Rasmussen Just Can't Get Started, and That Helps Cubs Finish Padres

Times Staff Writer

For the most part, it bore no resemblance to the celebrated afternoon at Wrigley Field. The air was cold. The ivy was brown. During the seventh-inning stretch, you could see Harry Caray's voice better than you could hear it.

On a 40-degree Friday here, only one thing followed tradition: Padre pitcher Dennis Rasmussen started like an old car.

In leading the Padres to ruin for the fourth time in his past four starts, Rasmussen allowed three runs to the Chicago Cubs' first six batters. He then watched his teammates score just once and shiver away a good last chance when Carmelo Martinez was picked off second base to end a 3-1 loss to the Cubs in front of a paying crowd of 9,504.

The defeat stopped a four-game Padre winning streak just as earlier this season, Rasmussen's pitching helped end a three-game winning streak. This is not what baseball people mean when they call someone a stopper.

"This has got to stop," Rasmussen said with quiet anger.

Say this much for Rasmussen, he does it quickly. Friday, it was as fast as a two-run homer from the third batter he faced (Ryne Sandberg) and an RBI double from the sixth (Darrin Jackson).

The struggling Cubs' three first-inning runs gave opponents in Rasmussen's five starts 11 runs on 18 hits in the first inning alone. If he pitched the rest of a game the way he has pitched the first, he would allow an average of nearly 20 runs. Baseball being what it is, his ERA is "just" 7.20, while he is 1-4 and frustrating everyone.

When asked if Rasmussen should just start a game in the second inning, pitching coach Pat Dobson shrugged and said, "Who do you want to pitch the first inning? Me?"

When Rasmussen was asked if he ever feels like rearranging clubhouse equipment like many a frustrated predecessor, he said, "How do you know I haven't done that already?"

If nothing else Friday, he broke morale, putting his mates in the tough spot of coming back against a former Texas Ranger left-hander named Paul Kilgus. Only two of them had seen him before, and they didn't find a hit off the guy until Randy Ready's two-out, sixth inning single. And by the time they finally put together a couple more hits to score a run in the ninth, they had been frustrated to the point of losing their marbles.

Ever seen a relief pitcher get a save without retiring a batter? Thanks to the Padres, that's what happened to the Cubs' Mitch Williams, who took over from Kilgus with two outs in the ninth, Martinez on second and Salazar on first.

A month ago and a couple of thousand miles away in Yuma, Ariz., Williams picked Martinez off first in the eighth inning of a spring training game March 25.

"I remembered that," Martinez said.

Williams must have a better memory. Because as soon as he came into the game to face Garry Templeton, Martinez took the sort of big lead you take when your mom is pitching. After Templeton fouled off Williams' first pitch, Williams spun and threw to second, and Martinez was as frozen as those bleacher bums who removed their shirts.

He was so frozen, according to Templeton, that even before Williams released the ball, catcher Rick Wrona was shouting "It worked, it worked."

And so it did: Martinez got back just in time to be tagged out by a step by shortstop Shawon Dunston and end the game. Funny how time works. Last year, the Padres lost here when catcher Benito Santiago tried to pick Manny Trillo off second in the 10th inning and, with nobody covering the base, threw the ball into center field.

Part of the problem for these 13-11 Padres, it seems, is that sometimes they just can't help playing the way they did last year.

"It was just dumb on my part," Martinez said of the game-ending play. "I didn't need to be out that far. Next time Williams pitches, I stay on the base."

Said Williams, a former Padre minor leaguer who has seven saves in eight opportunities for the Cubs: "Anytime I can get a guy out without throwing a pitch, I'd just as soon do it."

Maybe he can work with Rasmussen, who right could use just that sort of start--where he doesn't have to throw a pitch. Since opening his season by pitching the Padres to a 5-3 victory over Houston, Rasmussen is 0-4 with a 9.53 ERA. Not that he is tainting the rest of the Padres' starting staff but, without him, they are 10-4 with a 3.13 ERA. With him, the starters are 11-8 with a 3.75 ERA.

He ended Friday's game well, with four innings of one-hit ball, facing one over the minimum 12 batters during that time before being lifted for a pinch-hitter and reliever Mark Grant. But by then, it didn't matter.

"I'm encouraged by what eventually happened, but it's still a loss, and I still put us behind," Rasmussen said, staring into his locker in the tiny visiting clubhouse beneath Wrigley Field. "Every time I go out there, I make us come from behind, and you can't do that. I don't do the job in the first inning, I don't do the job, period."

