THEY CERTAINLY AREN'T CONTACT HITTERS
Roger Clemens's record 20 strikeouts came against a Seattle Mariner ball club apparently intent on rewriting the record books for ineptitude.
"There's no way to compare what we're doing to anything else because we're history," said hitting instructor Deron Johnson with a shrug. Indeed, the 20-K game was simply the low (or high) point in a streak that has Seattle on a 1,542-strikeout pace, one that would shatter the major league record of 1,203 set by the 1968 Mets.
The Mariners had struck out 12 times against Oakland's Rick Lang ford and Jay Howell a night earlier, and the two-game total of 32 set another record. It lasted only 24 hours because, immediately after facing Clemens, the Mariners fanned another 16 times against Boston's Bruce Hurst, Sammy Stewart and Bob Stanley. Over a 17-game stretch through May 4, when they struck out eight times against Toronto's Dave Stieb, the Mariners whiffed 180 times, an average of 10.6 per game.
During one stretch, from the seventh inning on April 27 until the second inning on May 1, they had struck out at least once in each of 22 consecutive innings. During this period they had another futility streak in the works, 85 straight innings without two hits in a row. And don't blame Gorman Thomas for too much of this. Thomas, who shares the AL season record of 175, struck out only once against Clemens and homered to ruin his shutout.
"We're trying to get back to square one," says centerfielder Phil Bradley, who in one stretch struck out 15 times in 23 at bats. "We go out and hit [before the game], then we face somebody like Clemens or Rijo or Andujar. Those guys make you look a lot worse than you really are. We beat Sutton, then we faced Romanick, Codiroli, Rijo, Haas, Viola, Smithson, Butcher, Rijo, Haas, Andujar, Lang-ford, Clemens, Hurst, Boyd.... Clemens and Rijo make you think you're a lot worse than you are. So you go out and try to do more than you need to. I can't relax. I've struck out 33 times, and a lot were on pitches that weren't strikes."
Says Johnson: "We hit like crazy in our final exhibition series against the Expos in Vancouver, then we hit well the first week, got eight runs off Don Sutton in Anaheim and all of a sudden we went into this. We're a good hitting team, which is what makes it like a trip into the Bermuda triangle. But we'll come out of it and do a lot of damage."
Mariner manager Chuck Cottier, the only man to witness both Clemens's feat and Washington's Tom Cheney when he struck out 21 Orioles in 16 innings in 1962—Cottier entered the game in the 10th inning and played second base behind Cheney—says, "We've tried working on going the other way, pulling, not taking hitting, and nothing changes. You can't exactly have a clubhouse meeting and say, 'You've got to stop striking out.' "
COMING TO A FORK IN THE ROAD
Sparky Anderson claims that he always told former pitching coach Roger Craig that Jack Morris and Dan Petry, who are having some early-season problems, would "lose their fastballs throwing that [split-finger] forkball." But the forkball has done wonders for the Dodgers' Bob Welch, who is 17-5 after coming off the disabled list last June, and for Houston reliever Dave Smith, who with 35 saves in his last 39 save opportunities is the best reliever no one knows. The pitch is the perfect complement for the 96-65 Welch to mix with his high, rising fastball and hard curveball....
In the cases of Morris, Petry and Toronto's struggling Stieb, hitters and sometimes teammates say that each has stopped pitching inside, the basis around which any hard-thrower has to work....
Houston's Charlie Kerfeld had a string of 29‚Öì innings without allowing an earned run that dated back to last Oct. 1. Under his uniform he usually wears a JETSONS T shirt, which he calls "mystical." The one time he forgot to wear it this season he allowed two unearned runs. Two weeks ago Kerfeld tried to run onto the field to congratulate teammate Alan Ashby for a tiebreaking homer, but he hit his head on the dugout railing and fell flat on his back. Maybe that encounter knocked something loose; Kerfeld gave up two earned runs in four games last week....
The Orioles are trying to figure out what to do with Alan Wiggins and the $2.1 million he's owed on the remainder of his contract. Wiggins plays second base as if every ground ball is a live grenade, has had run-ins with teammates and coaches (he tossed a bat that hit teammate Cal Ripken) and recently was benched for Juan Bonilla, the man he replaced in San Diego. When the Orioles boarded a plane for Chicago on April 28, they did so at gate E-4, which prompted one coach to crack, "Even the airlines know what's wrong with us."
...Next year the White Sox will shorten their spring training by a week or 10 days. "We left our game in Sarasota," says Ken Harrelson....
Concerns: Tony Pena and Willie Hernandez. Pena hit .249 last year, hit .254 in April and—pulled rib cage or not—is still swinging at virtually everything. Several American League scouts think Hernandez's screwball flattened out from constant work. From the time he joined the Tigers, in March 1984, until Aug. 5, 1985, he was 15-7, 1.91 and had 53 saves in 58 opportunities. From Aug. 6 through last weekend, Hernandez was 3-7, 4.97 with 16 saves in 23 opportunities. Furthermore, opposing right-handed batters have hit .202, .224 and .342 against him in successive seasons.
