Search

Inside Baseball

April 26, 1999
April 26, 1999

Table of Contents
April 26, 1999

Faces In The Crowd

Inside Baseball

THROWING PAINS
The Dodgers are still counting on Todd Hundley's surgically
repaired arm

This is an article from the April 26, 1999 issue Original Layout

Ever since they traded for Todd Hundley last December, the
Dodgers have insisted that the former All-Star catcher is fine.
Sure, Hundley, who'd hit 41 home runs and driven in 112 runs for
the Mets in 1996, was recovering from September '97 surgery on
his right elbow. Sure, he caught just two games last season. But
the Dodgers kept saying Hundley would be O.K.

Well, he's not O.K., and anyone who has watched him try to throw
out base runners or swing the bat knows it. Hundley might have
his strength back, but his confidence is another matter. "It's
like Todd's been frozen for a year and a half," says Dodgers
third base coach Rick Dempsey, a former big league catcher.
"He's thawing out, but it takes time."

In a game last week against the Diamondbacks, Dempsey clocked
Hundley's throw from home to second in 1.94 seconds, plenty fast
for a big league backstop. The problem is not speed, but
mechanics. Where once Hundley's throwing sequence was fluid, now
it's jerky. That, says Hundley, is why he failed to nail the
first 12 runners who tried to steal against him. (He threw out
his first two runners of '99 on Sunday.)

"I need to stop worrying and just play," says Hundley, who has
struggled at the plate as well, hitting just .189 with one home
run at week's end. "I have to be patient, but it's not always
that easy."

That the Dodgers' pitchers know. One of baseball's best staffs
got even better last December with the addition of Kevin Brown.
But since the start of last season that staff has worked with a
conga line of catchers. First Mike Piazza was dealt last May in
a blockbuster trade with the Marlins. Among the five players
arriving from Florida was Charles Johnson, one of the game's
best defensive catchers. Johnson departed in the three-team
trade with the Orioles and Mets that brought Hundley from New
York.

When Hundley was unable to catch for most of spring training,
the Dodgers maintained their no-panic stance. "I'm going slow on
him," says manager Davey Johnson. "Just making sure he's fine."
Rookie Paul LoDuca started four of L.A.'s first 12 games,
throwing out two of three base runners but going 0 for 11 at the
plate.

"Everyone here knows what Todd's fighting," Dempsey says. "He's a
very good defensive catcher, but there's a lot of rust."

Piniella on Pitching
DOES HE KNOW HIS STUFF?

Lou Piniella sat in the visiting manager's office at Anaheim's
Edison Field last Saturday, a smoldering Marlboro Light in one
hand, a ham sandwich in the other. There were bags under his
eyes, and his words were interrupted by a hacking cough. "Look
what losing does to me," he said, only half joking. Then,
getting serious, he added, "It's been tough, these past few days."

After losing to the Angels on Friday, the Mariners, who entered
the season expecting to contend in the American League West, had
dropped four in a row and were in the cellar at 4-7. Piniella's
resolve had weakened. "We need these young pitchers to mature
quickly," he said. "If they can...."

The unfinished thought was clearly an uncomfortable one: Lou
Piniella counting on his pitching staff to save a season? The
Mariners aren't the offensive juggernaut of 1996-98, a span in
which they hit 743 home runs, a record for three consecutive
seasons. Nowadays, with shortstop Alex Rodriguez sidelined four
to six weeks after surgery on his left knee and rightfielder Jay
Buhner recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow,
Seattle can't just bash its way to wins. Says veteran lefthander
Jeff Fassero, "The only way we'll win is if our staff comes
through."

Easier said than done. In Piniella's first six years in Seattle,
the Mariners finished higher than 10th in the league in ERA just
twice. Last season the Seattle bullpen saved only 31 games, the
second-lowest total in the league. Vice president of baseball
operations Woody Woodward cleaned house in the last nine months,
returning only two pitchers from Opening Day '98. The new staff
features two rookie starters (righthanders Freddy Garcia and
Brett Hinchliffe), a rookie reliever (lefthander John Halama)
and three inexperienced relievers (righties Mel Bunch, Jose
Paniagua and Mac Suzuki). So far, only Garcia (2-0, 3.54 ERA)
has shone. At week's end the Mariners (6-7) had a staff ERA of
6.79.

