YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Pirate Success Reflects Well for Lamont

May 11, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN

Gene Lamont may be doing it with mirrors, but he is the early leader for manager of the year in the National League. His Pittsburgh Pirates and their major league-low $9-million payroll are 1997's surprise story. They are 19-15 after Friday's 9-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves. Their 16-game trial by fire will continue with series against the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies.

The first seven of those games were on the road, and the Pirates won five. They took two of three in Atlanta and got a two-game sweep in Colorado, where they scored 24 runs and had 31 hits in winning as many games at Coors Field as they had in the two previous years combined.

The biggest surprise of the many Pittsburgh surprises has been the performance of the Pirates' comparatively anonymous rotation, Esteban Loaiza, Jon Lieber, Steve Cooke, Jason Schmidt and Francisco Cordova. Those five were 49-59 before the season but had pitched into the sixth inning in 25 of the first 34 games, and the Pirates were 14-8 when the starter went at least six.

The result is the Pirates are keeping fast company. Pittsburgh's starters had an earned-run average of 2.97 through Thursday, third in the National League behind only the Braves' 2.48 and Dodgers' 2.96. Cordova's shutout Friday gave the Pirates five, only three behind last year's total.

"This is the way we have to win games," Lamont said, referring to his pitching. "We don't overpower people. We have to be opportunistic."

Can the Pirates keep it going? Who knows? There is little in the way of a track record. Loaiza and Cordova's recent credentials, for example, include stints with the Mexico City Reds. Cooke is still coming back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of the '95 season and had him pitching double-A ball last year.

One thing is certain: Everything the Pirates are doing is aimed at the future, and their corps of young players--at both the major and minor league levels--is considered among the game's best.

Lamont may not need the mirrors for long.



Greg Maddux is back at it. The Atlanta ace is 3-1 with a 1.54 ERA, looking for his fifth Cy Young Award in the last six years.

But after averaging 242 innings over the last nine years, it seems apparent the Braves now have Maddux on a pitch count of 80 a game to protect a tender right hamstring.

The Braves won't confirm that, but Maddux has thrown more than 80 pitches only once in his last five starts, has worked past the seventh inning only once and was pulled Wednesday night after Ralph Milliard of the Marlins hit Maddux's 79th pitch for a double in the eighth inning of a game Maddux was winning, 2-1.

The Braves won in extra innings after Mark Wohlers gave up a game-tying hit, but it wasn't long ago that lifting Maddux from a tight game with a low pitch count was unthinkable.

"This is geared to long-term, going-to-the-post stuff," Maddux said of the new policy. "Because if [the hamstring] blows . . . Well, we're doing everything we can. You've got to be careful. Right now it's, 'Push it, but don't push it real hard.' "

Los Angeles Times Articles