Workhorse has been put out to pasture by specialization

ON BASEBALL

September 27, 1991|By Jim Henneman

At the rate most major-league managers are progressing, baseball could soon see the day when a pitching staff will have more specialists than starters.

It's enough to make you wonder how Roger Clemens, and more recently Jack McDowell, slipped through the cracks -- and who will be the workhorses to take their place.

You may have noticed that there seems to be an unwritten code that says if a save situation exists (which is a heavy majority of the time), make sure the opportunity is presented. If the ace closer doesn't get the ball every time there's a three-run lead in the ninth inning it's as though his manhood is being questioned. It's as though the "code" says, whenever possible, get a win and a save.

More and more pitchers are being geared toward six-inning "quality starts," as though somebody decided to invoke Little League rules. Pitch limits seem to max out at 100, which makes you wonder how these arms are ever supposed to be "stretched out," to borrow a popular term.

My personal favorite example is California's Jim Abbott, whose managers may have unwittingly conspired to cost him this year's American League Cy Young Award. Four times in the last seven weeks, the Angels' lefthander has been involved in games that were either scoreless or 1-0 after nine innings.

The two times that Abbott held the lead, he was removed after the sixth and seventh innings. When he was losing 1-0 and in a scoreless tie he was allowed to finish the game, losing the most recent on a three-run homer in the 10th inning.

How come he was good enough to pitch complete games and lose, but not allowed to hang around while he was pitching a shutout? Don't give up any runs and you come out; give up one and go to the finish line. You figure it out.

Toronto's Jimmy Key gave up three hits and two runs (on a Ken Griffey Jr. home run) in the first inning in Seattle last week. He gave up two more hits and no runs in the next four innings. As soon as he qualified for the win (five innings), Key left with a 3-2 lead. Would he have come out trailing 2-1? That game incidentally began the stretch that took a tremendous toll on Toronto's heralded bullpen, and nearly cost the Blue Jays dearly.

The other night Kansas City manager Hal McRae pulled starter )) Kevin Appier with a 5-1 lead after six innings. One inning and two pitchers later the score was 5-4 and closer Jeff Montgomery pitched two innings instead of the customary one.

You can find similar games in the box scores virtually every day. If this keeps up a pitching staff will be broken down to four categories and will have even more "official" statistics, just what we need.

The modern version of a perfect game might go something like this -- the starter leaves after five innings with the lead, the hold man comes on for two, the setup man for one, followed by the saver.

And, naturally, we'll need right and lefthanded holders, setups and savers. Starters could then be primed to go 75 pitches or less. Then the players association could lobby for rule changes requiring three innings to qualify for a win and recognition for holds and setups in addition to saves. And agents could specialize in the four categories.

Thank goodness it's only a game.

* THIS ONE COULD HAUNT: The Yankees win this week's award for statistic of the week. They had two runners picked off base, two more thrown out at home plate, and allowed the go-ahead run to score on a passed ball.

All of this took place in a game they won. Do you think the Red Sox, who lost the game, will remember this one if they pull up one game short?

* NO GREATER LOVE DEPT.: You've heard about the $6 million man, but what about a $3 million baby. Tom Brunansky has a clause in his contract that calls for an automatic renewal (at $3 million) for 1993 if he plays 145 games either this year or next.

When he wasn't used in the first game of yesterday's doubleheader, Brunansky was mathematically eliminated this year. The veteran outfielder needed to play the final 12 games to reach 145. What makes this situation even more interesting is the fact that Brunansky missed the three-game series against the Orioles last week in Boston so he could be with his wife in California when she gave birth to their second son.

The kid's college education might not be riding on the outcome, but Brunansky, who is hitting only .227, might have a tougher time playing 145 games next year than this year. Which means that trip to the West Coast could cost Brunansky a mil or two, especially if he's still hitting .227.

* PRESSURE? WHAT PRESSURE? Don't you love it when a player on a team chasing the division leader indicates he'd rather be in that spot than first place?

"I still think the pressure is on them [the Toronto Blue Jays] more than us," Red Sox reliever Jeff Reardon said earlier in the week. "We have a lot of veterans on this team who have been through this before."

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