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Learning Curve
Tom Verducci
October 01, 2001
It's been a season of dizzying highs and lows for Ben Sheets, the Brewers All-Star rookie pitcher, and SI charted his progress all the way
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October 01, 2001

Learning Curve

It's been a season of dizzying highs and lows for Ben Sheets, the Brewers All-Star rookie pitcher, and SI charted his progress all the way

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Sheets also studies the angle of his body as he reaches back to throw a curve. He has a tendency to arch his back, causing him to lean slightly toward first base, which throws off the pitch's location. He likes what he sees on the tape: an erect posture, mostly.

When he is done watching the tape, Sheets admits he has another concern. It is only May, but he is anxious about how he will hold up physically over the length of the season. He threw 175? innings last year, including 22 innings in the Olympics, and enjoyed a two-week respite between the end of his minor league season and the start of the Olympics. This year he is expected to throw around 200 innings—much more stressful innings than the ones he threw in the minors. It's like comparing the ease of highway driving on a car engine with the wear and tear of city driving. Sheets eats as if a famine is forecast. Each of his three days in Philadelphia, for instance, he lunches at the same cheesesteak joint.

Sheets also eats big meals late at night after games. Sandy Koufax, at the request of Lopes, met with Sheets and other Brewers pitchers in spring training, and one thing Koufax told them was that as a player he stayed up late so that when he pitched a night game, his body would feel as if it were the middle of the day. "Turn night into day," Koufax said. Sheets does this by eating, watching TV and surfing the Web until near dawn.

"Eat, sleep, ballpark, that's all I do—and I do like to eat," he says. "Look at this." Seated in front of his locker, he grabs a hunk of his ample belly. One joke in the Brewers' media guide is the listing of Sheets as 6' 1", 195 pounds. Actually, he's a smidgen under 6 feet and weighs 215, give or take a few cheesesteaks.

"I enjoy being a little bit heavy," Sheets says. "I think it will keep me strong for the second half. My legs feel good. It would be nice to be around 220, 225. Last year when I got to August, it felt like I was throwing a bowling ball up to the plate. Now the season is a month longer, with no two-week break in the middle. Yeah, it's something I think about all the time."

MAY 29

The Rookie clears another hump for Lopes. He goes nine innings, shutting out the Cardinals on five hits only five days after the same club had knocked him out in the fifth inning. "I was more aggressive," says Sheets, after improving his record to 5-4 with a 3.21 ERA. "I was getting too mechanical. I threw my curveball too much in my last start. I had a pretty good one, but I exposed it so much that they put the bat on the ball. Tonight, I threw my fastball more."

Even more amazing than his first shutout was his first hit in 16 at bats, an RBI single off Alan Benes. Sheets is an awful hitter. "I never hit in my life," he says. "I had one at bat in high school, didn't hit in college and had about 20 at bats in the minor leagues. It's like taking somebody out of the stands who never played and saying, 'Go hit in the major leagues.' I'm serious about that. I have no expectations."

The single will be his only hit in 36 at bats through Sept. 23.


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