Like the team he plays for, Toronto righthander Dave Stieb is an enigma. Until the last month of the '85 season, when the Blue Jays won their first and only division title, he was one of the most dominant righthanders in the game. Then from Sept. 1, 1985, to Sept. 1, 1988, his record fell to 32-33, and he turned into the John McEnroe of the sport, sulking on the mound and castigating himself for every mistake.
Now the old Stieb has returned. Since Sept. 13, he is 6-0, and he has pitched three one-hitters in his last five starts. What happened? "The biggest factor is that after five years of working on a changeup, he's perfected it," says Toronto pitching coach Al Widmar. "Changing speeds has made his slider—which has always been exceptional—and his fastball that much better."
Stieb's one-hitter against the Yankees on April 10 gave the Blue Jays a much-needed boost, because shortstop Tony Fernandez had just been put on the 21-day disabled list after being beaned by Texas's Cecilio Guante. But Stieb isn't the only thing the Blue Jays have in their favor. Starter Jimmy Key is off to a good start (2-1 with a 3.10 ERA), and first baseman Fred McGriff is hitting like one of the Bash Brothers. After he hit three homers in the Yankee series, Key predicted that he would finish the season with 50.
Another positive sign for Toronto is that its outfield—George Bell in left, Lloyd Moseby in center and Jesse Barfield in right—which was once considered the best in baseball, is making a rebound. Moseby has moved into the leadoff spot and, after some off-season tutoring from his friend Rickey Henderson, is predicting he will steal 60 bases. The dispute between Bell and manager Jimy Williams that tore the Blue Jays apart last year began when Williams decided, at the beginning of the season, to move Moseby temporarily to left and make Bell the designated hitter. Now Moseby is on a mission to prove he can play center: He's charging balls, hitting the cutoff man and playing the way he did in '85.
At week's end, the Blue Jays were tied for first in the American League East with Baltimore and Milwaukee and were looking like a brand-new club. "There's a completely different atmosphere this season," says pitcher Mike Flanagan. "Sometimes you learn more from adversity than you do from just winning."
NEW BRAVE WORLD
Who has the best young pitchers in baseball? If you listen to Atlanta general manager Bobby Cox, it's the Braves "without much debate." He might be right. Lefthander Tom Glavine, 23, who has increased the speed of his fastball 3 to 4 mph, didn't allow an earned run in his first two starts. Righthander John Smoltz, 21, whose stuff is some of the best anywhere, allowed only four earned runs and struck out 10 in his first two outings. And rookie lefthander Derek Lilliquist, 23, beat San Diego with a three-hitter in his first start. The only disappointments so far have been the two Smiths, righthander Pete, 23, who was 0-2 with a 5.17 ERA at week's end but who had 13 strikeouts in his 1-0 loss to the Giants Saturday, and lefthander Zane, 28, who was 0-2 with an 8.03 ERA and one strikeout.
The Braves also have two extraordinary prospects on their Triple A Richmond club—lefty Kent Mercker, 21, who pitched a one-hitter for six innings in his '89 debut, and righty Tommy Greene, 22, who was 1-0 with a 2.38 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 11? innings through Sunday. "There's no telling how far these kids can take us in a short period of time," says Cox. "With Mercker and Greene, we probably are in a better position to trade a quality pitcher than anyone."