Baseball

June 10, 1990

DEATHWATCH

Now that the Mets have fired Davey Johnson (page 58), is anybody's job safe? The Mets' move has intensified rumors that other managers might soon get canned. At the top of the list is Bucky Dent, who has led the Yankees to their worst start since 1925—an 18-29 record through Sunday. Don't be surprised if Yanks owner George Steinbrenner replaces Dent with Johnson, a popular figure with New York fans, later this season.

Dent is not the only one to blame for the Yankees' poor showing this season. Indeed, even Miller Huggins would have had trouble keeping the current collection of pin-stripers out of the cellar. As one scout puts it, "It's not Bucky's fault. His team isn't bad—it's terrible."

True, Dent is not that experienced—when Steinbrenner named him manager last August, he was in his third year as skipper at Triple A Columbus and had never coached or managed in the majors. Nor is he much of a communicator. But those drawbacks are minor compared with some of his team's deficiencies.

What Dent needs is a veteran baseball man—ideally a former big league manager—to work with him as a coach. He could also use a player to take over the role of clubhouse leader. The biggest hole, however, is in the cleanup spot. By week's end, the four players who have batted fourth in the order had combined for a .213 average and only four homers. As a result, New York's No. 3 hitter, Don Mattingly, hasn't been seeing many good pitches. And he's not happy. "We haven't shown any signs of worrying about losing," says Mattingly. "It's as if we're happy to be playing the way we're playing."

After Sunday's games, New York was last in the league in runs scored with 177. "We have to find someone to put the ball in play," says Dent. "I'm making the right moves. We're just not hitting."

Another manager who's on the endangered list is John Wathan of the Royals. However, as of Sunday the Royals had won 11 of their last 17 games, including two of four from Oakland last week. That means Wathan will probably be given a reprieve until the All-Star break.

"He has my support," says K.C. general manager John Schuerholz. "He knows that. But everyone in baseball knows that, ultimately, the buck stops with the manager. In my judgment, John has not done a bad job."

Wathan has gotten little help from 1989 National League Cy Young Award winner Mark Davis, the $13 million free-agent signee who has been ineffective as a closer and a middle reliever. Before May 18, Kansas City's other '89 Cy Young winner, Bret Saberhagen, had gone almost five weeks without a victory. In addition, rightfielder Danny Tartabull has missed most of the year with a muscle tear in his right leg, and Bo Jackson and George Brett haven't picked up the slack. Like Dent, Wathan is managing players with whom he played. That often makes the job harder, not easier.

A third skipper who is frequently mentioned as a candidate for the unemployment line is Bobby Valentine of the Rangers. On Sunday night, Texas was last in the American League West with a 20-30 record. Like Dent and Wathan, Valentine is not without an alibi. His best starter, Nolan Ryan, is on the disabled list with a back injury, and his only high-quality reliever, Jeff Russell, underwent surgery on his right elbow on May 30 and could be lost for the season.

Despite the rumors, Valentine's job is not in jeopardy. He is close to general manager Tom Grieve, and Ranger part-owner George W. Bush has told both not to panic. The plan is to rebuild Texas with young prospects in the organization. Not everyone, however, is convinced that the Rangers' farm system is loaded. "I hear about all this major league talent they're supposed to have," says one scout. "I want to know one thing: Where is it?"

One reason teams have been slow to dump managers is that many of them are looking for a replacement with major league managing experience, and few such prospects are available. Three coaches who could get a shot are Gene Lamont of the Pirates and Dave Duncan and Rene Lachemann of the Athletics. But they may have to wait. As one general manager says, "No names really jump out at you."

RAGING BULLPEN

The latest team to adopt the Tony La Russa approach to bullpen management—which involves giving each pitcher a clearly defined role—is the Twins. It seems to be working. Through last week, Minnesota's relief corps was 14-2 with 17 saves and a 2.93 ERA. Indeed, until June 1, when Minnesota fell 2-1 to the White Sox, the Twins had won seven one-run games and lost none. The 1940 St. Louis Browns are the only team to have gone deeper into a season without a one-run defeat. Their streak lasted until June 5.

