As pitcher, man, Myers lives on the outer edge O's closer stays away from hitters, custom

March 06, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Randy Myers finished warming up to pitch his first inning in an Orioles uniform yesterday, in a B squad exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals. But he wasn't quite ready to proceed.

Myers, standing on the crown of the pitcher's mound, turned toward the outfield and began waving at right fielder Mark Smith, who didn't notice Myers for a few moments; it isn't often a pitcher has the chutzpah to position his defense.

Manager Davey Johnson said later, "For a moment, I thought we had [Jim] Palmer out there."

Smith saw Myers and moved a couple of steps toward the right-field line. Myers waved again: Keep going. Smith followed orders, and with the defense aligned correctly, Myers attended to the business at hand.

The reason Myers wanted Smith playing closer to the line is the Orioles' new closer throws the vast majority of his fastballs over the outside edge of home plate, away from right-handed hitters. Pulling this pitch to left, when Myers throws it correctly, is virtually impossible for right-handed batters.

Myers has racked up 243 saves pitching this way, a proven method. Lee Smith, formerly of the Orioles and now with the California Angels, attacked hitters in the same fashion. Fastball away, fastball away, fastball away.

Myers will mix in a changeup, or a slider that breaks down and in at the feet of right-handed hitters. But mostly it's fastballs. The Cardinals saw mostly fastballs -- radar guns showed he was throwing 92 mph -- all thrown to that one little sliver of the strike zone over the edge of home plate.

"He's got a great idea of what he wants to do," said Orioles pitching coach Pat Dobson. "He's pretty aggressive, he throws fastballs to get ahead, and he has good command of the outside part of the plate."

Early in his career, Myers would show more variety, move the ball around in the strike zone more. Inside, then outside, then back inside.

But one day, in 1987, Myers, pitching for Johnson and the New York Mets, gave up a grand slam to Montreal third baseman Tim Wallach on an inside fastball. Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez offered Myers some advice.

"He said, 'You're going to have to learn how to pitch outside,' " Myers recalled. "I was painting the outside [corner] the next time out."

Myers has been pitching that way ever since. "It's a tough pitch to hit," Myers said. "That, with the slider that goes down and in. For me, it's worked out OK."

Myers, 33, is similar to Smith, as well, in that he has presence, although their styles are radically different. Smith would take almost two minutes to walk in from the bullpen at Camden Yards, which sent an implicit message to the hitter -- I'm in control.

Myers warms up quickly and passionately in the bullpen, catch and fire, catch and fire, and when he's called into the game, he jogs from the bullpen, rocking from side to side on his bowed legs. After throwing a pitch, he steps toward the catcher to receive a throw back, then makes a sharp right turn toward third base and back onto the mound. Every time.

Moe Drabowsky, an instructor for the Orioles, served as Myers' pitching coach in Chicago as recently as 1994. Said Drabowsky: "What you'll notice is that when he walks around the mound, he'll always take 10 steps. Every time." Johnson has managed Myers as far back as the minor leagues, and he likes Myers' ability to concentrate. When he pitches, Johnson said, "Randy is in a [mental] league all by himself. . . . He gets in his own little zone."

For instance, Johnson said, Myers pitched in a B squad game against a team of minor-leaguers, and he pitched aggressively, stubbornly throwing to the spot in the strike zone that he has mastered. "It's a B game, and you saw his intensity level," Johnson said.

But when Myers is not pitching, there is a fair chance he's doing things most other players don't do. Like testing his stun gun, for instance. Or offering new ideas to the coaching staff, complicated pickoff plays and bunt coverages.

His former manager, Jim Riggleman, loved Myers' work ethic and competitiveness. But he asked Myers to be a little more like his teammates. Wear the same clothes on the field, not the headband. Go through some of the same workouts.

"Randy always likes to try new things," Johnson said, smiling. "I think he just craves attention. . . ."

Johnson paused, and in that moment, memories of his phone calls imploring/asking/demanding that Myers report to spring training two weeks ago may have passed through his head.

Johnson smiled, and continued his thought. " . . . And he gets it."

If Myers can keep pounding fastballs over that outside corner and keep hitters flailing, he'll get plenty of attention at Camden Yards.

Pub Date: 3/06/96

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