Notes: Grissom adjusts to Tal's Hill

Notes: Grissom adjusts to Tal's Hill

HOUSTON -- Most outfielders love to hit at Minute Maid Park, but would rather play in a cow pasture than the outfield.

Center field, a vast 436 feet to dead center, is not only quite a bit of ground to cover, but there's also Tal's Hill beyond the warning track, just to make life a little more interesting.

Veteran Marquis Grissom, who started in center Thursday night for San Francisco, refused to complain about the park.

"It's not that tough," he said. "I like the design. I like the uniqueness of different ballparks. We're professionals. We can make adjustments."

Tal's Hill is named after Tal Smith, Houston's president of baseball operations. The hill was his idea, a throwback to the days of old Crosley Field in Cincinnati, which had a sloped terrace in front of the outfield wall instead of a warning track.

Grissom, now 38, had a close encounter with Tal's Hill when he was playing for the Dodgers.

"I ran up the hill two years ago," he said. "Yeah, I fell down. It's like somebody takes the air out of your knees. You've got to keep your eye on the ball. You can't worry about going up the hill.

"You don't need to complain. That's part of the game."

Grissom said he planned to take fly balls before the game running up the hill.

There are three flag poles in center field, one on the left in front of the fence. Grissom said it reminds him of the field where he played Little League in Atlanta, where there were two flag poles in play.

"It's a long way," he said. "You're trying to keep a triple from being an inside-the-park homer. I play normal [depth]."

Four Minor Leaguers suspended: Four players in the San Francisco Minor League organization were on the list of 11 players suspended Thursday by Major League Baseball for 15 games in violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

Three of the players, Joshua Cram, Brian Mazone and Oscar Montero, are pitchers. The fourth, Guillermo Rodriguez, is a catcher.

"I was disappointed to learn that four players in our Minor League system reportedly failed their tests in connection with the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program," said San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean. "I hope that today's announcement will send a message that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is unacceptable and that Major League Baseball is serious about removing them from our game."

Cram is from the state of Washington, Mazone from California, and Montero and Rodriguez from Venezuela.

"The Latin players mostly come from Third World countries," Giants manager Felipe Alou said when asked about the large number of Latin players who have already been suspended for failing a drug test this season.

"They have a wide opportunity to acquire a paper, a document (a false birth certificate), a drug. They lack the advice. They don't have people to warn them on what might happen.

"They have people telling them, 'This stuff will make you stronger, help you get to the big leagues.'"

Levine placed on DL: San Francisco called up right-hander Brad Hennessey from Triple-A Fresno to start Thursday night's game at Houston, replacing Jason Schmidt in the rotation.

To make room for Hennessey, the Giants placed right-hander Al Levine on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Wednesday, with a right neck strain.

Hennessey made one previous start this season, May 1 at Pittsburgh, when he allowed three runs and five hits in seven innings and earned the victory.

Snow day: First baseman J.T. Snow remained in San Francisco with a stomach virus. He had missed the last five games because of the illness. Snow may be able to join the team Friday.

Happy Birthday! San Francisco manager Felipe Alou celebrated his 70th birthday Thursday.

"I slept in, didn't get up until noon," Alou said of his birthday schedule. "I went to two places where I usually have lunch and they were both closed."

Felipe said he received a birthday present Wednesday from his favorite left fielder, son Moises, but would not reveal the gift. "That's personal," he said.

Coming up: The Giants continue their four-game series at Houston on Friday evening with left-hander Kirk Rueter scheduled to start for San Francisco against Astros rookie right-hander Ezequiel Astacio. Rueter pitched a complete game against Pittsburgh in his last start. First baseman J.T. Snow, who missed the last six games with a stomach virus, is expected to rejoin the Giants.

Gene Duffey is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.