Posted: Monday April 14, 2003 9:43 PM
Updated: Monday April 14, 2003 10:27 PM
Greg Maddux was lit up like Bruce Chen in his first three starts. AP
By Dan George, SI.com
And you thought spring training, with all the hubbub over David Wells' tell-all book, was weird. Here we are, just a couple of weeks into the season, and we've already gone "Hmmmm" so often that Arsenio Hall's attorney has sent us a nasty letter.
It snowed in Baltimore on Opening Day. The Royals, after losing 100 games in 2002, won their first nine this season. The Diamondbacks and the Braves both entered Sunday's games in last place.
But nothing has been as surprising as the early-season struggles of some of the game's top pitchers. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux boast 12 Cy Young awards among them, but they're a combined 1-8 with a 7.22 earned run average in 10 starts this spring. Toss in Curt Schilling's 0-2 record and 5.40 ERA, and things really get bizarre.
Aren't the pitchers supposed to be ahead of the hitters this time of year? To be honest, for Schilling, Johnson, and Martinez, it's basically been a matter of one really bad start. Schilling gave five runs in five innings to the Rockies on April 6, Johnson allowed 10 in 4 2/3 to the Brewers on Friday, and Martinez surrendered 10 in 4 1/3 to the Orioles on Saturday, the worst outing of his career.
But Maddux … whew! The Braves' ace entered Sunday's start against the Marlins in the throes of his worst start ever: 0-3 with an 11.05 ERA. In his first three starts, the Braves were outscored 43-5.
"I'm fine. I feel good. I'm just not throwing it where I want to, and [opposing batters aren't] missing," he said. "My location is terrible, and when your location is terrible, it's tough to pitch. It doesn't do you any good to know how to pitch when you don't know where the ball is going."
Happily for Braves fans, Maddux went out and beat the Marlins 7-1 Sunday, giving up one run, two hits and no walks over six innings, and throwing 40 of his 59 pitches for strikes.
There may be hope for those other guys yet.
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San Francisco Giants No Dusty Baker, no Jeff Kent, just an 11-1 start for the defending NL champs. "Every team, no matter if they're the Yankees after they won all those games in '98, you still want to get that feeling the next season that you can win," said assistant GM Ned Colletti. "You're looking for that little streak that gives you confidence that you will be as good as you played the year before." Mission accomplished.
Kansas City Royals Want another sign that their hot start may be more than a fluke? Since 1998, every team that's led the Cactus League in victories has ended up in the playoffs. The Royals did it this spring with 19.
New York Yankees When he homered April 2 against the Blue Jays, Todd Zeile became the first player in history to hit a home run for 10 teams. "It means I've been around," shrugged the 37-year-old third baseman, who began his career with the Cardinals in 1989.
Houston Astros In the Things You May Not Have Wanted to Know Dept., Brad Ausmus took two ballet classes at Dartmouth. "I had my own pair of ballet slippers," he said. Ausmus said the class helped him with his flexibility, but "the effects have worn off in the last 10 to 12 years. I'm back to being inflexible, both physically and ideologically."
Colorado Rockies Larry Walker has seven Gold Gloves, but he tipped his hat to teammate Gabe Kapler after Kapler caught Quinton McCracken's drive on the run in left-center field, then doubled Carlos Baerga off first base. "I have said that Kapler is the best defensive outfielder that I have ever seen," said Walker, "and he proved me right."
Pittsburgh Pirates Randall Simon walked just 13 times in 506 plate appearances for the Tigers last year and didn't take a single free pass in spring training. So when he walked for the first time this year last week, the Pirates asked the umpire for the ball. "A minor miracle," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "We probably won't see that happen again."
Montreal Expos They drew 17,906 for the opener in Puerto Rico, and 18,264 in their second game. That's more than all but eight crowds in Montreal last season -- and even more impressive given that general admission seats in San Juan were going for $25. The annual per capita income in Puerto Rico is $9,800.
Oakland Athletics With 10 consecutive victories dating back to Aug. 13, left-hander Barry Zito is one of just five pitchers in Oakland history with winning streaks of 10 or more games. The others? Catfish Hunter, Bob Welch, Storm Davis and Vida Blue.
Anaheim Angels Somebody asked World Series hero Scott Spiezio, hitting .095, why he wasn't in the Angels' lineup last Tuesday. "I'm guessing it's probably because I stink right now," said Spiezio -- who promptly went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs the next night.
Philadelphia Phillies No sympathy from ex-Brave Kevin Millwood on Atlanta's slow start. "We need to make a statement to them," he said after the Phils took two of three from his old team. "And probably to ourselves, that we're for real and that we can contend for the division. They've run into some bumps. Things have been going wrong for them. It's nice when other teams in your division lose."
Boston Red Sox They've spent months trying to get rid of Shea Hillenbrand, but the third baseman isn't going quietly. "It's driving me," Hillenbrand, who's knocked in 16 runs over his first 12 games, said of the trade rumors. "It's a battle. It's a competition, like maybe I can change their minds."
