One advantage of being a long-time sportswriter in Los Angeles is I’m welcome in locker rooms and press boxes so I can talk to past and present players.
On Sunday, before the Dodgers earned a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox I was discussing pitching with Fernando Valenzuela.
Since he’s one of the greatest Dodger pitchers of all time I thought he could enlighten me on why some outstanding pitchers are struggling this season.
The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw isn’t dominating as he was last season while winning the Cy Young award.. Teammate Chad Billingsley has lost about as many games as he’s won the last four years. Philip Humber of the White Sox pitched a perfect game but has been dreadful since then. The Angels’ Ervin Santana is inconsistent. The Phillies’ Cliff Lee, who would make any list of baseball’s top pitchers, has made 10 starts but has yet to get a win this season.
“If you’re a starting pitcher you’d better have more than one effective pitch,’ said Valenzuela. ‘’At this level, if you’re relying on one pitch inning after inning, game after game, hitters are going to figure you out.”
It’s being said among scouts that Kershaw is relying heavily on his slider this season and Billingsley on his fastball.
“You can’t lose confidence in your secondary pitches,’ said Valenzuela. “You’ve got to trust your stuff.”
Valenzuela arrived from Mexico in 1981 as a new member of the Dodgers. He won his first eight starts and was Rookie of the Year as the Dodgers won the World Series and the Fernandomania craze began.
Valenzuela relied heavily on a screwball but not exclusively as he pitched in the major leagues for 17 year, mostly with the Dodgers.
Today, at 52, he works on the Dodgers’ Spanish-language radio broadcasts with Hall of Famer Jaimie Jarrin.
Fernando has come a long way from his rookie year. He’s most valuable to the Dodgers, with their huge Latino following, on the Spanish language broadcasts. But he speaks English well and could work on the English broadcasts without any problem.
Fernando’s son, Fernando Jr. played in the San Diego Padres’ organization. He’s a first baseman.
It was a festive day at Dodger Stadium Sunday. A sellout crowd celebrating Fathers’ Day, a come-from-behind win, and a pitching duel that could make Valenzuela proud. The first two games of the series against the White Sox were ragged but this one was a gem.