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Published: Monday, 6/4/2001

Burba short on stuff, but has loads of heart

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

CLEVELAND - Dave Burba never has been a guy whose fastball has caused the radar gun to overheat.

But the crafty Cleveland Indians right-hander will be the first to tell you, there's more than one way to get batters out.

Burba, 6-4 and 240 pounds, gets a lot of strikeouts with his 84 mph split-finger fastball. He complements his splitter with an 88-94 mph fastball, a curveball and changeup.

“Dave doesn't have great stuff, but what he does have is a lot of heart, a lot of guts,” manager Charlie Manuel said recently. “He always finds a way to pitch out of trouble.”

Burba has become a master at that.

Despite a hefty 5.31 ERA, he consistently has been ranked among the American League leaders in victories this season, and carries a 7-2 record into his 12th start tonight against the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome.

“Obviously, my ERA is too high, but I don't really care if it's 100.00 and they bat 1.000 against me if we win,” Burba said. “Naturally, things are going to have to change down the road. I have to make some adjustments.”

Burba is vulnerable early in games because he usually overthrows his fastball.

In 11 starts, he has a 7.09 ERA in the first three innings, and 3.34 thereafter. Opponents are batting .309 against him.

“The biggest thing with Dave is that he never gives up,” reliever Paul Shuey said. “Because of that, all the guys on our team pull for him.

“He eats up a lot of innings for us, and he's a quality guy to have around the clubhouse. He has a great work ethic; better than most. He's one of the key people on our team because he wins a lot of games.”

In three-plus seasons with the Tribe, Burba is 53-27, a .663 winning percentage. That would rank first in franchise history if he had pitched 1,000 innings - he has pitched 6772/3.

“Burba is a good fit for our club,” Manuel said. “He's a battler, a big-time competitor. He gives us six or seven innings every time out. He knows how to take advantage of our offense.”

The Indians, who lead the AL in hitting, are 9-2 when Burba starts this season, averaging 6.5 runs per game, and 68-40 since he joined the team in 1998.

In his last 18 starts, Burba is 12-2 with a 4.66 ERA.

“I think my team knows I'm giving my best,” he said. “I guess that's why they score runs for me. The attitude in the clubhouse is we are never out of it.”

“We can be down 6-0 in the first inning. It's great to have that feeling every day, that early or late, we have a chance to win.”

Burba, an Ohio State graduate who turns 35 next month, is one of six prospective Tribe free agents at the end of the season, but he has a club option for next year.

He is Cleveland's ninth-highest paid player, earning $5 million per season, but is just the third-highest paid pitcher, behind Chuck Finley ($8.9 million) and Charles Nagy ($6 million).

Burba, who has a career record of 102-72 with a 4.31 ERA in 11-plus major league seasons, also is one of just six pitchers to win 15 or more games in each of the last three seasons. The others are David Wells, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Aaron Sele.

“It's nice to be included in that company, but I'm not even close to being as good as any of those guys,” Burba said.

Burba, a native of Springfield, Ohio, was a second-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in 1987 after being a second-team All-Big Ten pick with the Buckeyes.

He has won 10 or more games seven times in the majors, and is a cinch to make it eight times in 12 seasons this year.

“I'd like to win 20, but what I really want to do is give my team an opportunity to win,” Burba said. “If I can get to 20 wins, that would be icing on the cake. It's really hard to set goals for wins because there are a lot of things you can't control.

“I like to set goals for innings pitched. I'd like to throw 220 innings. If I can do that, I'll keep our team in games and have a chance to win 20.”

A year ago, Burba was Cleveland's most consistent starter. He was 6-1 with a 2.98 ERA in his last nine starts after going 10-5 with a 5.06 ERA in his first 23.

He established a career high with 16 wins. He lost only six, his fewest losses since he became a full-time starter with the Cincinnati Reds in 1996. He worked 191 1/3 innings in 34 starts, and reached the sixth inning in 25 of those.

Burba also finished strong in 1999, posting a 7-3 record and 3.09 ERA from August to the end of the season.

And he pitched four scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox in his first postseason start in the AL division series before having to shut it down with an injured tendon in his right forearm.

Burba came to camp this spring as one of two healthy starters from last year's starting rotation. Bartolo Colon was the other.

Burba and Colon have one thing in common. Both lost weight in the off-season.

“Every off-season, I gain about 10 pounds,” Burba said. “I'm not doing my running and the other stuff in the winter. I was concerned about my weight, but I'm all right now because I've gotten the extra weight off. I can eat like a regular person now, not like a little chicken.”

The Indians acquired Burba from the Reds in March, 1998, in exchange for first baseman Sean Casey.

Burba was scheduled to be the Reds' Opening Day starter, yet was dealt the day before the season started.

Cincinnati had acquired Burba in a July 1995 trade with the San Francisco Giants.

In his 2 1/2 seasons with the Reds, he was 28-25 with a 4.09 ERA.

The Indians will host the Reds this weekend in a three-game interleague series at Jacobs Field. Burba is looking forward to facing his former teammates.

“All of the talk about being traded by the Reds to the Indians has kind of fizzled out now. I mean, it's been 3 1/2 years,” Burba said. “But I have to admit, it's still a thrill to start against them.”



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