Zaun: Hold runners, please Says pitchers little help in 'terrible' run of thefts

June 24, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

Gregg Zaun said yesterday that Orioles catchers need help from the pitching staff if the team is to improve its ability to throw out base stealers.

Zaun (5-for-26) and Chris Hoiles (6-for-39) are a combined 11-for-65 in throwing out attempted stealers this season, a 16.9 percent success rate.

The problem was heightened this past weekend against speedy Kansas City. The Royals stole five times Saturday without being caught and were 8-for-10 in the three-game series. Tom Goodwin stole second twice yesterday, both times scoring on an ensuing single.

"There's only so much Hoilee [Hoiles] and me can do," said Zaun, who caught two of the three games in the Royals series. "I've had some opportunities to throw guys out and I haven't been perfect, but most of the time I don't even have a chance. Other teams look at our percentages. They know they can run on us. It's terrible."

Zaun said the starting pitchers, for the most part, do not want to disrupt their routine to throw over to first or try a pitchout. He said David Wells, Mike Mussina and Rick Krivda make a good effort to hold runners on, though.

The entire staff was working on the slide step, a move to speed up the delivery home, in spring training, and Zaun said that helped. But once the season started, Zaun said most pitchers stopped using the slide step.

"We can't do anything about it until they want to help us," Zaun said. "They think that worrying about the quality of their pitches is so much more important than keeping a guy from getting into scoring position. If they give me a chance to throw the guy out, I'll do it.

"The slide step isn't important to them. They get their win, and they get out of the jam. I apologize when a guy gives me a chance to throw somebody out and I screw up. But when stats start to count, they're worried about wins and losses and not stolen bases."

Pitching coach Pat Dobson calls the signs for a pitchout and slide step. Dobson said the staff practices the move on its throwing days and he said as a whole he is very pleased with the pitchers' ability to hold runners on.

"Most of them are good," Dobson said. "There's got to be a little parity here. It's not always the pitcher's fault. At times the onus and the blame should go on Scottie [Erickson] sometimes and Jesse [Orosco] sometimes, but the rest of the pitchers are good. It's not like we don't work on it."

Some starters take longer to deliver the ball to the plate, which enables runners to get a good jump. Manager Davey Johnson said Erickson in particular needs to improve his release time. Erickson was on the mound for the five-steal game Saturday.

"He takes a long time to release the ball," Johnson said. "Even with a pitchout we had no chance of throwing a guy out."

Dobson said Erickson just cannot pick up the slide step no matter how long they work on it, and Orosco doesn't feel comfortable using it. Unfortunately for the Orioles, those two pitchers faced the Royals, one of the few AL teams that takes chances on the bases.

Dobson said Krivda had a minuscule release time of 1.1 seconds on a pitch yesterday, but Goodwin, the AL stolen base leader, still took second base easily.

Dobson said he does not want his pitchers to sacrifice their concentration to focus on the men on base. Throwing over and checking a runner can take away from a pitcher's ability to make a quality pitch in the clutch, he said.

"It's a compounded problem for the pitchers and catchers," Dobson said. "Guys like Goodwin are going to steal their bases no matter what. I would say overall we're pretty good. After a while it's fine to be quick to the plate, but if you become erratic and can't throw strikes, then you've got to think about getting the hitter out. It's kind of a Catch-22."

Pub Date: 6/24/96

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