BRIGHT LIGHTS IN THE BIG CITY
When Ed Whitson couldn't get the final two outs with a 14-7 lead April 29, it emphasized the extent of the man's fears about pitching in New York. Equally absurd: Owner George Steinbrenner said, "I'm not ready to give up on this team after today" when that team was in first place. "[Pitching coach] Sammy [Ellis] had better be worried about his pitchers," the owner bellowed after a 9-7 loss to Cleveland. "I've got some kids at Columbus I'm not afraid to call up." Last Friday, the Yankees called up one kid, Mike Armstrong, 32, and signed yet another, 42-year-old Tommy John....
One scouting director says that "where there were three clear-cut top draft choices [North Carolina catcher B.J. Surhoff, Oklahoma pitcher Bobby Witt, Mississippi State first baseman Will Clark] last year, there are four this season—pitchers Kevin Brown of Georgia Tech and Greg Swindell of Texas, third baseman Jeff King of Arkansas and Tampa Hillsborough High infielder Gary Sheffield [Dwight Gooden's nephew]." Bo Jackson will get taken only when someone can afford to waste a pick, which the Angels might do, because they have five in the first two rounds....
Don't think the Cubs didn't appreciate relief pitcher Lee Smith. When Ray Fontenot allowed a three-run homer to the Padres' Terry Kennedy in the ninth inning in San Diego on April 29, it was the first time since Oct. 2, 1981 that the Cubs had lost a road game they led going into the ninth inning....
While most of the attention has been focused on Jose Canseco and Clark, two American League rookie hitters who have been early sensations are first basemen Billy Jo Robidoux of the Brewers and Wally Joyner of the Angels. "Some scouts have compared Joyner to a young Tommy Hut-ton" says one AL scout. "But he's got surprising power and really seems to understand what pitchers try to do to him. He also is a defensive master." Joyner had six homers in April....
When the Blue Jays moved Lloyd Moseby into their leadoff spot, they hoped that he would be a Rickey Henderson type. "I can't run the way they'd like me to," says the talented centerfielder. "The artificial turf we have is so hard that it wears down your legs. Mine are killing me. Jesse Barfield is hurting, too, and George Bell has a bad knee."
...Mets players will tell you that more opposing hitters swing and miss at pitches by Sid Fernandez than by Gooden. Fernandez throws 84 to 86 mph, but between his abnormally long stride, his showing the ball at arm's length and a hitch that catapults the ball out of his jersey, it is extremely difficult to see the pitch. Manager Dave Johnson uses Bobby Ojeda after Fernandez in the rotation, for contrast. "The other four starters are hard throwers, so Ojeda's ability to change speeds makes him a better pitcher," says Johnson....
Toronto reliever Mark Eichhorn was an organization pitcher going nowhere when his AAA pitching coach, Larry Hardy, suggested in September 1984 that he try to become a Dan Quisenberry submariner. But he couldn't get his breaking ball to break, so last season he moved up to sidearm—a la Gene Garber. The Jays resigned him as a minor league free agent this winter so they would have someone to throw batting practice in spring training. Eichhorn, who this year developed a changeup to use against lefthanders, has allowed two earned runs in 22‚Öì-Dodgers scout Ed Liberatore says, "He could be as good as anyone around."
MINNESOTA IS LOOKING FOR A FEW GOOD ARMS
The Twins may be asking for federal disaster relief for their bullpen. They released Frank Pastore and Juan Agosto, who, with the White Sox, lost two games facing two batters. When Agosto pitched 536 shutout innings May 1 in New York, the Minnesota bullpen had allowed 49 hits and 33 earned runs in 31 innings, including a nine-run inning by the Yankees April 29. Bullpen collapses are nothing new, even if the Twins have failed to make any improvements. Two years ago they were all but eliminated from the division race when they blew a 10-0 lead. Their collapse began last May when they led the Yankees 8-0 and lost. On April 26 they frittered away a 6-1 lead to the Angels in the ninth after the Metrodome roof blew in....
Another team with serious bullpen woes is Atlanta, especially now that Bruce Sutter's comeback has been hampered by continued stiffness in his shoulder. "I feel it starting to come back, but it's hit or miss," says Sutter. "I don't know what to do, but the indecision is what's killing me, and I know it's hurting Chuck [Tanner] and the team."
...On April 29. Dale Murphy sliced his right palm on the Plexiglas outfield fence and was supposed to be out for a minimum of a week, which would have ended his consecutive-game streak at 675. He begged Tanner to let him take batting practice the next night, did extra hitting in the cage underneath the stands, went up as a pinch hitter against Gooden and homered. The next night Murphy, with a wrap on his hand and his bat, was back in the lineup, and the 14th-(now 13th-) longest streak was still intact. "Get me a part in the Dale Murphy Story," cracked teammate Billy Sample....
When Reds pitchers posted baseball cards on their spring training lockers of batters they hate to face, Mario Soto didn't bother. Last year Soto surrendered 30 homers, more than anyone else in the league. Some thought Mario had relied too heavily on his sliders; others felt his fastball had lost its zip. Whatever the reason, one of baseball's most talented righthanders continues to struggle. On April 29, Soto tied a major league record by giving up four homers to the Expos in a single inning as the Reds lost 7-4. Five days later against the Mets, Soto surrendered two more homers to Darryl Strawberry as the Reds dropped their eighth straight game 7-2. Strawberry in particular has benefited from Soto's decline. Since striking out three times against Mario in his debut as a Met, Strawberry has gone 9 for 23 with five home runs....
