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Comeback Central
2003-05-15 08:44
by Jon Weisman

Still holding your breath?

With Kevin Brown's strikeout of Greg Maddux to end the top of the fifth inning Wednesday night, the Dodgers completed exactly 25 percent of their season.

Brown is still standing. The walls and furniture of visiting locker rooms across North America may not still be standing, but Brown is.

In 2003, Brown is 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA. Next week, Brown will probably match his totals for all of 2002 in games started and innings pitched. Coming off a 3-4, 4.81 season, Brown has emerged as a leading candidate for the National League Comeback Player of the Year award.

His biggest competition? Darren Dreifort.

Dreifort is still standing, too. At 2-3 with a 3.95 ERA, Dreifort's 2003 stats are not as impressive as Brown's. But Dreifort, of course, had an infinite ERA in 2002 - so to reach 3.95 is actually quite a reduction.

Dreifort is allowing an OPS of .674. Brown is allowing an OPS of .561.

Dreifort is giving the Dodgers a steady 6.16 innings per start. Brown is giving the Dodgers 6.34 innings per start worthy of an ace.

The big question, of course, remains how the remaining 74.7 percent of the season will unfold for Brown and Dreifort. Brown really looks comfortable right now; he hit 95 mph on the Dodger Stadium radar gun in the seventh inning Wednesday night, just as he did in the eighth inning May 4. There is no semblance of a pitcher with ailments. Dreifort appears the more fragile pitcher - more because of his knee than his arm right now, but handle-with-caresque just the same.

But what do you think about the smaller question? If their seasons played out the way they have so far, who would be named Comeback Player of the Year? The guy who went from injury-plagued to great, or the guy who went from shelved to good?

Survey says ... Brown. His final numbers would shine, and the difference between Brown's statistics from 2002-2003 is a plenty substantial indication of how major his ailments were. I think Brown would get points for even attempting to pitch in 2002.

In contrast, a Dreifort that finishes with 10 wins and an ERA in the neighborhood of 4.00 would get a tip of the cap for his efforts, but not much more. Brown's stats would make Dreifort's look mediocre, and I don't think anyone wants to give the reward to a mediocre pitcher - especially one that gets paid like he's an ace. A sharper contrast will be drawn between the 2003 performances of Brown and Dreifort than their 2002 injuries.

What could hurt Brown's candidacy?

If the next thing he slams with a bat in a locker room isn't a shelf, but a reporter.

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