Marquis hitter on Cards' staff
Now that NL Central is firmly in their control, Cardinals starters can focus on their season-long hitting contest.
But St. Louis' erstwhile ace isn't only concerned with the preponderance of power blasts he's providing, he's picking up the pace in his personal pitcher's hitting derby with his fellow Cardinals starters. Not only has the front five for St. louis missed only one turn all season, they're in the midst of a season-long pool to see who can put up the best hitting statistics in categories which include the nearly laughable (home runs), occasional (hits), essential (sacrifices), and under appreciated (advancing the runner).
Through the first half, former Brave Jason Marquis is making it a runaway in almost every category, with Morris and Chris Carpenter providing the only semblance of a challenge, preseason favorite Woody Williams inexplicably trailing and Jeff Suppan matching his unbeaten road record on the mound with a hitless ledger in the batter's box. As his teammates assure him, it's a "very hard zero," in baseball terms meaning no one else could hit the ball so well with nothing to show for it. Marquis can't think of anything magical he's doing with the bat in his hand to produce such an imposing lead on his peers, maybe just learning to relax. It certainly didn't hurt his momentum to go deep off reigning World Series MVP Josh Beckett during spring training this March. At the end of the year, Marquis, or the fellow starter who rallies and overtakes him, collects the top prize of the likely lucrative pooled entry fee. Although exact numbers weren't disclosed, there have been discussions that if Suppan should "accomplish" the unspeakable and remain hitless, he may "earn" a double entry fee refund.
The former Rangers' pitching coach runs the National Pitching Academy and has worked closely with Dr. Lewis Yocum and Dr. Andrews from the infancy of his revolutionary surgical practices on pitchers. House, who also teamed with Dusty Baker as an Atlanta Brave and was in the bullpen to catch Henry Aaron's 715th home run, first came across Prior as a 14 year old. The University High School product got knocked out in the second inning (ironically enough) of a game against a team from San Diego in which House's son was playing. That's when Prior's father Jerry decided it was time to seek professional help from House. Ten years later, they're still together. Last weekend, they supplemented their regular phone contact with an in-person visit, but unlike the Svenghali relationship suggested in some media circles, House happened to be in the area for a long-ago scheduled clinic in nearby Joliet. He's a welcome compliment to his old friend Baker, and former Padres' pitching pupil Rothschild, and as much as anything, a comfort to Prior in the most frustrating stretch yet to an injury-marred genesis of what many believe will be a profound career.
Theories are as numerous as the principals involved and none any more clear cut than Prior's forearm is reacting very much like a shin splint. True inflammation, but no bone, joint or ligament damage. And neither Baker, the doctors, trainers, coaches or House believes inactivity is a solution. In fact, the All-Star break and break in Prior's routine, may have contributed. The plan now is for "predictable results." He'll be monitored closely before, during and after his start(s), come as close to 105 pitches without going over, or, significantly under that total, and hold out hope he can do that about a dozen more times by October. Then, maybe, they can work on a postseason plan. The offseason is sure to include surgery to remove loose bodies in that bothersome Achilles' that flared up this spring. For now, Prior, and the conference of consultants, just want to get through Sunday.
Gary Miller is a reporter and play-by-play announcer for ESPN's major league baseball coverage.
MORE MLB HEADLINES
- Braves add Ervin Santana to bolster rotation
- Braun signs first post-ban endorsement deal
- Verlander allows one hit in 1st spring start
- Orioles' Machado disappointed by new deal
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
- Majestic Men's Replica St. Louis Cardinals Chris Carpenter #29 Light Blue Cooperstown Jersey