It was worse Friday because he was facing a Cub team that had scored 21 runs in the past 10 games. Only twice during that period had they scored as many as three runs in an entire nine innings. The leadoff hitter who singled, Curtis Wilkerson, was hitting .200. Sandberg, who hit his second homer, had three hits in his past 20 at-bats with no RBIs.

The guy who followed Sandberg with a double, Andre Dawson, was hitting .227. And then the guy with the RBI double, outfielder Jackson, was making his first start of the season. Jackson is so highly regarded around here that he was major league baseball's final player off an opening day roster to get into a game--that was eight days ago.

Rasmussen's problem?

Dobson, who was filling in as manager Friday because Jack McKeon was attending memorial services for longtime assistant Rhoda Polley in San Diego, thinks it might be that Rasmussen needs time to fool the hitters.

"Guys that use a breaking ball like that, they have trouble early in the game because they don't have a real good feel of all their pitches," Dobson said. "Raz would get behind today and come in with the fastball, and he can't do that. When it comes down to a problem with pitch selection like that, it also tells me he's having trouble with his concentration."

Santiago wonders if Rasmussen doesn't have a different bad habit.

"He works so slow, the fielders are almost falling asleep on him," Santiago said. "I told him today to speed up, and he did, and it worked."

Rasmussen, who has thought about this more than he cares to, just isn't sure. "My mechanics are fine, everything is fine," Rasmussen said. "It's something , but I don't know. All I know is, it will stop. Somehow."

Next Wednesday in San Diego against these same Cubs, in Rasmussen's next scheduled start, the Padre bosses will be watching to see just how.

Padre Notes

Although a couple of Padres groused that 27-year-old Paul Kilgus held them to three hits in 8 2/3innings Friday only because they've never seen him before, one veteran who had seen him before said he is for real. "I know that it takes time to get used to a guy, but this guy is really deceptive, I'm pretty impressed with him," said Jack Clark, who went one for three with his first double of the year. Entering the game, Clark was one for six lifetime off Kilgus, with all six at-bats coming last year when Clark was with the New York Yankees. "He is one left-hander who knows how to pitch, he's the kind of guy who makes you take four hits to get a run," Clark said. "He uses his fastball to get ahead of you, but if he's behind, he'll bring you a changeup when you are thinking the fastball and get you that way. I struck out twice last year against him in situations like that." Kilgus, who came to the Cubs this winter as part of that eight-player deal that sent pitcher Jamie Moyer and outfielder Rafael Palmeiro to Texas, is in his second big league season. He improved to 2-2 with a 2.93 ERA. . . . Randy Ready, who broke up Kilgus' no-hitter with a single in the sixth, has experience at that sort of thing. Last May 8, he broke up Doug Drabek's no-hit bid for Pittsburgh with a single to open the ninth inning. He's getting so good at breaking pitchers' hearts, he can even predict it. "I looked at Chuck Cottier (Cubs third base coach) in the fifth inning, and I said, 'You know, that Kilgus has a no-hitter,' " related the Padre third baseman. "Cottier says, 'I didn't know that,' but you know he knew it. Then I say, 'Well, he won't throw a no-hitter today.' I knew we could eventually get to him. We hit some balls hard. I knew one of them would fall in." Ready, who is looking more and more like the everyday third baseman, has started six consecutive games, the longest streak by any Padre third baseman this year. He is hitting .295 with one error. . . . Friday's loss made pitching coach Pat Dobson 0-1 in games in which he has managed from start to finish. "That's OK, all I need to do is win a game, and I'm .500." said Dobson, who will return to his pitching coach chores when McKeon returns today with pitcher Ed Whitson, who represented the players at the memorial service of former front office assistant Rhode Polley.

PADRES AT A GLANCE

Scorecard

FIRST INNING

CUBS--Wilkerson singled to center. Webster popped to the catcher. Sandberg homered to left, his second. Dawson doubled to left. Grace grounded to first, Dawson taking third. Jackson doubled to left, Dawson scoring. Dunston popped to second. Three runs, four hits, one left.

NINTH INNING

PADRES--With one out, Clark doubled to right. Santiago reached first on third baseman Wilkerson's fielding error, Clark taking third. Martinez forced Clark at home, Santiago taking third, Martinez stopping at first. Salazar singled to center, Santiago scoring, Martinez stopping at second. Williams replaced Kilgus. Martinez picked off second. One run, two hits, one left.

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