A Look at the National League West

We check out the National League West clubs as teams take three days off for the Mid-Summer Classic. Dodger second baseman Jeff Kent will start for the National League and shortstop Cesar Izturis, chosen to the squad, will not play due to a pulled hamstring. First baseman Hee-Seop Choi will prepresent South Korea in the Home Run Derby.

National League West clubs examined as teams take three days off for the Mid-Summer Classic. Dodger second baseman Jeff Kent will start for the National League and shortstop Cesar Izturis, chosen to the squad, will not play due to a pulled hamstring. First baseman Hee-Seop Choi will prepresent South Korea in the Home Run Derby.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

INSIDE PITCH Here's the Padres' goal for their final three games of the first half in Denver.
Don't get hurt.
San Diego should finish the first half of the season atop the staggering National League West. But that's not their biggest concern as they approach the All-Star break.
"Sooner or later, we're going to be healthy," said manager Bruce Bochy. The soonest that appears possible is after the break.
Half-jokingly, Bochy said earlier this week that 2B Mark Loretta "might be the first guy returning" from a disabled list that includes 1B Phil Nevin (strained left oblique), C Ramon Hernandez (sprained left wrist) and RHP Adam Eaton (strained flexor tendon in his right middle finger).
Loretta has been on the 60-day disabled list following surgery to repair a tendon tear in his left thumb. He is not eligible to return until July 19. But only one other player is expected back before then.
Hernandez might return to the Padres starting lineup Friday night in Colorado. But Nevin and Eaton will both be held out through the All-Star break. The Padres will end the first half of the season with either LHP Dennys Reyes or RHP Pedro Astacio starting Sunday's game at Coors Field.
Said Nevin: "I doubt I'll be playing before the break. It wouldn't really make sense."

