Francona has Indians headed in right direction

Pierzynski noted that Cotts has become more of a pitcher than in those days, when he could overpower hitters with his mid-90s fastball.

"His stuff is similar in that he's sneaky and it gets in on hitters,'' he told the Dallas Morning News. "But he does throw more off-speed. He's getting guys on cutters and sliders, which he never used to throw. He was 95, 96 back then and he's 91, 92 now. But that's fine. He has been gone so long that people have forgotten how good he was.''

Gone, not forgotten: How important is it to have an ace like Zack Greinke? While Ryan Braun didn't name Greinke, he made it clear he felt a lot better about the Brewers' 2012 team that included Greinke than the current one that entered the weekend having lost 16 of its last 20 games.

"It has been pretty terrible, miserable," Braun said. "It's no fun playing like this. We're barely even competitive."

The Brewers weren't much better at this time last year, but Braun says he felt differently.

"Last year, there was hope," he said. "This year is miserable. We have to win some games so we can feel good about ourselves again."

The Brewers entered the weekend last in the NL with a 5.28 ERA from their rotation.

Pushing it: Jim Riggleman still wonders if he leaned on Kerry Wood too hard in 1998, although he knows the Cubs wouldn't have gone to the playoffs if he hadn't. Fredi Gonzalez knows the feeling.

The Braves' manager is under the gun after a run of Tommy John surgeries to Atlanta pitchers, including seven in the last five years at the big league level. He has been on the job since Bobby Cox retired after the 2010 season and contributed directly to the usage of Arodys Vizcaino, Brandon Beachy, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty, who have fallen victim the last two years.

Venters made an NL-high 85 appearances in 2011 and 79 more last season. O'Flaherty appeared in 78 games in 2011, when he had an 0.98 ERA. The Braves' collapse down the stretch two years ago admittedly has caused Gonzalez to be more judicious in using his top relievers, but he wonders now if the damage was done.

"That's a good question I keep asking myself,'' Gonzalez told Dave O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "I mean, (O'Flaherty's number of appearances) aren't crazy. You could have an argument with Jonny. But (O'Flaherty's) numbers were OK, appearance-wise. … I am a believer, the more I'm in this, you have a certain amount of bullets, and when it's time to blow, it blows.''

Twitter @ChiTribRogers



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