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California's Rod Carew, who hit .319 last season despite playing most of the way with three small fractures in his left hand, was batting an incredible .471 (48 for 102) at the end of last week. "The difference is that I'm swinging with good hands," Carew explained. "Last year I couldn't handle some of the pitches I'm hitting now. My hand was only 45% strong. I need my hands to hit. I'm not as strong as some other guys."
"What are you trying to do, write me off?" said Atlanta's Phil Niekro to a writer. Niekro, who was 0-2 and had a 7.09 ERA at the time, added, "When I'm through, I'll know it." Dismal starts are nothing new for Niekro, 44, whose career record for April is 25-35 and who only once in the last seven years has won a game before April 25. Then came May I, and with it a 2-1 Niekro victory over the Mets. "It's been a long, long time since I threw that many knuckleballs," Niekro said. "I haven't been getting people out because I haven't been throwing the knuckleball enough."
Another oldtimer, Seattle's Gaylord Perry, 44, who hadn't pitched well in five of his first six starts, was told that if he wasn't effective last Friday night against Boston, his days as a Mariner would be over. After yielding two runs in the first inning against Boston, Perry settled down and left after 6⅓ innings with a 4-2 lead. Although the Red Sox went on to win 6-4, Manager Rene Lachemann felt Perry had pitched well enough to earn a reprieve. Pitching Coach Frank Funk wasn't convinced. "We made some good plays behind him and kept him out of trouble," Funk said. "I still have to wonder."
"I heard that Tony Perez might be through," said Philadelphia's Tony Perez, 40, who was batting .333 at the end of last week, with two homers and 21 RBIs. "I didn't think it was true. But first I had to prove it to myself. So I went to the winter league. I came out of there hitting and I haven't stopped." ...Another Philadelphian, Mike Schmidt, used his head as well as his bat against the Reds last week. "The Reds' philosophy over the years has been to get strike one with the fastball, so I've been jumping out of my socks on the first pitch," said Schmidt, who was 7 for 10 in three games against Cincy. It was part of a 15-game tear during which Schmidt batted .451 and had 20 RBIs. Although Schmidt was pleased with those numbers, he felt that—hold on to your socks—much of his success stemmed from mere good luck. "I feel sort of like when you're playing golf and you hit the ball off a tree, it rolls on the green and you one-putt for a birdie," he said.
How much longer can Minnesota owner Calvin Griffith and struggling Reliever Ron Davis coexist? "I could get a fortune for Davis if I could waive him out of the American League and trade him to a National League club," says Griffith, who thinks he could swing a big deal with either the Astros or Expos. "I told George Brophy [the Twins' farm director] to put on his thinking cap and come up with some ideas on where we can get an everyday ballplayer for Davis. He can't help us the way he's pitching."
Detroit Catcher Lance Parrish sounded off about an eight-game hitting slump that lowered the Tigers' batting average from .286 to .259 and helped drop them into last place. "A lot of them are hitting defensively," Parrish said. "They're not going out there hacking. It looks to me that some people are afraid they're going to look bad swinging. I don't know what they've got to be afraid of." Parrish didn't name names, but the slumping Tigers include Chet Lemon, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell and Glenn Wilson.
Down in the White Sox locker room the players like a game called clubhouse hockey. During a rain delay last week, one fellow seemed particularly adept, drilling a backhanded shot between the legs of First Baseman/Goalie Mike Squires from 20 feet out. "I never really saw the [soft rubber] puck," said Squires. Don't worry, Mike, a lot of NHL goal-tenders have the same problem with Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky. On a night off from the Stanley Cup playoffs he had dropped in on the Sox.
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