Philadelphia Inquirer - March 24, 1980
Lerch tried throwing Cards a curve
Phillies fall, but… well… those are the breaks
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Here is today's off-the-wall baseball quiz. The number. 8.18, represents:
(1) The average crowd at Oakland A's games last year; (2) the latest innovative Bill Giles starting time for Thursday night games in August; or (3) Dallas Green's career-earned-run average?
Sorry, folks, it's none of them. What the number, 8.18, actually represents is the spring ERA of one Randy Louis Lerch.
Now that 8.18 may look gruesome alongside all those 1.29s and 0.82s that other Phillies pitchers have been compiling. But let us recall baseball maxim No. 1,886 – to wit, spring training statistics should be taken approximately as seriously as Mel Brooks movies.
True, Lerch did get hammered yesterday (four innings, seven hits, five runs, two walks, three strikeouts) in the Cardinals' 6-1 victory over the Phillies. And maybe a couple of years ago, that would have been significant.
But that's because a couple of years ago, Lerch had to go out and look like Warren Spahn every spring training. If he didn't, there was always the chance he'd find himself in the off-off-Broadway cast of "Oklahoma" – uh, City, that is.
"But after you establish yourself, you're able to work on things," Lerch said. "That's something I was never able to do before."
This spring, Lerch came to camp and analyzed what he ought to be working on. Nobody ever accused him of not throwing hard enough. And control was the least of his problems last year.
But what Lerch would like to be is the total pitcher his friend and mentor, Steve Carlton, is. So thus began the Randy Lerch campaign entitled, "One Pitch Is Not Enough."
"I want to throw half breaking balls down here," Lerch said. "And I want to throw them in situations where I wouldn't normally. I figure if I can gain a lot of confidence in it now, I can walk into the season and feel good about it."
So Lerch went out yesterday and threw one breaking ball after another. Not many went where he wanted them, though. Hence, there were all kinds of deep counts and line shots by guys waiting for the inevitable 3-and-1 fastball.
Two walks set up St. Louis' three-run second inning. But Lerch might have gotten out of a two-run third scoreless. He had Tony Scott picked off first, but Scott beat Pete Rose's high throw to second. Then Greg Gross seemed to have Bobby Bonds thrown out at the plate on Roger Freed's single to left. But Bonds hooked around Keith Moreland's tag.
"Basically, I felt pretty good, although I got up with a lot of pitches," Lerch said. "I still feel like my rhythm's screwed up. One time I'll throw the ball where I want it, the next time I'll try and do the same thing, and my release point isn't right where it should be.
"The thing I feel good about, though, is that at least I'm not hanging the breaking ball. Usually, I'll hang one out of two this early. But I can't remember hanging three balls all spring, even though I can't get them over."
Then Lerch looked up quizzically. "Why, nobody's worried about me, are they?"
The answer to that one is a firm "negative." But Dallas Green simply thinks Lerch could win a lot of games with the power stuff he's relied on in the past.
"He's got it in his mind that he has to become a complete pitcher," Green said. "But I'm not concerned – as he is – that he needs the outstanding breaking ball. Of course, he's got to get it over the plate. Otherwise, he becomes a one-pitch pitcher.
"But," added Green, with an it's-only-spring-training tone, "I'm not worried about Randy Lerch."
There are other people around who can't go about their springs quite as leisurely as Lerch. A few guys still have to work to make this team, and it became a bit easier to define who they are yesterday, when the Phils cut their roster for the first time.
Six of the 10 players cut were pitchers – Jim Wright, Marty Bystrom, Dan Larson, Bob Walk, Jose Martinez and Carlos Arroyo. The other four were infielders Ramon Aviles and Jay Loviglio, catcher Ozzie Virgil Jr. and outfielder Orlando Isales.
None were really surprises, although both Walk and Arroyo had looked good. But neither was ready yet, and Green said "I just don't have enough innings" to pitch them from here in.
Bystrom had a severe hamstring pull and never had a chance to show why he was regarded as the organization's top pitching prospect. Green said he sent him out now because "I don't want him to put pressure on himself to come back. I just want him to work it out, arm-wise." He used the same reasoning on Wright.
NOTES: Still remaining among the rookies are pitcher Scott Munninghoff (1.29 ERA), infielder Luis Aguayo (who doubled yesterday, scored the Phils' only run and made an excellent play in the hole at shortstop) and outfielder George Vukovich (hitting.353). Aguayo has the best shot.... Green said Nino Espinosa may pitch an inning tomorrow in a B game against the Mets.... Bobby Bonds is 9 for-18,.500, 7 RBI for St. Louis this spring.... Phils are off today, host Baltimore tomorrow.