Wilmington Evening Journal - March 27, 1980

Doug Bird is hoping to make his presence felt with Phillies


By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor


CLEARWATER, FLA. – In six seasons with the Kansas City Royals, Doug Bird recorded a club-record 58 saves.


Last year with the Phillies, Bird... was Doug Bird with the Phillies last year?


"People had to wonder," the bespectacled, mustachioed relief pitcher said. "There were weeks at a time when I didn't get close to the mound."


The Phils landed Bird three days before spring training ended last year with hopes he could fill middle-reliever Warren Brusstar's shoes. It didn't work.


Now, the recently turned 30-year-older is walking a tight rope as far as his career with the Phillies is concerned. Despite the fine years he had with the Royals, his future is in doubt.


"I don't know what they're going to do with me," he said the other day. "I want to sUy here. This could be a great pitching staff, given some luck with injuries."


Bird, thanks to his glory years with the Royals, is highly paid. If he is ineffective, the Phils might be willing to peddle him to some other team. If Larry Christenson and Nino Espinosa weren't suffering from injuries, it's likely Bird would not be here now.


People close to Doug at Kansas City felt a change in scenery would help him. His career had gone sour with the Royals, but everyone insisted he could still pitch.


Last year, however, he gave up seven homers in 61 innings, had a 5.16 earned run average and did not have a single save in 31 relief appearances.


"It was a tough year from the very beginning " said Bird, who makes his home at Fort Myers. "I came right before the season began. It wasn't just a new team, it was also a new league. I had to win everybody's confidence from the beginning.


"Pitching for Danny Ozark was difficult. He didn't know me and didn't pitch me very much. I work with a fastball, a slider and a palm ball. To throw the slider and palm ball, I have to pitch frequently. I never got any kind of rhythm."


Ozark was fired last Aug. 31 in Atlanta, a day when Bird was listed as the starting pitcher because of injuries to regular starters.


"That day was typical of my season, Bird said. "I went to the ball park and the first thing I heard was that Danny was fired. I wondered if Dallas Green would still start me."


Bird did start and was the winning pitcher in a rain-shortened game.


“I GUESS LEARNING the National League was one of my big problems," said Bird. "I couldn't throw high like I did in the American League. If I had done that, the umpires would have called the pitches balls. I'd get behind, then have to come in with my fastball down the middle. There were times when I would warm up every night, but not get in a game. Later, I hurt my shoulder and had to go on the disabled list."


When Bird first came to the Phils, his friends said his off-the-field problems of the year before pulled him down. He was going through a. divorce, but in October of 1978 married Chris Brooks of Fort Myers and seemed happy and settled.


"I was in excellent shape when the season started last year," he said. "My arm felt good and I was ready. I think one of the most difficult things for me in 1978 was relieving and spot starting. It is difficult to get yourself ready for games not knowing which you are going to be doing. When you are basically a reliever, it is hard to adjust to starting.


"As I look back, I was not unhappy with the Royals, but I think a change of scenery was good for me. I just think a lot of things went sour for me last year."


Green says Bird, who took off over 10 pounds during the off-season, is pitching better this spring than he did last September.


Green, however, refuses to predict what role, if any, the right-hander will perform for the Phils in 1980.


But with the Phils' pitching staff the obvious question mark for this season, if Bird could return to his form, Paul Owens, player personnel director, won't feel so bad about the decision to trade infielder Todd Cruz to the Royals for him.


"I know I can still pitch," Bird sail "I know I have to prove that to the Phillies. At this point, I know I have do something."


Something big.

Ruthven so-so in Phils’ victory


By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor


CLEARWATER, Fla. – Dick Ruthven was the winner in the Phillies' 9-8 victory over the New York Mets yesterday, despite so-so pitching. He yielded five runs on eight hits in four innings.


However, it is too early for Dallas Green to be concerned about Ruth-ven's performance. The Phillies' manager would have been happier had the right-handed ace of the staff done better. He frequently fell behind in the count, but on two occasions better fielding by Greg Luzinski and Del Unser would have gotten him out of jams.


Ruthven walked two and struck out only one in the game at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg. In three outings he has allowed 18 hits and 10 runs and has an 8.18 ERA.


"Rufus had some trouble with his control today," said Green. "He was not real sharp. You expect those things at this stage of the spring."


On the other hand, Mike Schmidt continued his solid hitting. The red-haired third baseman blasted two homers and drove in six runs. In seven Grapefruit League games, he has hit .529 with four homers and 11 RBI.


One of the reasons Schmidt has been swinging so well this spring is because he feels stronger.


"I gained 12 pounds over the winter," he said. "I think at least eight of them came from weightlifting. I'm trying to get a little stronger so that maybe as many as 15 of those fly balls to the warning track make it over the fence. You never hit those just-miss balls well, so I figure with more strength I've got a chance to hit 'em out with sheer strength. What I'm talking about are the long fly balls that are caught."


But even with all those home runs and hits, Schmidt says nothing will help the Phils unless the pitching comes through.


"The science of pitching is the dominant force in the game," he said. "You just watch the standings. The team that has the best earned-run average at the end of the season will be in first place. All the teams that were successful last year were among the leaders in that department."


In 1979, the Phillies and their opponents each averaged .266 at the plate, but the ERA was 4.16 compared to the opposition's 3.80.


Schmidt likes the way Green is handling the club in spring training.


"When you have a year like we had in 1979, you have to return to fundamentals," Schmidt said. "I know that is Dallas Green's approach and it is mine, too.


"We all made a lot of fundamental mistakes last year. I think the preparation this year has been excellent. Dallas is good for this club because he is stressing fundamentals.


"It's good to go back to the beginning and make improvements in the little areas because when you look back over the season, they no longer seem so little. It could mean a five-game difference just because a guy gets home from second on a single a few more times because he got a good jump. Dallas is teaching us the fundamental means to a successful end."