Fregosi refuses to comment on Johnson's brief stint as manager, but he has undone much of his predecessor's spring plans. For instance, Fregosi scrapped the idea of batting centerfielder Jose Cruz Jr. second, in part because Cruz struck out 99 times in 352 at bats last year. Second baseman Homer Bush, who hit .380 with a .421 on-base percentage in 45 games with the Yankees in 1998, opened the season in that slot before going on the 15-day disabled list, and Cruz usually hits seventh. Fregosi also separated lefthanded hitters Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado in the order, inserting righty DH Dave Hollins into the cleanup spot between them.
With a career 861-938 record as manager of the Angels, White Sox and Phillies-he guided Philadelphia to the 1993 World Series—Fregosi left his job as special assistant to Giants general manager Brian Sabean to accept a two-year contract with-Toronto. While some might view Fregosi as an old-school skipper brought in simply to stanch the bleeding, he may have landed a golden opportunity. Winners of 88 games after a strong finish last season, the Blue Jays were expected to be a contender for the American League wild-card berth. If Fregosi can get Toronto into the playoffs for the first time in six years, he'll be the one holding the cards.
Bunting Their Way On
Given that most players today never learn how to sacrifice bunt all that well, it's no surprise that bunting for a base hit has become virtually a lost art, an offensive weapon viewed as obsolete in the face of the power surge that has gripped baseball. "Guys today get paid for the big things," says Royals manager Tony Muser. "If they bunt for a base hit and it doesn't work, they feel like they wasted an at bat."
That hasn't stopped a small group of crafty young players from making the drag bunt part of their arsenal. The White Sox' 21-year-old Mike Caruso, third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting last season, led the league in 1998 with 22 bunt singles, two more than his closest competitor, Rockies shortstop Neifi Perez, 23. Outfielder Jason McDonald, 27, of the A's, who bunted for four of his 44 hits last year, opened the '99 season with a pair of drag bunt singles in two games against the Yankees. Twenty-three-year-old White Sox rookie outfielder McKay Christensen had two bunts for hits in the season's first week, and Brewers second baseman Fernando Viña—an old-timer at 30, who had 14 bunt hits last year—got an RBI on April 5 when he dragged safely with a man on third against the Cardinals.
"This game has become so much about power, but bunting could be used a lot more than it is," says McDonald, who with fellow outfielder Ryan Christenson, 25, was tutored in bunting this spring by A's coach Ron Washington. Caruso, who at six feet and 172 pounds is hardly a powerhouse, shares that opinion, and he practiced bunting throughout the off-season before his rookie year. "I figured it was my first year, so I should try to get on base any way I could," he says.
Spring's Hope Not Eternal
Nod and smile as Braves manager Bobby Cox puts a positive spin on erstwhile closer Mark Wohlers's prospects. Listen patiently as Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz says he still expects Wohlers, the big righthander who saved 97 games for the Braves from 1995 through '97, to regain his old form. Then face the reality: Wohlers's major league career is in jeopardy.
Earlier this spring it looked as if Wohlers, 29, would come back from the mysterious breakdown in his mechanics that caused him to lose control of his pitches last year. He was again throwing hard and accurately, tossing seven scoreless innings in one stretch of spring training. However, once the season started, Wohlers fell apart.
Against the Phillies on Opening Day, he walked four, allowed an RBI double to Marlon Anderson, and turned a one-run Philadelphia lead into a 7-4 Braves defeat. Three nights later, also against the Phillies, Wohlers threw 10 pitches, one for a strike; after fielding a sacrifice bunt, he tossed the ball over first base. The next day Wohlers was designated for assignment On Monday he announced he wouldn't report to Triple A Richmond, leaving the Braves with 10 days to deal his contract to another team. If they fail to do so, Wohlers would become a free agent.