Philadelphia Inquirer - May 26, 1980

Phillies rely on farmboys

 

By Frank Dolson

 

There wasn't any reason to get that upset about the Phillies' pitching in spring training. The starting rotation, at least, looked fairly solid. Steve Carlton... Dick Ruthven... Larry Christenson... Nino Espinosa... Randy Lerch.

 

Not bad. Not great maybe, but not all that bad.

 

Only thing is, now it's late May, and they're still playing baseball, and the Pirates are coming to town for what Dallas Green said "you might call a key series" and the Phillies' pitching rotation for the four games is Bob Walk, Carlton, Undecided and Undecided.

 

Poor Dallas Green. At the rate things are going, Undecided's arm – the left or the right, take your pick – may fall off before July 1. Which still leaves it in better shape than Christenson's, which will undergo surgery to remove bone spurs from the elbow Wednesday.

 

Thus Christenson, the 19-game winner of 77, the 13-game winner of 78 and the accident-prone bicycle rider of 79, has officially become the latest Phillies pitcher to attain the status of ex-starter in '80. First to gain a place on the whatever-happened-to list was Espinosa, still nursing a sore shoulder. Joining him recently was Lerch, who dropped out of the rotation when his earned run average became almost as swollen as Christenson's elbow.

 

Commiseration due

 

You have to feel sorry for Christenson, who looks so big and throws so hard and gets hurt so often.

 

"He's just snakebit," Larry Bowa said. "Everything he does turns to an injury, and it can't be a minor one. It has to be a serious one. He's got a lot of guts going out there. He's been in a lot of pain. People don't realize it. You should see his elbow after he pitched. Geez, it looked like a watermelon almost."

 

Under the circumstances, it might be reasonable to assume that the next time Christenson starts a National League game will be in 1981 – a hard, cold fact of life that prompted Green to say yesterday, "We're in basically a crisis situation."

 

Crisis? At first glance, the Phillies manager would appear to be in about the same position as the captain of the Titanic on the day he went one-on-one with an iceberg. If there's a commodity that most major league teams are short of, it's pitching. Take an Espinosa, a Christenson, a Lerch out of the rotation, for one reason or another, and you might wind up wishing there had been a baseball strike.

 

Double trouble

 

"I'm two pitchers short," Green was saying after Ruthven's fifth victory had pulled the Phillies to within a game of the Pirates yesterday, "but who in the hell is going to get rid of a starting pitcher now?"

 

Oklahoma City, that's who.

 

On Saturday, the Phillies' Triple A farm club delivered Dan Larson to the big team. He got off the plane... and worked 5-1/3 good innings against the Astros. Yesterday it was young Walk's turn to make the trip east. He arrived at the ballpark in the third inning, just in time to find out that he'll be starting against the Pirates tonight.

 

There may be some big league organizations that feel first-class farm systems are no longer a high-priority item in these days of free agency. Luckily for the Phillies, they have a manager, a general manager and an owner who continue to think otherwise. As a result, the Phillies are loaded with good, young arms down on the farm, maybe good enough to keep the team in contention during the current crisis. At least, there is reason to hope.

 

Well is not dry

 

The remarkable part about it is, by bringing up Larson and Walk the Phillies haven't come close to depleting their minor league pitching supply. Marty Bystrom and Jim Wright, both of whom would probably be here now if not for injuries, are back pitching for Oklahoma City and waiting in the wings.

 

"What's good," Bowa said, "no one's picking us to win our division. Everyone thinks we're going to be third or fourth. I really don't think there's as much pressure on a Walk or a Larson as if everybody in the world was picking the Phillies to win."

 

Maybe not, but that's no easy assignment facing Walk tonight. The hard-throwing righthander was in his hotel room in Des Moines, Iowa, at 2 o'clock yesterday morning when the phone rang. Jim Snyder, the Oklahoma City manager, had news for him. Big news.

 

"I was real excited," Walk said. "I couldn't even sleep. I almost stayed up the whole night thinking about it. This is super. I'm glad I'm pitching against Pittsburgh. I'm going to really enjoy that. They're the best."

 

By tonight, when the lineups are posted, when the crowd has arrived, when he gets his first close look at Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and friends, the kid might have some butterflies. He wouldn't be human if he didn't. But these are impressive, confident young men that the Phillies keep yanking out of their farm system.

