Philadelphia Daily News - March 10, 1980

Phils’ Coach Likes His New Role


By Bill Conlin


CLEARWATER – Herm Starrette was a lame duck pitching coach last season. The lamer his pitching staff got, the more Herm felt like ducking.


In reality, the low-key, Good Ole Boy from North Carolina was a spectator to the Phillies' pitching collapse. Paul Owens brought the former Braves and Giants coach in to replace the retired Ray Rippelmeyer. But Herm may as well have stayed home in Statesville and watched the tobacco crop grow. Danny Ozark delegated very little authority last year. He wanted every inch of rope for himself. The nice thing about Ozark's September demise, when he went he didii't take anybody with-him.


Starrette is too loyal an organization man to come right out and complain about the way he was used by Ozark last year. Let's just say that he was not the reason Tug McGraw and Ron Reed took turns burning out their arms while the guy who wasn't being overused grew cobwebs. Ozark's use of the bullpen in particular and the pitching staff in general will not make the Spalding Guide.


"IT FEELS very good to be a pitching coach again," Starrette said yesterday, five days before his mending staff begins live combat. "Put some bread on the table. Hopefully, we won't go on strike. It was a trying year for me. Out of 21 years. I guess it was the toughest I've put in. I don't like to give excuses, but the injuries we had plus a lot of other things forced us into the bullpen early in too many games. That was flusterating. When you have to do those things it makes it tough on everybody. You like to be organized. If you're not organized you cant do things well. You get pitchers doing things they're not capable of doing, guys going in to pitch in the second and third inning when they should be going in the eighth and ninth."


Starrette's pitching staff poses more questions than the shah's autumn visit to the U.S. Two guys – Larry Christenson and Dick Ruthven -are recovering from surgery. Warren Brusstar, a key long man in ‘77 and ‘78, is trying to come back from a major shoulder problem. Ace relievers Tug McGraw and Ron Reed are coming off mediocre seasons which may or may not be linked to the helter skelter way they were used.


Can youngsters Kevin Saucier and Dickie Notes pitch as well under the pressure of having something expected of them as they did as emergency replacements? Will Rawly Eastwick ever regain the Fireman of the Year award he had with Cincinnati, or will he continue to pour premium unleaded on fires? Will Doug Bird fly the coop by opening day? Is there life after Oklahoma City for injured rookie righthander Marty Bystrom, a place on the staff for newcomers Burke Suter or Paul ; Thormodsgard?


Can Lerrin LaGrow regain the form which made him one of the American League's top short men with the White Sox two years ago?


Here's Starrette's morning line on some of the prospects and suspects on whose arms the Phillies' 1980 fortunes will rise or fall:


LARRY CHRISTENSON: "I'm very pleased with Larry. He worked hard. I guess, before he got here and he's throwing the ball real good. To be honest with you, it scares me to see him throwing as good as he is this early. I hate to see him peak too soon. It's very encouraging to see him throw the way he is, particularly his breaking balL That's a sign that everything's OK."


RANDY LERCH: "I feel it's a year when Randy should have a good season. A lot of us sometimes expect too much of a young fellow too soon. But he's been up here long enough that I feel he should have his good year. I know he's capable of winning more than 10 or 11 ball games."


DICK RUTHVEN: "He's been throwing real welL He's another guy throwing so good it scares me a little bit. The other day he started throwing his breaking balls. He's gung ho. He wants to make 'em perfect like it's the middle of the season. But I've gotta watch him. He's got no pain at all, but this time last year he was starting to have some pain and his arm was swelling. He threw 12 minutes the other day and said he had no pain at all. That's very encouraging, but we cant rush it."


STEVE CARLTON: "He looks in as good a shape as I've ever seen him. I think he's approximately 15 pounds lighter than he was last year and he's working as hard as anybody. I know the writers have things they've got to talk about that's their job. He's not running with the rest of the pitchers, but I told some guys the other day he's probably in as good a shape as anybody in baseball. What he is right now is a leader. We had him with a bunch of young pitchers the other day and he just run them into the ground, covering first on bunt plays, the whole bit. he and Tug McGraw both."


NINO ESPINOSA; "He had that shoulder problem at the end of last season and we're gonna work him in really slow. We can only go with four starters the first month of the season and well probably hold him out, let him get healthy." (Translation: Espinosa currently has a sore arm.)


THAT BULLPEN: "I know we've got some good arms in the bullpen. Tug McGraw is throwing good. Ron Reed has a little bit of a hamstring pull. Lerrin LaGrow came down in real good shape. But not everybody is cut out for short relief. We'll have to wait and see what happens. Like Dallas Green has been saying, anything Brusstar does will be a plus. He threw 10 minutes yesterday and we'll have to see if he stiffened up. Rawly Eastwick was experimenting on the split-finger fastball last season. I dont want him to be overly reliant on it. He's working on a changeup so he has something off-speed.


"But I've told Rawly that he's got to get with the program. I've been as honest with him as I can possibly be and at the end, you can't say I didn't tell you so. (Translation: Eastwick is on the high wire with no balancing pole right now.) I told them all, 'Gentlemen, there might be some spots open and I expect you to give 100 percent. We're gonna take nine or 10 pitchers and some of you aren't gonna pitch in the big leagues this year.'"


Starrette's conclusions with more than a month left in spring training?


"If everybody stays healthy I think we can have as good a pitching staff as anybody in our league," he said. That's how it always looks in early March, when every half-fastball thrown in batting practice looks like strike three.