Texas manager Bobby Valentine made rookie Pete Incaviglia give up his weekly column in The Dallas Morning News, feeling the distraction was part of the reason for his .130 average. Indian pitchers, however, got more of a kick out of hearing Incaviglia's statement that he would lay waste to mankind if someone threw at him. The next night, Don Schulze threw one pitch at Incaviglia's head, and Jim Kern hit him in the wrist. Mankind survived. All Incaviglia did was throw his helmet toward Kern....
One of the biggest disappointments in the American League has been Seattle's Ivan Calderon. He had the highest percentage of extra-base hits per at bat in 1985 and was considered on the brink of stardom, but he put on weight, has been playing in a fog and may end up back in the minors....
The Players Association and commissioner Peter Ueberroth are close to an agreement on a voluntary drug-testing and counseling program, upon which the Players Association would drop its grievance on testing clauses currently in contracts. The counseling service employed may be run by former pitcher Sam McDowell, whose work with the Texas organization last season was a major success before the ball club scaled it back.
BETWEEN THE LINES
Now that they are with Montreal and thus freed from Cincinnati's rules banning facial hair, ex-Reds Dann Bilardello and Jay Tibbs are growing beards, and Wayne Krenckicki is sporting a mustache. "In Cincinnati we were lucky if we were allowed to have eyebrows," says Bilardello.
On April 30, Dan Driessen singled to end an 0-for-3l pinch-hit streak that dated back to 1984. The next day he was released by the Giants.
THE MARIO MENDOZA AWARDS
To the Cardinals, who in losing II of 12 through May 2 were shut out five times—once by Scott Sanderson, who hadn't thrown a shutout since 1981, and once by Mike LaCoss, who hadn't started since 1984—and scored only 21 runs. In one of the defeats all three St. Louis runs were knocked in by Vince Coleman with sacrifice flies. The only regular hitting over .227 was Ozzie Smith.
And to the Padres. Through May 2, their pitchers were outhitting their non-pitchers .250 to .238.
THE BETTER PART OF VALOR
Steve Sax hit his first home run of the year April 30, but when he rounded third base, coach Joe Amalfitano broke with tradition and refused to shake Sax's hand. The last time Sax homered, July 30, he broke Amalfitano's thumb with a hyperactive hand slap. This time, Amalfitano just pointed and pulled an imaginary trigger.
THE WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN AWARD
To Toronto rookie pitcher Mark Eichhorn, who, after thinking he had completed an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play, saw umpire Al Clark make a delayed safe call, began arguing and allowed California's Rick Burleson to come all the way around from second base with the winning run.
PLAYER TO BE NAMED
Portland Beaver outfielder Randy Day hit a ball down the leftfield line in Tucson April 30 that was headed for the corner. However, it struck a duck and was deflected to leftfielder Chuck Jackson, who wheeled and threw to the plate in time to nail the Toros' Todd Soares, who was trying to score from second. In the scorebook of J ay son Stark of The Philadelphia Inquirer, who witnessed the event, it was D-7-2.
THE MICKEY RIVERS QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"It's only puffy where it's swollen."
—Texas pitcher Charlie Hough on his broken finger
•Through L.A.'s and California's first 25 games, Dodger shortstop Mariano Duncan had almost as many errors (nine) as the Angel team (10). And the Dodgers have more where that came from. Their Albuquerque farm club has made 48 errors in its first 21 games.
•A year ago Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt batted only .215 in April with two homers and eight RBIs. This year he had five homers and 19 RBIs and fell one short of the April RBI mark for a Phillie. Along the way, Schmidt broke the Phillie record for career RBIs, passing the previous mark of 1,273 set 85 years ago by Ed Delahanty.
•On May 1 Minnesota's Alejandro Sanchez finally walked—in his 208th plate appearance—against the Yankees' Dennis Rasmussen, who was immediately yanked from the game.
•With everyone talking about strikeouts, the Indians played their Maine farm club April 28, and six Guides pitchers struck out 16 Cleveland batters.
•Texas manager Bobby Valentine told his pitchers to concentrate on hitters and not to worry about base runners. They obeyed, and 23 of the first 25 players who tried to steal against the Rangers were safe.
•Darryl Strawberry was hitting over .400 against righthanders and .175 against lefties in the Mets first 16 games, which may explain why their first four losses all came when a lefthander started against them.
•Detroit's Jack Morris gave up homers on the first pitch of the game in two of his first six starts, April 7 to Dwight Evans of the Red Sox and May 2 to Kirby Puckett of the Twins.
Having hit 11 home runs already this season after getting only four in 691 at bats in 1985, Minnesota's Kirby Puckett has a chance to head the list of sudden sluggers, players who hit fewer than 10 homers (minimum 300 ABs) one season, then produced the largest increases the following year. The leaders: