For Orioles reliever Terry Mathews, the crisis has passed.
By regaining the control that abandoned him so suddenly, Mathews has let go of a 50-pound bag of frustration. He's throwing strikes again, a comforting feeling for a pitcher who not long ago couldn't find home plate with a compass and magnifying glass.
Coming off Thursday's dusting of the Toronto Blue Jays, Mathews has allowed one run in his last eight appearances spanning seven innings. He's walked four and shaved his ERA to 4.00, the lowest it's been since May 25.
That date coincided with the beginning of a nagging stretch for the Louisiana native. He faced five Cleveland batters in the sixth inning and retired none, walking four, giving up a hit and being charged with two runs.
It never grew worse than that, but it took some time to get better. In his next appearance two nights later in New York, Mathews allowed two runs on a hit and two walks in two-thirds of an inning. He threw 26 pitches, few of them where he was hoping.
He didn't enter another game until June 4, again vs. the Yankees. And again, his stint was short and shaky. Replacing starter Mike Mussina with one out in the seventh and the Orioles leading 5-0, Mathews walked one batter and gave up a hit to the other before being removed for Jesse Orosco. He was charged with two of the Yankees' five runs in the inning, and his ERA rose to 4.95.
It's gradually been coming down ever since. And it's no mystery why.
"It just comes from getting back to throwing the ball like I'm capable, going out there and not walking guys," he said. "Even when I was giving up runs, it wasn't from being hit around the park. It was giving up walks, and when you do that, you never give yourself a chance. And with the defense we have, if you let them put the ball in play, our infield's going to catch it, and we have guys in the outfield who can run the ball down in the gaps. You're just beating up on yourself if you don't go out there and throw strikes."
Since May 17, Mathews hasn't gone more than 1 1/3 innings in any appearance.
"Davey [Johnson] did a great job of getting him to the point where he stayed in for one or two hitters, then get him right out of there and go into the next day on a positive," said pitching coach Ray Miller.
"He's a very good pitcher and he hit a rough spot there, got a little out of whack. Sometimes that happens when they hit a couple good pitches and you overthrow, and the next thing you know, you don't know where you stand."
Can there be a more helpless feeling for a pitcher than trying unsuccessfully to zero in on a dancing plate? It was something Mathews, in his first full season with the Orioles, hadn't been accustomed to because any wildness he had experienced in the past was confined to within the strike zone.
"You give up a few more hits or home runs that way, but I had never had a stint where I just couldn't throw the ball over," he said. "Our starters were going so deep in every game and I didn't take the right approach as far as making sure I got enough work on the side.
"Being a late-inning guy, you never know when to get up and get a real good workout in, and I wound up putting myself in a spot where I let my mechanics get kind of lax, and being a little too strong so the feel for my pitches wasn't there. Then it went from a mental game where I started worrying too much about it.
"It's the worst feeling in the world. You know everybody in the stands are up there going, 'Why won't this guy throw a strike?' And you're out there asking the same thing."
Even with his past difficulties, Mathews has permitted only six of 23 inherited runners to score, and batters are 3-for-25 (.120) against him with men in scoring position, eighth-best in the American League. Overall, teams are 19-for-98 (.194) against the right-hander, placing him fourth in the AL.
He pitched the ninth inning of Thursday night's 3-0 loss to Toronto, striking out the first two batters and retiring the third on a tapper to the mound.
"That's just going out and being aggressive in the strike zone," he said.
That's being able to locate it.
Pub Date: 6/29/97