Rocker plans to report to minors this time

Wednesday, May 22nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DALLAS (AP) _ John Rocker plans to report to his minor league assignment this time.

Unlike last month, when Rocker worked with a private instructor rather than go to Triple-A Oklahoma, the left-handed reliever is expected to join the Texas Rangers' affiliate for Friday's game against Sacramento.

``John's going to report. He understands there are things he needs to work on, and he intends to do just that,'' Rocker's agent, Joe Sambito told The Associated Press on Thursday. ``His attitude is good. He's intent on improving and he's confident that he can do that.''

The Rangers demoted Rocker again Tuesday because of continued poor pitching, primarily against left-handed hitters. He has until Friday to report or probably will be put on the suspended list by the team.

Rangers GM John Hart didn't return phone messages Thursday, but team officials made it clear earlier this week that Rocker would be expected to go to the Pacific Coast League.

``Oklahoma City is his destination, and that's the only destination,'' assistant GM Dan O'Brien said after informing Rocker of his release before a game at Minnesota.

When Rocker was initially optioned April 16, after he gave up two runs in the 10th inning of a 6-5 loss at Anaheim, he didn't go to Oklahoma. Instead, he stayed in California to work on his delivery mechanics with Tom House at a performance clinic owned by the former Rangers pitching coach.

Rocker was recalled a week later by the Rangers after 10-time All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez was put on the disabled list with a herniated disk. The Rangers used Rocker in a setup role, rather than as the closer.

In 17 games, Rocker is 0-1 with one save in four chances and a 7.53 ERA. He has given up 21 hits and 13 runs _ 12 earned _ over 14 1-3 innings with 18 strikeouts and six walks.

Left-handers are hitting .440 (11-for-25) against Rocker, including a .417 clip (5-for-12) in 11 games after he returned and his slider still wasn't too effective. Going into this season, left-handers had hit just .190 against him in his career.

Sambito, a former major league pitcher, said the 27-year-old old Rocker is going through some growing pains.

``He was a top-notch closer, one of the best in the big leagues with outstanding postseason credentials,'' Sambito said. ``Now all of a sudden, something is preventing him from doing that again. He's frustrated like anyone would be.

``He got to the big leagues and rose to the top in a very key role on a championship club,'' he said. ``What he didn't experience on his way up were the struggles of a young player. He's now having difficulty handling the struggles.''

In his first full major league season, Rocker had 38 saves in 1999, when Atlanta went to the World Series. The Braves went to the playoffs again in 2000, when Rocker had 24 saves.

But Rocker hasn't been the same dominating pitcher since a Sports Illustrated article before the 2000 season in which he made disparaging remarks about gays, minorities and others.

The Braves traded Rocker last season to Cleveland, where Hart was then the general manager. Rocker was 3-7 with four saves and a 5.45 ERA in 38 games for Cleveland, but Hart traded for the hard-throwing lefty after become GM in Texas.

Rangers owner Tom Hicks said Rocker was ``stinking it up'' after watching his team get swept in a three-game series at Detroit. Rocker allowed a home run to left-hander Robert Fick in the opener of that series.

Manager Jerry Narron said the move was also being considered before the owner's comments.