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Baseball
Stephen Cannella
May 15, 2000
Poison PenExpected to be one of the Rangers' strong points, their relief corps has been absorbing a Texas-sized pounding
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May 15, 2000

Baseball

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"Last year he stunk from Day One," says Twins manager Tom Kelly. Before the beaning Lawton hit .262 with five home runs; after his return he hit .255 with only two homers in 204 at bats.

This time Lawton took just one week off after the season ended before starting workouts—hitting, running and lifting weights at home in Saucier, Miss. When Lawton again struggled early in spring training, an exasperated Kelly had seen enough. He told Minnesota coaches Scott Ullger and Paul Molitor "This kid is working too hard not to have any results I don't care if it takes an hour two hours or two weeks get him straightened out"

The coaches shortened Law-ton's long stride at the plate, which had slowed his swing and left him flailing to catch up with fastballs. They also settled his churning mind, persuading him not to press if he still felt skittish. "It's natural not to come back from an injury like that instantly," says Molitor. "He had to allow himself some patience and failure."

After going 0 for 8 in the season's first two games, Lawton had hit safely in 27 of his last 30 games through Sunday. More impressive were the way he was using the whole field—21 of his 45 hits had gone to left—and his .405 average against lefthanders, both indications that he's not flinching at the plate. On April 20 Kansas City lefty Jose Rosado brushed Lawton back with a fastball near his head. In his next at bat Lawton homered. One day later he found himself up against the Rangers' sidearming southpaw Mike Venafro "I was like You have to be kidding me," Lawton says "He came in on me with a pitch but I lined the next one into left-field for a base hit. I thought, Hey, I hung in pretty good."

Kerry Wood's Return
Re-armed with A New Pitch

"He's the same guy as when he left," Astros second baseman Craig Biggio said of Kerry Wood on May 2, after the Cubs' righthander shut down Houston in his first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery 13 months earlier. Not so: Wood, who gave up one run, struck out four and walked four in six innings against the Astros, came back to earth on Sunday against the Pirates, who lit him up for seven hits and seven runs in 6? innings. Wood walked five hit a batter and threw a wild pitch, and clearly lacked the command he had in his first outing. "You have to remember he hasn't pitched in a year," Cubs catcher Joe Girardi said after the loss 'To come back after five days with the same velocity and better breaking stuff that's encouraging."

Wood is reinventing himself, attacking hitters with an arsenal very different from the one he used to blow through the National League as a rookie in 1998. The one constant is the pace and movement on his fastball. Wood was clocked at 97 mph in each of his first two starts and several times Girardi shook him off to get him to throw fastballs instead of breaking pitches. "He's a power pitcher first and foremost," says Cubs pitching coach Oscar Acosta.

In both starts Wood relied on his fastball, throwing it on 146 of his 200 pitches. Nearly gone was his sweeping slider, which terrorized hitters—and put such stress on his elbow. Now he uses a toned-down slider and a curveball. Says Cubs general manager Ed Lynch, "He still has an outstanding breaking ball that doesn't put one quarter the stress on his arm that the power slurve did."

This spring Wood added a changeup, and in his first two starts he used it as often as his curveball. ( Wood's two-game pitch breakdown: 146 fastballs, 19 changeups, 19 curveballs, 16 sliders.) "Just another pitch he's added to the arsenal," said Jeff Bagwell with a sigh.

On Deck

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