Rich with starting pitching in April, the Dodgers have been
disarmed by injuries
As he was loosening up for the third inning of a start against
the Astros on May 26, Dodgers righthander Luke Prokopec
inadvertently nailed a sparrow that had glided into the path of
one of his warmup pitches. There was no explosion of feathers, as
there had been when the Diamondbacks' Randy Johnson accidentally
blasted a dove in spring training, but the sparrow did drop,
lifeless, in front of home plate. Prokopec was shocked--just the
previous day he had been discussing Johnson's deadly strike with
first base coach John Shelby. "I guaranteed that would never
happen again," Prokopec says. "Then I went out and did it."
When the season began, even a run of bird homicides seemed more
probable than the jam in which Los Angeles finds itself. With
their Opening Day rotation, considered the best in the National
League, racked by injuries, the Dodgers are scrambling for
healthy arms. Righthander Andy Ashby, who was given a three-year,
$22.5 million free-agent deal last December, was lost for the
season with a torn elbow muscle after two starts. Then last month
righthander Darren Dreifort, who was re-signed to a five-year,
$55 million contract in December, tore a ligament in his pitching
elbow. He had surgery and might not be back until 2003. In what
could be the cruelest blow, ace righthander Kevin Brown (8-4,
2.95 ERA), who had been on the disabled list twice already this
year, left his start Sunday with what was thought to be a torn
elbow muscle. He was to be examined on Monday, and the rest of
his season could be in jeopardy.
"Everyone laughed when this team said it was concerned about
pitching depth," says interim general manager Dave Wallace. "We
don't have to [acquire another pitcher], but we'd like to."
Actually L.A., which at week's end was eight games over .500 and
trailed first-place Arizona by 3 1/2 games in the NL West, should
be thankful for the depth it did have. The Dodgers have propped
up the rotation with the callow Prokopec, 23, and righty Eric
Gagne, 25, who between them had made only 27 major league starts
before this year, and veteran righthander Terry Adams, a
28-year-old converted reliever.
Prokopec, who was 6-4 with a 3.96 ERA at week's end, has done the
most to keep L.A. in contention. An Australian native who lives
in Renmark, South Australia, he had planned to pitch for his
country in the Sydney Olympics before the Dodgers called him up
early last September. He went 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in five
appearances, including three starts, and figured if he pitched
well at Triple A this year, he might get another call-up.
Prokopec made an emergency start for the Dodgers in the season's
first week, going 7 2/3 innings to get the decision in a 10-1
win over the Giants, but was then sent to Triple A. He was
called up for good after Ashby went on the DL on April 18 and
went 5-1 in his next seven starts. A sore muscle on his right
side and a troublesome blister on his right middle finger
limited his effectiveness in June and early July, and he hadn't
won since that deadly strike on the bird. Last Saturday, though,
he held the A's to three hits and one run in 7 1/3 innings of a
game that L.A. won in 15 innings, and in his last five starts he
had a 2.67 ERA and four no-decisions.
Relying on the trio of Prokopec, Gagne and Adams in a pennant
race is risky, which is why Wallace is looking to make a trade.
The Dodgers are one of several teams to have shown interest in
Rockies righthander Pedro Astacio, one of the few quality
Besides, with the majors' third highest payroll entering the
season--$109 million, $41 million of which is eaten up by intended
starters Brown, Dreifort, Ashby and All-Star righthander Chan Ho
Park (8-6, 3.20)--L.A. isn't sure it can afford to take on
another expensive pitcher. "We have leeway to add some [to the
payroll]," says Wallace, who adds that he may have to settle for
a second-rate starter or bullpen help. "Some is the key word."
Faltering Toronto Takes Stock
Break Up the Blue Jays
Following the Blue Jays in recent seasons was like eating at your
favorite greasy spoon: The meals weren't delicious, but at least
you knew what you were getting when you sat down. Toronto won 88
games in 1998, 84 in '99 and 83 last year--always enough to be
respectable, never enough to make the postseason. Now it appears
that this consistently mediocre team has taken a turn for the
worse. Through Sunday the Blue Jays were 44-48, on pace for a
78-win season, and there's speculation that the club will be torn
apart as the July 31 trade deadline nears.
