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4 MILWAUKEE Brewers
Jeff Pearlman
March 25, 2002
Wanted: a spark at the top of the order and power in the middle of the lineup
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March 25, 2002

4 Milwaukee Brewers

Wanted: a spark at the top of the order and power in the middle of the lineup

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THE LINEUP

projected roster with 2001 statistics

PLAYER

B-T

PVR

BA

HR

RBI

SB

BATTING ORDER

2B Eric Young#

R

86

.279

6

42

31

3B Tyler Houston

L-R

178

.289

12

38

0

LF Geoff Jenkins

L-R

108

.264

20

63

4

IB Richie Sexson

R

20

.271

45

125

2

RF Alex Ochoa#

R

145

.276

8

52

17

CF Jeffrey Hammonds

R

133

.247

6

21

5

SS Jose Hernandez

R

103

.249

25

78

5

C Raul Casanova

S-R

241

.260

II

33

0

BENCH

OF Matt Stairs#

L-R

237

.250

17

61

2

IF Mark Loretta

R

244

.289

2

29

1

C Henry Blanco

R

360

.210

6

31

3

PITCHER

PVR

W

L

IPS

WHIP

ERA

STARTERS

RH Jamey Wright

142

II

12

5.9

1.54

4.90

RH Ben Sheets

87

II

10

6.1

1.41

4.76

LH Glendon Rusch#

138

8

12

5.4

1.45

4.63

RH Ruben Qucvcdo

186

4

5

5.7

1.52

4.61

RH Paul Rigdon

219

3

5

5.3

1.66

5.79

PITCHER

PVR

W

L

S

WHIP

ERA

BULLPEN

RH Chad Fox

80

5

2

2

1.20

1.89

RH Curtis Leskanic

221

2

6

17

1.36

3.63

LH Ray King

240

0

4

1

1.35

3.60

#New acouisition

(R) Rookie B-T Bats-throws IPS: Inning pitched per start

WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)

They first came together in 1989 as a dynamic union of speed and power and grace and intelligence that, had they not been almost four years apart in age, might have sent shock waves through college baseball. Eric Young, in his final year at Rutgers, was asked by the coaching staff to play host to a hotshot high school senior named Jeffrey Hammonds, from just down the pike in Scotch Plains, N.J. "The kid was skinny," says Young, "and quiet."

Young showed Hammonds the baseball field and the dorms, the good places to eat and the better places to scope. By the time he left, Hammonds—who was being heavily recruited by Miami, Michigan, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Stanford—had all but made up his mind: Rutgers wasn't the school for him. "EY was great, a fun guy to hang with," says Hammonds, "but I would've gone to Rutgers only to stay close to home."

Thirteen years later the two are finally teammates, and how they fare will help decide whether this is the year that the Brewers emerge from baseball purgatory. For Young, the question is whether at age 34 he can be the top-of-the-order igniter Milwaukee hasn't had since Fernando Vi�a scored 101 runs in 1998. For Hammonds, 31, the issue is more delicate: Can he justify the three-year, $21 million free-agent contract the Brewers handed him before last season? For starters, can he stay healthy?

In his nine major league seasons Hammonds has been on the disabled list seven times. In 2000, when he had a career-high 454 at bats, he was an All-Star who batted .335 with 20 home runs, 106 RBIs and 94 runs for the Rockies. On the basis of that performance Milwaukee general manager Dean Taylor gave Hammonds the large bucks to sign in December 2001, only to watch his new franchise cornerstone hit .247 in 49 games last season before crumpling with a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

Hammonds spent the off-season rehabbing his body and mind. He lifted weights and ran every day, and on Jan. 26 he married Keisha Simpson, his girlfriend of three years, in front of 300 guests in Cincinnati. "She was with me when I went to L.A. to have surgery on the shoulder last July," says Hammonds. "When it was over, I looked into her eyes and said, 'This is a game, and I should be able to play without always injuring myself.' Keisha has given me a feeling of strength. It can make the difference."

Last year the Brewers set a major league record by striking out 1,399 times. Hammonds is an above-average contact hitter, and batting in the middle of the order, he'll surely whiff less frequently than the departed Jeromy Burnitz, whose 34 homers were offset by 150 strikeouts. "Hambone is just right to burst out and have that huge year," says Young. "He's going to light Milwaukee up."

The Cubs felt they didn't need Young, whose 31 stolen bases in 2001 were a career low, and let him go as a free agent. The Brewers signed him to a two-year, $5 million deal. At a press conference in January, Young asked about the club record for steals. Informed that it was 54, set by Pat Listach in '92, he predicted that it would be broken this year.

Last season manager Davey Lopes used seven leadoff hitters, and Milwaukee's .319 on-base percentage was the third worst in the NL. "If a team's going to win, it's got to have hope out of the chute," says Hammonds. "When you have a lead-off hitter who starts the party, everyone else just says, 'Damn! I'm going to join the party too.' " The invitation is in the mail. All Hammonds has to do is arrive in one piece.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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