NEW YORK - Only in the Big Apple could the size of Gary Sheffield's elbow pad cause an uproar.
At the insistence of New York Mets general manager Steve Phillips, major league baseball officials measured Sheffield's pad following Wednesday night's game and found it was four inches too long.
"It's no big deal to me," he said. "If they want to get me another elbow pad, I'll wear it."
Case closed? Oh, no, not here in tabloid heaven. "Elbowpadgate" just wouldn't go away. Word leaked out that the Atlanta Braves would be fined for Sheffield's transgression. That, in turn, prompted a response from Braves GM John Schuerholz.
"It sounds like it's an issue for the Mets, but it's not an issue for us," said Schuerholz, who served on the general manager's rules committee that attempted unsuccessfully to ban all body armor. "It's a more important issue to Steve Phillips."
Growled manager Bobby Cox: "We came to play baseball, not nitpick."
Apparently the Mets noticed Sheffield's elbow pad on advance scouting videos and alerted the commissioner's office. Confronted with major-league baseball's measurement Thursday, Sheffield pleaded innocent, saying he has worn an elbow pad since 1996, at the Florida Marlins' insistence, and that his pad conforms with major league rules.
"It's the legal size," said Sheffield, who said he has cut off part of the pad and straps to make it more comfortable. "It appears bigger, but it isn't. They can take me out of the batter's box and measure it."
Phillips denied his intention was to harass Sheffield or anger him. But he said players who wear armor might gain an advantage.
"A rule is a rule and there has to be some accountability," he said. "I'm not trying to (anger) him. I don't think in any way, shape or form it helped him hit a home run. But part of the game is the mental aspect and that's as important as the physical. If guys gain additional confidence at the plate, then maybe that helps."
Sheffield prefers not wearing a pad, but was hit so often on his elbow, the Marlins became concerned about the number of games he was missing and introduced the pad. Now he says he regards it as protection against pitchers who intentionally work inside, hoping to knock him out of the lineup.
"They're paying us a lot of money to play, and a lot of times pitchers will hit you to get you out of games," Sheffield said. "I don't think we have an advantage by wearing a guard on our arms. It's a matter of missing games, it's not a matter of whether it hurts when you're hit. It's a tough area to get hit, so if you can avoid it, you don't have to worry about it."
LOPEZ PLACED ON DL: The enigma that is Albie Lopez is out of the pitching picture, for now.
The $4 million right-hander was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Thursday with what's being described as tendinitis in his right shoulder, and sent back to Atlanta for an MRI today. Reliever Tim Spooneybarger, who opened the season with the Braves and had a 3.50 ERA in 19 games before being sent to Richmond on May 10, was recalled.
Spooneybarger, 22, says he regained his confidence, and his numbers at Richmond - 1-0, 0.90 ERA, 11 saves, and 21 strikeouts in 20 innings - reflects his improved mental state.
"When I went into a game (at Richmond), I knew those guys weren't going to hit me," he said. "I wasn't thinking about mechanics. I got to sit back and put together everything that everybody was telling me up here."
Spooneybarger fell into the trap that many young pitchers can't escape when they first arrive in the big leagues. He thought he had to be even better to get major-league hitters out, instead of using the same approach and pitches that worked so well at Richmond. The result? He started trying to paint the corners with pitches, instead of allowing the natural movement of his pitches to get hitters out.
"I had to go down and pitch and prove I can be effective," he said. "I think I'll do a little better this time."
INJURY REPORT: Center fielder Andruw Jones came out of Wednesday's game after injuring his left shoulder on the wall while chasing Jay Payton's second-inning home run. But he was in Thursday's lineup with nothing more serious than a bruised biceps.
"Last night the nerve was irritated and it hurt, but today when I woke up it wasn't hurting," he said. "It's nothing major." ... Shortstop Mark DeRosa and second baseman Marcus Giles will start rehab assignments with Class AAA Richmond today. DeRosa has been sidelined since last month by ankle surgery, while Giles has been out with a sprained ankle.
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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