Originally created 04/18/99

Baseball notes: Phillies appear to have something special in Rolen



The Phillies may stink, but at least they have Scott Rolen. The 24-year-old third baseman is off to a great start. He has hit in all nine games and is showing signs that he may be able to hit 40 to 50 home runs. He already has four.

It's not out of the question that he may be better than Mike Schmidt , who is arguably the greatest third baseman of all time.

Schmidt after two-plus seasons had a .247 batting average, 45 home runs, 39 doubles, seven triples, 171 RBI, 153 runs scored and 31 stolen bases. He did not win the first of his 10 Gold Gloves until his fifth full season.

Heading into his third full season, Rolen had a .283 average, 56 home runs, 87 doubles, seven triples, 220 RBI, 223 runs scored and 30 stolen bases. He already has his first Gold Glove.

"People want to make comparisons and I don't know if it's time yet," said third base coach John Vukovich, the man who has seen both Schmidt and Rolen play more than anybody else. "Schmitty did it over 20 years. Right now, we're just talking about what Scotty might do. But there is a lot of resemblance with the way they play third base, the way they run the bases and the mentality they have."

It is in the field where Vukovich believes Rolen may have an advantage over Schmidt.

"I think Scotty has a little more range," Vukovich said. "He has extraordinary range for a third baseman. He could play shortstop and be just as good at that position. I don't think Schmitty could have been as good at shortstop as he was at third base."

Marlins manager John Boles recently paid tribute to Rolen.

"If you had to start a team, this kid would be in the top three," Boles said. "He probably is special right now, but he's going to be so good some day. You're talking about an All-Star for a lot of years. I think he's going to be a real super player."

BELL RINGER: Jay Bell calls his major league-leading home run total "meaningless." Bell had four homers in a three-game span -- a stretch of 11 at-bats -- and led the majors with five home runs, all against Los Angeles. He homered in three straight games once before, Sept. 20-22, 1996 -- one in each game.

"By no means do I feel like I'm going to hit 30 or 40 home runs," he said. "I've just had a good week and a half."

Bell hit 20 homers last year, one off his career high, but struck out a career-most 129 times. The Diamondbacks wanted Bell to cut down on his strikeouts this year, since he would be hitting second in the lineup, even if it meant sacrificing power.

Before this year, Bell had a .249 career average against the Dodgers, with just five homers in 325 at-bats.

ON HOT SEAT: The first two weeks of the season have gone so badly for the Orioles that managerial speculation already has begun to simmer.

Is Ray Miller living on borrowed time?

That appears to be the conventional wisdom, even though owner Peter Angelos never has fired a manager during the season. The O's got trounced in each of the first two games of their early-season series against the Yankees, then beat New York in the finale Thursday night.

Wednesday night's 14-7 defeat was the ninth straight regular season loss by the Orioles at Yankee Stadium, a dubious streak that dates back to the final series in New York in 1997. And if there's anything Angelos hates more than losing, it's losing to George Steinbrenner's Yankees.

It was the desire to unseat the Yankees that prompted Angelos to make a deal with the devil -- signing Albert Belle to a $65 million contract. Now, it appears that all Albert is good for is making a miserable clubhouse even more miserable.

CUBBIES WOES: For those counting, the Cubs are now missing three starting pitchers -- Kevin Tapani, Kerry Wood and Jeremi Gonzalez. It's a good thing they traded Brant Brown for Jon Lieber, who has two of their three victories this season.

Tapani took himself out of Monday's home opener after three innings because his right shoulder was stiff. He said he hurt himself on a check swing at the plate last Wednesday in Houston. He will miss at least one turn, but the injury is not yet considered serious enough to put him on the disabled list.

"It started out like a dream-like day," Tapani said of the home opener against Cincinnati. "And it turned into a bad dream." How bad would it be for the Cubs if Tapani's injury turned out to be serious.

"It would be catastrophic," Mark Grace said. "It would be another horse of ours down. Let's hope for good news."

NOMO TRIALS: If Tapani is forced on the DL, the Cubs could be glad they signed Hideo Nomo to a minor league contract. He pitched decently in the first of three scheduled starts at Class AAA Iowa, giving up three earned runs on six hits in five innings last Sunday at Salt Lake City. He retired nine of the last 10 hitters he faced after a slow start.

"As far as making this step toward the major leagues, of course I'm grateful to the Cubs for giving me a chance to get back," Nomo said through an interpreter. "The main thought I had stepping onto the mound was just being really conscious of my control and trying to get the ball in the strike zone."

If the Cubs don't add him to the 25-man roster after his third minor-league start he will be free to sign elsewhere.

BIG BITE: Are the Sox getting close to finally eating the $10 million they still owe Jaime Navarro? It could be. Navarro, an anchor dragging down his teammates the last two seasons, turned in a typically bad performance in his 1999 debut. Afterward, while vowing to remain patient, manager Jerry Manuel may have slipped in a hint about Navarro's future.

"As long as Jaime is here, he's going to be a starting pitcher," Manuel said. "I really don't see him helping us in the bullpen at any point."

Navarro is 17-31 in his two-plus seasons with the White Sox, but those numbers are misleading. He really hasn't pitched that good. Navarro spent about six weeks in the bullpen last year, getting shipped out when he was 8-14 on Aug. 15. But if the bullpen isn't an option this time, then what?

GOOD DEAL: The Reds aren't going to brag about it, but privately, they believe they got the best of the trade that sent slugging first baseman Paul Konerko to the White Sox last November for center fielder Mike Cameron.

Cameron hasn't quite established consistency yet. And he's far from an ideal performer in the leadoff spot he occupies, striking out too much and not bunting or walking enough. But he's hitting .292 with three homers while playing a fairly slick center field, despite losing a ball in the sun on Monday at Wrigley Field. That same day, he celebrated his return to Chicago by belting two homers, which left him glowing.

SUNSHINE KID: The Twins have had better days than they had on Wednesday, when club president Jerry Bell and assistant general manager Bill Smith spent time attempting to piece together details from Joe McIlvaine's arrest on a Florida beach for indecent exposure.

McIlvaine, special assistant to general manager Terry Ryan, was arrested for lying nude on a public beach in Jensen Beach, Fla. According to reports, McIlvaine was lying naked on his stomach on what he thought was a private beach.

"We're continuing to look into the matter," Bell said. "I haven't talked to (McIlvaine). Billy talked to him this morning. We want Terry to talk with him. We'll take whatever action is appropriate."

Asked what action would be appropriate in this matter, Bell replied: "I don't know what the right thing to do is, if anything, until Terry talks to him."

Ryan, who is in Japan to visit Yoshi Okamoto, the Twins' scout in Japan, had not yet spoken to McIlvaine. A former general manager for both the San Diego Padres and New York Mets, McIlvaine, 51, was hired by the Twins before the 1998 season after being let go by the Mets.

McIlvaine was released Monday from the Martin County, Fla., jail on a $1,000 bond.