Coppinger gets inside track on his game Persistence, advice help pitcher rack up career-high 11 strikeouts

Sidelight

September 09, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

There were many voices inside Rocky Coppinger's head yesterday.

Catcher Mark Parent reminding him not to overthrow. Pitching coach Pat Dobson telling him to maintain his mechanics. Fellow starter Mike Mussina urging him to pitch inside, as Mussina had done in his shutout of the Detroit Tigers on Saturday night.

And there was Coppinger's own internal voice reinforcing their advice. He listened to them all.

Coppinger mastered the Tigers for seven innings, allowing just two earned runs on three hits. The right-handerstruck out a career-high 11 batters, the third-highest total for an Orioles rookie, and walked just two. He became the third straight Orioles starter in the Tigers series to set a season high for strikeouts.

Manager Davey Johnson said Coppinger was the key to the Orioles' victory, keeping them close until a three-homer eighth inning capped a 6-2 win for reliever Alan Mills.

Dobson called it Coppinger's best start in the majors and said the husky Texan was the most mechanically sound he has been all year.

Parent said: "He actually retains a lot. Sometimes when somebody else chimes in and helps out and keeps it lively during the game, it sticks. I'd have to say about every inning, every other batter, we communicated.

"A lot of times a pitcher doesn't like to be told [what to do] all the time, but Rocky wants to learn. It doesn't bother him at all. He listens. He really wants to do well."

Parent emphasized mechanics to Coppinger during the warm-up and they exchanged hand signals frequently. Sometimes, they spoke.

"When he almost hit the backstop, I just took my mask off and TTC said, 'You overthrew that one a little bit, didn't 'ya?' " Parent said. "I just wanted to keep him relaxed."

It's not surprising the battery worked well together. The Orioles are 4-0 with a 2.61 ERA when Parent starts. He helped Coppinger remain poised through 93-degree heat and high humidity.

The Tigers didn't get a hit until Bobby Higginson led off the fifth with a bases-empty home run. Coppinger knew he was tiring in the sixth inning and told Dobson to consider warming a reliever, but still persuaded Johnson to let him pitch through the seventh.

Coppinger struck out at least one Tiger in each of his seven innings. He tried to limit his overthrowing and mixed his fastball, changeup and curve.

Dobson said there is still room for mechanical improvement, but overall the 22-year-old did not fly open in his delivery as much as before.

Those mechanical problems, and a bit of fatigue, contributed to Coppinger's recent slump. He had not lasted more than five innings in previous last four starts and carried a 10.33 ERA during that span. Coppinger had yielded 33 hits in 18 1/3 innings.

However, Dobson and Parent's persistence and the Orioles' return to a five-man rotation helped Coppinger straighten out.

"He definitely needed the extra day," Dobson said. "A couple games there, his delivery wasn't good, so he was working overtime to get the same results. When you're doing it right, it's easy; when you're doing it wrong, it's hard."

And when you're doing it right, a young pitcher's confidence can rise.

"I think if I would've pitched bad today I might have downright quit baseball," Coppinger said deadpan. "But really, after my last start I started to think, 'Do I really belong here?' You just come out and lay everything on the table and go after these guys. I thought I was pretty successful."

Pub Date: 9/09/96

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