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Inside Baseball | AROUND THE HORN / ROSS NEWHAN

Wright's Improbable Rise Shows the Reasons to Believe

September 05, 2004|ROSS NEWHAN

Improbable pitchers continue to play major roles as their teams approach the playoffs. Among them:

* Chris Carpenter, who missed all of last season after shoulder surgery, is 14-5 with the St. Louis Cardinals.

* Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, who also had shoulder surgery and was limited to one minor league appearance last year, is 6-0 as the late-season ace of the New York Yankees.

* Jose Lima, who began last season in the anonymity of an independent league, and Jeff Weaver, who suffered through another long summer in the Bronx, are a combined 23-15 with the Dodgers.

Then there's Jaret Wright, who might be the most improbable of all, or as his dad, Clyde Wright, himself a former major league pitcher, said from his Anaheim home, "You can almost put it in 'Believe It or Not.' "

At 28, the younger Wright has won nine of his last 10 decisions and is 14-6 with a 3.16 earned-run average for the Atlanta Braves, who will soon clinch their 13th consecutive division title.

Those 14 wins are five more than Wright totaled in the previous four years combined, as two shoulder surgeries limited his availability and velocity. As a rookie flame thrower in 1997, he went 8-3 in 16 second-half starts with the Cleveland Indians and won three postseason games, not including a brilliant 6 1/3 innings in Game 7 of the World Series eventually won by the Florida Marlins.

Ultimately, Cleveland gave up on him, San Diego gave up on him, and Atlanta might have as well if the payroll-reducing Braves hadn't been desperate for inexpensive options after the departures of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood over the last two years.

How has Wright put it together?

"First of all," said his dad, "he's totally healthy. He has no fear when he goes to the mound. Secondly, he's matured and learned how to pitch. He's found out that he doesn't have to throw the ball through a brick wall. He's confident that he can do it with another style now."

Clyde Wright operates an Orange County pitching school and does community service work with the Angels. He included a no-hitter among his 22 wins with the Angels in 1970 and has lost none of the Tennessee drawl that colored his comments.

Wright said his son had picked up little things from different people and organizations along the way and obviously benefited from the relationship with Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox and pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

Didn't father know best? Didn't father try to tell him he couldn't be the same pitcher he had been at Katella High?

"Sure," Clyde Wright said, "but when you've got a kid who's thrown 97, 98 mph, he's going to always want to air it out and hear the mitt pop. I can only say so much. He had to hear it from other people, come to the realization himself. Now, he's throwing with 10 times less effort and he's just as happy when they flash a 91 or 92 on the scoreboard. He's learned he can get guys out at that."

*

Moneyball?

"The A's don't win because of their on-base percentage," Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen said after losing two of three to Oakland during a series that ended Thursday.

"They win because they have great pitching."

*

The Cincinnati Reds' promising start this year has deteriorated so far that their public relations staff has been labeling their batting notes on the pregame media sheets as "Skid Row."

*

Hank Aaron, on why he doesn't plan to attend as Barry Bonds approaches his 700th home run:

"I'm 70 years old and it's hard to travel. I try to stay away from planes as much as I can. I hope people don't take this the wrong way because I wish him all the luck in the world. I don't have any animosity. It's his record. He should share it with his people, his family. That's the way it should be."

*

Alfonso Soriano of the Texas Rangers is closing in on a dubious record. He has 21 errors, the most among major league second basemen, and could become the first in big league history to lead his position in errors for four consecutive seasons.

Soriano is also wearing out his Texas welcome in other ways. Manager Buck Showalter lit into him during a recent series with the Baltimore Orioles for jogging to first on a ground ball, and his production has deteriorated down the stretch.

He had only five home runs and 18 runs batted in in his last 145 at-bats through Thursday and was six for 28 with runners in scoring position through that span.

"No focus," batting coach Rudy Jaramillo said.

Soriano is earning $5.4 million this season and will be eligible for arbitration when it ends. The Rangers have shown no interest in a multiyear contract for him and are likely to trade him, completing the cycle on the departure of Alex Rodriguez.

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