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BASEBALL
Tim Kurkjian
April 23, 1990
THE NAME GAME
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April 23, 1990

Baseball

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FADING FAST

Because pitchers are rusty from lack of spring training, the average number of pitches per start has dropped from 94 in '89 to 82 this season (through April 14). That's good news for the five starters who last year got hit the hardest after passing the 75-pitch barrier. Here's how those five fared in '89.

OPPONENTS BATTING AVERAGE

MAJOR LEAGUE AVERAGE

.254

Tim Leary , Yankees

.303

John Cerutti, Blue Jays

.304

Jim Abbott , Angels

.305

Andy Hawkins , Yankees

.310

Mike Witt , Angels

.322

SOURCE: STATS, INC .

THE NAME GAME

Strange names always pop up in box scores at the start of a season. But thanks to the 27-man roster, which will prevail until May 1, last week's boxes were packed with obscure rookies, forgotten veterans and others who stole in through the back door. Here are some of the best examples:

? Mike Norris, Athletics—Norris, a 35-year-old righthander who was a 22-game winner in 1980, is pitching in the big leagues for the first time since 1983. Over the last seven years, he has undergone treatment for drug abuse four times; drug, shoulder and tax troubles kept him out of baseball in '87 and '88. But he went to Oakland's minor league camp in '89, found his right shoulder was sound and went 6-6 with a 3.18 ERA for Triple A Tacoma. The Athletics promoted Norris this spring after he had a 1.29 ERA in three exhibition games. His regular-season debut, against the Twins on April 11, was equally propitious: He relieved Mike Moore in the eighth, threw two scoreless innings and received a standing ovation. Asked if he had any regrets, Norris replied, "The only thing I feel bad about is for seven years I couldn't give these fans the entertainment I'm used to giving them."

?Charley Kerfeld, Astros—The big fella is back, weighing 260 pounds and still looking like John Candy. But he's slender compared to his form of 1985, when he made his major league debut at 285. Kerfeld, 26, went 11-2 for the Astros in 1986, but arm injuries and too many pounds kept him in the minors for virtually all of the next three years. In '89 he went 3-11 with a 5.52 ERA for Triple A Tucson, but this spring he threw 92 mph consistently and won a spot with Houston. "I was like a little kid whose bike was taken away," says Kerfeld about being away from the big leagues. "I lost my bike for three years." Unfortunately, the bike crashed in his first three games. He lost to the Reds on Opening Night, gave up the game-winning hit against Cincinnati the next evening and allowed the Dodgers' winning run to score on a wild pitch on Sunday. At this point Kerfeld's chances of riding out the season with the Astros don't look good.

? Sam Horn, Orioles—Horn batted .148 in both 1988 and '89 with the Red Sox, who gladly let him go in the off-season. Baltimore signed him to a minor league contract, and he had no chance of making the team until the rosters were expanded. Horn's stock began to rise after broadcaster Dick Vitale saw him hit a massive homer in an exhibition game in Bradenton, Fla., this spring and told Oriole general manager Roland Hemond that, hey, all Horn needed was some P.T., baby! Horn, 26, is battling the bulge too: He's 6'5" and 250 pounds. At the start of camp, reporters asked Baltimore director of player personnel Doug Melvin what he expected of Horn, and Melvin replied, "Well, I don't expect him to look like Roseanne Barr." Horn hit a pair of three-run homers on Opening Day. His six RBIs were one more than he had in his previous 42 major league games. The last player with more RBIs on Opening Day was Brant Alyea, who had seven for Minnesota in 1970. Horn will probably be the Orioles' everyday DH.

?Scott Ruskin, Pirates—"I didn't know him from Adam this spring," says Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland of Ruskin. "I just knew he was an outfielder who'd pitched in college." In 1988, after three fruitless seasons in the minors, Ruskin, 26, scrapped his career as an outfielder and took up pitching again. He developed a terrific curveball and made the Pirates' roster as a lefthanded reliever. "Some days I have trouble believing I'm here," says Ruskin, who retired seven of the first eight hitters he faced this season. When asked about hitting, he said, "I don't even pick up a bat. I don't have a bat. I have two batting gloves, but they're only to keep my hands warm."

THE INSIDE PITCH

The first week produced some impressive pitching. The Angels' Mark Langston (seven innings) and Mike Witt (two) combined for a 1-0 no-hitter against the Mariners on April 9. The Rangers' Nolan Ryan left after the fifth inning with a no-hitter going against the Blue Jays on April 11. And the Mets' Frank Viola threw 7? innings in a 3-0 victory over the Pirates on April 11 and didn't once go to a three-ball count.

But don't be fooled by these performances. Most pitchers still aren't ready after getting only three weeks of spring training. Cincinnati manager Lou Piniella asked the Reds' front office to bring up a 12th pitcher after he went through five on Opening Night. Red Sox starter Mike Rochford got knocked around early in Boston's fourth game, so Dana Kiecker, who had been slated to start the following night, had to come in. As a result, John Leister (7-7, 3.93 with Triple A Pawtucket in 1989) was recalled to start the fifth game. And in St. Louis, after an 11-inning victory on Opening Night, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said, "One hundred and sixty-one games to go, and we're worn out already."

Herzog is carrying 13 pitchers. "I came to camp looking for a third righthanded reliever," he says. "Now I'm looking for three righthanded relievers. It's what I call a threatening experience. Every night is going to be a thrill."

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