McDonald locates trouble

INSIDE PITCH

June 23, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

On a few occasions this season, Ben McDonald has displayed an ability to survive without being at the top of his game. Last night did not qualify as one of those experiences.

What the Milwaukee Brewers enjoyed instead, was the opportunity to hack at what very possibly was the worst stuff McDonald has put on display in his professional career. In 1 2/3 innings he was hammered for seven hits and charged with eight runs -- and it was every bit as bad as that line would indicate.

Twice before in his big-league career McDonald exited a game earlier, and one other time he gave up more runs. But it's doubtful if he ever went into battle as unarmed as he was last night.

His fastball backed up to near changeup speed and the only time his curve had any bite was when it was down and out of the strike zone. The rest of the time McDonald's breaking ball rolled toward home plate with little more than a token spin -- and then with little direction.

"I don't know what it was, but I could tell something was wrong [warming up] in the bullpen," said McDonald. "My fastball went from 90 miles per hour to about 85 and the curve wasn't very good."

Watching McDonald get ready for his 15th start, pitching coach Dick Bosman was getting similar vibes.

"I was waiting for him to kick into gear," he said. "But he never got there. He only threw one good curve the whole time he was warming up."

Not since he pitched for the third time in six days during the 1989 College World Series has McDonald appeared as hittable as he was last night. When his evening workout was completed, much earlier than desired, there was little to do but chalk it up as another learning experience.

What McDonald found out, in rather rude fashion, last night was a simple fact of pitching life. It's sometimes possible for a pitcher to win without his best stuff -- or good control. But it's highly improbable to survive without both.

McDonald walked only one, but the location of his pitches in the strike zone was horrendous at best. Most of his pitches stayed above the waist, and a staggering number were in the middle of the plate.

Had he been bowling, the big right-hander might've rolled a perfect game, but on this night there was no escaping the Brewers' bats. Line drives were sprayed to all parts of Camden Yards and on both sides of the fence.

It wasn't a pretty sight. But at least there was a positive side -- there were no physical side effects. "No problems," McDonald said of his physical condition. "At least I should be stronger the next time out."

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