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DOWN THE LINE

When the rosters for the All-Star game are announced today, Florida Marlins slugger Dan Uggla is pretty much a lock to be chosen for the second time in three big league seasons. And while he has become an All-Star because of his bat -- he’s tied for second in the majors with 23 homers despite missing six games because of a sprained ankle -- he wouldn’t even be a candidate if not for his glove.

For that, the second baseman has Perry Hill to thank.

Uggla had never played above double A when the Marlins claimed him off the Arizona Diamondbacks’ roster in the 2005 Rule V draft. And the reason was simple: He couldn’t catch the ball, averaging an error every five games.

Rise of Uggla a true glove story

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But the Marlins had Hill, who has coached players to Gold Gloves at all four infield positions. Hill called Uggla two weeks before that first spring training and gave him two choices. He could try to make the team his way, in which case Hill would leave him alone. Or he could do it Hill’s way.

“He said, ‘Give me all you’ve got,’ ” Hill recalled from his home in Texas, where he has spent the last two summers attending to family matters. “I abused the kid in spring training and he never complained. I worked with him before games, after games. When he came out of games early I worked with him. And he never said a word.

“He made himself a good player. He knew he was close and he wanted it.”

And as a result Uggla entered the weekend with the fourth-best fielding percentage among NL second basemen.

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“He helped me as much as anybody could help somebody,” Uggla said. “We started working from the bottom and worked our way up to the top. I realized really quick that this guy knew what he was talking about. Whatever he said I was going to do.”

Hill hopes to return to coaching next spring.

Astros keep pitchers in their place

Last week Pittsburgh’s John Russell became the third manager in the NL Central to write out a lineup card in which his pitcher batted eighth, joining St. Louis’ Tony La Russa and Milwaukee’s Ned Yost. The strategy puts an extra hitter in front of the run-producers in the middle of the lineup.

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“We’re trying to see how we can take advantage of our lineup,” Russell told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It seemed intriguing.”

Just don’t expect Houston’s Cecil Cooper to follow the trend any time soon.

“I know why they’re doing it, yeah, but I wouldn’t do it. Not at all,” he said dismissively. “I’ve never given a lot of thought to it.”

Wonder if there’s any connect between Cooper’s thinking and the fact that Houston entered Saturday last in the NL Central, having been outscored by . . . the Cardinals, Brewers and Pirates.

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Houston, we have a problem

On the other hand, the Astros’ struggles three seasons after winning a pennant may have nothing to do with the batting order.

Although Shawn Chacon’s meltdown last month, in which he attacked General Manager Ed Wade, was an isolated incident, many people close to the Astros say a widening chasm has developed between the veteran clubhouse and rookie manager Cooper and his first-year pitching coach, Dewey Robinson.

Third base coach Ed Romero doesn’t buy it.

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“The team is fine. The chemistry is fine,” Romero said, noting that no one mentioned dissension when the team won 11 of 13 to vault to second in the Central in May. “Sometimes you get ups and downs in the season. That’s what happened to us. When we won all those games, nobody was saying anything. We just got in a bad streak and we weren’t playing consistent baseball and all of a sudden all this stuff comes out.”

-- Kevin Baxter


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