Sports Briefs

Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Rockets pay much attention to Yao Ming

HOUSTON -- The Houston Rockets are looking at their options with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, and they all seem to be pointing to 7-foot-5 center Yao Ming of China.

General manager Carroll Dawson acknowledged that with plenty of other elite players to consider, the Rockets have much work to do before the June 26 draft. But the intriguing possibility of the Rockets selecting a center with superstar potential -- as they did with Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984 -- has everyone excited.

''On the street, I have a hard time going anywhere,'' Dawson said. ''It brings a lot of talk and that has to be considered. Believe me, it will be.''

That doesn't mean he's complaining.

''The first pick has a great feel to it, and being on the inside is very exciting,'' Dawson added. ''We are still on a big high.''

Griffey could return this weekend

CINCINNATI -- Ken Griffey Jr. looked so smooth while catching fly balls Tuesday that the Cincinnati Reds projected he could be back in the lineup this weekend.

Griffey tore the patella tendon in his right knee on April 7 and has been confined to batting practice and therapy.

He caught fly balls Tuesday for the first time since the injury and had no problems. A coach hit balls from side to side, and Griffey even ran one down in the gap on the warning track.

''I was very impressed by the way he moved in the outfield, the way he's swinging the bat, the way he's throwing,'' general manger Jim Bowden said. ''I'm very encouraged and optimistic that he'll be able to be activated sometime this weekend in Atlanta.''

It's the first time that the Reds have set a target for his return. Following a three-game series against Florida at Cinergy Field, the Reds play three games in Atlanta, followed by a series in Florida.

Snyder eyes Northern Virginia for baseball team

WASHINGTON -- Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder has taken the first steps toward bringing a baseball team to the Virginia suburbs of Washington.

Snyder said Tuesday he has contacted and discussed working with the Virginia Stadium Baseball Authority, whose exclusive agreement with telecommunications executive William Collins expires at the end of the month.

Snyder announced last month that he and Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson formed a group aimed at bringing a team to the Washington area.

''We're waiting and seeing like everybody else,'' Snyder said in an interview with Associated Press reporters and editors. ''I think people on the baseball front are waiting to see what happens with the union, and then ... take that journey.''

Snyder and Johnson are the third team in a race with room for only two. A group led by businessman Fred Malek recently signed an exclusive agreement to deal with the District of Columbia, while Collins has been working with the Northern Virginia authority for five years.

Rocker sent to minors

DALLAS -- The Texas Rangers sent erratic reliever John Rocker to the minors for the second time this season Tuesday, yet another setback in his troubled career.

The Rangers, unhappy with Rocker's performance against left-handed batters, optioned him to Triple-A Oklahoma and recalled left-hander Randy Flores.

Rocker, however, thinks he can straighten himself out without a trip to the minors.

''My number against lefties is 4-for-17 (with) one walk. Out of the four hits, one was an infield hit and two were broken-bat hits,'' said Rocker, pitching in a setup role this year instead of closing games. ''It's a new situation for me.''

Also, the Rangers activated outfielder Carl Everett from the 15-day disabled list. Everett, batting just .173 since he was acquired from Boston this offseason for pitcher Darren Oliver, has been out since May 4 with a strained right calf muscle.

Rocker never reported to Oklahoma the first time he was sent down, on April 17. He spent several days working with pitching consultant Tom House and was recalled by the Rangers six days later.

''We feel like he needs to do a better job,'' Texas manager Jerry Narron said. ''He's not gotten left-handed hitters out anywhere near consistently enough. We want him to go to Triple-A and work on that, and hopefully he'll come back and pitch really well.''

Slumping Athletics make changes

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The slumping Oakland Athletics, faced with 14 losses in 18 games, shook up their roster Tuesday in hopes of turning around the season.

The A's optioned rookie first baseman Carlos Pena, second baseman Frank Menechino and right-handed reliever Jeff Tam to Triple-A Sacramento. To replace them, Oakland recalled infielder Esteban German and outfielder Adam Piatt from Sacramento and purchased the contract of infielder Larry Sutton.

''This is probably a little wakeup call for the whole team,'' A's manager Art Howe said.

The A's, who won 102 games last season and went to the playoffs for the second straight year, tinkered with their lineup after dropping three straight to the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend.

Going into Tuesday night's game against the Baltimore Orioles, Oakland had dropped to five games under .500 for a third-place tie in the AL West with the Texas Rangers. The A's have been hit by a number of key injuries. Outfielder Jermaine Dye opened the season on the disabled list because of a broken leg from last year's playoff series against the New York Yankees.

Ace Mark Mulder, who won 21 games last season, had a stint on the DL with left forearm strain, and outfielder David Justice is currently on the DL with a right groin strain.

At the plate, Justice was expected to make up for the absence of Jason Giambi, the A's All-Star first baseman who bolted for the Yankees as a free agent in the offseason.

The A's also had big hopes for Pena, who took over this season in Giambi's place at first. He started well, with seven home runs to tie him for lead among AL rookies.

But over his last 15 games, Pena was batting. 100 with zero RBIs.

''We just feel, just because we're losing we can't afford to carry him and we want him to get going back there (Sacramento),'' Howe said.

Piatt has appeared in 96 games with the A's over the past two seasons, batting .266 with five homers and 29 RBIs. He was batting .426 with an 11-game hitting streak for the River Cats before being called up.

Sutton, who played in 56 games for the St. Louis Cardinals the past two seasons, was batting .310 with four home runs and 26 RBIs in 41 games with the River Cats.

German, the River Cats' second baseman, was batting .277 with 15 RBIs in 38 games. He made his major league debut at second against the Orioles on Tuesday night.

''He's a leadoff hitter with speed,'' Howe said. ''He's got all the tools.''

Opponents were batting .384 against Tam, who had a 6.52 ERA in 19 relief appearances this season. Menechino was batting .210 in 34 games.

''Basically with the three guys, the performance wasn't there,'' Howe said about the demotions. ''Every young player has to get an opportunity.''

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