The Twins' pen is nothing if not diverse. Closer Rick Aguilera (15 saves through Sunday) doesn't throw just heat; he has a slider and a forkball. Setup man Juan Berenguer (29-8 in four years as a Twin) throws mostly 90-mph-plus fastballs. One lefthanded middle reliever, Gary Wayne (1.84 ERA), has a funky motion, and the other, veteran John Candelaria (6-1, 4.37 ERA and two saves), slings the ball toward the plate. And righthander Terry Leach (2-1, 2.32 ERA) throws submarine-style. The only reliever with a standard repertoire is righthander Tim Drummond (0-1, 3.77 ERA). "This is the best pitching staff we've had since I've been here," says first baseman Kent Hrbek, a Twin since 1981. Better than the championship staff" of '87? "A lot better," he says.

STRIKE FORCE

Trying to evaluate a pitcher? Take a look at his walk ratio, as well as his winning percentage and ERA. The best pitchers are almost always the ones who have given up the fewest walks. As of Sunday, for instance, 11 pitchers had seven or more wins: Jack Armstrong, Roger Clemens, Doug Drabek, Chuck Finley, Kevin Gross, Neal Heaton, Barry Jones, Dave Stewart, Dave Stieb, Frank Viola and Bob Welch. Together, they had allowed 2.25 bases on balls per nine innings, an outstanding ratio.

What makes Clemens, in particular, so good is his ability to throw his 94-mph fastball wherever he wants. Mark Langston, on the other hand, has always had difficulty pinpointing his 90-mph fastball. As of last Sunday, Langston had walked 702 batters in 1,442⅖ career innings for a walk ratio of 4.38 per nine innings. By contrast, Clemens had given up 392 walks in 1,373⅖ innings for a 2.57 ratio. Not surprisingly, the Rocket's lifetime winning percentage was .689, while Langston's was .524.

"If I were a pitcher, I'd learn to throw a first-pitch strike on the outside corner until I turned black and blue," says Red Sox manager Joe Morgan. "Too many pitchers are too fine on the first pitch. The odds are with you when you get ahead on the count." Last season hitters batted .229 after falling behind 0-1 in the count and .267 after going ahead 1-0.

OUT OF CONTROL

In 1987, at age 19, pitcher Steve Gasser was the jewel of the Twins' farm system. However, after being promoted from Double A to Triple A near the end of that season, he began losing his control. Minnesota traded Gasser to the Mets in 1988, and the problem just got worse. In his first appearance with Class A Columbia this season, he walked 11 batters and threw seven wild pitches in one inning. When New York released him on May 22, he had given up 21 walks and had thrown 13 wild pitches in six innings. "We were at the end of the line. We had exhausted all possibilities," says Gerry Hunsicker, the Mets' minor league director. "He had as good stuff as anyone in our system, but...."

Nobody is sure why Gasser came down with Steve Blass disease. "After that one inning this year, I thought about hanging it up," says Gasser, "but I threw well in the pen the next day. I couldn't quit. If I couldn't throw hard or didn't have the bite on the curveball, I'd hang it up now. But if it's in me, there's a way to get it out." The Braves apparently agree. On May 30, they signed Gasser to a minor league contract.

WALKING WOUNDED

Royals catcher Bob Boone, sidelined with a broken right index finger, is on the disabled list for the first time in his 18-year major league career. Giants catcher Terry Kennedy has never been on the DL in his 13 seasons. Then there's Mariners catcher Dave Valle. He is on the DL for the 11th time in 12 seasons in the majors and the minors. This time Valle suffered a cracked rib in a collision with Toronto catcher Pat Borders on May 17.

Valle, who is only 29, has also been disabled with a lacerated right hand, a dislocated right ring finger, a sprained left wrist, a strained left knee, fractured ribs, torn ligaments in his right knee, a bruised left thigh, a hip pointer, a bone bruise in his left hand and torn ligaments in his right knee. His injuries come from playing the game very hard. "It's never been little nicks—I play with those," says Valle. "By the time I'm finished playing, I'm going to have a suit of armor on. But at this rate, I'll stretch out [the injuries] and play until I'm 50."

NOBODY'S DARLING
The Mets have made pitcher Ron Darling available, but he has generated surprisingly little interest. How quickly his slock has fallen. Entering this season, Darling was the only National League pitcher to have thrown 200-plus innings in each of the last six years. But at week's end he was 1-4 with a 6.00 ERA.... White Sox infielder Craig Grebeck, who is 5'6" and 145 pounds, wears number 14, the same as Minnesota's massive Kent Hrbek. On May 31, the two players met at Comiskey Park. "You're too small to wear that number," said Hrbek. "Put a slash in between the numbers and be one fourth."

