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Baseball

Braves' flops may not be a blip

By TOM JONES
Published May 23, 2004

Nice week for pitchers Ben Sheets of Milwaukee and Randy Johnson of Arizona.

Sheets struck out 18 in a game May 16. Two days later, Johnson pitched the 17th perfect game in major-league history.

Bad week for the Atlanta Braves. They were the victims in both cases.

"I think you can say, without a shadow of a doubt, we've reached a new all-time low," Braves slugger Chipper Jones said.

In those consecutive games, the Braves had three hits and one run (a homer by Andruw Jones), struck out 31 times (two off the NL record) and walked once.

Okay, so every team hits a slump now and then, but the Braves are in a seasonlong slump. They are three games under .500, and it appears more and more that they will miss the postseason for the first time since 1990.

Still, general manager John Schuerholz, who has been forced to slash payroll over the past few seasons, isn't giving up. That means he isn't planning a major shakeup.

"Of the eight starting players, we had five All-Stars," Schuerholz said. "Our No. 1 pitcher is a guy who won 21 games last year. The rest of our starting staff is very capable.

"We've got a lot of injured guys. We've got a lot of new people. We've got an assimilation process that is being delayed by virtue of the fact that we don't have healthy bodies among our core group. I feel good about this team."

Well, that makes one.

REGRETS, I HAVE MY SHARE: Mariners closer Eddie Guardado may have lost some fans after implying to a St. Paul newspaper that he regretted signing with the Mariners.

Guardado left the two-time AL Central division champion Twins as a free agent this offseason and signed a three-year deal with Seattle, which is in last place in the AL West with a record barely better than the Devil Rays'.

St. Paul Pioneer-Press columnist Tom Powers wrote that he asked Guardado before Tuesday's Mariners-Twins game if he would have signed with the Mariners if he had to do it all over.

"No," Guardado was quoted as saying. "Plain and simple. I'm not going to sit here and lie to you."

Asked about the quote, Guardado said, "I felt bad the way it came out. I have no regrets. The only regrets I have are with the way the (Twins') front office handled it with me. That's all. That's what I was talking about."

ON THE MOVE: The Expos, operated by MLB the past two seasons, might learn where they will end up at this week's owners meeting. Commissioner Bud Selig promises that the Expos will have a new home by 2005 and it could be announced the All-Star break. They likely will end up in Washington or northern Virginia, but the possibilities of Monterrey, Mexico, and Las Vegas exist.

"They've done a magnificent job under tough circumstances, but it's time to sell the club," Selig said.

"There's no doubt in my mind it will be sold. It's absolutely time. They will have a new home for next year."

KEEP YOUR EYE ON IT: Padres reliever Akinori Otsuka was hit below the right eye last week by a bat thrown by a fan seeking an autograph.

"At the same time, three fans tossed me a piece of paper, a ball and the bat," Otsuka said.

Padres manager Bruce Bochy said, "Aki, next time catch the bat and let the paper hit you."

HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: Look for former Armwood standout Sterling Hitchcock to rejoin the Padres around the first of next month after fracturing his rib while weight training on April 6. He will make two starts at Triple-A Portland and then throw one or two bullpen sessions before joining the team as a swing reliever/spot starter.

"That's fine with me," Hitchcock said.

"Who am I going to replace (in the rotation)? Everyone is throwing the heck out of the ball."

NEW YORK STATE OF MIND, PART I: ESPN's Peter Gammons speculated last week that the Padres would like to move Ryan Klesko to an AL team.

If that's true, the Yankees would be first in line.

But Padres GM Kevin Towers said, "No truth, nothing to that. I haven't brought up Klesko's name with anybody. I have not mentioned him in a trade. Nor has anybody asked about him in a trade. I'm not contemplating any trades."

NEW YORK STATE OF MIND, PART II: Seattle starter Freddy Garcia was asked last week during a Spanish radio interview how he would feel about a trade to the Yankees.

"I'd love it," Garcia said. "It would make my day."

Naturally that caused a ruckus in Seattle, so Garcia's agent, Peter Greenberg, cleared things up by saying Garcia "was just being honest."

Oh.

COVER BOY: Houston pitcher Roger Clemens appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week for the seventh time. Among active players, only Ken Griffey (eight) has more covers.

Only four other Astros have been on SI's cover, but two you might have figured on - Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio - aren't among them. The other four are Sonny Jackson and Joe Morgan (June 6, 1966), J.R. Richard (Aug. 18, 1980, and March 2, 1981) and Randy Johnson (Aug. 10, 1998).

SOMETHING'S BREWING: For the first time since 1982, the Brewers had back-to-back players of the week. First baseman Lyle Overbay did it first, followed by Sheets, who won the honor after his 18-strikeout effort against Atlanta. The last time the Brewers accomplished this was July 18 and 25, 1982, when Jim Gantner and Robin Yount won AL honors.

SHORT HOPS: Phillies leftfielder Pat Burrell drove in his 36th run Wednesday (May 19) in Philadelphia's 38th game. Last season, Burrell didn't reach 36 RBIs until July 20, the team's 96th game. ... Cleveland's Matt Lawton came into the weekend leading the Indians in homers and stolen bases. The last player to lead the Indians in homers and steals was Joe Gordon in 1947. ... Rockies reliever Tim Harikkala won a game last weekend. His last victory in the majors before then was April 24, 1999, a span of 1,845 days. He did, though, have a 36-32 record in the minors in that span. ... St. Louis' Matt Morris should win tonight's start against the Cubs. In odd-numbered starts, Morris is 1-3 with a 6.03 ERA. In even-numbered starts, he is 3-0 with a 1.41 ERA. Tonight is his 10th start.

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

[Last modified May 22, 2004, 23:37:24]


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