M's Have Lots Of Company Seeking Starting Pitching

Having come close to trading for Jim Abbott or David Cone, the Mariners are still trying to acquire another pitcher with the trading deadline one day away.

Seattle hardly is alone. Among the division leaders, only Atlanta (as usual) is not seeking starting pitching.

Both California and Cleveland came out of a hotly contested five-game playoff sampler (the Angels won three games) and made trades, serving notice of a new trend. While losing teams unloaded payroll, the best prospect given up in return was Alex Ochoa, whom the Baltimore Orioles sent to the New York Mets in the Bobby Bonilla deal Friday. After refusing for weeks, Baltimore was forced to make that sacrifice because the New York Yankees sent a group of Class A players to Toronto for Cone.

Mariner sources say Seattle is trying to pull off a deal for a veteran starter. The club just missed closing a deal that included pitching prospect Ron Villone for both Abbott and Cone.

The trading has been furious. Abbott went from Chicago back to California, Scott Erickson went from Minnesota to Baltimore, Ken Hill from St. Louis to Cleveland. The only notable player in return in all that was outfielder McKay Christiansen, the Angels' 1994 No. 1 draft pick who is on a Mormon mission to Japan until next year.

The best young player given up in any deal for pitching was shortstop Wilson Delgado, whom Seattle gave to the Giants in the deal for Salomon Torres.

The Indians dealt without giving up pitching prospects Julian Tavarez and Alan Embree, or Jaret Wright (the team's No. 1 pick last year) and Bartolo Colon (13-2, 1.84 earned-run average at Class A Kinston, N.C.).

Colorado has refused to give right-hander Bryan Rekar for Montreal's Jeff Fassero. Rekar threw the Rockies' first complete game last week and won his first two major-league starts.

Cincinnati got San Francisco's alleged No. 1 starter, Mark Portugal, along with setup man Dave Burba and center fielder Darren Lewis, for Deion Sanders and a handful of minor leaguers, one of whom, pitcher John Roper, was injured.

San Francisco's move is filled with irony for Seattle fans. Burba was the remnant of the disastrous deal in which the Mariners gutted their pitching staff (Bill Swift, Mike Jackson and Burba) for slugger Kevin Mitchell, who has been unhappy everywhere but especially in the American League. The Mariners got so eager for run production, they forgot baseball's No. 1 Rule: You win with pitching and defense.

Apparently, the Giants were so eager to save about $3 million, they violated that rule themselves, giving up pitching and defense for a good leadoff man who is a liability in center field. In his first game (after taking the full 72 hours to show up), Sanders helped the Marlins to a team-record four triples.

Sidelights on the deal:

-- Giants General Manager Bob Quinn said the club's pathetic attendance - their 40 percent decline is the highest in baseball - was a factor in Sanders' acquisition.

"It sure was in the overall dissection of the trade," he said. "Sanders' appeal did not go unnoticed. He's one of the most popular athletes in sports."

The Giants drew 17,648 for his first game in San Francisco on Wednesday, 5,000 more than they have been averaging.

-- Portugal was too distressed to even talk to reporters when the trade came down just 15 minutes before a game with Houston. He issued a terse statement instead: "I'm extremely disappointed. I was misled to believe this organization had a commitment to winning. That's a blatant lie."

-- One of the first things Sanders did upon arriving was meet with Manager Dusty Baker and Barry Bonds for about 20 minutes.

"I told Barry, at least I won't be booed the most on this team. If I'm going to be here, we need me and Barry to get along."

Bonds said: "He can have all the attention as far as I'm concerned. Just move his locker away from me and let him get all the attention."

Ones that got away

Mariners who got away? No, not Mike Hampton, the only young Mariner starter to come up and make an impression since Dave Fleming - he's got six wins for Houston. We're talking Todd Hollandsworth here. Los Angeles is in love with the hard-playing kid from Bellevue's Newport High School, lifted in the third round of the 1991 draft from under the noses of the Mariners, who took left-hander Shawn Estes, outfielder Tommy Adams and right-hander Jim Mecir before Hollandsworth was selected. Hollandsworth is hitting about .270 and has a two-homer game already and ran down the Marlins' best bid to break Ramon Martinez's no-hitter. When it comes to effort, we saw him dive to steal an extra-base hit from Raul Mondesi in a Dominican winter-league game that was already lost in the eighth inning.

"I'd heard a lot about him, but I never had really seen him play," said Dodger first baseman Eric Karros. "Obviously, he's just as advertised. That attitude he's got is just what we need."

Hollandsworth, whose name seldom is mentioned in the Dodger front office without comparisons to Kirk Gibson, appears to have supplanted fellow rookie Billy Ashley for the remainder of this season. Despite not playing center field on an everyday basis in four years, and never hitting leadoff in his life, Hollandsworth did both his first week and has brought new life to the team. "It's been a blast," Hollandsworth said. "I don't know what anybody expected of me, or even what I expected of myself, but I'm just out there trying to prove myself."

