The Inside Track
Pitchers have been throwing inside to hitters for 125 years, yet just because Expo righthander Pedro Martinez hit six batters in his first five starts this season (more HBPs than seven teams had at week's end) and a couple of overly sensitive hitters had charged him on the mound, Martinez is suddenly perceived to be a 158-pound head-hunter. He isn't.
The fact is, Martinez throws a live ball and, like any pitcher, has to pitch inside to be successful. But, at 22, he's still learning how to do it. "He's not trying to hit anyone," says Montreal pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. "He isn't a malicious kid."
Kerrigan is teaching Martinez the fine art of pitching in tight by having him throw to a mannequin in the Expo bullpen between starts. Although during a recent 20-minute session Martinez didn't hit the dummy once, Kerrigan says Martinez's mechanics tend to get fouled up when he pitches inside. "Instead of throwing his usual 92 to 94 miles per hour, he tries to throw 100," Kerrigan says. In so doing, Martinez rushes his body and drops his arm, causing his inside pitches to sail, mostly in on righthanded hitters.
Last Friday night against the Braves, Martinez (1-3, 3.35 ERA) showed signs of progress; in five innings, he came close to nicking only one hitter ( Fred McGriff). "I want people to understand that I am not a machine," says Martinez. "I'm just not making pitches where I want."
Any pitcher has to be able to keep hitters from leaning over the plate and getting the bat on pitches over the outside corner. Frank Tanana survived in the majors for years by throwing his 82-mph fastball inside, making the off-speed junk that he threw away from hitters even more effective. The best pitcher in the game today, Atlanta's Greg Maddux, doesn't throw exceptionally hard, and yet, according to Brave pitching coach Leo Mazzone, "he has the best command of the inside part of the plate of any pitcher I've seen."
Pitching inside always becomes a hot topic for debate whenever a few brawls break out in a short period of time, as happened in the first month of this season. Bench-clearing incidents have become more common mainly because hitters have become more sensitive to being hit—or even to being moved back off the plate. "If a hitter doesn't like it when someone pitches inside, he should retire," says Expo manager Felipe Alou. "This comes from a guy who got hit a lot in his career. If you showed fear when I played [1958 to '74], it was time to pack it in and go home. Now guys charge the mound without even getting hit. It's cowardly."
In an era when too many teams are afraid to rush a young player to the majors for fear that immediate failure might scar him permanently, the Indians made a gutsy move last Friday when they called up pitcher Paul Shuey from their Class A affiliate in Kinston, N.C., to be their closer. "It's a roll of the dice," says Cleveland general manager John Hart, "but I've always been a dice roller."
At the time of the recall, the Tribe was 13-12, but the bullpen had blown eight of 16 save attempts. Veteran closer Steve Farr, 37, who was signed as a free agent in the off-season, wasn't getting the job done, and neither was Jose Mesa, a converted starter who hasn't shown the mental toughness needed for the job. The Cleveland pen had been so bad that manager Mike Hargrove was justified in letting 38-year-old Dennis Martinez pitch all 10 innings (130 pitches) of a 4-2 win over the Orioles last Friday.