NOTES & QUOTES

--RHP Jake Peavy made his start Wednesday despite a sore throat but didn't pitch well. He gave up five runs and 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings and took the loss.
Peavy's wife, Katie, and their two young children were ill in San Diego with strep throat -- a highly contagious disease, so Peavy was sent back to the hotel Tuesday.
"He feels good other than the sore throat," Padres trainer Todd Hutcheson said of Peavy.
Peavy came down with an upper respiratory infection on June 1 and had his next start pushed back two days. The lingering effects of the illness affected his next two starts.
--The Padres stirred their mix Friday when they traded struggling back-of-the-rotation starters Darrell May and Tim Redding to the New York Yankees for 36-year-old workhorse reliever Paul Quantrill.
The Padres immediately activated utilityman Eric Young from the 60-day disabled list and recalled right-handed reliever Brian Falkenborg from Triple-A Portland.
Despite the reinforcements, the Padres were still missing first baseman Phil Nevin, second baseman Mark Loretta, catcher Ramon Hernandez and right-hander Adam Eaton.
"We're going to be getting healthy soon," manager Bruce Bochy said on Friday.
But no sooner had he completed the sentence than he was called back into the training room to learn the returns of both Eaton (strained flexor tendon, right middle finger) and Hernandez (sprained right wrist) had been pushed back and both would need a cortisone injection (Hernandez for a second time).
The Padres are hoping to Eaton, who had nine wins when he went on the disabled list June 15, will make one start before the All-Star break and that Hernandez, too, will return before the break.
The best news the Padres had last week regarded Young and Loretta, who has started taking batting practice with his surgically repaired thumb and could return in late July rather than the originally projected Aug. 1. Loretta has been on the 60-day disabled list since May 24.
The two-for-one trade with the Yankees was not exactly the "blockbuster" that some aficionados anticipated. Clearly, this was a trade where both teams rid themselves of disappointment.
Between them, May and Redding were 1-8 in 14 starts, mostly out of the No. 5 spot in the Padres rotation. The left-handed May was 1-3 with a 6.69 ERA in eight starts. The right-handed Redding was 0-5 with a 8.94 ERA in six starts.
Quantrill, 36, was designated for assignment by the Yankees the day before his trade to the Padres. The right-hander was 1-0 with a 6.75 ERA in 22 games. He had given up 48 hits, including five homers, in 32 innings. Opponents have hit .383 against Quantrill this season.
But the Padres believe Quantrill is more useful to them in long relief than May or Redding, both of whom had failed in their starting assignment. Even though the Padres sent cash to the Yankees to complete the transaction, they lopped around $190,000 from their payroll.
--RF Brian Giles is 14-for-26 in a seven-game hitting streak with five doubles, 1 triple, six RBIs and five runs scored plus three walks.
--With RHP Adam Eaton still on the disabled list, LHP Dennys Reyes made his first start since July 7, 2004, on Tuesday. He allowed four runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings. But as pitching coach Darren Balsley so eloquently said: "That line is not close to being indicative of how Dennys threw." Reyes did serve up a solo homer to Craig Biggio. But the first run charged to him scored on a questionable call at first. And the last two scored on a three-run homer served up by Brian Falkenborg to Jason Lane.
--Although the Padres were only 12-20 from June 1 through Tuesday, they padded their NL West lead by 1 1/2 games over Arizona (11-22) and lost only one game to the 13-19 Dodgers.
--RHP Brian Lawrence has struggled at the end of his last four starts, costing the Padres at least one win and maybe two. Over the first 27 innings in his last four starts, Lawrence has allowed only two runs. In the last four innings that he worked in those games, he has allowed eight runs in a total of 1 2/3 innings. The Padres were tied 1-1 with Houston in the bottom of the seventh Monday when he served up a three-run homer to Craig Biggio, resulting in a 4-1 Padres loss.
--Although RHP Roy Oswalt started for Houston on Monday, left-handed-hitting 3B Sean Burroughs was on the Padres bench again. "We're going with the hot bat," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said, explaining the reason behind starting former Astro Geoff Blum, who was 3-for-7 with three doubles and three RBI over the previous two games.
--3B Sean Burroughs has been a disappointment -- particularly his lack of power and far-below-average run production -- and now the former first-round draft pick is feeling pressure from a number of angles. Padres general manager Kevin Towers last week strongly hinted that perhaps Xavier Nady should be the Padres third baseman. And Mark Loretta is scheduled to come off the disabled list shortly after the All-Star break. Loretta is a two-time Padres MVP at second, but he can play third. And Eric Young will probably be restricted to playing second until his arm improves, perhaps not before the end of the season.
--OF Ben Johnson made his first major league start Saturday night and got his first hit -- a two-run double -- off the Giants' Jeff Fassero.
--RHP Tim Stauffer picked up his first win in nine starts Sunday.
--RHP Woody Williams is 2-0 in last three starts with 3.20 ERA. He has walked only three batters in his last 33 2/3 innings.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0.77 -- Akinori Otsuka's career ERA against the Giants. 3.22 -- Woody Williams' ERA at Petco Park this season. 8 -- Consecutive game with a hit (10-for-31 with a double, triple, four homers and 10 RBI) for Xavier Nady, a streak that ended Sunday when he went 0-for-1 as a late-inning defensive replacement in left for Ryan Klesko. 2.23 -- Trevor Hoffman's ERA in save situations.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was nervous every at-bat. I just tried to take a couple of deep breaths and let fly." -- OF Ben Johnson, 24, on his feelings in his first major league start, highlighted by a two-run double for his first major league hit.

MEDICAL REPORT
1B Phil Nevin, left oblique, 15-day DL.
RHP Adam Eaton, finger, 15-day DL.
C Ramon Hernandez, wrist, 15-day DL.
2B Mark Loretta, torn ligament in left thumb, 15-day DL.
RHP Tim Redding, strained shoulder, 15-day DL.
CF Freddy Guzman will miss the entire season following elbow reconstruction surgery April 28.


ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

INSIDE PITCH
With the Cincinnati Reds heading to town this weekend, the Diamondbacks couldn't ask for a better time to face one of the National League's worst teams.
The Diamondbacks have lost three straight to the St. Louis Cardinals this week and seven of nine games overall.
But a visit from the lowly Reds is no guaranteed panacea. Last week, the Diamondbacks were swept by a nosediving San Francisco Giants team. And last month, they dropped two of three at home to the Kansas City Royals.
If the picture gets much more bleak for the Diamondbacks -- or if the NL West-leading San Diego Padres ever string together some victories to pull away in the division -- team management might have some decisions to make.
General manager Joe Garagiola Jr. has said he's always looking for bullpen help, but if his team continues to struggle, he may go from a buyer to a seller.
During last season's 111-loss campaign, Garagiola didn't hesitate to pare salary and stockpile his farm system. In the second half last year, the Diamondbacks dealt center fielder Steve Finley and second baseman Roberto Alomar.

