Rangers might face another makeover

ON BASEBALL

April 21, 2002|By Peter Schmuck

Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks is not a patient man. He's used to getting what he wants, when he wants it, which means he has to be getting pretty frustrated about now.

It might be hard to believe, but the last-place Rangers - for all of their expensive off-season machinations - are farther behind division-leading Seattle today than they were at this point during the Mariners' 116-win performance last season.

The Rangers entered the weekend 8 1/2 games out of first place. They were just 5 1/2 games behind Seattle a year ago today.

What does all this mean?

If things don't get better pretty soon, it probably means another midseason roster purge that could cost the club a couple of its most popular players.

There already had been speculation in Texas that the Rangers might attempt to trade all-everything catcher Ivan Rodriguez before the July 31 trading deadline, though a back injury now threatens to sideline him for a month or more.

Newly reacquired slugger Juan Gonzalez could be headed back out of town, along with veteran left-hander Kenny Rogers, as the Rangers shift to some younger players and attempt to avoid another $20 million in losses this year.

The braintrust - new general manager John Hart and second-year manager Jerry Narron - should survive because they are so new to the situation, but don't expect Hicks to give them the luxury of a rebuilding year in 2003.

They'll have one off-season to build a different kind of team around $252 million centerpiece Alex Rodriguez, and then all bets are off.

Bonds hamstrung

Maybe Barry Bonds is Superman after all. The guy has has been hobbling around on a torn hamstring and he's still the most dangerous hitter in either league.

Bonds clearly is babying his leg to avoid a blowout like the one that sidelined Ken Griffey for much of the 2001 season. He has given up a base or two in his less-than-hot pursuit of some balls in the outfield, but he's still doing more than enough offensively to justify the defensive tradeoff.

"I've never really had a hamstring injury in my life ... but I can play with it," he told reporters in San Diego. "It's not a problem. It's just that I can't hit doubles unless it's off the wall - way out there. I can't score on some balls hit. As long as I can help the team, I'm going out there. I can still swing that bat."

Pitching in

If you had said before the season that the Boston Red Sox's starting rotation would be without John Burkett and Dustin Hermanson for the first two weeks of the season, and Pedro Martinez would have a 6.91 ERA after three starts, could anyone have imagined that the club would be entering this weekend in first in the American League East?

Not likely, but the terrific performance of the rest of the starters has kept the Red Sox afloat and then some. Converted reliever Derek Lowe, newcomer Darrin Oliver, Frank Castillo and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield are a combined 6-2 with an impressive 2.01 combined ERA.

Martinez is 2-0, including eight innings of one-hit ball Friday in Kansas City, but he certainly is not the pitcher who came into this season with a club-record 13-1 mark in April and 18-4 career record in May. Burkett and Hermanson have yet to pitch because of injuries. But when it came time for somebody to step up, everybody did.

"I think they've learned from him in the past," said catcher Jason Varitek. "We're not going to be a successful team if just Pedro pitches and just Pedro wins. He's going to need a supporting cast."

Griffey improving

Cincinnati Reds superstar Ken Griffey is back taking batting practice and might be back in the starting lineup in a couple of weeks. Griffey, who suffered a partially torn patellar tendon in his right knee on April 7, was projected to be out up to six weeks but appears likely to return sooner.

That has taken some of the sting out of his second severe leg injury in two years. He missed almost the entire first half of the 2001 season with a torn hamstring.

"Compared to last year, it's not as frustrating, because I know it's not going to be as long," Griffey said. "It's still frustrating because this [playing baseball] is what I do. It would be different if this were a hobby and I could do something else to keep my mind off of it. But 24 hours a day, or whenever I'm awake, I think about baseball."

Comeback again

Outfielder Ruben Sierra was the AL Comeback Player of the Year last season, but apparently he wasn't satisfied with his 23-homer performance in a return engagement with Texas.

He has moved to the second phase of his comeback with the Seattle Mariners, who are seeing a guy who looks much more like the player who terrorized AL pitching in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

He entered the weekend on a terrific roll, going 15-for-33 on the Mariners' sweep of a just-completed 10-game road trip, with a grand slam and seven RBIs.

"He's a professional hitter with production left in his bat," manager Lou Piniella said. "We're lucky to have him."

Short-term gratification

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