In wrong place, a walk is as good as a run

INSIDE PITCH

April 14, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Did you ever notice that the percentage of hitters who walk and eventually score against pitchers with good control is generally higher than it is with those who consistently throw on the wild side?

Or is that theory merely a figment of the imagination that tends to surface after games such as the Orioles' 6-3 loss to the Tigers in Detroit yesterday? Maybe it's a subject for research the next time baseball thirsts for another statistic.

Certainly yesterday's loss cannot be blamed on the wildness of Jamie Moyer and Mark Eichhorn, a pair of control specialists. Yet . . .

During the entire game, only two batters reached via a base on balls, a rather remarkable achievement considering the size of the shrunken strike zone. However, though those two runners may not have changed the outcome, they definitely had a major effect on the game.

As is the case with errors, leadoff walks and those with two outs seem to come with the biggest consequences. The Orioles gave up one of each yesterday, and they were quickly transformed from potential outs to high-risk situations.

Both came from pitchers who are prone to giving up hits, and thus cannot usually afford to allow extra base runners. The fact that bothwere followed by home runs -- Cecil Fielder's blast off Moyer to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning and a drive by Eric Davis off Eichhorn to put the game away an inning later -- emphasized that point.

Nobody can say for sure that Davis and Juan Samuel, who drew the walks, would not have reached base. But neither can it be denied that two-thirds of the runs the Tigers scored yesterday were at the least indirectly tied to the only free passes issued during the game.

The two walks were not instances of pitchers lacking control, but rather being overcautious. It is part of their pitching style and, as often as not, ball four is a weak pop fly or a grounder to the second baseman.

And that is often the difference between pitchers who walk a fine

line and those who live on the wild edge. Arthur Rhodes is known, and often rebuked, for his scatter-arm tendencies, but that same arm also is strong enough for him to escape a mess of his own creation.

There are times when a walk can be an effective ploy -- it's not the worst way to pitch to Fielder, for instance. But the two situations yesterday -- leading off an inning or with two outs and ++ the middle of the lineup staring you in the face -- do not fall into the good strategy category.

They were, pure and simple, mistakes. Physical, not mental, mistakes, the kind Moyer and Eichhorn usually avoid.

Sometimes the evidence is skimpy, other times it's as obvious as a two-run homer.

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