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Arroyo plans an inside job

His aim to get them to back off

By Paul Harber
Globe Staff / October 15, 2004

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Take notice Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Gary Sheffield: If you crowd the plate, you are going to hear a symphony of chin music. Or worse, you could get hit with a 90-mile-per-hour fastball in tonight's Game 3 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park.

Bronson Arroyo, tonight's Red Sox starter, did not sound like cinematic vigilante Charles Bronson when he said matter-of-factly yesterday afternoon that his plan is to prevent the righthanded power hitters at the top of the Yankee lineup from hanging over the plate, and that he has no problem pitching inside.

Arroyo's approach is understandable. It's commonplace for Red Sox pitchers to hit batters. As a team, the Sox hit 92 batters this season, second in the American League to Tampa Bay's 93.

Arroyo, the youngest pitcher in the Red Sox rotation at 27, led the AL in hit batsmen this year with 20, tying the franchise record set by Howard Ehmke in 1923. Pedro Martinez and Tim Wakefield were tied for second on the team with 16.

While Wakefield might not know where his knuckleball is headed, throwing inside is more calculated for Arroyo. He struck out 142 batters and walked 47 in 178 2/3 innings this season.

"I probably throw inside less than 75 percent of the starters in the American League," said Arroyo. "But when I do go inside, it's for a purpose. I have to pitch in there. And against the Yankees . . . I've got to go inside more."

In his four games against the Yankees this season, he hit batters in three, including July 24, when Arroyo plunked Rodriguez, leading to a benches-clearing incident.

The only game Arroyo pitched against the Yankees this season in which he did not hit a batter was April 24 at Yankee Stadium, a game the Sox won, 3-2, in 12 innings. There were, however, plenty of hit batsmen in that one, four in all.

As for Arroyo's proclivity for hitting batters, it is not a matter of retribution. Arroyo said in order for him to be successful, and for his breaking ball to be effective, he needs to back batters off so they can't make good contact on pitches on the outer half of the plate.

"I've got to go in there more than any other time," said Arroyo. "The first three guys in the order -- Sheffield, A-Rod, and Jeter -- I've got to get inside on them. If I don't they are just going to hit my breaking ball. So I'm going to have to pitch inside."

Besides hitting Rodriguez, Arroyo plunked Yankees Miguel Cairo, Jason Giambi, and Jeter during his record-setting season.

"Sheffield has alluded to it a few times they have got hit or they get hit on purpose," said Arroyo. "I realize they don't like it. Nobody likes getting hit with a 90-mile-an-hour fastball, but regardless of the situation, I do have to pitch the way I think I can to win, and that's the way I'll go about it."

Keeping the Yankees' Big Three off the plate has worked for Arroyo. Their combined career batting average off Arroyo is .205 -- A-Rod is 3 for 10, Sheffield 4 for 18, and Jeter 1 for 11. "If I don't keep them honest on the inner half at some point in the game, they are going to knock you around the park," said Arroyo.

That's why he came inside on Rodriguez July 24. "I was going at A-Rod because he hits balls 400-500 feet to right-center field, which he does if you consistently stay on the outer half," said Arroyo. "And I think Gary Sheffield and Derek Jeter are no different. Those guys, you definitely have to keep the ball in on at some point."

Sox manager Terry Francona has been impressed with Arroyo's development. "He's learning how to work and he's really a professional pitcher," said Francona. "He's going to get better, too, the more he learns to pitch inside with his fastball to righthanders. He has such a great feel for his breaking ball and drops down on different angles, and he's using his changeup to lefthanders. He's going to get better.

"He's not getting carried away with all of the stuff on the periphery. So, regardless of how he pitches, I don't think it will be because of the stage or whom we're playing. I think he'll pitch the best he can. He'll be fine."

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