Hinske, two O's in tight rookie race


September 01, 2002|By Joe Christensen

With Orioles starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez and closer Jorge Julio in the running for the American League Rookie of the Year award, this might be a good time to size up the other leading candidate: Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Eric Hinske.

Hinske is batting .283 with 31 doubles, 20 home runs and 69 RBIs.

Unlike Lopez and Julio, Hinske was a highly touted prospect coming into the season. The Blue Jays got him in an offseason trade with the Oakland Athletics for closer Billy Koch, and Hinske has been as good as advertised.

"He's a kid that you know has a lot of confidence, and yet he's not arrogant," said Blue Jays veteran first baseman Carlos Delgado. "He's got a pretty good idea what he wants to do, but yet he still wants to learn. And he's a kid that comes out every day, takes ground balls and tries to improve.

"When he gets a pitch that he should crush and he doesn't crush it, he gets upset. And that's a good sign. He's not content with what he's done; he wants to do better. It takes years to develop an approach like that."

The Blue Jays have taken on a rebuilding project, and Hinske, 25, seems to have a good sense of where he fits into that plan. He said he is surprised with the success he's had over the season's first five months.

"On Opening Day, I was nervous and just didn't know if I was good enough to play here," Hinske said. "Then you go out, try and get a few hits, just try to get going. After the first month, though, you start feeling more confident. I didn't expect to have success this quick, but I'm glad it's happening."

Lopez, 26, has made a great case for himself, going 14-6 with a 3.31 ERA. He has 113 strikeouts and 50 walks in 165 2/3 innings. The Orioles signed him as a minor-league free agent last offseason, and he has turned into the team's de facto ace.

Julio, 23, has 25 saves in 31 opportunities. He had the benefit of pitching 18 games in the big leagues last season, but he still qualifies as a rookie and had posted a 1.75 ERA with 46 strikeouts and 23 walks in 61 2/3 innings pitched entering last night.

Hinske's only flaw has been his defense. He has 20 errors, but it's been a little easier for the Blue Jays to take because of the power potential he's shown.

"I hit 20 [home runs] in A-ball, 20 in Double-A, 25 in Triple-A," Hinske said.

"I am a bigger guy [6 feet 2, 225 pounds] and can hit the ball out of the park at times. I just try and put good swings on it. I have the same approach every time I go to the plate. Sometimes the ball gets up in the air."

And that's exactly where the voters might be if asked to name their Rookie of the Year choice today.

Statement series

The New York Yankees had a firm grip on the American League East lead at the beginning of last week, and they punctuated their season with a two-game sweep over the Boston Red Sox that looked a bit like a lopsided tennis score from the U.S. Open: 6-love, 7-love.

The back-to-back shutouts came at Fenway Park, no less, and left the Red Sox nine games behind the Yankees.

"We absolutely stunk this series," Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon said after Wednesday's drubbing.

Mussina erases doubts

Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina took the mound opposite Pedro Martinez on Wednesday with a solid 15-7 record and a bloated 4.94 ERA.

But nearly one year after coming within one out of a perfect game at Fenway, Mussina allowed four runners - three singles, one walk - in nine innings.

"It's a relief to know that I can still pitch," Mussina said. "Sometimes I didn't think that I could. It got frustrating going six [innings] and giving up five [runs] every night. That's not a lot of fun. This is nice. ... This was a big series. I know it was short, but to go from seven back to five, or up to nine, is a big deal."

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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