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Molina An Asset To Angels At The Plate…Vazquez Says He Is Ready for His Number to Come Up

Molina An Asset To Angels At The Plate


February 25, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Anaheim catcher Bengie Molina quietly has become a very valuable asset for the Angels, both at the plate and behind it.

Molina tied career highs with a .281 batting average, 14 homers and 71 RBIs last year despite missing the final month after breaking his left wrist in a home-plate collision.

He also threw out 31 of 76 -- 41 percent -- would-be base stealers, second-best in the AL.

Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia, the Los Angeles Dodgers' catcher from 1981-92, regards Molina's statistics as a bonus.

``Those really have no comparison to the job he does in calling a game and handling pitchers,'' he said. ``Calling a game is the hardest part, and Bengie does a great job of it.

``He really makes the pitchers perform better, and that's huge.''

That's also what Molina takes the most pride in.

``I don't think about offense that much. My job is to help these guys and I'm very into that,'' said the 28-year-old Molina, heading into his fifth season as the Angels' catcher.

Reliever Francisco Rodriguez calls Molina one of the best in the majors.

``When he's behind the plate, it makes you feel secure,'' the 22-year-old Rodriguez said. ``And when he comes out to the mound to talk to you, he's the kind of person who can really settle you down.''

When Rodriguez was first called up late in the 2002 season and became a postseason sensation for the World Series champion Angels, he especially appreciated Molina.

``He helped me feel confident and comfortable, the way he called the game. He was the perfect catcher for me,'' said Rodriguez, who went 5-1 that October and became, at 20, the youngest pitcher to win a World Series game.

Pitching coach Bud Black said Molina has a similar rapport with all the pitchers.

``Bengie's a good people person. He gets along really well with the pitchers on and off the field, and that's a big part of his success,'' Black said. ``He's a quiet guy, but when something needs to be said, he'll certainly say it.''

Molina will be working with Anaheim newcomers Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar this spring.

``It's a little hard because they come from different teams, so they have to get used to us and we have to get used to them,'' the catcher said. ``But they're good people, so everything will fall into place quickly.''

He said his job is to study the two.

``That's the homework, to find out how they like to pitch, ask them what they like to do in certain situations,'' Molina said. ``If I don't find that out, I'm not doing my job. That's a responsibility you have to take very seriously.

``They've got the stuff. It's just a matter of trying to come together.''

Molina, a native of Puerto Rico, said it also helps that he's bilingual. Colon is from the Dominican Republic and Escobar is from Venezuela.

Molina is excited about the Angels' pitching, which should be greatly strengthened by the acquisition of the two free agents.

``We have some very talented pitchers. I think there will be five guys on our staff who are capable of winning 20 games apiece,'' he said.

Vazquez Says He Is Ready for His Number to Come Up


March 2, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

TAMPA, Fla., March 1 – When Javier Vazquez entered the parking lot at Legends Field for the first day of spring training with the Yankees, he said he felt some trepidation. Vazquez was joining a demanding organization in which winning a championship is the lone acceptable result.

But what jolted Vazquez three weeks ago was something that seems simple, yet, to him, was not.

Vazquez was ushered into his own numbered spot in the lot near left field, a trivial perk that nonetheless reminded him that he was not with the budget-conscious Montreal Expos anymore.

"We have our own parking spots with the numbers," Vazquez, a right-hander, said. "That's something I'd never seen before."

There is usually something intriguing floating around the Yankees every day, topics that are much juicier than uniform numbers painted on the pavement. Things like the Yankees snatching Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers, or the principal owner George Steinbrenner sparring with the Boston Red Sox or squawking and creating another form of static.

Sometime this season, Vazquez will find that he is the most compelling story of the day, the week or the month. He is too crucial a player and the season is too long for that not to happen. The Yankees rated Vazquez ahead of Andy Pettitte when he became a free agent and moved aggressively to acquire Vazquez in December for Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera and Randy Choate.

Still, how will Vazquez, who has never pitched a postseason inning and who often toiled in the almost-empty Olympic Stadium in meaningless games, react to the cauldron-like atmosphere at Yankee Stadium? Will he be as cool as Pettitte or as clueless as Jeff Weaver?

