Originally created 05/08/00

Montreal outfielder gets better with age

Vladimir Guerrero turned down a reporter's request for a pre-game interview Sunday because he wanted to take extra batting practice.

Extra batting practice?

What next? Extra teeth for Julia Roberts? Extra dessert for Rick Majerus? Extra floors for the Empire State Building?

If anyone earned the right to skip extra hitting on the final day of an 11-day, three-city trip, it was him.

Through Monday, the Expos' right fielder is the National League leader in batting (.407) and RBI (32, tied with two others), not to mention ranking third in hits (44) and fourth in slugging (.750). He also has nine home runs, two off the league lead.

But it's not Guerrero's style to slack off. He didn't become one of the game's best players at the age of 24 merely by punching the clock.

"He's one of the first ones out there every day," Expos first baseman Lee Stevens said. "With the work ethic he has at 24, it's going to be scary what he can do."

It's already frightening for pitchers unable to find a consistent way to get Guerrero out. Because he swings at practically everything within reach of his long, powerful arms, the Dominican Republic native is almost impossible to pitch around short of an intentional walk (Guerrero leads the NL in that category, also).

Free swingers who hit for power -- Guerrero hit 80 homers in the previous two seasons -- usually don't hit for a high average, also. That ability, plus his powerful arm and long gait in the outfield, set Guerrero apart from almost every other player in the game.

"I'd be surprised if he doesn't hit .350 or .360 with 50 homers and 140 RBI," said Rondell White, who gets better pitches to hit with every game because Guerrero awaits on deck.

The Colorado Rockies got a dose of that fierce determination on April 26 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. With the score tied, 1-1, and a man on second base with two down in the sixth inning, the Rockies' Kevin Jarvis smoked Guerrero on the right wrist with a high, inside fastball.

Because Colorado manager Buddy Bell visited the mound before the at-bat, Guerrero and his teammates were skeptical of Jarvis' intent. When Guerrero hit two innings later, he crushed a home run to center off reliever Julian Tavarez.

"Sometimes a pitcher will jam him inside and then the next pitch, he hits it 500 feet," Expos manager Felipe Alou said. "If you're going to pitch him inside, you better make sure he's not looking for it.

"He's the most dangerous late-inning hitter I've ever seen. And he doesn't wear down late in the season. He takes care of himself. All of his energy is for the game."


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