Orioles' Robinson makes pitch for fewer batters to charge mound

BASEBALL

April 17, 1994|By TOM KEEGAN

He could cross the country selling his name and his fame if he so chose. He does not so choose. Frank Robinson prefers to stay in the game, banking on his knowledge, not his name.

He has managed and doesn't care to try that again. The next step for the Orioles' assistant general manager is "up or out," he said. He prefers the former because life without baseball would be incomplete for the Hall of Fame right fielder who hit 586 home runs.

"It gets in your blood," Robinson said of baseball.

He isn't a bitter old-timer who bemoans the changes in the game. He doesn't use the phrase, "In my day . . ." Robinson loves baseball today as he loved it yesterday, but that doesn't mean he loves everything about it.

He doesn't, for instance, care for the way batters charge the mound in situations where it is obvious the pitcher has nothing to gain by putting a runner aboard.

A glaring example of that arose last week, when Cincinnati Reds outfielder Reggie Sanders went after the Montreal Expos' Pedro Martinez, who lost a bid for a perfect game in the eighth inning when he hit Sanders with a high and tight pitch, not the first he'd sent Sanders' way.

"I guarantee you no one in baseball but Reggie Sanders thought the pitcher was trying to hit him in that situation," Robinson said. "The hitters have to realize pitchers have a right to throw inside. And they have to realize this isn't an exact science. They are going to miss sometimes and you are going to get hit sometimes. As long as they aren't throwing at your head. I don't think any pitcher has the right to throw above the shoulders. But a pitcher does have the right to knock you off the plate. When he does, you are going to get out of the way sometimes and you are going to get hit sometimes. It's just part of the game. Maybe you have to do a better job of getting out of the way."

Robinson is not against batters charging the mound in all cases.

"I did it a couple of times," Robinson said. "I didn't think they were throwing at me. I knew they were throwing at me. When you hit a home run and a triple, then get hit in the head the next time it's not too hard to figure out what's going on."

What's going on now is batters are far too sensitive, far too intolerant of a pitcher's right to the entire plate.

"I think the pitchers have spoiled the hitters by pitching away so much," Robinson said. "I think that goes back to the aluminum bat. In high school and college, you come inside with a good pitch that would break a wooden bat and boing, a base hit."

A lover, not a fighter

Detroit right-hander Tim Belcher, who has been known to drill a batter on occasion to protect a team mate, was sympathetic to Sanders, a former teammate with the Reds.

"Reggie's more of a lover than a fighter," Belcher said. "Reggie was hit a lot last year. He used to come back to the dugout complaining about it and some of the veterans told him not to bring it in here, to take care of it on the mound. I'm sure he wasn't thinking of the game situation.

"But I'm not so biased I don't think of the hitters' viewpoint. A pitcher doesn't have the right to throw at someone's head. And if the hitter thinks he is, then he certainly has the right to charge the mound."

Sophomore slump

Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza, easy choice for National League Rookie of the Year honors last season, isn't getting fastballs from pitchers and is having a difficult time adjusting.

Piazza took a .086 batting average into the weekend, having gone 3-for-35 with one home run, three RBIs, one walk and nine strikeouts in 35 at-bats.

That only partially explained why Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda benched him for part of a game. Piazza was being disciplined for not giving Raul Mondesi the slide sign from the on-deck circle.

Piazza is not the only Rookie of the Year winner on the team off to a slow start. Eric Karros, the 1992 recipient, took a .161 average into the weekend.

"You look at the numbers and say, 'Oh my god,' " Karros said. "We were talking about it and decided we're not even going to joke around about it anymore because it's getting ridiculous."

Piazza was a model of consistency last season, reaching base by hit or walk in 127 of his 141 starts.

"One of the main things is he's not being selective," Lasorda said. "Sure they are pitching him different. They're not giving him too many pitches to hit. You try to tell him to be patient, disciplined and not swing at bad balls. But that's something he has to be able to cure himself."

Strike three?

San Diego's Tony Gwynn didn't win four NL batting titles by striking out in clutch situations. And left-hander Jeff Ballard didn't win 18 games in 1989 for the Orioles by relying on the strikeout. So what happened when Gwynn made the last out of Ballard's first professional save Thursday for Pittsburgh? Ballard struck him out on two sliders and a sidearm curveball, leaving two runners stranded.

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