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Pudge isn't nudging Tigers toward postseason

Pudge Power is not helping the Detroit Tigers get out of their doldrums. This will be the 18th straight season the Motor City won't see any postseason baseball and catcher Ivan Rodriguez's power play is damaging the franchise. It might even send manager and former Tiger legend Alan Trammell to the unemployment line.

Rodriguez took off on the team last week while serving a four-game suspension for bumping an umpire. Instead of staying with them on a road trip to Toronto, he returned to Colombia on "personal business." Then he got delayed an extra day and missed a flight to Kansas City, where Trammell had entered him into that night's lineup but then had to scratch him.

Trammell was against the trip but was overruled by General Manager Dave Dombrowski, who allowed his star to go. Next year is the last one on Trammell's four-year deal and Dombrowski has given no assurances Trammell will be back. Many Tiger watchers think Dombrowski greased Trammell's skids at the trade deadline when he sent reliver Kyle Farnsworth to Atlanta with the Tigers still on the fringe of the wild-card race.

Two years ago, remember, the Tigers were 43-119 while Rodriguez was leading the upstart Marlins to a World Series title. So it was reasonable to think when Pudge ran from Miami and took the Tigers' money, he thought he could get them up the pecking order in the AL Central. It hasn't happened. The Tigers are probably going to finish fourth for the second straight year but are still hoping to get to .500 after a 72-90 finish in 2004.

A $69 million payroll was supposed to produce the Tigers' first winning record in 11 years. But major injuries to Magglio Ordonez, Troy Percival and Carlos Guillen have ruined the Tigers' season and left hitting coach Kirk Gibson to hotly defend Trammell, his co-star on the '84 World Series champions, to the Detroit media.

For his part, Rodriguez has done little to help this team end its losing ways. Dealing with an offseason divorce, he's been surly most of the year. For his $10 million salary, he's batting under .230 with men in scoring position. Trammell held a team meeting upon Rodriguez's return and several of his teammates reportedly took him to task for his South American jaunt.

The Tigers would love to unload Rodriguez, but there isn't a huge market for a 34-year-old catcher owed $20 million the next two years, especially one who's been experiencing chronic hip and groin pain. Catching is not a strength in the farm system and Brandon Inge was been converted to a third baseman when Rodriguez was brought in.

Hollins in hot water

Orchard Park's Dave Hollins is in a heap of trouble with the Eastern League. Hollins, the hitting coach for the Double-A Binghamton Mets, is on indefinite suspension for inciting a brawl Monday night by attacking Portland pitching coach Fernando Arroyo.

Hollins, coaching first base, was irritated when a Binghamton player was hit by a pitch. After an exchange of words, he charged into the Portland dugout and tackled Arroyo as both teams quickly came on the scene. Portland hitting coach Russ Morman, like Hollins a former Buffalo Bison, suffered a broken finger prying Hollins away from Arroyo.

The league and the parent Mets both are investigating and could hand down further penalties. Hollins has made no public comments since the incident. Binghamton manager Jack Lind posted a handwritten note in the Portland clubhouse before Tuesday's game apologizing for the incident.

"Coaches are held to a higher standed," Eastern League President Joe McEacharn told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin. "There are no circumstances under which that is acceptable."

Hollins has had major impact on the Binghamton team as a coach. Although the Mets are in last place, they entered the weekend leading the league in batting (.270) and were third in home runs (116).

Sox look to No. 1

With Curt Schilling struggling and Keith Foulke still trying to recover from knee surgery, the Red Sox are desperate for bullpen help. They've tried trades for retreads like Mike Remlinger and Matt Perisho and now it looks like they're close to calling up 21-year-old first-round draft pick Craig Hansen in a major fast-track attempt to shore up the back end of the pen.

Hansen, a 6-foot-6 right-hander who was an All-American at St. John's, signed his pro contract July 23 and is mowing down hitters at Double-A Portland. Sox GM Theo Epstein has already gone there to watch Hansen, who entered the weekend with three scoreless appearances and is routinely hitting 95-97 mph on the radar gun.

More pen problems

The Angels' bullpen blew eight saves in the team's first 101 games, then blew nine in the next 18. Closer Francisco Rodriguez then blew off the team picture before Thursday night's game. "Everyone was smiling but some guys were just smiling in other places," cracked manager Mike Scioscia.

Rodriguez is pushing away rumors he's injured and still trying to forget about blowing a recent game in Oakland by dropping a throw back from the catcher with a man on third in the ninth. Also in that series, setup man Brendan Donnelly kept another A's rally going by short-arming a throw to first on a routine comebacker.

Said Donnelly: "That wasn't me. That error was committed by the little girl down the street. At least that is how it felt like I was throwing."

Around the horn

Zach Duke might win Pitcher of the Year in the International League after going 12-3 in roughly half a season for Indianapolis. He might win Rookie of the Year in the National League, too. In nine starts for the Pirates, Duke is 6-0 with a 1.87 ERA, has struck out 42 and walked only 16.

"The game needs guys like him," Mets outfielder Cliff Floyd said after Duke's seven shutout innings Thursday night in Shea Stadium. "He can turn a franchise around."

The hapless Royals have never won fewer than seven games in a month (not counting October) in their 37-year history. Pretty safe to say that record is about to fall.

The Mariners have moved former Bisons player and hitting coach Carlos Garcia from first-base coach to a much more high-profile job as third-base coach because the regular there, Jeff Newman, needs Achilles surgery. That's going to give Garcia even more exposure as he looks for work in 2006, either by re-signing with Seattle or catching the eye of another big-league club.

One reason the Blue Jays have stayed in the wild-card race without Roy Halladay is because they've done well against elite teams. Toronto is 8-3 against the Red Sox and finished 5-1 against the Angels and 2-1 against the Cardinals. The Jays open a four-game series Monday night in Yankee Stadium trying to improve upon their 3-5 record against the Yankees this season.

Juan Gonzalez is still working out his hamstrings in Puerto Rico but doesn't expect to play any baseball this season. He called the Indians last week to request having the equipment in his locker shipped home. Gonzalez rehabbed for a week with the Bisons, then injured his hamstring again in his first at-bat in the big leagues this year May 31 at Minnesota. For the three pitches he saw in the majors, he pocketed $600,000. Nice work if you can find it.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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