Yet all the pitching woes over the years can't be blamed on the
quality of the arms. Piniella's questionable handling of
pitchers dates to 1988 when, as a third-year manager with the
Yankees, he pressured lefthander John Candelaria, New York's
ace, to either pitch or have surgery on an injured knee.
Candelaria vowed never to play for Piniella again. Four years
later, when Piniella was managing the Reds, he engaged in a
clubhouse wrestling match with closer Rob Dibble, who accused
him of misleading the media by telling them that Dibble's
shoulder was injured.

Those incidents faded from memory, but Piniella's reputation for
having little patience with pitchers and no understanding of
their psyche remains. Two years ago an anonymous player in the
Mariners' organization told Tacoma's News Tribune that Piniella,
who as a player was known for his hitting, would never
understand how to handle pitchers.

In last Friday's 9-5 loss at Anaheim, Piniella hesitated before
removing starter Jamie Moyer, who had cruised through five
innings but had struggled in the sixth. With the Angels leading
5-2 in the seventh, Moyer gave up singles to Tim Salmon and
Garret Anderson, then plunked Troy Glaus to load the bases. Todd
Greene, a righthanded hitting DH with pop, came to the plate.
Piniella, who had the righthanded Bunch warming up, stuck with
Moyer, a lefty. On a 2-and-1 changeup, Greene homered.

"I give my pitchers the opportunity to prove themselves,"
Piniella says. "As long as my pitchers throw strikes, I'll have
patience. But when they start walking people and getting
behind--I don't need that."

Neither do the Mariners.

Japanese Imports
NO MORE HEAT, NO MORE NOMO?

In May 1995, when the baseball world was caught up in Nomomania,
a Dodgers official was asked about the alarmingly high pitch
counts that Japanese pitchers register in their homeland. In 134
starts for the Kintetsu Buffaloes of Japan's Pacific League, for
example, Hideo Nomo--who in his first two years in the U.S.
would win 32 games for Los Angeles and reach 500 strikeouts
faster than any other pitcher in major league history--had
thrown more than 140 pitches in a game 61 times. Twice he went
over 190. "You wonder how much he has left," said the official.

Four years and 784 1/3 innings later, the answer may be cruelly
clear. Nomo's heater only rarely clocks in the 90s, his forkball
no longer has hitters flailing, and as his 20-24 record and 4.54
ERA over the past two seasons show, his cyclonic delivery no
longer fools many batters. Released by the Mets last month, Nomo
is now with the Cubs' Triple A affiliate in Des Moines trying to
prove that his arm isn't shot. He's also trying to prove that
Japanese pitchers can be more than flashes in the pan on major
league mounds.

On the latter front, he's getting little help from his
countrymen. Hideki Irabu's inconsistency and loss of velocity
have cost him his spot in the Yankees' rotation, the performance
of the Mets' Masato Yoshii (1-1, 5.25) has steadily declined
since he was signed last year, and Tigers rookie righthander
Masao Kida has been shelled for 10 runs in five relief outings
this season.

Still, most big league clubs continue to view Japan as a rich
source of talent. "At the Asian Games [in December] I saw more
major league scouts than Asian scouts," says Dodgers director of
Asian operations Acey Kohrogi.

Increased scouting should lead to the signing of more young
pitchers before they're subjected to those killing workloads. It
could also turn up more players with the outgoing personality of
the Angels' Shigetoshi Hasegawa, who since the beginning of 1997
(11-10, 3.67) has been the most consistent Japanese
import--perhaps in part because he speaks English so well. "The
[talent] ceiling on Nomo and Irabu might be higher," says Angels
G.M. Bill Bavasi, "but when you consider the total package,
which includes getting along with teammates and others,
Shigetoshi has the best chance for success over the long haul."

As for Nomo, the Cubs will give him one more start in the minors
before deciding whether to call him up or release him. He gave
up three runs, including a homer, in five innings in his first
outing on April 11, and in his second, last Saturday, he gave up
two runs and struck out 10 in six innings. He says he's
concerned about getting back to the majors himself, not about
spoiling that opportunity for other Japanese players. "There are
a lot of good players over there," says Nomo. "If the major
leagues want them, they'll get them."

--Stephen Cannella

For complete scores and stats, plus more from Tom Verducci and
Jeff Pearlman, go to www.cnnsi.com.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Hundley says he's fine, but opposing base runners have shown that he's still struggling. COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO Piniella needs more from Moyer & Co. COLOR PHOTO: CHARLIE NEIBERGALL/AP Four years after Nomomania, the righthander is in Iowa, looking for another shot.

The Standings

Last week Jose Canseco (home runs), Chili Davis (doubles), John
Franco (saves) and John Candiotti (starts) became the latest
players to reach 400 in their respective specialties. Here are
10 of baseball's 400 clubs, in order of exclusivity, and the
active players closest to gaining membership (however unlikely
that might be).

CLUB, LEADER TOTAL MEMBERS NEXT TO JOIN?

T1. Outfield Assists 1
Tris Speaker, 450 Tony Gwynn, 154
T1. Sacrifices 1
Eddie Collins, 511 Ozzie Guillen, 192
T3. Wins 2
Cy Young, 511 Roger Clemens, 234
T3. Saves 2
Lee Smith, 478 Randy Myers, 347
5. Home Runs Allowed 8
Robin Roberts, 505 Mark Langston, 302
6. Complete Games 15
Cy Young, 749 Clemens, 114
7. Home Runs 28
Hank Aaron, 755 Cal Ripken Jr., 384
8. Stolen Bases 59
Rickey Henderson, 1,299 Delino DeShields, 384
9. Games Started 98
Cy Young, 815 Mike Morgan, 383
10. Doubles 102 Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, 398
Tris Speaker, 792

in the BOX

Cardinals 5, Astros 3
April 16, 1999

On opening day the best rookie in St. Louis was J.D. Drew, and
Mark McGwire was the biggest Mac in town. At week's end both
titles belonged to Joe McEwing, 26. The 5'11", 170-pound
utilityman was tied for third in the National League with a .417
average, had hit in nine of his last 10 games and--after playing
five positions and going 7 for 15 with runners in scoring
position--had vaulted from obscure rookie to fan favorite. He
had also drawn attention from Drew's horrid .176, zero-homer
start.

McEwing's 2-for-4 game last Friday was his fourth multihit game
of 1999. Two days before, in Pittsburgh, he went 3 for 5, scored
three times, made sparkling plays at second and third, and had a
hand in four double plays. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa
called it "one of the greatest games I've ever seen played."
J.D. who?

the HOT corner

Despite the Phillies' thin staff, the club says it isn't
considering calling up hard-throwing Randy Wolf from Triple A
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Don't expect that to last. Wolf, who at
week's end was 17-7 in less than two years of pro ball, was 2-0,
had not given up a run and had 15 strikeouts in 14 innings this
year. "It's two games," says Phillies manager Terry Francona.
"Don't start." ...

The Yankees talked to the Mariners about swapping disappointing
pitchers, New York's Hideki Irabu (10.38 ERA in 4 1/3 innings
through Sunday) for Seattle's Jeff Fassero (7.50 in 18 innings).
The Mariners' response? Maybe if you throw in Derek Jeter. Says
Seattle VP of baseball operations Woody Woodward, "First of all,
I'm not moving Fassero. Second of all, I don't want Irabu. I've
got enough problems." ...

By beating the Mariners last week, Rangers righthander Mike
Morgan entered the major league record book: He had last
defeated Seattle on Aug. 4, 1979--19 years, 252 days earlier--in
his second big league win. That's the longest any pitcher has
gone between victories against one team, breaking the mark set
by righthander Cal McLish, who went 18 years, 59 days from 1944
to '62, between wins over the Pirates....

On April 13 White Sox batters struck out seven times against the
Red Sox--all on called third strikes....

Blue Jays righthander Joey Hamilton, who gave up 10 hits and
eight runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Devil Rays on April 13,
shaved off his beard and mustache after the game. "It's a new
start," said Hamilton, who was 0-2 with a 19.29 ERA through
Sunday. "If this keeps up, you might see me without any body
hair." ...

Is there still resentment around the National League toward the
free-spending Diamondbacks? Consider the Giants' Charlie Hayes,
who scuffled with Arizona righthander Todd Stottlemyre last
Friday: "Did you see it snow again in Scottsdale?" Hayes had
said earlier this month. "That's God's way of telling the
Diamondbacks it will snow in hell before they win." ...

Scott Boras, the agent for Oakland lefthander Kenny Rogers, says
six teams are interested in trading for his client. The Cubs,
Indians, Mets and Rangers have pursued the 34-year-old Rogers,
and the Orioles and Red Sox are sniffing around. The A's will
not deal without receiving at least one Grade A prospect in a
package of young players that includes a promising arm....

White Sox righthander John Snyder has thrown 19 2/3 scoreless
innings in three lifetime starts against Boston. Excluding the
Red Sox, Snyder's career ERA is 5.83....

The Cubs had to place a fence around the new statue of Harry
Caray after fans repeatedly placed cans of Budweiser in his open
hand.