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San Francisco manager Roger Craig guided the Giants into the World Series in 1989 by expertly juggling a pitching staff that had been decimated by injuries. This season San Francisco's injury list is even longer, but that hasn't lowered the expectations of many observers. "We won last year, so people are waiting for me to do some miracle," says Craig. "I've tried and tried and tried. But nothing has worked."
Although as of Sunday the Giants had won six of their last 10 games—thanks largely to the bats of Kevin Mitchell and Will Clark (page 74)—San Francisco was still 15-22 and 11½ games behind the National League West-leading Reds. Given the scarcity of pitching help in the Giants' farm system and their lack of expendable players to trade, it appears unlikely that they will contend for the division crown, much less win the pennant again.
At the start of last week, San Francisco had six players on the disabled list, including righthander Kelly Downs and reliever Jose Alvarez. Then on May 14 righthander Mike LaCoss, the Giants' most effective starter (3-1, 2.28 ERA), learned he would be out for at least three months because of a knee injury. Two days later righthander Don Robinson aggravated an arthritic hip in what was supposed to be his final start on a rehabilitation assignment. Says San Francisco catcher Terry Kennedy, "It's like the mound was built over some sacred burial ground. It's cursed. Go to the mound, something happens to your knee."
Giants general manager Al Rosen refuses to use injuries as an excuse. "We just haven't played well," he says. And he's not the only one who feels that way. "We're missing something," says one San Francisco player. "I don't know what it is. Right now, finishing second is an attainable goal."
The Giants may not get that high if Craig can't resurrect the rotation. As of Sunday, he had gone through eight starters, one more than the Angels used all of last season. On May 1, the Giants purchased the contract of veteran lefthander Bob Knepper (5.13 ERA last year) from Triple A Phoenix, and he beat the Mets twice in five days. But he's unlikely to be a savior.
Craig gave rookies Russ Swan and Eric Gunderson a shot earlier this year, but they weren't ready. Rookie John Burkett is in the rotation, but he probably should be pitching for Phoenix. "You just can't run minor league pitchers out there and win," says Craig. As for the criticism that he doesn't like working with young pitchers, he replies, "Bull. I don't care if a guy's 15 years old. If he can help, I'll use him."
It also hasn't helped that three San Francisco mainstays have gotten off to slow starts. Scott Garrelts, who last year became the first National League pitcher since John Candelaria in 1977 to lead the league in both ERA and winning percentage, was 1-3 with a 5.58 ERA at week's end. Rick Reuschel, who won 17 games in '89, was 2-4. Closer Steve Bedrosian (0-3, six saves, 5.51 ERA) was hit hard early in the season, shortly after he learned that his 2½-year-old son, Cody, has leukemia. The boy's condition has improved recently, and so has his father's pitching.
San Francisco has also missed reliever Craig Lefferts, who signed with the Padres as a free agent in the off-season. Through Sunday, the Giants bullpen was 3-8, and the staff as a whole ranked 11th in the league in ERA (4.65). According to Craig, the Giants have looked for pitching "in both leagues and Japan." But he added, "When people know you're desperate for pitching, they want to steal from you."
Rosen agrees. "There is no surplus of pitching out there," he says. "The Mets don't have a surplus. Neither do the Angels. The pitchers people offer us aren't impact players. I don't think there's one trade that can turn us around. That's why I'll be choosy."