Mitchell is getting thrown for a curve Seattle slugger would like to get a pitch he can hit

May 20, 1992|By Bob Finnigan | Bob Finnigan,Seattle Times

BOSTON -- With the Seattle Mariners looking to trade for pitching, Kevin Mitchell had an idea.

"Send me back to the National League, where they aren't scared to pitch to you," said the big outfielder, who spent six years with three NL teams before being swapped to Seattle this season.

American League pitchers are driving Mitchell crazy, and driving him into a slump that has cost him and the Mariners oodles of runs.

After coming up empty twice with two runners on base Monday against Boston, Mitchell's average with men in scoring position dipped to .132, worst among Seattle's regulars. He has driven in just 10 of 47 runners on second or third base, 21 percent.

"Don't get me wrong," Mitchell said. "I want to help the Mariners win and I know I will at some point, but you hear talk about Harold [Reynolds] maybe going somewhere, maybe to a National League team, and all I'm saying is that if anyone should go over there, it should be me."

Mitchell is not alone in his struggle to adjust from the power pitching of the NL to the patty-cake American League.

"What they say about American League pitching is true," said Ken Griffey Sr., who switched leagues in 1981 when he went from the Cincinnati Reds to the New York Yankees. "They will not throw fastballs. They simply will not challenge you. Even when you've got a fastball count in your favor, you rarely get a fastball.

"It killed me for a while," added the the Mariners' special assistant for player development. "But if Kevin thinks it's tough for Seattle, he should thank the Lord he isn't having a tough time for George Steinbrenner or those New York fans. That's hell."

For Mitchell, hell came in the eighth inning of Monday's 3-2 loss to the Red Sox.

Mike Gardiner, one of a plethora of ex-Mariner pitchers in both leagues who seem to have become Cy Young Award winners, brought Seattle to a standstill with his sinker and slider over seven innings.

Left-hander Tony Fossas came in for the eighth, and with one out, Reynolds and Edgar Martinez each singled. Boston got one of its numerous breaks when Ken Griffey Jr. lined out to third base. Up came Mitchell, two on and two away.

Fossas got a strike on a slider to start it. Refusing to throw a fastball, he sent two breaking pitches outside in the dirt, then another breaking ball that Mitchell missed with a majestic whiff.

The count was 2-and-2. In this situation, National League pitchers almost always throw fastballs; but Fossas missed with another breaking ball to make the count full.

On 3-2, even in the American League, you can count on seeing a lot of fastballs.

"He threw another breaking ball," Mitchell said. "I was half expecting it and tried to hit it smart, punch it to right. But I missed it."

Mitchell said he'd love to give the pitchers credit for pitching him smart, staying away from his considerable power.

"They're doing a good job," he said. "But in reality, they aren't the ones getting me out. I'm getting myself out."

Gene Clines, Seattle's hitting coach, and manager Bill Plummer have been trying to pound patience into Mitchell's increasingly confused thoughts.

"He has to start taking pitches," Clines said. "He's got to make the pitchers throw strikes, good and hittable strikes, by not chasing borderline breaking balls."

For several weeks, Mitchell has used a new stance, holding his hands low. But after he hit several breaking balls down and away, pitchers started to throw him the fastballs he was dying to see, but up and mostly out of the strike zone.

He started chasing them, and with his hands down, was unable to catch them.

"I've gone back to my old batting stance," Mitchell said before the game. "I've got my hands back up high."

So what happened? Of course, Gardiner, who allowed only two hits in his seven innings, fed him breaking balls down and away. And Fossas did, too.

"Mitch is working hard, but he's pressing," Plummer said. "He's getting desperate to make things happen. He's seeing nothing to hit, almost never, but he's trying to get hits on bad pitches. He's just going to have to take them and walk a little more, or hit the outside stuff to right."

Mitchell was not the only one guilty of not hitting to the opposite field. Getting three runs of support, Boston's Gardiner threw mostly balls off the plate and strikes on the outside corner.

"When a pitcher works like that," Plummer said, "the only way to hit him is to go the other way. We didn't."

Pete O'Brien, whose ninth homer, off reliever Jeff Reardon in the ninth, made it close, said Gardiner is a much better pitcher now than when Seattle traded him for reliever Rob Murphy in March of 1991.

"He was masterful," O'Brien said. "And, to be honest, he wasn't that good when I saw him with us. He looks stronger and a lot more confident."

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