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In every game he has pitched this year, Toronto ace Dave Stieb has had to deal with a sore right elbow. Sometimes—like Saturday night in Chicago when he no-hit the White Sox for eight innings—he uses a little of this, a little of that and a lot of guts, with winning results. Other times, as in a loss early last week to last-place Cleveland, he can't fake and fight his way through.
The problem has become more acute since the All-Star break. Stieb, 9-5 with a 1.86 ERA for the first half, is 3-4, 3.43 since. But with Luis Leal struggling in Triple A and Jim Clancy not expected off the DL until mid-September, Stieb needs more games like Saturday night's for the Blue Jays, whose AL East lead over the Yankees has shrunk to three games.
An AL scout who has been following the Jays says Stieb's fastball is not up to snuff and that his sore elbow limits his use of his terrific slider, a pitch that taxes the elbow. "The pain doesn't make the job any easier," says Stieb, who has adjusted by throwing more curves. "The day after I pitch, it really aches, but I'm getting accustomed to it." Says G.M. Pat Gillick, "You've got to be concerned, but what can you do? You got to keep sending him out there."
Remember how surprised everyone was when the St. Louis Cardinals gave Ozzie Smith, a lifetime .238 hitter, $2 million a year to play shortstop? Well, Ozzie has turned tiger. The Wizard of Ahs is hitting .267 after batting .231 during his four years in San Diego and .249 for his first three in St. Louis.
"You have to remember," he says, "that I came to the big leagues after only 68 games in the minors. I had to learn how to hit up here, basic things like what angle to hold the bat head at. I'm proud of the way I've improved, because no player wants to be considered one-dimensional."
If you're wondering about that first dimension, Smith has committed only nine errors in 118 games.
Three years ago he was a 19th-round draft choice of the Royals. This year 21-year-old Bret Saberhagen is a leading candidate (along with the Yankees' Ron Guidry, 16-4) for the AL Cy Young Award. After a 10-11 rookie season, he's 16-5 with a 2.81 ERA. His fastball has picked up some speed, and his control has been enviable. He has walked only 28 batters in 179⅓ innings. "The only two pitchers I've ever caught who had his control were Fergie Jenkins and Gaylord Perry," says Jim Sundberg. "And they were a lot older."
Lance Parrish, whose Tigers have lost to the youngster three times since July 29, says Saberhagen's fastball is straight, "but his control is so good that you can cover only half the plate."
When Detroit's Nelson Simmons, a spring-training phenom who flunked an early-season trial, was brought up recently from Triple A, he went 11 for 23 with four homers and 11 RBIs. And what did manager Sparky Anderson have to say about that? Nothing. "I'm never going to talk about a young kid again," said Anderson. This spring Sparky announced that Chris Pittaro was "the best young in-fielder I've ever had come through a spring-training camp of mine."
Pittaro, who started the season at third, is hitting .192 in Triple A, and a humbled Anderson says, "I've learned my lesson. I'm going to let him [Simmons] play every day. Then we'll see. Wait until he faces the really good pitchers. That's when you judge." Wise decision. Simmons has had three hits in his last 24 at bats.