In flash, Flanagan aids Erickson


Ex-coach uses '98 photos of struggling pitcher

Foley savors `marvelous' night

June 30, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- Still waiting for Scott Erickson to right himself as the season approaches its midpoint, manager Ray Miller has enlisted the help of former pitching coach and current Home Team Sports broadcaster Mike Flanagan. Flanagan dusted off a sequence of 7-by-9 photos snapped of Erickson last season when he rolled to 16 wins and led the league in innings pitched.

Erickson noted several differences, especially when pitching from the stretch, and tried to correct them during a bullpen session before last night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Miller theorizes that Erickson's efforts to speed his delivery from the stretch have adversely affected his mechanics, leaving his fastball flat and hittable.

"In the past he's been 1.4 [seconds] or 1.5 to the plate, which is pretty slow," Miller said. "He won 16 games that way with Chris Hoiles as his catcher. He sped up this year so that he's about 1.1 to home plate. But the ball's not sinking as much. My argument is that [catcher] Charles Johnson makes up three-tenths of a second. [Erickson] won 16 games last year. So my thinking is why don't we try to get back to doing things the way we did last year?"

Erickson (3-8), meanwhile, continues to struggle with the roughest stretch of his 10-year career. His ERA is at 6.66 -- 2.46 over his career average -- and opponents have pounded him for a .328 batting average and 11 home runs in 96 innings.

Having struck out 417 against 196 walks the previous three seasons, the Orioles' innings monster has struck out only 48 compared to 44 walks this year.

Erickson consistently threw 95 mph in his most recent start, a 5 2/3-inning effort Friday against the New York Yankees in which he allowed 15 base runners and seven earned runs. He acknowledged afterward that his pitches' movement and location were unacceptable.

Flanagan took the photos last year by placing a camera behind the plate as Erickson pitched from the windup and the stretch. The sequence was developed in one strip.

"Sometimes you have a guy struggling, you do something so basic and simple. You make the observation that your glove is at your chin and it used to be at your nose. And instead of throwing four pitches, let's just go with two," Miller said. "Let's just go fastball-changeup or fastball-slider and eliminate the other two pitches. You send the guy out, he has five or six good innings, you get him out of there, and you have something good to go on."

Miller, long recognized as one of the game's best pitching coaches, has observations that go beyond photos. Miller believes that by rushing himself to the plate, Erickson has affected the pronation of his arm, leaving his pitches flat instead of imparting his trademark heavy sink.

`Marvelous' night

No one enjoyed Monday night's controversial exhibition game in Rochester more than first base coach Marv Foley.

Embraced not only as a former Red Wings manager but also as a civic hero, Foley was the subject of a pre-game video tribute and was awarded a silver Rolex watch. Both moved him as a legion of fans sported silk-screened "Marvelous Marv Foley" T-shirts while shouting their appreciation to him. Instead of his usual post, Foley manned the third base coach's box for the eight-inning exhibition.

"I was really hoping we would make the trip," said Foley, whose emotions contrasted with the majority of a clubhouse upset that the game was not sacrificed as a quid pro quo for playing a May 3 exhibition against a Cuban all-star team. "I don't know if everyone appreciates how many Orioles fans there are there. A lot of them come down from Rochester every year. I'm still getting letters from people thanking me for the time I had there. It's unbelievable."

Foley managed four seasons in Rochester, 1995-1998. In 1997, the first year of Frontier Field's existence, he guided the Red Wings to the International League championship, becoming the only manager to win titles in all three Triple-A leagues. Given the elimination of the American Association, his record is unlikely to be challenged.

"That was a special time for me," Foley said. "Those people were great to me. You weren't just the manager, you were part of the community. I always loved it there."

A long look for Hairston

After briefly considering him as their starting second baseman last fall, the Orioles appear prepared to give rookie Jerry Hairston an extended look while Delino DeShields recovers from a pulled hamstring. Hairston received his fourth consecutive start last night, answering with his first major-league extra-base hit, a leadoff double against Pat Hentgen in the Orioles' four-run third inning, three other hits and a stolen base.

"He's really impressed me with his defense and his speed. I think this is a good time to give him a shot," Miller said before the game.

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