Baseball: La Russa's pitch falls short

IT MUST be hard for Tony La Russa to think that only three years ago his Oakland Athletics were being written up as the new dynasty of baseball.

Though the talk was of the slugging power of Jose Canseco, with his speeding tickets, illegal handguns and public quarrels with his wife Esther, and Rickey Henderson, the base- stealing king with an extra helping of attitude, the manager knew that it was his trio of overpowering starting pitchers, Dave Stewart, Bob Welch and Mike Moore, whose 20-victory seasons had done most to take the club to three consecutive World Series.

What was more, the team's pitching future was in safe hands, with Todd Van Poppel, an 18-year-old fastball phenomenon, signed straight into Oakland's minor-league system on a record dollars 1.2m (pounds 810,000) contract for a high-school graduate.

The dynasty is looking ragged now. Stewart and Moore have moved on, Welch is 7-7 this year and La Russa's recent blooding of Van Poppel has left the young Texan bloodied and bowed. All three of Van Poppel's starts have ended in defeats for the last-place A's, and his earned run average stands at 12.86, the worst in the American League.

With the team showing no sign of closing the gap on the leaders in the AL West, La Russa, who covets his reputation as one of the game's most astute tacticians, last week made the revolutionary move of abolishing his starting rotation. Instead of giving one starter the chance to pitch a whole game, now a detail of three were assigned to the job, with no one allowed to throw more than 50 pitches.

'I think it's our best shot,' La Russa said. 'We'll see what happens.'

Uppermost in the manager's mind was the need to protect Van Poppel, who would now be released from the pressure to secure a win every time he went out to pitch.

Seven days on, one win and six defeats later, the verdict has to be not proven. La Russa himself has refused to comment, but others have questioned the rationale behind the protection of his rookie.

'We're putting too many limits on pitchers, not allowing them to throw enough,' said Leo Mazzone, pitching coach with the Atlanta Braves, who possess perhaps the best rotation in the major leagues.

'When we brought Steve Avery up from the minors, he got burned real bad, going 3-11 in 1990. But our theory was, you're in the major leagues now, you're expected to go out there and perform. And through that adversity Avery developed into one of the best left-handers in the game.

'When coaches say they are protecting pitchers, they are really protecting themselves.'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea