Belle's free swing is hit-or-miss proposition


June 29, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

When the Cleveland Indians signed Eddie Murray last winter, he became the hired bat to provide protection for free-wheeling slugger Albert Belle. Maybe it should be the other way around.

As devastating a hitter as Belle can be, he still is one of many hitters who too often get themselves out in what should be advantageous opportunities. In other words, he won't take a walk. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Both sides of the coin were clearly demonstrated the past two nights. On Monday, with the score tied, the right-handed-hitting Belle came to bat against left-hander Tom Bolton with runners on first and second and two outs. Murray, the most dangerous man in baseball with the bases loaded, was next.

The situation prompted manager Johnny Oates to have pitching coach Dick Bosman pay Bolton a visit. As the game turned, it was the most important at-bat of the night.

The conversation between Bosman and Bolton hasn't been documented, but you can be assured this idea was presented: "Give this guy [Belle] a chance to get himself out."

For three pitches -- all balls -- the strategy appeared very dangerous. It seemed Belle would walk to bring Murray to the plate.

Give Bolton some credit, he threw three pitches on which he couldn't get hurt, and Belle took all three.

But, on the boss end of a 3-and-0 count, Belle's patience deserted him. He wasn't taking any more, not even on 3-and-0. After fouling off a couple of pitches that would've loaded the bases, he struck out on a breaking ball out of the strike zone.

Last night, the Orioles tried a similar strategy, but didn't fare as well. The difference was that the decisive pitch from Alan Mills was high, and close to the plate, whereas Bolton stayed on the low side, where he had a better chance of succeeding.

Belle is one of several dominant AL hitters who, given the chance, will overextend themselves in game situations. Juan Gonzalez is a classic example. Ken Griffey is another who often falls into this category. That factor that will come more into play if his record home run pace continues and the Seattle Mariners ever become as competitive as expected.

One of the big reasons for longer games is that pitchers are going deeper into the count than every before. Some attribute this to a shrinking strike zone, but in reality it has become a strategic ploy.

"Don't throw strikes unless you have to," is not the worst advice a pitcher can get. As long as hitters refuse to take a walk, as though it was an insult to their manhood, the more pitches you will see -- and the more you will see hitters getting themselves out.

Two nights ago, Belle got himself out in a crucial situation. Last night he found a pitch close enough to turn the lights out on the Orioles.

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