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Boras just looking to protect Ankiel

Special to

June 9

Scott Boras has taken heat for reminding the Cardinals that when they signed Rick Ankiel they promised they would protect his arm and limit his pitch counts until age 22. But the crossfire has ignored the history, which Boras has on his side.

There is the example of Steve Avery, who was a World Series hero at age 21 in 1991 (throwing 210 innings in the regular season, then pitching in two October series) and was on his way down at 24. There are others: Wally Bunker threw 214 innings and won 19 games at 19 for the '64 Orioles, and never won more than 12 again; or Jim Palmer, who was out for two years after throwing 208.1 innings at 20 in '66; or Gary Nolan, who threw 226.2 at 19 for the '67 Reds, winning 14 games with a 2.58 ERA. He hurt his arm and had to entirely change his style.

Rick Ankiel
At age 20, Rick Ankiel hopes to have a healthy future ahead of him.

There was Don Gullett, another Reds pitcher, who threw 217.2 innings at 20 in '71 and was done at 27; or Dave Rozema, 218.1 innings at 20 in '77, followed by a quick blowout; or Frank Tanana, who threw 268.2 innings at age 20 for the Angels in 1974 and might been the best young lefty of the last 30 years, only to throw 14 straight complete games at 24 and had the arm blow out at 25.

Boras is looking at Alan Benes and Matt Morris, who got injured pitching under Tony La Russa. Now, there are many cases of 19- or 20-year old pitchers who walked in, threw 200 innings and stayed healthy, like Bert Blyleven, Ken Holtzman and Doc Gooden (whose career twisted for other reasons). But he has a fair concern.

News and notes

  • As the Tigers try to decide what to do with Juan Gonzalez, one GM says, "I would be surprised if he didn't end up in Cleveland. He loves to hit in that park, he'd be with the Alomars and he'd have a huge lineup around him. Juan isn't about making the most money; he proved that turning down the Tiger offer. He wants to be comfortable, and he'd be really comfortable in Cleveland as the Indians let Manny Ramirez walk out onto the market."

    But, adds a club executive who knows Gonzalez well, "If he doesn't go to Cleveland, he'd like to go to Boston. He always loved that town, and he'd be with Ramon and Pedro (Martinez). Remember, it was Ramon who hooked Juan up with trainer Nao Presinol and turned his career back around."

  • Sadly, Cuban national team infielder Andy Morales was denied entrance to the U.S. by the Coast Guard and INS, and was sent back to Cuba with fellow refugees who had tried to make their way to the States. Morales is a solid player who had been an outspoken critic. His 16-year old brother German might be one of the best prospects in the world.

  • The Rockies turned down the Mets' offer of Jay Payton for Rolando Arrojo, and the Mets may force Bobby Valentine to hold onto Payton.

  • Boston is looking around for a right-handed bat, both to play third base and as a possible solution to the slumping Troy O'Leary, who batted .260 in the second half of last season and is down below .220 for more than two months this season. Duquette may bring up 27-year old right-handed OF Israel Alcantara, but in looking around for a replacement for John Valentin, seemed less than thrilled with the possibility of either Ed Sprague or Russ Davis. ... Incidentally, the Valentin-Red Sox medical flap may end up in a nasty lawsuit. Duquette and agent Dick Moss have swapped nasty letters over the surgery -- Duquette claiming Valentin violated his contract by going to the Mets' team physician, David Altcheck, while Moss says Boston's Dr. Arthur Pappas signed off on it. There are threats that if the Red Sox continue this, Moss and Valentin will file a lawsuit charging malpractice, claiming injections into the tendon in his knee caused weakening and contributed to the collapse. Dr. Altcheck would likely be asked to testify to this. One Players Association official says their office handles more medical complaints from Red Sox players than the rest of the league combined.

  • The Commissioner's Office study on the baseballs will show that while most of the balls produced in Costa Rica are within MLB guidelines, within those guidelines today's balls are livelier. "Within those guidelines," says an official with knowledge of the report, "if the old balls were fours on a scale of one to 10, these are sevens or eights. It's a difference of 15-20 feet for a lot of players."

  • Ruben Mateo's season-ending injury is a cruel blow to the Rangers and an extraordinary young player who was coming into his own. Doctors say they see that kind of injury only in auto accidents. "Ruben did it hustling," says Rangers GM Doug Melvin. "But it raises a question. Jason Kendall had the same injury last year, hustling into the first base bag. Now, first base is the only bag where players go in like that. Why not come up with a different bag with more give at first? When you lose players like Kendall and Mateo in successive seasons, it's worth studying." Kendall called the Rangers to get Mateo's number, called him and talked the rookie through what it takes to come back as the Pirates star has. ... Meanwhile, Melvin thinks there is no outfielder on the market to fill his need right now, so they'll use Gabe Kapler in center and Chad Curtis in right.

  • Two scouts watching Oakland offered the same opinion: Jason Isringhausen is coming into his own as a dominant closer. "He's right where John Wetteland was in Montreal," says one scout. "He's one of those rare closers with three out pitches -- fastball, knuckle-curve, slider. That's very rare for a closer." Well, in the National League, they'll tell you Reds reliever Scott Williamson has a 7 fastball, 8 split, 8 slider.

  • So, Cubs fans, while you worry that the Sammy Sosa-Don Baylor war is going to drive Sammy out of Chicago and that your team is mired in another century of Cubocrity, go to the Harbor Art Gallery at UMass-Boston for the second showing (June 8-July 15) of artist Wib Walling, one of your fellow lifelong Cubs fanatics. He turned to painting to "try to remember to forget."

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  • Gammons: Draft risks not worth big $$$

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