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BASEBALL PLUS

Into Thin Air

Baseball: Bohanon has no regrets about signing with Rockies despite having to pitch in Coors Field.

July 06, 1999|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brian Bohanon's earned-run average of 6.31 is too ghastly to even sneak a peak at, so he doesn't bother. But Bohanon, the 30-year-old left-hander who signed a three-year $9-million deal with the Colorado Rockies in the off-season, has no problem looking at his victory total.

His nine wins are equal to that of Kevin Brown, the $105-million man, and seven higher than that of Carlos Perez, whom the Dodgers signed over Bohanon.

"You can't worry about your ERA here, because it's going to be inflated," said Bohanon, who is 9-6 and will start Thursday against the Dodgers at Coors Field. "The one thing you can worry about is the wins. As long as you're winning, I don't think anything else matters."

Bohanon didn't always have to rationalize his ERA, which is the third-highest of all National League starters. Last year, his ERA was 2.40 in 14 starts with the Dodgers and 2.67 overall in 151 2/3 innings with the Mets and Dodgers. But last season--easily the best of his six-year career--Bohanon pitched many of his games in Shea Stadium and Dodger Stadium.

Before signing with the Rockies, Bohanon had only pitched two innings in the high altitudes of hitter-friendly Coors Field. All he had to go on was word of mouth and plenty of scary statistics.

"I did some research and I talked to a few people," Bohanon said.

And?

"They all thought I was nuts, because they know how difficult it is to pitch here," he said.

Bohanon was taking a gamble, but so was Colorado General Manager Bob Gebhard. He gave Bohanon, who had pitched with five teams and compiled a 25-30 record, a $9-million deal after only one good season.

"He pitched well against us and he pitched well at the end of the season," Gebhard said. There were similar offers from San Francisco and Cincinnati, and several American League clubs. Bohanon said the Dodgers showed mild interest.

"Theirs was the third or fourth best offer," he said. "I had to do what I needed to do for my family. Los Angeles was great to me while I was there. They gave me the chance and I made the most of it. I felt like I could win a lot of games here. I felt this team had a chance to win. So far, we're not playing up to our capabilities."

But then, neither are the Dodgers. Colorado is 37-43, and two games ahead of the last-place Dodgers. Bohanon won his first five decisions. But lately, he has not pitched up to his capabilities--losing six of his last 10 decisions.

"I haven't thrown the ball as well as I did last year," he said. "A lot of it has to do with Coors Field. I knew it was going to be difficult, but I didn't know it was going to be this hard."

Bohanon's ERA at Coors Field is more than 9.00. On a sweltering July 4 in Denver, Bohanon gave up six runs, 10 hits and two homers in an 11-0 loss to San Diego. The day before that start, Bohanon didn't sound overly excited about taking the mound. He had just witnessed a 12-10 slugfest that included eight home runs.

"The altitude does strange things," Bohanon said, "Like today, everyone said it felt like you were trying to throw a cue ball. You've got balls going out left and right. You just have to learn to battle. It's like war out there."

The more Bohanon talked about pitching in Coors Field, the more he sounded as if he had been ambushed one too many times.

"I wanted the challenge of pitching here, but this has got to be the toughest park in the world to pitch in," he said.

Bohanon throws a cut fastball in the mid-80s, a straight changeup and a curveball. But at Coors Field, he's basically down to a fastball and change-up.

"The curve doesn't break as much here because of the thin air," he said. "And it's so dry, it's hard to feel the ball."

Bohanon also hasn't had much feel for the strike zone. He has 56 walks and 56 strikeouts in 102 innings.

Not good.

"If you throw strikes, you have a chance to win here," Gebhard said. "We're going to score some runs."

That has often been the case when Bohanon starts in Coors Field. In all but one of his eight starts in Denver, he has given up at least five runs and eight hits. Yet, he is 4-2 at home because of some generous support.

But after Sunday's game, Bohanon was willing to try another approach to winning at Coors Field--move the outfielders in.

"I'm seeing a lot of [cut fastballs] I throw going just over [shortstop] Neifi Perez's head," Bohanon told Colorado reporters. "We might bring [left fielder] Dante Bichette in a little bit. I'm still learning how this field is, and it's kind of trial and error now. But usually if a ball goes over an outfielder's head, it's going to be a home run."

The two homers Bohanon gave up Sunday were the 13th and 14th he has allowed at Coors Field. Still, Bohanon said he has no regrets.

"I'm very happy with my decision to come here," he said. "I still think this team has the capability of putting together big streaks and playing good ball. But all of that relies on starting pitching."

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