Righthander Mike Witt, who had been declining steadily since 1986, was Lachemann's first project. "He's got great power," says Lachemann. "He just has to rediscover his self-confidence in that stuff and throw that great curveball." Witt's first three starts were rocky, but he gave up only two runs and no walks in his fourth, a 7-2 win over the White Sox. Meanwhile, righthander Kirk McCaskill (3-1, 0.99 ERA) has been impressive from the beginning, allowing only one run in his first three outings. Righthander Bert Blyleven (2-1, 2.03 ERA) and lefty Chuck Finley (2-2, 3.04 ERA) are also off to good starts. And Lachemann is confident that rookie lefthander Jim Abbott (0-2, 4.22 ERA) will come around. The big question is whether Parrish, who has been plagued with lower back problems, will be able to make it through the season. If he does, the Angels could be in the running come September.
Milwaukee general manager Harry Dalton has been under pressure to find another starting pitcher. Ace lefthander Ted Higuera is due to return from back surgery this week, and lefthander Juan Nieves has yet to regain his form after a torn rotator cuff last year. But Dalton says he would rather get a veteran setup man. Why? Because 1) he knows no team in the AL East is capable of opening up a big lead, and 2) he is waiting for manager Tom Trebelhorn to set his lineup.
The Brewers were criticized two years ago for drafting Bill Spiers out of Clemson because they already had two top shortstops in the organization, Gary Sheffield and Dale Sveum. But Spiers has been so impressive at short this season that Trebelhorn may leave Sheffield at third, use Molitor as the designated hitter and move Sveum over to first when he completes rehabilitation for his broken left leg. If that happens, the Brewers' lineup will include five No. 1 picks who were drafted as shortstops: Spiers ('87), Sheffield ('86), Sveum ('82), Molitor (77) and centerfielder Robin Yount ('73). In addition, second baseman Jim Gantner and catcher B.J. Surhoff were originally drafted as shortstops.
"The shortstop is usually the best athlete on the team," says Boston scouting director Eddie Kasko. "Someone said we need to draft second basemen. You can't. With rare exceptions, a kid playing second in high school or college isn't a good enough athlete to be a prospect."
JACK BE QUICK
The Tiger front office is sick of hearing righthander Jack Morris's complaints about recent trades of veteran players, but it's even more concerned about Morris's 0-4 start. After his third loss, to the Texas Rangers April 16, manager Sparky Anderson told reporters, "He's 21-23 with nine no-decisions in 53 starts since the All-Star break in 1987." Before the break, Morris was 156-98. Even more telling is Morris's drop-off in tight situations. Through 1987, batters facing him had a paltry .201 batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position; in '88, his opponents hit .266 in the same situation. "He fools around too much with his changeup, which is a mediocre pitch," says one Tiger official. "Instead of using his fastball, throwing strikes, letting hitters put the ball in play and using his fielders, he still wants to show batters up, and lie can't."
Consider this: On Opening Day there were more players age 28 or older on Triple A rosters than there were players under 25. "The minor leagues have become a profitable business," says Detroit general manager Bill Lajoie. "So operators want to win, which means they demand veteran players. But it's at the expense of the development of young players. Its tough on organizations like the Red Sox, which insist on development only. It's paid off for them, however, when you consider that Boston [whose minor league teams had the worst combined record of all 26 clubs in '88] has developed more current major leaguers than any other team in the American League." ...Last season, when the Pirates were threatening the Mets for the National League East title, Syd Thrift, then the general manager, was hailed for having "stolen" righthander Mike Dunne from the Cardinals. But last week, with Thrift gone to the Yankees, the Pirates traded Dunne, top prospect Mark Merchant and highly regarded righthander Mike Walker to Seattle for shortstop Rey Quinones and lefthanded reliever Bill Wilkinson. "We had to get some offense at shortstop," says Pirate manager Jim Leyland. The bottom third of Pittsburgh's order hit a total of four homers last year, eight fewer than Quinones did. The Bucs' brain trust felt that Dunne, who was 7-11 in '88 after a 13-6 rookie year, had fooled hitters in '87 with sinkers and forkballs out of the strike zone, but then they started taking pitches, and he couldn't adjust.... The Mets are worried about righthander Ron Darling, who was 0-3 with a 8.20 ERA at week's end. Darling says he's not hurting, but his fastball has been clocked in the low 80's, which some feel is a result of having thrown too many split-fingered fastballs over the last four years. Says one Philadelphia hitter, "He has that scared look and seems reluctant to throw the ball over the plate."...The Cardinals' starting rotation has three pitchers who before this season had won a total of two games: Cris Carpenter, Ken Hill and Don Heinkel. That's why the Cardinals are willing to part with centerfielder Willie McGee in a three-way deal that would send McGee to Toronto, Blue Jay rightfielder Jesse Barfield to Houston and Astro lefthander Bob Knepper to St. Louis. The Jays have put the deal on hold, however, while they try to work out a trade with Atlanta for righthander Peter Smith.... Watching Jack Murphy Stadium workers install thicker seat pads in the home dugout, Padres manager Jack McKeon said, "I told you we'd improve our bench."
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