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Old Folks…


Some of the biggest news in the division is being made by guys
who had pretty good seasons during the Cold War. And nobody has
been hotter in May than Tampa Bay’s Fred McGriff.


McGriff, who posted a .284/.371/.443 in 1998, was written off by
most analysts. His age, declining power and long-gone mobility all
indicated that the "Crime Dog" of lore had no bite–and
very little bark–remaining. A slow start didn’t help: McGriff was
hitting .234/.300/.422 with just three home runs in late April.


Since then, McGriff has ripped off two weeks of scalding hitting,
posting a .451/.548/1.020 performance. The unexpected offense has
helped the Devil Rays survive some disappointing pitching and the
return to earth of Jose Canseco, keeping the team around .500.


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… (hey, it’s everywhere)
McGriff was a teammate–was traded with, in fact–one of the best
shorstops of the 1980s. Well, that shortstop lost some skills, but
he’s recast himself as a third baseman and a veteran hitter with
gap power and very good plate discipline.


Tony Fernandez, who turns 37 next month, is hitting .372/.470/.522
while playing an above-average third base. This is on the heels of his
surprising .321/.387/.459 1998. How much longer this will last is
a mystery, but Fernandez has played better in Toronto than anywhere
else in his five-team career, so a season like 1998 would seem to
be a reasonable expectation.


We’re always emphasizing the need for teams to focus on youth, to
play players with upside while cutting loose guys in their thirties
who have appeared to lose a step, or some bat speed or a bit off
their fastball. But as Andres Galarraga showed us last year, just
because someone was born the Johnson administration doesn’t mean
they’re completely done. Not all players follow the typical decline
path; McGriff and Fernandez are two more reminders–pleasant ones–that
player projection is an inexact science.


…and Young’uns


Of course, new faces on the scene are having an impact as well. As
expected, the Red Sox recalled righthander Juan Pena from Pawtucket,
where he’d been mowing down International League hitters. Taking
Bret Saberhagen’s rotation spot, Pena shut down the Anaheim
Angels for six innings (three hits, one walk, eight strikeouts, just
80 pitches), displaying a four-pitch repertoire that belied his age.


Pena being called up is no surprise; we expected to see him once the
Sox tired of Mark Portugal–who has been effective–or Pat
Rapp
,
who hasn’t. The Saberhagen injury just brought him to Fenway ahead of
schedule. With Rapp’s collapse, Pena is really the team’s #4 starter.


Will he succeed? I’m inclined to think he will; the Sox’ defense is
very good, an asset in breaking in a young starter. Pena sports four
pitches, variety that will help him the second time around the league.
And the Boston bullpen is deep and talented, a combination that
should keep Pena from being overworked.

Notes


Shane Spencer was recalled by the Yankees, and it appears he’s
going to be the everyday left fielder. The three-headed platoon was a
dismal failure; going with one guy should be an improvement…. The
injury to Jim Mecir’s elbow reopens the door for Tony Saunders
to establish himself. Look for him to return to last year’s form….
Let’s hope Billy Koch pitches well enough for Jim Fregosi
to abandon the idea of moving Kelvim Escobar to the bullpen.
Escobar has a starter’s repertoire, and except for three weeks in
July of 1997, has had most of his success in that role.