Scoring theories blow smoke

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

May 13, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

Impress friends and neighbors with your theories about why major-league pitching has been so terrible the first six weeks of the season.

Chat about the "juiced" ball. Toss out the notion that umpires aren't calling high strikes anymore. You might even want to discuss the ramifications of new ballparks and their cumulative effects on ERAs.

Toronto's Dave Stewart will call all of that bunk.

"I just think ERAs are up because the gawd-dang pitchers are pitching badly," said Stewart, a four-time 20-game winner. "I'd like to blame this on something, but I've seen too much with my own ballclub. Guys have to make their pitches."

So far, that has been easier said than done. Through Wednesday's games, 10 of 14 National League teams and all 14 American League clubs had at least one pitcher with a minimum of five starts with an ERA at 5.00 or above.

As if that weren't bad enough, five NL and 10 AL teams have more than one starter in that predicament. The Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, California Angels, Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals have three, and the Oakland Athletics, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins and Philadelphia Phillies have four.

And these aren't overmatched kids just up from Double-A.

Some of the stars in the film, "The Pitcher with the Stratospheric ERA," would go high on any marquee, including the Chicago White Sox's Jack McDowell, last year's AL Cy Young Award winner; Phillies' Curt Schilling, last season's NL Championship Series Most Valuable Player; Stewart; and the Blue Jays' Juan Guzman, who won five ALCS games before his 27th birthday.

"I think hitters are now keyed on veteran pitchers. We all get scouting reports," said New York Mets second baseman Jeff Kent. "As the pitching's excellent at certain times of the year, there's going to be times when hitters have the edge. It's our time to excel right now."

Said Toronto designated hitter Paul Molitor: "Pitchers have become intimidated. They're not throwing around the plate. Very few pitchers are aggressive or challenge hitters. They've fallen into the routine of nibbling or working away from the plate."

Relievers aren't faring much better, as Orioles fans can attest.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, who have a team ERA near 5.00, have four relievers with ERAs above 10.00. Dave Righetti was cut loose two weeks ago by the pitching-starved Athletics when he couldn't get his ERA below 15.00. Bobby Thigpen, who set a major-league record with 57 saves in 1990, was cut by the Seattle Mariners.

If one were of a mind to accept the excuses put forth by some pitchers, one could point to the absence of closers. Nine pitchers who had been expected to nail down saves for their respective clubs, instead have nailed down significant time on the disabled list.

To replace them, other pitchers have had to take on new roles. For example, Toronto's Todd Stottlemyre, a starter the first six years of his major-league career, was moved briefly this spring to closer in an attempt to fill in for Duane Ward, who has biceps tendinitis.

"Toronto's bullpen is hurt," said Orioles closer Lee Smith. "They've got guys in situations they aren't used to. You've got guys like [setup man Mike] Timlin going two or three innings where they might go only one."

Nice try, Lee, but the Blue Jays themselves aren't buying it.

"I've really got only one guy pitching out of his role," said Toronto manager Cito Gaston. "Setups are like closers. We just haven't gotten the job done at times."

* They aren't the only ones.

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