Braves' Rocker No-Show At Richmond

Wednesday, June 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — John Rocker was a no-show on his first day as a member of the Richmond Braves. If and when the controversial reliever does join the Triple A club, his future teammates said he'll be welcomed as just another player.

Rocker, assigned to the International League team by the Atlanta Braves on Monday, has three days to report. Speculation was that he would join the team in Toledo, Ohio, on Wednesday, where the Braves were to begin a three-game series.

Even the team wasn't sure when Rocker would arrive.

``They said maybe Toledo, maybe tonight,'' Richmond pitching coach Mike Alvarez said before Tuesday night's 5-2 loss to Norfolk. ``We don't really know.''

In Richmond, Rocker will be reunited with manager Randy Ingle and several former teammates, including one-time roommate Wes Helms and Mark DeRosa, a teammate in the minors, instructional leagues and earlier this season in Atlanta.

Ingle, who was Rocker's manager for part of 1996 at Durham and 1997 at Greenville, held a pregame meeting Tuesday night and said he told the team to stay focused on baseball no matter what distractions Rocker's arrival brings. He said he also told them ``to be careful about what you say'' about the situation.

The Braves have not yet given Ingle or his staff any instructions about how Rocker is to be used, Ingle said. He also said he doesn't plan to treat Rocker any differently than he would any other new player, despite their history together.

``This is the Triple A club for the Atlanta Braves and the competition here in this league is very good,'' he said. ``It's just a place for him to come and work on his mechanics and, as soon as he can, get back up to Atlanta and help them win.''

DeRosa said he thinks the players at Richmond have put Rocker's comments to a Sports Illustrated reporter on foreigners, gays and minorities behind them, and that the struggling left-handed closer would probably have a short stay here.

``Yeah, he screwed up, but he's a good man,'' DeRosa said. ``Hopefully he can come down here and straighten himself out physically and mentally and hopefully go on to bigger and better things. I'm sure he'll be out of here in no time.''

If anything, these Braves hope he can help them turn things around. While the parent club has the best record in the big leagues, their top affiliate has the worst record in professional baseball among teams well into their season.

Tuesday night's loss was Richmond's fifth straight and 43rd in 57 games.

``I hope he comes and saves 10 games,'' general manager Bruce Baldwin said.

Rocker, whose demotion came a day after he threatened the reporter whose story originally got him into trouble with baseball, had 10 saves in 11 opportunities and a 3.93 ERA with Atlanta, but had walked 25 batters in 18 1-3 innings.

He must spend at least 10 days in the minors unless he's traded.

Pitching coach Mike Alvarez worked with Rocker some in spring training and has seen him pitch several times on television this season, but said he won't really be able to begin addressing Rocker's problems until the two have a chance to talk.

``Maybe he's trying too hard,'' Alvarez said. ``He's still throwing hard, so he's not backing off any. Maybe he's just trying too hard to make the perfect pitch.''

Braves pitcher Joe Winkelsas hopes Rocker can escape the spotlight here.

``I think everybody should just leave the guy alone,'' Winkelsas said. ``Did he bring it on himself? Yes he did. Is he in the public eye? Yes, he is.

``But when are we going to let it die?''