National League East Report

In Atlanta, the Braves are hoping Mike Hampton returns to form, but a former Phillie already has. June 2004 wasn't as hot as June 2003 for the Marlins. Meanwhile, the Expos need to pick somebody as an all-star and in New York, Braden Looper learns some new tricks. Plus, a look at Paul Abbott and how he fits into things with the Phillies.


Eddie Perez caught LHP Mike Hampton for his first win of the season -- a 5-1 victory over the Dodgers in Los Angeles on May 23 -- and he caught Hampton Tuesday night in the 5-4 loss to the Marlins. It was Hampton's eighth "L" in 10 decisions, and Perez says there is no difference in the quality or location of Hampton's pitches.

There is movement on the fastball, Perez says, and the sinker is sinking. When he goes out to the mound, he has no advice for Hampton. No suggestion no how to right his season.

Hampton's record is 2-8 and he is out of too many games early, literally and statistically. Of the 57 runs Hampton has allowed, 18 of them -- 32 percent -- have been given up in the first inning. Tuesday night, he gave up three runs in the first inning.

"I made too many mistakes," Hampton says.

Of back-to-back homers surrendered in the fifth inning to Mike Lowell and Miguel Cabrera, he said, "Good hitters hit bad pitches. That's just a poor job of pitching, that's all it was."

But between the first inning and the fifth, Hampton pitched the way he is supposed to pitch.

"It seems like it takes me getting kicked in the face before I start pitching," he says. "That's pretty sad. I've been around this game quite awhile, and it's pretty sad that I can't make an adjustment to get better."

Told of this comment, 3B Chipper Jones quipped, "Well then, (pitching coach) Leo (Mazzone) needs to kick him in the face down in the bullpen if that's what he needs. He needs to be ready for that first hitter and that first inning."



2B Marcus Giles (broken right collarbone) took groundballs and hit in batting practice Wednesday afternoon.

1B Julio Franco got his 2,400th career base hit Tuesday (June 29) in the fourth inning of the game against the Marlins. He is the 96th player in major league history to reach the mark.

C Johnny Estrada was back in the lineup Wednesday (June 30), two nights after being hit by a pitch on the right knee by the Marlins' Brad Penny.

1B Adam LaRoche (separated left shoulder) played a doubleheader for Class AAA Richmond in the first day of his rehab assignment. He manned first base in Game one and was the designated hitter in Game two. Obviously rusty at the plate, he did not get a hit in any of his at-bats and was back in Richmond's lineup on Wednesday.

RHP Paul Byrd "is back where he was when he won 17 games for Kansas City (in 2002)," says manager Bobby Cox. Byrd, who came off the disabled list June 19 after Tommy John surgery last July 1, was 1-1 after two starts.

LHP Armando Almanza has been optioned to Triple-A Richmond. Manager Bobby Cox says he wants Almanza to pitch more often than he was pitching out of the bullpen, where he was not very effective.

LHP Sam McConnell has been called up from Triple-A Richmond to be the latest left-hand reliever to prove he can get out both left- and right-handed hitters. This is his first trip to the majors.


THE NUMBERS GAME: 5 - Consecutive series lost by the Braves, stretching from June 8 against the Tigers through June 24 against the Marlins.


HE SAID WHAT: "That's about the only thing the DH is good for." -- Manager Bobby Cox, on being able to rest 1B Julio Franco, RF J.D. Drew and 3B Chipper Jones in Baltimore over the weekend while keeping their bats in the lineup.



The Marlins' streak of successful months last season started in June and culminated in -- this is somewhat important -- October.

And they were 2 for 2 in winning months this season until June. But the streak ended in an 11-16 month that included their season lows in batting average, runs and earned run average.

"It was a tough month," manager Jack McKeon said. "Is it over? Thank God."

RHP A.J. Burnett's struggles mirrored those of his team. Since coming back from elbow surgery, he had gotten an average of less than one run a game of support. Wednesday, the Marlins gave him two runs in the first inning, but he gave them right back and then some -- three runs in a little more than one inning before having to leave because of a 75-minute rain delay.



-- LHP Darren Oliver had a 1.80 ERA since being pulled from the starting rotation before Wednesday but then gave up four runs on seven hits and two walks. That raised his bullpen ERA to 3.32.

-- After seeing how good Juan Pierre looked in the camouflage T-shirt under his uniform, Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett went to an Army surplus store Tuesday in Atlanta and bought them for the rest of the team. Maybe now Burnett's teammates will score some runs for him. "If we aren't motivated now, I guess we'll never be," Lenny Harris said.

