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Tom Verducci's View
Tom Verducci
May 24, 2004
SAN DIEGO STEAL
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May 24, 2004

Tom Verducci's View

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G

AB

R

H

HR

RBI

AVG

Alfonzo

176

631

66

166

14

93

.263

Loretta

192

743

97

230

17

93

.310

SAN DIEGO STEAL

The Padres thought they were on the verge of signing infielder Edgardo Alfonzo after the 2002 season, only to see San Francisco snag him with a four-year, $26 million deal. San Diego then settled for Mark Loretta. giving him an under-the-radar, one-year deal worth just $1.25 million. The Padres wound up with the better player-with surprisingly more pop-at a fraction of the cost.

Loretta, 32, who had hit 31 homers in eight seasons before joining San Diego, has emerged as one of the NL's top second basemen while outplaying Alfonzo, 30, the third baseman the Giants mistakenly thought could replace Jeff Kent as lineup protection for Barry Bonds. Alfonzo has nosedived, first reporting to the team last year out of shape and, according to a team source, missing his New York-based family. He has homered once in 117 at bats this year. Says an NL manager, "He has no life in his body."

Here's how Alfonzo and Loretta have fared over the past two seasons.

A HIT IS A HIT
Alex Sanchez played his way out of Milwaukee last year by resisting the small-ball game, which cleared the way for Scott Podsednik to take his centerfield and leadoff spots and earned Podsednik a contract extension. Given another chance in Detroit, Sanchez is reviving the lost art of bunting. Through Sunday he was batting .356 and had 15 bunt hits—no one else in the majors had more than five—including three in one game on May 11 that prompted Oakland manager Ken Macha to call him "the best [bunter] I've ever seen."

CLOSE CALL
Marlins manager Jack McKeon was bold enough to switch closers on the fly last September, taking the job from Braden Looper and giving it to Ugueth Urbina. Astros manager Jimy Williams may face a similar decision. Reliever Brad Lidge has better stuff and command than the closer he's setting up, Octavio Dotel, who blew a win for Roger Clemens on Sunday. Righthanders have almost no chance against Lidge's 91-mph slider and 97-mph fastball. They were 4 for 37 with an astonishing 26 strikeouts at week's end. Says Houston catcher Brad Ausmus, "People try to cheat on [the fastball], and that slider just disappears on them. There's no doubt he has closer's stuff. The only thing he lacks is [ninth-inning] experience."

COMMISSIONER FOR A DAY
What would be atop his to-do list if Phillies closer Billy Wagner had Bud Selig's job for 24 hours? "I'd get rid of QuesTec. The umpire's job is hard enough that he shouldn't have to worry about how a machine would call pitches. I wish every fan could get behind the plate just once to see how hard it is to judge a ball moving that fast. It's way harder than it looks on TV."

THREE STRIKES

1. The Marlins will be getting the kind of premier pitching help next month that contenders shop for every midseason. Righthander A.J. Burnett, once considered to have stuff equal to or better than that of fellow righty Josh Beckett, is on track to return in early June, 14 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

2. There is one place for instant replay in baseball: getting calls right on home run balls. New parks, with fan-friendly seating and irregular shaped walls, make such calls increasingly difficult for umpires.

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