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PHOTOAL TIELEMANSDent doesn't have to look to know what the Boss may have in store for him. PHOTOTOMY TOMSICAguilera has turned into the ace of the Twins' La Russa-esque bullpen. PHOTOTHE TOPPS COMPANY, INC.Happy 61st to a three-time All-Star. CHARTJOHN GRIMWADF TWO ILLUSTRATIONS

BETWEEN THE LINES

LET THERE BE DRUMS

Last Saturday, Mariners lefthander Randy Johnson pitched a no-hitter in beating the Tigers 2-0 at the King-dome. His last pitch was a 97-mph fastball that sailed over Mike Heath's head, but Heath swung anyway and whiffed. Afterward, Johnson, who is 6'10", said, "That would even have been a ball if I was batting."

Johnson, whose no-hitter improved his record to 4-3, is no stranger to extraordinary occurrences. On May 1, he became the first lefty to strike out Boston's Wade Boggs three times in a game. And in an exhibition game this spring, he hit the screen on the fly with a pitch, but the ball bounced back to catcher Scott Bradley so fast that Bradley was able to throw out the runner trying to advance to third base.

But none of that could compare with Saturday's performance, which was Johnson's first shutout in 43 career starts. He threw 136 pitches—50 of which traveled 94 mph or faster—while walking six batters and striking out eight. To calm himself in the late innings, Johnson tapped his toe and drummed his fingers on his leg. He had recently bought a set of drums, which he played for 90 minutes before the game. "I may have to start doing that more often," he said. "I may have to rent a set to take with me on the road."

HIS DAYS ARE NUMBERED
On May 5, San Diego first baseman Jack Clark, who had been struggling at the plate, changed his number from 25 to 00 to improve his luck. He went 4 for 7 in a double-header that day, but he also hurt his back and, as of Sunday, had yet to return to the lineup. On May 22, he pinched a nerve in his back while pulling up his socks. Then, three days later, he was hit in the cheekbone by a ball thrown by teammate Pat Clements in batting practice. "The next time I go on the field," says Clark, "I'm wearing full football gear."

THE SOFT TOUCH
Fordham missed a chance to go to the College World Series last week when it lost to South Alabama in the Midwest Regional. But wait until next year. That's when the Rams will unveil righthander Mike Bertolucci, now a senior at Del Campo High in Fair Oaks, Calif. What's so special about Bertolucci? Well, for one thing, he pitches underhand, like a softball pitcher. For another, he has mastered a mystifying collection of pitches, including a sinker, a riser, a curveball and a change-up, in addition to a 77-to-82-mph fastball. In three years at Del Campo High, Bertolucci struck out 130 batters in 131⅖ innings. Fordham coach Dan Gallagher plans to use him as a reliever. "Pitching underhand doesn't hurt your arm," says Gallagher, "so I think he can throw an inning or two every day. If he can do that, he can be as good as any pitcher in the country."

BY THE NUMBERS

•Blue Jay Dave Stieb, the only pitcher to have thrown at least one shutout every year in the 1980s, beat the A's 1-0 on May 28. With a shutout or more in 12 consecutive years, Stieb still has a way to go before he breaks Walter Johnson's record of 21 straight seasons.

•Over a recent eight-day period, three National League players hit three homers in a game—Kevin Mitchell on May 25, Jeff Treadway on May 26 and Glenn Davis on June 1. In the last two years, Von Hayes is the only player in the league to accomplish that feat.

WHO'S HITTING ALL THE HOMERS?

Home runs are up 13% over 1989. Part of the barrage has come from catchers and second basemen, not normally power hitters. Meanwhile, the output of the designated hitter has plummeted.

HOME RUNS PER 600 AT BATS

1989

1990*

DIFFERENCE

RIGHTFIELD

18.0

22.9

+4.9

CATCHER

11.6

14.2

+2.6

SECOND BASE

8.0

10.5

+2.5

PITCHER

2.5

4.5

+2.0

CENTERFIELD

10.8

12.4

+1.6

THIRD BASE

13.5

14.9

+1.4

FIRST BASE

20.3

21.4

+1.1

LEFTFIELD

16.2

17.3

+1.1

SHORTSTOP

7.4

7.4

No Change

DESIGNATED HITTER

16.0

12.8

-3.2

* Projected as of June 2
SOURCE: STATS, INC.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)