BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN : Indians Are Also Strong on the Hill

The Cleveland Indians' rotation is doing a number in the postseason. It's 1.44.

That's the earned-run average of the starting pitchers through seven games, a span in which Dennis Martinez, Orel Hershiser, Charles Nagy and Ken Hill are 4-1.

A surprise? Shouldn't be. Cleveland led the American League with the only sub-four ERA (3.83) during the regular season, but that was lost amid a galaxy of offensive highlights.

Do they feel overlooked?

"We're asked that question a lot," Hershiser said Saturday night, "but it's not like we're in competition with the hitters or want to create an argument with the guys who give us so much support. I mean, no one wants to bite the hand that feeds you."


"No question about it," said Hill, who pitched seven innings of a 7-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners Saturday night, tying the American League championship series at two games apiece and guaranteeing it returns to Seattle for Game 6 Tuesday night.

The Mariners hit .315 in the five games of the division-series victory over the New York Yankees but are hitting .203 against the Indians.

Edgar Martinez and Tino Martinez are three for 30 against the staff that held Mo Vaughn and Jose Canseco hitless in 27 at-bats during Cleveland's three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox in the division series.

Vince Coleman, the Seattle leadoff man, is one for 16, Mike Blowers is three for 15, Dan Wilson is 0 for 11. The Mariner offense has been nullified to such an extent that Manager Lou Piniella tonight is expected shake up the lineup against Hershiser and his 6-0 postseason record.

"Atlanta has a great pitching staff in that other league, but we feel we can pitch with anyone," said Hill. "We've got so much offensive talent that people tend to disregard the pitching, but we shut down Boston and we've been doing a job on Seattle."

Starting for the first time in 12 days, Hill displayed the form that produced 16 wins with the Montreal Expos in both 1992 and '94, when he lost only five, and the strike may have prevented his first season of 20 wins.

He compounded the Mariners' offensive struggle by allowing only five hits, struck out six and walked three, combining with three relievers to pitch the American League's first championship series shutout since 1985.

With Albert Belle and Sandy Alomar Jr. sidelined by injuries, Hill called it a must win and the most important of his career.

"We didn't want to go down 3-1 with Randy Johnson pitching Tuesday night in Seattle," he said. "Now, we've got Orel going tomorrow and a chance to go to Seattle up 3-2.

"I hadn't started in so long that I didn't know what to expect, but we got three runs early [in the first inning] and that gave me a chance to relax and pitch the way I'm capable of pitching."

It has been a strange and difficult season for the 29-year-old right-hander. Traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in Montreal's spring payroll purge, Hill started the season 4-0 but was 6-7 with a 5.06 ERA when traded to the Indians four days before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

He was 4-1 with a 3.98 ERA in 11 regular-season starts with Cleveland (which won nine of the 11), but flashes of inconsistency occasionally revived St. Louis speculation that Hill's control was off and his velocity down because his arm was ailing.

"There was never anything wrong with my arm this year," Hill said. "It was strictly mechanical. I pitched badly with the Cardinals, I admit that, but no one had an answer for me. I had to get somewhere where I could get help, get the opportunity to pitch, show what I could do again.

"I'm going to be a free agent at the end of the season and I'd love to stay here. I'm tired of moving."

Said Indian Manager Mike Hargrove: "The key with Kenny is that he's got to be aggressive and he's got to throw strikes. He did that tonight and he's been doing it the last three or four times. . . . "He's been getting better every time."

Hill, Hershiser and Martinez are former National Leaguers who have brought an NL style to the AL.

More hard stuff than breaking stuff, and they're using it with no set pattern, with no regard to the count, and people in both clubhouses say it's a reason the off-balance Mariners are having trouble adjusting.

"Everybody talks about Cleveland's hitting, but they have solid starting pitching and a deep bullpen," Piniella said. "You don't win 100 games hitting."

The Indians are up to 105 in '95. Two more and people will know a lot more about their pitching.

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