The Rockies' 30-year-old lefthander knows whereof he speaks. Since signing a three-year, $9 million contract with Colorado in the off-season, Bohanon has spent a lot of time studying everything about Coors, from the effects of high altitude on flight to the positioning of outfielders. Which may be why, at week's end, he was 9-4 for the Rockies, a team three games below 500. Oh yeah, that's 9-4 with a 6.28 ERA—including 4-1 with a 9.08 ERA at home.
"ERA no longer means a thing," he says. "My priority is to outlast the other starter. If he gives up six runs and I give up five...well, I'm not happy allowing five runs, but I have succeeded."
When Colorado general manager Bob Gebhard signed Bohanon, he was widely second-guessed. Sure, Bohanon was a coveted baseball commodity (a lefthanded starter), but in six major league seasons with five teams he had a record of just 25-30 and a 4.72 ERA Last year, when he was primarily a reliever with the Mets and then a starter with the Dodgers, he finished 7-11 but had a career-best 2.67 ERA "When he was with the Dodgers, we saw something," Gebhard says of Bohanon's 5-7 record and 2.40 ERA in 14 starts with L.A. "We felt he had the right makeup to come here and succeed."
Indeed, Bohanon has a couple of things going for him. First, he throws four big-league-quality pitches—a fastball in the mid-80s, a 75-mph changeup, a dramatically arcing curveball and a cut fastball. Many of the pitchers who struggle at Coors do so because, frustrated over the limited snap of a curveball at high altitude, they abandon the deuce and throw too many heaters. "The hitter is at such an advantage here that you can't place the ball up in the strike zone and you can't be predictable," says Bohanon. Also, he doesn't panic. Bohanon had given up 12 homers at home through Sunday, but he refuses to condemn Coors. In fact, he loves the place.
"I've totally used it to my advantage," says the soft-spoken Texan. "No one likes to come here and pitch. They dread it. I chose to come here, and I'm not intimidated. It's my ballpark."
Plunkings Just Part of the Game
In a four-game stretch last week, Diamondbacks utilityman Greg Colbrunn went to the plate six times and brought back souvenirs from three of those trips—contusions incurred when pitches bounced off his body. If there were a giant whirlpool where bruised hitters from around the majors went to soak, Colbrunn would have plenty of company. In last weekend's 45 games, 26 players were hit by pitches, continuing a 10-year trend that has batters getting plunked at an ever-increasing rate. In 1990 one out of every 186 hitters took one for the team. By '94 the number was one out of every 142; in '99, through Sunday, it was one out of every 118.
There are several reasons for the trend, including the game's ongoing offensive explosion. The frustration of watching balls fly out of parks and ERAs soar can drive pitchers to extract the occasional pound of flesh. "When you've got guys hitting home runs at historical rates, you better expect to get plunked every now and then," says White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, who was hit six times last year and through Sunday had been hit three times in 1999.
Hyped-up offense has also increased the number of accidental plunkings, as pitchers have realized they must pitch inside to keep hitters from diving across the plate. Young pitchers used to facing college players brandishing aluminum bats often lack experience and confidence throwing inside, which leads to wildness. Pitchers young and old are also throwing inside to try to reclaim mat part of the plate. Hitters are standing closer to the plate, and leaning farmer over it, than ever before, a habit developed in recent seasons as they tried to reach pitches inches off the outside comer that were being called strikes.
Then there are the batters who don't know how to get out of the way of inside pitches. Others, clad like knights in armor, don't bother moving. "If I was going to make a rule change, I would not allow hitters to wear protective garb," says Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter. "It creates a false sense of security."