The Inside Track
Pitchers have been throwing inside to hitters for 125 years, yet just because Expo righthander Pedro Martinez hit six batters in his first five starts this season (more HBPs than seven teams had at week's end) and a couple of overly sensitive hitters had charged him on the mound, Martinez is suddenly perceived to be a 158-pound head-hunter. He isn't.
The fact is, Martinez throws a live ball and, like any pitcher, has to pitch inside to be successful. But, at 22, he's still learning how to do it. "He's not trying to hit anyone," says Montreal pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. "He isn't a malicious kid."
Kerrigan is teaching Martinez the fine art of pitching in tight by having him throw to a mannequin in the Expo bullpen between starts. Although during a recent 20-minute session Martinez didn't hit the dummy once, Kerrigan says Martinez's mechanics tend to get fouled up when he pitches inside. "Instead of throwing his usual 92 to 94 miles per hour, he tries to throw 100," Kerrigan says. In so doing, Martinez rushes his body and drops his arm, causing his inside pitches to sail, mostly in on righthanded hitters.
Last Friday night against the Braves, Martinez (1-3, 3.35 ERA) showed signs of progress; in five innings, he came close to nicking only one hitter (Fred McGriff). "I want people to understand that I am not a machine," says Martinez. "I'm just not making pitches where I want."
Any pitcher has to be able to keep hitters from leaning over the plate and getting the bat on pitches over the outside corner. Frank Tanana survived in the majors for years by throwing his 82-mph fastball inside, making the off-speed junk that he threw away from hitters even more effective. The best pitcher in the game today, Atlanta's Greg Maddux, doesn't throw exceptionally hard, and yet, according to Brave pitching coach Leo Mazzone, "he has the best command of the inside part of the plate of any pitcher I've seen."
Pitching inside always becomes a hot topic for debate whenever a few brawls break out in a short period of time, as happened in the first month of this season. Bench-clearing incidents have become more common mainly because hitters have become more sensitive to being hit—or even to being moved back off the plate. "If a hitter doesn't like it when someone pitches inside, he should retire," says Expo manager Felipe Alou. "This comes from a guy who got hit a lot in his career. If you showed fear when I played [1958 to '74], it was time to pack it in and go home. Now guys charge the mound without even getting hit. It's cowardly."
In an era when too many teams are afraid to rush a young player to the majors for fear that immediate failure might scar him permanently, the Indians made a gutsy move last Friday when they called up pitcher Paul Shuey from their Class A affiliate in Kinston, N.C., to be their closer. "It's a roll of the dice," says Cleveland general manager John Hart, "but I've always been a dice roller."
At the time of the recall, the Tribe was 13-12, but the bullpen had blown eight of 16 save attempts. Veteran closer Steve Farr, 37, who was signed as a free agent in the off-season, wasn't getting the job done, and neither was Jose Mesa, a converted starter who hasn't shown the mental toughness needed for the job. The Cleveland pen had been so bad that manager Mike Hargrove was justified in letting 38-year-old Dennis Martinez pitch all 10 innings (130 pitches) of a 4-2 win over the Orioles last Friday.
Shuey, the second-overall pick in the 1992 draft, was on track to become the Indian closer in '95. "We're jumping ahead of the plan," says Hart. "We had a crying need." Cleveland had first tried to trade for a closer—Dennis Eckersley's name came up—but, Hart said, "I couldn't get one without giving up the farm or paying too much."
So the call went out to Shuey, a hard-throwing righthander from the University of North Carolina, who was 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA, eight saves and 16 strikeouts in 13 appearances with Kinston this year. He pitched the eighth inning in the Indians' 8-6 loss to the Orioles on Sunday, giving up a hit and striking out one.
Spin Doctor Needed
If the two-time defending world champion Blue Jays (17-14 at week's end) were not troubled enough by their flammable pitching staff (5.19 ERA), the news last weekend that their most productive player, rightfielder Joe Carter, had come down with vertigo was downright frightening. In the last two years vertigo ended the careers of major leaguers Ken Dayley and Nick Esasky, both of whom were in their prime when stricken by the ailment that leaves a person suffering bouts of dizziness.
Carter woke up last Friday morning, took one step and fell to the floor, his world spinning around him. He then lay in bed for about 40 minutes and was dizzy and nauseated the rest of the day. He didn't go to the ballpark that night, and on Saturday he went to a hospital for a CAT scan. The results were negative, but Carter missed the game that afternoon. On Sunday he went to the park and took batting practice, but he said he felt he was "in a haze."