Replacement-player news

San Diego and San Francisco players rejected their teams' bids to promote former replacement players and sit in the two bottom spots in the NL West. Meanwhile, the division-leading Reds promoted former replacement Rick Reed and he had six no-hit innings in his first start. Wild-card contender Milwaukee has three, including lefty Brian Givens, who beat the Mariners at the Kingdome Wednesday. Before Reed came up, reliever Jeff Brantley, a strong union supporter, said, "If he comes up here, they better put his locker in a toilet stall." After his good start, Brantley patted Reed on the shoulder and said, "Welcome, we're glad to have you."

Welcome, teammate

If Rob Dibble signs with Milwaukee, he will be the first player in history suspended for throwing at one of his teammates. On June 29 while pitching for the Chicago White Sox, Dibble ignited a brawl by throwing a pitch at the head of the Brewers' Pat Listach. He was given a three-game suspension, but before he served the time he was released and the Brewers are close to signing him.

Clemens calamity

There's a lot of talk-show hoo-ha in Boston about Roger Clemens, who had an magnetic resonance imaging test on his elbow after the Twins hammered him. It showed no damage, but the Rocket Man has been topping off at around 92 mph, and in an excellent start against the Royals last week (eight innings, one run), he only threw eight pitches over 90 mph.

Short hops

-- Since Rick Wilkins was dealt to Houston, Cub catchers allowed 20 consecutive stolen bases, until minor-leaguer Joe Kmak arrived to throw out three straight in two games. In one game Kmak also went 3 for 4 and said, "What can I say? I'm not really here as a hitter. I'm a career .218 hitter. I can't stand here and tell you I'm seeing the ball better."

-- Entering the weekend, Atlanta was 18-5 this month, on track to break the club's 19-9 July record set in 1993. Some reasons: a 9-3 record in one-run games; until a Chipper Jones throwing error Wednesday, the club had gone 10 games without an error; eight wins in its last at-bat (seven via home run); starters had given up 24 runs in their last 16 starts.

-- In four starts since it was announced that he had made the All-Star team, rookie right-hander Tyler Green of Philadelphia was 0-3 with a 7.94 ERA and has allowed 31 base runners (27 hits, 14 walks) in 22 2/3 innings before yesterday's start. Green shrugged it off. "If I could pitch perfect every time, I'd change my name to Maddux."

-- Colorado's John Vander Wal is 18 for 41 as a pinch-hitter, but is only 5 for 20 when he has either started a game or come into it as a defensive replacement.

-- If Cincinnati ace Jose Rijo has surgery, there is a chance it might be the so-called "Tommy John" tendon replacement, which frightens him because of the year to year-and-a-half rehab time. "If I was 20 or 22, OK. But I'm 30 and by the time I'd be coming back I'd be Jesus' age and I'd be looking for a miracle," Rijo said.

-- The Angels signed No. 1 draft pick Darin Erstad last week to a $1.575 million bonus. The deal rivals the record $1.6 million bonus Erstad's agent Jeff Moorad negotiated for Josh Booty last year. Erstad is pegged as a left fielder. How he breaks into the young outfield of Tim Salmon (age 27), Jim Edmonds (25) and Garret Anderson (23) isn't clear.

-- Let's see if we have this straight. The Seahawks are complaining about the Kingdome, which has the sidewalks all torn up during baseball season in order to have them ready for football crowds, and the main scoreboard will go dark in August in order to have a new one ready for the NFL season. Hmmm.

-- Cleveland's three-game visit to Anaheim was billed a playoff preview and drew 108,485.

-- In a nine-day stretch, Cleveland beat relievers Lee Smith and Dennis Eckersley four times on last at-bat rallies. In those four games, the two future Hall of Famers pitched a combined 2 2/3 innings, giving up 11 runs (a 37.08 ERA) on 11 hits. Fifteen of 22 batters reached base.

-- Erik Hanson of Boston is 8-3, but the pitcher voted by Baseball America as having the second best curveball in the league has scrapped it because he can't throw it with a tender elbow.

-- Sparky Anderson, master of the overstatement, was at it again, calling Tiger All-Star David Wells, "the best left-handed starter I've ever had." So much for Big Red Machine ace Don Gullett. But Wells, 9-3, has never pitched 200 innings and is at 130.

-- Lee Smith, whose ERA ballooned above 8.00 after the All-Star break last year, was 0-4 with an 18.78 ERA and three blown saves in his previous nine appearances before saving the Tuesday and Wednesday wins over Cleveland. Smith heard some boos when he came out of the bullpen Tuesday but said: "With the stuff I've been throwing lately, I'd have booed, too." California Manager Marcel Lachemann says he will switch his closer with hard-throwing set-up man Troy Percival.

Bob Finnigan covers the Mariners and major-league baseball for The Seattle Times. Some of the information was provided by other baseball writers.