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DOWN THE LINE

Weaver to St. Louis? Not in the cards

The Cardinals have the worst starting pitching in the National League. Jeff Weaver has been the worst starting pitcher in the American League, for the Mariners.

Weaver and the Cardinals made for a nice combination last season, when Weaver shook off three dismal months with the Angels and pitched St. Louis to victory in the final game of the World Series, so perhaps a reunion would be in the best interests of both parties.

“No,” Cardinals General Manager Walt Jocketty said. “He had his opportunity. He chose to go to Seattle.”

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In the aftermath of the World Series, Weaver said he wanted to stay in St. Louis, with a champion and with pitching coach Dave Duncan, and the Cardinals said they wanted to keep him. The Cardinals offered two years at $10 million and one year at $5 million; the Mariners signed him for one year at $8.3 million.

Weaver made six starts and lost them all, with a 14.32 earned-run average and opponents hitting .459 off him. The Mariners then put him on the disabled list with a sore shoulder.

Scott Boras, the agent for Weaver, expects him to return soon and rebound, noting his April ERA in previous years -- 7.48 last year, 6.23 in 2005 and 6.07 in 2004.

“We’ve got too many examples of him having a rough month and coming back strong to be productive for his team,” Boras said.

The Cardinals lost most of their starting rotation in free agency -- Weaver to the Mariners, Jeff Suppan to the Brewers, Jason Marquis to the Cubs. Then they lost Chris Carpenter, their ace, to elbow surgery after one start.

The rotation currently includes Kip Wells and Anthony Reyes, who have combined for one victory in 17 starts, converted relievers Braden Looper and Adam Wainwright and long reliever Brad Thompson, who makes his fourth major league start today. The Cardinals’ starters have combined for a league-high 5.42 ERA.

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Cust’s last stand? Well, his longest

In the sixth inning, Mike Piazza dived into third base and injured his shoulder. By the ninth inning, A’s General Manager Billy Beane had e-mailed his Padres counterpart, Kevin Towers. Within hours, the A’s had filled their vacancy at designated hitter by acquiring Jack Cust, a veteran minor leaguer playing for San Diego’s triple-A team.

That was two weeks ago, and Cust hasn’t stopped hitting since. In 13 games, he has hit eight home runs and driven in 20 runs.

His minor league resume is consistent -- lots of home runs, lots of walks, lots of strikeouts. Cust, 28, has drifted through five organizations, none of which gave him more than 74 at-bats in the majors.

Piazza might sit out another month. The job belongs to Cust for now, and he need not fear losing it as soon as the run of home runs turns into a rash of strikeouts.

“He’ll get the opportunity to strike out four times a night,” Beane said. “He’ll get a chance to strike out plenty here. He deserves that opportunity.”

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He could retire in June and come back in July

Roger Clemens sat out the first month before deciding to sign with the Yankees, spurning his hometown Astros in the process. Maybe he should have waited another month, just to make sure.

When Clemens signed two weeks ago, the Yankees were 14-15 and 5 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East, the Astros 13-17 and 7 1/2 games out in the NL Central.

Today, the Astros are closer to first place than the Yankees. The Astros are at .500 and 4 1/2 games out. The Yankees have lost seven of nine, falling to 10 1/2 games out of first place and one-half game out of last, with their next seven games against the Mets, Red Sox and Angels.

If this keeps up, would Clemens accept a July 31 trade to the Astros?

-- Bill Shaikin


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