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BASEBALL EXTRA | AROUND THE AMERICAN LEAGUE

Rangers Ready for Gonzalez to Lend a Hand

May 04, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN

The Texas Rangers, defending their American League West title, stayed alive in April with pitching, defense and the offensive contributions of Lee Stevens and Mike Simms, reclamation projects who took the form of a two-headed Juan Gonzalez.

They combined for eight homers and 27 runs batted in, helping compensate for the absence of the virtually irreplaceable Gonzalez.

The AL's most valuable player had been sidelined since January by a torn thumb ligament but returned Friday night against the Boston Red Sox.

The Rangers, near the bottom in runs, average and slugging percentage, figure Gonzalez is worth a run a game. They were so eager to let him get at it that they passed on a minor league rehabilitation assignment, figuring that a struggling Gonzalez is better than no Gonzalez.

"Juan had 144 RBIs in 134 games last year," Manager Johnny Oates said. "Nobody we put out there is going to drive in that many runs in that many games. It's a no-brainer. There's not too many guys in the league that can do that."

Gonzalez missed 85 starts because of injuries in 1995 and '96. The Rangers averaged 5.22 runs in those games compared to 6.18 when he started.

Nevertheless, the Rangers emerged from April only half a game behind the Seattle Mariners in the West, and Will Clark said, "They've got Junior [Ken Griffey] and we haven't had Juan. They're a half-game ahead of us. I'll take that."

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Since MCI began computerizing home run measurements in 1992, Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics has hit the major leagues' three longest and the longest in six ballparks--the SkyDome, the Kingdome, the Metrodome, Tiger Stadium, Comiskey Park and Cleveland's Jacobs Field, where on Wednesday night he launched a rocket off Orel Hershiser that caromed off the scoreboard above the bleachers in left-center field.

MCI called it 485 feet and lost a lot of credibility. Bash Brother Jose Canseco said it had to be 550, and Cleveland center fielder Brian Giles said it was hit so hard that "it knocked the frogs off the Budweiser sign."

Added A's reliever Mark Acre: "I've totally lost respect for MCI on that distance thing. I'm going to change my phone company. The only thing they don't underestimate is my bill."

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It has been a strange start for the Indians. They're on a pace to set major league records for home runs, double plays grounded into and highest earned-run average. Consider the recent four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers in which the Indians hit 14 home runs but lost two of the four.

The Cy Young crown may be weighing heavily on Toronto's Pat Hentgen, who has been unable to hold leads in five of his six starts and is 1-1 with a 4.43 earned-run average. Hentgen, however, was a modest 8-6 with a 3.86 ERA at the All-Star break last year and finished 20-10, 3.22.

A New York Yankee executive named Reggie Jackson had this to say about the contract demands of Japan's Hideki Irabu: "Will he be a [.500 pitcher] the way he was over there, or will he be better? I don't know. I haven't seen him pitch. I do know Gary Sheffield doesn't play in Tokyo. Neither do Mo Vaughn, Tony Gwynn, Jeff Bagwell, Frank [Thomas], Albert [Belle]. They're all waiting for you here."

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