Dodgers rely on $5 million bargain
The Dodgers' Randy Wolf has been as consistent as any starting pitcher they've had.
Wolf paying big dividends for Dodgers
Monday, August 24, 2009
If this is indeed the year of the Freeway Series, it also might be the year of the Five Million Dollar Men.
Bobby Abreu is making $5million, for one year, an obvious windfall for everyone west of Goldman Sachs and a major league park, but a bitter horse pill when you're as rich as Abreu. Yet the outfielder has connected the loose ends of the Angels lineup.
Randy Wolf is also making $5 million, for one year, which makes him worth about as much as one of CC Sabathia's feet. Without him the Dodgers rotation would have careened off its axis long ago.
He has started 27 times and gone six innings or more in 24. In his past four starts Wolf is 3-0 and has made it through seven innings every time. He is left-handed, which helps, but he is not tossing Frisbees up there. Wolf has given up an on-base percentage of .284, seventh in the NL and lower than that of Johan Santana and Roy Oswalt.
The velocity is deceptive and so is the story. Wolf was a Dodger before, in '07. He was shut down that season by shoulder problems that turned out to be operable but not structural. Before that he was in and out of rotations because of an elbow problem that required Tommy John surgery.
Wolf, who turned 33 on Saturday, is grateful for health. He patiently corrects those who assume he hasn't maintained it.
“It was one injury,” Wolf said the other day. He's a 5-foot-10 redhead, chatty and inquisitive. He probably has a broadcast booth in his future, or a coaches' room. Think Orel Hershiser with about half the theories.
“It just took three years to get over it,” he said. “It was difficult, going on and off all the disabled list and people wondering if you were durable enough. I was trying to pitch with a clipped wing.”
So when Wolf's shoulder began barking in his first Dodger tour, he initially rebelled. “But there's no way I only throw 84 mph,” he said.
One night he pitched a rehab game at San Bernardino and drove home, with a dull ache and a sharp anxiety. Lying in bed, he reached for the remote control, and knives plunged in.
“I couldn't even pick it up,” he said. “I was a little concerned at that point. I'd had a chance to sign for three years elsewhere but I signed for one year here because it was home (Canoga Park, Pepperdine). But when they went in there they didn't find anything that really needed fixing. They just cleaned some things up. I've been fine ever since.”
As you might have noticed, pitching is weird.
Wolf enjoyed three 200-inning seasons in Philadelphia, and some upper-deck kids formed the “Wolf Pak” and cavorted in unison when he worked. Wolf won 48 games in a four-year stretch. Then, when health returned, he was dragging through a 6-10 season in San Diego last year and got traded to Houston.
One day he was playing catch with reliever Clint Sampson and the light went on, although it was more like a fluorescent light that works gradually.
“I was trying to break down my windup,” he said, “and when I did it slower I was getting better results. I could command the ball again. I thought, hey, this might be something. I put it into games and it worked great.
“It's like golf. It doesn't really matter how fast your backswing is. Your downswing is what matters. But I was maxing out my windup and I didn't have anything left. It's OK to give max effort as long as it's in the right places.”
As Houston charged up the NL Central standings, Wolf was 6-2 in 12 starts. The Dodgers signed him for $3 million less than in 2007.
Now they hope his efficiency and command can infiltrate Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw, the putative No. 1 and 2 starters. Of course, Billingsley is 12-7 and Kershaw 8-7 with a 2.96 ERA.
“Clayton is, what, 21 and Chad 24?” Wolf asked, as he smiled. “They both came right out of high school. They're fine. They've made progress, but when you throw pitches like they do, a lot of them are going to get fouled off. Sometimes you have to pitch to contract and that involves throwing off-speed, which they're leaning. We talk, but I think they're learning a lot on their own.”
Wolf won Friday night and then said he thought the word “ace” was used too often and not very intelligently, since, after all, a deck has only four of them. Playoff series often turn on which pitcher most resembles one. If the Dodgers get there, maybe Wolf deserves Game 1. It's nine innings, like all the others, and nobody asks to examine your holdings.
Whicker, Mark. "Dodgers rely on $5 million bargain." OC Register 24 August 2009.