NOTES & QUOTES
--The Diamondbacks made yet another change to their bullpen, designating struggling left-hander Javier Lopez for assignment and purchasing the contract of lefty Armando Almanza from Triple-A Tucson.
Almanza is the third pitcher this season to take over as the left-handed specialist, a job neither Randy Choate nor Lopez could hold down.
Lopez had a 9.42 ERA in 29 appearances with the Diamondbacks, who claimed him off waivers from Colorado on April 14.
Choate's numbers weren't much better, as he had a 9.00 ERA in seven innings before he was designated for assignment on May 4.
Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin said Almanza is capable of pitching against both lefties and righties.
In 15 appearances with Tucson, Almanza had a 1.80 ERA and held lefties to a .158 average. Righties hit .250 against him.
Almanza said his fastball has gained velocity since he was optioned to the minors by Atlanta last season. He said he's throwing in the mid-to-low 90s after dropping off to the high-80s following elbow surgery in 2003.
--Cardinals manager Tony La Russa appreciates Craig Counsell's value as a player. La Russa made that much clear on Monday, one day after he couldn't find a spot on the National League All-Star team for the Diamondbacks second baseman.
"We tried to sign him," La Russa said before Monday's game. "But he came here. We have a lot of respect for him."
La Russa said he called Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin to let him know Counsell was among the "final cut" of players left off the National League team, which La Russa will manage next Tuesday in Detroit.
"He was in the group there at the end that was getting serious consideration," La Russa said.
Counsell said he didn't feel slighted in the least.
"There are a lot of great players," he said. "It's not an insult not to be there. If you're considered for the All-Star team, you're doing a pretty good job."
--Both Shawn Green and Jose Cruz Jr. said there was nothing going on in the sixth inning of Monday's game against St. Louis, when Cardinals pitcher Matt Morris accused the two of stealing signs.
"Maybe they were looking for something and thought they saw something," Cruz said.
--The Diamondbacks are close to bringing three more draft picks into the fold. Third-round pick Jason Neighborgall, a right-hander out of Georgia Tech, signed Tuesday. He has been assigned to rookie-level Missoula, where he'll work with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. to sort out mechanical issues.
Also coming to terms were third-rounder Micah Owings, a pitcher out of Tulane, and 17th-round pick Jason Urquidez, a pitcher out of Arizona State.
Owings will report to High-A Lancaster, Urquidez to short-season Yakima.
--After three straight impressive starts -- including back-to-back complete games -- starter Shawn Estes has struggled against the Giants and Cardinals. He allowed eight runs (seven earned) vs. the Giants on June 30 and allowed six more runs in 6 1/3 innings on Tuesday night against St. Louis. In those two starts, his ERA has gone from 3.75 to 4.56.
--Arizona signed minor league free agent Vladimir Nunez, a name that might sound familiar to Diamondbacks fans. Nunez was one of the first players to sign with the Diamondbacks franchise when he inked a contract on Feb. 1, 1996. He was dealt to Florida in 1999 in the Matt Mantei deal.
--RHP Brandon Lyon continued his recovery from a right elbow strain by throwing his second bullpen session Monday. No problems were reported.
--3B Troy Glaus will receive yet another cortisone injection behind his nagging left knee during the All-Star break, manager Bob Melvin said. Glaus has had two injections already, and the team's medical staff believes the three-day All-Star break could provide enough of a respite for him to recover further. "It's hard to heal if you only have short periods of time," team physician Michael Lee said. "I think (the All-Star break) is going to be our best period of time to really (treat it)."
--Glaus connected on his 200th career home run in the eighth inning of Monday's 10-3 loss to the Cardinals. It was the 18th of the season for Glaus, who hadn't homered in 11 days.
--RF Shawn Green had three more hits Monday, making him 9 for his past 20. Green was hitting .257 with four homers through 56 games. Now, he's batting .286 with 14 home runs.
--RHP Greg Aquino, who hadn't allowed a run in his past seven appearances, was tagged for four runs in one-third of an inning Monday. Aquino's ERA further swelled, from 9.00 to 12.96.
--LF Luis Gonzalez, having another all-around solid season, will be the Diamondbacks' lone representative in the All-Star Game in Detroit next week. Manager Bob Melvin had campaigned for second baseman Craig Counsell. Gonzalez is batting .300 with 11 homers and 50 RBIs.
--RHP Jose Valverde returned to the team Sunday and worked 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Valverde was away for two days following the funeral of a favorite uncle in New York.
--The Diamondbacks wore their batting practice jerseys -- the ones with the snake-shaped "D" on the chest -- on Saturday and Sunday and scored a combined 17 runs in two games. Their normal road jerseys have a turquoise "A".
It was Gonzalez's idea.
"To just kind of switch things up," he said.

