The A's almost certainly will trade lefthander Kenny Rogers by
the All-Star break. The Mets can have him if they add
righthander Jason Isringhausen to an offer that includes
righties Octavio Dotel and Masato Yoshii. Oakland loves Indians
first baseman-DH Richie Sexson, but Cleveland is scared of
Rogers's tender elbow, which will cause him to miss at least one
start, as well as his free-agent status at the end of the season.