Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver hurried his pitching staff back to spring training today.
Upset after four bases were stolen on his pitchers Monday night, he gathered the staff around first base for a demonstration on holding runners, four hours before the second game of a three-game series with last-place Cleveland. In tonight's game, the Indians were unsuccessful in their only attempt to steal a base
"It was time for a review," Weaver said. The Orioles pitching staff, which has three former 20-game winners, has struggled this year, with the staff ERA up to 4.52. But it was another number -- 78 percent of opponents' stolen-base attempts have succeeded -- that inspired today's refresher course.
Two of the steals Monday night led to runs in the Orioles' 8-5 loss.
In today's drill, with coach Cal Ripken Sr. pitching and Rick Dempsey catching, the pitchers took turns playing base runner. They would take a huge lead, then run when Ripken released the ball. Dempsey easily threw them out every time. The point, made emphatically, is that it should be a lot harder for a runner to steal.
"We have to try to hold the runner closer to the base," said Dennis Martinez, one of three starters whose ERA is over 5.00. "We've been giving (the stolen base) away. We don't keep the double play in order, and it moves guys up into scoring position."
With all their troubles, pitchers have concentrated so hard on the batter that the runner has been somewhat neglected.
"You try to get the batter out," Martinez said. "But we've been so bad we were pushing too hard on ourselves to try to do better . . . Somebody gets on base and you say, 'Oh, no,' and go to the next guy to try and get him. But you forget the guy on first base and he goes."
Scott McGregor (5.00), who allowed an unchallenged steal before being relieved in the first inning Monday, said, "It's just like any other job. If you have three kids and one gets sick, you concentrate on the sick one."
"What their words were for two weeks were that they were going to concentrate on the hitters," Weaver said. "But we're not getting them out, either. We've got nothing to lose at this point."