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Griffey will start, rest assured

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 12, 2002

Like thousands of other parents last weekend, Ken Griffey treated his son to the movie Spider-Man.

But how many of those parents were insulted by someone at the theater?

"I can't wait for you to come back," a Reds fan told the outfielder, "so you can sit in the dugout."

It's not easy being Griffey in Cincinnati these days.

The Reds have moved into first place in the NL Central and a talented crop of young outfielders has won over the populous while he has been recovering from a right knee injury.

The question is what will the Reds do when Griffey is ready to play, likely this weekend in St. Louis. Cincinnati was 3-3 when Griffey wasn't injured, but was 20-14 and 17-11 without him through Friday.

"Stay tuned?" manager Bob Boone said. "We'll make that a come-on for the fans. It's a nice problem."

Sure it is.

In left is 22-year-old Adam Dunn, who was hitting .290 with eight homers and 27 RBIs through 32 games. Juan Encarnacion, 26, has started in center during Griffey's absence and was batting .289 with nine homers and 23 RBIs entering Friday.

Rightfielder Austin Kearns, 21, may be the most impressive of the bunch. He batted .400 with 4 doubles, 3 homers and 10 RBIs through his first 18 games since being recalled April 17.

Griffey, in the third year of a nine-year $116.5-million contract, apparently will assume his spot in centerfield when he returns. He does have 461 homers and a .296 batting average in 1,797 career games after all.

"I find it laughable that fans and media want him traded or benched. I just laugh," Boone said. "With Griffey in there, there is a huge difference, a gigantic difference."

KICKING AROUND: Former Rays slugger Jose Canseco likens his status with Triple-A Charlotte to that of Crash Davis from the movie Bull Durham.

The White Sox signed and sent Canseco, who's 38 homers shy of 500 for his career, to the minors after the Expos released him this spring. He was hitting .216 with five homers through Thursday.

"You can't tell me somebody in the American League can't use me as a DH," he said. "Give me 500 at-bats and I'll hit 40, 50 home runs. How many guys can claim that?"

Canseco has 28 home runs in his past 500 major-league at-bats with the Rays, Yankees and White Sox since 2000.

THE NEW CRAZE: The 1980s featured Fernandomania. The 1990s saw Nomomania. Now there's Ishiimania.

Los Angeles looks brilliant for bidding $11.26-million for the right to negotiate with Kazuhisa Ishii before signing him to a four-year deal worth $12.2-million this season.

The right-hander, who played 10 seasons for the Yakult Swallows in Japan, was 6-0 with a 2.95 ERA after six starts. The record for wins by a rookie is 20 held by Gene Bearden of the 1948 Indians, Bob Grim of the 1954 Yankees and Alex Kellner of the 1949 Athletics.

"We've been careful not to force-feed Ishiimania, to keep the pressure off him," Dodgers senior vice president Derrick Hall said. "But now that he's shown he can handle the pressure, you'll see more of a marketing effort in terms of merchandise, ticket and radio-television promotions."

Ishii is familiar with Hideo Nomo, who spent his first four major-league seasons in a Dodgers uniform and rejoined the organization this season, but doesn't know a lot about Fernando Valenzuela. The left-hander had a 141-116 record with the Dodgers from 1980-90.

"The extent of my knowledge of him is seeing a picture on the outfield wall," Ishii said through an interpreter. "I really don't know too much about Fernandomania."

ODDS AND ENDS: Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa is keeping pace with the Royals in homers and trailed 16-15 entering Friday. ... In the first meeting since being traded during the offseason, Dodgers outfielder Brian Jordan and Braves outfielder Gary Sheffield were each respectable in a three-game series last week. Jordan batted .333 with two homers and two RBIs while Sheffield hit .214 with two homers and four RBIs. ... Kent Mercker knows what it's like to be Damian Moss, the Braves pitcher taken out despite not having allowed a hit against the Cardinals on May 3. It twice happened to Mercker before he threw a no-hitter for the Padres in his 11th major-league start in 1994.

"It's 1,000 times easier up there." -- Cubs catcher Todd Hundley, who was placed on the disabled list with a thumb injury Monday and filled in for Ron Santo as a radio color man.

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

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