MIAMI -- Steve Kline's "dirty hat" tradition continues, although the grime and dirt and sweat is not easily seen on his black Giants cap. But it's there, all right, and getting worse by the hour. The left-handed reliever wears a gamer cap for a full season -- never cleaned, barely brushed -- to honor his blue-collar family and working stiffs everywhere and because of his superstitious nature that also calls for one undershirt per year and socks worn until his toes poke through.
That latter stuff is dutifully washed, but those socks are marked "L" and "R" after great outings so he'll be lucky the next time and wear them on the correct feet. The Pennsylvania-born Kline says his ancestors were truckers and farmers, with a few coal miners, too. All difficult, sweaty jobs. "They come home dirty after a hard day's work, and it's a symbol to my dad and others that I'm working hard, too," said Kline. "I've always done it. Everybody changes their hats left and right, but I decided to wear one hat the whole season. I like to see how bad and smelly it gets at the end of the year. "I was a groundhog as a kid, dirty all the time," laughed Kline, saying his current cap is holding up well despite splashes of chew spit and various goops. It looks good for the long haul, although it grew in perspiration content this week with the Florida humidity. A proud day while with the St. Louis Cardinals was when the organization held "Dirty Cap Day" to celebrate Kline's habit (affliction?) and gave away 20,000 scruffy hats to fans. "It's a don't-forget-where-I-come-from type deal," said Kline. All of Kline's idiosyncracies and superstitions are full-blown now, because they're working beautifully. The 33-year-old is 1-1 with a 3.14 ERA entering action Wednesday and has been unscored on in 18 of his team-high 21 appearances. Over his last 11 outings, Kline sports a 1.23 ERA, including 10 scoreless efforts. He's also tied for 10th in the National League by stranding 77.8 percent of inherited runners. "I feel more comfortable with the guys and the situation now," said Kline. "[Manager Felipe Alou] has put me in the right situations against lefties, and I don't have to go out and pitch three nights in a row or throw three innings." He credits pitching coach Dave Righetti and bullpen coach Mark Gardner for strategic and savvy advice, and says Righetti is the first left-handed mentor he's had in his career. "Righetti and Gardy are real good -- they're really in touch with you," said Kline. "Righetti is pretty solid at how to throw to guys from my side of the plate. Last year, I taught myself some poor mechanics and I got my butt kicked." Losing some 40 pounds gained during recovery from a finger ailment has returned Kline to his formidable self with proper style and mentality. "I had to start from scratch again," he said. "I've calmed down a little bit and I'm attacking the strike zone." With veteran Tim Worrell on the disabled list with a strained right cervical (neck) muscle, Kline has picked up the setup role but hasn't pitched since Friday. Rest time: Barry Bonds was out of the starting lineup for the second straight game Wednesday, while -- as expected -- outfielder Randy Winn also had a day of much-needed rest. Winn is 0-for-17 overall and hasn't had a hit in his last four contests. In his previous six games, he is only 2-for-25 (.080). Bonds, still available for pinch-hitting, is expected to start Friday's game in New York vs. the Mets. "I ask Pedro [Feliz] if he wanted a day off but he resisted it a little bit," said Alou. "And with Schmitty [Jason Schmidt] pitching, I want the best defensive guys on the field." Jason Ellison started in place of Bonds in left field Wednesday, marking only his second start. Ellison is batting .238 and has only one hit in his last 11 at-bats. Center fielder Steve Finley started in the finale at Dolphin Stadium and isn't expected to play Friday in New York following Thursday's off-day. Coming up: Rookie pitcher Matt Cain (3-5, 5.07 ERA) makes his first venture into New York on Friday night to face the Mets at Shea Stadium for the start of a three-game set. The Mets will feature left-hander Tom Glavine (8-2, 2.59 ERA).
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.