Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove may have had th best perspective on Fernando Valenzuela's rain-shortened gem last night, if only because he was warm and dry in the clubhouse, thanks to a third-inning ejection, and didn't have to see firsthand the misery Valenzuela inflicted on his hitters.
"Tough on old hitters? Man, he's tough on young hitters," Hargrove said after Valenzuela blanked the Indians on two hits over eight innings in the Orioles' 7-0 win.
Valenzuela, who allowed only a third-inning single to Felix Fermin and an eighth-inning leadoff double to Glenallen Hill, was otherwise exceptional, striking out six and facing just four batters over the minimum before the game was called in the home half of the eighth.
Catcher Lance Parrish said: "He looked like he was changing speeds real well and hitting his spots real well. It looks like he's got a little more zip on his fastball."
Pitcher Mike Bielecki, a Baltimore native who pitched with the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves, said: "I saw him pitch in the National League and he was commanding the inside corner and the outside corner, just like he used to. He wasn't throwing anything down the middle and he was changing speeds. I think what he did looked like when he was in the middle of Fernandomania."
With two years away from the majors, since his aborted comeback try with the California Angels in 1991, Valenzuela was a mystery to Cleveland.
Hargrove said the book on Valenzuela was to look for a cut fastball, which tails in or out on a hitter.
Valenzuela gave the Indians that look, but he also threw his patented screwball.
Hargrove said: "Fernando is one of the few guys I've seen who will throw a screwball at a left-handed hitter. He'll do it and he's effective. [Seattle left-hander Dave] Fleming gives you a lot of that look, but he doesn't throw the screwball."
Cleveland second baseman Carlos Baerga, a switch-hitter, swung left-handed in the first inning against the left-hander, figuring that Valenzuela wouldn't throw the screwball. He guessed wrong, and the crafty pitcher struck him out. "I wanted to see if I could see the ball better against him, but he struck me out so then I switched around to the right side."
Third baseman Carlos Martinez said: "I used to watch him on TV with the Dodgers. He used to throw a lot of fastballs low and away. Now, he doesn't do that. He mixes his pitches a lot and it's hard to hit a guy who gets all his four pitches to work. . . . He pitched really good."
That's an understatement, but Parrish and Bielecki were as impressed with Valenzuela's will to return as with his pitching.
Parrish said: "I think it's a great story. A lot of people gave up on him. The Dodgers did and he didn't really get that great of an opportunity with the Angels and they let him go. But you have to really admire him and the fact that he stayed with it and went down to Mexico and worked. Evidently, he worked hard enough on those pitches to where he gained pretty good control on just about everything. He's obviously having a lot of success right now and I think it's a great credit to the kind of competitor he is. I admire that."
Bielecki added: "I know he used to pitch inside a lot to set up his screwball. The last time I saw him pitch was when he was with L.A. when he was still dominating the league and he looked the same. I think when he did have problems, it was probably arm strength, but he looked great out there tonight."