Fernandez needs to bulk up on selection

INSIDE PITCH

May 11, 1995|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Now that he has mastered the slim-down-fast course, Sid Fernandez needs a couple of add-ons.

Not pounds. The former portly left-hander, who reduced his weight by 40 pounds, needs to make a couple of additions to his skimpy collection of weapons.

In the critical part of his career, Fernandez needs another pitch. And as base runners become more numerous, he needs to develop a better move to restrict their movement.

An extremely live fastball and a deceptive curve have enabled Fernandez to put up some impressive numbers during his first 10 years in the big leagues. But two pitches aren't enough anymore. Especially in the American League, which long has been noted for pitchers who will use the changeup in any situation.

Two-pitch pitchers are rare -- and usually confined to the bullpen, where they are identified as closers. Fernandez does not fit that description.

Going into this season, opposing batters had only a .208 career average against Fernandez, the lowest of any active pitcher in baseball. But last year, his first in the AL, the average was .248, still highly respectable, but a marked difference from his National League days.

In the "other" league, Fernandez also was among the stingiest when it came to allowing home runs -- 138 in 1,706 innings, a ratio of 0.78 per nine innings. But last year, he gave up a career-high 27 home runs, an average of 2.1 for every nine innings. Based on his first two '95 starts, last year's numbers look like the norm.

Because Fernandez always has had high pitch counts, at least in part because batters tend to foul off a lot of his pitches, he has logged only 25 complete games in 278 starts. But since he's been in the AL, it appears the high-pitch counts also can be traced to the fact that his arsenal of fastballs and curves has made him increasingly more cautious -- with finesse replacing power.

And as hitters have had more success, giving opponents a better opportunity to control the game, they have taken liberties on the bases. The slow-motion delivery that helped make Fernandez's fastball so effective in the NL makes him vulnerable to stolen bases.

Fernandez gave up two home runs last night, and when they weren't playing long ball, the Red Sox ran at every opportunity. Even when catcher Bill Haselman (not exactly a base-stealing threat) was picked off on a throw to first and shortstop Cal Ripken was charged with an error on Rafael Palmeiro's throw, it's questionable if he would've been out had the play been made without incident.

Like old dogs, it's often difficult to teach experienced pitchers new tricks. But the ones who survive are those who make adjustments as their careers pass from one stage to another.

It would appear that Fernandez has reached that point. Another quality pitch would seem to be the priority.

That would help reduce the number of base runners, which in turn would restrict the stolen-base opportunities. And if anybody can help Fernandez, it should be his pitching coach, Mike Flanagan, who mastered both a changeup and a pickoff move in the latter part of his career.

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