It's time for starters to finish


April 17, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

One of the nastier side effects of the evolution of the closer in baseball is the change in the mental philosophy of starting pitchers. Call it the six-inning syndrome.

Instead of being prepared physically and mentally to go the distance, starters too often settle for completing two-thirds of the job. That's one of the reasons for the fixation with the 100-pitch mark, the point at which starting pitchers are expected to cease being effective.

"If I can get my team into the seventh or eighth inning with a chance to win, I've done my job," has become a commonplace quote. The advent of the late-inning specialist, along with the introduction of the -- as yet unofficial -- "quality start," has enhanced such thinking.

You can't blame the pitchers. The way the game is played has almost dictated that line of reasoning, which more and more is proving to be fallable.

And for a simple reason. The makeup of every staff follows the same line -- the best pitchers either start or finish the game.

With the save having become one of the most vital (and overrated) statistics in baseball, every team has a go-to guy to pitch the ninth inning. Given a lead at that point, even the worst teams are expected to, and should, win.

The five pitchers (on an 11-man staff) who fall between the starters and closer are the patchwork guys. On any given pitching staff they rank in the lower half in terms of ability.

That being the case, the "get to the seventh inning" syndrome doesn't follow a clear line of logic. "Get to the ninth with a lead and I'll take my chances" makes a lot more sense.

This became obvious again two nights ago during the Orioles' 8-3 loss to the Rangers.

It was the predictable return of wildness that forced the removal of Arthur Rhodes in the sixth inning of a 2-1 game, and it took one swing of the bat for the Orioles' deficit to go to 4-1.

Despite the loss, the game was a marked improvement for Rhodes, the pitcher too many want to give up on. It was only his second start of the season, but still the notion that five or six good innings is all that can be expected is an underestimation of his obvious ability.

If starters are trained to go six innings, and more and more the tendency is in that direction, teams are going to need closer-quality pitchers for each of the last three innings. There isn't a team around with that luxury.

Baseball's acceptance of the five-man rotation has reduced the starter's workload by four to eight starts per season. At the same time, his length of time on the mound in each game is decreasing.

D8 Somebody, anybody, please explain the logic in that.

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