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PRO BASEBALL / MIKE HISERMAN : Tiger Pitchers Hold Ritchie Promotion in Their Arms

July 11, 1993|MIKE HISERMAN

His allegiance is tested each time he reaches for a newspaper to peruse the box scores. Wally Ritchie hopes for a Detroit Tiger victory but, hey, wouldn't it be great if the score was 14-13?

Ritchie, a former Hoover High and Glendale College standout, is particularly interested in the fate of Tiger pitchers because his future depends on them.

Ritchie, a 6-foot-2, 183-pound left-hander, pitches for the Toledo (Ohio) Mudhens, Detroit's affiliate in the triple-A International League.

"I want Detroit to do well," Ritchie said. "You never want someone not to do well. But at the same time you still want to get an opportunity."

Ritchie, who will turn 28 on Monday, has performed well in middle relief and as a setup man. He has pitched 31 2/3 innings over 42 games and compiled a 1-0 record, two saves and a 2.84 earned-run average.

Opponents are batting a measly .203 against Ritchie, who lately has added a split-fingered pitch to his repertoire.

"I feel like I'm showing what I can do," he said by telephone before a game this week. "If someone gets hurt or they need someone, I just hope I'm the one who gets the call."

Detroit's 4.54 ERA is among the worst in baseball, and in the past three weeks it has ballooned to almost 6.50.

Still, Ritchie does not see a promotion in his immediate future. The Tigers, he is quick to point out, already have four left-handers in their bullpen.

On the bright side, only Bill Krueger has been effective with any consistency.

Krueger is 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA. Tom Bolton is 1-3, 5.36; Bob MacDonald, 3- 2, 4.75, and Buddy Groom, 0-1, 4.56.

Meanwhile, Ritchie is headed for the triple-A all-star game Wednesday in Albuquerque, N.M. "All I can really do is go out and pitch well and wait for my next chance," he said.

Ritchie became a free agent last December after eight years in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. He signed with the Dodgers in January but failed to win a place in the bullpen.

In five games and 5 1/3 innings during the spring, Ritchie allowed seven hits, three walks and four earned runs. He was released March 20, two weeks before the regular season.

Five days later, he was property of the Tigers.

Of his short-lived Dodger career, Ritchie said, "I was disappointed because that's home and I was looking forward to pitching there. I thought it was a good opportunity."

He thought the same thing about Detroit, a club he chose over several others because "it looked like I had a good chance to move up fast."

Ritchie has a lifetime major league record of 6-5 with a 3.14 ERA and four saves in 177 2/3 innings. His best season with the Phillies was 1987 when he appeared in 49 games, all in relief, and had a record of 3-2 and three saves with a 3.75 ERA in 62 1/3 innings.

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Jerry Willard and Jim Vatcher have spent parts of the past few seasons bouncing between triple-A and the big leagues, and they both appear positioned to bounce again if a major league position should become available.

Willard, a catcher and first baseman, is batting .332, tied for second in the International League, and has six home runs and 31 runs batted in for the Richmond (Va.) Braves.

Vatcher, who plays outfield for the Las Vegas Stars, San Diego's affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, is batting .323 with six home runs and 35 RBIs.

Willard, 33, from Oxnard, has played in all or part of 12 minor league campaigns since signing with Philadelphia as a free agent before the 1980 season. That does not include 1988, when he was out of baseball.

Willard, a .289 hitter lifetime in the minors, has earned major-league promotions the past three seasons. He has a .249 lifetime average in the majors in 778 at-bats and an RBI in his only World Series at-bat with the Atlanta Braves in 1991.

Vatcher, 27, a 20th-round draft choice by Philadelphia out of Cal State Northridge is 1987, has batting numbers similar to those of Willard. Vatcher has a .286 lifetime average in the minors, .248 in 109 at-bats over parts of three major league campaigns.

Vatcher also is occasionally used by Las Vegas as a pitcher. He appeared twice on the mound for the Stars in June, allowing seven hits and three earned runs in three innings.

Compared to the rest of the Las Vegas staff, those aren't bad numbers.

In Vatcher's worst outing, June 27 against Calgary, he gave up five hits and two runs in two innings. The Stars' three previous pitchers had allowed 21 runs in seven innings.

In Vatcher's first pitching appearance for Las Vegas two years ago, he earned a victory by pitching three shutout innings, allowing one hit and two walks.

Coincidentally, both Willard and Vatcher have been involved in blockbuster trades during their careers.

Willard was part of the 5-for-1 trade that sent Von Hayes from Cleveland to Philadelphia in 1982. Vatcher was one of two players to be named in a deal that sent Dale Murphy from Atlanta to Philadelphia in 1990.

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