PITTSBURGH — Kent Tekulve used to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates so often, he felt like his arm was going to fall off. Last season, he wished it had.
The 38-year-old sinkerballing right-hander says his premier pitch falls and flutters more effectively when his arm is tired, not when it is strong. In contrast to most pitchers, Tekulve pitches best when his arm feels the worst.
Tekulve, the man the Pirates have called on for a decade to save games, had infrequent save opportunities during the team's last-place 1984 season. He frequently went long stretches without pitching and believes as a result he wasn't as effective when he was on the mound.
"The major problem last year was we didn't have any leads," Tekulve said recently at the Pirates' spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla. "I got into 72 games and that was a low-water mark for me; obviously there just weren't many of 'my situations' last season."
Tekulve hopes to be trotting to the mound more often in 1985 if the Pirates, punchless a year ago, score more runs.
"I think my stuff was as good as it has been, the only problem I had last year was when we left camp and it was 10 days into the season before I pitched and I got messed up rhythm-wise," he said. "Other than that I don't feel like I lost anything at all. Everything felt the same."
Tekulve had a respectable earned run average of 2.66, but his 3-9 record and his 13 saves were the worst figures of his career, other than the strike-shortened 1981 season.
For the first time since he joined the Pirates in 1974, Tekulve also was upset with his apparent lack of a defined role. He was critical of Manager Chuck Tanner for the way the bullpen staff was juggled and questioned why he wasn't used in some late-inning situations.
Tanner experimented with using hard-throwing right-hander Don Robinson in some save situations in which Tekulve would previously have been called upon.
So far this spring, Robinson has been used more in middle-inning roles -- much as Enrique Romo did in the Pirates' 1979 world championship season -- and Tekulve has been saved for the eighth and ninth innings.