American League : Orioles Can Use Wiggins--but Need Pitching
Given the team’s success helping pitchers Dennis Martinez and Sammy Stewart deal with alcohol problems, Baltimore is confident it can prevent another relapse by the newest Oriole, Alan Wiggins, who has already been treated twice for cocaine addiction.
Their confidence may be born of desperation.
The Orioles’ second basemen, primarily Rich Dauer and Lenn Sakata, are batting a combined .210. Wiggins, who hit .258 with 70 stolen bases for San Diego last season, is scheduled to join the Baltimore lineup Thursday night in Kansas City.
Is a new second baseman the answer to the Orioles’ disintegrating hopes in the East?
Sakata, for one, asked the same question in a different way?
“Can he pitch?” Sakata asked. “If he can’t pitch, do we need him?”
The real need is unique to an organization that has always prided itself on the quality of its pitching. Now, however, the Orioles’ team earned-run average of 4.34 is their highest since 1956.
Only two pitchers--Stewart at 3.88 and spot rookie reliever Matt Snell at 1.86--have ERAs under 4.00. Mike Boddicker has lost six of his last eight decisions, and Tippy Martinez has saved only three of his last nine opportunities. Seventeen times, the Orioles have had a starting pitcher knocked out before the fourth inning. They are also 1-12 against Eastern Division heavyweights Detroit, New York and Boston.
Manager Earl Weaver, who may be wondering if it’s too late to reconsider coming back, reflected on the pitching breakdown and said: “We’ve won an average of 96.5 games per year with some of these same pitchers, and I still expect them to pitch well two out of three times. If they don’t, it’s going to be a long season.”
Baltimore’s pitching problems would seem to be compounded by the loss of longtime pitching coach Ray Miller, hired last week as Minnesota manager.
Miller nurtured a number of 20- game winning seasons from Oriole pitchers, but his departure didn’t bring tears. Several of the Baltimore pitchers described him as two-faced, a good friend when they were going good but uncommunicative when they weren’t.
Miller, meanwhile, has seemed to have had a positive impact on the Minnesota pitchers, who previously complained of feeling isolated and ignored on a team dependent on hitting.
“I feel like we’re not a forgotten group now,” Twin pitcher Mike Smithson said. “We just don’t find a ball in our glove when we pitch, like we used to.
“Before, it was like we were out there alone. Maybe what I’m trying to say is that we’re not just an offensive-oriented team now.”
The maligned Minnesota pitchers allowed three runs or less in five of the first six games under Miller, whose involvement with the pitchers has yet to create friction with Johnny Podres, who was retained as the Twins’ pitching coach.
“No two pitching coaches have the same ideas on pitching,” Podres said, “but I can work with anyone. This guy had a chance to come in here and tell me to take a hike, but he didn’t. So whatever the circumstances, I’m going to be loyal to the manager.”
A Boston Globe story by Peter Gammons claiming that the Angels have offered Auburn football star Bo Jackson, their 20th pick in the June draft, a $1-million signing package was laughed at by scouting director Larry Himes, who said:
“The only thing we’ve offered Bo is $700 a month to play with the Salem Angels (of the CLass A Northwest League).”
Himes said that Jackson rejected that offer, as well as an invitation to visit Anaheim, with the Angels providing first-class air tickets for his parents.
The NCAA allows athletes to sign a pro contract in one sport and retain college eligibility in another. But the Southeastern Conference has its own rule prohibiting that.
Himes said he told Jackson in a recent phone conversation that the Angels might be willing to challenge the Southeastern Conference rule in court, but he received no support from Jackson. If he returns for his senior season, it would nullify the Angel draft.
“We don’t want to force him into anything,” Himes said. “We want it to come from him. He seems to be an honorable guy with strong ties to Auburn. He has a commitment that he apparently wants to satisfy.”
Jim Rice has a .294 batting average, 49 RBIs and 14 home runs. He’s not happy, however.
In just over one-third of the season, he has grounded into 27 double plays. He set a major league record last year by grounding into 36.
Rice thinks he has become too much of a pull hitter.
“I’m tired of hitting into all those double plays and getting myself out two of every four at-bats,” he said. “If I hadn’t left so many runners on base, Oil Can Boyd would be 12 and 4.”
Don Sutton’s 1.58 ERA and 4-0 record in a seven-start span helped the A’s lower their team ERA from 5.41 at the end of May to 4.62 near the end of June, leaving Oakland a legitimate contender in the West. The A’s are in second place, just three games behind the Angels.
Said Manager Jackie Moore: “It was just a matter of waiting for our pitching. We knew the people we ran out there every day (starters) are just as good as anybody in the division.”
The A’s have also received significant help from the bench. Infielder Rob Picciolo, released by the Angels, is hitting .339. Outfielder Steve Henderson is batting .324. Infielder-outfielder Dusty Baker, the ex-Dodger, is batting .290, with nine home runs and 29 RBIs in 138 at-bats, an impressive average of one RBI every 4.32 at-bats.