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December 06, 2001

Rocker in Dead Zone (for now)
By Rob Dibble

I'm actually happy to be writing something about John Rocker's pitching for a change. This is just the stuff I've been saying for months: that if we forget the off-field things and stick to John's on-field actions we can get back to square one and just look at him as a pitcher.

John Rocker
John Rocker has a career ERA of 2.87 with 85 saves.
Rocker now pitches for the Cleveland Indians, who are four games behind the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central standings and two games behind the Boston Red Sox in the wild-card standings. In nine games since coming over to the Tribe, John has had some problems. He started hot, getting a couple of quick saves and a win. But lately he has struggled a bit.

When I talked to John on the Fourth of July, he told me his arm was a little tired. Now this could be misconstrued as an excuse, but he was pitching well when he said that. Every pitcher, especially a hard-throwing stopper like John, is going to go through the Dead Zone. This is a period, known well by every pitcher, when your arm feels tired, weak -- almost dead -- just hanging from the shoulder like a 50-pound weight.

A pitcher can still kick butt when experiencing pain and soreness of this nature. But he may not be at his sharpest. And I know John wasn't looking for sympathy. He was just telling me the state of his arm. Pitchers talk about their arms in this offhand way like mothers talk about which brand of diapers they use.

John is doing just fine. His vital stats in nine games with the Indians: 8.2 innings pitched, 11 hits, 0 HRs, eight walks and 13 strikeouts.

His overall stats this season (including his time with the Atlanta Braves): 39 games, 40 innings pitched, 36 hits, two HRs, 24 walks and 49 strikeouts. The most telling stat? 21 saves in 27 chances.

What I notice is that his walks are up a bit. But it's totally understandable. First, he's trying to impress his new teammates, trying to prove the Braves made a mistake in trading him. And he's doing this while not being 100 percent.

Every pitcher, especially a hard-throwing stopper like Rocker, is going to go through the Dead Zone.
I'm not making any excuses for John, just as I wouldn't make any for myself when I struggled. He just needs consistent work, whether it's in the eighth or ninth innings. Nice pressure situations coming about every other day. Pitchers like John need to work, a lot, to stay sharp -- tired arm or not.

For the Indians to win, they need John Rocker. Let me throw his career stats your way to show how dominant he is: 219 games, 204 innings pitched, 147 hits and only 16 HRs. Sixteen! A career ERA of 2.87 and 85 saves. He has always struck out more than one batter per inning and has a 2-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Bob Wickman and John Rocker are only a small part of the Indians. Let's not jump the gun and say the season is over because Rocker has had a tough two weeks. The Indians have 71 games left, and let me throw you another stat: last August and September Rocker was 10 for 11 in saves. And that's when it really counts.

Let's all do like Charlie Manuel said and give John a breather. He'll get it back and he'll be fine.

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Rob Dibble: 2001 archive

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