Phillies righthander Brett Myers, who had thrown at least six
innings in all six of his starts and ranked sixth in ERA (2.09)
in the National League through Sunday, is apprenticing under
staff ace Kevin Millwood. "Myers follows him around like a puppy
dog," says assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle. But Myers has
something his tutor doesn't have: a knee-buckling curveball, the
pitch that is making a comeback among a new generation of
Myers, 22; the Marlins' Josh Beckett, 22, and Brad Penny, 24; the
Cubs' Mark Prior, 22; and the A's Barry Zito, 24, are making the
curve cool again. Here's the hook: Baseball's directive to
umpires to call more high strikes has encouraged the trend. The
strike zone had become "squashed"--wider and lower--through the
1990s as pitchers worked primarily low and away to combat the
explosion of power hitting. Dropping a pitch with a vertical
break into a horizontal zone was too difficult to encourage
frequent use of the big curve.
"Now the big, arching curveball is called a strike," Arbuckle
says. "Another reason is we're seeing more young power pitchers.
Guys who sink the ball generally throw sliders, and the guys with
plus fastballs you see throw the curveballs. That's the classic
combination, like a Koufax." Coming soon: more who can bend it
Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki reached the 2002 All-Star break
with a .352 batting average in his first 1,039 major league at
bats. Since then he has hit 78 points lower, struck out 33% more
frequently and ... well, it cannot be put more indelicately than
this: He's no Rey Ordonez, as these numbers show.
AB H RBI SO AVG SLG
Suzuki 423 116 30 45 .274 .371
Ordonez 310 90 35 27 .290 .387
In the off-season Suzuki told new Seattle manager Bob Melvin that
he tired at the end of last season, but that wouldn't explain why
he was hitting .260 through Sunday. Ever since the Yankees
handcuffed him with inside fastballs in the 2001 League
Championship Series, more teams have copied that approach. Said
one American League scout, "The key is to make him uncomfortable
two out of every four or five pitches."
THREE STRIKES FOR ...
Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel
Q. Only 13 players have appeared in 2,000 games at shortstop. You
have 1,942 [at week's end]. What does that mean to you?
A: I didn't even know that. It's amazing. I take pride every year
in trying to be better than I was the year before.
Q: With the Indians rebuilding, would you consider waiving your
A: I would like to finish my career in Cleveland no matter what.
I still have a home in Seattle. It's the only other place I'd
consider going to.
Q: You just turned 36. How long will you stay in the game?
A: I think I can play another four years. After that I would
really like to manage.
White Sox lefthander Kelly Wunsch pitched a hitless April while
facing 26 batters in relief. Lefties have hit .172 against him
over the past two seasons.... Giving home field advantage to the
winner of the All-Star Game is the best reason to drop the
requirement that every team send a player to the game. Only the
host team should be guaranteed a spot.... A's shortstop Miguel
Tejada is pressing so badly that at week's end he had batted with
46 runners in scoring position and knocked in only six of
them.... Poor Mike Maroth. The Tigers lefthander, who took a
no-hitter into the eighth inning last week, had thrown 655
pitches this year without a win (0-7), while Boston's Alan Embree
earned a victory by throwing one pitch and Baltimore's B.J. Ryan
did so with no pitches. (He picked off a runner.)
COLOR PHOTO: LEE CELANO/AFP (MYERS) Myers delivering.
COLOR PHOTO: MARK GOLDMAN/ISM (ORDONEZ)
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL (SUZUKI)
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT WATCHER/ISM (VIZQUEL)