Among today's pitchers, the Braves' Greg Maddux has been accused of scuffing, as have the Yankees' Roger Clemens, the Mets' Orel Hershiser and the Angels' Chuck Finley. None, however, have been caught.
Of course, like any art form, scuffing isn't for everyone. Four days before the Moehler bust, Reds reliever Gabe White, facing Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal, found himself with a battered and nicked ball. White's subsequent deliveries dipped uncontrollably, and on a full count he walked Lieberthal. Two batters later Desi Relaford, running for Lieberthal, scored on Doug Glanville's two-out single, and Philadelphia went on to win 1-0. "I threw the ball out of play after I walked Lieberthal," White says. "I think it was a sign that I'm not supposed to cheat. From now on, if I get a scuffed ball, I'm throwing it out immediately."
Reds Coach Don Gullett
How the Pitching Doctor Operates
Ask Reds manager Jack McKeon about his pitching coach, Don Gullett, and he waxes hagiographic. "St. Jude, that's what I call Don," says McKeon. "He's the saint of the impossible."
There are two ways to take this. The first would be as a reflection on Gullett's own history of facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles: a double rotator cuff tear in 1978, which ended his brilliant but injury-plagued nine-year pitching career (Gullett was 109-50 with the Reds and the Yankees); a bout with hepatitis in '72; a heart attack in '86, when he was just 35; and triple-bypass surgery four years later.
McKeon, however, was referring to the uncanny ability of Gullett, who's in his seventh year of coaching the Reds' staff, to transform wayward chuckers into dependable major leaguers.
Hector Carrasco was a Class A journeyman when in 1993 he met Gullett, who suggested that Carrasco alter how he held the baseball; the next year Carrasco worked out of the Reds' bullpen and went 5-6 with a 2.24 ERA. Pete Schourek also came to Cincinnati, in '94, as a disheartened lefty who had flamed out with the Mets; a year later he was 18-7 with a 3.22 ERA and finished second in the National League Cy Young voting. Jeff Brantley, Pete Harnisch and Jeff Shaw have also refound success while under the tutelage of the Reds' patron saint of reclamation.
These days Gullett's most successful work in progress is lefthander Steve Avery, the former hard-throwing Braves prodigy (47-25 with 391 strikeouts and a 3.17 ERA from 1991 through '93) who last season with Boston was throwing just 84 mph. Gullett watched tape of Avery at his peak and saw that he threw over the top. With the Red Sox he had been delivering with his arm at an angle. "I said, 'Let's get back to how it was,' " says Gullett. Avery is now throwing in the high 80s. Through Sunday he had been the Reds' best starter, at 2-3 with a 2.56 ERA
In recently acquired Mark Wohlers, the erstwhile Atlanta closer who mysteriously lost control of his pitches last season, Gullett may be facing his greatest challenge. Gullett reviewed Wohlers's mechanics and noticed that Wohlers was falling off the mound to the right, reducing his momentum toward the plate. The two worked on his delivery, and the results have been mixed. Wohlers has had some sessions in which his fastball was over the plate and in the high 90s. In a minor league outing on May 2, however, he threw 22 balls in 31 pitches, and through Sunday he hadn't appeared in a game since. "Rule Number 1 in pitching is, Why do my pitches do what they do?" Gullett says. "Mark realizes what he's doing. I believe in him."
That's the best news Wohlers has had in months.