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Baseball '90 PREVIEW : Parrish's Inside Job Gives Pitchers Focus : Resurgence: Catcher helped turn around staff last season. Change of scenery also aided his hitting.

April 09, 1990|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

No one wants to talk about it, so the question remains unanswered: Just how valuable was the inside information Lance Parrish brought to the Angels last season?

Quite a ruckus surrounded the debate last year. Was Parrish, the Angels' Mr. Inside who insisted pitchers work the ball in on hitters, a pivotal factor in the resurgence of the Angel staff? Did Bob Boone, the former Angel catcher who fled to Kansas City when Parrish showed up in Anaheim, have an outside chance of defending himself?

It's a touchy subject. Most Angel pitchers tiptoe around the fringes of the controversy, much the same way they try to paint the black edges of home plate with their pitches. Some would rather throw a belt-high fastball down the middle to Jose Canseco than give a straight answer on this one.

"I don't want to make any comparisons to anyone else," Kirk McCaskill said, "but Lance is a skilled catcher, a very aggressive catcher, and it's a pleasure to throw to him."

There are, however, certain Angel pitchers who aren't so concerned with diplomacy. Reliever Greg Minton, for one, is more likely to say whatever is on his mind.

"Lance came in at the right time," Minton said. "(Pitching coach Marcel Lachemann) has been trying to get people to go in there ever since I came here, but previous catchers just weren't that type of catchers. Now, the pitching coach and the catcher are both in line.

"Personally, I like to throw to a catcher's chest. Bob wanted you to pick out a kneecap on his shin guard and throw to that. With Lance, you've got 235 pounds of huge human and half of that huge chest is sitting halfway behind the hitter.

"He just puts one finger down, scoots that big body in there and it's a lot easier to get inside that way."

There were, of course, a number of factors that contributed to the Angel staff's incredible one-point drop in earned-run average--4.32 in 1988 to 3.28 in '89--in just one season, including the additions of Bert Blyleven and Jim Abbott, the maturation of Chuck Finley and the health of McCaskill.

Obviously, it would be unfair to single out any one individual as being the key player. So just how much of the credit should go to Parrish?

"I don't want any credit," he said, "and I don't want to make a big deal about it. The pitchers are the ones that made it work and then stuck with it."

Parrish will admit, however, that he calls an aggressive game, refusing to allow hitters free reign. You don't want to be leaning out over the plate a lot if the pitcher is throwing to Parrish's target.

"I've never met a pitching coach who doesn't believe you have to pitch inside to be successful," he said. "Even if you don't come inside with strikes, you have to establish the inside so you can work the outside part of the plate. And these guys understood the necessity of it. To set up the rest of your pitches, you just have to do it.

"We worked at it last spring and once they saw that the approach could be successful for them, they had no problem letting me lead a bit more. It worked initially, they were willing to accept my pitch selection, and that set the tone for the season."

Parrish is quick to point out, however, that none of this is an indictment of Boone. Asking for inside pitches is one thing, getting them is quite another. Parrish knows. He spent two frustrating seasons (1987, '88) in Philadelphia where his philosophies fell on deaf ears, not mention some dead arms.

"Last year was a great year for me from a confidence standpoint," Parrish said. "The two years in Philadelphia were demoralizing in terms of what I could contribute to the pitching staff as a catcher. We went nowhere. I basically tried to instill the same ideas that I did here, it's just that these guys were more receptive.

"That's why everyone here is trying to walk a fine line. No one wants to discredit Bob Boone or anything that he's ever done. He's a tremendous catcher and who's to say he didn't try to do the same things and it didn't work. As a catcher, sometimes you try to establish something, but the staff doesn't feel comfortable with it. Then you've got to go to Plan B."

The Angels were so ecstatic with the way Plan A was working out last year, anything Parrish did with the bat was almost gravy. When he had 13 home runs and 43 RBIs by the end of July, General Manager Mike Port must have felt like he'd made the deal of the century when he picked up the six-time All-Star for what appeared to be a very cost-efficient $1.2 million for the 1989 season.

In July, Parrish hit .325 with six homers and 16 RBI.

On Aug. 5, however, the banner year came crashing down when Milwaukee's Glenn Braggs came barreling around third and Parrish, predictably, stood his ground at home plate.

"Braggs hit him on the dead run," Minton said, wincing. "And I mean that guy is chiseled pretty good. Braggs is built the way I am in my dreams. Lance said he was fine, but the next day, he had four or five big purple spots on his body."

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