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Ratto: Hudson Trade a Bust

It's now official: Hudson trade just a big bust
Ray Ratto

Friday, June 17, 2005

uan Cruz strode angrily from the A's clubhouse within 10 minutes of the end of Thursday's 9-6 loss to the New York Mets, wearing a look of great agitation and a Warren Sapp jersey that you may rest assured was not built to scale.

He said nothing. More important for the moment, nothing was said to him.

It seems clear, though, that his career as a Sacramento River Cat is about to begin, barring some sort of overnight change of heart, because his career as an Oakland Athletic seems to be in full vapor-lock.

The Oakland brains-on-site -- general manager Billy Beane and manager Ken Macha -- met after the game, and according to Macha, discussed Cruz's demotion. The suggestion floated in the manager's office that it might well have been done had Cruz not left the building.

But the fact it was discussed, and that Macha felt free enough to say so, indicates that Cruz will soon become part of the River Cats' starting rotation, because the relief thing just hasn't worked out.

This usually wouldn't be so noteworthy, a long reliever on the verge of organizational relocation, except that Cruz was the Oakland-bound showpiece of the still-notorious Tim Hudson trade -- a lively arm whose owner just needed a bit of maturation and TLC.

But Hudson has done well in Atlanta (except for the fact that he just went on the disabled list with a recurrence of his oblique muscle strain), while Cruz was rocked in each of his first four appearances as an Elephant and never got his ERA on the sunny side of 7 in any of his last 19 appearances; it sits now at an DayGlo green 8.49.

Between him, outfielder Charles Thomas (who was sent down with a .105 batting average) and pitcher Dan Meyer (hurt, with no estimate on recovery time), the A's got even less from the Hudson trade than they got from the Mark McGwire deal. If that doesn't put a spring in Eric Ludwick's step, I don't know what will.

Thursday's effort was nothing out of the ordinary, which is the issue at hand. On the heels of Carlos Beltran's game-changing three-run homer off starter Ryan Glynn, Cruz came in and gave up ringing singles to Cliff Floyd and Mike Piazza. He got a fielder's choice groundout from Brian Daubach, but then walked Victor Diaz. All three runners eventually scored as the back end of a seven-run fifth inning that sucked the drama out of the building.

"I liked (Cruz's) power against those two guys," Macha said, explaining why he went to Cruz instead of, say, Keiichi Yabu. "But they certainly got the head (of the bat) on his fastball."

It was a damning sentence, dripping with exasperation as well as bafflement. Cruz's arm has been a wonder in both of his previous organizations. He had some success in Atlanta as a starter last year, but he has been a bad fit in Oakland, so far. Thus, the germination of the idea to send him down to the state capital and start him in hopes of finding a groove, or of abandoning the one he's in.

"It might be a good thing for him to start, and I suspect it would help him, because he hasn't had a whole lot of pitches (up here). He hasn't had a whole lot of action, but that's self-inflicted also," Macha said.

But no announcement was made, because Cruz, who weighs barely more than Sapp's right leg, blew out of the Coliseum just ahead of the rainstorm that had been threatening throughout the day. Perhaps he was angry at his performance, or unwilling to address the notebooks-on-the-hoof who were about, or maybe he suspected that there's a bad moon on the rise.

Maybe all three.

But the product of his absence was a decision placed in abeyance, for Beane and Macha to either reconsider or reaffirm after a beer, or 12.

It is clear that Cruz needs something, because even a team that is 10 games out in June has no inclination to be patient with someone whose ERA is the Tallahassee area code.

But the flip side is that if he is sent down, he is being sent down for a purpose, to somehow rebuild what Beane saw in him when he put Hudson on the trade table with a "Best Offer" sign around his neck. This is not a dump job, as is the clear-out being done of the Giants' bullpen.

But the load is on Cruz to deliver, whether it be here or in Sacramento, because there has never been a good time to be a consistently bad relief pitcher, Even left-handers with this kind of two-month resume don't get that many chances for redemption.

Besides, he may want to go with a Randy Moss jersey anyway. That Sapp look is so Aught-Three.

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