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Baseball
Stephen Cannella
July 19, 1999
DH Dilemma For many players, the hit-and-sit role does not fit like a glove
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July 19, 1999

Baseball

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The Standings

At the all-STAR break Jeff Zimmerman was having as close to a perfect season as any relief pitcher could hope for. The Rangers rookie had an ERA under 1.00, had given up just 18 hits in 52⅓ innings and had won each of his eight decisions. Here are the relievers with the best winning percentages (minimum six wins).

PLAYER, TEAM

W-L

SAVES

ERA

1. Jeff Zimmerman, Rangers

8-0

1

0.86

Rookie's first-half performance made him the rarest of All-Stars: the middle reliever

2. Steve Karsay, Indians

7-1

1

2.63

Went on DL on July 3; former first-round pick had already doubled career win total this season

3. Donne Wall, Padres

6-1

0

2.79

ERA in three years with Houston was 5.00; in the last season and a half with San Diego, 2.56

4. Jason Grimsley, Yankees

6-1

0

4.02

Before this season former phenom hadn't thrown a big league inning since '96

5. Mark Petkovsek, Angels

8-2

1

1.81

At week's end batters had hit just .154 against him with runners in scoring position

6. Dennis Cook. Mets

7-2

1

2.61

Had allowed average of just 8.06 base runners per nine innings while striking out 10.02

7. John Wasdin, Red Sox

7-3

2

3.27

Hadn't allowed more than two hits in any of his 21 appearances since May 15

8. Danny Graves, Reds

6-3

12

3.54

Nasty Boys 11. He and co-closer Scott Williamson have combined for 13 wins in 20 decisions

9. T.J. Mathews, Athletics

6-3

1

3.89

Went on DL on July 3; only man left on Oakland roster from 1997 McGwire trade

10 David Weathers, Brewers

6-3

2

4.09

Four of Weathers's six victories came in outings of one inning or less

DH Dilemma
For many players, the hit-and-sit role does not fit like a glove

Asked how he felt about the designated hitter rule, former Cardinals and Pirates outfielder Andy Van Slyke once said, "It seems like Satan has thrown the DH into our game." Harsh words, given that Van Slyke was never a DH, but not at odds with the mindset of several current designated hitters. The Angels' Mo Vaughn, forced into DH duty this year by a sprained left ankle, and the White Sox's Paul Konerko, who played first base early in the season before becoming a full-time DH last month, are just two of the players who have deplored their roles in recent weeks. "When you're DHing, you can't feel a part of what's going on," says Vaughn. "The game flows when you're on the field."

Adds Konerko, "If it's between not playing and DHing, I love DHing. If it's between DHing and first base, they're not even in the same ballpark."

Konerko, who was batting .282 with 11 homers through Sunday, seems comfortable in the DH slot. (He hit .315 with seven of those homers while at DH.) That's fortunate, because Frank Thomas, with whom Konerko switched positions on June 1, has flourished since returning to first. In 148 at bats as a DH this year, Thomas had hit .284 with five home runs; in 168 at bats when playing the field, the Big Hurt's average jumped to .357 with seven homers. In Thomas's career, his average as a two-way player (.337) is 50 points higher than it is when he's a DH.

He's not the only slugger who improves when wearing batting and fielding gloves. Vaughn's lifetime average as a first baseman is .309; as a DH it's .266. Boston's Mike Stanley, a former catcher who splits time between DH and first, has hit .277 as a defender, 26 points better than as a DH. "It's a boring existence," he says. "So many guys have come up to me the last couple of years and said, 'How do you do this?' "

Designated hitters also have to deal with the pressure of having only four or five chances to help their team: A pop-up with the bases loaded, say, can't be atoned for with a defensive gem. Of course, some DHs realize the negative impact they would most likely have on their teams by playing the field. Says the Yankees' Chili Davis, who set an Angels record with 19 outfield errors in 1988 and has played only eight games in the outfield over the past nine seasons, "I was very happy when the Yankees signed me and said I didn't have to bring a glove."

Ron Villone Fits In
A Starting Point At Last

The latest story in the Reds' feelgood season is the one about a blue-collar baseball nomad who is suddenly essential to his team's playoff hopes. Over his last seven starts—the first seven starts of his major league career—lefthander Ron Villone is 3-2 with a 4.66 ERA. A reliever for five teams in five seasons, he was called on in early June to help shake up the rotation.

In his second start, on June 14, he one-hit the Mets over five innings; in his fourth, on June 24, he one-hit the Astros over seven; six days later, against the Diamondbacks, he permitted one hit over eight. (He was 2-0 in those games.) On July 5 he slumped, allowing six hits over seven innings in a 5-2 win against the Astros. "Success is about opportunity," says Villone, 29, who was a first-round draft choice of the Mariners in 1992. "I've had opportunities before, but I guess I finally decided to take advantage of it."

Converted from a starter to a closer in the Seattle system, Villone had a fastball in the mid-90s, a decent changeup and an emerging curve. He also had control problems, and after 19 big league games, in which Villone went 0-2 with a 7.91 ERA, the Mariners shipped him to the Padres as part of a deal for righty Andy Benes in July '95. That's pretty much Villone's résumé—bad numbers followed by a deal for a bigger name. In '96 the Padres sent Villone to the Brewers as part of the Greg Vaughn swap. In '97 he went to the Indians in a deal for Marquis Grissom.

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