Sure it's early, but who would have expected the team with the lowest payroll in the majors ($244 million) to have anything to be excited about after even just two weeks of the season? "They're legit," White Sox lefthander David Wells said after being roughed up for five runs, eight hits and two home runs in seven innings of the Twins' 9-4 win last Saturday. "As a pitcher, you have to go out like you're facing the Yankees or the Indians."
"The bullpen is solid, and [Brad] Radke, [Eric] Milton and [Mark] Redman are a good top three for any rotation," says one American League scout. "If they can get someone to hit for power, they can be a dangerous team."
Minnesota has shown that capacity already. It scored at least six runs in seven of its first 10 games, and through Sunday only the Yankees among American League teams had scored more runs. Designated hitter David Ortiz, a 25-year-old with prodigious power but little discipline, was hitting .405 with three homers, 12 RBIs and only five strikeouts in 37 at bats. Shortstop Cristian Guzman already had five triples, more than every other team in the majors. "We believe in ourselves," says left-fielder Jacque Jones.
For a perpetually rebuilding franchise, that may be its most important accomplishment this season.
Armed and Dangerous
Last Thursday, Reds righthander Scott Williamson had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his pitching elbow, which will cost the 1999 National League Rookie of the Year the rest of this season and possibly part of next Williamson's injury—like that of Cubs righthander Kerry Wood two years ago—raises the question of whether some young pitchers, because of their delivery or the way in which they're used, are at high risk of career-threatening damage to their arms. In the past two-plus years Williamson was moved back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, where he carried a heavy load. "I was surprised it took that long for Williamson to get hurt, the way the Reds used him," says Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker.
"Even guys with the best deliveries can have those things happen," says Brewers pitching coach Bob Apodaca, "but pitchers who have violent deliveries put even more stress on joints."
Williamson, 25, certainly falls into the latter category. His delivery makes him what pitching coaches refer to as a "maximum-effort guy," a pitcher who has a violent motion and expends lots of energy forcing the ball to the plate. Williamson's delivery places great strain on his arm, and the Reds have spent a lot of time working with him to develop a more fluid motion. However, completely rebuilding a throwing style is difficult. "There's a fine line between getting a pitcher to take stress off his arm," says Cincinnati pitching coach Don Gullet, "and forcing him to be so uncomfortable that he can't throw strikes."
The stress on Williamson's arm was most likely compounded by his repertoire and work-load. He relied on a split-fingered fastball, a pitch that taxes the elbow and forearm, and he tended to overthrow in an attempt to blow fastballs by hitters. Exclusively a starter as a minor leaguer, Williamson was thrust into the Reds' bullpen as a rookie in 1999 and threw 93? innings-tied for fifth-most among National League relievers—in 62 games. After Williamson began last season in the bullpen, Cincinnati moved him into the rotation in July. He was back in the pen this year after losing his starting spot to rookie righthander Chris Reitsma in spring training. In his second appearance of the season he felt tenderness in his elbow. An MRI revealed the ligament damage.
Such role-switching makes it hard for a pitcher to establish a rhythm to aid recovery between outings. "Often an injury is a one-pitch injury?' says Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, who stresses that he doesn't know the specifics of Williamson's case, "but I would say fatigue could be a factor. Your delivery falls apart when you get fatigued. This would cause a bad throw or a series of bad throws, and one of them could cause you to blow up."