Burnett entered Wednesday's game against the Braves with a 1.71 ERA and having held opponents to a.103 batting average in his past three starts. But the right-hander is 0-1 during that stretch because the Marlins have given him an average of just 0.86 runs of support. In his six starts since returning from Tommy John surgery, Burnett's average run support has been 0.92.

-- The catcher's glove Mike Redmond had used this season was lost during the team's trip from Tampa to Atlanta on Sunday.

"It's annoying. I would have kept it all year," Redmond said. "You ask anybody in here what's the one thing they can't afford to lose, I guarantee you it would be their glove. Mike Lowell would go nuts if he lost his good gamer. I don't really have another glove that's really worked in."

-- The Marlins are trying to figure out some way to snap out of their scoring slump. Going into Tuesday, they ranked 14th in batting average and 13th in runs scored among NL teams in June.

-- The Marlins' first 75 games were a tale of two seasons: games in which Carl Pavano pitches and games in which he does not.

When Pavano takes the ball, the Marlins were 13-2. When anyone else starts, they were 28-33.

"He's our MVP right now," left fielder Jeff Conine said Sunday (June 27) after Pavano stopped a Marlins losing streak for his fifth straight start by shutting down the red-hot Devil Rays 11-4.

"Anytime you get a couple of losses in a row, you need somebody to go out there and stop the bleeding. He's been our tourniquet."

-- 3B Mike Lowell said his left hand felt fine Sunday, after he was hit by a pitch Saturday (June 26) in the same spot where he broke it when hit by a pitch last August. As a precaution, Lowell will wear a special batting glove with extra padding.

-- Marlins special assistant Andre Dawson was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Marlins assistant Tony Perez joined Dawson along with broadcaster Dave Van Horne for the ceremony in Ontario.

-- More than 300 fans attended a Welcome Back rally for the Devil Rays at St. Petersburg's Baywalk waterfront area to celebrate the team's recent 12-game winning streak. Several Marlins chuckled at the idea of a pep rally in June for a team with a sub-.500 record going into Friday's action. Catcher Mike Redmond thought reporters were joking when they asked for his reaction to the rally: "Are you serious? A rally?"

Then he was diplomatic: "I've never been on a team that had a rally for being under .500, but I've never been on a team that's won 12 straight, either."

The Marlins' record winning streak is nine in 1996.

-- 1B Hee Seop Choi, a left-handed hitter, made a rare start Saturday against a left-handed starter. He is 3 for 14 (.214) against lefties.

THE NUMBERS GAME: 0.86 -- Average run support RHP A.J. Burnett has received from the Marlins over his last three starts. Burnett has allowed just seven hits and three runs over that same span.


HE SAID WHAT?: "I don't think were talking about fitting ourselves for a ring yet, but I think we have the talent to get to the playoffs." -- Lowell, on Florida's chances this year.



There are valid reasons for Expos players not getting enough fan votes to start in the All-Star game.

When a team wins only one third of its games, that's a factor. It doesn't help when the team plays just 24 of its first 74 games in its home stadium. And then there's the fact that Olympic Stadium crowds average 6,000.

So, for a member of the Expos to be in uniform at the All-Star game in Houston he must be selected by NL manager Jack McKeon of the World Series champion Florida Marlins.

Traditionally, the All-Star skipper asks the manager of any team that isn't represented who might be deserving.

So, whom does Expos manager Frank Robinson recommend?

"I'm not going to say," Robinson answered. "Usually by this time of year two or three players on a team have had particularly outstanding seasons no matter how the team is doing. We've been flat as a team."

Possibilities might include second baseman Jose Vidro, pitcher Livan Hernandez, left fielder Brad Wilkerson and catcher Brian Schneider.

Three-time All-Star Vidro had a poor start -- .253 in April and .207 in May. He was torrid into the final days of June when, among other things, he had the team's longest hitting streak of the season, 14 games.

Hernandez has a losing record but leads the league in complete games and innings pitched. Three times he has been replaced after seven innings with the team in the lead only to have the bullpen blow his opportunity to get the victory.

Wilkerson is consistently outstanding defensively whether he's in left, right, center or at first base. He has a plus .400 on-base average and leads the team in homers, doubles, runs scored and walks.

Schneider is quietly becoming a valuable asset. He leads the majors in caught-stealing percentage, handles a pitching staff that has ranked near the top all season and is second on the team with eight home runs.


-- RHP Tony Armas Jr., who missed his start Tuesday (June 29) because of tightness in his shoulder, is scheduled to start against Toronto on Saturday (July 3) at San Juan, Puerto Rico.

-- After a career game in which he hit two homers, including a grand slam, and had six RBIs in the second inning June 19, OF Juan Rivera was 0 for 21 before hitting a double and home run Tuesday at Philadelphia.

