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Rangers' stock keeps going up

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 10, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Despite losing 89 games with the eighth-highest payroll in the majors last season, Rangers owner Tom Hicks didn't shy from spending during the offseason.

In a shopping spree rivaling that of the Mets and Yankees, Hicks essentially gave general manager John Hart the team's bank card and PIN number and pushed him out the door.

With Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez and Alex Rodriguez already in place, Hart's final bill for pitchers Chan Ho Park, Jay Powell, Todd Van Poppel and Dave Burba and outfielder Juan Gonzalez was more than $107-million. Outfielder Carl Everett and reliever John Rocker also were added.

"It's encouraging," said Palmeiro, who has averaged 44 homers and 130 RBIs the past three seasons. "You go from a team that lost (89) games last year thinking we were in a rebuilding mode and going with younger players to going out and spending some money for some veteran players to try and put something together to win this year.

"They addressed a lot."

The pitching staff needed the most help.

Rangers pitchers allowed 968 runs last season. Starters had a 6.00 ERA, thanks in part to Rick Helling (5.17) and Kenny Rogers (6.19), while relievers were a shade better at 5.19. All three figures ranked 14th in the American League.

Ugh.

The offense, meanwhile, could be one of the better in recent memory led by $252-million man Alex Rodriguez and bolstered by the additions of Gonzalez and Everett.

Texas led the AL in home runs last season (246) and ranked third in runs (890), average (.275), RBIs (844).

"It really doesn't matter at this point," Palmeiro said when asked if the Rangers should be considered one of the AL's top teams this season. "Somewhere down the road they're going to have to consider us. At this point, it really doesn't matter. The important thing is we come together and play together and have that common goal.

"What people think of us or how they prepare to play us doesn't really matter. It's what we do. What's in our hands."

SPRING FLINGED: As intense as Dave Stewart was as a pitcher -- recall images of his hat pulled down and that scowl on his face -- and it's easy see why the Brewers' new pitching coach got himself ejected from a spring game Tuesday.

Peeved about Gary Darling's strike zone, Stewart was tossed from Milwaukee's 6-4 loss to the Mariners for arguing balls and strikes.

"He's going to fight for his pitchers, whether it's spring training or something else," Milwaukee manager Davey Lopes said. "If he thinks his pitchers are not getting a fair shake at things, he'll let somebody know."

Darling was one of five umpires fired in 1999 after a failed resignation plan by the union and rehired by Major League Baseball two weeks ago. Joe West, Larry Poncino, Larry Vanover and Bill Hohn were the others reinstated.

REMEMBER HIM?: More than four years since he last pitched in the majors, Salomon Torres threw three scoreless innings and got the win in a game against the Reds on Monday.

The 29-year-old, who retired in 1997 with an 11-25 career record and 5.71 ERA and pitched in South Korea last season, signed with the Pirates as a minor-league free agent during the offseason. He is one of 11 pitchers vying for a spot on Pittsburgh's staff.

"I'd be lying if I said I felt I would go out and pitch this well," Torres said. "I think if I get called up that I will go out on the field and start running around the bases. I would go around the bases like crazy."

NOT SO FAST: Tim Raines, the Marlins' 42-year-old pinch hitter, said last week Expos general manager Omar Minaya did not pursue him as vigorously as thought.

Minaya said he was surprised Raines signed with Florida rather than platoon with Jose Canseco in the Montreal outfield.

"If they had given me a legitimate chance, I'd be wearing the red, white and blue right now," said Raines, who began his career with the Expos in 1979 and will retire after this season.

FOUND OBJECTS: Only after David Bell's younger brother Michael mentioned it did we learn the real secret to success in a household as baseball rich as theirs.

In earlier days, Buddy Bell's children played inside their home with balls fashioned from their grandmother's underwear.

"She made them good," said Michael, an infield prospect with the Rockies. "She put little stitch marks on them. We'd get games going in the house because they were softer."

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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