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As of the moment, the pitching rotation of the Philadelphia Phillies includes two Cy Young Award winners, the star of last year's Marysville (Wash.) High School Tomahawks and a former biology major at Fresno State University who until this season had not pitched an inning of professional baseball.
Long-suffering Philadelphians will say that this sort of disparity in skill and experience has helped make Philadelphia baseball the amusing spectacle it has traditionally been. The Phillies themselves will argue that their beardless tyros, Larry Christenson and Dick Ruthven, will provide valuable support for veterans Steve Carlton and Jim Lonborg and will, in time, actually give the team a pitching staff of major league quality.
The ayes seemed to have had it when Christenson, last year's Tomahawk, pitched a five-hit, 7-1 win over the Mets in his first big-league start and his first game anywhere in professional baseball outside the Rookie League. Some of the edge has been taken off that achievement, however, with the gradual realization that even the kid next door or your Aunt Tillie could pitch a five-hitter against the Mets. And in his second start last week in Montreal, Christenson survived only five innings, giving up nine hits and two runs to the ordinarily inoffensive Expos.
Ruthven, the biology student, was somewhat less impressive in his professional debut last week against the Expos. He pitched but an inning and two-thirds and allowed four runs on five hits.
But the Phillies management, ever accustomed to the untoward, was not in the least dismayed by these, shall we say, uneven beginnings. In the 19-year-old Christenson and the 22-year-old Ruthven, the team believes the future is at hand. Manager Danny Ozark had really intended to keep only one of the two young righthanders on his roster, but he was so taken with their precociousness in spring training that he hastily slipped them both into the rotation.
"They were both deserving," says Ozark, who though born and reared in Buffalo, N.Y. looks a bit like a mountain man. "Every time out they pitched well. They showed great poise and concentration. They showed me they knew what they were doing out there on the mound. If both of these boys pitch as well as we think they can, we'll give a lot of people trouble."
Strong words in Philadelphia, perhaps, but Ozark is at least seconded by his pitching coach, Ray Rippelmeyer. "I know it's a big jump," he says, "but these two have the mental makeup to do it. There is no question about their arms. Both are major league. If they were one-pitch pitchers, I'd probably have them in the bullpen, but these guys have the equipment to be starters. Christenson actually has four good pitches—the fastball, curve, slider and changeup. Ruthven lacks only the slider. Now we'll just see how consistent they can be." For all the talk from their elders about their maturity and poise, Christenson and Ruthven remain refreshingly boyish. Neither expected to get so far so fast, they now freely admit. "I went into spring training with the idea that the highest I could go would be Triple A," says Christenson. "People would ask me if I thought I could make the big team and I'd just say, 'I'd like to, but I don't think so.' "
A rangy 6'4" 215-pounder with yellow hair and a disarming baby face, Christenson was a terror at old Marysville High, where, as he put it, "I threw seeds." In his senior year he struck out 143 batters in 72 innings and had an earned run average of 0.28. He was the Phillies' No. I selection in the June draft.
"We graduated June 5," he recalls. "We had a big graduation party that night. Took a bus to Tacoma and had a blast. I didn't get home until 7:30 in the morning. The phone rang at 8 and a scout said to me, 'Larry, we've drafted you No. 1. What d'ya think about that?' I was so sleepy I could hardly say anything, so I just said, That's nice,' and went back to bed. And then the phone really started ringing. Newspaper guys from everywhere. I had to get up and take a walk."
Christenson pitched last summer for the Phillies' rookie team at Pulaski, Va., an experience, he recalls ruefully, that he would happily forget. "It was a terrible town. The ball park was dumps and we had a dumpy clubhouse. I don't ever want to go back there."