A's faith in Hillegas is starting to pay off

April 12, 1993|By David Bush | David Bush,San Francisco Chronicle

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Oakland A's put a lot of faith in Shawn Hillegas by awarding him a spot in their rotation, and yesterday Hillegas took the first step toward justifying the team's decision.

The 28-year-old right-hander shut out the Milwaukee Brewers for six innings in his first start for Oakland, and that performance was the cornerstone of an 8-2 victory at the Oakland Coliseum.

It took more than Hillegas' strong effort to wrap up the A's first homestand with a 4-2 record. Dave Henderson, who had been off to a 1-for-11 start, including four strikeouts on Saturday, had a pair of RBI and his first home run of the season.

Rickey Henderson walked and also homered, the 200th of his career. Terry Steinbach had two doubles and threw out a pair of base runners when they meant something to the Brewers.

Hillegas, however, made it all matter. In equaling his win total of last year in one day, Hillegas was unruffled, even after he gave up a single to leadoff man Darryl Hamilton.

"I just stepped back and took a deep breath," said Hillegas. "That's what Bob Welch told me to do."

Presumably, Welch also told Hillegas to throw the ball over the plate with something on it.

"I never have had much success against the Brewers," said Hillegas, who had a 1-2 record and 4.94 ERA against them before yesterday. "It's a matter of style. They are a high-ball-hitting team, and I am a high-ball pitcher. But today I was up and down with pretty good success."

"He really did move the ball around," said Steinbach, who threw out Hamilton trying to steal second in that first inning to ease the path for Hillegas. "It was mainly just fastball, forkball today. I didn't have much of a feel for him during spring training because he was hurt. But he threw the ball real well."

Hillegas is looming larger in the A's plans because of the injury to Ron Darling. "He is in our rotation, so he is important to us," said manager Tony La Russa. "But if he gets extra starts, that will make him that much more important."

"He has a lot of ability," said pitching coach Dave Duncan. "We don't want to get too carried away with one game, but he did a lot of things right today, and that's a good sign. He can win a lot of games in the big leagues."

Hillegas allowed just four hits, and permitted just one Brewer to get as far as third base until he was removed for Joe Boever.

The A's handed Hillegas a 1-0 lead against Bill Wegman (0-1) in the first inning, Rickey Henderson walking and coming around. Dave Henderson's home run, the second of his two hits, made it 2-0 in the fifth.

"Dave Henderson [who also singled in the second, had a sacrifice fly in the sixth and walked and scored in the eighth] really sparked us with his at-bats," said La Russa. "He had a tough day yesterday, but he did some thinking overnight and, against some real good pitchers, had at-bats as good as anybody in uniform today."

"It was nice to make decent contact in a game," said Henderson, whose home run was his first since September 1991. "When you have been around the league awhile, you make adjustments.

"I missed by half an inch yesterday, so today I moved up half an inch. But the biggest adjustment I made was I didn't panic. I wasn't depressed. I went home [Saturday night] and played with my kids. I didn't go home and kick 'em."

Henderson, who missed virtually all of last year with various leg injuries, was not concerned with his slow start.

"The first week of the season, that's all it is," he said. "You've got guys hitting .500 and you've got guys hitting .100. Wait until it all evens out. . . . I've done it all in this league. I have hit three home runs in a game, and I have struck out four times. I've been on both ends of the spectrum."

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