Boggs has tunnel vision for 3,000 hits

On Baseball

March 01, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- New Tampa Bay third baseman Wade Boggs bulked up over the off-season, apparently to make a concerted attempt to give the Devil Rays a major historical milestone in their inaugural season.

Boggs is exactly 200 hits away from 3,000 and says he has a chance to get there this year.

"It's something I've looked forward to my whole career," Boggs said. "Now, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, because I'm in the tunnel. Before, it was just a glimmer."

He might be a long shot to get there this year, considering that he had just 103 hits playing less than full time with the Yankees in 1997, but he obviously wanted to give himself the best possible chance to stay healthy and productive all season. He worked hard during the winter to improve his upper-body strength, even though he says he was healthy enough to play more regularly last year.

"Last year, I was the healthiest of my career, and I was sitting on the bench," he said. "That's part of life. You deal with it and move on."

Maybe an expansion lineup is not the optimum situation for a future Hall of Famer who owns more batting titles (five) than any active player except San Diego Padres star Tony Gwynn, but playing time should not be a problem.

Of course, the mere possibility that Boggs could be in the hunt for 3,000 hits in September is a major public relations plus for the Devil Rays, who are not expected to be anywhere close to contention in the tough American League East at that point in the season.

Comeback kid

Florida Marlins pitcher Alex Fernandez looks like a million bucks -- $7 million, actually -- after a grueling off-season during which he lost 30 pounds in the hopes of hastening his recovery from rotator cuff surgery. He isn't expected back until late in the season, but he will begin soft tossing tomorrow and is going to have to guard against doing too much, too soon.

"I've got to hold back a little because I'm so anxious," Fernandez said. "I've done everything in my power to make this the quickest recovery I could make it, but at the same time, I want to come back for good."

Club officials are happy to see him in such good shape, but manager Jim Leyland doesn't want him to get carried away with the weight-loss program.

"He looks great," Leyland said, "but I don't want him to lose too much. He's a strong guy who gives you a lot of innings, and I don't want him to lose so much that he gets weak. He's about fine just the way he is now."

Blauser: Cubs can win it

New Chicago Cubs shortstop Jeff Blauser knows what it takes to go from rags to riches. He was on the 1991 Atlanta Braves club that went to the World Series after finishing last in the NL West in 1990, and he won't rule out a similar performance for the long-suffering Cubs in the NL Central.

"The mere fact that the Cubs haven't won in a while shouldn't mean much," he said. "The best way to describe it is that you're at the craps table and you haven't won in four rolls. The odds are going to be in your favor now. It's going to come. I know. I come from an organization that was laughed at for years.

"Certainly there is a tradition here that we never had [in Atlanta]. We didn't have the most talent when we went from worst to first, but we had a great attitude. We started to believe in ourselves, and that's what it takes."

Stupid player tricks

Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Jose Silva gets February's Stupid Injury of the Month Award. He strained a muscle in his neck reaching over to shut off his alarm clock and had to stop throwing for four days.

Pete's back

Former Orioles pitcher Pete Harnisch is back up to his playing weight (225) and claims he is back from the horrible bout with depression that nearly ended his baseball career.

Harnisch, who signed an incentive-laden contract with the Cincinnati Reds, is off anti-depressive medication and says he wants to be the go-to guy in the Reds' rotation. If he's healthy -- both mentally and physically -- he should get the chance.

"I feel excellent," he said. "My goal is to re-establish myself. I want to be a guy other guys can lean on a little bit and count on to go out there and pitch 200 innings and make 30 starts." Is it possible that the Boston Red Sox have too much bullpen depth? The club converted starter Tom Gordon into a closer after trading Heathcliff Slocumb to the Seattle Mariners last year, then signed veteran Dennis Eckersley in the off-season.

In a perfect world, Eckersley would pitch well and Gordon would go back to the thin starting rotation, but Gordon enjoyed the closer role and is reluctant to change back.

"If they think they need another starter, this team needs to go and get another starter," Gordon said. "That's not me. I want to continue working on what I've been working on. That's my fastball, my curveball and finishing games.

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