Guzman to be 'heavy' at the Yard Newcomer's sinker fits O's home that gave Wells, Fernandez fits

August 02, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Orioles made a statement on several levels Friday when they acquired heavyball right-hander Juan Guzman from the Toronto Blue Jays for pitcher Nerio Rodriguez and outfield prospect Shannon Carter.

The most obvious message is that the Orioles' front office wasn't posturing when it insisted it is committed to salvaging a playoff spot. Guzman is universally recognized as one of the game's most difficult pitchers to hit when healthy and mechanically sound. Rodriguez, whose brightest career moments had come against the Jays, and Carter, the nephew of Joe Carter, represented a reasonable price for an organization that pledged not to mortgage its future in a deadline deal.

By obtaining Guzman, the Orioles also acknowledged what many have suggested since the club moved into Camden Yards in 1992. Style equals substance.

Guzman fits the profile of the prototypical Orioles pitcher of the '90s -- hard-throwing with command low in the strike zone and reliant on a two-seam rather than a four-seam fastball.

The difference is more than mere seamhead jargon. A four-seamer rides or hops. The two-seamer, best illustrated by Scott Erickson, bores downward and is described as "heavy."

"The bottom line is it's hard to hit ground-ball home runs," says pitching coach Mike Flanagan. "You're pitching half your games there. Obviously, it's better to fit your surroundings."

Camden Yards can squeeze the soul from a pitcher. This season David Wells has pitched a perfect game, started an All-Star Game and now challenges for the AL Cy Young Award within spacious Yankee Stadium. Two years ago with the Orioles, Wells seethed at Camden's dimensions, grousing about the too-friendly confines the way a golfer might classify an overly tight course as "unfair."

Of course, Wells is a fly-ball pitcher who rides a four-seamer.

Manager Ray Miller derides expansion for allowing virtually anyone to pitch in the major leagues. Guzman But not just anyone can pitch in Camden Yards. The place has humbled All-Stars and castoffs alike. Sid Fernandez crashed and burned. Soft-tosser Jamie Moyer suffered progressively higher ERAs in his three seasons there, left for Seattle, and became a monster. An impressive resume doesn't guarantee success. Camden Yards demands the proper stylistic match. Power pitchers and sinkerball pitchers can thrive there. Finesse types need not apply.

Jimmy Key learned the lesson during an often brilliant 1997. While winning 16 games, his frustrations at Camden helped shape his reputation. Key last year allowed 15 homers in 100 2/3 innings at Camden Yards and finished 6-8 at home. He was 10-2 on the road.

RTC In 20 appearances covering 93 innings, Doug Drabek has surrendered 16 home runs. A ratio of one home run allowed per 10 innings is considered good. Drabek's ratio of one homer per less than six innings is ruinous.

Drabek has surrendered nine home runs in 55 2/3 innings at home and has tumbled from the starting rotation. No amount of toggling by Miller or Flanagan could change his repertoire.

"You have to be either a power pitcher or a sinker pitcher," says Miller. "Camden Yards is very unforgiving. Even great pitchers like Mike [Mussina] and Scotty, if they hang a slider or leave a pitch up, it's very unforgiving. I think the adjustment is a tough one to make once you get here.

"Since I've been with the Orioles, there has always been a tremendous emphasis on defense. In our ballpark, you have to use it."

Miller wants the opinion made theory throughout the system. Breaking ball pitchers may have a place against Triple-A bats, but, as Rick Krivda most recently proved, that success doesn't readily translate in the 21201 ZIP code.

"I think it's critical in our minor leagues that you learn how to sink the ball and keep the ball down. If they don't have a two-seamer, then come up with one," Miller said.

The colorful and ample Fernandez (a k a El Sid, The Big Kahuna) was the organization's first painful pitching lesson within their new digs. His riding fastball played well in the National League, where he produced an ERA below 3.00 in three of his last four full seasons with the New York Mets.

Among the first group of free agents signed during the Peter Angelos era -- Rafael Palmeiro and Chris Sabo were also among the class -- Fernandez never became comfortable at Camden. In 1994-95 Fernandez suffered a combined 6-10 record with ERAs of 5.15 and 7.39. Roundly criticized for his girth, Fernandez was victimized more by his approach. The Orioles released him in July 1995.

Guzman is the anti-Kahuna. He is also the blueprint for what the Orioles will seek in completing a formidable rotation this winter. Did someone say Kevin Brown?

Pub Date: 8/02/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.