Before turning to Mexico, Phils let pitcher go to Japan

June 29, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- According to the grand plan, Fernando Valenzuela took the mound for the Philadelphia Phillies last night at Veterans Stadium. It was a move dictated partly because of circumstance, partly because he was available, partly because of his celebrity and mostly because the Phillies badly needed some pitching help.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, Kyle Abbott follows the Phillies' fortunes as best he can.

Abbott, you might recall, was acquired by the Phillies from the California Angels in the Von Hayes trade in December 1991. After he went 1-14 with the Phillies in 1992 and 12-10 last season with the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, the Phillies allowed him to jump to Japan, where he now pitches for the Kintetsu Buffaloes. The kicker to the deal was that Abbott's rights revert to the Phillies after the season.

At the time, the deal made sense for both sides. The odds were stacked against Abbott making the Phillies. And Japan reportedly offered about $600,000. The Phillies, meanwhile, would have another year to evaluate a 26-year-old left-hander who had been the California Angels' No. 1 draft pick in 1989.

But that was before injuries swept through the Phillies' pitching ranks. Before the domino effect of so many pitchers falling led to the surprising signing of Valenzuela. It was fair for Abbott to sit in his 900-square-foot apartment in Osaka and wonder how things might have turned out if he had stayed, to imagine he could be pitching last night for the defending National League champions.

"I'm sure that if he was here and pitching well, he would have gotten his chance by now," general manager Lee Thomas said. "But at the time, we really didn't see how he'd get much of a chance here this year. And, besides, it was a chance for him to go over there and make some decent money."

No big deal, Abbott said.

"I don't think about that too much," he insisted the other night over a phone line that was clear as the Liberty Bell emblem he used to display on his uniform socks. "I really haven't.

"You can't go back. And, besides, I believe that everything happens for a reason."

That faith might have been tested even further by his season in Asia to this point. He has made only three starts, going 0-0 with a 5.73 ERA in 11 innings. He hasn't pitched in some three weeks because of a strained groin, but hopes to make a rehab start later this week.

He said his problems started with a determination to demonstrate he could keep up with the notoriously rigorous Japanese training.

He felt the groin pull while pitching against the Orix Blue Wave, when he broke from the mound to cover first. Now he thinks he could have returned a week or 10 days ago, but the club is being overly cautious.

"We're struggling, so they're looking for a good showing in the second half of the season," he said.

Most encouraging, Abbott said, was that he was throwing the ball well.

"One of the concerns that [Thomas] had was that my velocity was down last year," he said. "But I think that was because I was rushing to try to get back after I hurt my elbow in spring training. But I think I've been throwing the ball really well."

He's also been working on a forkball.

"It's like the national pitch over here," he said.

There are, of course, cultural differences. Each team has a band that plays constantly during the game, he said.

"It's more like a college football game," he said. "There's constant noise."

Kathy Abbott might be finding the adjustment somewhat more difficult. For example, women are discouraged from attending games.

But they both follow baseball through USA Today, which brings them the standings and transactions one day late. (They were happy to note Toby Borland and Andy Carter are doing well.) There is a Japanese version of ESPN, although it's sometimes difficult to decipher the scores as they're flashed on the screen.

"It's a different atmosphere, but it's been a great experience," he said. "I'm glad we decided to do this."

Even though, as it turned out, it might just have cost him a chance to pitch in the big leagues this year.


Four years ago today, Dave Stewart of the Oakland Athletics no-hit the Blue Jays, 5-0, at SkyDome in Toronto.

Later in the day, Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers duplicated Stewart's feat by throwing a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals for a 6-0 triumph.

It was the first time in major-league history that two no-hitters were pitched in both leagues on the same day and was also the first time this century that two pitchers had complete-game no-hitters on the same night.

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