O's threat of speed puts Cone on defensive

INSIDE PITCH

April 07, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Throughout the season, Jim Henneman of The Sun's sports staff will offer his inside pitch -- an analytical look at the turning point in a particular Orioles game, a trend affecting the team or an important aspect of a player's performance. The good news for David Cone was that the Orioles not only didn't steal a base against him last night, they didn't even attempt one. The bad news is his successful efforts to stymie the running game may have cost him his effectiveness earlier than expected.

For years Cone had a reputation, along with then teammate Doc Gooden, as being one of the two easiest pitchers in baseball to run against. When he came to the American League late in 1992, his pitching skills were at least partially offset by teams running with abandon.

Cone moved to rectify the situation last year, and last night his new-found ability to hold runners on base was much in evidence. In the first five innings, Brady Anderson was on base three times and the Orioles had the leadoff hitter aboard four times.

By altering the pace of his delivery, and throwing often to first base, Cone kept the Orioles in check. But in the process he might have lost something on his pitches.

Under a 90- to 100-pitch limit this early in the season, Cone threw only 80 last night. Uncharted, however, were 15 throws he made to first base -- 11 while Anderson was on. These weren't soft tosses. They were the real thing -- attempts to pick a runner off base and get a cheap out. And they were effective.

"I don't know how much effect it [throwing to first base] has," said Orioles base-running coach Davey Lopes. "But it can take something out of you."

As recently as last year, the Orioles had Cone, who throws the ball in the 90 mph range, timed as high as 1.5 seconds when delivering the ball to the catcher. Anything above 1.3 is considered vulnerable to a good base stealer. Last night, in addition to displaying a quick move to first, Cone got the ball to home plate in an average of 1.25 seconds -- milliseconds to some, a marked difference to base-runners.

"I've only faced him once before, so I can't compare," said Anderson. "From what I understand he used to be a lot slower, but you can tell he's a good athlete and he was quicker to first base than he was to home plate."

The only time an Oriole ran all night was when Anderson made a belated steal attempt as Mike Devereaux grounded out to end the fifth inning. Had it not been for a wild pitch that set up a run on Anderson's single earlier that inning, Cone would've been working on a shutout at that point. However, after five more pitches in the sixth inning, Cone evidently ran out of heat. He was gone after allowing back-to-back home runs to Rafael Palmeiro and Harold Baines.

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