BY THE NUMBERS: .219 -- Diamondbacks' batting average with runners in scoring position and two out entering the series vs. Los Angeles. On Sunday, however, they scored eight runs with two out.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Part of my plan is to pitch aggressively inside. ... I'm not going out there trying to hit anybody, but I think that is going to happen when it is part of your game plan." -- LHP Brad Halsey, who hit three batters on Sunday, speaking before learning that one his pitches broke the wrist of Dodgers outfielder J.D. Drew.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

INSIDE PITCH
This is what it has come to for the depleted Dodgers.
With Jeff Kent sidelined by a hamstring strain, the Dodgers started a position-player lineup Wednesday that included three rookies and just two players with more than two years of major-league service time. Jason Phillips just edged out Hee-Seop Choi for seniority with a little more than two years and one month in the big leagues.
Choi, on the other hand, had the distinction of going from being benched for most of the previous week -- to batting cleanup in Kent's absence.
"It's one of the more interesting ones I've written out over the course of the past five years," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said of the lineup necessity had invented.
The Dodgers are staggering towards the All-Star break with eight players on the disabled list -- J.D. Drew, Cesar Izturis, Eric Gagne, Wilson Alvarez, Paul Bako, Milton Bradley, Jose Valentin and Darren Dreifort.
"All we can do is continue to come to the ballpark every day and deal with the circumstances and situations as they present themselves," a beleaguered Tracy said. "This is what we have so this is what we work with today."

NOTES & QUOTES
--SS Cesar Izturis was obviously in pain. But it had less to do with his strained hamstring than the realization that the injury will cause him to miss his first All-Star Game.
Izturis had not played since June 29 and was showing little progress in his recovery. So the Dodgers placed him on the 15-day disabled list, clearing a roster spot for LHP Odalis Perez to come off the DL and start against the Colorado Rockies.
Izturis will be eligible to come off the DL on July 12 but he won't play in the week's All-Star Game, a disappointment following his selection for the first time.
"It is. It is," Izturis said. "Wow, my first time in the All-Star Game. But there's nothing you can do."
Izturis said he would probably attend next week's even in Detroit nonetheless and be in uniform to "tip my hat when they call my name" during pre-game introductions.
Izturis is the 15th Dodger player to go on the disabled list this season and the ninth currently on the DL.
--Appropriately enough on Independence Day, the Dodgers' victory Monday night came courtesy of someone who is just happy to be in America.
Infielder Oscar Robles' contract was purchased from his Mexican League club in May, and he wasn't sure he wouldn't be shipped back until the Dodgers spent another $200,000 on June 27 to buy his contract for the remainder of the season.
Now pressed into duty as a substitute for injured All-Star Cesar Izturis, Robles had five hits Monday against the Colorado Rockies, including the RBI single in the 11th inning that gave the Dodgers a 4-3 victory.
"He's done a terrific job in place of Cesar Izturis," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said. "He's got a pretty damn good idea of how to be a leadoff hitter."
"The big thing is when they announced they bought my contract for the whole year. I'm more relaxed than when I was thinking I might go back (to the Mexican League)," Robles said. "Now I'm just trying to have fun and do my best to replace one of the best shortstops in the game."
--The Dodgers' injury woes continue to mount. 2B Jeff Kent left Tuesday's game after five innings with a slight strain of his left hamstring. Kent said his legs had felt "fatigued" over the past couple days. His status will be re-evaluated Wednesday, but he is not likely to play. "I'm hoping I caught it prior to doing any real damage," Kent said.
--LHP Wilson Alvarez gave up a single and struck out two batters in one inning for the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s Tuesday. It was the first appearance on a minor-league injury-rehabilitation assignment for Alvarez, who is currently on the disabled list with an impingement in his left shoulder. Alvarez has been on the DL twice this season with shoulder problems.
--LHP Odalis Perez gave up four runs on eight hits in five innings Tuesday, his first start since May 14 due to a sore left shoulder. Perez took the loss in the Dodgers' 6-1 defeat by the Colorado Rockies. "I thought Odalis did okay," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said. "If you bring back one pitch that J.D. Closser hit for a (three-run) home run, he would have gone five innings with one run. But he left a changeup out over the plate."
--OF J.D. Drew will not need season-ending surgery on his fractured left wrist. But he will miss a minimum of eight weeks. Drew was examined in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Multiple tests on his wrist convinced doctors that the fracture will be able to heal on its own without surgery. Drew's wrist was placed in a cast and he will be re-examined in two weeks to monitor the healing process.
--The Dodgers set their rotation following the All-Star break and will start Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Odalis Perez and Jeff Weaver in a four-game series at Dodger Stadium against the San Francisco Giants. An off day follows that series and Houlton will be skipped until the following weekend.
--OF Chin-Feng Chen was promoted from Triple-A. Chen was batting .287 with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs in 61 games for the Las Vegas 51s (including a .322 average since the end of May). This is Chen's sixth call-up by the Dodgers, and he finally got his first major-league hit -- a two-run, pinch-hit single in the seventh inning Monday.
--The Dodgers started a Jason-heavy lineup Monday, including an all-Jason outfield. Left fielder Jayson Werth, right fielder Jason Grabowski, catcher Jason Phillips and center fielder Jason Repko batted consecutively in the fifth through eighth spots in the Dodgers' lineup.
--LHP Greg Miller was the Dodgers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2003 and considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. But he experienced shoulder pain in August of that year and had his season cut short. Miller, 20, finally returned to the mound in game action for the first time since August 18, 2003, last week when he pitched two innings for the Dodgers' team in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Miller had two shoulder surgeries since spring training of 2004.

