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Gonzalez resurrects career in his tryout with Indians

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- He may be the world's most effective temp.

And he certainly is the best paid.

Juan Gonzalez is just passing through in Cleveland. A one-year stop between a slump and free agency.

When the Indians lost Manny Ramirez to a $160-million deal in Boston, they needed a slugger in the middle of the lineup. Gonzalez, coming off a career-worst season in 2000, was looking to upgrade his stock for another run at free agency after this season.

A one-year, $10-million deal was struck, and both Gonzalez and the Indians are looking like winners after the season's first month.

Gonzalez, 31, ranks in the top three in every Triple Crown category in the American League. Only one other player can make that claim: Ramirez.

Yet even though Ramirez is putting up monster numbers in Boston, the Indians are making subtle cracks about his overall effectiveness.

Ramirez may be one of the top hitters in the game, but he was considered a defensive liability and his baserunning was sometimes comical.

Gonzalez is not a Gold Glove type, but he is more well-rounded.

The only question was whether Gonzalez would be the player who averaged 43 home runs and 140 RBI from 1996-99 in Texas or the one who moped through an injury-plagued season in Detroit in 2000 with 67 RBI.

At least in the early going, Gonzalez is looking a lot like he did in '96 and '98, when he won Most Valuable Player awards.

"That's exactly the way he's playing. He's doing it all," general manager John Hart said. "On the bases, in the field, at the plate. It's exciting."

DON'T PLAY B-17: In his new incarnation as a poor, humble man of the people, Deion Sanders says America's expectations for him got out of whack. (Gee, I wonder who is responsible for that?)

"I always felt like a jukebox, where you put the coins in and you play what you want to play," Sanders said. "You play what I push, you do what I want you to do. And if I don't play the record they wanted me to play, they are upset and they are kicking the box. That's what I felt my whole career. You are supposed to do this, you are supposed to do that. You are Deion Sanders and you are supposed to do that."

HERE ... YOU TAKE 'EM: The Rangers have a 6.72 ERA, which is twice that of Boston and a run more than any major-league team. If the Rangers maintain that pace, and they appear fully capable, it would break the record of 6.70 set by the 1930 Phillies for the worst pitching staff in history. No wonder manager Johnny Oates resigned.

WHERE ART THOU BROTHER?: Vladimir Guerrero was expected to establish himself as the National League's top hitter this season, but he was at a pedestrian .276 with four home runs going into the weekend. Friends say he misses brother Wilton, who was not offered a contract and went to Cincinnati.

"He's probably never struggled in the minors, and he's certainly not struggled much in the big leagues, although I'm not even saying he's struggling," Expos general manager Jim Beattie said. "He has very high expectations of what he wants to do up there and gets frustrated when he doesn't."

HOW ABOUT ASTRO-NOMICAL?: Houston appears ready to shake up its starting rotation. Octavio Dotel and Jose Lima could be heading to the bullpen and Kent Bottenfield could be going to the rotation. The Astros also may look to the minors for help. "We're looking for light at the end of the tunnel, but all we can find is darkness," manager Larry Dierker said. "We're besieged right now. What else can you call our pitching?"

REALLY BIG HURT: Frank Thomas, never known for his team-first attitude, sat out five games with a strained triceps in his right arm because he said he did not want to embarrass himself by playing with the injury. David Wells, on his weekly radio show, managed to embarrass Thomas anyway. "If he is afraid to embarrass himself, then he is embarrassing himself right there with that comment," Wells said. "If you don't have the guts to be out there, you know what, you don't need to be here. You need to be somewhere else and learn to play the game with guts and glory."

THE PAIN REMAINS THE SAME: Alex Fernandez, the National League's comeback player of the year in 1999, may not have another comeback in him. Fernandez, who has been troubled by arm problems since the 1997 post-season, has not pitched in almost a year. At 31, Fernandez has had two shoulder operations and still has pain. He is in the last year of a five-year, $35-million contract. "It gets to the point where you've been dealing with pain every day, and it's a long haul," Fernandez said.

IT REALLY WASN'T ABOUT THE MONEY: By electing to retire last week, Ramon Martinez forfeited a $200,000 salary he would have collected if he had waited to be released. "He felt it was time to go. I can't say I was totally surprised," Pirates general manager Cam Bonifay said. "Ramon Martinez has great pride and class, so I know it was tough for him to accept."

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

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