"We are not going to fire-sale mode," says general manager Gord
Ash. "We're not going to trade major league players for Class A
prospects, and there's no mandate to dump salaries. If we make
moves, we want major league players in return."
Not to say Ash doesn't see a need for change. In addition to
unexpectedly spotty offensive production, Ash has been frustrated
by what he perceives as Toronto's lack of desire. "Clubs that win
just want it more," he says. "You can't tell me that, position by
position, the Red Sox [at 53-38, 9 1/2 games ahead of the Blue
Jays] have more talent than we do."
The first player to go was 27-year-old third baseman Tony
Batista, an All-Star in 2000 who was hitting .207 with 13 home
runs when Toronto placed him on waivers June 21. (The Orioles
claimed him four days later.) Ash says he had concerns about
Batista's declining production and felt that "he wasn't a good
worker." As for the $12 million Batista was due to collect over
the remainder of the four-year deal he signed before the 2000
season? "The financial benefit was a by-product of the move, not
the reason for it."
Ash says he's not shopping outfielders Shannon Stewart (.319) and
Jose Cruz Jr. (.291), but he concedes that several teams have
expressed interest in them. Same goes for righthanders Joey
Hamilton (5-6, 5.32 ERA) and Esteban Loaiza (5-9, 5.52), veteran
starters who have struggled this season. The two pitchers are the
most likely trade bait. "Lots of teams want veteran pitching,"
says Ash. "There are opportunities to make a move."
Carew's Coaching Challenge
How Many K's in Milwaukee?
Like a great conductor leading a high school band, Rod Carew
toils as batting coach of the free-swinging Brewers, a team that
has been flailing this season with alarming futility. At week's
end Milwaukee batters had struck out 769 times, by far the most
in the majors, and were on pace for 1,384 whiffs, which would
obliterate the big league record of 1,268 set by the 1996 Tigers.
Over 19 years with the Twins and the Angels, Carew was one of the
best contact hitters in history and won seven American League
batting titles. He struck out 1,028 times, an average of only 54
per year. As a Milwaukee coach, though, he's dealing with a team
that ranked second in the majors in strikeouts last season and
had already fanned 10 or more times in a game on 29 occasions
this year. "You can't make someone a clone of yourself," says
Carew, who spent eight years as Anaheim's hitting instructor
before joining Milwaukee after the 1999 season. "I work with what
these players have."
What the Brewers have is an offense that wins mostly with home
run binges. The lineup includes some of the biggest swingers in
the game--first baseman Richie Sexson, rightfielder Jeromy
Burnitz, shortstop Jose Hernandez and leftfielder Geoff
Jenkins--who had combined for 71 of the team's 121 dingers. They
also accounted for 367 strikeouts. Sexson alone had been punched
out 106 times, more than any other player this year, and was on
track to whiff 191 times, which also would be a season record.
"At times they try to do a bit too much," says Carew, who has
been trying to get his charges to cut down on their swings and to
use their hands more instead of lunging at the ball. "A couple of
guys on this club feel that if they don't hit their share of home
runs, we're not going to win."
Unfortunately for Carew, Milwaukee hasn't been winning much
lately, and some fans are starting to grumble about his
effectiveness as a coach. Since June 24, when their record was
38-34, the Brewers had lost 13 of 18 through Sunday, while
hitting .228 and striking out 158 times. Carew has been stung by
the criticism, which has come mostly on talk radio. "I can only
prepare [the hitters] mentally and physically," he says. "When
they step up to the plate, there's nothing I can do." --Mark
Not QuiteYet For Bret
Last week Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette, desperate to
shore up a depleted rotation, predicted a Sept. 1 return for
righthander Bret Saberhagen, 37, who hasn't pitched in the big
leagues since undergoing rotator-cuff surgery in November 1999.
"September is a little ways off," responded Saberhagen, who in
his latest rehab start on Sunday, for the Double A Trenton
Thunder, threw 67 pitches, allowing a run on five hits in 3 2/3
innings. "If I'm not back by the end of July, I'm not going to
be ready [in 2001]."
