Blue Jays need more than Ward

How low is low? The once-formidable Toronto Blue Jays lineup looks so toothless that there is room to wonder if the impending return of relief closer Duane Ward will make any difference. He'll certainly shore up a bullpen that has been surrendering too many runs in the late innings, but the Jays need to add another front-line starting pitcher, and the realities of realignment may make that impossible. Only in the six-division format could a team that is 16 games under .500 (the Oakland Athletics) still be able to convince itself that there is enough hope to hold onto its high-priced talent. The A's are only 4 1/2 games out, for Pete's sake. . . . Orioles general manager Roland Hemond may have gotten a bad rap when outfielder Ron Gant signed with the Cincinnati Reds last week, but it didn't shorten his tenure in the Orioles front office. Owner Peter Angelos always figured to put his own general manager into place once he got comfortable with his grasp of the baseball operation, but that won't happen while the club is in the thick of the AL East race.

AL Central


Chicago White Sox general manager Ron Scheuler didn't endear himself to Cleveland Indians fans when he proclaimed earlier this week that "they ain't that good." The comment was intended more to make the point that the White Sox ain't as bad as their recent 3-12 slide, but it still figures to show up on the clubhouse bulletin board at Jacobs Field. . . . The last-place Milwaukee Brewers have the best record in the American League in one-run games (14-6). Apparently, it's the rest of the games that are the problem. . . . The Indians' 18-game home winning streak didn't figure to survive a seven-game run against the New York Yankees and Orioles, but the Indians needed the unpredictable Cleveland climate to keep it from ending on Friday night. Three rain delays pushed the game well into the morning hours before it was suspended by curfew. The Yankees had taken an 8-1 lead, but had to wait until the game was resumed on Saturday afternoon to officially end the string with an 11-6 victory.

AL West


Fortunately, Bobby Witt wasn't in Ohio the day after he missed pitching a perfect game by one disputed call at first base on Thursday. The Akron Beacon Journal added insult to injury with a headline that said "Mike Witt of the Oakland Athletics loses a no-hit bid." Former Angels and Yankees pitcher Mike Witt already has a perfect game to his credit, but he wasn't anywhere near the Oakland Coliseum that day. . . . Rumors continue that A's manager Tony La Russa will soon return to Chicago, but that isn't going to happen as long as the A's are right in the thick of AL West race. The A's have won four straight, nine of their past 11 and stand 4 1/2 games out of first place despite their 29-45 record.

NL East

Cue the mariachis. The Philadelphia Phillies became the third team to resurrect Fernando Valenzuela's on-again, off-again major-league career when they signed him out of the Mexican League last week. Valenzuela signed with the California Angels after the Los Angeles Dodgers let him go in 1991, then came back with the Orioles last year. This figures to be his most exciting incarnation yet, because his second start as a member of the Phillies is scheduled for Dodger Stadium next Sunday. . . . David Segui became the ninth Mets player to go on the disabled list Monday, and it couldn't have come at a worse time for the former Orioles first baseman, who was on pace to hit 24 homers and drive in 88 runs.

NL Central

Cincinnati Reds coach Bob Boone's name came up last week as a possible replacement for Boston Red Sox manager Butch Hobson, but that seems curious. Boone left the California Angels as a new-look free agent in 1989 after asking to be considered for the managerial opening there. His request was not seriously considered by then-Angels GM Mike Port, who now is a member of the Red Sox front office. . . . Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell was selected National League Player of the Week last Monday after batting .444 with six doubles and six RBIs. This past week, he batted .478 with four home runs -- three of them in one game -- and nine RBIs.

NL West

If the A's are still alive in the AL West, can the San Diego Padres be counted out? Not if their young pitching continues to come on. In the five games leading to yesterday's 12-4 loss to the Reds, Padres starters combined for a 1.96 ERA. Rookie Joey Hamilton pitched twice during that five-game span, giving up three earned runs in 17 innings to improve his record to 4-2 and drop his ERA to 1.78. Scott Sanders and Andy Ashby also turned in strong performances to reinforce the notion that the rebuilding Padres appear to be moving in the right direction.