Frohwirth finds it's relief to end identity crisis SPRINGING INTO PLAY

March 05, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- It took Todd Frohwirth more than 10 years to decide who he was going to be. First, it was sidewinding Kent Tekulve. Then, it was submarining Dan Quisenberry. Then, Tekulve again.

That's where he was when he arrived in the Orioles organization last year, not really knowing which way to turn until he hooked up with pitching coach Dick Bosman.

"I've always thrown sidearm," Frohwirth said, "but, when I saw Tekulve in the World Series in 1979, that's when I started thinking about what I was doing."

Everybody had an opinion after that. He dropped down a little in junior college, then dropped down a lot -- a la Quisenberry -- at Northwest Missouri State. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies, and they told him to bring his arm back up. He had a measure of success both ways, which only added to the confusion.

"They [the Phillies] thought I looked more like Quisenberry, but they wanted me to look more like Tekulve," he said.

How could he lose? Tekulve was his role model to begin with, and Quisenberry was one of the most effective relievers in the history of the game. As it turned out, he just needed to go back to being Todd Frohwirth, but it took a long time to find someone who felt the same way.

Bosman knew of Frohwirth well before the Orioles signed him as a minor-league free agent in December 1990. He watched the right-hander pitch for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and he diagnosed the problem.

With the sidearm delivery, Frohwirth was having trouble getting the ball inside to left-handed hitters. The rotation of the ball was bringing it back over the plate.

"He wasn't getting down far enough, and the left-handed hitters were working him over," Bosman said. "We had a submariner in our organization who couldn't get left-handers out. He didn't want to drop down any further, and left-handed hitters continued to kill him. He's driving a cab now."

Frohwirth, 29, said he might be doing the same if he had not found a sympathetic ear in the Orioles organization. He pitched well enough to get to the major leagues with the Phillies, but not well enough to establish himself as a relief pitcher.

Not until the Orioles, on the recommendation of Bosman and then-Red Wings manager Greg Biagini, signed him and sent him to Rochester last spring. One year later, he is coming off a solid season -- a 7-3 record and 1.87 ERA in 51 games with the Orioles.

"I've talked to them about this," Frohwirth said. "They were watching me at Scranton and saying, 'Look, this guy is doing it wrong. We can fix this guy.' When I went to Rochester, I wanted to go there because I wanted to do it right.

"The Phillies didn't want me throwing underhand. They thought I was doing well. I felt like, if I had gone with the submarine delivery from the start, I'd have been doing this a lot earlier -- maybe not a 1.80 ERA, but I would have been effective at this level."

Frohwirth apparently isn't looking for someone to blame. He credits pitching instructor Eddie Watt, an ex-Orioles reliever, with helping him move up through the Phillies system. The problem was and is that there aren't very many coaches with the ability to analyze and adjust a submarine delivery.

It is a vicious circle. There aren't very many submarine pitchers, and there are even fewer successful ones. There aren't very many successful ones, so there aren't very many coaches in the majors and minors who are familiar with them. What results is a kind of institutionalized prejudice against submariners.

"They aren't taken seriously in a lot of cases," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said. "Some teams are fearful that they'll have trouble with left-handed hitters. He has overcome that -- the stigma that sometimes plagues them.

"In some ways, [submarine pitchers] have an advantage, because there are so few of them. But a left-handed hitter gets a better look. Your stuff has to be such that you can still come inside on them."

Frohwirth did that enough to be one of the most effective middle relievers in the game last year, but he still must prove that he didn't ambush the American League with an uncommon pitching style. Bosman bristles at the notion that Frohwirth is a gimmick pitcher.

"That's something that somebody might think," Bosman said. "It might even enter a pitcher's mind. But you've still got to make the right pitch. You still have to work on making adjustments.

"The reason that Quisenberry and Tekulve had such success was that, year after year, they worked on things so the opposing hitters couldn't sit on what they thought was coming. We'll do some things, too."

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