FORT WORTH, Texas -- Every five days, the Seattle Mariners send to the mound pitcher Randy Johnson, the American League's All-Star starter and 1995 Cy Young Award winner.
Every five days, the Mariners also send out Bob Wolcott, a pitcher with a 5-4 record and 5.02 ERA. They send him to the mound that is, unless they are sending him to the bullpen or back to the minors. In those cases, they're out desperately searching for another candidate for their fifth starter spot.
They're not alone. The Atlanta Braves have a starting rotation of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Denny Neagle, but haven't settled on a fifth starter. That troubled spot has led the Braves to make a pitch for Philadelphia Phillies ace Curt Schilling.
Their plight is similar to most other teams that are trying to string together a five-man rotation, leading Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller to propose a sim- ple solution.
"If nobody likes their fifth starter, why not use a four-man rotation?" Miller said. "It's easier to find four starters than it is five."
Necessity is a powerful force for change. The Oakland Athletics and the Anaheim Angels have recently gone back to four-man rotations -- out of desperation more than anything.
The Angels have gone with a four-man rotation in the second half and are 10-3 with a 3.91 staff ERA. The A's, on the other hand, are 4-9 with a 5.43 ERA since the All-Star Game.
"We don't have five starters to put in the rotation," Oakland manager Art Howe said. "It's a unique situation; I've never had to do this before, but the situation dictates it. If it works, we'll stay with it. This is not a one-time thing."
It's not a new idea.
From about 1920, when Babe Ruth and the home run took off in baseball, until 1975, the four-man rotation was commonly used. The best pitchers in baseball were starting 40 to 42 times a year.
But as the careers of Hall of Fame workhorses like Tom Seaver, Ferguson Jenkins, Gaylord Perry, Jim Palmer and Jim "Catfish" Hunter came to a close, baseball shifted to the five-man plan.
Hunter started 41 games in winning the 1974 Cy Young Award for the A's. Roger Clemens has never started more than 36 games in a season. That's five fewer starts by the staff ace, and since 1969, 55 divisional pennant races have been decided by 5 1/2 games or less.
"The problem," Miller said, "is you pay so much for these pitchers, then you've got all these doctors in the clubhouse. If a guy feels some tightness in his arm, they're going to say, 'Don't pitch him,' so they cover their butts. They want him to have that extra rest."
The Rangers' fifth starter is Matt Whiteside, a career middle reliever who replaced the injured Julio Santana, who was replacing the injured Roger Pavlik.
In other words, the Rangers are not immune to fifth-starter
troubles. But pitching coach Dick Bosman is not a proponent of a four-man rotation.
A five-man rotation means four days of rest. Bosman uses one of those days between starts for an extended throwing session that allows for teaching and mechanical corrections.
Bosman said pitchers working in a four-man rotation with three rests wouldn't have that work day.
"That's a big day," Bosman said. "That's a teaching day and a practice day. I think if you're going to throw [between starts], let's do it up on the hill where you make your money."
Bosman said a four-man rotation is possible "if you have four guys who are really durable and need little maintenance. Then sure it's easier to find four men rather than five. But if the guy hasn't developed in the minors, if he doesn't have the arm strength, if his mechanics are erratic and he can't locate the ball if you're going to do the job properly in teaching, then it's pretty hard.
"I'm not saying it doesn't work, but I have my reservations. First, most pitchers are not accomplished at it, and secondly, they're not acclimated to it. I just think that year in and year out, because of the extra day of rest, pitchers are going to have more success pitching in a five-man rotation."
Miller admitted that it would be difficult for teams as a whole to go back to a four-man rotation, even though some teams are experimenting.
"Most clubs have at least one veteran guy who has been pitching in a five-man rotation his entire career," Miller said.
In looking at the Orioles' staff, Miller said, "It might be taxing on Jimmy Key at his age , Mike Mussina wouldn't be as effective because he's been in a five-man rotation all his life, Scott Erickson would love it because he likes throwing every day."
Pub Date: 7/27/97