A Royal Start
The third batter Royal righthander Kevin Appier faced in spring training was Astro slugger Jeff Bagwell. Bagwell struck out on three pitches, never taking the bat off his shoulder. Later he said that he'd never seen the ball. "It was a joke," says Brent Mayne, Appier's catcher that day. "Kevin abused him. Next time up, Bagwell said to me, 'Tell Appier I'm sorry for whatever I did to him.' "
Appier's abuse of hitters hasn't stopped. In his first three starts this season, he went 3-0 with a 0.46 ERA, allowed eight hits, walked six batters and struck out 27 in 19? innings. While many pitchers have been less effective than usual because of the shortened spring training, Appier has produced one of the most electrifying starts in recent years. Against the Orioles on Opening Day, he had a no-hitter going for 6? innings before manager Bob Boone lifted him because he had reached his early-season pitch limit. On April 30 Appier gave up three hits in six innings in a 9-3 win over the Yankees. In his third start, a 6-0 win over Minnesota last Thursday, he threw seven innings and struck out 12.
The dazzling start by Appier is partly the result of a new off-season workout program that included more throwing than usual. "I had my own little spring training before spring training began," says Appier. Consequently he was sharper sooner than most other pitchers and able to take on a bigger workload. In his first three starts he threw 321 pitches, the second most in the majors.
Appier's brilliance should come as no surprise. He has been one of the best pitchers in the American League for the past five years, and given that he wasn't overworked in his formative years and, at 27, is now entering his physical prime, he should be a premier pitcher for at least the next five seasons. In the 1990s Appier is 68-40 with a 2.91 ERA. Boston's Roger Clemens is the only other American League pitcher with at least 500 innings of work and an ERA of less than 3.00 during that time. Yet despite Appier's credentials, he has never made an All-Star team.
He has a 90-plus-mph fastball, a tight slider and a nasty forkball to go with a herky-jerky motion that looks to a batter like a jumble of arms and legs. "You try to pick up the release point and the ball, but with him you can't see it," says Blue Jay DH Paul Molitor. "He doesn't look at you. It's like facing a pitching machine. Some pitches he has thrown me, I never knew if they were sliders or forkballs."
His strange motion supposedly makes Appier a prime candidate for arm trouble, yet he has not been on the disabled list during his eight professional seasons. "Every pitching coach I've had has tried to change me," he says. Appier says his delivery isn't as mechanically unsound as it appears because, at the point of release, his body is in the same position as any other pitcher's. The Royals are so confident about Appier's arm that this year they have twice pitched him on three days' rest and will continue with a four-man rotation until one of their pitchers says he can't go that often.
Maybe more starts will finally get Appier some recognition. He plays in quiet, small-market Kansas City, isn't a self-promoter and isn't particularly revealing to the media, though he does confirm that he loves science and often reads about geology, meteorology and biology. He isn't concerned about the lack of attention he gets but does say, without bitterness or envy, "I don't know if I've gotten the notoriety that's warranted."
The terrible start of the White Sox (2-8 through Sunday) has been due mostly to Chicago's terrible defense. The Sox made 25 errors in their first 10 games (11 more than any other team and 23 more than the Phillies) and at the end of last week had yet to play an errorless game. The White Sox were supposed to be solid defensively. "I've never seen anything like it, not even in A ball," said catcher Mike LaValliere of the suddenly inept Chicago defense. In their first win—a 17-11 slugfest with Boston on April 30—the White Sox made six errors. That made them the first American League team since the 1986 Yankees to make six errors in a game and still win.