 

"I should be all right," Walk was saying. "I may be a little nervous, a little wild maybe. But I'll be OK...."

 

He's got the stuff to be be better than OK. "He probably throws harder than anybody on this club," said Dickie Noles, a Phillies' farmhand who rode to the rescue during a 1979 emergency and is doing a standout job out of the bullpen this season.

 

So it all comes down to harnessing that good, live stuff in a big-league park against a world-championship team.

 

"I hope I can live up to everybody's expectations," Walk said. "I just hope I don't – you know – get nervous and 'walk the park,' something like that."

 

Noles knows how he feels. Last year, it was Dickie's turn to make his big-league debut as a starting pitcher at the Vet.

 

"Bob's probably wondering, 'What's the first hitter going to do off of me?' I know I did. I sat up thinking the whole day about what I was going to do with the first hitter. Was I going to strike him out? Or was I going to get him on a ground ball or a fly ball? I said, 'If I get two strikes on him, I'm going to strike him out.' So I got two strikes on the guy (Joel Youngblood) and he hit a home run."

 

All part of the learning process.

 

"One good thing about this," Noles said, "Bob got to know a lot of the guys in spring training. Last year, I came here and I didn't know anybody. But Bob's got friends here already, and these guys, they'll back you 100 percent. They'll be busting their tail for him. He'll be all right... but I know what's probably going through his head right now. He's thinking, 'Damn, I wish it was tomorrow."

 

 

Maybe so, but for these young Phillies’ pitchers, “tomorrow” has arrived well ahead of schedule.

Schmidt-Luzinski Show powers Phillies, 6-2

 

By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

It's not real hard to monitor the National League home run race these days. Not only do you not heed a Western Union machine, an AP ticker or a direct phone line to Dave Kingman's locker, you don't even need a whole lot of time. Nope, a seat at the Vet and about 30 seconds ought to handle it.

 

Here's the way it's going: In the fifth inning of the Phillies' 6-2 victory over the Astros yesterday, Mike Schmidt took over the league lead with his 12th homer of the year, a shot into the lower deck in left.

 

But if Schmidt wants to hold onto these leads longer, he's either going to have to trot around the bases slower or else convince Dallas Green to move him up in the order a couple spots.

 

Yesterday, Schmidt hadn't even found a decent seat in the dugout yet when he turned around to see Greg Luzinski also pummeling his 12th of the year. The Bull's mortar dropped in front of the video-game home run spectacular in center.

 

Four times this year, Schmidt has ripped homers, only to have Luzinski mash one a few seconds later. Want to bet Sadaharu Oh doesn't have this problem?

 

"I think it's purely coincidence," said Schmidt, who gets about as excited over hitting another homer as a guy on the General Motors assembly line does over slipping another tire on a new Malibu.

 

"I don't think it's any big deal, other than it puts some fire into the offense.... I'll tell you what, though. It's a lot tougher to hit the second one than the first one. You know, the pitcher isn't exactly happy after I go and hit the first one."

 

Well, pitchers can't be real happy about having to face Schmidt and Luzinski in the first place these days. The fact that they are now being managed by Back To Back Productions is just incidental.

 

"Four times back-to-back? That's probably more than we've done it in our whole careers," Luzinski said. "It's a funny thing. Everybody's always been waiting for me and him to start hitting at the same time. But it's been a long time since I can remember us doing it."

 

After a horrid road trip in which he got two hits in seven games and struck out 11 times, Luzinski has ironed himself out to go 12-for-his-last-19. That streak includes five homers, three doubles and eight RBIs.

 

The Bull never has had more than nine homers after May, and last year he hit his 12th homer on July 29. Meanwhile, Schmidt has had one of his most consistent starts ever, devoid of all the 1-for-33 and 19-for-22 streaks that had previously been his specialty.

 

In the year in which he announced he was giving up trying to hit .300, he is still at .299 after six weeks. And if he kept up this home-run pace, hand-calculator estimates show he would finish with 55. Of course, hand calculators never had to hit against Kent Tekulve.

