Wilmington Evening Journal - March 10, 1980

Ruthven returns in complete form


By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor


CLEARWATER, FLA. – Last May 9 in San Diego Dick Ruthven blew away the Padres. Shut them out 2-0 on just one hit, a seventh-inning double by Dan Briggs.


That night Ruthven bad the world, if not National League batters, in the palm of his hand. The victory gave the righthander a 6-0 record, a 1.64 earned-run average and paved the way for a 10-4 trip that would put the Phillies atop the Eastern Division by four games.


That was May 9.


Little did Ruthven know that game would be the highlight of the 1979 season. Most everything after that would be uphill, a tough-to-take disappointment after such a brilliant beginning.


On Aug. 21 he was placed on the disabled list for the second time and surgery to remove bone chips around his elbow was performed in September.


"They took out 10 chips," Ruthven said the other day before impressing the entire Phillies camp with his pitching during batting practice. "If everybody who was hurt last year feels as good as I do, we'll be OK."


It was just about a year ago under the hot Clearwater sun that Ruthven's problems started. He pitched in batting practice one day and his right elbow swelled twice its normal size. Eventually the swelling went down and by the time the season started, Ruthven was pitching as well as he did after rejoining the Phils from Atlanta the previous June.


But in the back of his mind he knew that the elbow might "blow" at any time.


He won only once after May 9, a 5-3 decision over Chicago on June 6. After returning from the 21-day disabled list on July 25, he pitched four times, had one loss and three no-decisions. His overall record was 7-5 with a 4.28 ERA.


“The bone chips were the beginning," said Ruthven. "That problem was followed by a hip problem that was followed by some kind of a back problem."


The tenderness in his back actually ended his season. The more he pitched, the more painful it became.


"The day after I would pitch I would hurt all over," Ruthven said. "I have to think I was trying to adjust to the elbow problem and started using muscles I have never used before. I was trying to pitch through my problems. On Aug. 8, 1 started against Montreal, went six innings. The next day I told them howl felt.


"I said, 'If you want the three weeks, I'll give them to you.' I figured they were paying me too much money to say I won't pitch."


THAT, OF COURSE, was the last time Ruthven would pitch in 1979. "I couldn't enjoy pitching," he remembered. "It wasn't me out there. It was a cheap imitation most of the season. It was just so disappointing to have my elbow flare up because of the way I started. All the goals that I had were extremely reachable. So, I was frustrated."


The week before spring training opened last year, Ruthven signed a five-year, $1.5 million guaranteed contract


"There was a time, when I felt I let the team down," he said. "Especially after signing that contract."


Now, Ruthven, who will turn 29 on March 27, feels the experience made him a better pitcher, if not a better person.


"Frankly, I am surprised at how well I feel right now," he said. "It's imperative for the Phillies to get the people back who were hurt last year and I'm happy to say I'll be fine. I am lucky.


“Like I said, they took 10 pieces of bone from around the elbow joint, not actually in it. It (surgery) has relieved a lot ot the discomfort when I swing a bat or when I throw a breaking ball. And after I throw I do not get the inflammation that made it very hard for me to come back with four days rest last year."


Last September was the second time Ruthven has had surgery to remove bone chips.


THE REHABILITATION has been the same this time, but I had the experience of the other one under my belt and I knew what to expect and how to go about getting it back in shape. I think I am able to handle it a lot better and come back a lot faster."


Ruthven insists the elbow did not bother him when he vaulted out to his 6-0 record.


"It started bothering me after I went out three times following rain delays against Montreal (May 18, his first loss of the year). After that, everytime I would pitch it would take longer than I had to recover. So, it seemed like I was never fully recovered from the last time out when I would go out again.


"As a result Boonie (catcher Bob Boone) and I to change the style and strategy we were using as far as pitches are concerned. It was a tough adjustment. Then, I ended up pulling something in my ribs that finally ended the season for me.


"As a whole it can be taken as a positive experience because I learned quite a bit from having to adjust to pitching without my best stuff. I am confident my best will be back. Now, I have under my belt a couple of pitches that I learned to throw last year. I felt like Thomas Edison out there at times, trying to invent some pitch to get the batters out. I'm not saying I will use them, but I have more variety."


But, Ruthven added, if he is feeling as well as he thinks he is, the blazing fastball, mixed in with his off-speed pitches will be more than enough to handle the National League hammers.