BY THE NUMBERS: 26-41 -- Dodgers' record since they started the season with 12 wins in their first 14 games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I hate that (expletive) place." -- LHP Odalis Perez on making his return from the disabled list Tuesday at Coors Field.

MEDICAL WATCH
CF J.D. Drew, broken left wrist, 15-day DL.
RHP Eric Gagne, elbow, 15-day DL.
CF Milton Bradley, finger, 15-day DL.
LHP Wilson Alvarez, left shoulder, 15-day DL.
C Paul Bako, sprained left knee, 15-day DL.
LHP Kelly Wunsch, sprained ankle while warming up in the bullpen; season-ending surgery a porbability.
3B Jose Valentin, partial tears of the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments and a less serious tear to the anterior cruciate ligament, 60-day DL.
RHP Darren Dreifort (recovering from knee, hip and shoulder surgeries) will not pitch in 2005, career in doubt.

COLORADO ROCKIES

INSIDE PITCH
The Rockies are using the weekend as a chance to get their pitching lined up for the post-All-Star portion of the schedule.
With Shawn Chacon coming off the disabled list on Wednesday, the Rockies wound up with six starters for the final six games. As a result, manager Clint Hurdle pushed Jason Jennings back to Saturday's game against San Diego at Coors Field and then will use left-handed rookie Jeff Francis in the pre-All-Star finale on Sunday.
That sets up Jennings to start the first game back after the break, July 15 at Cincinnati, and Francis the next day.
The Padres will be making their first visit to Coors Field since the first two games of the season, which they split with the Rockies. The Rockies were then swept in a three-game series in their early season visit to San Diego. Jennings and Francis have certainly shown an ability to win at Coors Field. The Rockies have won 63 percent of the games Jennings has started at Coors Field in his career, and 53 percent of the other games since he arrived on the scene. Francis, meanwhile, is 8-1 in his career at Coors Field.
Jamey Wright will start the Padres series opener, and he has plenty at stake. The Rockies are going to have to move somebody out of the rotation after the All-Star Break. Manager Clint Hurdle has announced that Jennings and Francis will start those two games in Cincinnati, and he has said that Byung-hyun Kim has to start because he was so horrible in relief. That means Wright, Chacon or lefty Joe Kennedy will be the odd man out.