-- 3B Tony Batista, his average down to .209, singled home two runs in the first inning and hit a three-run homer (his ninth) in the second Sunday.

-- Pitching coach Randy St. Claire was not with the team in Toronto over the weekend of June 25-27. St. Claire went home to Lake George, N.Y., to attend his daughter's high school graduation.

-- For several seasons, the Expos often have had their best crowds at Olympic Stadium on $5 games, where every ticket except VIP went for the same price. For a makeup game Aug. 9 against the Giants and Barry Bonds at the Stadium, all tickets, including VIP section, will go for $5.

-- The Expos complained that Toronto SkyDome groundskeepers doctor the mound according to who pitches that day for the Blue Jays.

-- RHP Shawn Hill, recalled from Double-A Harrisburg on June 22, is from the Toronto area. He is the 16th Canadian to play for the Expos and the 11th pitcher.


THE NUMBERS GAME: 3 -- Errors by the Expos in the first three innings Saturday (June 26), giving the Blue Jays four unearned runs on the way to a 10-5 win. The Expos have led or tied for the top in defensive stats virtually all season long.


HE SAID WHAT?: "We were in a nothing-nothing game, doing nothing." -- Manager Frank Robinson on the rationale of having Tony Batista sacrifice bunt with two on and none out in fifth inning of a 0-0 tie on Friday (June 25). Batista struck out, and the Expos lost 3-1.



Braden Looper is not the pitcher he was when the Mets signed him in January.

He's better.

Looper has gained command of a split-finger fastball and is piling up strikeouts. Once a finesse pitcher who induced groundballs, the right-hander is blowing hitters away.

"It's not something I planned, but it is nice," said Looper, who struck out 39 in 42 1/3 innings through 72 games. "Having another pitch is a big difference."

Looper, who struck out 56 in 80 2/3 innings with the Marlins last season, had contemplated learning a split-finger for several years but didn't commit to the idea until he joined the Mets.

"I had messed with it but never really worked on it," Looper said. "Now that I see results, my confidence in the pitch is really high. I always knew I needed another pitch, but knowing it and going out and learning it are two different things."

Looper pitched two perfect innings on June 22 in a 6-4, 12-inning loss to the Reds. That gave him a streak of 14 consecutive hitters retired (nine by strikeout) and an ERA of 1.70.

The splitter, he said, has changed the way he pitches.

"It's a great pitch for me against left-handed hitters if I can keep it down," Looper said. "I'm not a dominating-type of closer like (Eric) Gagne, but I feel pretty good about being able to strike somebody out now."

Mets manager Art Howe has noticed the transition.

"He's throwing all his pitches," Howe said. "Braden has a good fastball, but that split is like a changeup for him and it keeps hitters off-balance."



-- RHP Scott Erickson is making a bid to pitch for the Mets. The veteran cleared waivers and took his regular turn for Class AAA Norfolk on Wednesday. Pitching against the Pawtucket Red Sox, Erickson scattered five hits over 7 2/3 scoreless innings. He walked three, struck out two and threw 113 pitches in his first good start with the Tides.

-- RHP Jose Parra pitched another scoreless inning on Tuesday. In six appearances since being called up from Class AAA Norfolk, the 31-year-old journeyman has allowed one run and four hits over 5 2/3 innings. "He was closing in the minor leagues," manager Art Howe said. "He's used to the pressure, and I think he's going to help us."

-- RHP Scott Strickland is three games into what will be an extended rehabilitation stint in the minor leagues. Strickland, who is coming off Tommy John elbow surgery, is with Class A St. Lucie. The Mets plan to move him up the ladder with the intent of getting him back in the major leagues in late July.

-- Going into Wednesday's game, OF Shane Spencer had only seven at-bats since the Mets obtained OF Richard Hidalgo from the Astros on June 18. He pinch hit Wednesday and flied out.

-- RHP Orber Moreno rejoined the team after spending 19 days on the disabled list because of a sore right shoulder. "Everything is fine now," he said. "Whatever they want me to do, I'm ready." The Mets plan to develop Moreno into a setup man, and manager Art Howe hopes to work him into late-inning situations.

-- OF Karim Garcia on the 15-day disabled list with tendinitis in his left wrist. Both of the specialists who examined Garcia said rest should solve his problem. But offseason surgery is a possibility. "There's a lot of fluid in there, and the doctor said I must rest it as much as I can," Garcia said. "I played through it for a while, but it got to the point where I couldn't swing without pain."