Carter said he would try to play as soon as he felt able, adding, "You can play with a broken bone, a bad leg, a bad arm, but you can't play with something like this."
The diagnosis of Carter's condition is benign position vertigo caused by a viral infection. The Blue Jay trainer, Tommy Craig, said Carter's vertigo is not as severe a form of the condition as that which afflicted Dayley. Before the 1991 season Dayley signed a three-year deal with Toronto worth $6.3 million but worked only five innings combined from '91 to '93.
Still, when the major leagues' RBI leader (39) and one of the game's most durable players (Carter had previously missed just 48 games over the last nine seasons) can't play because of dizziness, it's enough to make the Blue Jays' and their fans' heads spin.
After the 1985 season, in which Oddibe McDowell hit 18 homers and stole 25 bases, then Ranger manager Bobby Valentine said that his rookie outfielder, whom he liked, had reached his physical peak and would never have a better year. Valentine was right. Nine years later McDowell is a platoon rightfielder for Texas but only after having been released by three teams between April 1991 and May '92 and spending a year out of baseball, during which he worked at the children's clothing store that he and his wife own. The Rangers re-signed McDowell last July to serve as a spare outfielder for their Double A affiliate in Tulsa, but he worked his way back to the majors, joining Texas on April 25. Through Sunday he was hitting .367 and had five steals in nine games....
Pitcher Tim Belcher has been an underachiever for much of his career, but his start this season has been ridiculous. Signed as a free agent in the offseason, he was supposed to help stabilize the Tiger rotation. Instead, after his first seven starts he was 0-6, had the highest on-base percentage against of any pitcher (minimum 25 innings) in the majors (.444) and had pitched only five innings in which he had retired the side in order....
How weak is major league pitching these days? On April 14 the White Sox signed lefthander Atlee Hammaker, 36, who hadn't pitched since 1991, when he made one appearance for the Padres. He hurt his arm that year, later paid for two arm operations and now is said to be throwing in the mid-80's again. Hammaker was assigned to Double A Birmingham....
Juiced Ball Note of the Week: Tiger shortstop Chris Gomez, who had hit one homer in 655 professional at bats before last Saturday, hit two in one game against the Mariners. Through Sunday a player had homered at least twice in a game 65 times this season, and Gomez was one of 14 players in '94 to have a multihomer game for the first time in his career.
RONALD C. MODRA
While Martinez gets a grip on his control, hitters get uptight.
Nine years after hitting his peak, McDowell is back in the Texas lineup.
Between the Lines
Your Ride Is Waiting. Reserve infielder Rafael Belliard of the Braves, who had one home run in 1,802 career at bats through Sunday (including none in his last 1,397), missed a homer by a few feet last Friday against the Expos. It was the second time this year that he just missed clearing the leftfield wall at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. "He's going to hit one out this year," says Brave third baseman Terry Pendleton. "When he does, I'm going to meet him at home plate and carry him off the field, just like in the Little League World Series."
Take a Mulligan. Phillie reliever Andy Carter made his major league debut on May 3 and was ejected from the game after hitting two of the three Padre batters he faced. Apparently home plate umpire Jim Quick wanted to make sure the rookie's wildness didn't lead to yet another bench-clearing brawl. Asked later how he had dreamed that his debut would go, Carter said, "Just getting everybody out.... Well, I got one out."
Parlez-Vous Anglais? Expo first baseman Randy Milligan says he loves living in Montreal even though he doesn't speak French. "I just look stupid, shrug my shoulders and laugh a lot," he says of encountering a Quebecois. "They figure it out; then they start speaking English."
Wild Things. Brewer shortstop Jose Valentin made three throwing errors in a game against the Twins on May 3, thereby joining Minnesota's Pat Meares (April 12) as the only shortstops to attain that dubious distinction this year. By comparison, Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. committed only three throwing errors in 356 games from Aug. 26, 1988, to Oct. 3, 1990.
Damage Report. During the Cubs' team-record 12-game home losing streak, which finally ended with a 5-2 win over the Reds on May 4, they were outscored 85-33, trailed for all but seven of 108 innings and during one stretch didn't have the lead for 61 straight innings.