Philadelphia Inquirer - March 7, 1980

Falling Star


Injuries that bloom in spring strike Phillies’ Phenom


By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer


CLEARWATER, Fla. – One of the ground rules of every spring training is, you can't start until you've looked around and anointed some kid prospect as Designated Phenom.


This really isn't all that hard. You've just got to search for somebody 25 or under who once hit .397 in the New York-Penn League or something. And if his face wouldn't look bad on the cover of Sports Illustrated, so much the better.


Like most teams, the Phillies have never lacked for Designated Phenoms. Unlike most teams, a lot more Phillies Phenoms seem to wind up in a cast or in a hospital than in Philadelphia.


Last year's Phenom was Jim Wright, a promising pitcher who gave new meaning to the term "breaking ball" last spring when he tried to throw a pitch and ended up breaking his arm.


This spring, Wright is still recuperating. So his place as Phenom was assigned to another young pitcher, Marty Bystrom.


Bystrom came right out of the Phenom section of the Sears catalog – 21 years old, 6 feet, 5 inches tall, big-league slider, two different kinds of scorching fastball, former strikeout leader in the Carolina League. (All Phenoms are required to lead the Carolina League in something.)


Nobody ever told Bystrom this winter that he had been elected to Phillies Phenom-hood, but nobody had to. He finished ninth in the American Association in earned-run average last season (4.08 in a hitters' league), and since none of the other eight guys could be found on the Phils' 40-man roster, Bystrom knew all he had to know.


"I've been looking forward to this all winter," Bystrom said yesterday. "Coming in here, I was thinking that if I had a good spring I had a chance to stay with the club. Dallas (Green) told me I had an outside chance, but I was definitely going to be ready to show him what I had.


"Except now," said Marty Bystrom, "I don't know what to think."


It's hard, you see, to show off your fastball when you're standing on crutches. And as Marty Bystrom talked yesterday, that's exactly where he was standing.


Last Thursday, he strolled out of his home in Miami to go through the same running program he'd been using all winter. He came back with a pulled right hamstring.


Bystrom didn't regard it as all that serious – until Wednesday. On Wednesday, he was walking down a clubhouse hallway after having his team picture taken when he slipped and aggravated the same injury. Now it will be at least three weeks before he can even run again.


By then he will be starting all over. And he will likely be doing it for Oklahoma City.


"It's one of those things where you've just got to wait and get through it," Bystrom said. "The hardest part is, I've never been injured before. This is the first time ever. Three years in the minors, and I never missed a start."


That is, in fact, one of the things the Phillies liked most about him. Not only is he built like the PSFS Building, but he's durable. He has led every pro league he has played in in either games, starts or innings pitched.


Yesterday morning, Howie Bedell, the Phillies' farm director, pulled out his 1979 stat sheet and pointed at a number under Bystrom's name.


"A hundred and seventy-two innings," Bedell said. "That's the thing you look for."


It means Bystrom lasted nearly seven innings per start last season. And that's an indication not only of durability, but also that nobody was exactly pummeling the guy, either.


"He had a typical adjustment year that any kid would have who jumped from A-ball to Triple-A," said Phils coach Lee Elia, who managed Bystrom. at Oklahoma City last year. "About halfway through the year he found out what he had to do, and from that point on he was probably one of the top four pitchers in the league."


He may have been ready for Philadelphia right now. He may not have been. Bedell believes Bystrom "is on the threshold." But at the same time, maybe another trip through Triple-A wouldn't be all bad.


"There are certain things he can work on now," Bedell said. "Marty's a very anxious individual. He's very much interested in becoming a big-league pitcher. I think he will, too. Now it's just going to take a little more time."


Meanwhile, the Phils will just have to go back to searching for a new spring Phenom. Hey, whatever happened to Tony Curry, anyway?


NOTES: No big trade talk from the Phillies' end. But the day's hot rumor had Houston sending Cesar Cedeno to the Dodgers for Ron Cey, providing Cey can be convinced to waive his no-trade clause.