"That's what everybody is going to want to know about me, if I can pitch in New York," Vazquez said. "All I can say is I know I can pitch and I'll try my best to pitch like that here. I know I'm going to do good. I'm confident in my ability."

When Vazquez was asked why he had such confidence, he responded quicker than he did to any other question. Vazquez said some players faltered because they "put too much pressure on themselves to succeed" and vowed that he would not do that.

In Vazquez, the Yankees say they have a 27-year-old pitcher who will be an anchor for their rotation for several years. The Yankees signed Vazquez to a four-year, $45 million extension, because he could have been a free agent after the season and because they wanted to retain a formidable pitcher who cost them a young and talented first baseman in Johnson. Vazquez is slotted behind Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown, but, because of Brown's injury history, Vazquez is as much of a certainty as the Yankees have among their fragile starters.

Vazquez was 13-12 with a 3.24 earned run average and had 241 strikeouts in 230 2/3 innings last season. If the Expos had provided better support, he could have won 18 or 20 games. In the 21 starts when Vazquez had a loss or a no-decision, the Expos averaged 3.1 runs. In seven of those starts, the Expos managed one or no runs. That will probably not happen often with a revitalized Yankees lineup that includes Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield.

Tall and lean, Vazquez employs an impressive repertory, throwing a cut fastball, a sinking fastball, a curveball, a slider and two types of changeups, one that darts like a cutter and one that resembles a screwball.

Kenny Lofton, a new teammate who faced Vazquez in the National League, said Vazquez was a challenge to hit because his pitches sink so much. Lofton nodded when asked if Vazquez was comparable to Boston's Pedro Martínez, saying, "You hear that because his ball moves a lot and he keeps everything down."

Catcher Jorge Posada was impressed with Vazquez's velocity early in camp, his pitches being in the low 90's, which Vazquez attributed to workouts he started in Puerto Rico in January. Posada noticed how Vazquez used his upper body for strength in a smooth, compact delivery and envisioned a smooth transition for Vazquez, a fellow Puerto Rican, to New York.

"I think he had more pressure in Montreal than he does here," Posada said. "A lot was expected of him there. Over here, he'll be one of the guys. I think it'll be easier."

Lofton said Vazquez was used to pitching in a place "where you can hear the people whispering at you." There is not much whispering that can be heard in the Bronx.

Like Posada, the backup catcher Joe Girardi thinks Vazquez will have an easy adjustment. "He's not going to have to manufacture adrenaline," Girardi said. "When you make a start at Yankee Stadium, you know where you are."

Montreal General Manager Omar Minaya reluctantly traded Vazquez to the Yankees, seeking to use Vazquez's projected salary for flexibility to pursue and pay other players. He said that Vazquez was mature and should thrive in New York. "Most people see his stuff and they're convinced he's good, so then the question becomes the mental part," Minaya said. "He has that. With the Yankees, he doesn't have to be the guy. He's not the savior there."

Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, who watched Weaver, a pitcher whose repertory the Yankees adored, wilt in New York, called the concerns about Vazquez's relocation to a much more chaotic baseball address "legitimate questions."

"Just because someone hasn't played in New York doesn't mean they can't handle it," Cashman said. "It's a harder mountain to climb. But if you believe in the player, you take the plunge."

When Minaya talked with Cashman at the general managers' meetings in November, he compared him with Martínez and told a reporter that Vazquez was "a young Pedro." Martínez was 65-39 with a 3.00 E.R.A. in his first six seasons in the major leagues; Vazquez was 64-68 with a 4.16 E.R.A. in the same time frame. Vazquez declined to compare himself with Martínez, a natural reaction from a humble pitcher regarding a three-time Cy Young award winner who is 101-28 since being traded to the Red Sox. But in discussing the future, Vazquez remarked, "The one thing I will say is I can get better and that's what I'm trying to do."

While Vazquez tries to improve with the Yankees, he has already noticed an enhancement in his profile. He spent a weekend in Manhattan in January and was surprised when some people recognized him. Vazquez says he realizes that he will continue receiving more attention and scrutiny. He is now, after all, on a team that has a numbered parking spot for him.

"I'm the kind of guy that likes to be under the radar," Vazquez said. "I know that's not always a possibility in New York, and I understand that. My main goal here is to win. To win and to help the team win a world championship."

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