After umpiring three poorly pitched games in Oakland last week, Phillips trudged off the field and asked John, now a broadcaster with the Twins, "Do you think it's time to build the mound back up?" Indeed, some of what has been taken away from the pitchers needs to be restored. There even seems to be a ground-swell among general managers who think the mound and/or the strike zone, like the new ballparks, need retrofitting. "Call a strike a strike the way it's written," Thomas says. "That would help."
As defined, the strike zone extends from the top of the knees to about letter-high. In reality it is six to eight inches lower at the top. Lenny Dykstra of the Phillies, for instance, says his strike zone is "from the top of the knees to just above the belt."
Phillips says umpires are willing to adjust as long as baseball officials issue a clear mandate and provide them with vigorous support. It may be a start toward addressing this growing mound of trouble.
"It's not easy these days," says 33-year-old A's reliever Steve Ontiveros, who, despite his 10.57 ERA, last week won his first major league game in five years. "When you're out there, you can't be thinking about a juiced-up ball, pumped-up hitters, a strike zone the size of a shoe box and playing in a bandbox. The object is still the same: Hold them to one less run. Only now it's usually 10-9."
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