The Inside Story
The first play of the Mets-Cardinals game last Thursday epitomized the first week of the season. New York's leadoff hitter Vince Coleman bunted down the first base line and pulled his left hamstring trying to leg out a hit; pitcher Donovan Osborne twisted his left ankle fielding the ball. Both had to leave the game.
Neither was put on the disabled list, but as of Sunday 84 players had already been on the DL. In the entire 1982 season only 164 players were placed on the list. While many of the first-week injuries were run-of-the-mill muscle pulls, more serious injuries were suffered by Toronto's Derek Bell (broken left hand), St. Louis's Andres Galarraga (broken right wrist), Philadelphia's Lenny Dykstra (broken left wrist) and Minnesota's Shane Mack (concussion), all of whom were struck by pitches. Cardinal manager Joe Torre, who has eight players on the DL, thinks the rash of downed batters may signal a trend.
"Remember when pitchers didn't pitch inside?" says Torre. "Well, they're pitching inside again." He thinks pitchers started to nibble too much on the outside corner in 1987, the year of the live ball, to avoid giving up home runs. But they've started to come back inside.
How far inside are pitchers throwing? Philadelphia's leadoff man was hit in the first inning of three straight games ( Dykstra once, and his replacement, Ruben Amaro, twice). Phillie third baseman Dave Hollins was hit by pitches three times in the first week.
Spring training also had its share of hit batsmen. One nasty exchange came after Rangers pitcher Jeff Robinson hit Boston outfielder Mike Greenwell. San Francisco pitchers hit Oakland's Jose Canseco three times in the spring, causing a near brawl between the teams and harsh words between A's manager Tony La Russa and Giants manager Roger Craig. "We were pitching inside, and they were throwing at our guys," said Craig.
Mets hitting coach Tommy McCraw thinks pitchers had stopped throwing inside at least 10 years ago, but he agrees that they've been doing it regularly this spring. "Old pitching coaches are thrilled," says McCraw. "When the pitchers stopped throwing inside, it gave the hitter extra privileges. Now it will be tougher on the hitters."
No one has been accused of intentionally throwing at hitters the first week of the season. More often, hitters have been diving into pitches. Dykstra stands so close to the plate, he's nearly out of the batter's box. The pitch that the Cubs' Greg Maddux hit him with on Opening Day was almost a strike.
"Hitters aren't accustomed to getting out of the way," says Cardinals hitting coach Don Baylor, who was hit a major league record 267 times in his 19-year career. "They've never had to before."
On the Comeback Trail