Hargrove opens finishing school for starters

INSIDE PITCH

July 02, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

He doesn't have the best pitching staff in the American League, but Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove is doing his part to develop durable starters.

With veteran Dennis Martinez as his resident example, and a highly flammable bullpen as his nightly nightmare, Hargrove has resorted to the only tactic available to him. He's pushing his starting pitchers to the limit, and sometimes beyond.

The statistics haven't always been pretty, but the results have been good enough to get the Indians to the top of the AL Central Division. And if his staff can maintain the fourth-best earned run average in the league, Hargrove isn't likely to change anytime soon -- and the Indians just might score enough runs to hold their position.

In an era of strict pitch counts and ultra-conservative protection of young arms, the trend has been to rely more and more on the bullpen. But, like most managers this year, Hargrove has found out that the more relief pitchers he uses, the more he needs.

Under the circumstances, Hargrove has discovered the path of least resistance to a win is to give his starters as much leeway as possible. He let Jason Grimsley stay for 130 pitches when the Indians blew a five-run ninth-inning lead in a game they eventually won, 9-8.

But that didn't stop Hargrove from allowing Mark Clark to use his 136th pitch to get the last out with the tying run at the plate two nights later. It's called a matter of survival.

The standard rule of thumb for managers is to allow relievers as much room for error as possible when making a move. However, there are times when there simply isn't enough margin for error. Grimsley left his game with the score 8-5, the tying run coming to the plate -- and the next three hitters reached.

If he wouldn't entrust a five-run lead to his bullpen in the final inning, Hargrove wasn't going to be tempted to risk a two-run advantage under similar circumstances two nights later. He stayed with Clark, and the non-move paid off.

The Indians, who have four promising starters stockpiled at the Triple-A level, are on the verge of developing a rotation of strong, young arms. Some will say that Hargrove is jeopardizing those pitchers, but actually he could be doing them and himself a favor. The more a young pitcher is extended, the better his chances of developing durability. And if Hargrove needs proof that it can work, he doesn't have to look far.

At 39, Martinez is on a pace to pitch over 200 innings for the 10th time in his career, and 250 for the fourth time. He pitched 276 innings at the age of 23, and a career-high 292 a year later.

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