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Back in the Swing
Tim Crothers
April 14, 1997
Kevin Mitchell and Deion return in style Spring flings Home run binge by Larry Walker
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April 14, 1997

Back In The Swing

Kevin Mitchell and Deion return in style Spring flings Home run binge by Larry Walker

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It Happens Every Spring
The twins' Matt Lawton looked like the second coming of Babe Ruth this spring, with seven homers in 27 exhibition games. But when all is said and done, will he have a bust-out season or join this list of recent busts who fizzled out after stellar spring training performances?

SPRING

REGULAR SEASON

YEAR

PLAYER, TEAM

AVG.

HRs

RBIs

AVG.

HRs

RBIs

1996

Andujar Cedeno, Padres

.357

2

11

.212

10

38

J.R. Phillips, Giants

.346

6

16

.163

7

15

Pedro Munoz, A's

.424

4

16

.256

6

18

1994

Dan Pasqua, White Sox

.389

4

20

.217

2

4

Billy Bean, Padres

.415

1

9

.215

0

14

Thomas Howard, Reds

.377

3

15

.264

5

24

1993

Scott Lydy, A's

.325

5

13

.225

2

7

Scott Pose, Marlins

.397

0

7

.195

0

3

Kurt Stillwell, Padres

.383

1

10

.231

1

14

*1995 omitted because of replacement players
SOURCE: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU

In the opening week of the 1997 season, two players reminded us that some guys are born to hit—no matter what obstacles they must overcome.

When he arrived at spring training, Indians designated hitter Kevin Mitchell, 35, weighed in at 263 pounds and became the first Cleveland player ever to fail to complete the Warrior Run, a set of sprints totaling 850 yards, that the Indians instituted five years ago. Then after a bicycle on which he was training collapsed under Mitchell's girth, strength and conditioning coach Fernando Montes created a new plan: He would accompany Mitchell on a three-mile walk every afternoon. Once Montes even ushered Mitchell past the drive-through lane at McDonald's, where the portly DH was forbidden to order so much as a measly Arch Deluxe. By all accounts, Mitchell didn't drop much weight, but no matter; he still hit three home runs in the Tribe's first four regular-season games.

Mitchell's bat has always been a dangerous weapon, but due to myriad injuries, many of which could be attributed to his weight, he hasn't played in 100 games in a season since 1991. The only time Mitchell has played 150 or more games, in 1989 with the Giants, he collected 47 homers, 125 RBIs and the National League MVP award. "I haven't been to the plate as much as I'd like," says Mitchell, who began the year as a career .287 hitter with 228 homers in 11 seasons, "but when I do get my swings, I haven't met anybody who can silence my bat."

Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove tells a story about a typical Mitchell moment: In '92, when he played for Seattle, Mitchell had fallen asleep in the trainer's room and was awakened to pinch hit in the ninth inning. He knocked in the game-winning run with a double. Says Hargrove, "Some guys can fall out of bed and hit."

Reds centerfielder Deion Sanders, 29, sat out the entire '96 season to devote himself full time to the Dallas Cowboys. But after going more than 17 months without hitting in a regular-season game, Sanders went 2 for 4 on Opening Day against the Rockies, stole two bases, scored two runs and knocked one in. The next day he went 4 for 5. Through Sunday, Sanders was hitting .444 with four stolen bases, and had hits in all six Cincinnati games. "I think I'm a better player than I was before, because I've learned what pitchers want to do with me and how I have to work the count," Sanders says. "I'd like to have a breakthrough year."

Sanders, who says he is committed to staying with the Reds until they are eliminated from playoff contention, has never had more than 375 at bats in a season, but he has batted .282 since '92, when he first hit his stride as a big leaguer. "You have to understand that Deion is still a baby," Cincinnati manager Ray Knight says. "His potential is unlimited because he has not played that much. He knows he's behind. He plays like a guy chasing greatness."

Despite his long layoff, Sanders is off to such a hot start that soon it could be tough to tell that baseball is his second sport. "I'm one of those Elvis-type people, who'll be appreciated more when he's gone," Sanders says. "When I die they're going to say, 'Man, that dude was something else. That dude used to play a football game, jump in and out of a helicopter and go 2 for 3.' "

Good Springs

"There are plenty of Hank Aarons in spring training," Braves manager Bobby Cox is fond of saying. Indeed, if exhibition statistics were an accurate forecast of regular-season performance, then outfielder Patrick Lennon, who hit .349 with six homers and 20 RBIs for the A's this spring, would be launching his assault on a Triple Crown. Narciso Elvira, who threw 14? scoreless exhibition innings for the Dodgers, would be setting his sights on the Cy Young Award. In fact, neither Lennon nor Elvira started the season in the majors, confirming just how little stock many teams place in spring stats (chart).

Most big league managers believe that the approximately 60 at bats or 20 innings pitched that a player is afforded in the spring can't possibly provide a sufficient sampling of his skills. They add that the statistics produced are skewed because they are often collected against minor leaguers.

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