Wilmington Evening Journal - May 30, 1980

Pirates bounce back over Phils into first


By Ray Finocchiaro, Staff Writer


PHILADELPHIA – If the Phillies have one glaring Achilles heel, it's their arms.


But it was Manager Dallas Green who was glaring when pitching problems were raised after yesterday's 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who reclaimed first place in the National League East by a game – a rather dull game – at Veterans Stadium.


"How come we always end up talking about the pitching?" Green asked his inquisitors after starter Dick Ruthven had given up 11 hits in 5 innings.


"That's the problem," somebody ventured.


"That's what you think," responded the manager, slightly irritated, though the loss might have been more on his mind than the suggestion. "You guys are never satisfied. You want me to have a bleeping crystal ball up here to tell the future."


For the moment, the future is now, as some coach once said. The Phillies have three sound starters left over from last year's staff, one erstwhile-starter in the hospital after elbow surgery and two Oklahoma City products trying to worm their way into the rotation.


Ruthven, in fact, "volunteered" to pitch yesterday with only three days' rest after beating Houston 6-2 here Sunday.


"Dick came to me and asked to pitch against the Pirates," said Green. "He said he felt strong enough. He said the stiffness he felt from the time before was from his fall at first base, not from pitching.


"(Trainer) Don Seger confirmed that, we talked it over and I decided to pitch him today. The guy I originally had scheduled to pitch today (Larry Christenson) is in the hospital."


Bone-spur surgery probably ended Christenson's season in May. Meanwhile, Ruthven's own explanation was logical.


"I'd rather beat the Pirates than the Cubs (today's foe) and so would the team," he said. "They're world champions. I'm one of three starting pitchers left. I have to pitch when I can."


The Bucs' three-run first, featuring four straight hits and two walks, did little to salve any wounds.


"Dick pitched decent baseball after the first inning," Green said. It helped that the Phils got the three runs back, courtesy of shortstop Dale Berra's error and Bob Boone's two-run double, also in the first inning. But yesterday all four runs off winner Buddy Jay Solomon were unearned.


The Pirates got three more hits in the fifth, good for the two runs that would make Ruthven's record 5-4.


Catcher Ed Ott doubled home the go-ahead run, then beat substitute right fielder George Vukovich's offline throw home on Berra's single for the winner.


When the game ended, Green rushed to the pitching staff's defense. Four innings of three-hit relief by Kevin Saucier, Lerrin LaGrow and Tug McGraw seemed to illustrate the bullpen's resurgence, but the starting rotation remains a shambles.


Green seems unimpressed by Ruthven's bid to pitch every fourth day, a la Steve Carlton, who is merely the league's premier pitcher at the moment. It's a sharp dropoff from there.


"Steve can handle the three-day thing," said Green, an ex-pitcher himself who wanted the ball whenever he could get it. "I didn't like what I saw in the first inning (from Ruthven), if that's any indication. That was the reason for the extra day's rest.


"I may have to juggle the rotation until I get something I can live with. Pitchers don't like to get jumped around, but we've got some kids (Bob Walk and Dan Larson) involved. I'll play it by ear and they'll have to understand it."


Green said that Randy Lerch will have to back up the strong effort he unfurled at the Pirates Wednesday night for his first victory of the year after six losses and an exile to the bullpen, where he never got the call.


"What I'm looking for is consistency," said the manager. "Dick's pitched pretty consistently. Steve's pitched very consistently. The others haven't. I want to get away from the patchwork rotation."


To do it Green apparently may have to sew a few patches onto the arms of Nino Espinosa and Warren Brusstar.


Brusstar, the star-crossed reliever, missed most of last year with mysterious shoulder problems that won't respond to treatment, making his pitching future highly doubtful.


Espinosa, who hurt his arm pitching with three days' rest last summer, hasn't pitched an inning this year and doesn't look like he's close to returning.


"There's no hope that I can see," said Green, candid as usual. "There's no encouraging hope. We're just about at the stage where we have to re-evaluate what we're doing with Espinosa and Brusstar. We'll have to sit down and talk with our medical people, probably next week in Pittsburgh, and see if we can give it one last shot to get it all together.


“Apparently we're not doing something right now. We'll either have to learn to pitch with pain or think of something else."


It's the "something else" that's worrisome, particularly to Brusstar and Espinosa.


Yesterday, the Phils were In the downswing on their roller-coaster battle for first place with the Pirates. The four-game "I'll-win-one, then-you" series left the teams where they started, with the Pirates one game ahead and both teams saying the race is a long way from over.


“I don't think winning four – or losing four – would have made that much difference at this point," said Pirates' Manager Chuck Tanner. "There's still a long way to go. This race probably won't be decided until the 162nd game."


Green wouldn't argue.


"I hate to agree with Chuck on anything," Green smiled, "but he's right. There's a long way to go. I'm happy with the way we're playing. We're not giving up when we get behind; we're getting good pitching.


"There's no reason to be discouraged with a split with the Pirates. Sure, you'd rather sweep all four. Two one-run losses and we took 'em to 13 innings in one. I don't know what you guys want!"


EXTRA INNINGS - Mike Schmidt's sacrifice fly to right scored Pete Rose with the Phils' final run in the seventh. Rose challenged Dave Parker's arm – and won... Enrique Romo, who pitched the last two innings for his second save, has given up just one earned run in his last nine appearances, covering 16 innings. "His stuff’s nasty," said catcher Ott. "I can sympathize with the hitters because sometimes even I don't know where it's going."... Lee Lacy, who batted just once yesterday, extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a single to left off McGraw... Phils were 7-3 on the homestand... Yesterday's crowd of 30,630 ran the four-game attendance to 141,722... Dan Larson was to pitch against Chicago's Rick Reuschel today at 2:30 lb Wrigley Field, with Carlton vs. Lynn McGlothen tomorrow, and Bob Walk vs. Dermis Lamp Sunday.