Struggling Phillies learning value of pitching

May 11, 1994|By Frank Dolson | Frank Dolson,Knight-Ridder News Service

ATLANTA -- Maybe the ball is juiced. Maybe it isn't. One thing we know: Good pitching stops good hitting, and bad pitching destroys a ball club.

Which brings us to the sad, early-season plight of the 1994, first-to-worst Phillies.

The '93 Phillies scored 143 runs in their first 30 games and were off and running at 23-7.

The '94 club scored 154 runs in the first 30 games and was 12-18 going into last night's first meeting of the year with the division-leading Braves. Yep, you read that right: 11 more runs, 11 fewer victories.

"You mean we've scored more runs this year?" general manager Lee Thomas said before Monday night's shellacking at the hands of the Braves, an incredulous note in his voice. "That tells you where it's at, doesn't it?"

Pitching is where it's at. The '93 Phillies held opponents to 114 runs in the first 30 games. The '94 Phillies yielded 150.

As Thomas knows only too well, pitching -- or the lack thereof -- has transformed his '93 National League champions into '94 cellar-dwellers.

True, other factors are involved. Defense, for example. But bad pitching and erratic defense go hand in hand.

"People say your defense is bad," Lenny Dykstra said. "When you're always out on the field with long counts, long innings, you're back on your heels. When [Terry] Mulholland pitched, the defense always played good, didn't it?"

Mulholland worked fast and threw strikes. It was no accident that the Phillies played tough defense behind him.

It seems fair to say that the problems facing the '94 Phillies really began Feb. 9, nearly two months before the season began. That's the day Mulholland, their opening-day pitcher for three years in a row, was traded to the Yankees for Bobby Munoz and two minor-league prospects.

It seems ridiculous to call any series played in the second week of May critical, and yet the Phillies had to know how important it was that their climb back into contention start this week. A sweep by the Braves would bury them so deep that general manager Bill Giles might have to send out a search party equipped with miners' lamps.

"I just hope we come alive and play these guys like we're capable of playing them," Thomas said. "If this series doesn't get everybody's attention, then I don't know what will."

The slumping Braves had managed to score as many as four runs just four times in their previous 15 games. They got that many against Jeff Juden in the first inning Monday night and went to a 7-2 win.

The hole keeps getting deeper.

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