Wiseman hopes change-up will be his ticket to the big show

SIDELINES

June 17, 1992|By Pat O'Malley

There was a time when Dennis Wiseman would not have been happy with a 3-4 pitching record.

After all, when you go 11-2 your senior year in high school and finish with a school career-record 17 wins, then set the career wins record (31) for your college, 3-4 just doesn't do it. Under most circumstances, that is.

But Wiseman's 3-4 record with the struggling Travelers Arkansas Class AA team is deceiving, and is enhanced by his 2.60 ERA. The Travelers, a St. Louis Cardinals minor-league affiliate, are 24-34 in the Texas League, and the former Old Mill right-hander has been one of the team's bright spots.

"I've been pitching pretty well, but we haven't been hitting," said Wiseman by telephone this week. "We've only won 11 of the last 38 games after a good start, and we're only batting .230 as a team."

The Travelers scored a total of 17 runs in Wiseman's first 10 starts this season.

Despite the Travelers' slide, Wiseman has maintained his confidence and hopes that in the near future he may find himself with the Cardinals' AAA club in Louisville, one step from the big show.

"If I keep throwing the way I have been lately, my chances of moving up to AAA are good because there are a few guys at Louisville who have major-league experience and might be called up to the big club," said Wiseman.

At 31-31 through Monday night, the Cardinals find themselves five games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League East. The NL East is baseball's most competitive division, with the last-place Montreal Expos only 7 1/2 games back.

It's likely the division dogfight will continue through most of the season, and that only increases Wiseman's chances of being promoted to AAA. When clubs are in a pennant race, changes are made constantly, shuttling players from AAA to the bigs.

When someone at AAA goes up, someone has to take his place. And Wiseman is ready.

The Anne Arundel County Sun's Co-Player of the Year in 1985 with Old Mill teammate Lou Holcomb, Wiseman went on to a record-setting career at Florida International University before being drafted in the 30th round by the Cardinals in June 1989.

Wiseman signed that summer and has been in the Redbirds chain since moving up to AA last year, where he was 6-15 with a 4.10 ERA with the Travelers.

The red-haired right-hander has developed an outstanding change-up over the last two seasons. And that third pitch, which has been honed by former major-league lefty John Tudor, could be his ticket to the big leagues.

Tudor, who toiled in both the American and National leagues, is the Cardinals' roving pitching instructor for the AA and AAA clubs. He is in Arkansas this week and will see Wiseman throw tomorrow night against the Jackson Generals, the Houston Astros' affiliate in the Texas League.

Wiseman, who turns 25 in a few weeks, says anyone who saw him when he pitched for Old Mill would see pretty much the same pitcher these days.

His delivery is basically the same smooth, straight-back and straight-forward motion many of us saw on county diamonds during the '80s. It's the new change-up to go with his fastball and curveball that gives him the repertoire to succeed at the higher level.

Having a crafty veteran like Tudor around to refine the mechanics and change-up can only make Wiseman a better hurler.

"Tudor really knows pitching," said Wiseman. "In spring training, he was sort of low-key. But since the season started, he has been more assertive with the pitchers and really helped us a lot.

"I know he has helped me a lot especially with my change-up. I've managed to maintain my velocity at about 83-84, 84-85 mph, and with what I feel is a pretty good change-up, I can keep the hitters off balance."

Wiseman also credits Arkansas pitching coach Marty Mason with helping him with the change-up.

In 62 innings, Wiseman has given up only 59 hits, struck out 28 and walked 24. Wiseman won his most recent outing, 11-2, maintaining his velocity through nine innings.

The week before, Wiseman was perfect through five innings, gave up a hit in the sixth and two in the seventh before going on to post a 6-1 victory.

In high school and college, Wiseman was a strikeout pitcher because of his back-breaking curveball. But, at the pro level, the strikeouts have not come often. Thus, the adjustment and addition of the third pitch in order to survive and continue his quest of making it to the big leagues.

The knock against Wiseman was always that he didn't throw hard enough (in the mid- and even high 80s) for a right-hander, but his head and confidence have been his greatest assets.

"I've been told that I have as good a stuff as [Bob] Tewksbury [St. Louis pitcher who is 6-2] and a lot of other big-league pitchers. What people don't realize is that a lot of major-league pitchers throw in the mid-80s and win up there," said Wiseman.

"You have to know how to pitch, and I feel that I do."

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