With a dismaying number of baseball's best players beginning the
season on the disabled list, teams scramble to fill the gaps
In the Pirates' spring training clubhouse, reliever Scott
Sauerbeck shared a row of lockers with fellow pitchers Kris
Benson, Rich Loiselle and Jason Schmidt. So why was he the only
one of the bunch who didn't start the season on the disabled
list? "This guy right here," Sauerbeck said last Friday, pointing
to a 10-inch-high wooden Buddha sitting on the top shelf of his
locker, part of a collection belonging to his wife, Carly. "I rub
his belly every day, and so far I've been fine."
Sauerbeck may have stumbled upon a cottage industry--several teams
would have paid big bucks for Buddhas last month had the icons
proved to keep stars healthy. This spring was a particularly sore
one for big-name players. More than 20 former All-Stars were on
the disabled list on Opening Day, and several others were to miss
time in the season's first week with less serious bumps and
bruises. Braves ace Greg Maddux skipped his scheduled Opening Day
start against the Reds with a laceration on the big toe of his
left foot and a cracked toenail, an injury inflicted by a line
drive in his last spring outing, on March 28. Cincinnati
centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. sat out the game as well with a
strained left hamstring.
Those injuries were minor compared to the carnage in the
Pittsburgh clubhouse. The Pirates will be without righthanders
Benson (elbow), Schmidt (shoulder and rib cage) and Francisco
Cordova (elbow), their top three starters, until at least the
beginning of May. Setup man Loiselle (neck and shoulder) was
placed on the 60-day disabled list in the final days of camp.
Last week general manager Cam Bonifay pried away righthanded
starter Omar Olivares from the A's, veteran lefthander Terry
Mulholland was shifted from the bullpen to help shore up the
rotation, and inexperienced righthander Bronson Arroyo, who
walked only two batters but allowed eight home runs in 26 spring
innings, was handed the final starter's spot. "It didn't hit me
how bad things were until Mac [manager Lloyd McClendon] said he
wanted to carry 12 pitchers but only had 11 healthy guys in
camp," says Sauerbeck.
Here are the four stars who were the most glaring absentees in
the season's first week, and what their teams were doing to hold
the fort until they get back.
Nomar Garciaparra, Red Sox. Garciaparra went on the 15-day
disabled list last Saturday, retroactive to March 21, but is
expected to miss at least 10 weeks after he has surgery to repair
a split tendon in his right wrist. As of Sunday no date for the
procedure had been set, though the injury, which forced
Garciaparra to miss the entire exhibition schedule, had shown
little improvement in recent weeks. Boston will fill the void at
shortstop with Mike Lansing, who hasn't played the position since
1996, and Craig Grebeck, who has had more than 250 at bats only
twice in his 11-year career. Neither comes close to filling
Garciaparra's shoes as Boston's offensive and defensive
centerpiece and emotional heart. "It's not just filling the hole
at shortstop, you're filling the role of our team's offensive
leader," says catcher Scott Hatteberg.
Derek Jeter, Yankees. Hampered by a sore right shoulder and a
throat infection early in camp and more recently by a strained
right quadriceps, Jeter played in only five spring games. Though
his thigh injury had improved, the cautious Yankees put him on
the disabled list late last week. "I know he probably could play,
but you have to look at the big picture," manager Joe Torre said
last Saturday. Jeter will be eligible to return on April 7. Until
then Luis Sojo, an adequate short-term replacement, will play
shortstop. Jeter's absence puts added pressure on rookie second
baseman Alfonso Soriano, who began the season in the second spot
in the order rather than in the less pressure-filled eighth slot,
where Torre had planned to use him.
Kevin Brown, Dodgers. The Dodgers also chose to err on the side
of caution with their scheduled Opening Day starter. Brown, who
strained his right Achilles tendon on March 23, will likely miss
two starts while on the DL. His rotation spot will be filled by
23-year-old righthander Luke Prokopec, who had been scheduled to
begin the season in Triple A. "I don't know how long we'll be
going without Kevin, but one player isn't going to make or break
this team," first baseman Eric Karros says. "If guys are forced
to miss a couple of games or a few starts, it's better than being
out for an entire year."
