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Pirates

Sanders enjoys fast start; named Player of the Week

Joe Rutter
| Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Fast starts are nothing new for Pirates outfielder Reggie Sanders. Neither are the slow stretches that follow.

Sanders acknowledges he is one of the streakiest hitters in the game, but that doesn't help him explain the ups and downs he has experienced in his 12-year major-league career.

"If I could answer that, I would not go through them," said Sanders, whose hot start with the Pirates earned him National League player of the week honors Monday. "For me, it's a matter of enjoying the good times, sticking through the bad times, and hopefully, they will go away very quickly."

The next low point Sanders reaches in his Pirates career will be his first. As such, he's hoping to ride out the good times as long as possible. A chance to build on his first-week success was pushed back a day when the Pirates home opener yesterday was postponed by rain.

In his first week with the Pirates, Sanders batted .444 with four homers and 11 RBI, establishing him as an early leader in both power categories. His big week helped the Pirates go 5-1 and surge to the top of the National League Central.

"It would be hard for anybody to match what he did," Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He was a big lift for us. I said before that when Reggie gets in one of those streaks, he's tough. He can carry you, and it's what we needed coming out of the gates."

It was the fourth time Sanders was recognized by the NL as its player of the week. The last time was two years ago when Sanders got off to a similarly hot start with the Arizona Diamondbacks and batted .405 with seven homers and 14 RBI in his first 10 games. Of course, Sanders slumped later in the season and batted .115 in July before getting hot again.

Sanders attributed his first-week success to his approach in spring training. He was one of the team's most consistent hitters in Florida, batting .283 with two homers and 11 RBI in 17 games.

"Whenever you can get accolades for something you've done, it's important," Sanders said. "But I've got to continue to pound it."

For winning the award, Sanders will receive an engraved watch.

BACK TO THE 'BURGH

Keith Osik never lived in Pittsburgh full-time, but he could have qualified for residency status considering the seven seasons he spent wearing a Pirates uniform. Osik made his first visit to the city as a visiting player yesterday, wearing the dark blue and gold of the Milwaukee Brewers.

"It was weird putting on this uniform for the first day of spring training," Osik said after the game was postponed due to rain. "It also was difficult coming through the tunnel on our way here, but what made it easier is we've got a great bunch of guys here."

The Brewers are off to an 0-6 start while his old team has surged to the top of the division with a 5-1 record. Still, Osik is happy to be with the Brewers because of the chance to play more frequently than he did with the Pirates.

Osik, who was lucky to start once every two weeks as Jason Kendall's backup, has been assigned to catch starters Glendon Rusch and Todd Ritchie, another former Pirates player. That assures Osik of at least two starts a week.

"The familiarity is there with Todd," Osik said. "It's a good situation for me."

Osik knew that last season would be his last with the Pirates, who were grooming Humberto Cota as a backup only to change plans and go with Craig Wilson.

"I think that made it easier for me to leave," he said. "But I had nothing but great times here. The Pirates gave me an opportunity to wear a major-league uniform for seven years."

REVERSAL OF FORTUNE

Kris Benson hasn't given up an earned run in two starts and 131/3 innings this season. That has come as a surprise to McClendon, who watched Benson compile a 9.47 ERA in spring training.

"I have to admit I was a little concerned," McClendon said. "The fact is, he was horse (crap) in spring training. You try to mask it and say nice things about it, but we were a little concerned. The ball was up in the zone, and he was behind in the count, but he certainly turned it on when the bell rang. He's been impressive."

Benson was lifted after the seventh inning Sunday having thrown 111 pitches. He wanted to go deeper into the game and had it been June or July, McClendon may have let him.

"You just can't push the physical limits that far this early in the season," McClendon said. "Our pitchers are built up to 90-95 pitches coming out of spring training. To push it to 130 in the second start of the season is pretty high."

INJURY UPDATE

The two pitchers on the 60-day disabled list, Dave Williams and Mike Lincoln, spent the first week working out in Pittsburgh while the team played in Cincinnati and Philadelphia.

Williams (left shoulder surgery) said he has to go through at least two more weeks of rehabilitation exercises before he can head to Florida and pitch in extended spring training. After building up his arm strength there, he'll begin a 30-day injury rehabilitation assignment with a minor-league team.

Lincoln (sore right shoulder) has been playing catch but hasn't been permitted to throw off a mound. That next step might happen later in the week.

GIMME THE BALL

First baseman Randall Simon walked only 13 times in 506 plate appearances last year with the Detroit Tigers and not once this spring with the Pirates. So, when Simon drew his first walk of the season Sunday, the Pirates did what they thought was appropriate.

They asked for the ball. Hitting coach Gerald Perry got the umpire's attention, and the ball was throw back to the Pirates dugout.

"A minor miracle," McClendon said of the walk. "We probably won't see that happen again."

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