DOWN THE LINE

Los Angeles Times - - Inside Baseball - — Kevin Bax­ter

Time to ad­dress use of maple bats

It took the Ephedrine-re­lated death of Bal­ti­more Ori­oles pitcher Steve Bech­ler to get the pow­er­ful play­ers’ union to bend on the is­sue of drug test­ing. Let’s hope it doesn’t take an­other death for the union to make fur­ther con­ces­sions about the use of maple bats.

What hap­pened last Sun­day to Chicago Cubs rookie Tyler Colvin should be enough of a wake-up call. Colvin was hos­pi­tal­ized for four days and had his sea­son ended when his chest was punc­tured by part of team­mate Wel­ing­ton Castillo’s bro­ken maple bat. Colvin was at­tempt­ing to score from third on a Castillo dou­ble when he was hit.

For years, the com­mis­sioner’s of­fice, driven by safety con­cerns, has been push­ing for tougher stan­dards on maple bats — stan­dards the union ini­tially fought. This spring, base­ball banned cer­tain types of maple bats in the mi­nors. But play­ers on 40-man ros­ters, who are union mem­bers, were ex­empt from the ban.

Be­cause maple bats are harder, play­ers say the ball jumps off them much quicker than it does off bats made from ash, which is a softer, lighter wood. But al­though ash bats splin­ter when they break, maple bats usu­ally break in half, of­ten send­ing the heavy “meat” end into the field — and some­times into the stands.

The day af­ter Colvin was re­leased from the hos­pi­tal, Toronto short­stop Yunel

Es­co­bar nar­rowly missed be­ing hit in the head by a bro­ken bat, and Texas pitcher Cliff Lee­was nicked by the fat end of Jack Cust’s bro­ken bat in Oak­land.

The rate of maple bats break­ing has dropped by half since the com­mis­sioner’s of­fice de­manded bat mak­ers ad­here to tougher stan­dards two sea­sons ago. But that’s not enough.

“If these maple bats are the ones break­ing the most, it’s got to be ad­dressed,” said San Diego Man­ager

Bud Black, a for­mer big league pitcher. “We’ve seen it all year. De­fend­ers are duck­ing. Third base coaches are duck­ing. There’s a lot of duck­ing go­ing on.”

In for a short fall?

The At­lanta Braves’ late-sea­son swoon has left their play­off hopes in jeop­ardy. And they’re not the only con­tender limp­ing to­ward the reg­u­lar-sea­son fin­ish line.

The Texas Rangers won a shal­low Amer­i­can League West de­spite en­ter­ing the week­end a game un­der .500 since June 30. And their of­fense has ap­par­ently gone south as well. Be­fore break­ing out for 14 runs in their last two games, al­low­ing them to clinch the di­vi­sion crown, the Rangers had gone 32 in­nings with­out an earned run. As a re­sult, Josh Hamil­ton, who leads the ma­jors with a .361bat­ting av­er­age de­spite missing the last three weeks be­cause of two bro­ken ribs, is at­tempt­ing to rush back into the lineup.

No place like home

Last week, Min­nesota be­came the first team to clinch a play­off berth. But don’t think that means the Twins have noth­ing to play for over the fi­nal week of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

The Twins are locked in a tight bat­tle with the New York Yan­kees and Tampa Bay Rays for the best record in the Amer­i­can League and the home-field ad­van­tage that goes with it — and that’s some­thing the Twins need to win.

Min­nesota has the league’s best record at home, where it be­gan Satur­day bat­ting 20 points higher and scor­ing a quar­ter-run more per game. Its staff earned-run av­er­age is also more than three-quar­ters of a run bet­ter at home.

Es­co­bar

Colvin

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