Philadelphia Inquirer - April 25, 1980

Noles’ hard slider, fastball spell relief for Green’s bullpen headaches

 

By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

Twenty years ago, Dickie Noles and Kevin Saucier never would have been relief pitchers.

 

They wouldn't have been lousy enough.

 

"It used to be, you were never a reliever until you were done," said Dallas Green, who, it must be noted, spent a lot of time as a reliever. "You were always a starter until you proved you couldn't start.

 

"That never made a helluva lot of sense to me," the Phillies manager said. "But that's the way baseball operated for a long, long time."

 

Twenty years ago, most baseball people didn't think about all the special skills you obviously need to be a relief pitcher today.

 

Nobody grew fu manchus. Nobody learned to take 20 minutes between each pitch. Nobody ate novels. Nobody even split their fingers. Or at least they didn't do that to help them get hitters out with two outs in the ninth.

 

And it occurred to very few managers then that guys who threw a lot of ground balls, or fired the ball 112 m.p.h. had a special skill that might be of use in certain late-game situations.

 

That was baseball then. It isn't baseball now. It isn't the way Dallas Green thinks about his bullpen.

 

If Green just wanted to stock his relief corps with the most experienced guys he could find, Rawly Eastwick would be sitting there now instead of Scott Munninghoff. Doug Bird might be there instead of Noles. Jim Kaat might be there instead of Saucier.

 

Green conceded the other night that his bullpen is far from perfect. But when asked if he might have interest in Kaat, who was recently axed by the Yankees, he just raised his eyebrows

 

"If I got in that situation, I'd rather go with a kid," Green said. "If I'm going to go through nervous times with the pitching, I'd rather go through nervous times with a youngster. That's just a statement of fact, not a knocker on Jim Kaat."

 

That's just a statement of Dallas Green's philosophy of managing in 50 words or less.

 

Over the winter, there was a lot of pressure on Green and the Phillies to make a trade for a proven relief pitcher. But once the Sparky Lyle deal had fallen through, Green resisted the pressure to break up his club simply to pick up A Name in his bullpen.

 

One big reason was, he knew he had Noles and Saucier, and beyond that Munninghoff and Marty Bystrom and Bob Walk.

 

"It was a factor," he said, "in me not panicking, anyway."

 

Green still isn't panicking, even though he has gone to his bullpen 21 times this year, and 10 times his relievers have given up at least one run, either of their own or a pitcher they replaced. This bullpen has problems, all right. But the youth patrol – Noles, 23, and Saucier, 23, and Munninghoff, 21 – isn't among them at the moment.

 

Noles, of course, has come from the depths of nearly not making the club in spring training to be the No. 1 short man. In four outings (8 innings) he has allowed no runs and five hits and struck out nine.

 

Two weeks ago, even he wasn't sure if he was the fifth starter, a long man, a middle-inning man, or just the last guy out there after every body else got pummeled.

 

"Dallas told me. to be ready for anything," Noles said. "So I'm ready for anything."

 

Noles has adapted well to relief, perhaps because he was so temperamentally suited for it in the first place. When he comes out of the bullpen with his hard slider and fastball, he wants to "show guys I'm gonna go right at them," he said.

 

"But that's the way I was when I started, too," he said. "So there really isn't that much difference for me."

 

Wednesday, Noles appeared in his second game in two nights, something he never, ever had done before. But if he is going to make it as a short-relief terrorizer, his arm is going to have to be able to hack it, night after night after night.

 

"I'm not worried about it," he said.  "I've been able to throw every day pretty much my whole career, even when I started. Even if I threw 100 or 120 pitches, I could get back my stuff in a day or two. So this is just a test to see if I can throw every day in a game situation."

 

If Noles has emerged as a major bullpen figure only lately, Saucier has been notorious ever since he started that brawl in Chicago last June. Danny Ozark told him flat-out to throw at Mike Krukow. So Saucier, being about as bashful as a tractor-trailer, threw at him.

 

"I'd thrown at guys in the minor leagues before," said Saucier. "But I never had a manager tell me to do it before. I've done it on my own, though."

 

Saucier insists he would never "driil a guy for the hell of it." But just the knowledge he carries that drill ' has been enough to worry more than  a few hitters.

 

“Hell, that's a plus if they worry about me," the lefthander said. "If they worry about me, that's their problem. I just believe in pitching guys inside. That's part of the game. I've always been that way."

 

Over the winter, Green studied the ‘79 statistics like Edison studied the Ben Franklin lightning experiments. He discovered that Saucier, with his unusual jagged-edged sidearm delivery, was death on lefthanded hitters. He was in Green's plans from that moment on.

 

Munninghoff, on the other hand, was not – until Bystrom got hurt in spring training. Then Munninghoff "just kept getting people out," Green said.

 

He impressed Green enough to find himself and his sinkerball in Philly. Those sinkers make him the ideal ground-ball relief pitcher. But suddenly, with Larry Christenson hurt and Nino Espinosa's return somewhere over the horizon, Munninghoff will be a starter again.

 

"It looks that way right now," Green said, "especially with the way Dickie has adjusted to short relief. I'd like to see him keep coming out of that bullpen some more. Plus, Scotty needs to pitch."

 

He needs to. And Green needs him to. One thing you can say about the Dallas Green Phillies – youth will be served.

 

NOTES: Green's players aren't the only people who get ticked off by dishonesty occasionally. Players on other teams sometimes aren't so crazy about it, either. After the Mets beat the Phillies, 3-2, Wednesday, New York's Elliott Maddox said, "What's that Dallas Green said 'Two runs should be enough to beat this team?' Tell him to shove it."... Phillies pinch-hitters started the year 0-for-10. Since then they are 5-for-7, counting Randy Lerch.

 

 

READING, Pa. The Phillies, who lost to the Mets on Wednesday because they left too many men on base, didn't have that problem last night.

 

They hit into three double plays and a triple play in losing their annual exhibition game with Reading, their Eastern League farm team, 8-4, before a crowd of 7.132.

 

The Phils scored three runs in the first on Pete Rose's single, three walks and Greg Luzinski's two-run single. But then Keith Moreland flied to center, Luzinski was out trying to tag and go to second, and Mike Schmidt was out on appeal for leaving second too soon, completing the triple play.

 

 

The Phils' only other run came in the ninth when coach Ruben Amaro, retired since 1971, got an RBI on an infield out.