Philadelphia Inquirer - April 29, 1980

Lerch adds glimmer of light to Phils’ woeful pitching


By Danny Robbins, Inquirer Staff Writer


For argument's sake (but not for Dallas Green's blood pressure), remove Steve Carlton from the Phillies starting rotation and see what you have left.


Basically, at this point, you have Randy Lerch.


Nino Espinosa still is out with bursitis in his right shoulder. Larry Christenson will miss at least one turn with a groin pull. Dick Ruthven, on the road back from his elbow surgery, can't get anybody out, it seems, except Dane Iorg.


Lerch isn't exactly off to a fantastic start, to be sure, with his 0-2 record, 5.57 earned-run average and 25 hits in 21-1/3 innings. But last Friday's 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals provided Lerch, and the Phillies, with a good sign – a strong, if not commanding, Randy Lerch.


In that game, he went nine innings and gave up just seven hits and the three runs against a team that starts seven .300-level hitters. His work was lost, of course, in the wake of the Phillies' sad performance against Pete Vuckovich, and Green's criticism of the whole mess. But the significance wasn't lost in Lerch's mind.


"I'm encouraged because I'm throwing strikes with the breaking ball," he said. "I've always been a pitcher who could throw hard and not get the breaking stuff over. Well, now I'm getting the breaking stuff over.


"I took a lot of heat in spring training because that's all I worked on. But I don't mind. I know I had to do that. I wasn't getting any heat from Dallas. I told him what I was doing, and he understood. It was pretty much the media that was giving it to me.


"Well, the work I did this spring has helped. I've always walked into spring training, and I've always had good springs. But what does it mean? A good spring doesn't mean anything when I'm negotiating my contract."


Eyebrows were raised all around in Clearwater when Lerch took it upon himself to take a crash course in throwing curveballs at the expense of his spring stats. In 22 innings before the spring strike, he allowed 31 hits and 18 runs. Only one guy, Ruthven, had a poorer ERA.


"I knew what I was doing," Lerch said. "Before, I'd given up too many excellent-pitch hits. Maybe the ball wasn't hit well, but a guy could just look for my fastball when I got behind. Because I didn't have confidence in the breaking ball, there wasn't enough doubt in a hitter's mind about what was coming.


"Most people in this organization think I can throw tailing fastballs and win. But I want to be a complete pitcher. The bottom line is, I want to be consistent. And in every game this year, I have thrown the breaking ball for strikes, the changeup for strikes, too."


Lerch's two other starts didn't end well: six innings, nine hits and five runs at St. Louis; and again six innings, nine hits and five runs at Montreal. He's happy, howeVer, that Green is sticking with him longer than Danny Ozark, as a rule, would have.


Ozark's tactics often had Lerch bouncing off the walls, and Lerch was happy to see him go. He doesn't hide those feelings.


"In my opinion, a young pitcher – no, make that just a pitcher – cannot have a good year with Danny Ozark managing," he said. "Like Friday night, with Danny still around, I'm out of that game for a pinch hitter in the sixth inning. But now, Dallas lets me hit, I walk, get on base, pitch nine innings, and my ERA is down. Besides, when you're always getting pulled early, pretty soon you start pressing, and you're in trouble.


"You know, that (Friday night) game was the first one I've ever finished at the Vet and lost. We've already had two games that I wouldn't have been in if Danny Ozark was managing. In Montreal, I would have been out of the damn game in the first inning. That happens and you wind up babbling to yourself. You go ape-bleep.


"Now, you pitch, you go into the next start with a good taste in your mouth. I've always been stronger in the later innings. If I give up runs, I usually give 'em up early. Dallas saw that in the minor leagues.


"Danny Ozark had it in his mind that if you start shaky, you'll end shaky – so get out of there. After two or three times in a row of that, you're squeezing the bleep out of the ball, and you're worried that your bleep is gonna be out of there."


Lerch, who will start tonight's game against the Mets in New York, is coming off his first losing season (10-13) as a pro pitcher, a season that saw him try to pitch with a cast on his fractured right wrist after a sidewalk scuffle in Society Hill. He now says he wanted to "come back too soon" from the injury.


"I wanted to show how many guys I could get out with the cast on," he said. "And if you're thinking about that, you're not thinking about the hitters very much. I had trouble holding my glove in place, but the real trouble was mental.


"I've learned a lot from Steve Carlton in that area. He's the perfect example of how to block out the things that might bother you. The cast bothered me. I used to let Danny bother me. But I'm learning how to concentrate on what's important."


Dallas Green isn't exactly the most relaxed manager around, of course, but Lerch feels he knows how to read him.


"I told Dallas," he said, "that it's good to get things out in the open, to say what's on your mind. If a guy is bleeping up, tell him. But I don't believe in doing it through the press. That's one thing I just hope he doesn't do. Like, we had a pitchers' meeting the other day – just guys sitting around shooting the bleep and nobody has to know what was said. I don't think you should handle problems through the press."


NOTES: Lerch vs. Mark Bomback tonight, Carlton vs. Pete Falcone tomorrow and Ruthven vs. Craig Swan Thursday in the Phils' visit to Shea Stadium. . . . They come home to meet the Dodgers Friday night.