Bolton is the bullpen's new double threat

INSIDE PITCH

May 25, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

If it's true that left-handed pitchers have more lives than the average cat, as many will attest, then Tom Bolton is one of the more recent examples.

At 32, after having been discarded by three teams, Bolton finally may have found the niche for which he is best suited. In the process, especially over the past few days, he has shown in a couple of ways the value of having a second left-hander available to work out of the bullpen.

And that value, strangely enough, may have been demonstrated best during a game in which Bolton did not appear. Before last night, he had been prominent in consecutive victories by the Orioles -- but it was during the game immediately preceding those two that he was more than a subtle factor despite not throwing a pitch.

That was the game started by Arthur Rhodes, a left-hander who throws harder, and Don Mattingly was the only true left-handed hitter in the Yankees' lineup. Even though Mike Oquist, a right-hander, came on to pitch the last seven innings, Yankees manager Buck Showalter made only one lineup change, and that wasn't until the eighth inning, when Luis Polonia entered as a pinch hitter.

The fact the Yankees led throughout the game had a bearing, but more than anything, it was the presence of Bolton and Jim Poole, another left-hander, that kept Paul O'Neill (.475) on the bench for the entire afternoon. Had Orioles manager Johnny Oates been restricted to one left-handed move, O'Neill undoubtedly would have appeared.

As a result, Oquist faced an almost exclusively right-handed-hitting lineup, a luxury he will not have as a starting pitcher. The Orioles didn't win that game, but they were in a position to do so throughout because of the effectiveness of Oquist -- and the presence of two left-handers in the bullpen.

Bolton's role with the Orioles is that of a short-term specialist (he has pitched only 5 1/3 innings in five games), basically an earlier version of Poole. This generally enables him to face a preponderance of left-handed hitters, against whom he's most effective, and could prolong his career.

As long as Bolton continues to get left-handed hitters out, something his predecessor, Brad Pennington, didn't do, his job will be secure.

And if he can force certain left-handed hitters out of the game -- or keep them out -- that's even more advantageous.

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