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Vazquez Out To Prove Worth After Trade

AP Sports Writer

February 18, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Javier Vazquez has come to terms with his trade to Arizona from the New York Yankees, and he's out to prove he's an elite pitcher who just had one bad half-season.

"I feel pretty good about being here," Vazquez said after the Diamondbacks' pitchers and catchers went through their first spring training workout Thursday.

"Even though there was a lot of noise that I didn't want to play on the West Coast, I prefer playing on a winning team in the West, rather than a losing team on the East Coast," Vazquez said. "That's the key for me."

He said he likes the East because of its proximity to his native Puerto Rico, but was impressed with the many moves the Diamondbacks made in the offseason. Even though Arizona lost 111 games last year, Vazquez believes the rebuilt team can be a winner.

The 28-year-old right-hander acknowledged that he was displeased with the prospect of going to Arizona as part of the deal that sent Randy Johnson to New York, and relayed his feelings to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman before the trade went through.

"I called him and told him that I didn't want to get traded, because I really didn't want it to end the way it ended in New York," Vazquez said. "I wanted to go back there and show everybody I'm a better pitcher than what I did the second half of last season."

After signing a four-year, $45 million contract with the Yankees, he was 14-9 with a 4.75 ERA in his only season in the Bronx, but won just one of his last nine starts.

In his last 10 starts, he was 2-4 with a 6.45 ERA. His final appearance in Yankee pinstripes was as a reliever in Game 7 of the ALCS against Boston. On his first pitch, he gave up a grand slam to Johnny Damon.

Vazquez said he studied videotape and found the problem was with his mechanics.

"Instead of staying on top of the ball, I was kind of pushing the ball," he said. "I had a low arm angle. I think that had a lot to do with the movement on my pitches and the action that my pitches had."

When the trade for Johnson came through, Vazquez flew to Phoenix for his physical, and met with managing partner Ken Kendrick, team chairman Jeff Moorad, manager Bob Melvin and several players.

Luis Gonzalez took Vazquez to dinner. The experience made him feel wanted and persuaded him the Diamondbacks were serious about a quick turnaround.

Although Vazquez insisted he didn't feel any added pressure pitching in New York, Gonzalez said the right-hander should be more relaxed in the dimmer spotlight of Bank One Ballpark.

"I think he's going to be much more comfortable pitching back in the National League," Gonzalez said. "This is where he came up, and he was successful with the Montreal Expos.

"That's not an easy thing to do. He had his one year on the big stage in New York, and we're happy to have him here."

His late-season stumbles in New York cloud the Montreal success that made Vazquez such a coveted commodity for the Yankees before last season.

Pitching for the lowly Expos, Vazquez was 16-11 with a 3.42 ERA and five complete games in 2001. In 2003, he was 13-12 with a 3.24 ERA, four complete games and 241 strikeouts compared with 57 walks.

Vazquez, who'll be either No. 1 or 2 with Russ Ortiz in the Arizona rotation, scoffs at any suggestion he can replace Johnson.

"He's a sure Hall of Famer," Vazquez said. "He's obviously a great pitcher."

Vazquez can demand a trade after this season. If he does and no trade is made, he becomes a free agent.

He was noncommittal on whether he would seek a trade, saying that while he likes Phoenix, he's never been there for longer than the three-day visits the Expos made.

"Everybody I talked to said great things about playing in Phoenix," Vazquez said. "I'm going to give it a chance here, and if I like it, hopefully I'll be here for a long time."

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