Rangers pitchers Aaron Sele (5-1 with a 2.72 ERA through Sunday)
and Rick Helling (6-0, 2.93) were taken in the first round of
consecutive June draftsin '91 and '92, respectivelyso it
shouldn't be a total surprise that they're two of the hottest
hurlers in baseball. That they are among the top 10 in the
American League in ERA and combined for more wins in April than
five major league teams is shocking, however, especially
considering that neither had delivered on any of that
first-round promise before this year. The dynamic duo has given
Texas a pair of aces in a rotation that for years has been
stacked with jokers, and thanks in large part to them, the
Rangers were atop the American League West at week's end.
Sele came to Texas in a trade last winter after an ugly breakup
with Boston that included some questions from his Red Sox
teammates about his intestinal fortitude. "Not everyone can play
in New York or Boston," Sele's former teammate, Bret Saberhagen,
said last week. "I don't think Aaron had the toughness to play
here. If he had a tough outing, he wouldn't say, 'I'm going to
go out there and kick ass next time.' Instead it was, 'If I go
out there and get hit, I'm going to get hit again the next
time.' He was timid."
So far this spring, hitting against the 6-0 Helling can
best be described as hellish.
Sele, who had ERAs of 5.32 and 5.38 in his final two seasons in
Boston, brushes off his former teammates' criticism, claiming
his lack of emotion on the mound is easily misconstrued as
timidity. He has suggested that his troubles in Boston were at
least partly a result of disputes with his coaches over pitch
selection. What is certain is that Sele's 80 walks in 177 1/3
innings in '97 cemented his reputation as a nibbler. Sele no
longer discusses his Red Sox tenure except to say, "Now I've got
a pitching coach [Dick Bosman] I can have a conversation with
and a manager [Johnny Oates] who sticks with me."
Since arriving in Texas, he has followed Bosman's credo: Get
ahead. Stay ahead. Use your head. "He has three good pitches, so
he doesn't need to trick the hitters," Bosman says. "He's got
plenty of arsenal to challenge anybody."
Sele admits he feels more comfortable throwing strikes this
season because he is backed by the league's best defense and
because the Rangers' robust offense has scored 60 runs in his
six starts. As a result of his new aggressiveness, Sele has
already thrown two shutouts in '98 after throwing none (and just
four complete games) in 108 starts with the Sox.
Helling began this season with only 11 major league victories
and looked like a bust. He had started the '94 and '95 seasons
in the Texas rotation but was dispatched to the minors in May of
both years. In '96 he shuttled back and forth between Triple A
Oklahoma City and the Rangers three times before being traded to
Florida. Helling left thinking he'd been blackballed by someone
in the Rangers organization.
But someone liked him enough that the Rangers reacquired him in
a trade last August. Since then he has pitched as if he has
something to prove. Says Oates, "If Rick's got a chip on his
shoulder, I hope he tapes it on there."
Helling has learned to keep his fastball down and work his way
up the ladder instead of trying to throw high fastballs past
hitters early in the count. He has also benefited from following
Sele in the rotation and charting his games. "We have a similar
style, so I can learn by watching how he attacks hitters,"
Helling says. "He keeps racking up wins and you want to keep the
Issue date: May 11, 1998