It's premature to speculate, but a simple throw to second base by catcher Chris Hoiles could have a dramatic impact on the Orioles' decision regarding free-agent catcher Mickey Tettleton.
Hoiles injured his right shoulder on Paul Molitor's stolen base in the first inning of yesterday's 2-1 victory over Milwaukee. He could require offseason surgery if tests reveal a tear.
As of now, no such determination has been made. Club physician Dr. Charles Silberstein said Hoiles appeared to be suffering from a "hernia" of a back shoulder muscle. He added a tear was "possible."
Under the worst-case scenario, Hoiles could be a question mark entering the 1991 season. That would leave Bob Melvin as the Orioles' only catcher if Tettleton signed with another team.
Manager Frank Robinson has said the Orioles will attempt to re-sign Tettleton, who is batting .218 with 12 homers and 47 RBIs, and has struck out 153 times in 426 at-bats. But that was before Hoiles rejoined the team with a flourish.
Hoiles is 6-for-14 with two doubles since returning Sept. 15 from Rochester, where he batted .348 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs. The Orioles still could decide he is ready to play in the majors, and offer Tettleton a less enticing contract.
Hoiles, 25, underwent a Magnetic Resonance Imaging test yesterday at Union Memorial Hospital. He did not accompany the club to New York and will have another MRI and be re-examined by Silberstein tomorrow.
"It hurts, and it's weak," Hoiles said. "It's kind of a weird feeling. It felt fine during infield [practice], fine during warmups. It was just that one throw. I don't know if it was a weird arm position or what."
Hoiles' replacement, Melvin, hit the game-winning sacrifice fly in the 10th inning after striking out twice, drawing a walk and grounding out in his previous four trips.
* STILL PERFECT: Milwaukee catcher B.J. Surhoff made the silly mistake of trying to steal off Orioles righthander Dave Johnson Saturday night. Hoiles threw him out at second without difficulty, and Johnson went on to earn his club-high 12th victory as the Orioles won 3-2.
Opponents are now 0-for-8 lifetime in stolen-base attempts off Johnson, 0-for-2 this season (the other was a pickoff of Alan Trammell). Compare that with Detroit's Jack Morris, whose opponents are a whopping 44-for-49 on the year.
That's a lot of singles stretched into doubles.
Johnson's statistics are even more remarkable considering that he has pitched 163 1/3 innings. Bret Saberhagen was the major-league leader in this department last year (minimum 140 innings). His opponents averaged 0.17 stolen bases per nine innings, and were 5-for-14 overall.
Seattle righthander Bill Swift has the same 0-for-2 success rate as Johnson this season, but his opponents were 3-for-5 last year. Swift is the AL's fastest to the plate and to first if you combine his times, according to records kept by Orioles first-base coach Johnny Oates.
Johnson employs a quirky delivery to keep baserunners off-balance.
* KITTLE SHUFFLE: The Orioles faced lefthanders the last two days, but Ron Kittle continued his purgatory on Robinson's bench -- even though he went 2-for-4 with a homer off yesterday's starter, Ted Higuera, on Sept. 1.
Kittle, 32, has started just three of the last 18 games, and none of the last seven. Robinson has chosen to play younger players, but that isn't helping the appearance of the July 30 Phil Bradley trade.
The question now is whether the Orioles will pick up the option year on Kittle's contract. General manager Roland Hemond is a Kittle fan, but Robinson used him sparingly even before this stretch, in part because of a groin injury.
Kittle has batted .164 since joining the Orioles, with two homers and three RBIs in 61 at-bats. His salary next season would be $550,000 -- the same as this year -- but money does not appear to be the issue.
* SHOWING SIGNS (PART I): Not only did rookie Leo Gomez finish 3-for-5 yesterday, he made two outstanding defensive plays at third base. He has now played four straight games without an error after making three in his first eight chances.
"If Gomez did not have decent hands, he would have been charged with more than 20 errors at Rochester," Robinson said, mindful of the poor fields at Triple A. "You look at that, and the guy had to have a good year with the glove.
"Like anything else up here, there's more pressure," Robinson said. "He was a little uptight, a little apprehensive. It showed more on defense at first than at the plate."
* SHOWING SIGNS (PART II): Though many believe Mike Devereaux has had a disappointing season, he's likely to exceed his 1989 statistics in several categories, despite missing nearly a month with a pulled right hamstring.
Devereaux already has more doubles (15-14) and homers (10-8) than last year, and he needs one RBI to match his rookie total of 46. However, he has declined in batting average (.266-.242), on-base percentage (.329-.299) and stolen bases (22-13).
* AROUND THE HORN: Cal Ripken went 1-for-4 and stranded five runners yesterday, but after a terrible start he still might salvage September. Ripken began the month 1-for-26, but since then has gone 18-for-59 to raise his average from .038 to .224.
Outfielder Donell Nixon opted for free agency rather than accept a Triple A assignment. Nixon, 28, batted .247 with two homers, 26 RBIs and 21 stolen bases at Rochester. He was 5-for-20 with the Orioles from June 20 to July 3.