NOTES & QUOTES
--LHP Jeff Francis is on a roll. He won his third start in a row in a 6-1 victory against Los Angeles at Coors Field on Tuesday, working 7 1/3 innings in which he was charged with only one run despite giving up 12 hits. That came on the heels of a six shutout innings at St. Louis on Friday in a combined shutout of the team with the best record in the National League.
There's still no gushing and gawking from the low-pulse Francis, but there is a definite confidence building.
"I was always confident, but I remember telling myself after the St. Louis game to not forget how that felt," said Francis. "That I had beaten one of the best teams in baseball. ... Maybe (the confidence) has gotten a boost in the last week or so."
The Rockies certainly have a feeling of confidence when Francis takes the mound. He's now 8-5 for a team that has only 29 wins in 82 games, and has improved his all-time record at Coors Field to 8-1 in nine career starts, following up a seven-inning, two-run effort against Kansas City on June 25 with the first victory of his career against the Dodgers.
He may rarely touch 90, but he does at times overpower hitters. He struck out 25 batters in 26 1/3 innings his last four starts, walking only five.
"Guys aren't getting good looks at his fastball," said first baseman Todd Helton. "It may be 88 (miles per hour), but he doesn't miss. He puts that things where he wants to put it. Any good pitcher, when he's in a hitter's count, still feels in command. The guys who get hit are the ones who have to throw it down the middle."
--RHP Jay Witasick has been so good for so long, he was due for a misstep. Make that a misstep or two.
After giving up a run in the ninth Sunday in St. Louis and suffering the loss, Witaskick stumbled in the 11th on Monday as the Rockies fell 4-3 to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Lured by a post-game fireworks display, the largest crowd of the season, 48,538, witnessed the first extra-inning game at Coors Field this year. The fans also saw Oscar Robles, who began the season playing in Mexico and is one of several call-ups on a Dodgers team ravaged by injuries, go 5-for-6.
Robles' final hit was a game-winning, two-out single on Witasick's 0-1 pitch. That hit scored Jason Grabowski, who led off with a single after Witasick got ahead of him 0-2.
Witasick said the slider to Grabowski and sinker to Robles were good pitches. But putting the leadoff batter on, which Witasick did with a walk Sunday, does have consequences.
"The later (in) the game, the higher percentage that run's going to score, when that leadoff runner gets on," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's just an absolute."
Reliever Dan Miceli was unavailable after pitching in four of the previous five games. Witasick has had a similar workload, but before the game he indicated he could pitch.
Using him became necessary when the game dragged into the 11th and the seventh inning -- normally the province of Miceli -- was botched by David Cortes and Bobby Seay.
The loss left the Rockies 28-53, matching their worst record after 81 games. They were also 28-53 in their expansion 1993 season.
Cortes loaded the bases with no out, putting Seay in a difficult spot. His blown save was the 15th of the year for the Rockies but first since June 15. That night, in an 11-inning loss at Cleveland, LHP Brian Fuentes gave up a homer in the ninth to blow his only save since becoming the Rockies closer. That was the only time this year before Monday that Fuentes pitched two innings.
--Witasick is the first Rockies pitcher to lose consecutive games since Todd Jones on Aug. 26-27, 2002, against San Francisco.
--LHP Brian Fuentes making the All-Star team is a Hollywood-type story. Fuentes was cut from his high school baseball team in Merced, Calif., as a junior. He red-shirted his freshman year at Merced College. The left-hander was in his seventh year in pro ball before he got a legitimate shot in the big leagues.
"I've always had to prove myself, but I have welcomed the challenge," Fuentes said.
Fuentes is the third Rockies pitcher (Mike Hampton in 2001 and Shawn Chacon in 2003) ever selected to participate in the All-Star Game, but the first Rockies reliever.
Todd Helton failed to make it for the first time in six years, but that isn't a surprise to him. He was hitting an unHelton-like .269 when the team was announced. He has been below .300 at the All-Star break only twice -- his first two years in the big leagues. He was hitting .273 at the break in 1998 and .297 in 1999.
"There's no surprise," Helton said of not being on the team. "I'm happy for Brian. He deserves to go. He's earned this." Fuentes does have a funky delivery, somewhere between submarine and sidearm, but he will touch the low 90s with his fastball.
"I was told to throw the ball like I was skipping rocks on water," he said of how he learned his current delivery.
He sneaked into the closer job out of necessity this season. The Rockies had planned on having Chin-hui Tsao fill that role, but Tsao required surgery on his right labrum and was lost for the season in mid-May.
Since assuming the ninth-inning role, Fuentes has flourished. He converted 10 of 11 save opportunities, joining Bruce Ruffin as the only lefties in franchise history to have at least 10 saves. And on the day the All-Star team was announced, left-handed hitters had a .146 average against him, as expected, but right-handed hitters were only hitting .239. In his last 29 games, he has a 1.98 ERA.
"He's not funky, he's nasty," said Cardinals right fielder Larry Walker, a Rockies teammate of Fuentes until being dealt to St. Louis last August. "He's not a specialist. He can get anybody, I mean anybody, out. Lots of guys have talent and ability. It's a matter of figuring out how to use that talent and ability, and he has figured it out."
--1B Todd Helton said he was sure when he reflects back at some point the home run will be significant, but when he hit No. 258, equaling the club record set by Larry Walker, in Tuesday's 6-1 victory against Los Angeles, Helton wasn't overjoyed. It is, after all, the first week of July, and he is only hitting .276. He has had 286 at-bats, and has hit only seven home runs. "It should have been a long time ago," Helton said of No. 258.
--3B Garrett Atkins opened the season on the disabled list and struggled when he was first activated. However, he is on a roll now. Tuesday, he was selected the National League Rookie of the Month for June, when he hit .364 and drove in 26 RBI.
"I've swung the bat well, and this is definitely the best I've felt in the big leagues so far," Atkins said. "Hopefully I can build on that month and build some confidence and finish strong the rest of the year. There is a long ways to go."
--OF Matt Holliday, who has not played since June 8 because of a broken pinkie finger on his right hand, has been cleared to play catch and hit off a tee. Hurdle said he hopes to see Holliday hitting out of a batting cage before the All-Star break.
--C Todd Greene, who is on the disabled list because of a strained right hamstring, has been shut down from participating in any baseball drills after he was forced to cut short a ball-blocking drill on Monday. It is the second at Class AAA Colorado Springs due to continued cramps in his