We'll believe it when we see it. Here's a rundown of the many
times Saberhagen has been this close to coming back:
March 22, 2000. Four-and-a-half months after going under the
knife, Saberhagen says, "I expect to be pitching for the Boston
Red Sox on May 15."
April 22, 2000. "I know I said mid-May," he says while continuing
his rehabilitation in Florida, "and I still think that's
July 31, 2000. After a series of successful minor league rehab
outings, Saberhagen says, "I hope to join Boston on Sunday."
Aug. 14, 2000. "I was encouraged," he says after a 66-pitch rehab
start. "I'd like my next start to be with Boston."
Jan. 16, 2001. Looking ahead to spring training, Saberhagen says,
"I expect that if my arm feels good, I will have one of the spots
in our rotation this spring."
April 6, 2001. "He's not having any problems; he's pitching very
effectively," Red Sox medical director Arthur Pappas says.
"Hopefully, he'll be back in May."
July 23, Giants at Rockies
In addition to getting a start at Coors Field, where he is 5-3
this season and 9-4 lifetime, Mike Hampton will face one of his
favorite opponents. In 16 career starts against the Giants
through Sunday, the Colorado lefthander was 10-0 with a 2.96 ERA
and had held them to a .224 batting average, the lowest of any
team's against him. (He was scheduled to start against the Giants
on July 18 as well, in San Francisco.) The Giant least looking
forward to facing Hampton? Shortstop Rich Aurilia, who had a
career .182 average against Hampton.
For scores, stats and the latest news, plus more from Tom
Verducci and Stephen Cannella, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN The 23-year-old Prokopec (6-4 with a 3.96 ERA) filled one of the gaping holes in the L.A. rotation.
COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA Jenkins had 15 homers but had also contributed 70 whiffs to the Brewers' record strikeout pace.
Two advance scouts, one from each league, reflect on what they
saw and heard last week:
It's been only a few games, but since the All-Star break I've
seen pitchers working inside a lot more than in the first half.
I don't know why they are, but I like it. You can't stay away,
away, away all the time....
The Rockies are ready to start dumping players. Everybody's
asking them about righthander Pedro Astacio, who's still an
effective starter when he has command of his fastball and when
he's not at Coors Field; the Cardinals are all over him, and the
Yankees and the Red Sox have shown interest. The Diamondbacks
want shortstop Neifi Perez, and Colorado might send Perez and
prospects to Arizona for first baseman Erubiel Durazo, then send
Durazo to the A's, maybe for second base prospect Jose Ortiz....
Blue Jays leftfielder Shannon Stewart got off to a great start
but is not getting on base as much now. Plus, even though he
reaches a lot of balls, his arm is a little short. Teams can run
The Yankees are one deal from winning it all again, and they are
hot for K.C. outfielder Jermaine Dye. The Royals asked for first
base prospect Nick Johnson, but New York said no. The Yankees
might be waiting to see what the A's do....
In fact, all eyes should be on Oakland: First baseman Jason
Giambi, righthanded closer Jason Isringhausen and centerfielder
Johnny Damon are three of the most attractive potential free
agents in the game. If the A's fall out of the race in the next
two weeks, they'll be active at the deadline. If Giambi ends up
in New York--it's all over, Yankees win.
in the Box
PADRES 8, ASTROS 6
Need more proof that home runs are too easy to come by at
Houston's year-old Enron Field? With two outs and the bases
loaded in the sixth, San Diego shortstop Damian Jackson--whose
resemblance to sluggers Reggie and Bo Jackson is limited to his
surname--hacked at a fastball from Houston starter Wade Miller.
Jackson's bat shattered as he made contact, the barrel flying
toward third base. The ball, meanwhile, floated down Enron's
comically short leftfield line and cleared the 19-foot-high wall
above the 315-foot sign, giving Jackson a grand slam and the
Padres a five-run lead.
"When I saw the bat fly by, I didn't think he'd hit it that
good," Miller said. "That pretty much tells you about leftfield
here." It was a cheapie, but Miller has only himself to blame. He
had prolonged the inning by committing one of pitching's cardinal
sins: He walked the hitter before Jackson, pitcher Kevin Jarvis,
after getting ahead 0 and 2 in the count.