O's Eichhorn is glad to put past behind

June 19, 1994|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Sun Staff Writer

The season wasn't even a month old and he had thrown just eight innings, but Mark Eichhorn already had begun taking on the look of one of baseball's more unsavory beasts, the $l free-agent bust.

Some Orioles fans were saying as much. And he wasn't doing much to discourage such talk, no matter how premature.

Signed away from the Toronto Blue Jays in December, his 7.56 ERA on May 1 looked as unusual as his sidearm delivery. He was throwing strikes, but they weren't good strikes. And he was getting hit.

Hard.

Eichhorn's problems stemmed "a little bit from mechanics and a little bit from approach," said pitching coach Dick Bosman. "I don't think he was as aggressive as he needed to be in his approach to the hitters, especially early in the count. He was trying to hit the corners too much, rather than letting his natural stuff get people out."

Some extra work in the bullpen before games and an extended outing in Milwaukee four weeks ago have made the memory of those early troubles practically disappear.

In fact, before last night, he may have been in the finest groove of his pro career, and that includes his first full season in the majors with Toronto in 1986, when he won 14 games, saved 10, struck out 166 and posted a 1.72 ERA.

He was summoned into last night's game against the Minnesota Twins with none out in the seventh after a two-run homer by Pedro Munoz off starter Sid Fernandez had cut the Orioles lead to 5-4.

He retired Dave McCarty on a pop-up and struck out the next two batters, but surrendered three straight hits and two runs in the eighth, ending his scoreless streak at 22 innings. Those were the first runs off Eichhorn in 16 appearances.

A minor glitch in what has been a dramatic turnabout.

His ERA is down to 2.67. Only three of 16 inherited runners had scored during the streak.

In all, he's given up 30 hits in 30 1/3 innings, including one home run, walked 10 (four intentional) and struck out 21.

His delivery sets him apart from most, but Bosman said, "He's really no different than any other pitcher. He's got to be consistent with his mechanics, he's got to be able to get ahead in the count. He throws three pitches [fastball, curve, changeup] and he's got to be able to get those three pitches over the plate."

And with the proper movement. Otherwise, it's April all over again.

"I was wild in the strike zone. I was throwing strikes, but they weren't quality ones," Eichhorn said before last night's game.

That began to change May 24 in Milwaukee, when he relieved Fernandez and pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings, giving up four hits and striking out five for his first win as an Oriole.

"The further I went along, the more idea I had of what I was throwing," he said. "I wasn't just throwing the ball toward home plate."

And it wasn't coming back at him at unhealthy speeds.

Eichhorn, who again relieved Fernandez last night, threw in the bullpen for about five minutes while the Orioles took batting practice, something he did on a regular basis during his slump. Bosman calls it "a maintenance thing," a way to find the proper release points, to work on location and to feel fresher when entering a game after being inactive for long periods.

"It's helped me tremendously," he said.

Eichhorn is a pitcher who needs work. He appeared in 69 games in 1986 and 89 the following year. He got into 60 games with the California Angels in 1990, racking up a career-high 13 saves, and made 70 appearances the next year, when his ERA was 1.98.

That's why he didn't worry when he was being battered early this season. "It was just a question of getting enough innings under my belt," he said. "And slowly but surely, I started getting more work."

And what about the scoreless streak, which he believes was the longest of his career?

"It isn't something I'm thinking about all the time," he said. "The simpler you make things, the better. You go a hitter at a time and not worry about what you did yesterday or the last few weeks, or who you're facing in the next series."

9- And, most of all, you forget about April.

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