Travis Fryman, Indians. A strained right-elbow ligament kept
third baseman Fryman out of most of Cleveland's spring games and
landed him on the DL last month; he'll be eligible to return to
action on April 7. In the meantime Russell Branyan will play
third. Offensively that's fine--Branyan, though not as skilled a
hitter, has more power than Fryman--but the defensive dropoff is
precipitous. Fryman won a Gold Glove last season, while Branyan
made 23 errors in 108 games at third base in Triple A in 1999.
Phillies Find a Shortstop
Rollins Rolls Right In
A few years ago, when he was playing in the lower reaches of the
Phillies' minor league system, Jimmy Rollins was told by a coach
that one day he would be a better hitter than Larry Bowa was.
Bowa, a five-time All-Star shortstop in the 1970s who anchored
Philadelphia's infield for 12 seasons, was no Ted Williams, but
he finished in the National League top 10 in hits four times.
"I'd never heard of him," says Rollins, 22, the Phillies'
second-round pick in the '96 draft. Now Bowa is his manager.
Philadelphia's third Opening Day shortstop in five seasons and an
early Rookie of the Year candidate, Rollins is also blissfully
unaware of the Phillies' dismal recent history at his position.
"The only time I thought about who else played shortstop was ..."
he says, trailing off. "Actually never."
The 5'8", 165-pound Rollins hit .321 and made only one error in
14 September games last season, and he impressed the Philadelphia
brass with his confidence this spring. Says Bowa, "He handled
himself from the start of spring as if the starting job was his."
Philadelphia is counting on Rollins to jump-start its offense as
well as plug the hole at short. A switch hitter with speed--he
stole at least 20 bases in four minor league seasons--and some pop
(12 homers in Triple A in 2000), he has settled in as the number
2 hitter in the order. "He's most productive when he's hitting
the ball on the ground or for line drives and using his speed,"
says Bowa. "I don't want him thinking he's a home run hitter."
Bowa says Rollins still has much to learn defensively but sees
great promise in him. "Hopefully," says Bowa, setting an
ambitious goal, "he'll be here as long as I was."
COLOR PHOTO: WINSLOW TOWNSON Jeter (2) won't be down for long, but the Red Sox may have lost Garciaparra for 10-plus weeks.
COLOR PHOTO: EZRA O. SHAW/ALLSPORT With improving glovework, Rollins could be the second coming of Bowa for Philly.
the HOT corner
Don't tell the Red Sox, whose season began unraveling before it
started, that March goes out like a lamb. While coping with the
absence of Nomar Garciaparra (wrist injury) and the chronic
tardiness of Carl Everett, Boston was rocked by a lineup shuffle
during the final weekend of camp. Last Friday manager Jimy
Williams told Dante Bichette, the presumed full-time DH, that he
will play only against lefthanders. Jose Offerman, who thought
he would start at second base, was shifted into a first base
platoon with Brian Daubach, opening the door for Chris Stynes at
second. "It blindsided me," said an infuriated Bichette.
Offerman labeled Williams's decision "stupid."...
If Tony Gwynn, 40, and Rickey Henderson, 42, who's starting the
season in the minors, play in the same game for the Padres this
season, San Diego will be the first team since the 1945 Tigers
to have two 40-year-olds in the outfield at the same time....
Righthander Tim Belcher, who retired from the Angels on March
24, ended his 14-year career with a 146-140 record and only the
slightest disappointment. "My only regret," he said, "is God
gave Greg Maddux my changeup."...
The emergence of righty Scott Strickland, 24, who whiffed 14 and
walked three in 12 spring training innings, means the Expos can
consider offers for closer Ugueth Urbina (National
League-leading 41 saves in '99 but only 13 appearances in 2000
because of surgery for bone chips in his right elbow) without
gutting their bullpen. "His slider is nasty," says a scout of
Strickland, "and he throws strike after strike, never in the
middle of the plate."
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Verducci and Stephen Cannella, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.