Excelling means exit for Harnisch
Just like Burba

Saturday, June 6, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Pete Harnisch, beating the Indians Friday night, is too good to remain with the Reds.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |

Pete Harnisch is not here for the long haul. He is a hired gun with a rising fastball and a soaring fee, a pitcher who is rapidly pricing himself out of this market.

In becoming the ace of the Cincinnati Reds, Harnisch has likely hastened his departure from Cinergy Field. He can be a free agent at season's end, and he makes himself more tempting trade bait with each successive start. In stifling the Cleveland Indians Friday night, 2-1, Harnisch improved his record to 6-1 and enhanced Jim Bowden's bargaining power like a truckload of Beanie Babies.

Starting pitching is as thin as spaghetti in the big leagues these days, and pennant contenders will pay for it as if it were sirloin. If Pete Harnisch cannot pitch the Reds to a pennant this summer, perhaps he can bring them prospects who can help the home team build a bridge to the 21st Century. Perhaps the time to start shopping him is now.

"You know how Jim (Bowden) is," Reds manager Jack McKeon said Friday. "If he gets overwhelmed on anybody, I think he would (make a deal)."

Just like Burba

Harnisch wanted no part of this discussion, but it is utterly unavoidable. The Reds are a last-place team pointing toward a future that is based on a stadium that has yet to be situated, much less built. A veteran pitcher whose statistics will command a big boost in salary has little place in those plans.

This was the message the Reds sent in March, when they traded Dave Burba to the Indians the day before he was scheduled to start the first game of the season. Both pitchers are 31 years old and have spent the bulk of their careers flirting with the .500 mark. A team can trade them without fear they have let go of the next Greg Maddux. A team destined for the second division can hardly afford to hold on.

Harnisch held the Indians' muscular lineup to four hits in seven innings Friday, striking out eight, and committing only one costly blunder. Jim Thome knocked it over the fence in left-center field leading off the Cleveland sixth inning. But Harnisch struck out Thome twice and fanned All-Star catcher Sandy Alomar three times in three tries.

"I don't know if they were jet-lagged," said Reds catcher Eddie Taubensee, "but I know Pete pitched a great game. I caught him in Houston when he had his good years there, and he's basically pitching the same way. He keeps the fastball away and mixes in his slider and changeup. He's throwing a lot of off-speed pitches for strikes early in the count."

Asked once to explain his philosophy of pitching, Hall of Famer Robin Roberts replied tersely: "Strike One." Sometimes it's that simple.

Getting ahead

When Pete Harnisch gets ahead in the count, he has three potential out pitches. When behind, he tends to fall back on the fastball. This is a dangerous pattern for any pitcher. It is a pattern Harnisch has largely avoided this season. He walked three Indians, only the third time in 13 starts he had allowed more than two bases on balls.

"It took me a while to get in a groove," Harnisch said, "but I got there."

He has been there, for the most part, all season. Friday's game was the ninth straight start Harnisch allowed three earned runs or less. He has yet to pitch fewer than five innings or allow more than eight hits. His earned-run average reached a season-low 2.92.

"Depending where our team's going and how he's doing, Pete's going to be a wanted man," Taubensee said. "That would be good for him because he deserves it."

Modern baseball economics leave no room for sentimental attachments. The better Pete Harnisch does, the more likely he will be doing it for some other team.

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.