Seems as if people always want Eric King to pitch less--and Eric King always wants to pitch more.
The Detroit Tigers cast him as a reliever for much of his three seasons with them. King didn't like that and said so--until he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Kenny Williams during spring training in 1989.
Now the right-hander the Tigers wanted in the bullpen has an 8-1 record as a starter and leads the American League with a 2.18 earned-run average.
King shut out the Oakland Athletics Friday in the first game of the White Sox's six-game sweep down the California coast, and was on his way to shutting out the Angels Wednesday afternoon at Anaheim Stadium.
The Angels got to him for two runs in the eighth, however, sending him to the dugout. But he was still the winner in a 5-2 victory that put the White Sox into first place in the American League West, ahead of Oakland by four percentage points.
And the White Sox, believe it or not, want to be sure King doesn't pitch too much.
King has a history of shoulder problems, perhaps caused by an imperfect delivery. Last year, he was put on the disabled list with a sore right shoulder and sent to Class-A Sarasota for rehabilitation, forcing him to miss 35 games.
So this season, the White Sox are seeing to it that he gets sufficient rest. They try to give him five days' rest between starts whenever possible.
Does King like that?
"He's mad about this," said Sammy Ellis, the White Sox pitching coach. "He doesn't like it. But I'd rather have him be 15-4 than 12-12 and missing 3 1/2 weeks down in Sarasota going through rehab. I think there's a good chance he'll be 15-4--or better."
There's a good chance this season that the White Sox will win whenever King pitches. He has started 14 games and the White Sox have won 12 of them. The other two, they lost by one run.
On Wednesday King was going against Chuck Finley, who came into the game second in ERA to King.
Finley got in trouble on his first pitch, when Sammy Sosa homered to center--the first time Finley has yielded a first-inning home run. Ron Kittle also homered in the first inning, then hit another off Finley in the fourth.
King was breezing, even in the oppressive heat, despite working on four days' rest.
He got into trouble, though, after Jack Howell opening the sixth inning with the Angels' third hit. King then walked Dick Schofield and Luis Polonia, bringing Manager Jeff Torborg to the mound.
"I asked him if he was all right," Torborg said.
King said he was.
"If you're feeling good," Torborg said, "and you've got good stuff, then how about throwing the ball over the plate?"
He did that. Wally Joyner flied to left, too shallow for a run to score. Chili Davis popped to short. Winfield grounded to second, forcing Polonia, and King was out of the inning.
King left with one out in the eighth after giving up two walks and a run-scoring double. He was charged with a run that scored after he left, finishing with two runs on four hits, five walks and four strikeouts.
"He had good stuff, but he didn't have quite the command he has had," said White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, who watched from the dugout, resting a sore calf. "I know this is the first time we've played in weather like this. He didn't look so much tired as a little uncomfortable."
Much of the difference between this season and last for King, Fisk said, is better control of his fastball. That, and the fact that he's healthy.
Last season he struggled with the shoulder, went 9-10 with a 3.39 ERA in 25 starts.
This season, he is benefitting not only from his improvement, but also from an improved White Sox defense.
"You just can't win on good pitching without good defense," Ellis said. "You can have good pitchers, but they're not going to have good records without good defense."
The White Sox--the first-place White Sox--have been getting both.