-- Two Mets minor leaguers were chosen to play in the annual Futures Game on July 11 in Houston. Triple-A third baseman David Wright will play for the United States team and Class A right-hander Yusmeiro Petit for the international team. Double-A manager Ken Oberkfell will be one of the coaches for the international team.

THE NUMBERS GAME: 10.80 -- The ERA of left-handed reliever John Franco when he pitches on consecutive days. When Franco is coming off at least one day of rest, his ERA is 2.41.


HE SAID WHAT?: "You read some of the papers and they make it sound like some kind of bitter rivalry between the teams. That's for the fans, the players don't think that way. There are so many connections between the two teams." -- LHP Mike Stanton on the Subway Series games against the Yankees.



RHP Paul Abbott, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays castoff who was signed when injuries to RHP Vicente Padilla and LHP Randy Wolf created a void in the Phillies rotation, is winless in four starts since joining the team.

But he's pitched better than his record would indicate. In fact, he's kept the Phillies in three of the four games he's started.

Against the Expos on Wednesday (June 30), he held Montreal to two runs on five hits in his five innings. And he was in line for the victory as the Phillies took a one-run lead into the eighth with Tim Worrell set to pitch the eighth and closer Billy Wagner the ninth.

An uncharacteristic mental lapse by CF Doug Glanville allowed the Expos to tie the game against Worrell, however, and Montreal went on to score four times for a 6-3 victory.

With one out and Jose Vidro on first, 1B Nick Johnson singled to center. Glanville did not quickly return the ball to the infield, however, allowing Vidro to advance to third. From there, he was able to score on Tony Batista's sacrifice fly.

The loss ended the Phillies' winning streak at two. They have not one more than two straight since putting together a four-game streak May 18-21. They ended June with a 13-14 record for the month.



-- 1B Jim Thome hit his major league-leading 27th home run of the season in the fifth inning Wednesday (June 30). It was also his 15th home run of the month, tying the Phillies record set by Cy Williams in May 1923.

-- RF Bobby Abreu reached base 11 times in 14 plate appearances during the first three games of the Expos series.

-- RHP Tim Worrell's scoreless streak ended at 9 1/3 innings against the Expos on Wednesday (June 30). That covered 10 appearances dating to June 5 and was the longest scoreless streak for a Phillies reliever this year.

-- LF Pat Burrell sat out Wednesday (June 30) against the Expos with a mild right groin strain suffered while legging out a double the previous night. He returned to the lineup on Thursday (July 1) and said he had very little discomfort.

-- 1B Jim Thome, who leads the majors in homeruns, said he'd accept an invitation to participate in the home run derby at the All-Star Game if he's on the National League squad. Some sluggers fear they'll alter their swing in such a contest. "I try to hit home runs in batting practice anyway," he shrugged. "I've done it twice before, and it was fun."

-- 3B David Bell homered for the third straight game Tuesday. He had done that twice previously, both for Seattle in May 1999.

-- LHP Eric Milton is the first Phillies pitcher to start a season 10-2 since Danny Jackson in 1994.

-- INF Tomas Perez has hit five home runs. That matches his career high and marks the third straight year he has had that many.

-- C Mike Lieberthal sat for the second straight day Sunday (June 27) as backup Todd Pratt got another start. Lieberthal was 0-for-9 against Red Sox starter Curt Schilling with five strikeouts. Lieberthal conceded that he was unhappy with sitting out a second straight game. Manager Larry Bowa said it was because of Lieberthal's offense, but the veteran was batting .305 in June. "I was expecting to play. It's definitely disheartening," Lieberthal said.

-- OF Jason Michaels got his second straight start in center field Sunday (June 27). In his last five games he is 7-for-15 (.467), and in his last 11 games he's raised his overall average from .167 to .300.

-- LHP Randy Wolf lasted four innings and 77 pitches in his first start since coming off the disabled list on Saturday (June 26). "I kind of had the angel and devil on both shoulders," he said. "One of them was saying, 'Tell them to let you stay in there.' The other was saying, 'You know what? They're right.' I don't know which one was the devil and which was the angel, but I understood. It's the big picture that counts."

-- 1B Jim Thome's major league-leading 26th home run of the season against the Red Sox on Saturday (June 26) was also the 407th of his career, tying Duke Snider for 36th place on the all-time list.

THE NUMBERS GAME: 14 -- Home runs by 1B Jim Thome in June. With three games left in the month, that was two short of the club record set by Cy Williams in May 1923.

HE SAID WHAT?: "It would be a travesty if (1B Jim Thome) isn't on the All-Star team. But I don't think the people selecting it would be that ignorant." -- Manager Larry Bowa, on the chances of the major league's leading home run hitter being selected to play in the midsummer classic.

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