Colorado pitching as thin as air

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The opening of brand-new Coors Field and the impressive performance of the nearly new Colorado Rockies has fans in Denver feeling a mile high, but a weekend visit from the division rival Los Angeles Dodgers proved that some things haven't changed.

L The air is still thin and so is the Rockies' pitching staff.

The addition of free agent Bill Swift notwithstanding, the starting rotation remains suspect and the quality of the bullpen still is very much in question. Rockies pitchers gave up 32 earned runs in the three-game series to raise the club's ERA to 5.83.

If that is more than an aberration, the club's upgraded offensive lineup will not be enough to keep the Rockies in contention. The Dodgers and San Francisco Giants both are much better armed for the long run, even if the schedule is a few games shorter.

NL Central

The fur was flying in Cincinnati over the weekend. Real fur. Superstitious owner Marge Schott sought to change the club's luck Saturday by rubbing hair from her late Saint Bernard on the chests and legs of the players. The Reds have won the past two games, saving the baseball world the unpleasant prospect of finding how much more of the late Schottzie I Marge has in her possession. Any wonder why manager Davey Johnson was so && disappointed when he didn't get the Orioles job? . . . It took a weird eighth-inning rally yesterday, but the Pittsburgh Pirates avoided starting the season 0-5 at home -- which would have been their worst start this century. If the Cubs had won, they would have started 6-0 on the road for the first time since 1934. . . . Early leader, Comeback Player of the Year derby: Gimpy Ron Gant, who ranks among the league's top five with four home runs and 12 RBIs, for all the good it has done the 3-8 Reds.

NL East

Florida Marlins fans had hoped that an infusion of veteran talent would mark the beginning of the club's post-expansion era, but it probably won't turn out that way. News that closer Bryan Harvey will be lost all year to another arm injury hurt the club in both the short and the long term. Harvey figured to be a major player as long as the club remained competitive, then was expected to be traded to a real contender later in the season for players who would help the club in the future. . . . The Montreal Expos flew out to a 5-2 start, flouting the notion that they would not be able to compete after another free-agent exodus, but ran into arm trouble of their own against the Marlins this weekend, giving up 21 runs on Friday and Saturday. . . . Team of the Week: The Philadelphia Phillies, who went 5-1 against the Reds and the Braves. . . . Strange Stat of the Week: Braves catcher Javy Lopez entered yesterday's game tied for the league lead in

triples (2).

AL West

Quick starts by the Seattle Mariners and California Angels have given the oft-maligned division an air of respectability -- two winning records in a division that had two teams above .500 at the same time for just one day (April 10) last year. . . . Texas manager Johnny Oates is starting to get results. The Rangers lost the first three games he managed after rejoining the club, but they took the series over the weekend in Oakland. Going into yesterday's game, Oates and interim manager Jerry Narron had identical 2-3 records.

AL Central

Are the standings upside down or what? The small-market Milwaukee Brewers remain in first place in spite of economic conditions that supposedly make it impossible for small-market teams to compete, and the Chicago White Sox remain in the cellar despite the clear advantage they have over all the &L; revenue-impaired clubs in the division. Bud "The short-term pain is worth the long-term gain" Selig may have to start rooting

against his own team in the hope of preserving one of ownership's major arguments for cost control. . . . So far, Kansas City ace Kevin Appier is making the Royals' decision to keep him instead of David Cone look pretty good, though the Royals would look even better with both in their starting rotation. Appier leads the majors in wins (3), ERA (0.46), strikeouts (27) and innings pitched (19 2/3 ).

AL East

The Vaughn Eshelman story just keeps getting better. The former Orioles prospect threw seven shutout innings at the Detroit Tigers yesterday to run his string of consecutive zeroes to 13 and improve his record to 2-0 for the Red Sox. If this keeps up, ESPN may televise next year's Rule V draft. . . . The Tigers were 1-5 on their first homestand, and they wonder why their fans are cranky. . . . Irritating Stat of the Week: John Wetteland and Lee Smith -- both of whom were once candidates to anchor the Orioles bullpen in 1995 -- entered yesterday ranked first and second in the AL in saves.

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