- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Josh Towers learned a lot in his first season as a major leaguer. He learned he could get big league hitters out with pinpoint control instead of a blazing fastball. He learned that eventually those hitters would adjust to his style, necessitating a few adjustments of his own.
And perhaps most importantly, Towers learned that no matter how upset he is with his performance, don't ever take it out on a dugout telephone.
"It's kind of funny now," the Baltimore Orioles right-hander said. "It wasn't funny then."
"Then" was the sixth inning of a game in Toronto last Sept. 20. Towers had just been yanked after giving up five runs, and while en route to the showers, he slammed his right hand into a SkyDome telephone. The broken ring finger that resulted cost Towers the rest of his rookie season.
And in some respects, it helped him prepare for his second season with the Orioles.
"Last year was good in a lot of ways," Towers said. "Now I know what to expect when I'm doing well. Now I know what to expect when things aren't going my way. Now I know what to expect when I start getting a little frustrated. I think everything, whether it was the good, the bad or the injured, was a positive thing for me going into this year."
Leave it to one of the quirkiest and most cerebral members of the Baltimore pitching staff to find positives from an embarrassing moment. Then again, Towers bears little resemblance to most major league hurlers.
The 165-pounder, who will turn 25 Tuesday, doesn't have a 95 mph fastball in his arsenal, or for that matter a 90 mph heater.
What Towers has is the ability to throw a baseball with uncanny precision. In his rookie season with the Orioles, he walked all of 16 batters in 140⅓ innings a microscopic 1.03 walks per nine innings that would have been best in the American League had he made enough starts to qualify.
"Your location has to be better when you throw in the upper 80s like I do," Towers said. "You're not going to get away with mistakes like a guy who throws harder does."
Towers' mistakes were few and far between during his first month in the Baltimore rotation. In six June starts, he posted a 5-1 record and 1.49 ERA, earning American League Rookie of the Month honors.
His success, though, was a double-edged sword. Hitters suddenly knew who he was and began studying how to approach him. The book on Towers was simple: If he's going to throw so many strikes, especially on the first pitch, then your best bet is to go right after him. He lost eight of his last 10 starts while watching his ERA balloon from 2.17 to 4.49.
"I think it was a case of the hitters adjusting to what he's doing," manager Mike Hargrove said, "but also him not getting a lot of run support or defensive support and him making bad pitches at bad times. It was a combination of things. I don't think it was entirely hitters adjusting to him, but it was certainly part of it."
With opponents now knowing what to expect, Towers enters his second season knowing that he must continue to learn as a pitcher.
"I know that I throw a lot of first-pitch strikes and they know that and they're going to come out swinging," he said. "But I want them to. That's why I throw first-pitch strikes. I'll nibble at the corner anytime when it's 1-0, 2-0, 0-2. I try to nibble at every corner."
Towers' place in the rotation behind Scott Erickson, Jason Johnson and Sidney Ponson is virtually assured, though Hargrove is hesitant to make it official, saying only that Towers is "penciled in there right now." For his part, Towers isn't taking his status for granted.
"I feel like it's mine to lose," he said. "But I'm approaching it like it's something that I've got to win."
Note Reliever Buddy Groom left camp to return to his home in Red Oak, Texas, where his wife, Angela, is awaiting the birth of the couple's fifth child and will have labor induced today. Groom is expected to return to the Orioles within a few days.


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