Cards have DL's best starting rotation

ON BASEBALL

April 28, 2002|By PETER SCHMUCK

MONTREAL - The St. Louis Cardinals are reluctantly proving one of baseball's most time-worn axioms: You can never have enough good pitching.

The Cardinals have enough good pitching on the disabled list to populate a starting rotation, which explains why the club's strong start has given way to a 2-9 slump that has dropped them behind the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central.

"We don't want to be the poster child for that axiom," said manager Tony La Russa. Not that he has any choice in the matter.

Count 'em. There are five starters on the DL, which is saying something when you consider that there are only a handful of teams that have five major-league-caliber starters, to begin with. Woody Williams, Garret Stephenson, Rick Ankiel, Bud Smith and Andy Benes are injured, and only a couple of them are due back soon.

"It's very unusual," said general manager Walt Jocketty. "We've had problems in the past with pitching injuries, but nothing like we've seen this year. That's a pretty good rotation on the disabled list."

If not for the strong performances of top two starters Matt Morris and Darryl Kile, the Cardinals would be in full retreat instead of trying to buy some time with promising youngsters such as Josh Pearce and Travis Smith (who made his first major-league start Friday night in Montreal).

"The ironic thing is, the one reason we were really excited about this year, we were going to be able to trot out five guys with a chance to win," La Russa said. "But it's a long season, and you can look at it another way. This creates a shot for somebody to come in and be a hero."

There isn't a real silver lining here, but La Russa will take whatever he can get.

"The earlier in the year something like this happens, the better off you are," he said.

Still in denial

This is Barry Bonds' modus operandi - deny, deny, deny. He said last year that he had no chance to break Mark McGwire's single-season home run record, then knocked Big Mac out of the record book with an amazing 73-homer performance.

This year, the focus has been on Hank Aaron's career record - which Aaron is willing to concede to Bonds. But Barry is back to his old tricks.

`They talk about Hank Aaron, but I think A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez] is the guy they need to watch," Bonds said during a news conference Tuesday in Chicago. `The guy's 26 years old, and I think he's not hit under 40 homers, except his first three years in baseball. And I think, if anyone, Sammy [Sosa] is still young enough to do it.

`There's not enough time for me, and that's just reality. I have four or five years left, and that's it. I'm done. If you intentionally walk me 100-plus times, that's time I lost. I don't have seven more years to make up those differences. They do."

Book it. Bonds will get into the 700s and make it interesting.

Belle alert

Former Orioles slugger Albert Belle is done, right? He can't play anymore because of a degenerative hip injury that forced the Orioles to put him on the disabled list for the duration of his five-year, $65 million contract.

He can't possibly come back, according to the Orioles and many of his former teammates, but one guy who might know something about the subject thinks it is still possible.

Chicago White Sox manager Jerry Manuel, who still keeps in regular contact with Belle, won't rule out a comeback attempt.

"He was a competitor and a warrior," Manuel told reporters, "but [his retirement] was too quick. He would be one of those guys that would possibly try to do something to come back."

Belle is due his $13 million annual Orioles salary through next year, but the payout is heavily subsidized by insurance, which likely would stop payment - and put a big dent in the Orioles' player budget - if he attempts a comeback.

Keeping a lid on it

The sky apparently is the limit for Diamondbacks ace Curt Schilling, who reportedly has asked club officials to keep the roof at Bank One Ballpark closed on the days and nights that he is scheduled to pitch.

The fans probably won't like to sit indoors when the weather's nice, but Schilling's vulnerability to the long ball drops significantly when the roof is closed. He has given up a home run every 5.38 innings under the Arizona sky and one every 6.36 innings when Bank One is an indoor ballpark.

Since the start of the 2001 season, he is 7-2 with a 2.83 ERA with the roof on and 5-3 with a 3.58 ERA with it off.

Schilling tied for the National League lead in home runs allowed last year with 38, but that didn't stop him from being one of the game's most effective and overpowering pitchers. In fact, he became the first pitcher ever to allow more than 36 home runs and keep his ERA under 3.00.

Old-fashioned edict

New baseball disciplinarian Bob Watson has angered some players with a memo discouraging them from fraternizing with opposing players on the field.

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