SEATTLE -- Has he discovered a new attitude? A new pitch? A new delivery? The mystery surrounding Scott Erickson's overpowering start continues to grow with every appearance.
The same pitcher who endured a fitful 1996 (13-12, 5.02 ERA, 262 hits), has transformed into a model of efficiency during a 7-1 run that left him temporarily tied with Jimmy Key and Toronto's Roger Clemens as the major leagues' winningest pitcher. Key earned his eighth win last night.
After defeating the Seattle Mariners, 6-3, on Friday, Erickson denied any new weapons have been added to his arsenal. However, various factions of the clubhouse indicated Erickson is, indeed, working with more than last season.
Pitching coach Ray Miller says Erickson, who previously relied on a sinker and slider, has expanded his repertoire by two pitches. What Erickson once used as a slider has been refined into a curveball since he become proficient at a sharper, late-breaking pitch he now uses as a slider. Working off his slider, Erickson also comes with a change-up. Consistent arm action has given him early success with the pitch.
Catcher Lenny Webster mentioned Erickson's use of a cutter, a pitch that remains on the same plane but breaks abruptly from a right-handed hitter.
Manager Davey Johnson weighed in with the theory that improved arm position and concentration have allowed Erickson greater control.
"He seems a little more focused on things now," Johnson said. "He's not as bothered by things that happen around him. Nothing seems to faze him. He's got more focus on one task."
The combination has left hitters defensive against Erickson. He leads the AL in ground ball/fly ball ratio and has walked only 15 in 57 2/3 innings. Erickson also has allowed only 0.76 hits per inning, compared to last year's distasteful 1.18 ratio.
Johnson reiterated his disappointment at having to lift Erickson from Friday's ninth inning after second baseman Roberto Alomar botched a relay from Cal Ripken on a potential double-play ball. Calling it a "tough hook," Johnson added, "When things start going against you at that point, it's time to make a change."
Randy Myers pitched the last inning but allowed two inherited runners to score on Jay Buhner's two-out double.
The runs were unearned.
Walton: no progress
Johnson admitted yesterday the prognosis for outfielder Jerome Walton's return has not improved since his flexibility work began last Monday in Birmingham, Ala., under the supervision of Dr. William Clancy.
With only eight days remaining in his prescribed regimen, Walton has yet to overcome the calcified scar tissue near his groin remaining from off-season surgery.
"They're trying a lot of things but he's not getting better at all from what I've heard," Johnson said. "I think they're doing all they can. I don't see additional surgery being performed."
The club will likely make a decision on Walton around the end of the month based on his progress.
But unless the outfielder is able to again run freely, the club can't envision a role for him.
Mills looking up
Reliever Alan Mills continues to make slow but steady progress in his recovery from nerve damage in his left shoulder. Mills has twice thrown from a mound while wearing his glove, an important step for someone who recently reported little strength in his left arm.
"It's getting better, a little anyway," said Mills, who is adhering to a strict running regimen to remain in shape.
Mills hasn't pitched since April 9 and must wait on the damaged nerve to regenerate, a process that could take months.
"Sometimes it feels better and sometimes it feels like there's nothing there," he said.
Cal Ripken will field questions about his efforts to promote literacy through Baltimore Reads organization and sign copies of his book "The Only Way I Know" starting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Costco Wholesale, 9919 Pulaski Highway.
Brooks Robinson, Chuck Thompson, John Steadman, Vince Bagli and Tony Pann are among the local celebrities teeing off Friday at Rocky Point Golf Course, 1935 Back River Neck Road in Essex, at the Third Annual BARC Celebrity Golf Tournament.
All proceeds benefit the Baltimore Association for Retarded Citizens.
Around the horn
How tough is it going for Chris Hoiles? He leads the AL in being hit by pitches (seven), partially because of his standing closer to the plate than a year ago. Still, a player's stance typically doesn't get him in trouble during batting practice. It did yesterday against batting practice pitcher and first base coach John Stearns. Stearns plunked Hoiles on the left shoulder, drawing a stern look from the catcher and a round of ribbing from his teammates. Brady Anderson said he emerged unscathed after suffering back-to-back shots during Friday's ninth inning. Anderson collided with left fielder B. J. Surhoff when Surhoff caught Edgar Martinez's fly in left-center. Anderson called for the ball but was not heard by Surhoff. On the next batter, Anderson crashed feet-first into the center-field padding on Jay Buhner's double. Ripken needs only 10 total bases to eclipse Brooks Robinson's franchise total base record. Ripken has 4,261 total bases.
Pub Date: 5/18/97