They say pitching is all about location and Kenny Rogers would have to agree. Some pitchers need to move up or down in the strike zone or from this side of the plate to that side of the plate. Rogers' adjustment was more complicated. He went from one zip code to another zip code.
One of the more celebrated busts of 1997 and George Steinbrenner's favorite whipping boy with the Yankees, Rogers has found new life in Oakland.
The Tampa Palms resident has won three of his first four decisions with the Athletics, including Friday night against the Orioles when he pitched his first complete-game victory since 1996.
"I've done a lot that I'm proud of in my career, but coming back and pitching this well right now means a lot to me because of what I've been through," Rogers said. "I always knew it was there, it was just a matter of getting the chance to bring it out.
"It didn't work in New York for whatever reason. A lot of it was my own doing. I can't hide from the facts. I didn't pitch well."
Rogers, a graduate of Plant City High, was one of baseball's top free-agent pitchers in the 1995 off-season after going 17-10 with Texas. A sensitive man with a low-key personality, his decision to accept the harsh spotlight of New York was considered an odd choice. And, ultimately, a bad choice.
He was 18-15 in two seasons with the Yankees, but was yanked in and out of the rotation last year and was singled out by Steinbrenner for not having the mental toughness to get the job done.
It seemed the harder he tried, the less effective he became. The Yankees finally unloaded him in an off-season trade for Scott Brosius and cash.
Oakland manager Art Howe was a batting instructor with the Rangers when Rogers broke into the big leagues and later was a Dodgers scout in the bleachers the night Rogers pitched a perfect game in 1994.
Howe told Rogers he had faith in his ability and was going to hand him the ball every fifth day this season. So far, the left-hander has responded.
"I think everyone wants to know they have a sense of worth on a ball team, or wherever. You want to know you're needed and you have a job you're expected to do," Rogers said. "For me, it's a plus to know I'm out there every fifth day, for 100 pitches no matter if I give up one or two or three runs in the first two innings. That's a comforting feeling."
POWER OUTAGE: The Brewers never recovered from the loss of first baseman John Jaha last season and are without him again for four to six weeks after he injured ligaments in his left foot while running the bases. He'll be replaced by hefty, and harmless, Bob Hamelin. Jaha was leading Milwaukee in home runs and RBI when he went down last season with a shoulder injury in early June. The Brewers ended up 13th in the AL in home runs and runs scored. "It's a bad thing to lose right-handed power," GM Sal Bando said. "We can't replace it."
ARRIVING THROUGH THE BACK DOOR: Boston fans have to be thrilled to see that Aaron Sele apparently has hit his stride in Texas. Sele tantalized Boston with a 7-2 rookie season in 1993, only to go 31-31 the next four seasons. He is off to a 4-0 start with the Rangers, including the first two shutouts of his career. Sele said he is thriving with a back-door curveball that was banned by Red Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan for fear that left-handed hitters would poke it off the Green Monster. "His ceiling is way up there somewhere," Texas pitching coach Dick Bosman said. "Hopefully, his best years are ahead of him. I'm just glad he's here to have them."
THEY MIGHT NOT BE GIANTS: Explaining San Francisco's slow start is as easy as 1-2-3. Or actually 3-4-5. Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and J.T. Snow, all of whom drove in 100 runs last season, are not getting the job done in 1998. Bonds has been particularly ineffective, with his average hovering around .250. "I'm swinging poorly. I'm getting the pitches to hit, but I'm swinging poorly," Bonds said.
ONCE AND FUTURE CLOSER: Mike Jackson may lead the AL in saves, but the Indians have not given up on the idea of Jose Mesa working his way back into the closer's role. Mesa, who blew a save in Game 7 of the World Series and was horrible in spring training, has looked good in recent appearances. "Jackson is the closer as of now, and he will remain the closer in the short term," manager Mike Hargrove said. "But the plan all along has been to get Jose back into the closer's role."
HAMMER TIME: Dennis Martinez has a fan club of one in Atlanta. Fortunately for him, that one is manager Bobby Cox. Martinez's ERA zoomed over 10.00 last week and opponents are batting better than .400 against him, but Cox remains firm in his support of the 42-year-old. Martinez was 1-5 with a 7.71 ERA with Seattle last season before being released. "I don't look at stats. I don't look at batting averages. I don't care," Cox said. "If you made decisions on that, you'll be in last place so fast you wouldn't know what you were doing."
BAD SIGN: The Athletics drew a crowd of 5,829 for a Tuesday game against the Twins. And that was an improvement. The day before, only 5,000 showed up. Through 13 games, the A's are averaging 11,643, lowest in the AL. Asked about the attendance, GM Billy Beane said, "My concern is putting as good a team as possible on the field." They're not succeeding there either. Oakland is last in the AL West.
BELOW SEA LEVEL: Who could have imagined the Rockies would be happy to go on the road? The team with the second-best record at home (to Atlanta) the past three seasons, began this year 3-10 at Coors Field. "Coors Field is a great place to play when you are playing good," said Dante Bichette, "but when you are playing bad it is an easy place to put pressure on yourself, wanting to perform for the 40,000-plus who show up."
SHEF DE JOUR: Before reading any further, please understand this: Gary Sheffield is not a bad guy. He just has a tendency to say things that make him look that way. The latest blunder was going on ESPN and saying he had trouble getting motivated this season and felt embarrassed by the play of the Marlins. In the right context, this might be considered introspective. Unfortunately, the next day, Sheffield kept talking. "Yeah, I make $61-million. Pay me and like it, that's the way I feel now," he said.