Wilmington Evening Journal - August 6, 1980

Phillies hope to rediscover 2 ‘lost arms’


By Ray Finocchiaro, Staff Writer


PHILADELPHIA – Last night's scheduled baseball game between the Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals disappeared under a Delaware Valley typhoon that helped about 300 rain-soaked fans turn Veterans Stadium into the world's largest Slip 'n Slide course.


While two St. Louis pitchers – staff ace Pete Vuckovich and lefty Bob Sykes, tonight's scheduled starter – were joining the loonies who were setting world records in the 50-meter freestyle bellyslide and 100 individual medley tarpaulin glide, Manager Dallas Green was discussing two of the Phillies "lost arms."


Green said that right-hander Larry Christenson, who has been on the disabled list since May 26 following elbow surgery and was considered the lost cause of 1980, threw well yesterday and could be less than a week away from rejoining the active roster.


And Green said that Randy Lerch, the principal occupant of Dallas' Doghouse most of the season, will get another start Sunday in Pittsburgh.


Green shrugged and said he simply "needed a pitcher" for the double-header at Three Rivers Stadium, adding, "I know Randy pitches well against them." Then Dallas Green sat back in his chair and once again tried to solve the riddle of the 3-12 left-hander who has looked like a world-beater on scattered occasions, but more often has been a self-defeating scuffler who just figures he has been unlucky.


Green has flayed Lerch in the papers a few times and told him to get his act together a few more. Last Tuesday, Green got the chance to thrash out the whole matter with Lerch during the Phillies-Astros game.


Lerch had lasted just 2 innings, allowing four runs and seven hits and departing in a crescendo of boos from the Vet mob. Green got thumbed in the sixth, arguing a ground rule.


So for 45 minutes, the manager and his inconsistent left-hander shot the breeze, instead of each other, in the clubhouse.


"I'd like to get Randy started," said Green, who has said that before with little success. "I still feel down deep that he's gotta get going. We had a chance to talk the other day and we had a pretty good understanding, a good exchange of ideas.


"He said it was frustrating for him, but it's been frustrating for me, too, because I'm a pitching guy and I can't help a guy when he needs help. He's not even close to .500 and we haven't done anything to help him. I don't want to bury him and I don't want him to bury himself."


The problem, Green says, is that Lerch "has to convince his teammates and himself that he can help us win. He can do that with his demeanor on the mound – just go out and do the job on the mound one time, and then back it up three or four times. He could still turn the season around for himself."


Lerch feels Green has lost confidence in him, but the manager denies it.


"My confidence never waned totally or I wouldn't have pitched him at all," Green said. "Randy's got the third most innings pitched on the ballclub, so I couldn't have quit on him."


Instead, Green feels Lerch has quit on himself, at least in one very important regard. The manager feels Lerch doesn't think he can win.


"There's nothing mechanically wrong and nothing physically wrong with him," Green said to writers' suggestions. "I think it's all mental. When something goes wrong, like a chopper that gets through, he's just got to say 'bleep it' and go after the next guy. But things seem to compound with him, I don't know why. A chopper that gets through is no reason to give up six or seven runs.


"I told him that face-to-face when we talked the other day. If he can't understand it now, I don't know what I can say. But he's the kind of guy who can look in the mirror and see the problem."


If that mirror doesn't shatter and cut a vein with a loose shard, Lerch could be the starter the Phillies need to stay close in the final two months of the Eastern Division race the Montreal Expos are trying to break open.


One thing seems certain – for the short haul at least, that extra starter won't be Larry Christenson. Green may have a surprise in store for his disabled fireballer. Something like a get-acquainted stint in the bullpen to shake free all those cobwebs – and doubts.


"Larry threw pretty good today," said Green. "He was popping the ball pretty good. Fastball-wise, he's probably there. He's a little hold-backish on breaking balls, but he popped two or three pretty decent ones. He threw some sliders, some changeups, so we're close."


But not close enough to rush Christenson back into the starting rotation.


"I don't think I'd start him right away," said Green, who admits he is still looking for an arm for the second game of Sunday's double-header in Pittsburgh. "I'm toying with using Larry out of the bullpen at first. He's a strikeout pitcher and, being fresh, I think he could help us. But I don't want to do anything that would foul up his arm."


Green said he had considered using Christenson as a short reliever several times before. The thought even crossed Green's mind in spring training, but a dearth of starters and Dickie Noles' effective conversion to short reliever convinced Green to leave Christenson in the rotation, until elbow surgery took him out.


However, Green hasn't broached the bullpen idea to Christenson, and Larry wasn't in the clubhouse long enough to consider it last night. But Green has an idea what Christenson's reaction might be.


"He'd probably cringe about it at first because of the abuse he'd think his arm would have to take," Green said. "But if we explained it to him and gave him our total thinking on it – not to put him in situations he couldn't handle and to make sure he had enough time to warm up – I think he'd understand.


"He's gonna have to break in sooner or later and he's not gonna do it going nine innings, that's for sure."


Green said that last night's rainout, rescheduled as part of a Friday night double-header on Sept. 12, won't push Steve Carlton into a Friday start in Pittsburgh. Instead, Carlton remains tomorrow night's starter against John Fulgham, with Dick Ruthven now penciled in to open the Pirates' series.


"Ruthven aired it out pretty good before the game tonight," Green explained, "and he'd feel better with an extra-day's rest. I entertained ideas about dropping Lefty (Carlton) back a day, but I don't like to do that."




"Lefty's training methods and preparation, both mentally and physically, depend on him knowing exactly when he'll pitch," Green said. "I wouldn't want to fool around with that. I want to stay with the five-day situation with him."


Other highlights of Green's rainy-night seminar:


•  The manager wouldn't speculate on who would play left field when Greg Luzinski comes off the disabled list in several weeks. The Bull's power conceivably could re-ignite Mike Schmidt's home-run bat, but Lonnie Smith is hitting .348 with 20 stolen bases and has' given the Phillies a make-things-happen look at the top of the order.


"I can't look into the future. By then six guys could be hurt," said Green, before adding, "I know what I'd do, but I ain't gonna tell you."


•  Green reiterated his opposition to the designated-hitter idea, which the National League will again consider at a meeting next week in New York, perhaps on a one-year experimental basis.


"I'm not a DH guy," said Green. "I can't conceive of it being in the National League and I can't see where it's helped baseball or what it's gonna do for our league or ball-club."


But Green conceded that the Phillies' opposition to the rule could be weakening. "Paul Owens is offensive-minded," said Green of the club's player personnel director. "I don't think he'd be adverse to trying it for a year or two."