Relief pitchers trade places; the case for Hrbek; Rose scouts too

The recent trade of relief pitchers that sent Kent Tekulve from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia for Al Holland probably wouldn't have been made two years ago. Tekulve was at that time coming off a season in which he had 18 saves, plus a minuscule 1.64 earned-run average. Meanwhile Holland's figures with Philadelphia had been equally impressive, including a total of 25 saves and a strikeout-walk ratio vs. opponents of better than two to one in Al's favor.

While it was fun to say that Tekulve's body would fit in a rifle barrel, the right arm attached to it was 100 percent big league. So was his sinkerball, which in the 1979 World Series had accounted for three saves for the winning Pirates against the hard-hitting Baltimore Orioles.

The left-handed Holland, as wide as Tekulve was thin, specialized in challenging hitters by throwing strikes that almost always seemed to have a tail on them.

Tekulve and Holland were traded not because they can't still get the good hitters out most of the time in the clutch, but because a team's needs often change. Pittsburgh, convinced that it required a top left-hander for its bullpen, saw Holland as the answer. Philadelphia, meanwhile, realized that Holland was going to become a free agent next season and didn't want to pay Al's asking price, which is probably going to be around $1 million. Instead, the Phillies will rely on Tekulve, who is signed through 1987.

Looking back at 1984, Manager Billy Gardner of the Minnesota Twins thinks Kent Hrbek (.311 batting average; 27 home runs; 107 RBIs) should have been the American League's Most Valuable Player. Instead, Hrbek finished second in the balloting to pitcher Willie Hernandez of the world champion Detroit Tigers. ``Hernandez was outstanding; he had 32 saves, and you can't pitch much better than that,'' Gardner admitted. ``But consider the circumstances. Detroit was never in trouble all year; it won its division race by 15 games; and there were a lot of times because of the depth of the Tigers' bullpen when Hernandez didn't have to work.

``Besides there is a Cy Young Award for pitchers of his stature, and he won that too. Without Hrbek's consistency I don't know how far back the Twins [second place in the AL West] would have finished, but the man never really had a slump and carried us most of the year.''

Cincinnati Reds' player-manager Pete Rose says he provides a personal service to his hitters that no other major league manager can offer. ``Like everybody else in baseball, we use a radar gun to inform our hitters about how fast the opposing pitcher is throwing in terms of miles per hour,'' Rose explained. ``But because I'm out there hitting against that pitcher myself, I can also tell them just how good his breaking ball is that day, and in which direction it's moving.''

As to where Cincinnati will finish this season, Rose doesn't agree with those who claim the Reds have made only cosmetic changes in a club which was 70-92 last year. ``Assuming we don't have any key injuries, I like to think we have enough team balance to win our division,'' Pete said.

Howard Johnson, the 78th player the New York Mets have used at third base since they became a National League expansion franchise in 1962, says he was not named for the famous restaurateur but for his grandfather. Of the switch-hitting Johnson's 12 home runs last year with the Detroit Tigers, 10 were launched from the left side of the plate. ``Absolutely false!'' exclaims Mickey Morabito, director of publicity for the Oakland A's, to reports that slugger Dave Kingman receives an extra $750 a week in living expenses when the team is traveling. Although Kingman is a big eater and probably does indeed have a closet in his skeleton, Mickey says that so far Dave has had no trouble feeding himself adequately on the $44 a day meal money players receive on road trips.

If a hitter makes it too obvious that his only interest is pulling the ball, he's probably never going to get a pitch in the strike zone. That's what happened to Steve Kemp his last two years in New York, when he hit just three home runs at Yankee Stadium. Now Kemp is with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and while they haven't exactly insisted that Steve become a spray hitter, they have asked him to become more selective at the plate.

The Montreal Expos reportedly will be able to come in from the cold as often as they like by September 1987, when that city's Olympic Stadium should finally have its retractable roof. This is the same covering that was originally to have been fitted in time for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Even though $54 million has already been spent on the stadium roof's partially completed supportive mast, the estimated cost to finish the work projects to at least $71 million.

From Chicago Cubs third-base coach Don Zimmer: ``When I signed to play in the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system in 1949, my contract called for $140 a month. This year on one road trip my meal money for 13 days was $540. Don't tell me baseball hasn't changed!''

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