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BASEBALL EXTRA / INTERLEAGUE PLAY | AROUND THE AL

Johnson's Arm Needed More Than His Bat

June 15, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN

SEATTLE — It was a small favor, as those things go.

Don Baylor, the Colorado Rockies' manager, simply wanted Seattle Mariner Manager Lou Piniella to save Randy Johnson to pitch against the Dodgers.

Baylor asked it with tongue in cheek, aware Piniella couldn't oblige.

"If I had my choice, I'd pitch him against everybody," the Mariner manager said after Johnson dominated the Rockies on Friday night in the Kingdome, meaning he wasn't able to face the Dodgers this weekend and--much to Baylor's chagrin--won't face the Giants in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Johnson will get an extra day's rest and pitch in Texas on Thursday.

Piniella doesn't want Johnson to pitch in a National League park, where he would have to hit and, possibly, run the bases, putting stress on his back, which was operated on for a herniated disk last year.

Johnson is fine with that, although he went one for one in the spring and said he is capable of winning a Silver Slugger award as the best hitter at his position.

"I'll be very happy if he's the Cy Young winner and leave it at that," Piniella said. "We need him pitching all year."

Rebounding from the injury that restricted him to 14 starts last year, Johnson (10-1) has regained his 18-2 Cy Young form of '95.

He overmatched the Rockies, baseball's best hitting team, giving up only two hits while striking out 12 in a 6-1 victory.

"He's at the top of his game," Piniella said. "He's pitching as well as ever."

No argument from the Rockies.

"There's no starter in the National League who throws that hard," Baylor said. "He's like Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. He's going to get his 10 strikeouts almost every time."

Johnson has now struck out 10 or more 75 times to rank fourth on the all-time list.

"I'm probably pitching better than I did in '95," he said Friday night. "The statistics reflect that, but I'm also a different person than I was in '95.

"It was such a mental and physical grind getting ready for this season, there was so much doubt and so many low points coming back from the surgery, that I take it one start at a time now. I never really feel great out there. I still have stiffness at times. I know now anything can happen at any time."

*

Sources who attended this week's owners meetings in Philadelphia said the business of baseball has come to a virtual standstill because of the litigation spawned by George Steinbrenner's antitrust suit against baseball.

The New York Yankee owner was represented in Philadelphia by son-in-law Joseph Malloy and the lead attorney in the antitrust suit.

"We're getting sued by this guy and he's sitting in the meetings," an American League executive said of attorney David Boies. "How are you supposed to conduct business?"

*

Repeated replays of Jim Edmonds' diving, over-the-shoulder catch of David Howard's warning-track drive in Kansas City should thrust the Angel center fielder into Gold Glove contention, although it will be difficult to break Ken Griffey Jr.'s Gold Glove string, which reached seven last year.

Said Buzzie Bavasi, the former Dodger and Angel general manager whose baseball roots extend to Brooklyn: "I saw Willie [Mays], I saw Mickey [Mantle] and I saw Duke [Snider], but I never saw a better catch--and it came with the game on the line."

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