Chicago White Sox Bartolo Colon's bio says he's from the Dominican Republic. Really? The same Bartolo Colon who took the mound Tuesday in Cleveland -- game-time temperature 34 degrees -- in shirt sleeves? "I knew it was cold, but in my mind, I forgot about it," he said. "That's the way I feel comfortable." Oooo-kay.
Chicago Cubs Mark Prior's first shutout -- a four-hit, 12-strikeout 3-0 victory over the Expos -- made a believer of Cubs catcher Damian Miller. "He reminds me a lot of Curt [Schilling]," said former Diamondback Miller. "The key with a guy like Mark is they're always 0-1, always ahead in the count. It's a lot easier to pitch in this league when you're ahead in the count."
Florida Marlins Derrek Lee has played in 221 consecutive games. That's the longest active streak in the National League, but the clock is ticking. His wife, Christina, is expecting the couple's first child on May 1, and Lee says he'll be there for the birth. The Marlins, meanwhile, will be on a road trip in Arizona.
St. Louis Cardinals When Jim Edmonds had seven extra-base hits in two games against the Rockies, it tied Red Schoendienst's club record. Edmonds kept it in perspective, though. "I'm sure Red didn't get a chance to play in Coors Field," he said.
Minnesota Twins Does Mike Mussina have the Twins' number or what?. He's 19-2 in 23 starts against Minnesota, including a 2-1 win last week. Of course, it's not just Mussina. The Yankees have now won nine straight against the Twins, including all six games last season.
Seattle Mariners They're 1-6 in night games this season, largely because of a failure to hit under the lights. "It's just amazing. Amazing. I'm trying not to think about it. But every day you look at the stat sheets, and there it is," manager Bob Melvin said before the M's beat the Rangers 13-4 Saturday night. "I don't think that we're not going win any night games this year. But it's weird."
San Diego Padres They tried to trade Phil Nevin to the Reds for Ken Griffey Jr. over the winter, but Nevin nixed the deal. Now both players are on the DL for the foreseeable future with dislocated shoulders. "How ironic is that?" asked Padres manager Bruce Bochy.
Los Angeles Dodgers Kevin Brown is healthy, but the memory of his injury-plagued 2002 season lingers. The Dodgers are suing the insurance company that sold the policy on Brown's seven-year, $105 million contract. The team says it's owed $4 million for Brown's elbow and back injuries. Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., contending the policy covers only Brown's arm, has paid just $2 million.
Baltimore Orioles Another example of why they are where they are: Right-handed pitcher Luis Rivera looked like future star when the O's traded B.J. Surhoff to the Braves for him in 2000. But Rivera pitched in just one game before shoulder problems kept him out of the 2001 and 2002 seasons. He was released last week.
Milwaukee Brewers This season is already shaping up better than 2002 for Todd Ritchie, who went 5-15 with a 6.06 ERA last year after the Pirates traded him to the White Sox. On Wednesday, Ritchie not only beat the Bucs with 7 1/3 solid innings, but he also defeated Josh Fogg, one of three pitchers the Sox traded for him.
Cincinnati Reds In something right out of Little League, manager Bob Boone's office was closed after a 4-3 loss to the Astros last Wednesday … because he was on the phone to the press box complaining about a scoring decision involving his son Aaron.
Texas Rangers They may have a new manager, but they're the same old big-hit, no-pitch Rangers. In their first eight games, Buck Showalter's crew had 16 home runs, accounting for 27 of their 31 runs. And they were 2-6.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays Count Orioles second baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. among the Devil Rays' fans. "I know it's early, but from what I've seen on TV, and from what I've seen so far, they're the most improved team in baseball," he said. We're betting he hasn't seen the Royals.
New York Mets David Cone, 40, allowed just two hits in five shutout innings against the Expos in his first game back on April 4. "I just got calls from Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez," said GM Steve Phillips. "They want to come back and try it, too."
Cleveland Indians And the crowds just keep on dropping. Last week, the Indians drew just 14,841 for a game against the White Sox. That was their smallest crowd -- by almost 10,000 -- in their 10 years at Jacobs Field.
Atlanta Braves Greg Maddux is far from the only Braves pitcher who has struggled. In their eight losses, they've been outscored 72-17 and the staff ERA of 5.97 ranks dead last in the NL.
Arizona Diamondbacks Here's how bad things are going. Not only is their 3-9 record the worst in the National League, but after flying to Los Angeles to play the Dodgers, they took a 40-mile detour on the way to the hotel when their bus driver made a wrong turn.
Detroit Tigers They're setting new standards for futility trivia. Not only are they the only team since 1900 to start back-to-back seasons with nine straight losses, but Alan Trammell is also off to the worst start for a new manager since the Phillies' Jimmie Wilson lost his first seven games in 1934.