 

The Phillies probably will tonight when they begin a four-game series with the Pirates. And with Larry Christenson heading for the operating room Wednesday to have bone spurs removed from his right elbow, they will need all the back-to-back shows they can get.

 

"They've got some of the best pitching in the league," said Schmidt of the Pirates. "But then so does Houston."

 

The Phillies had the misfortune to miss their old friends, J. R. Richard and Joe Niekro, this weekend. But they did a pretty good number on Nolan Ryan, Joaquin Andujar and yesterday's starter, Ken ("I'm Not Bob") Forsch.

 

After an inning and a half, they were down, 2-0, against Forsch, who came in at 5-2, 2.59, and had allowed only two homers in 59 innings. In fact, the entire Astros staff had given up just three homers in their last 17 games. But the Phillies matched that total in two turns through the lineup.

 

One out into the second, Garry Maddox made it 2-1 with his second homer of the year. Then Manny Trillo blooped a double. And Forsch, who has averaged 1.59 walks per nine innings over the last two years, then mysteriously lost the plate.

 

He walked the pitcher, Dick Ruth-ven, on five pitches, and hit Pete Rose in the calf with an 0-2 pitch to load the bases. Then Bake McBride put the Phillies ahead to stay with a two-run single. McBride's figures with men in scoring position are now 20-for-44, .455, with 27 RBIs.

 

A Luzinski double that almost went out and Bob Boone's RBI single that whizzed past Forsch's head made it 4-2 in the third. And Ruthven (5-3) made it stand up, with help from Dickie Noles and some excellent infield defense.

 

Ramon Aviles' replacement, Larry Bowa, threw out Terry Puhl when he tried to score from third on Joe Morgan's hard grounder with the infield in. Manny Trillo started a double play in the sixth, with a tough short-hop pickup on Denny Walling's chopper.

 

And in the eighth, when Morgan tried to score on Jose Cruz' double into the right-field corner, Trillo calmly unfurled his 12-cylinder arm on the relay and nailed him by 20 feet. You don't suppose the Astros forgot that nine days ago, Trillo gunned out Morgan trying for a triple in the Astrodome?

 

"Maybe they assumed Manny was not even going to throw home," said Dallas Green. "Aw, I don't know what they assumed, but they certainly assumed wrong."

 

By then, however, the issue wasn't much in doubt, thanks to the efforts of Back to Back Productions. Much as it makes for great entertainment, it sure is tough to run away with the home-run title around here.

 

"I don't think it bothers either one of us, as long as we stay neck and neck," said Luzinski. "I'd rather be battling him than anybody else, be cause it means we're putting runs on the board."

 

 

NOTES: Saturday night's 15-inning' game caused the Pirates to rearrange their rotation for this series, too. Bert Blyleven (0-4) moves up from tomorrow to tonight. Jim Bibby (5-1) moves from Wednesday to tomorrow. Don Robinson (1-0) gets pushed back from tonight to Wednesday. And the dreaded Eddie Solomon goes Thursday afternoon.... Bob Walk, tonight's Phillies starter, was 5-1 at Oklahoma City with a 3.12 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 49 innings. Walk might be the hardest thrower on the staff.... The Phillies couldn't have recalled Scott Munninghoff because he hadn't been down in the minors 10 days yet. But Green said he wouldn't have, anyway. "It's just as well he start down there and get a few innings pitched " Green said. "That's the reason we sent him down."... Luzinski also has been in on the front end of two back-to-back shows, once with Bob Boone, once with Keith Moreland.... The Phillies are 14-6 this month, including four straight and nine of 12. Last May they were 13-15. They are five games over .500 for the first time this year and trail Pittsburgh by a game.

Today’s sports calendar

 

Pirates, Phils before rockets

 

Now that talk of a strike is but a memory, baseball can get down to a battle of teams, instead of labor and management. And one of those conflicts is always between the Phillies and the Pirates in the National League East.

 

The Bucs come to town tonight to open a four-game series, starting with a 6:05 game, which will be followed by the East Coast's largest fireworks display.

 

It could be the second fireworks display of the night if Schmidt and Luzinski and Stargell and Parker are in form.

 

BASEBALL

 

PHILLIES vs. Pittsburgh Pirates at Veterans Stadium (Radlo-KYW-1060, 6:05 p.m.)