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TOM HAUDRICOURT Mariners find harmony

TOM HAUDRICOURT  Mariners find harmony
New York - During his time as the Milwaukee Brewers' scouting director, Jack Zduriencik didn't spend a lot of time in the clubhouse.

Zduriencik did hear talk throughout the front office about the closeness of the players and the camaraderie, which he helped foster by drafting solid individuals. Now, as general manager of the Seattle Mariners, Zduriencik is starting to get that same feel about his team.

"As I sat back and watched them in the hotel, in the clubhouse, I was more happy about the fact they supported each other," said Zduriencik, who accompanied his team on a recent trip to Oakland and Los Angeles.

"I got a sense there was a true care for each other as people. I think that's really important - trusting each other. You have that trust in your teammate, that belief that the next guy is going to pick you up, and you go through the course of the year like that, it's a pretty special thing."

It didn't hurt that the upstart Mariners, coming off a 101-loss season, took a 7-3 record and first-place standing in the American League West into play Friday. But the dissension that seemed to rip apart the club a year ago has vanished, and many credit the return of Ken Griffey Jr., to Seattle as well as the addition of veteran Mike Sweeney.

"Junior and Sweeney are obviously the heart and soul of this team," said reliever David Aardsma. "I'll tell you what, they're fulfilling everything we thought they would. They're doing a great job."

Third baseman/first baseman Russell Branyan, who participated in the Brewers' clubhouse chemistry last season, said it's difficult to believe now that there was tension in Seattle in 2008.

"I didn't know what they were talking about when they said chemistry was bad last year, because there's a bunch of great guys here," said Branyan.

"I spoke to one of the guys that played here last year that's no longer here. He said it was one of the most bizarre things. He's never been with such a great group of guys that just were divided.

"They couldn't figure out what it was. It could have been the way the season went; it could have been anything. But so far this year, through spring training, the guys are having fun, having a great time."

Put up your Duke

Pittsburgh left-hander Zach Duke is pitching like a rookie again.

Duke joined the Pirates midway through the 2005 season and went 8-1, including a victory on the final day of the season that forced the Brewers to settle for a .500 record. After that, however, came mostly losses, including a 5-14 campaign in 2008.

But Duke is dazzling hitters again, including a four-hit shutout Monday in Pittsburgh's 7-0 romp over Houston in the club's home opener. That performance came after he beat St. Louis in his first start, holding the Cardinals to one earned run in 6 2/3 innings.

Now 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA, Duke remembers what it feels like to be on top of his game again.

"This is what Zach has been waiting for the last three years," Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit said. "He's really throwing the ball now like he did back in 2005. His pitches are crisp and his location has been excellent."

Manager John Russell said he could tell Duke was determined to bounce back with his approach in spring training.

"Zach has been consistent in his first two starts just like he was all spring," Russell said. "He's throwing each pitch with a purpose. He's more focused, too, in his workouts, in his preparation between starts, when he's on the mound."

'What next' syndrome

Chris Carpenter has to be wondering what he did to deserve this. The St. Louis right-hander missed nearly two seasons because of elbow and shoulder issues that resulted in two surgeries but appeared fully recovered this spring after throwing one-hit ball in his first start against Pittsburgh.

That trend continued through three scoreless innings Tuesday at Arizona until the 2005 National League Cy Young Award winner strained his left rib cage batting in the top of the fourth. Carpenter is expected to be out six weeks.

"I've gone through a lot and you never know when something will happen," Carpenter said. "I felt as strong (Tuesday) as I did all spring training. That's part of the game. You deal with it and move on. It will just take time."

Manager Tony La Russa said he could only imagine how Carpenter felt when confronted with this latest setback.

"I've talked enough about how important he is," said La Russa. "This is one of those tricky deals where you want to pay respect to what he means to us, which is a lot.

"But if you keep talking about it, pretty soon the players think, 'Oh, we can't win without him.' You've got to find a way to keep competing."

The end is nearer

Tom Glavine has had about enough. The future Hall of Famer hoped to be pitching with Atlanta again but suffered a setback in a minor-league rehabilitation start with Class AA Mississippi when he hurt his shoulder swinging the bat and exited after only two innings.

Glavine was diagnosed with rotator cuff inflammation and told to rest for two weeks. At the end of that period, he could have a big decision to make.

The 43-year-old Glavine said if the pain is better and his strength has improved, he'll move forward with his comeback. If not, he'll consider retiring.

"I'll need to figure out how much more I want to go through with it," he said.

"Right now, for me, the glass is probably half empty, simply because I'm frustrated and tired with this whole rehab thing. But at the same time, being as close as I am - or was - I'm not willing to just say, 'OK, that's it.' I'm willing to put in a little bit more time."

If there's no improvement, Glavine likely would be looking at four to six more weeks of rest and rehabilitation and then he would have to start his pitching regimen over again. That would mean it could be after the all-star break before he's pitching for the Braves.

"I'm not interested in a season-long rehab or 'Let's try this for a month or two,' " he said. "I did that last year. I don't want to do it to myself and I don't want to do it to this team. It's not fair to them."

Glavine had signed a one-year contract in February worth $1 million guaranteed plus another $3.5 million in bonus money, based on the length of time he's on the active roster. If this turns out to be the end, he said he can handle it.

"I knew it was close, whether I got through this season or not," said Glavine, the only active 300-game winner (305). "I always had a feeling in the back of my mind, now more than ever, any time I go out there something could happen. I'm prepared for that."

Bird was the word

Stories have been pouring out about Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, who died all too soon at 54 in an accident on his farm in Massachusetts. Fidrych's antics and idiosyncrasies probably wouldn't be tolerated in the modern business-like era of Baseball, but those who knew him insist he was as genuine as they come.

Bruce Kimm, who was Fidrych's personal catcher during that sensational rookie season in 1976, said there will never be another like him.

"There was a playoff atmosphere every time he pitched," said Kimm. "There were 45,000 or 50,000 people there to see him. When the game was over, it seemed like there were still 45,000 or 50,000 there for the curtain call.

"And everything was natural. There was nothing fake to it. He loved to play Baseball, and he had a great time on the mound. Everybody related to that. When I first heard, I thought of that song 'Only the Good Die Young.' He was truly a good guy."

Center of attention

It didn't take long for the Chicago White Sox to develop a problem in center field. Dewayne Wise separated his right shoulder taking away a hit from Detroit's Ramon Santiago and will be out for an extended period.

Jerry Owens was promoted from Class AAA Charlotte, but Brian Anderson will see most of the action in center - if he performs.

"I need a true centerfielder," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Hopefully, Brian does the job. If not, I'll give Jerry a shot."

Center field has been an issue for the White Sox since their World Series season in 2005. They sent Aaron Rowand to Philadelphia in the Jim Thome deal that winter and since have used 12 players in center.

That parade wouldn't have been necessary had Chicago held on to Chris Young, a top prospect sent to Arizona for right-hander Javier Vazquez that same off-season. Scott Podsednik, who played center for that '05 championship club, recently was signed to a minor-league deal.

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Added: April 19, 2009

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