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

INSIDE PITCH
Moises Alou might have gotten his last break for a while.
Alou had started 50 straight games before he finally found his name out of the lineup Wednesday.
During the streak, he turned 39, and he has been the one constant in the lineup as manager Felipe Alou regularly uses different batting orders and different outfield arrangements.
Felipe had said over the weekend that Moises would sit Monday. He played anyway. And again Tuesday. Wednesday, he had a pinch-hitting appearance. It was his first break since mid-May.
"It's good timing," Moises said. "My calf got a little tight ... I could use a rest."
He added with a smile, "I know my dad, it's only after an 0-for-4 night."
The Giants have four more games before the All-Star break, including three against the Cardinals, and Moises likely will be in the lineup every day.
From there, it's on to Detroit and the All-Star Game. He's the Giants' only All-Star representative and plans to accompany his dad, who was selected as an All-Star coach, on a flight to Detroit after Sunday night's game.

NOTES & QUOTES
--LHP Noah Lowry was 6-0 last year. This year, he's 5-8.
What's the difference?
It seems hitters have caught up with his changeup.
"The day will come when in certain situations he'll come with the fastball and not the changeup all the time," manager Felipe Alou said.
Lowry relied heavily on his changeup Tuesday in the Giants' 7-4 loss to the Reds. Adam Dunn hit a two-run homer in the second inning, and the 10-pitch at-bat was capped by three straight changeups, the third of which Dunn hit over the right-field wall.
"I threw him one, and I didn't think he'd be looking for it the next time. Then I figured no way he'd be looking for it the third time," Lowry said. "I needed to make a better pitch, and I didn't do it. I should've gone with the fastball there or a slider."
Lowry didn't brush off any signs by catcher Mike Matheny. He said they were on the same page. He also admitted he must start relying on his fastball more, as he did last year, when the pitch complemented the changeup.
--The Giants are hoping to get healthier after the All-Star break.
They activated one player from the DL Monday, setup man LaTroy Hawkins, and are awaiting returns in the near future of center fielder Marquis Grissom and third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo.
Barry Bonds is another story. Bonds wasn't around for the homestand opener Monday because he was still in Los Angeles. The Giants say he's working with physical therapist Clive Brewster, who was recommended by team trainer Stan Conte.
Bonds still hasn't started baseball-related activities, and his future remains in doubt.
To make room for Hawkins, the Giants optioned outfielder Todd Linden to Triple-A Fresno. He hit .172 over 17 games, and he was a major disappointment after being told he'd be in the lineup regularly.
With Grissom (left hamstring) expected back soon, Linden's services weren't needed, especially with Michael Tucker and Alex Sanchez on the roster, along with starters Moises Alou and Jason Ellison.
--RHP Jason Schmidt's name has been mentioned in trade rumors, but he wants to remain a Giant.
"I don't want to be traded," he said. "This is the team I want to play with. What are you going to do? I can't control that stuff. I don't enjoy seeing (trade rumors). We've had good teams here. To hear that kind of stuff is definitely disappointing."
Schmidt is 6-4 with a 5.11 ERA in 15 starts. He was a Cy Young Award candidate last year, but this year he has struggled, partly because of a shoulder strain that sidelined him May 10-23.
He has a club option for 2006 at $10.75 million with a $3.75 million buyout. If Schmidt is traded, the Giants must ask themselves if they can find a comparable starter for $7 million, which is what they'd save by not keeping the right-hander.
