YUMA, Ariz. — Bruce Hurst wasn’t in a talking mood. Seven-run innings can have that effect on a pitcher.
Hurst pitched five innings Sunday afternoon for the Padres against the Milwaukee Brewers. In four of those innings, he held the Brewers scoreless. In one, the first, he gave up seven runs, all earned.
So, Bruce, did you get the ball up a little?
“I don’t know. I guess.”
Did you make any adjustments?
How do you feel about your spring?
“I don’t know how I feel.”
Some pitchers would do a little soul-searching after suffering through Hurst’s first-inning fate. The left-hander faced 11 batters, allowed six hits (including three doubles and a triple) and walked two batters. He accounted for all the Padres’ runs allowed in their 7-3 loss to Milwaukee at Desert Sun Stadium.
But Hurst simply didn’t want to think about his performance, much less analyze it.
“I pitched poorly in the first inning, got going a little after that,” he said. “That’s that. I didn’t change my mechanics. I’m not frustrated. I’m not going to worry about it.”
“I don’t think about where I’m at (in spring),” said Hurst, who turns 34 Tuesday. “I don’t have a little chart and check little check marks as I go. I don’t think that way. I just sit back and I don’t think about it. It’s not that important anyway.”
Having Hurst pitching well in exhibition games may not be important, but it would be comforting for the Padres. A starting rotation seen as a strength during the winter suddenly has become a source of concern.
Ed Whitson is at home in Ohio with orders not to throw a ball for 10 days because of an elbow injury. Andy Benes made his first “A” game start Saturday after having minor abdominal surgery shortly before camp started. And Greg Harris has struggled throughout the spring, outdoing Hurst in one start by allowing 10 runs in one inning.
For his part, Hurst, whom manager Greg Riddoch says is the likely Opening Day starter, has a 7.86 spring training ERA, having allowed 16 runs (14 earned) in 16 innings. He is 0-2, has allowed eight walks and has struck out only three batters.
But, according to Hurst, spring training isn’t about statistics.
“It’s to get in shape and get going,” he said. “Bob Welch two years ago, what was his ERA? About what mine is now probably, and he went out and won 27 games. I saw (former Red Sox teammate John) Tudor do the same thing one spring, and he pitched marvelous.
“I’ve seen guys go out there and light the world on fire in spring training and not get an out all year long. I mean, how many rookie sensations have we had in spring training and then they hit a buck-80? So I don’t worry about it.”
Neither, apparently, does Riddoch. He believes Hurst simply is taking a little longer than usual to regain his arm strength. After going 15-11 through Sept. 17 last season, Hurst missed the final three weeks with a sore pitching elbow. He then spent much of the winter resting the elbow rather than following his standard workout schedule.
“I think the time he spent off this winter because of not finishing the season last year — he usually plays long toss for a month in the winter, and he didn’t do that — his arm strength is going to be a little bit further away,” Riddoch said. “It’s taking a little bit longer.”
Hurst concedes he isn’t as strong as he’d like to be.
“That’s the only thing that’s concerned me about the spring,” he said.
But if Hurst’s concern about his arm strength turns into worries about his seven-run inning, he can find comfort by turning to the cubicle next to his, where Harris dresses. Harris bounced back from Wednesday’s 10-run fiasco to pitch five innings of three-hit ball just three days later.
Harris expects Hurst to bounce back in his next start, too. But even if Hurst struggles in his final two spring starts, he won’t bring his troubles into the season, Harris said.
“You know Hurstie will be there, no doubt,” Harris said.
Published in the Times Advocate on March 23, 1992.