After Sunday's start in which he lasted only four innings in a 9-6 loss in San Diego, Schmidt said of the rumor mill, "Obviously, it's out there. I'm not going to say it's not a distraction."
The Giants haven't approached Schmidt to let him know he won't be traded. "I just have to assume there has to be some validity to some of this stuff if there are (scouts) in the stands," he said. "Obviously, no one's been told 'no way,' so that's how I look at it."
--1B Lance Niekro hit a two-run home run in the first inning Tuesday, his 10th of the season in his 150th at-bat.
--OF Todd Linden struggled from both sides of the plate before being demoted to Triple-A Fresno Monday. Manager Felipe Alou said Linden needs to improve his stroke from the left side, where he hit .171 with two homers and seven RBIs in 41 at-bats. "We know he has power from the left side and hasn't shown it at the big-league level, but he has in Triple-A," said Alou, who didn't seem concerned with Linden from the right side despite a .176 average (no RBIs) in 17 at-bats.
--LHP Kirk Rueter might lose his job in the rotation. Manager Felipe Alou hinted a decision could be made Wednesday. Rueter, with nine straight winless starts, hasn't won since May 13.
--RHP Armando Benitez, nine weeks after his hamstring surgery, said he expects to pitch this year. The prognosis was that he'd miss four months and wouldn't be back until early September, if at all.
--OF Moises Alou was going to rest Monday, his dad, manager Felipe Alou, said Sunday. After all, he had appeared in 48 straight games and had scrapes on his body (and a bruised cheek) from colliding with the outfield wall to make a catch Sunday. But Monday, he was back in the lineup and went 2-for-4 with two RBI doubles to lift his average to .326.

NOTES
--OF Moises Alou is the Giants' only All-Star.
He'll be the second player in history to represent five teams. The other is Gary Sheffield.
He's hitting .323 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs.
"I feel honored," said Alou, who was picked (on his 39th birthday) over SS Omar Vizquel and C Mike Matheny, the Giants' other candidates. "Everybody wants to go to the All-Star Game. It means a lot to me. My dad managed the All-Star team in '95, and I didn't make it that year because I didn't have a very good first half. This is really special."
Giants manager Felipe Alou will serve as an NL coach.
Moises Alou, on his birthday, robbed San Diego's Damian Jackson with a catch that left the front of his body banging against the wall.
He sustained a bruised left cheek and hand and knee scrapes, along with chest pains.
"One of the best catches I ever saw when I was on the mound," pitcher Jason Schmidt said.
--1B J.T. Snow had six hits combined Saturday and Sunday in San Diego, and manager Felipe Alou said, "He's a better hitter now than he ever was." Snow can be a free agent after this season, and Lance Niekro is waiting in the wings to be the everyday first baseman.
--RHP Kevin Correia was called up from Triple-A Fresno to replace ineffective RHP Brett Tomko in the rotation. Correia failed as a Triple-A closer and returned to starting for only three outings before his promotion.

BY THE NUMBERS: 48 -- Consecutive starts by left fielder Moises Alou since missing two games with the flu May 9-10. No. 48 came on Alou's 39th birthday.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Playoffs are on the other side of the ocean, but there's an urgency to win games." -- Manager Felipe Alou on the woeful Giants.

MEDICAL WATCH
RHP Jesse Foppert, strained neck, 15-day DL.
3B Edgardo Alfonzo, strained quadriceps, 15-day DL.
CF Marquis Grissom, hamstring, 15-day DL.
RHP Armando Benitez, torn hamstring, 15-day DL but expected to be out at least four months.
LF Barry Bonds had yet another surgery on his right knee, this time to clean out an infection. No one knows when he'll be able to play, but even the All-Star break might be optimistic.

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